"Tom, we're having a problem with the gyro-stabilizer," said Mark Faber, gray-haired president of the Faber Electronics Company. "Hope you can find out what's wrong."
The eighteen-year-old inventor accepted the challenge with a smile. "I'll be glad to try, sir," he replied.
Bud Barclay, a dark-haired young flier and Tom Swift Jr.'s closest friend, chuckled. "If anyone can get the bugs out of your new invention, genius boy here will do it!"
The two boys followed Mr. Faber and his engineers to a wooden building which was tightly guarded. Inside, a secret rocket-telemetering device was mounted on its test stand.
"As you know, Tom," Mr. Faber began, "the usual conditions of rocket flight will be—"
He broke off with a gasp of astonishment as the whole building suddenly began to shake.
"Good grief!" Bud exclaimed. "This isn't part of your testing routine, is it?"
His question was drowned out by cries of alarm and the sound of cracking glass. The walls and roof were shuddering and creaking, and the concrete floor was heaving under their feet.
"Look out! The test stand's breaking loose!" Tom warned.
Mr. Faber and two of his men tried frantically to brace the heavy test stand which held the telemetering device. Another engineer rushed toward the door to see what was happening outside. Before he reached it, another shock knocked all of them off their feet.
Electronic equipment cascaded from the wall shelves, and a heavy-duty chain hoist came loose from its overhead track, plunging to the floor with a terrifying crash.
"An earthquake!" Tom gasped.
Bud, meanwhile, clawed a handhold on a wire screen enclosing an air compressor and pulled himself to his feet. But the next moment a third, more violent tremor rocked the building, knocking him over. "The roof! It's caving in!" he heard someone scream.
As his eyes flashed upward in panic, Bud caught a brief glimpse of the ponderous test stand with the priceless telemeter tilting to one side. An instant later it crashed over, pinning Mark Faber beneath it!
Bud threw up his arms to protect himself, but too late! A falling beam caught him on the back of the head and the young flier blacked out.
For minutes, no one stirred among the wreckage. Then Tom, who had been stunned by some falling debris, raised himself to a sitting position.
"Good night!" Tom's eyes focused in horror on the wreckage enveloped by still-billowing dust.
The sky was visible through several gaping holes in the roof, which was sagging dangerously on its supporting trusses. Only two thirds of the walls were still standing.
Suddenly Tom stiffened in fear. "Bud!" The young inventor had just noticed his friend lying pinned beneath a heavy beam nearby. Was he still breathing?
Disregarding his own injuries, Tom hastily freed himself from the debris and groped his way to Bud's side. With a desperate heave, he shoved the beam away, then cradled Bud's head in his arm. His friend's eyelids flickered.
"Are you all right?" Tom asked fearfully.
The answer came in a groan. "O-oh!... Wow!... What hit me?"
"You got conked by a falling timber. Or grazed, at least," Tom added thankfully. "If that beam had landed square on your noggin, even a rock-head like you couldn't have survived!"
Bud managed to grin. "We grow 'em tough out in California where I come from!" he joked.
Somewhat shakily, Bud got to his feet with Tom's assistance. Both boys were heartsick as they surveyed the damaged laboratory, wondering where to begin rescue operations.
"It was a quake," Bud stated grimly. He had heard about the great San Francisco earthquake from his grandfather, and had no doubt about the nature of the tremors.
Just then Tom glimpsed a body protruding from under the wreckage of the telemetering device.
"Mr. Faber!" he gasped.
The two boys scrambled through the clutter of debris toward the spot where the test stand had been erected. Bud seized a slender, steel I beam and managed to pry up the wreckage while Tom carefully extricated Mr. Faber.
The scientist seemed to be badly injured. "We'd better not try to move him," Tom decided. "We'll get an ambulance."
Of the four other company engineers, two were now stirring and partly conscious. The boys found a first-aid cabinet and gave what help they could to them and the other two men. Then Tom taped a bandage on Bud's scalp wound.
"Let's see if we can find a telephone and call the local hospital," Tom said.
"Right!" Bud responded.
They picked their way through the wreckage and emerged on a scene of frightful destruction. The main plant building of Faber Electronics had been partially demolished by the quake. Power lines were down and an outlying storage shed was ablaze. Dazed and panic-stricken survivors were wandering around aimlessly or rushing about to assist the injured.
"Good thing the main shift of workers knocked off before this happened," Bud observed with a shudder. "There would've been a lot more casualties."
"Look!" Tom pointed to a huge crevasse. "Right where we landed our Whirling Duck!"
The boys exchanged rueful glances as they realized that the craft which had brought them to Faber Electronics—one of Tom's unique helijets—had been swallowed up in the gaping chasm.
"No use fussing about it now," Tom said. "Come on, Bud! Let's see about getting help for Mr. Faber!"
Despite the chaotic confusion, the boys managed to locate the plant superintendent—a harried, middle-aged man named Simkins—who was doing his best to restore order. Simkins, who had not been injured, informed them that electricians were rigging an emergency telephone line in order to get through to the nearby town of Harkness.
"Mr. Faber is badly injured," Tom said. "Why not send a car? It's only a few miles away, isn't it?"
"I'll send the plant nurse to him," Simkins said. "As for going to town, take a look at the parking lot." He pointed with a jerk of his thumb. The cars on the lot had been smashed into junk by bricks from a collapsing wall of one of the buildings. "And the only truck we had available was in that burning shed," the superintendent added bitterly.
"Tough break," Tom sympathized. "Anyhow, we want to help. Got a job for us?"
Simkins was only too glad to put Tom's quick mind and keen technical know-how to use. Within minutes, Tom was in charge of clearing away rubble and extricating anyone who might be trapped inside the buildings. Bud organized a fire-fighting crew to keep the blaze in the shed from spreading.
The telephone line was soon repaired and a steady stream of rescue vehicles began arriving from Harkness—fire trucks, three ambulances, and private cars driven by volunteers.
Two hours later there was nothing more Tom and Bud could do at the disaster scene and they hitched a ride into Harkness. The town had suffered some damage, though only slight compared to the destruction at the plant.
"The center of the quake was right under Faber Electronics," Tom remarked.
From a pay telephone, he called Swift Enterprises in Shopton. This was the experimental station where he and his father developed their many amazing inventions. Tom asked the operator to send a helicopter immediately to pick them up. He also called home and spoke to his sister, Sandra.
"What a relief!" Sandy gasped. "We heard a bulletin about the quake over the radio!"
"Don't worry, Sis. Tell Mother and Dad that we're okay," Tom said. "We'll be home in a jiffy—with big appetites!"
The helicopter arrived within twenty minutes at the place Tom had named. After landing at Enterprises, the boys drove to the pleasant, tree-shaded Swift home on the outskirts of town.
Mrs. Swift, a slender, petite woman, tried not to show concern when she saw the boys, bruised and disheveled. "I'm so thankful you're both safe!" she murmured.
Blond, blue-eyed Sandy, who was a year younger than Tom, had invited her friend Phyllis Newton to the house for dinner. Phyl, a pretty, dark-haired girl, was the daughter of Mr. Swift's long-time friend and business associate, "Uncle Ned" Newton. The two girls were as much upset as Tom's mother.
Tom laughed. "We're not stretcher cases," he said. "Why, one of the ambulance doctors checked us out."
Bud groaned. "Why did you have to go and spoil it?" he complained jokingly. "I was all set for Sandy's cool soothing touch on my fevered brow!"
Mr. Swift came into the living room just then and told Tom how worried Mrs. Swift and Sandy had been. "I tried to assure them that you and Bud can take care of yourselves in any crisis." He smiled guiltily as he added, "But I must admit I was more than a little concerned myself."
As Tom grinned, the resemblance between him and his father was very evident. Both had the same clean-cut features and deep-set blue eyes, although Tom Jr. was lankier and taller.
After the two boys had showered and changed their clothes, Mrs. Swift served them a delicious, hot meal. While they ate, Mr. Swift managed after some difficulty to get a call through to the Harkness Hospital. His face was grave as he hung up.
"Mark Faber is not expected to live," the elder inventor reported. "A pity. He's a great scientist."
Tom nodded unhappily. Sandy, to take her brother's mind off the disaster, said, "Dad, tell Tom and Bud about the visitor who's coming."
"A visitor?" Tom looked at his father.
"From another planet," Mr. Swift revealed.
Both boys were amazed and excited. "Wow!" Bud gasped. "Male or female? Human or animal?"
Mr. Swift's eyes twinkled. "None of those," he replied as the boys stared, mystified.