International Rescue had enjoyed seven years of successful rescues. Fires, floods, earthquakes, tsunamis, space emergencies, and the occasional saboteur kept the Tracy family and their equipment busy. Constant maintenance and occasional equipment upgrades kept the Thunderbird vehicles in top working order. But in the technology of the 21st century, seven years is a long time and Jeff Tracy began to think of more extensive refits for the workhorses of IR. Brains and Tin-Tin were assigned to begin designing these upgrades. They started a review all the original plans and made preliminary notes on what Brains saw needed to be done in the brief, quiet times between emergencies. But between maintenance of the mighty Thunderbirds and an increased reliance on their expertise during IR missions, Brains and Tin-Tin found little time to pursue the refitting process.
Then everything came to a halt when Brains fell.
No one really knows how it happened. It was a substantial fall, about 20 feet, from the scaffolding where he was examining Thunderbird 2's port wing to the concrete floor of the hanger. He landed on his pelvis, then his back, his head striking the floor with a crack, leaving a pool of blood. His scream brought Gordon, working in Pod 4, at a run. Gordon's quick work probably saved his life. He immediately used his telecom to alert his father, brothers, and Tin-Tin, then used the first aid skills he had received in Aquanaut training to staunch the blood flow and keep Brains's head and neck still until he could be immobilized and loaded for transport to a trauma center in Singapore. Jeff Tracy, Tin-Tin, and Kyrano rode as Virgil piloted the family's supersonic Lear jet.
Several hours later, the remaining members of the family gathered around the videophone to hear an exhausted and discouraged Virgil give a report on Brains's condition. "He's fractured his skull, two of his vertebrae, and his pelvis." Virgil explained, "The doctors are waiting until the swelling goes down in his skull before doing any surgery."
"What are his chances, Virg?" asked John, through his link from the Thunderbird 5 space station.
"Not good, John," answered his brother, "Right now, it's just wait and see. Tin-Tin and I will be flying back in the morning. Dad and Kyrano will be staying on for a while." Virgil sighed, "He's got the best doctors, and Dad is having a specialist flown in from England."
"Okay, Virg. Thanks for the update." said Scott. "Get some rest and we'll see you tomorrow." He closed down the connection. There was silence in the room for a few moments as the Tracys tried to absorb the shock they had just been given.
Finally, Grandma piped up. "Well, now, moping around won't help anything. We need to keep busy and try to pick up the slack that this emergency has caused."
"You're right, Grandma." agreed Scott. "Gordon, please finish the inspection of Thunderbird 2's wing before Virgil gets back. Let me know if you find that crack Virgil complained about. Alan, check out Thunderbird 1's systems. That was next on Brains' agenda. You'll have to fly Thunderbird 1 until Dad gets back." He turned to Grandma Tracy, "Grandma, we'll take turns helping out in the kitchen and around the house until Kyrano gets back. I doubt Tin-Tin will be up to it. Besides, she'll be standing in for Brains until he recovers." He smiled at the rest of the family. "Brains will survive, I just know it! He's too stubborn to do anything else."
Gordon, Alan, and Grandma smiled back, if only to bolster each other's morale. John managed a half-smile and said to Scott, "Keep me updated on Brains's condition. Wish I could be there to help out. Thunderbird 5 out."
A slow recovery
Virgil and Tin-Tin arrived the next day to find no one at home but Grandma. Virgil toggled the switch that opened communications with Thunderbird 5. "International Rescue to Thunderbird 5. Where is everybody, John?"
John's harried face appeared where his portrait had been. "A school in Bangladesh collapsed when a runaway tractor smashed into it, Virgil. Since there were only three at HQ, Alan is flying Thunderbird 1 and Scott and Gordon are double crew on Thunderbird 2," he explained, "The rescue is almost complete. Ah, that's Alan now. I'll patch him through."
Alan's clean-cut picture was replaced by his disheveled and dirt-streaked face. "Thunderbird 1 to base. You finally back, Virgil? You missed all the fun, ha, ha."
"I guess I did at that, Alan," Virgil replied sympathetically, "What's your ETA?"
"ETA at 1300 hours," Alan looked at the red-eyed Tin-Tin, who sat slumped on the couch, "How are you doing, Tin-Tin? Did you get any rest?" Tin-Tin managed a wan smile, but tears began to swell in her eyes. She could say nothing. "We'll be home soon," Alan reassured her. "Thunderbird 1 out."
Once all of the weary Tracy siblings had returned to base and had showered and changed, Scott opened the link to John and then called their dad on the videophone.
"I heard about the rescue at the school, boys. Good work!" exclaimed Jeff.
"Any more news on Brains, Dad?" Gordon asked the question that was on everyone's mind.
Jeff looked sober as he responded, "Not much, Gordon. The swelling seems to be going down, but not enough for the surgeon to operate." He brightened up a bit. "The surgeons do say that they think Brains will be able to walk. They plan to fuse the two fractured vertebrae. There was little actual damage to the spinal cord." He smiled at his son. "They credit your quick action for that outcome." Gordon put his hands in his pockets and looked down at the floor.
"Look, boys. This is going to take a while, and although we are with Brains for the long haul, we do need to think about the maintenance and overhaul of the Thunderbird vehicles." Jeff directed his gaze to a downcast Tin-Tin. "Tin-Tin, you are a great assistant to Brains. But we know you can't do this all alone."
"You know I will do my best, Mr. Tracy," said Tin-Tin.
"Yes, I know that, Tin-Tin. But the job is just too big for one person." He looked at his sons again. "We are going to have to find someone to lend us a hand. Someone who is willing to take up the challenge that International Rescue offers." He paused. "I don't know who that will be just yet. I'm hoping to get a recommendation from Brains himself when he comes to. In the meanwhile, you boys carry on like you did today, and give Tin-Tin as much help as you can with the routine maintenance." He grinned, "And give Grandma as much help as you can with the household maintenance!" The boys smiled back at him, and Grandma Tracy gave her son a broad wink.
"Tin-Tin, your father sends his love. I'll call back tomorrow, or sooner if there's any news. Goodnight, boys." The connection went dead.
Scott turned to John. "Anything you need right now, John? This might be the best time for Thunderbird 3 to make an unscheduled provision run. There might not be time later."
"Not right now, Scott," John replied. "Hopefully, we can keep on our crew rotation, Alan. I'd like to get dirtside to see Brains once he can receive visitors."
"Don't worry, big bro, I won't let you rot up there," Alan quipped.
"Okay, I'll hold you to that, squirt. Thunderbird 5 out." John's picture was back in place.
"Virgil, you've got emergency watch." Scott informed his brother. He turned to Grandma. "When will dinner be ready, Grandma? I'm starving!"
"You should be since you missed your lunch!" Grandma Tracy declared. "Come on in the kitchen and we'll get out some sandwich fixings to tide you over until dinner. Tin-Tin, come give me a hand, please. And, Alan," she shook her finger at her youngest grandson, "You will not get out of doing dishes after this meal!" The brothers chuckled as Alan hung his head in a pretense of shame and intoned, "Yes, Grandma."
No emergency calls for International Rescue were made that night, so everyone in the Tracy villa were able to sleep, even Virgil. The day looked brighter in the morning, as everyone tried to settle down to a routine. Tin- Tin was accompanied by Scott as she checked over Thunderbird 1 after its use the day before. And Virgil helped Tin-Tin examine Thunderbird 2. Looking at the port wing, he pointed to a fresh welding mark. Sobered, he said, "That's what Brains was looking for when he fell. The fellas must have found it and repaired it for me." Tin-Tin nodded gravely and climbed down carefully from the scaffolding.
After lunch, an excited call came in from Kyrano. Scott summoned his brothers, again included John, and waited to hear the news from Singapore.
"Good news!" Kyrano beamed at the assembly. "The swelling has gone down enough for the surgeons to operate on Mr. Brains's skull fracture! They are putting a bone plate over it to help it heal!"
"That's wonderful news, Father!" exclaimed a jubilant Tin-Tin, "What will happen next?"
"Well, if Mr. Brains regains consciousness after the procedure, they will give him a few days to recover his strength and then both fuse the vertebrae and repair his pelvis," Kyrano explained, "After that, I am not sure what will happen."
"Where is Father, Kyrano?" queried Virgil.
"He is waiting to hear from the surgeon. Mr. Brains is in the operating theater right now. Mr. Tracy will call you when Mr. Brains is in the recovery room."
"Thanks for calling, Kyrano! We'll be waiting for Father's call." said Scott.
"My love to you, Tin-Tin. And to you all!" Kyrano ended the call.
It was late that evening when Jeff Tracy called home. "Boys, the surgeon said that the procedure went well and that Brains should regain consciousness within 24 hours." Jeff was optimistic on the phone. "He will still have at least one more surgery, but I'm very hopeful now that Brains will recover fully. I'll let you know when he comes around." He paused. "Tin-Tin, I have a special task for you. I want you to look through Brains's files and see if you can come up with anyone he has corresponded with professionally, anyone with the engineering qualifications we need. I know we won't ever find anyone as versatile as Brains, but there has to be someone out there. Let me know who you find. I'll call tomorrow with even better news, I hope. Good night everyone."
The next day, Tin-Tin began to sift through Brains's files, both paper and computer. Brains always sounded disconnected from the world around him, easily distracted and disorganized. But that was far from the truth. He was as meticulous in his record keeping as he was in his engineering. It wasn't long before Tin-Tin found file folders marked Correspondence-Professional, and Correspondence-Personal. She started with the Professional folder. In it were neat packets of programs where he had made speeches, and symposiums that he had attended. Stapled to the programs were letters written to him as a result of those excursions, and copies of computer-sent letters. She began to look through each one and mark down the names of the letter- writers. She looked up as Alan poked his head in the door to Brains' office.
"Need any help?" he asked brightly.
"Well, yes, I could use some help," she replied.
"Good! Gives me an excuse to get out of vacuuming the pool." He sat down close beside her. "What do you want me to do?"
"Alan!" she exclaimed, "Shirking again?"
"Yep." he leaned forward to whisper to her conspiratorially. "Just don't tell Scott or Grandma now." He held his finger to his lips. "Shhhh!"
"Oh, Alan!" she giggled.
"Now that's more like it! A smile on your face!" He turned to face her, grinning. "But, seriously now, what do you want me to do?"
"Well, I'll read off the names of these correspondents, and you write them down for me. If a name turns up more than once, just put a check mark after it." she explained.
"Okay, I can do that," he grabbed the paper she had started working on and sat up straight, pen poised over it. "I'm ready!" She giggled again. It felt good to laugh after so much pain.
Awake at last!
Jeff Tracy had taken a hotel room for himself and Kyrano near the Singapore hospital where Brains was being treated. But he hadn't spent much time in it, preferring to stay by Brains's bedside to be there when Brains woke up. Thus it was that he was dozing in the hospital room chair when Brains began to stir.
"W-w-where a-a-m I?" Brains whispered, nearly inaudible. Jeff woke with a start and went to the hospital bed. Brains' eyes were open and he squinted myopically.
"Brains!" Jeff said softly, "It's good to see you awake! You're in a hospital. You had an accident."
"You fell from some scaffolding while working on Thunderbird 2."
"I-i-i don't r-r-remember."
"That's okay, Brains. It's all right. The important thing is that you're awake again. Now get some rest. You need to regain your strength."
"O-o-okay, M-m-r. Tracy." Brains closed his eyes and was soon asleep, his breathing more regular than before. Jeff left the room. He stopped by the nurses' station to let them know that Brains had regained consciousness, then headed for the phone and dialed home.
A freshly-showered Gordon wearily padded into the lounge and slumped down on the couch. His usual good humor gone, he ground the heels of his hands into his eyes then rubbed his temples and sat back. It had not been a good rescue. A small helijet had gone down in the Chilean Andes. John had picked up the automated mayday and he, Virgil, and Alan had responded. The helijet had gone down above the snowline so they had taken the arctic rescue equipment.
Thunderbird 1 had no trouble setting down, but Thunderbird 2 had to circle the area three times before finding the slope Alan had specified. They managed to get up the icy mountain to the crash site, only to find that the helijet was down in a deep crevasse. Nevertheless, he and Virgil rappelled down into the pit to see if there were any survivors.
There were: three schoolchildren out of the ten aboard the helijet. No adult survivors. Alan used Thunderbird 2's winch equipment to lower stretchers to Virgil and Gordon, who then prepared the injured children for transport out of the crevasse. Virgil went up with the first one, then took his place at the controls of Thunderbird 2, leaving Gordon to try and comfort the other two children. The cable was lowered, and Alan came down with it, then rode up again with the second stretcher. Finally, the cable winched down a third time, and Gordon, after making very, very sure that there were no other survivors, rode up with the last injured child.
It was imperative that the surviving children get medical attention fast, so Virgil and Alan took them down the mountain in Thunderbird 2, while Gordon reloaded the arctic transports in Pod 2. It seemed like hours before Virgil came back to claim the pod. He and Alan found Gordon in Thunderbird 1, warm and now dry, with silent tears coursing down his face.
Virgil squeezed his brother's shoulder and whispered, "We did everything we could. The local authorities are coming to claim the bodies. Let's go home." And so they did.
Alan and Virgil, their faces somber, entered the lounge. Scott followed. Sitting down at their father's desk, he spoke sympathetically, "I know we need to debrief from this one and the sooner the better, but before we do, I have some good news. Brains regained consciousness a few hours ago. Father says he is still weak, but he knew who Father was, and spoke to him before going to sleep." The weary and heartsore rescue team murmured how great this was and seemed to perk up a bit. It seemed easier to debrief this rescue knowing that something good had happened that day, thought Gordon, Now if I can only sleep without dreaming tonight.
A common denominator
Tin-Tin continued to sift through the names of Brains's correspondents, sometimes with the help of Grandma, and sometimes with the help of Scott. There ended up being over 200 names, many with multiple check marks after them.
Tin-Tin scanned down the list. My, I never knew that Brains was so popular in his field, she thought in amazement, Of course, all these people know him as Hiram Hackenbacker. And not all of them like him, either.
She noted the name of one man who wrote vituperative letters, attacking everything Brains had said in any setting where Brains was a speaker. He even attacked Brains on a personal level, Tin-Tin had noted, going on and on about Brains's stutter and thick glasses. Not a nice person, she decided, and vehemently crossed the name from the list.
As she scanned down the list again, she noticed three names had the most check marks. She wrote these names down on a fresh sheet. Then she looked through the programs to see if any of the three people had spoken at a symposium and what their subject matter was. Dr. Ivan Virenov, Sir James Masters, Bart., and Rebekkah T. Barnes, MS Engineering. In later programs, this last name became Dr. Rebekkah Barnes. Virenov, Tin-Tin noted, seemed to speak about how fuel consumption affected aircraft design, and on new fuels being developed. Interesting, she mused. Sir James Masters seemed interested in testing parameters for new aircraft, on building vessels in space, the future of manned space flight, supersonic jet design, and satellite construction. All things we are interested in, she thought.
As she paged through and noted Rebekkah Barnes's subject matter, Tin-Tin's eyes widened. The pros and cons of monorail systems, new safety requirements for ocean-going craft, the effect of climate on metal fatigue, hydraulic systems for earth movers, software design for automated communications satellites, nanocircuitry and the compact automobile. Such a range of subject matter! Tin-Tin went back and found the letters that Dr. Barnes had written to Brains. The one that stuck out to her went like this:
Well, you old dog, you've done it again! That skyship of yours is a marvel. I was looking at the design specs the other day (don't ask how I got hold of them; you don't want to know) and just drooled over how beautiful this thing is! I wish I could get my hands on some of its parts; but then maybe I don't because that would mean that it had blown up or something and that you hadn't done your usual precisely perfect job. (Although I have seen a few of your things in my office; they've been mostly blown up by bombs. The insurance companies would rather have it that you were somehow to blame.)
I heard (through the grapevine) that you had another car down at Parola Sands. Is it true? Try not to let it get smashed up or anything before I can get a look at it, huh? That driver of yours, Alan Tracy, is sure a daredevil. Keep your eye on him!
I've finished working on the post mortem of the Empire State Building disaster. Definitely caused by "an Act of God". The equipment was fine, just not made for moving heavy objects over sudden and severe ground subsidence. And that Pacific-Atlantic monorail? I have three boxes full on safety recommendations and design flaws I discovered if anyone wants to try and build the thing again. Glad that the crooks who did such a shoddy job are in jail. Makes me shudder to think of what might have happened if they had gotten away with it. Big body count, methinks.
Well, take care of yourself and let me know where and when you'll be out and about again and I will do the same. You owe me a cup of coffee, extra cream and extra sweet.
Your co-conspirator, Bekkah"
Tin-Tin chuckled over the familiarity and flamboyance of the letter writer. Obviously, Brains and Rebekkah had known each other for quite a while, and while Rebekkah seemed to be very friendly to Brains, it was on a professional basis. Tin-Tin was startled to see the names and places of rescues that International Rescue had taken part in. But it seemed like Dr. Barnes had been called in after the fact. A post-mortem on the equipment used in trying to move the Empire State Building? What did that mean?
Tin-Tin heard a small cough behind her and turned to see Alan in the door. He looked weary and sad, and in need of a lot of cheering up. She smiled at him, and asked, "Isn't it wonderful news about Brains? I'm sure he will be getting better and better each day!"
"Yeah, it really is great." Alan tried to match her happy tone, but couldn't.
"Alan, what's wrong?" Tin-Tin asked with concern.
"We had a...a...tough rescue. That's all."
Now Tin-Tin was really concerned. "Do you want to talk about it?" she asked gently.
"No. Not yet."
"I am always here to listen, Alan." she assured him. "Remember that."
"I...I...will, Tin-Tin." He saw the letter in her hand. "What's in your hand?"
"Oh! I think I may have found someone to 'lend us a hand' as your father said. While Brains is recuperating."
"That's good, Tin-Tin. I'm sure Father will be pleased." He turned from the door. "I think I'll go on to bed now. I'm really tired. Goodnight."
"Goodnight, Alan. Sweet dreams." And she meant it.