‘Stop beating yourself up,’ Kallan placed a gentle hand on Johny’s shoulder. ‘None of us could have imagined something like this.’
‘It’s beyond belief,’ commented Dylan, shaking his head with incredulity. ‘It has to have something to do with the flux field coefficient miscalculations.’
JJ nodded his agreement, ‘or one of Jesse’s Science Fiction movies.’
‘Now is not the time,’ Grant’s authoritative tone halted any further conversation, ‘We’ll deal with the consequences when we have the opportunity. Until then we have work to do.’
‘We need to concentrate on getting this bird on the ground,’ Jesse recalled the team to their most pressing issue. ‘Four minutes to landing sequence. I don’t need to tell any of you what will happen if we can’t delink.’
‘Only Acrology,’ JJ agreed, ‘has a specific bay for taking the entire Thunderbird craft.’
‘Commander,’ Grant demanded for the fourth time. Glaring at the empty screen and muttering under his breath, he turned to Kallan at the communication console.
‘Channel’s been open for two minutes,’ Captain James reported, ‘their listening but not responding.’
‘If you don’t allow us control of the combined vehicle we are in imminent danger of a crashing,’ The Senior Captain reiterated, anger lacing his words. ‘The Thunderbird link up must separate into its components to touch down safely at your assigned location.’
In the cabin of The Phoenix, Mark looked anxiously at Chief Anderson on the monitor above his head. Unsure how to precede the Commander contacted Centre Neptune for further instructions. Instead of getting orders, G-force waited and watched the Thunderbird team become increasingly agitated.
‘Come on,’ Mark demanded impatiently. He understood the stress his TB counterpart suffered as their boss’s head remained buried in his computer. Anderson barked instructions at the machine. Everyone involved knew they approached the wire.
‘I’ve sent the override,’ Anderson looked up into the concerned eyes of five individuals in Birdstyle. ‘You’ll need to watch the team carefully.’
‘You still think they’re from Spectra,’ Tiny asked, astonishment in his tone.
‘No,’ Anderson frowned. ‘They’re used to landing at a specifically designed complex in the middle of the Pacific Ocean called Acrology. It seems Thunderbird 1 and 3 need a specialised runway. Once they have all the vehicles down, I want you to direct them into the hanger. The ISO will store the Thunderbird machines.’
‘You mean,’ Jason’s characteristic sarcasm erupted, ‘the engineering team will go over them with a fine tooth comb.’
‘You’re to bring all five captains aboard the Phoenix,’ Anderson gave the Condor a hard look suggesting he remain quiet, ‘and transport them directly to Centre Neptune, Commander. We’ve managed to keep this off the press radar, so the fewer personnel who see your cargo, the better.’
‘Yes, Chief,’ Mark made the signal for his third to cut the connection.
Nodding at Princess, the Swan initiated contact with the Thunderbird team. Before Mark could utter a word, JJ whooped with joy realising they now had control of their vessels. Almost immediately, three couches disappeared from the screen. Like a well-oiled team, they started preparations for landing. Over the next minute G-force heard the landing checks echo between the three cabins. They began to understand the professionalism and cohesiveness of the well trained team.
‘Thunderbird 1 is disengaging,’ Dylan stated, pulling his black craft away from the rest of the ship. They hovered over the tarmac as the young pilot achieved his goal. Circling around, he approached the runway several hundred metres behind the other vessels. It gave him enough distance to stop wind shear giving him the ability to land safely.
‘That’s so cool,’ Tiny commented, watching as TB2 began to move. Picking up speed, it literally dropped the yellow ground craft onto the concrete.
‘Same technique is used for scooping up G2,’ Princess offered, ‘just as the disengagement of TB1 forms the pattern for G1.’
‘Are you trying to tell us,’ Tiny responded, ‘that this vehicle is the inspiration for The Phoenix?’
‘I’m not telling you,’ Princess stated, ‘you can see the similarities for yourself as we watch them delink and land. In fact the technology goes back another seventy years to the original creator, Jeff Tracey.’
‘Didn’t they manage to teach you anything in pilot school?’ Jason asked in a teasing tone. Secretly he wondered where and when Princess had the time to cram all these odd facts into her brain. Mark’s analytical, I’m emotional, Tiny’s easy going, Keyop’s just a kid, but Princess, she’s smart. I wonder about that other team, do they have similar traits?
‘TB3 is rolling,’ Grant offered, applying the brakes on the runway. It forced attention back to the Phoenix’s main screen.
‘I’m right behind you Grant,’ Dylan acknowledged, bring the black bird down fifteen seconds behind the ground craft.
‘TB2 is in vertical mode,’ Jesse reported once the shuttle landed, ‘and we have touch down. All birds are in the nest, Chief.’
Five sets of stunned eyes watched as he settled the massive ship on its four boosters as if it were a feather. ‘Impressive,’ Tiny commented with more than a little envy. ‘I wish they’d incorporated some of those manoeuvres into The Phoenix.’
‘Rodger that Jess,’ the senior Captain acknowledged over the open com. ‘Environmental suits on everyone. I don’t want any mistakes and I don’t want to lose anyone.’
‘Grant,’ Kallan worked TB1’s sensor array, ‘atmosphere has slightly less carbon dioxide and a little more oxygen content than when we left, otherwise breathable. I can’t detect any new or dangerous pathogens. Temperature is 29 degrees centigrade with 30 percent humidity.’
‘Jason,’ Mark managed a grin as he turned on his second, ‘as the rocket ship has the same number and colour as G2, go and retrieve the Captain’s and bring them back to the Phoenix. Princess, take the personnel in the shuttle.’
‘Are you hoping I can sweet talk the female Captain,’ she allowed a rare note of teasing into her voice.
‘No,’ Mark tried to hide a smile, ‘I’m sure your compassion and understanding will be appreciated. I’ll meet the Senior Captain. Tiny open a channel before they get off their individual vehicles and request they park in the hanger.’
‘No fair,’ Keyop complained to Tiny as the others left the bridge.
‘Hey,’ the big man smirked, raising his hands behind his head now he’d finished his tasks, ‘welcome to my world. I get left behind on almost every mission. It’s nice to have some company for a change.’
Moving to sit in Mark’s command seat, Keyop folded his arms dramatically. Allowing a disgruntled noise, he watched his teammates approach their assigned vehicles through the open hanger doors.
A side panel slid open from the yellow rectangle emblazoned with TB3. A massive, grey haired man quickly climbed down the ladder. Offering Mark his hand in greeting, they headed back toward the Phoenix. Few words were exchanged and the body language between the two men seemed stiff and stilted, almost as though they were testing each other. Besides The Commanders two metre frame, Grant Hanson had to be at least forty centimetres taller and almost twice as broad across the chest. He made an impressive sight.
Princess waved to the young couple climbing the stairs extended from the side of the space shuttle. They exchanged looks before ambling over to the Swan and offering a polite greeting. Hand in hand they followed her towards the Phoenix. The two women seemed to converse easily. Joining Mark and the Senior Captain, they continued towards Keyop and Tiny’s position.
Jason on the other hand seemed to be having a more difficult time. He’d walked around the massive ship, unable to find an entry point. ‘How do they get out of that contraption,’ The Condor asked silently, watching a bay door finally open near the nose cone high in the air. Two figures appeared in the aperture.
‘Hey,’ JJ called to the blue winged individual, ‘you got a staircase handy? I’m not a bird so I can’t fly.’ His wide grin accompanied by a nervous laugh.
‘It’s not like we can call the sleds,’ Jesse responded cynically. Quiet enough for his partner’s ears only, Jason’s cerabonically enhanced hearing caught the comment. ‘At least Dylan, Kallan and Grant can extend ladders and climb out of their Thunderbirds. Looks like we’ll have to use the jet packs, partner.’
‘Tiny,’ Jason lifted his bracelet to his mouth before the pair disappeared into their craft, ‘prepare to do a flyby. It seems the two clowns don’t have a way off their rocket ship. I guess the designers didn’t consider emergency landings. I’ll fly up and escort them to the bridge.’
‘Big Ten, Jason,’ Tiny acknowledged beginning his pre-flight checks. ‘I’ll lift off as soon as Mark brings the others aboard.’