Gordon chafed and squirmed in his seat at the restaurant. He wished this meeting were over and he was back at Tracy Island. He looked over at Scott, who was calmly looking over the menu.
During the flight from Tracy Island, he had read the good Doctor's dossier. Born in Boston, Massachusetts. Age 42, Bachelor degree from MIT summa cum laude with a double major in engineering and chemistry, Master's degree from CalTech in engineering and design, then back to MIT for a doctorate in structural engineering. A member of the original Fireflash design team, a fellowship at Oxford teaching structural design. Several years as a free-lance designer of bridges, aircraft, and satellites. Papers presented at over a dozen engineering symposiums and conferences. Married at 26 to Terrence J. Barnes, then taught structural engineering part-time at Greenville Technical University after the birth of their first child, Michelle. Had two other children, Terrence P. and Joseph. Widowed five years ago, hired as an investigator with the International Safety Organization. Very impressive background, he thought. And as he looked over at the woman entering the restaurant and asking for "Mr. Tracy's table", he thought, Too bad her looks don't match her resume.
The woman who approached them was of average height with some matronly poundage clinging to her hips and stomach. She had short, wavy brown hair peppered with a goodly amount of silver, a round face with a prominent and dimpled chin, and a tiny, freckled nose. She was wearing a conservatively-cut skirt suit, which was fine, but in royal purple, which made Gordon wonder a bit. A striking silver broach in the form of a dragon adorned one lapel. Her hand shake was a firm one, but the hands themselves were dry and scarred with work. She still wore her wedding band and diamond ring on her left hand. But when Scott introduced himself and his brother, Gordon noticed her striking brown eyes. She looked at him with a frank and challenging gaze. This lady is not afraid, he thought. She placed a small case on the floor beside her as Scott, ever the gentleman, pulled out her chair for her.
The waiter had already provided the brothers with drinks, and now he came to take the lady's order.
"Sweet tea with lemon, please." Her voice was low-pitched and although it held the trace of a Southern intonation, her accent declared her as from the mid-West. None of the New England twang here, he noticed.
"I've not been here for a while, but the last time I ate here, the veal marsala was excellent." She had the grammar of an educated woman, one who delighted in precision in her speech. Scott ordered the veal, as did Dr. Barnes. To be contrary, Gordon selected another entree. They made small talk over the salad and minestrone. Scott asked her about her children, said he had heard them in the background during his call. She told him about her daughter, 12, and sons, 9 and 7, and noted with pride that they were all-A students at the private school they attended. Once the entrees were eaten (the marsala smelled so good that Gordon wished he had ordered some), and the waiter had freshened their Scotch-and-sodas while the lady ordered coffee, they got down to business.
"You said you got my name from Hiram Hackenbacker. How do you know him, Mr. Tracy?" she asked.
"He does a good deal of work for Tracy Industries. And please, call me Scott."
She smiled. "Okay, Scott. I had no idea Hiram did so much business with your firm. Perhaps that's why I haven't seen as many design projects out there as I know his intellect and imagination could provide. Have you seen him lately? How is that rascal?"
Scott cleared his throat. "Well, he recently had a bad accident while working on a project for us. He's been in the hospital in Singapore for some weeks."
Dr. Barnes was alarmed. "I had no idea! What happened? Will he be all right?"
"He took a bad fall. Fractured his skull and some other bones. His prognosis is guarded, but improving."
"You must give me the address of the hospital so I can write to him. He is such a clever and funny man. I have a deep respect for him and his work." This was the first time Gordon had ever heard Brains described as "funny".
"Of course. I'll write it down for you." Scott took a business card from his jacket and wrote the address of Brains's hospital in Singapore on the back, then handed it to Dr. Barnes. She tucked it in an outer pocket of the small case.
"Actually, it's his injuries that have brought us to you, Dr. Barnes. You see, he was working on several priority projects for us, and he recommended you as someone who could finish a project or two as a free-lancer." Scott took the specs for Thunderbird Four out of his briefcase and handed them to Dr. Barnes. She began to look them over, then looked up at the two men.
"A sea-going vessel?"
Gordon finally spoke. "Yes, a small submarine for exploration and salvage uses." That was the description he and Scott decided to give Thunderbird Four.
"Interesting." She smiled as she looked over the specs. "I can see this is a true Hackenbacker design. Not only is it functional, but aesthetically pleasing as well. A lovely little vessel." Gordon began to warm up to the engineer.
"I'll take the job," Dr. Barnes said suddenly, "I need something to take my mind off of my last ISO assignment."
"What is it that you do for the ISO?" Scott asked smoothly.
"I investigate disasters involving technology. Try to determine a cause, and assign blame if possible. Then develop safety strategies so there isn't a repeat disaster." She sighed heavily. "I just got back from the Chilean Andes. Investigated a helijet crash."
Gordon felt the blood drain from his face. Scott glanced at him, and to keep Dr. Barnes from noticing his brother, he asked quickly, "What happened? Were there any casualties?"
"A pair of leaky fuel tanks caused a helijet to crash deep in a crevasse. The leaks were caused by metal that corroded too easily. The manufacturer is going to pay big penalties and have large lawsuits because of this one." She lowered her eyes. "And there were casualties. 10 children and 5 adults were on that helijet. International Rescue pulled three injured children from the wreckage. One died at the hospital. Everyone else on the helijet perished."
Gordon felt dizzy, and murmuring a hasty, "Excuse me", he got to his feet and made for the men's room. He heard Dr. Barnes say, "I hope your brother is okay" as she stared after his fleeing figure, and Scott stammering to try and explain Gordon's actions. He burst into the little room, found a toilet, and promptly vomited up all the lovely meal he had just eaten. He retched and retched even after his stomach was empty. One more of the children had died! Why? He heard the door open and then Scott was grabbing his shoulders and shaking him.
"What's the matter with you? Are you sick?" he demanded.
Gordon pushed him away and splashed his face with cold water from the tap. He wiped his face and mouth with a paper towel, then turned to Scott.
"I'm going out to the car. Please make my apologies. If they ask, let the kitchen know I'm recovering from a virus." With that, he hurried through the restaurant and out the door to the rental car, Scott staring after him.
A few minutes later, he heard Scott walking Dr. Barnes to her transport. Gordon slouched down in the passenger seat and closed his eyes. Once Dr. Barnes was safely on her way, Scott got into the driver's seat.
"Mind telling me what that was all about? If you really are sick, you should see a doctor."
A sob caught in Gordon's throat, then he steadied himself.
"You heard her. One of the kids we rescued died in the hospital. All because some greedy pig used substandard materials to gain a little profit."
Scott was puzzled by this outburst, but spoke softly. "You know that is a hazard of the business we are in. People die. Children die. We do what we can, but we can't save them all."
"Then why do we even try?" And with that, Gordon turned his face away from his brother and didn't speak again until they got home.
It was fortunate that Bekkah Barnes did work for the ISO. She was only nominally attached to the Greenville office; she was only called out when there was a disaster, and had the use of ISO facilities wherever she went. She also had a home office, built off of her bedroom, which she used for any free-lance commissions that came along. The flexibility of her job enabled her now to put in the hours needed on the Tracy Industries project. Her parents, knowing that this one had a tight deadline, took care of the children, taking them back and forth to school and overseeing their homework. But Bekkah was always available to greet them when they returned from school, to eat the evening meal with her family, and to tuck her three into bed at night. After which she would stay up into the early morning hours, working until finally she could go on no more, and would drop off to sleep in her day clothes.
As a result, the commission she had taken from Scott Tracy took only four days. She took a one day break from it, then spent a sixth day going over all her facts and figures to make sure they were correct. At the end of the sixth day, she called the number on Scott's business card. Another personable-looking young man answered her call.
"This is Dr. Rebekkah Barnes calling for Scott Tracy," she told him.
"I'm sorry, Dr. Barnes, Scott isn't available. I'm his brother, Virgil. Can I help you?" Virgil replied. Scott was helping Tin-Tin with regular maintenance on Thunderbird One.
Bekkah smiled. "Another Tracy brother. Interesting. Just how many of you are there?"
Virgil chuckled. "There are five of us all together, Dr. Barnes."
She had a sudden thought. "Is race car driver Alan Tracy one of you by any chance?"
Virgil laughed. "Yes, Dr. Barnes. He's the baby of the family."
"Well, keep an eye on that one. He's a real daredevil," she warned.
Another laugh. "Believe me, we know all about that, Dr. Barnes. What did you want to talk to Scott about?"
"Well, I've finished the commission he gave me for that little submarine. I wanted to know if I could meet him and go over my ideas with him."
Virgil was impressed.
"Actually, Dr. Barnes, our father, who is CEO of Tracy Industries, wanted to be the one to talk to you about that. He's not here right now, but I will call him as soon as we finish our conversation, and he will get back to you very shortly."
"That's fine, Virgil. I appreciate your help. Good-bye." Rebekkah ended the conversation.
Within minutes, she got a videophone call from a older man, graying, but still ruggedly handsome. She could see where Scott, Virgil, and Gordon got their good looks.
"Good evening, Dr. Barnes. This is Jeff Tracy returning your call."
"Thank you, Mr. Tracy, for being so prompt. I wanted to let you know that I've finished the job your son, Scott, gave me. Where and when can I meet you so I can go over my ideas and diagrams with you?"
Mr. Tracy looked thoughtful. "Well, I'm in Singapore right now and wasn't planning on going to the States anytime soon. However, I am due back at our home in a few days. Perhaps I could send our private jet to bring you to our villa in the South Pacific. You could enjoy a few days of our hospitality while we discuss the project."
It was Bekkah's turn to look thoughtful. "The South Pacific? It sounds idyllic, and I could use a break. But I also need to spend some time with my children. Could I get back to you about it?"
"Certainly, Dr. Barnes. Please don't take too long, though. We are anxious to get this project under way."
"Have you seen Hiram Hackenbacker recently? Your son told me about his fall."
"Actually, that's why I am in Singapore. I've been looking after Hiram while he's been in the hospital. I believe he got your amusing get-well card today. The surgeon put bone pins in his hip two days ago, and he should be starting hydrotherapy soon."
"Thank you so much for giving me an update on his condition. I've been really concerned about him. I have a real respect for his work. And finishing up this project for him has been a joy."
"Believe me, we at Tracy Industries value Hiram and all his hard work. No one wants to see him make a complete recovery more than we do."
"Well, Mr. Tracy, it's been good to talk to you. Could I have your number in Singapore? I'll get back to you very soon. Goodbye." Rebekkah hung up, puzzled by Mr. Tracy's offer. She decided to discuss it with her parents.
"The South Pacific? That's a long way off." her mother said, as Bekkah related her call from Jeff Tracy.
"Yes, but if it will bring more free-lance work my way, it would be worth the trip. Tracy Industries is a big corporation, one that has divisions in aerospace technology, communications, and computer development. Jeff Tracy was one of the first astronauts to return to the moon during the beginning of colonization. He's got an excellent reputation." Bekkah had done her homework on her new employer.
"I'm worried about those five sons of his," teased her dad, "It would be a long way to go to find another son-in-law."
Bekkah made a face, "If Alan Tracy is the baby of the family, and the sports pages say he is 28, then surely his brothers can't be much older. Too young for me, I think. But I'll admit that Scott Tracy was one smooth- talking gentleman." Her face clouded, "I probably should have asked after the other son I met, Gordon. He was recovering from a nasty virus and got sick at the restaurant."
"You go. We'll take care of the kids," declared her mother. "If this can get you out of that depressing ISO job, it will be worth it."
"I'm so glad that school is almost over. I want to spend some good time with the kids. Do some interesting things. Maybe go to Myrtle Beach." Bekkah got up from the kitchen table. "I'll call Mr. Tracy back and make the arrangements."
That is how, just a few days later, Bekkah found herself winging over the ocean in a private, supersonic Lear jet. Her pilot was the affable Virgil, and riding along for company was a fair-haired young man who was introduced as Virgil's brother, John. She was impressed by both of the men, and enjoyed the restful luxury of the jet. She asked them both about Hiram, and was reassured that he had started hydrotherapy, learning to put weight on his back and pelvis prior to more rigorous physical therapy. They described the island and amused her with stories of their childhood antics in Kansas. So the journey passed merrily until Virgil landed the jet gently on the island's air strip, and Bekkah got to see for herself the lush beauty of the home of Jeff Tracy, owner of Tracy Industries.
Jeff Tracy, his sons, and International Rescue were not without enemies. Some hated them for exposing their crooked schemes. Some hated what they stood for. One, however, hated them because they stood between him and power. He coveted the technology that made International Rescue possible because he thought it would give him the tools of domination. The Tracys called him the Hood because of his habit of assuming different identities by using masks. He had a network of spies and agents all over the world, and kept tabs on International Rescue, hoping for a chance to acquire what he desired.
He knew about Brains's fall as soon as the Tracys brought him to the hospital. And through his spies, he kept track of where the various family members were, hoping that they would grow careless or preoccupied with Brains's condition. But he was puzzled to discover that Scott and Gordon had visited a small city in South Carolina. He had few operatives in that area, and so was unable to discover why they had gone there. But when Virgil and John traveled to the same place to retrieve one Dr. Rebekkah Barnes, Ph.D., Structural Engineering, they were spotted, tailed, and a report was made to the Hood in his Asian temple-palace.
The Hood then discovered everything he could about Dr. Barnes, and he was pleased. Here was a new person coming into the Tracy's orbit; someone vulnerable, someone he might be able to exploit. And the fact that she was an engineer told him that she would be of some importance to them, perhaps a replacement for that fatuous stutterer, Brains. Someone who might soon know their secrets, or be developing new technology for them. So, he watched, and waited, and looked for an opportunity to meet the fascinating Dr. Barnes.
Bekkah was stunned by the beauty of the island, the opulence of the villa, and the exoticness of the setting. There was a quiet Asian man named Kyrano who took her bags and escorted her to a comfortable guest room. She freshened up after the journey, and went to join her host in the family lounge.
"Welcome, Dr. Barnes! How was your flight? Did Virgil give you too many bumps?" Jeff Tracy extended his hand and shook hers firmly. He's more handsome in person than on the phone, she thought.
"I think you've met my sons. Except possibly Alan. He's away on company business right now. Scott is on his way back from Singapore, bringing in another guest."
"Yes, I have. Let's see. Scott, John, Virgil, and Gordon. Are you feeling better, Gordon?"
"Yes, Dr. Barnes, I am. Thank you for your concern." Gordon sat back and watched Bekkah closely. She was dressed more casually than before, in a print skirt and ribbed sweater. He noticed that she didn't wear heels, but flat shoes, for comfort, he supposed.
"It's too bad you came to the island in autumn, Dr. Barnes," said John. "It's a little too cool for much sunbathing right now."
"That's okay. I'm not much for getting a tan. Ah'd rahtha keep mah fayah skin." The men laughed as she put on a blatantly Southern accent.
She looked at the casual portraits of the Tracy boys. "This must be Alan," she observed, pointing to his picture. "Are you sure he's not out smashing up one of Hiram's creations right now?"
"Very sure, Dr. Barnes." Jeff assured her. She saw the picture of an aristocratic blonde on another wall.
"Is this your daughter?" she asked.
"No, that is an old family friend. Lady Penelope Creighton-Ward. She will be joining us for dinner tonight."
"And when do I meet Mrs. Tracy?"
A hint of sadness passed across each face as Jeff replied, "I am a widower, Dr. Barnes. My wife died when the boys were quite young."
She kicked herself internally for not discovering that fact, but replied with true sympathy, "We have that in common, then, Mr. Tracy."
Their combined attention was taken by the landing of a Ladybird jet on the small airstrip. It taxied down to join the Lear.
"That must be Scott with Penny, now. Once she is settled in, we'll have dinner."
Lady Penelope Creighton-Ward breezed into the villa, followed by Scott, and by her butler, Parker, laden down with milady's luggage.
"How perfectly lovely to see you all!" She kissed Jeff on the cheek. "You are looking so well! And this must be the new designer you brought in to help Br...uh...Hiram." She held out her hand and Bekkah took it. "Penelope Creighton-Ward. Please do call me Penny."
"Rebekkah Barnes. You can call me Bekkah. Most of my friends do." Wonder if I can be friends with someone who acts like a spoiled airhead, she wondered.
"I'll just go freshen up, Jeff. Dinner at seven, hmmm? Come along, Parker." Penny breezed out of the room again.
"Yes, milady." Parker struggled along with the luggage until he was met by Kyrano, who took several bags.
"Nice to see you again, Dr. Barnes." Scott extended his hand. "Penny isn't really a young woman, she's more like a force of nature," he quipped, as he went to the bar and settled down on the couch with a drink.
"Can I offer you something, Dr. Barnes?" John asked from the bar.
"Just ginger ale if you have it." He handed her a glass full of it, and went to join his brother on the couch. She sipped her soda as she sat in a chair near the couch. She felt unsettled, like she had come into a world where she didn't quite fit in. But, she reminded herself, I am strong, I am not afraid. It had become her mantra.
Dinner went exceedingly well. She sat in the center of the table, flanked by John and Gordon. Across from her was a charming and down-to-earth elderly lady who was introduced as Jeff's mother. They ate family style, which surprised her a bit. She had never had talapia before, but it was delicious, and she said so. While her hosts drank wine, she stuck to ice water. No one seemed to notice. The talk at the table revolved around international politics, the latest problems with rogue satellites, and Hiram's condition. Both Scott and Penelope had seen Hiram before leaving Singapore, and he was in much less pain before. They talked about someone named Tin-Tin, and explained that she was Kyrano's daughter, and Hiram's assistant. She was plied for information about her family and about her home, its politics and its attractions. After dessert, coffee was served.
"I hope Hiram doesn't consider this to be the cup of coffee he owes me," Bekkah quipped.
"He owes you a cup of coffee? How so?" asked Penelope.
Bekkah smiled and chuckled. "We had a bet on at a conference in Vienna. We were going to time one of the speakers, Ivan Virenov, to see how long it took for him to mention his line of air transports. Whichever one of us was closest to the time would owe the other one a cup of coffee. Our fellow conspirator was Sir James Masters; he timed the speech. I won the bet; Hiram's guess was later than mine. But he had to hurry away after his own speech, so I never was able to collect." She smiled softly. "I hope he'll be better for the conference in Cote D'Ivoire in November. Things there wouldn't be the same without him."
They adjourned to the lounge, where Virgil played several classical pieces on the piano for them. She got into a discussion with John about astronomy, and she found him very, very knowledgeable. She told him about her boy Terry's extreme interest in the sciences, astronomy among them. That led to a conversation about school subjects, among them mathematics. Virgil argued (for argument's sake, she thought) that mathematics had no soul. Bekkah vehemently disagreed.
"Music is the art and the soul of mathematics. Everyone would agree that music expresses the soul. So does mathematics. You can't have music, music that isn't discord, without it." She sat down at the piano and began to play a soft ragtime piece called "Heliotrope Bouquet". Everyone was silent as she played. When she finished, there was applause, and Virgil took over to play "Rialto Ripples". She smiled and applauded him when he finished.
"So, you like ragtime?" he asked.
"I like most kinds of music. Except rock and roll and its descendants, country music, and much of modern jazz."
Scott snorted. "What does that leave? Besides classical, that is?"
"Oh! Western, folk music, sacred, gospel, swing, opera, big band, show tunes, soundtrack music, honky-tonk, close harmony, and so much more." she answered passionately.
She playfully shoved Virgil over on the piano bench and began to play and sing a honky-tonk rendition of "This Ole House". Everyone broke up in laughter when she switched from her usual contralto to the bass voice used in the chorus. She was out of breath when she finished, but took her bows to the laughter and applause that followed. Then she gave a huge yawn.
Jeff noticed it and said, "I'm sorry to say this, but it's time to break up this little party. We've kept our guest up much too late, and she and I have business to do tomorrow."
Everybody began to murmur their goodnights, put their glasses on the bar, and wandered off to bed. Penny walked Bekkah to her room.
"Dahling! That was wonderful! I hope we can see more examples of your varied talents while you are here. Goodnight!"
"Goodnight!" Bekkah called after her, and turned into her own room.
The excitement of the night, the time zone change, and the strong coffee (of which she drank too much) kept Bekkah from sleep. She went out on the balcony in her sensible chenille bathrobe, but even the salt air wasn't helping. The moon was full, and looked so beautiful on the water that she decided to walk on the beach for a while. She dressed in a pair of capri pants and one of her favorite polo shirts, and taking her Keds in hand, padded down the corridor towards the front door. She passed the lounge, where she heard Jeff in muffled conversation with someone whose voice she didn't recognize. The front door was unlocked, and she stepped as quietly as she could down the long white staircase that lead to the pool and the beach. She turned right, and onto the sand.
The tide had come in and the surf was gently lapping at the beach. She walked along in the foam, which felt cool on her feet. The moon lit the beach so she could see very clearly. Still, she was surprised to find a figure sitting cross-legged in the foam, head bowed, letting the surf wash over his legs. He heard her, though, and looked up. It was Gordon. He looked haggard, and her heart went out him. She thought carefully, and it seemed that she didn't remember seeing Gordon in the lounge after dinner. Had he been out here all this time?
"Hey," she said quietly.
"What are you doing out here so late?" he asked.
"I couldn't sleep. The moon was really pretty, so I thought I'd take a walk on the beach."
"Oh." He turned away from her face and looked out to sea again.
"Is there anything I can do?"
Bekkah felt helpless. She had known despair once, and had extracted herself from it, but had no idea how to help someone else.
"Well, if there's any way I can help, let me know."
She passed him, and kept walking further down the beach. She looked back to see that he wasn't even watching her.
But as she walked along, she felt that she was being observed. The feeling came from the brush and trees at her right. She heard a faint rustle, and turned her eyes to the right without turning her head. Then she turned her head slightly that way, and her gaze froze. In the moonlight, she saw the face of a man. A cruel Asian face that reminded her of old Yul Brenner movies.
Suddenly, his eyes opened wide and began to glow eerily. She turned slowly to him and he began to murmur to her in a deep and hypnotic voice. She moved toward him, her arms going limp. And that was her salvation. When her fingers went limp, her Keds fell on her feet and made her blink. She looked down at them, then at him, and turned and ran for her life! She stumbled in the softer sand, and so moved down toward the water where the sand was firmer. She heard him burst out of the bushes, behind her, his breath loud and close. Then she screamed one word, "GORDON!"
The still figure in the surf was startled by the sound, and jumped up to run toward her. Gordon thought he saw someone running after the panicked woman, but then the figure seemed to see him, stop, and melt into the shadows of the trees. Bekkah ran smack into him, her weight knocking him off balance. He grabbed her and stopped her, spinning her around.
"What happened? Why are you running?" he demanded.
She panted, then swallowed, and told him in a very frightened voice, "There was someone back there. Someone who, I don't know, he scared me, he tried, I don't know..." She stopped babbling and forced herself to take deep breath. "I saw someone. His eyes glowed. I dropped my shoes and they hit my feet and I just had to run away." She knew how stupid it sounded, but Gordon seemed to take her seriously.
"Let's get back to the house." Gordon put a vise-like grip on her wrist and almost pulled her along as she looked kept looking behind her. She thought she saw the figure moving in the shadows, and so turned her face toward the house and hurried to keep up with Gordon's swinging stride.
Gordon took Bekkah to the lounge, knocking on the door before entering. Mr. Tracy stood behind a desk, examining some papers. He looked up when they came in.
Gordon spared the formalities, "We have trouble. An uninvited guest." He let go of Bekkah's wrist, and she sat down suddenly on the couch.
"What happened?" asked Mr. Tracy, alarmed.
Bekkah told him how she had met someone out on the beach, someone frightening. It sounded very confusing in her ears. But Mr. Tracy joined her on the couch and calmed her. He looked at Gordon for confirmation of her story. Gordon shrugged his shoulders.
"We'll take a look around. Don't you worry, now. Gordon, call Kyrano and have him prepare some tea for Dr. Barnes." Jeff left the room, taking Gordon and a flashlight with him. Bekkah was left alone for a few minutes, shaking, and trying to control herself. Then Kyrano came in with a teapot and cup, which she accepted gratefully. She debated whether or not to wait for the men to return, but she was getting sleepy and feeling woozy, so she went off to bed. Falling onto the bed, she was immediately asleep.
Jeff and Gordon returned about 10 minutes later, Gordon carrying Bekkah's sneakers.
"Kyrano? Where did Dr. Barnes go?" Jeff asked.
"She went to her room. The mild sedative I added to her tea took effect very quickly."
"Good. Then we won't be disturbed." Jeff turned to his son. "You saw the tracks. There was someone there. And by her description it could be no one but the Hood. Any guesses on what happened?"
Gordon spoke. "I don't think he got to her. It was just a couple of moments from the time she left me until she started screaming. I don't think it was long enough for him to have done anything to her. I'd like to know how he found us, though, and where he is now."
"So would I, son. So would I." Just then, Alan's portrait began to blink. Not now, thought Jeff, not now, as he activated the emergency alarm to summon his sons.
By the position of the sun, it was afternoon when Bekkah woke. She felt fuzzy-headed and disoriented. Then she remembered where she was and what had happened the night before. She wondered what Jeff Tracy thought about her outburst. The incident felt more like a dream than anything else.
She showered and dressed in a clean skirt and blouse. Not knowing where she should go, she walked slowly down the corridor to find the kitchen. Grandma Tracy was there, beginning preparations for the evening meal. When she saw Bekkah, she stopped what she was doing and wiped her hands.
"Well, now! You've had a good sleep. No one had the heart to wake you, and besides, Jeff has the boys all out on a business emergency. He was so wrapped up in it that he forgot you were supposed to go over your designs with him." While she talked, Grandma Tracy pulled roast beef, bread, lettuce, and mayonnaise out to make Bekkah a sandwich. "Do you like pickles, dear?"
"No, ma'am, I don't." She pulled up a chair to the little kitchen worktable.
"Corn chips or pretzels? What would you like to drink?" Bekkah selected corn chips and milk. She munched while Grandma Tracy went back to work. Jeff Tracy wandered in, looking preoccupied. He looked up at Grandma, then saw Bekkah and smiled.
"Dr. Barnes, I am so sorry that we haven't been able to go over your designs. A business emergency came up this morning, and my boys have been troubleshooting at various Tracy Industries offices. All except Gordon, who needed to sleep in after last night's excitement."
Bekkah finished chewing a bite of sandwich. "Mr. Tracy, did you and Gordon find anything out on the beach?"
"Besides your sneakers, you mean?" Mr. Tracy looked thoughtful, "A few tracks, some bushes disturbed. There might have been something there, but we're not sure." He smiled at her again. "Don't worry about it. If there was someone there, he can't have gotten far. We'll find him. This is an island after all." He prepared to leave the kitchen, "I've asked Gordon to give you a tour of the island during the daylight hours. Maybe it will keep you from wandering around at night." He gave her a grin, and a wink, and disappeared.
Gordon sought her out after she finished eating. He held her Keds in one hand.
"I believe these are yours," he said as he handed them to her.
"Thanks for finding them. I'll have to change my clothes. I'm not exactly dressed for exploration." Gordon nodded mutely.
She quickly changed into jeans and a bright yellow polo shirt, putting on her Keds. Gordon was leaning against the wall outside her door, arms folded.
"Let's go," he said, impatiently.
She was getting annoyed at his attitude, but then thought about her own emotional state when she didn't get enough sleep. As a result, she gave him a bright smile, and followed him.
The hike was a long one, to the other side of the island. There they found a tidal pool, where Bekkah took off her sneakers and socks, rolled up her jeans and put her feet in the water. Gordon just looked into the distance across the sea.
"Thanks for taking me seriously last night. I must have sounded pretty unbelievable." she told him.
Gordon shrugged. "You're welcome."
They sat there quietly for a while, listening to the gulls, and what sounded like the rumble of thunder from a bank of clouds far at sea. After a while, Gordon looked at his watch and got up.
"We'll be expected back for dinner. Let's go."
Bekkah put on her socks and shoes again, and Gordon helped her climb over some rocks. She looked up just in time to see what looked like a boat moving out of sight. She tugged on Gordon's sleeve.
"Did you see that? I thought I saw a motorboat..." Gordon peered off toward where she was pointing. He shook his head. She didn't say anything else, thinking that he would think she was crazy. He said nothing, although he had seen the boat. He didn't want to scare her. They climbed and walked around until they returned to the villa. By the time they got there, Virgil, Scott, and John had returned, and Penny appeared from somewhere in the house for evening cocktails.
That night after dinner, Bekkah went over her materials once again in preparation for sharing them with Jeff Tracy in the morning. She locked herself in her room. She was not afraid, but there was no sense in taking any chances.
In the lounge after dinner, the members of International Rescue gathered to debrief from the rescue they had performed. They had gone to South Africa to rescue miners trapped 200 feet below ground. John had successfully used the Mole to tunnel to them and brought all of them out, without casualties. Gordon sat in on the debriefing, and gave a report on the happenings of the night before. He also mentioned the cabin cruiser he had seen rounding the island that afternoon..
Jeff looked very serious. "This is not good. We need to discover out how the Hood found us, and protect the Thunderbirds, too." He turned to Gordon. "He seems to be following Dr. Barnes around. That may have kept him from seeing Thunderbirds One and Two from landing today. You did a good job in keeping her busy today, Gordon."
Gordon shrugged. "Wasn't hard. She kept up." Scott shot a worried glance at his brother, then looked at his father, who was watching Gordon intently. After a moment, Jeff spoke.
"We keep up Operation Cover-up, especially if we have a loose cannon around. I want you all, Penny included, to listen in as Dr. Barnes and I discuss her proposed modifications to Thunderbird Four. I will have the concealed overhead camera on so you can see the plans as well as hear about them." He pointed to a dark panel set in the ceiling above him. "After she and I talk, I want your impressions, both of Dr. Barnes and of the modifications. We want to be very sure of her if we are going to use her here at base."
"Won't she have objections to living here?" Virgil asked. "After all, she does have kids and a life back in South Carolina. She might not want to move. And we need her here on premises."
"If that is the case, we may have to reveal ourselves to her." All of his sons gasped at the thought. "It might be our only choice, especially if the Hood is after her." Jeff continued, "She is very vulnerable. If she joins us, we will have to bring her children here to safeguard them."
"Actually, that might be fun, Dad. I missed out on meeting Tony and Bob when they were here," mused John, "Having some kids around would make this place a little more lively." He ducked as Virgil threw a pillow at him.
There were no night-time incidents, but the household was on full alert anyway. The morning brought rain, wind, thunder and lightning. Jeff was hopeful that it would keep the intruder under cover and from running around the island. Bekkah came to breakfast and ate heartily. She was a little nervous bringing her ideas to Jeff, but knew a little nervousness was to be expected. She handed him the large folder from her briefcase.
"I'd like you to scan through those first without comment, then we can go through them together and you can ask any questions you have."
Jeff nodded, sat down at his desk, and was soon absorbed in the paperwork. Downstairs, in the game room, Scott, Virgil, Gordon, John, and Penny sat watching each page as Jeff saw them. Gordon had a notepad, and every so often would write something on it. It was the most animated the brothers had seen him in a while. When Jeff was finished, Bekkah joined him at his desk, and they went over the plans together.
"My biggest issue was safety, Mr. Tracy. This is a sweet little machine; I just felt that there were some safety issues to be addressed. The single extruded control panel would keep water from shorting out any control components, as well as make it easier to clean." She looked at him with an impish grin, then sobered. "There didn't seem to be any provision made for decompression to prevent aeroembolism or 'the bends', which worried me." Jeff couldn't tell her that Brains had developed a pill for Gordon to take which eliminated his need for decompression.
She continued, "I recognized the atomic engine that Hiram developed right away, but I think it could use some more and better shielding. If something happened to this sub, the engine could pollute the sea with radioactive waste for many, many years. Stronger, more corrosion resistant shielding would give a longer time factor for salvaging the engine and preventing radiation from escaping."
"Although, Hiram rated the sub as being capable to go as deep as 0.5 km, I'm not sure if the sub is really capable of that. The hull, although made of molybdenum/titanium steel, is a bit too thin for my liking. I feel it would be safer to have a tri-hull configuration; three layers of the steel with a silicon gel cushion between each layer. Not only will that greatly increase the depth range of the sub, but it would also act as a shock absorption system in the event of a crash, lessening the impact of such to the personnel inside. It won't add much to the weight of the vessel, either, because I would use nanocircuitry throughout instead of the regular microcircuitry."
Jeff asked, "What do you mean here by 'remote access'?"
She looked at him. "The software which would run the ship would have a secure remote control feature, activated by voice or keyboard from another location. It would enable people on the surface to run the ship should something happen to the crew. There would also be a camera function so the cockpit and other parts of the sub could be viewed from the remote location."
Jeff pointed to a cockpit feature, "I noticed that you put two command control seats in the cockpit. Why?"
She gave another impish grin, "Why, Mr. Tracy! Haven't you ever told your boys that they should never go swimming without a buddy?" Downstairs in the games room, Gordon snorted.
She continued. "There is also a cockpit eject feature. This means that the control room area could be ejected from the main body and engines of the sub in case of emergency." She pointed to another feature, "I've also beefed up the laser cutting torch from a traditional carbon/rubidium laser to a newer, more powerful carbon/cobalt one. It will make the cutting involved in salvage work go faster and leave a smoother cut."
Jeff looked up from the plans. "Dr. Barnes, I am impressed! The improvements you have made on Hiram's plans are just what we were looking for. Especially the safety features." He leaned back in his chair. "You seem to have a passion for safety, Dr. Barnes."
She sat down, "More like an obsession, Mr. Tracy. For both safety and security. That's why, instead of confronting that stranger I met the other night, I ran away. To protect myself." Jeff nodded.
"Well, I'd like to take another look at these plans, and then tell you if they need any revision or if I think of something I'd like to add. You can rest assured that we will definitely use some of your modifications when we build this sub." Jeff stood up and walked her to the lounge door. "I'll let you know this afternoon."
"Thank you, Mr. Tracy. Do you mind if I call my children? I've missed them over the past few days."
"Of course, Dr. Barnes. Use the videophone in the guest room." Bekkah thanked him again, and walked back to her room.
As soon as she was out of earshot, Jeff paged the game room. Penelope and the boys all filed into the lounge. Most of them took seats on the couch, but Gordon went over to his father's desk and became absorbed in the plans.
"Well, what do you think?" Jeff asked.
"She's right about her obsession with safety, Father," answered John. "And I think that's an asset. We aren't always thinking much of our own safety when we go out on rescues. It would be nice to know that someone was thinking of it for us."
"Her ideas are exciting! I'd love for her to get her hands on Thunderbird Two." added Virgil. "That extruded control panel would be great in the cockpit."
"Yeah, and the remote access would mean I could do a rescue all by myself and not have to have you bozos around!" quipped Scott. He disappeared under a barrage of thrown pillows.
"What do you think of her, Penny?" Jeff turned to Penelope. She thought for a long time before answering.
"I think she would be a trustworthy addition to International Rescue," Penelope finally said. "She has a good deal of common sense and wouldn't be throwing herself in the path of danger all the time. She is a very well-rounded and versatile personality. I think that perhaps her maternal instincts have served her well in this regard. Looking out for others first, you know. Even if she didn't come to work here on base, she should be asked to become a permanent outside designer and perhaps agent."
"Gordon? What do you think?" Jeff asked.
"I like the triple-hull design. I wonder what she would do to beef up lighting so I could see as I went further down." Gordon looked at his father. "She's okay."
"That settles it, then." Jeff looked around the room. "We ask her to work for us. For International Rescue."
Bekkah finished her call to her children. They were so excited to see her and asked lots of questions. Joey brought tears to her eyes when he asked, "When are you going to be home, Mommy?"
"Soon, Joey. Very soon. Maybe even tomorrow." She also talked to her parents, reassuring them that things were going well and that Mr. Tracy was impressed with what she had shown him. "Might be lots more commissions where this came from, Dad. Hope to see you soon."
After the call, she dug out the small case she carried everywhere, and took out her microcomp. She had designed it herself, and had only recently gotten all the bugs out of the software. It was a powerful little machine, much more powerful than any other laptop she had seen. The keyboard was tiny, almost too small for her large fingers, but that didn't matter. She took out a small earpiece with a longish wire protruding from it. The earpiece clipped over her right ear, and it inserted a tiny, powerful speaker in her ear. The wire was her microphone, and the whole set-up represented a wireless connection to her microcomp. She took off her shoes and lay down on the bed.
"Computer, open journal file, current date." The small screen across the room opened a window, and she began dictating her daily journal. She had a lot to catch up on.
After about fifteen minutes of dictation, she heard a knock at the door.
"Computer, save file and close." She stood up. "Come in!"
Scott stood in the door.
"My father would like to see you in the lounge."
She put her shoes on, and followed Scott out.
When she entered the lounge, she found all of the Tracys, Penelope, and even Kyrano waiting for her. She sat down in the center of the couch between John and Virgil. Jeff stood up behind his desk.
"We are all impressed with your work, Dr. Barnes. And because of this, we'd like to offer you a full-time position with us." Bekkah sat up straight, shocked into speechlessness.
"Full-time?" she sputtered, once she had regained her voice. "Scott intimated that I would be getting free-lance commissions like this one." She waved her hand at the plans on the desk.
"Hiram is a very hands-on kind of engineer. In fact, he both lived and worked here. We need someone to fill in for him in that capacity."
Bekkah shook her head. "I don't know, Mr. Tracy. I don't know if I can uproot my children to live here. And I really don't know if I am the kind of engineer you want. It's been a long time since I've worked solely on engineering projects. Or worked full-time, for that matter. My jobs, even for the ISO, have been on a contingency basis."
"Dr. Barnes...Bekkah...I'd like to show you something." Jeff Tracy and Virgil switched places. Scott went over to the desk and did...something. Bekkah squawked as the floor opened up under the couch, and it was lowered into the floor.
The couch went down, down, down into a huge concrete hangar or bunker. When it reached the floor, it was on a car--one that was on tracks and that moved them along briskly. Bekkah stared and looked around at her surroundings, totally mystified. Finally, Jeff Tracy pushed a button and the car stopped at the base of a huge rocket. John handed her out of the car and they walked over and away from the rocket's base.
"Wow!" she said in a hushed voice. She walked around and around the rocket, looking at each detail. She didn't even notice when the other members of the Tracy family joined Jeff and John at the base of the rocket.
"She is beautiful! Hiram designed her, didn't he?" She was entranced by the long curves of the rocket, the size of its engines, the height from base to nose cone.
"Yes, he did. And he did a fantastic job on it."
"Thunderbird Three," Bekkah read the words traveling down the side of the rocket. "Thunder...bird...Thunderbird Three?" She whirled on Jeff and his family. "As in the International Rescue Thunderbirds?" Her face got very serious. "YOU are International Rescue?"
Jeff nodded. "We are. And we want you to join us."
Bekkah's eyes widened in astonishment. She put a hand over her mouth, and shook her head slowly. Then she drew a deep breath and blew it out.
"I knew Hiram had talent, but this..." her voice dropped down to a whisper. Then she looked at Jeff again, almost accusingly.
"The watercraft I was working on. Also a Thunderbird?"
It was Gordon who spoke. "Yes. Thunderbird Four. My Thunderbird." A note of pride entered his voice.
"And you really want me to join you?" Jeff nodded again.
This thought blew her mind away. But she had to think. It was all too much all at once.
"I need to think. I need time to think. Please take me back to the house." Jeff looked puzzled, but he had John and Virgil hand her back into the car and on the couch. It whisked them back along the rails, and lifted them gently up into the lounge. Once there, Bekkah almost ran to the guest room assigned to her. She shut the door, and sat slowly down on the bed.
What do I do? she thought. I am privy to one of the biggest secrets of our century. I know too much. What happens if I say no? What do I do about the kids? Her thoughts ran around in her head in ever-closing circles until she was totally befuddled.
She quickly picked up her microcomp comm link and began to dictate.
"Computer, open file, title: pros and cons of taking new job." She sat and thought a minute about pros: "Working for the greatest rescue group in the world. Carte blanche in research and development. Working on idyllic South Pacific Island. Working with my good friend and colleague, Hiram Hackenbacker. Very likely a large paycheck. No more depressing ISO jobs. The biggest challenge ever to come before me."
"Cons: children's schooling, distance from parents and friends, isolation, dangerous job, pressure...oh, what's the use!"
She saw that last line posted on the screen and laughed. "Computer, dump file and close."
Her mind was clear again. She walked out on the balcony, put her forearms down on the rail and stared out at the ocean.
Jeff approached Bekkah quietly. She heard his soft footfalls, and spoke.
"Mr. Tracy, I really don't know if I am the kind of engineer you need. I've always been a mother first, and this job will make being a mom hard." She looked at him, "But I love a challenge. I thrive on challenge. And if working for International Rescue isn't a challenge, I don't know what is." She straightened up and turned to him, holding out her hand. "Mr. Tracy, you've got yourself another engineer." Jeff shook her hand warmly.
She dropped her hand and asked, "Now what?"