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Chapter Twenty: Eruption Part Two
Mount Baker Base Camp, Five Minutes Later
John finished explaining the plan he had come up with to rescue the trapped Marcus in the shortest time possible to Virgil and Gordon.
"Any questions," John asked.
"No seems pretty straight forward," Virgil replied. "The biggest problem will be getting the lifting units in the correct positions. The gash is narrow, moving about down there is going to be difficult."
"That's true," Gordon agreed. "But we only really need to lift each end of the trailer. Marcus is pinned by his legs at one end of the trailer. Once we have it high enough we can put the spinal board in place and get him out of there."
Before anyone could speak a deep rumbling filled the air and the ground beneath them, began to shudder once again as another tremor shook the area around Mount Baker, John steadied himself against Mobile Control as Virgil and Gordon braced themselves. Finally the quake subsided right before the roar of an explosion ripped through the air drawing their attention to Mount Baker. Two jets of dark grey ash and steam were shooting up into the smoke cloud, thickening it even more.
"That doesn't look good," Gordon said.
"It's not," Doctor Kyle Norman replied from where he was standing near by. "That's a jetting eruption. Its caused by gas escaping from the rising magma, the closer it gets to the surface the more it expands and the quicker it escapes from the molten material. Though it looks spectacular its not the main eruption."
"How long do we have," John asked. Kyle shrugged.
"As I am sure you know predicting when a volcano is going to erupt is not an exact science. Any timeframe I gave you would only be a rough guess at best. Though that last harmonic tremor was very shallow. You probably only have an hour possibly two."
"Then we better get a move on," John said.
"Indeed lets do this," Virgil agreed. "Come on Gordon lets go and get the lifting gear. Doctor Norman if you and your people will come with us we'll get you all secure in Thunderbird Two."
"My people could go with you but I would rather stay here," Kyle replied. "John you said earlier that one of your colleagues is monitoring the seismic activity from Mount Baker."
"Yes. Why do you ask?"
"If you can get the information relayed here to Mobile Control I could interpret it for you. No disrespect intended but I doubt any of you are really trained to interpret that kind of data."
"None taken none of us are geologists," John replied, thinking about it for a moment. Though he knew Alan would be doing the best he could, like him his little brother had above average intelligence, it would be nice to have a professional opinion. They could all understand most things, but as he had said they weren't geologists or volcanologists. "Alright you can stay. I'll get the data relayed down here from Thunderbird Five."
"Thank you," Kyle acknowledged relieved that he would be able to do something useful to help during the rescue. He would have felt helpless just sat waiting in Thunderbird Two; he needed to feel that he was involved somehow in saving Marcus. As team leader the welfare of the young intern was his responsibility at the end of the day. He had promised the boys parents that he would look after him - Marcus was there only son - and he took that responsibility very seriously indeed.
"No problem," John answered with a smile. Then looked at Gordon and Virgil to see that they were already rounding up the other four members of the field unit and guiding them to the relative safety of Thunderbird Two. "I'll just sort out the relay now," he said turning his attention back to Mobile Control and pressing a button on the communications part of the console. "Mobile Control to Thunderbird Five."
Immediately the communications screen came to life showing Alan's face and upper torso. It didn't escape John's notice that there were faint flickers of static interference across the video feed. He knew what the cause would be; the rising heat in the smoke plume from Mount Baker would be starting to disrupt the electrical balance of the atmosphere. Which would cause considerable interference on communications channels, though the bandwidth they used for their communications was less vulnerable to atmospheric interference though there would still be some effects.
"Go ahead John," Alan said.
"Alan one of the scientists down here has offered to monitor the seismic data from the sensors around Mount Baker," John replied. "Can you set a relay from Thunderbird Five to here."
"Sure though I'm not sure how long it will last," Alan replied. "I'll be over the horizon soon and we'll have to rely on satellite relays as opposed to the stations main array. With the growing electrical interference it the atmosphere the data transmission might not hold together."
"Very true," John agreed knowing that using satellites to relay reduced the bandwidth available for data transmission and made it slightly more vulnerable to atmospheric disruption. Disruption that would only get worse as the amount of smoke and ash coming from Mount Baker increased. "Set up the relay anyway Alan."
"F-A-B," Alan replied. "I'll have to reconfigure the system it will take a few minutes. I'll have to put this signal on hold while I do that."
Alan disappeared from the communications screen to be replaced by a flashing International Rescue insignia, indicating the call was on hold. While he waited John looked back at Thunderbird Two to see how Gordon and Virgil were doing.
Almost without realising he was doing it he enhanced his vision so that it almost seemed like he was standing next to Thunderbird Two. Just in time to see Gordon and Virgil re-emerging from Thunderbird Two carrying the rescue equipment that they would need to get Marcus out of his fix and that Virgil had a pack that would contain the components for an antigrav stretcher as well as a spinal board and collar.
A sudden bleep from Mobile Control made him internally jump. Blinking John returned his vision to normal and mentally berated himself for doing that. You really mustn't do that John, he told himself, use your nanite abilities when you don't have to. John turned back to the communications screen to see that Alan had reappeared and was looking at him oddly.
"Are you okay John?" Alan asked and although his voice was composed John could read between the lines and heard the concern in Alan's voice.
"I'm alright Alan I just switched off there for a second," he said putting in a little white lie. He couldn't tell Alan the truth as Kyle was within earshot. No one outside the family and their inner circle could know that he had what were basically superpowers. Superpowers that were grounded in technology but superpowers nevertheless, if the wrong person heard about the nanites then John hated to think what would happen. The ways that the nanite technology inside of him could be abused were downright terrifying, too terrifying to really consider.
"I see," Alan replied again his voice was composed and calm but John could tell his little brother had read the silent message, that he had been distracted by something nanite based. "I'm ready to start the datalink," Alan continued as if nothing had happened.
"F-A-B, Alan," John replied as his hands danced across the console making sure everything was ready here for the datalink. "We're ready here start the datalink."
"F.A.B." Alan looked down from the camera pickup and John could faintly hear typing. After a moment a green light appeared indicating Mobile Control was receiving the carrier signal. "John can you confirm carrier signal lock?"
"Lock confirmed Alan."
"Ok. Transmitting data now," Alan said as John heard him tap a final command into one of the many consoles in Thunderbird Five's control room. Instantly one of the plasma screen monitors on the Mobile Control console came to life showing seismology readings. John glanced at the signal strength indicator and smiled. Despite the increasing disruption to the electrical balance of the atmosphere the signal was at full strength. For now at least. John knew it would drop in strength a bit once Thunderbird Five's orbital path took it over the horizon.
"We're receiving the data Alan. Coming through full strength."
"F-A-B, I'll continue to monitor the seismograph readings up here as well just in case we loose the signal," Alan said looking back up into the camera feed.
"Good luck down their guys."
"Thanks Alan we're going to need it," John replied. Alan smiled then disappeared from the screen as he broke the connection from his end. A moment before Virgil and Gordon hurried past Mobile Control heading right for the huge gash ripped in floor.
"Good luck you two," John told them as they hurried past.
"Thanks John," Gordon called back. John smiled then turned his attention to Kyle who was studying the seismology readings with a worried frown on his face.
"How does it look," he asked.
"Not good," Kyle replied. "Whatever you're going to do to save Marcus you better do it soon. Those last few harmonic tremors were extremely shallow, as you know. There are also a lot of long period events. Almost continuously now. We will be lucky if we even have an hour."
As if to underline his words Mount Baker rumbled ominously again and the ground beneath them shuddering slightly in time with the rumble. A moment later the concussive sound of another explosion ripped through the air and in unison John and Kyle glanced at Mount Baker's summit. To see a third jetting event beginning in the crater, a jet even more powerful than the other two, sending up a huge amount of gas, steam and ash. Even from here John could clearly see small plumes of pulverised ice shooting up from places near the edge of the crater where rocks ripped from the volcanoes throat by the power of the gas jets pummelled the summit glacier.
After a moment or two John saw that the gas jets were suddenly weakening, the jets of steam and ash reducing, then stopping altogether. But only for a moment as even as he drew in a breath a tremendous roar came from Mount Baker accompanied by another violent earth tremor. A massive column of thick grey and white ash, smoke and steam abruptly vomited forth from the crater, small specks of red and orange flame flickered through the cloud as it climbed high into the sky.
"Oh my god," Kyle said softly though John easily heard him. "It's started."
"Kyle get into Thunderbird Two now," John said decisively standing up. "I'll go and help Virgil and Gordon save your friend. But I need you to go aboard Thunderbird Two now." Kyle looked at John, looking into his cool blue eyes and seeing the honesty there, he knew that John was going to do everything he could to save Marcus.
"Ok," Kyle replied. "Good luck. I would recommend that if you've got breather masks you put them on now. There's going to be ash fall any minute, a lot of it." John nodded.
"We will do that," he said. He knew how dangerous volcanic ash was and why they had to wear breathing equipment when there was ash fall. Ash particles could be inhaled after all and if that got into your lungs in sufficient quantity it would kill you. Kyle nodded then turned his back on John and walked towards Thunderbird Two.
John watched him leave even as another explosion ripped through the air. He glanced briefly at Mount Baker to see the eruptive column growing in strength and force, climbing higher and higher into the sky. As it did so it spread across the sky, forming a boiling mushroom shaped cloud, almost like the cloud from a nuclear explosion, massive arcs of energy spread through the cloud and the sunlight began to fade as the ash and smoke blocked it out transforming day into night. From the spreading cloud John could see a fine grey mist descending, plummeting to Earth with deceptive grace.
"The ash," John said softly looking down and grabbing his breather unit from the belt of his uniform and unfolded it from the compact cylinder it folded up into and slid it in place over his nose and mouth. Then he abandoned Mobile Control and hurried over to the gash in the ground to help Virgil and Gordon free Marcus.
That Same Time
Alan stared at Thunderbird Five's scanner readouts in shock and worry. Though Thunderbird Five was almost over the horizon from Mount Baker now the sensors could see from here that the volcanoes eruption had begun. The sensors showed a massive eruptive column coming up from Mount Baker, it had already risen fifty kilometres into the sky and was spreading out.
It was a terrifying sight to behold. And to him what made it even worse was the knowledge that three of his brothers were under that hellish cloud. He knew he couldn't contact John, he couldn't distract them from the rescue, if he could even get through in the first place. Sensors were detecting massive electrical interference in the atmosphere around the volcano, not even with all of Thunderbird Five's power could he hope to punch a signal through that much interference.
"Good luck down there guys," he said softly as the sensor display disappeared as Thunderbird Five crossed the horizon and he lost the sensor lock. I should tell Scott he needs to know, Alan thought, he'll be just as helpless as I am. And like me he will hate it. But he'll throttle me if I don't tell him. With a sigh Alan reached out and manipulated the comm system controls.
"Thunderbird Five to Tracy Island respond please," he said. Almost instantly Scott's face appeared on his communications screen.
"Go ahead Alan," Scott said. "Any news."
"I'm afraid that its bad Scott," Alan replied. "Mount Baker has begun to erupt. John, Gordon and Virgil are going to be working underneath the eruption cloud." As he spoke he saw a look of concern appear on his oldest brothers face.
"I see Alan. Can you get through to them for a situation update Alan?"
"Negative Scott. The electrical interference in the eruptive column will be blocking out all bar short range radio signals and even those would be very sporadic and of poor quality. Even if I used every single transmitter I have I wouldn't be able to punch through the level of interference. I'm afraid that they are on their own."
"I understand. Thanks for letting me know Alan."
"No problem. Though I don't doubt now that your 'Bird will be in desperate need of a wash when they get back," Alan replied with a smile.
"I don't care about that. As long as everyone comes back safe and sound then Thunderbird One being messy and covered in ash would be worth it. If you get any updates at all Alan let me know immediately."
"F.A.B," Alan replied and broke the signal then stood up and left the control room heading for the kitchen. He needed to get a drink to soothe his nerves while he waited, with baited breath, for news of what was happening at Mount Baker on the planet below.
Scott sat still and silent for a few moments after his little brother broke off communication. He was grateful to Alan for the update, though the news that there wouldn't be anymore now that the eruption of Mount Baker had begun made him worry that little bit more. He cast his blue eyed gaze over the portraits of the three of his siblings that were in the danger zone that was now even more hazardous than ever.
"Be safe guys," he whispered softly feeling Tin-Tin put her hand on his right shoulder. Neither spoke they just looked at the portraits knowing that they could do nothing. Nothing but wait and pray that John, Virgil and Gordon would be successful in their mission and would escape from Mount Baker without serious injury. Now I know how Dad must feel whenever he sends us out on a mission, Scott thought, how does he cope with it and knowing that there might come a time where we do not return.
It was an interesting revelation this, knowing how there father must feel whenever they were out on a rescue. Especially in an environment as dangerous as Mount Baker would be now. Scott knew he would be thinking about it for a very long time after this.
A very long time indeed.
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