In Brains' hospital room, the nurses moved Brains back into his bed after his trip to the Internal Imaging lab. They made him as comfortable as they could, propping pillows around him, offering a sip of water. One nurse added a powerful painkiller to Brains's intravenous unit. He was immobilized in a foam cocoon to prevent more damage to his pelvis and vertebrae. The pain must be horrific, thought Jeff. He stood quietly out of the way and let the nurses do their job. As they left, one turned to him, shook a finger, and said, "Now don't you wear him out, Mr. Tracy. Fifteen minutes and he should be asleep again. He needs to regain his strength for his surgery tomorrow." She then left, shutting the door quietly behind her.
Jeff stepped up to the bed, pulling a chair up with him. He pulled Brains's glasses out of the drawer beside the bed, and put them on Brains's face so he could see. Brains winced with pain, but looked grateful that he could see the world again.
"H-h-how is everyone b-b-back at the island?" he asked.
"Everyone is fine and send their love and get well wishes," Jeff replied. Indeed, the flat surfaces of the room were covered in bright cards and colorful balloons festooned one corner. "Things have been quiet for a few days now, so Tin-Tin and the boys have been catching up on some routine maintenance. Grandma has the house running like clockwork and has even gotten Alan to do the dishes!" Brains gave a ghost of a smile at that last comment.
"Brains, I have an important question to ask..." Jeff began, but stopped as Dr. Evan Longfeld of Charing Cross Hospital, London, walked in. The specialist picked up Brains's chart, scanned through each page, then looked at Brains.
"Well, old man, it looks like the plate we put in is helping your skull fracture heal very nicely. Tomorrow, we'll go to work on those vertebrae and put bone pins in your pelvis to help it heal. After that, it's up to you and the physical therapists." he explained cheerfully. Then he grew more serious and moved closer to Brains. "I want you to understand that tomorrow is not the end of your pain. In some ways it will be the beginning. Your body will heal, and has the potential of recovering all that it has lost due to the fall. But you are the one who must do the work of recovery. It will take quite some time and you may feel like giving up. But you mustn't. What is it those International Rescue chaps say? 'Never give up at any cost'. So take your cue from them and determine that you will recover completely." He gave Brains' shoulder a light squeeze. "I'll see you in the morning." He nodded at Jeff. "Mr. Tracy." Then he left.
"Brains, the doctor is right. Your recovery will take some time, perhaps a much as a year." Jeff sought the right words to say. "I don't want to depress you, but we can't wait much longer for those refits. And Tin-Tin can't do it alone. We need to bring someone in from the outside, someone discreet and trustworthy, not to replace you but to fill in temporarily." He leaned closer to the now-drowsy Brains. "Do you have any suggestions?"
Brains's eyelids were drooping as the painkiller took effect. His whole body relaxed. But before his eyes closed totally, he looked at Jeff and said softly, "Becca." Then he drifted off.
Jeff gently removed Brains's glasses and put them back in the drawer beside the bed. He looked thoughtful as he left the sick room. Becca? Becca who? Becca what? He looked up, startled, as he heard his name called over the hospital loudspeakers. "Jeff Tracy to telebooth five. Jeff Tracy to telebooth five." Jeff quickened his pace to the row of telebooths. In number five, he pressed a few buttons and soon saw Tin-Tin's pretty face looking back at him.
"Hello, Mr. Tracy! How is Brains today?" she asked.
"Asleep. Gaining strength for his surgery tomorrow." he answered shortly. Then his face softened and he apologized. "I'm sorry, Tin-Tin. I shouldn't have snapped like that. Actually Dr. Longfeld said that the skull fracture is healing very well."
"Oh, that's wonderful news, Mr. Tracy! Did you speak to Brains today at all?"
"Why, yes, Tin-Tin, just now. I asked him to recommend someone to help us, but his painkiller was taking effect and all he was able to say was 'Becca'. Makes no sense to me."
Tin-Tin looked excited, "Oh, but it does to me, Mr. Tracy! Among Brains' professional colleagues is one Dr. Rebekkah Barnes. She is an engineer, it seems, and is quite friendly with Brains, or at least so I gather from her letters. She signs her letters as "Bekkah." Tin-Tin's face showed some puzzlement. "I'm not exactly certain what she does, but she seems to have been called in following some of International Rescue's most difficult missions." Her face took on an impish grin. "She even names Alan and says he is a daredevil."
"Well done, Tin-Tin! I need to think of a way to approach this Dr. Barnes. Tell Scott I'll call him later, and we'll make some plans." Jeff's spirits rose. Now maybe they could move on from Brains's accident and lethim concentrate on healing.
A frigid investigation
The frigid wind whistled above the deep crevasse where the broken helijet lay. A small group of people surrounded it, pointing, digging, and taking photographs. The bodies had long since been removed for burial, but there were still crimson stains in the snow, and here or there, some relic that spoke of who had died in that pit. A tiny glove, a pair of shattered glasses, a notebook wet with snow and blood.
Most of the people were Chileans, but two of them, the photographer and someone who was directing him, were foreigners. The director, a woman in a well-padded snow suit, parka, and warm boots, squatted down by what had been the tail of the helijet, and pulled up a handful of snow. She sniffed it carefully, once, twice, and then brushed her hands of the wet stuff and stood. She came closer to one of the massive fuel tanks and examined it minutely from behind her snow goggles. She rapped on the tank and was rewarded with a hollow sound. She turned to the photographer.
"Tony, get a shot of these tanks. I need really clear ones because we can't get back here again. Man, it's a miracle that International Rescue was able to find survivors at all. Too bad one of the kids died at the hospital." She turned to one of the Chileans, the one in charge of the examination and excavation and spoke to him in fluent Spanish.
"Señor Benito, these fuel tanks seem to be the cause of the crash."
Señor Benito asked, "Why would they? Surely they are intact!"
She smiled ruefully and explained, "That is exactly the reason, Señor. They seem to be intact, but they are empty. Had they been full, the helijet would have exploded. And the snow is clean of fuel residue. There was a fuel leak." She looked him square in the face. "I need these tanks to be removed and winched from here so I can examine them with my equipment. I need to determine if it was a defect of the tanks themselves or poor maintenance or even an accident that caused the leak." Her smile broadened. "It is, of course, in your best interest to cooperate. After all, we are talking about a very sizable insurance settlement here. Who do you wish to have pay the families of all these children? The helijet manufacturer or your company?"
Señor Benito's face paled at the mention of the money. His company provided liability insurance to the helijet's owner. If it was faulty maintenance or even an accident, his company would be paying millions of dollars to the grieving families. But if it was a defect in the helijet itself, why, that was a different matter.
Señor Benito made up his mind. He shouted to his workmen to pull out the laser torches and begin cutting away at the back of the helijet.
Dr. Rebekkah Barnes moved wearily over to join her photographer. He offered her a cup of coffee, hot from a Thermos, and she wrapped her gloved hands around it. Her eyes fixed on a little red mitten. That could fit Joey, she thought, and shuddered.
The laser crew made short work of cutting loose the fuel tanks, and they were winched out of the crevasse by a heavy-duty Chilean military hoverjet. They would be taken to the nearby airport and put in a hanger commandeered for the purpose. Another military transport, this an American helijet, sent down transport capsules for Dr. Barnes and her borrowed crew. As she entered the warm capsule, she looked down once more at the smashed aircraft, then sighed. Once clear of the crevasse, she looked out of the observation window to see the impressions in the snow. Thunderbird 1 had landed over there, and she could see the imprint of Thunderbird 2's pod as well. She wondered how the men of International Rescue felt when they saw the carnage below. Were they inured to the sight of death, having to deal with it so often?
The capsule reached the waiting helijet and she disembarked, seating herself and strapping in while the capsule returned for the Chilean workers. She leaned her head back and closed her eyes. Might as well get a nap, she thought. It's going to be a long night.
And so, Dr. Rebekkah Barnes, crack investigator for the International Safety Organization, fell asleep.
A tropical investigation
"Virgil, how is it going?" Scott asked his brother, who was piloting Thunderbird 2.
"Very well, Scott," Virgil replied, "We didn't even have to drop Pod 4. Gordon went down with the rescue capsule and just jumped in. He swam over to the capsized boat and pulled the sailors over to the capsule and came back up with them. The easiest rescue in ages, I think." Virgil grinned. "Sometimes my little brother the fish amazes even me!"
"Great work, fellas! Alan, you can head back to base. Virgil, the hospital at Maui is waiting for those two sailors, so you fly over there and make sure they get medical attention."
"FAB, Scott," the two brothers chorused.
"And, Virgil, get back as soon as you can. Father has a special job for us. Base out." Scott leaned back in his father's chair. Last time he had to do this, it was a mess. He was so exhausted at the end of the mission that he wanted to trade places with his father on vacation! He was glad of the quiet spell between that Chilean episode and this minor rescue. It gave his brothers a chance to breathe and get over what they saw. Virgil and Alan were nearly back to their old selves, but Scott was worried about Gordon. His carefree, practical joker of a brother was moody and withdrawn. He spent many hours roaming the beaches and cliffs of the island. He spoke in monosyllables, and preferred the company of the waves to that of his family. Grandma even commented that he seemed to have lost his appetite. Scott wondered if there could be something physically wrong with Gordon, and if he should force him to see a doctor.
Scott's musings were interrupted by Tin-Tin, who swept into the room, her hands full of papers.
"Why, hello there, Tin-Tin. Need any help?" he gallantly asked.
"Hello, Scott. No, I don't think I need your help. But if I could use your father's desk..."
"Of course!" Scott rose from the chair to stand behind Tin-Tin as she organized the papers into distinctive piles. He picked one up.
"Hey! These are the specs for Thunderbird 4!" he gazed at her curiously. "What's up with this?"
"As you will notice, Scott, all markings that would identify these plans as that of Thunderbird 4 have been erased. Your father will explain it all to you." She looked over at the portraits of the five young men. "Where's Alan? You know he's supposed to relieve John today."
"Here he comes now." Scott watched anxiously as his youngest brother flew in over the island. The pool began to retract, and Alan neatly changed the position of Thunderbird 1 from horizontal to vertical. Then he eased her down into the launch bay, setting her down lightly on the launch platform. Scott realized he was holding his breath and let it out quietly. The eyes on Alan's picture began to blink, and Scott moved past Tin-Tin to activate the desktop microphone.
"Scott, I'm just going to take the monorail from here to Thunderbird 3. It's time for me to get on up to Thunderbird 5 anyway," Alan explained.
"Are you sure you're not too tired?" Scott queried.
"I'm fine, Scott. This last rescue was a cakewalk. I'll see you next month, bro."
"Okay, Alan. Warn John that I want a rematch from that last billiard game we played. I think he cheated."
Alan chuckled, "Okay, Scott, will do. Alan out."
About 20 minutes later, Thunderbird 3 roared from its hiding place below the roundhouse. It shot up into the blue sky and soon was out of sight. Once Scott could no longer see Thunderbird 3, the sleek, fat, green shape of Thunderbird 2 appeared, heading across the seas toward the island. Virgil's picture blinked.
"All clear for landing, Scott?"
"FAB, Virgil." Scott thought Virgil sounded a bit testy. Thunderbird 2 landed on the airstrip and began to back up into its cavernous hangar. It slipped into the space left by Pod 4, and the hydraulic lifts pushed the nose and engines of the craft free from the pod then locked into place.
When Virgil arrived a few minutes later, he arrived alone.
"Where's Gordon?" Scott asked.
Virgil hooked his thumb over his shoulder, "He's in Thunderbird 4. After we delivered those two sailors to Maui, he went back to the pod and stayed there. What is eating him?"
"I don't know, but I'm going to find out." Scott assured Virgil.
"No, Scott, let me go," Tin-Tin piped up, "I'm finished with this collating. Maybe I can persuade him to open up."
"Okay, Tin-Tin. You go have a crack at him."
Tin-Tin strode down to where Thunderbird 2's pods were lined up in a neat row. She opened up a box beside the door to Pod 4 and pressed a button. The pod's ramp-like door came slowly down, revealing the bright yellow watercraft, Thunderbird 4. She could see Gordon sitting in the pilot's seat, eyes closed, head back. She tapped on the specially reinforced port that stretched across the front of Thunderbird 4. Gordon started, and then looked at her. Tin-Tin was alarmed to see how tired he looked. He climbed wearily out of the chair and soon had joined her outside.
"Gordon, what is the matter? Your family is worried about you." Tin-Tin's eyes pleaded with him for answers.
"I wish I knew, Tin-Tin. Everything is going so wrong. First Brains gets hurt, and then all those kids get killed, and we're out there rescuing a couple of knuckleheads that didn't have the sense to stay out of high seas. It's all wrong." He turned from her and started to walk away when the watch on his wrist beeped. He lifted it to see Scott's face replace the watch face.
"Gordon, Dad wants to talk to us. He has a job for us to do. Come up to the lounge. Please?"
"I'm coming."Gordon headed for the monorail. Tin-Tin walked beside him. They rode in silence to the lounge area. Before they left the little monorail car, Tin-Tin touched his arm.
"I'm always here to listen, Gordon." she told him, "Remember that."
Gordon nodded mutely and they entered the lounge.
Jeff Tracy scanned the faces of his boys in the videophone of his hotel room. He noted the strain of Gordon's face, the anticipation of Scott's, the alertness of Virgil's. He chose his words carefully and began.
"First, Brains had surgery today to fuse his two fractured vertebrae. Dr. Longfeld said this took longer than expected and decided to put the pins in Brains's pelvis later this week. It was a tough time for Brains and he is in a lot of pain. But he sends his thanks for all your get well wishes." Jeff's glance swept the room again.
"Brains gave me the name of someone he recommends to fill in for him while he is incapacitated. Tin-Tin found her name in Brains' correspondence, and she seems to be well qualified."
The boys' eyebrows went up at the use of the pronoun "she".
"Her name is Dr. Rebekkah Barnes. Tin-Tin has put together a little dossier on Dr. Barnes for you to study. This will require delicate handling. We want to see what she can do with our technology without revealing who we are. Scott, I want you to call Dr. Barnes at her home in South Carolina and invite her out to a business lunch. Tell her that we have heard her name through Hiram Hackenbacker and we have a design job that she might be interested in. She works as a safety investigator with the International Safety Organization, but she also does some free-lance engineering and design work on the side. Bring along the specs to Thunderbird 4 that Tin- Tin has prepared." Gordon started at the mention of his Thunderbird. "Gordon, you go with Scott in case she has any technical questions. Offer her a fat fee if she can give us her ideas within a week. Then I'll follow up." Jeff's gaze turned to Virgil. "Virgil, I want you to fly out here with Tin-Tin in the Lear as soon as John gets back from Thunderbird 5. You'll fly back right away with Kyrano so your brothers can use the Lear for their meeting with Dr. Barnes. We'll be spread thin for a few days, but we can't help it. Let's get this project underway."
"Father, what do we do if she refuses the commission?" asked Scott.
"Get back to me and I will contact her," answered Jeff.
"Gordon, a word with you." Virgil, Tin-Tin, and Scott left the room. Gordon faced his father's image. "Yes, Dad?"
"Scott is worried about you. He's told me about your less-than-social behavior. What is going on, son?"
Gordon found himself unable to speak. He hung his head and shook it.
"I don't know, Dad. I can't talk about it. I don't know how."
Jeff looked at his fourth son with sympathy. "Get some rest, son. This caper should only take a couple of days, I hope. Call me anytime you want to talk."
"FAB, Dad." Gordon closed down the communication. Then he balled up his fists and hit the desktop, hard, before he went off to seek solace in the waves on the beach.
It was late afternoon when Rebekkah Barnes fetched her suitcase and equipment duffel from the jetport's luggage area. Her microcomp rested in its case, which was slung over her shoulder. She left the jetport building looking for her family minivan. It sat where she had left it three days ago. She got in and started it up, then eased out onto the interstate.
Her mind debriefed itself by remembering the Chilean assignment. With the sensitive equipment she had brought, she was able to determine that the fuel leak was caused by a fault in the metal used by the helijet manufacturer. Which pleased Señor Benito very, very much. She had dictated her report on the flight from Santiago to Atlanta, then napped on the short flight from Atlanta to Greenville. Now she was headed to see the three people who meant the most to her.
The exit ramp came up quickly, and she turned off. A mile and a half down the road, a turn into the ritzy subdivision on the right, snake through its streets to the more modest subdivision on the other side. Then turn into the driveway belonging to the yellow house with the green shutters. She left her luggage in the van, and on hearing the whine of its engine stop, three small figures burst from the front door, yelling, "Mommy! Mommy!" She was swallowed up by children's arms and gave and received hugs and kisses.
"Did you bring us back anything from Chile?" asked the taller girl with the brown-gold hair and green eyes.
"Yes, Chell. In my luggage." The girl eagerly ran for the minivan, digging the luggage out of the back.
"What was it like up there in the Andes?" asked the next smallest child, a boy with bright blond hair and gray eyes and a smattering of freckles across his nose.
Rebekkah laughed at the question, "Cold, Terry! Cold!"
"Mommy! Look at what I got at school today! I was Student of the Day!" the smallest child, a boy with stiff, frizzy brown hair and equally brown eyes showed his mom a sticker declaring that honor to the world.
"Wow, Joey! Got it again!" she exclaimed with pride. Then she turned to the two older people who stood on the steps, "Hi, Mom, Dad!" She spoke to her sons. "Go help Chell with my luggage, boys." As the two boys ran for the van, Rebekkah entered the house.
"How was the trip, Bekkah?" asked her mom, a short, stout woman with graying hair.
Rebekkah sighed. "Depressing, Mom. Really depressing. The helijet that went down had kids on it."
Rebekkah's father, a stocky man with no gray in his thinning brown hair, put his arm around his daughter. "You've got a tough job, Bekkah. Sometimes it will get you down."
Bekkah sighed again. Sometimes she wondered why she did this at all.
By now, the childrenhad hauled the luggage into the house. Terry placed the equipment duffel carefully in his mother's room. He knew the worth of the implements in it. Chell plunkedthe suitcase in the center of her bed and waited for her mom to come and pull out the goodies that were promised. Joey had slung the microcomp over one shoulder and had it bumping gently on the opposite hip. Bekkah joined her kids in her room, and dug out the souvenirs she had purchased at the airport in Santiago. They ran out again, comparing their treasure to each other's. Bekkah smiled wearily after them.
She had almost finished putting away her clothes and gathering up her laundry when the phone rang. Her father answered it, and then called up to her, "Bekkah! Videophone for you!" She padded downstairs to answer it.
On the video screen was a handsome, personable-looking young man who asked courteously, "Dr. Rebekkah Barnes? My name is Scott Tracy. I represent Tracy Industries. I have your name from Hiram Hackenbacker."
She smiled. "From Hiram? That old fox! What can I do for you, Mr. Tracy?"
He smiled back at her. "I'd like to discuss a free-lance engineering and design job with you, if you are interested..."
Ten minutes later, Scott signed off. "It's all set for the day after tomorrow, 1230 hours EST USA. We'll meet at Peroni's in Greenville, South Carolina." He shook his head. "Never been to South Carolina before. Hope the restaurant's good."
Rebekkah turned to her mom when the call was complete. "Well, that was unexpected. Hope this is worth the time and he doesn't stick me with the check."
He screamed, falling through the air, flailing his arms. Then darkness.
Brains woke with a start from his nightmare. His back, head, and hips throbbed with pain. He let out a quiet moan, which brought Tin-Tin to his side. He looked up at her face, trying to focus on it. She gently slid his glasses into place and then he could see her clearly, only as if from far away.
"T-t-tin-Tin. P-p-please call the n-n-nurse."
"Of course, Brains." She pressed the button that called the nurse from her station.
On entering, the nurse asked, "Painkiller wearing off, Mr. Hackenbacker? It's almost time for your next dose anyway." She added the painkiller to the intravenous line, and almost immediately, Brains felt the pain subside considerably. The nurse fussed about with pillows and checked the foam cocoon which enveloped him. Then, with a smile and a wink at Tin-Tin, she left.
Tin-Tin brought Brains a cool drink. As he sipped, she told him about the meeting Scott and Gordon were to have with his friend, Bekkah Barnes.
"I read one of her letters to you. She seems like a nice person." Tin-Tin commented.
"Y-y-yes, Tin-Tin. Sh-she is v-v-very qualified. And f-f-fun to be a- around. W-w-we would of-of-often have c-c-coffee together and m-m-make plans for ou-outlandish vehicles. B-b-bad puns, too." Brains smiled. "She w- w-would make a g-g-good r-replacement for me."
Tin-Tin frowned. "Don't say that, Brains. If she joins our team, she will not be replacing you. She will be just a temporary fill-in until you are better."
Brains did not contradict his pretty friend. But he wasn't sure he could work through the pain he felt to the complete recovery needed for his work at International Rescue. Better that they find a permanent replacement.