‘Security Chief,’ a young operator from the Pluto early warning station appeared on one of his open sreens. ‘Sir, we have an unidentified ship approaching Terra’s heliosphere.’
‘Do you think this is a Spectran incursion?’ he enquired.
‘If I’m to believe the computer,’ answered the operator, ‘the craft is old but one of ours. I’ve spoken to the senior Captain on-board who has confirmed our data. I’m not sure how it can be the link up vehicle used by the Thunderbird rescue team before their disappearance in twenty-eighty six. According to the computer, we have a positive five point identification of the ship. Further, it’s matched both the voice patterns and facial structure of all five captains, suggesting this might be ligament.’
(Fig 5 - Thunderbird Vehicle in linkup.)
Touching his moustache in agitation, Anderson waved a hand in the air signalling his workstation to supply the data. Springing into life, it instantly brought up an archival picture and the accompanying story. On a test flight of the first ion drive engine, all five members of the team and the craft had been lost. The reason why had been tracked back to an elementary error in calculations. Pondering the situation, the Chief made a snap decision.
‘This might be a new method to disguise a Spectra attack,’ he concluded. ‘I’m sending a data stream based on the technology from their time period. If this truly is the Thunderbird vehicle, it will override the early version of the ion pulse equipment and allow us control of their ship. I’ll have G-force on standby as they reach the Moon’s orbit. If this proves to be an ingenious way to breach our defences, I want to be ready for whatever Zoltar throws at us.’
Signing off after sending the data packet, Anderson initiated his team. They scrambled. Tiny used the hidden tunnel under his seaside cottage to enter the Phoenix. Picking up Jason, Princess and Keyop, he waited for the Commander to join them in the air. Melding his jet with their ship, Mark joined his colleagues on the bridge. Leaving Terra’s atmosphere, the team checked in with Anderson at Centre Neptune for their assignment.
‘You’re kidding,’ Jason used his best sarcastic tone at the end of the incredible briefing. ‘The Thunderbird team! I thought they disappeared almost a century ago. This has to be the happiness boys from Spectra trying to pull our chain.’
‘I agree with you Jason,’ Anderson once again felt the need to stroke his moustache. ‘This seems unbelievable and scientifically improbable. It’s both clever and resourceful if Spectra is behind this. It also means Zoltar is learning more about Terra’s history and trying to use it against us.’
‘I don’t like the sound of that,’ Tiny stated.
‘What are our orders, Chief,’ Mark redirected the conversation to the situation at hand.
‘So far the crew have allowed us to maintain control of their vehicle,’ Anderson said. ‘They’re approaching Saturn and will be at the rondevu in ninety minutes. You’ll meet them as they pass the moon. Escort them to the ISO landing field south of San Diego. We’ll have security forces ready.’
‘Rodger, Phoenix out,’ Mark replied, settling back into his seat. ‘I have a bad feeling about this,’ he commented to no one in particular.
‘Join the club,’ Jason muttered under his breath, crossing his arms.
‘What if it’s real?’ Princess asked. ‘What if this really is the Thunderbird team? The Phoenix is based on the technology pioneered by Jeff Tracy and perfected by IRO. Like us they’re a team of five, four men and a woman. I can’t help see the similarities.’
‘It’s a long time to be stuck out in space, Princess,’ Jason’s gravelly voice reminded.
‘Be…dead…by….now,’ Keyop added.
‘Unless they encountered something,’ Tiny suggested, ‘which slowed down time. Sort of the reverse of our space warp technology. We speed up time as we travel vast distances across the galaxy to arrive minutes or hours after we’ve left the Earth. What if they encountered Einstein’s Twin paradox Theory?’
‘What’s that?’ Keyop asked.
‘If I watched you speeding away from Terra,’ Tiny explained, ‘you’d seem to age at a snail’s pace or time would slow down for you. So when you got back to Terra, less time would have passed.’
‘Basically,’ Jason found humour in the explanation, ‘Tiny would be an old man while you wouldn’t have aged a day.
‘What you’re insinuating,’ Mark guessed, ‘is the Thunderbird team left Terra in 2086 and retuned 96 years later because of time dilation?’
‘It’s a possibility,’ Tiny agreed, ‘but we’re not going to find out until they land and come out. Of course, I don’t know how something like that might be achieved.’
‘Let’s leave the speculation until after we know the truth,’ Mark stopped further conversation.
‘Approaching the Moon,’ Kallan stated. ‘No communication signal from Moon Base Omega on any frequency, Grant.’
‘There’s a ship in stationary orbit 4 mega metres beyond the Moon’s orbit,’ JJ reported.
‘Bringing it up on visual,’ Jesse fiddled with his dials.
On the secondary screen, an odd shaped blue and red vehicle appeared. The main triangular body of the ship sported thin wings with pod like protrusions at the tips. Calculating the aerodynamics, Dylan shook his head at the sleek design.
‘I wonder how it flies,’ he commented, ‘I can’t see any engines.'
Almost at the same instant, a white helmet with a transparent blue face plate giving the impression of a bird appeared on the main screen. Intelligent and assessing eyes darted between the five members of the Thunderbird team. Wearing identical uniforms without insignia, Mark couldn’t distinguish the senior Captain from his attire or position within the cabin.
(Fig 6 - The Thunderbird Team - from left Kallan, JJ, Grant, Jesse and Dylan.)
‘Welcome home, Captains,’ Mark’s voice sounded professional, with the barest hint of irony.
‘I’m not sure,’ Grant answered with a shrug of his massive shoulders, ‘that we are home.’
‘I expect to see Dorothy and Toto any minute,’ Jesse added under his breath. It drew glares from Mark and Grant.
‘I’m sorry,’ the confused image stated, obviously unimpressed with the comment.
‘Jesse,’ Kallan reached over to poke her teammate in the ribs drawing the strangely dressed man’s attention, ‘that is Captain Rigel, is an aficionado of old movies. He’s quoiting “The Wizard of Oz”. At the moment we feel like we’ve been transported to a magical land when all we want to do is get home.’
‘Mark,’ a soft feminine voice echoed from off screen, ‘it’s a classic movie based on celluloid technology produced in 1939.’
‘And they were still able to watch it back in 2086?’ a gruff sounding male asked, his words laced liberally with irony.
‘What do you mean,’ Dylan asked hotly, ‘back in 2086. We’ve only been gone eleven days, six hours and forty seven minutes.’
‘I’m afraid,’ Mark’s expression turned grim, ‘you’ve been missing a little longer than that. My team and I will escort you to the ISO…’
‘What,’ Grant silenced his crew with a stern look while glaring at the young man on the monitor, ‘is this ISO?’
‘The International Science Organisation is the scientific arm of the Galactic Federation,’ Mark answered
easily. ‘My team, known as G-force are a special unit enforcing Terran Security.’
‘Then, Mark,’ Grant crossed one arm over his extremely broad chest, cupping his chin with his other, ‘I’m entitled to your rank and serial number.’
‘I am The Commander,’ Mark offered, falling into stoic silence.
‘Mark,’ once again the soft, feminine voice entered the conversation. Gaining the attention of her commander, she offered, ‘initial scans confer a 99.98% probability this is the Thunderbird link up. Hull composition is correct for the time period of construction. The systems are consistent with the available technology in the late twenty first century.’
‘Princess, are you trying to tell us,’ responded the sarcastic tone, ‘this isn’t Zoltar mounting another attack.’
‘That’s exactly what she’s saying, Jason,’ Mark nodded. From the expression on his face, he didn’t seem happy about the situation.