Brains returned to his room from hydrotherapy, discouraged and unhappy. Tin-Tin waited there for him. He really didn't want to see her, but was too kind-hearted to tell her to go. Hydrotherapy had been difficult again. The pain almost made him scream, and he wasn't even putting his full weight on his healing vertebrae and pelvis. He knew he wasn't going back to Tracy Island any too soon; after all, a physical therapist couldn't stay there with the secrets it contained.
"Brains. You didn't have a good session, did you?" Tin-Tin asked quietly.
"N-n-no, Tin-Tin. I d-d-did not." He scratched the back of his head, where his brown hair was beginning to grow back, covering the surgical scars.
"Why not?" Tin-Tin asked.
"It h-h-hurt too much," he replied shortly. His legs and hips still throbbed from the workout the hydrotherapist gave him.
"I think you've given up," Tin-Tin stated flatly. "You are afraid."
Brains didn't say anything. Tin-Tin turned and left, closing the door behind her. She leaned against the wall while tears welled up in her eyes.
"Miss Kyrano to telebooth two. Miss Kyrano to telebooth two." Tin-Tin walked briskly down to the telebooths to take her call, wiping her eyes as she went. She sat in the booth and composed herself before she answered her call.
Jeff Tracy's face beamed at her. "Hello, Tin-Tin! I have good news! Dr. Barnes has agreed to fill in for Brains while he's incapacitated."
"That's good, Mr. Tracy. Very good." She hung her head. "I hope she doesn't mind it being a permanent position."
"What do you mean, Tin-Tin?" Jeff sounded concerned.
"He's given up. He's letting the pain win."
"Well, we'll have to do something about that. Virgil, Penny, and I will be flying over and I'll take over for you so you can meet Dr. Barnes. You can expect us sometime tomorrow."
"Yes, Mr. Tracy. I look forward to meeting the lady," Tin-Tin said. And I hope you can rouse Brains from his depression, she thought.
Bekkah spent a lot of time on the videophone over the next few days, trying to convince her parents that this new job was a good thing. They had many, many objections to the new position, especially moving the grandchildren so far away. They had become accustomed to having the kids around and helping to raise them.
"What are you going to do about school?" her mom asked. "You know how well they've done here in the past few years. Report cards will come out when school ends on Friday."
"I don't know yet, Mom. As far as I'm concerned, this is a temporary thing until Hiram comes back to work. He might be back before the school year starts. If not, I'm planning on homeschooling. There are plenty of satellite programs available."
"What about those young men? Are there any women in the house? I don't feel right about you living with a bunch of men," her dad complained.
She rolled her eyes. "There are women in the house, Dad. Hiram's assistant, Tin-Tin, is a young woman. And Mr. Tracy's mother lives here too." She winked at her father. "She knows how to keep those 'young men' in line."
She leaned closer to the videophone, intent on convincing her parents. "I'll be living here rent-free, no utilities, no food bills, and a salary that will get me out of debt by the end of the summer." Her debt level had always been a sore spot between them. "The kids will get lots of fresh air and swimming, and you know how heavenly Terry will think this all is. One of the brothers is a retired Aquanaut and can teach him all about the sea. Another has written several books about astronomy." She sat back. "There are so many advantages to this job. And it gets me out from under that depressing ISO job." Her voice softened. "Please support me. Please be happy for me."
Finally, they agreed. They told her they would pack up whatever she wanted them to, and she should make arrangements to fly out and get the kids and her stuff. She went to Jeff to make her plans. It was agreed that she would fly home over the weekend, giving her a chance to double-check what she wanted to take, and to make her good-byes to her family and friends. John was deputized to do the flying. A hired cargo plane would bring all but the essentials to the Island within the week. In the meantime, she and her children would take over the Round House. It had plenty of room for the four of them, and was well-soundproofed from the sounds of Thunderbird Three's rockets. She and Jeff discussed whether or not to tell her kids about who she was really working for; both of them were of the opinion that they should know, but not until they reached the Island and were settled in. Jeff promised new furnishings as soon as they could be delivered, and Bekkah spent a happy day going through catalogs and choosing what she wanted.
In the middle of all this activity, Tin-Tin came home.
Bekkah thought, Oh! She's lovely!
Tin-Tin thought, She seems comfortable here already.
Bekkah had Tin-Tin show her around the laboratory facilities, and they made plans to spend more time getting to know one another after Bekkah returned.
Finally, John taxied the Lear out and he and Bekkah winged their way to South Carolina.
The Hood, meanwhile, was getting frustrated. His first encounter with Dr. Barnes had not gone well. She seemed a coward, not willing to face him, and he had not had enough time to put her fully under his hypnotic spell. He was asleep when the Thunderbirds made their take-off for South Africa. And since he wanted to keep Dr. Barnes in sight, he missed the return to base the next afternoon, following Dr. Barnes and Gordon Tracy to the other side of the island. Once the weather turned, he decided that there must be a better way to capture his intended prey. So he left the island to return to his base, waiting for news that Dr. Barnes was out from under the protection of International Rescue. When the Tracy's Lear jet set down in South Carolina, his agent in the area informed him immediately.
Now, he thought, she is vulnerable. And he left his temple/palace to pursue his prize.
John Tracy could not recall ever having visited South Carolina before, other than picking Dr. Barnes up for her visit to Tracy Island. It was hot and humid at the jetport, as it often was on the Island, but it felt different. Not as forgiving; no ocean breezes to cool. He put the little Lear jet down perfectly, and taxied it to the spot that the controllers appointed for it. Then he shut it down and got out, helping Dr. Barnes down as he did. They walked into the terminal together, but John had to leap quickly out of the way as three small figures whizzed by him to converge on their mother. Several hugs and kisses later, Bekkah turned to John and made introductions. John was startled to see that the older boy, Terry, had hair as blond-white as his own. Then an older couple walked up. John could see that these were Bekkah's parents.
"John Tracy, meet my parents, Ellen and Philip Talmadge. Mom and Dad, this is John Tracy. He's the third son of the CEO of Tracy Industries, Jeff Tracy." John took off his sunglasses and shook their hands. He could tell that Dad Talmadge was scrutinizing the "handsome, blond flyboy" carefully.
"Well, I'll help you with your bags, and then grab myself a hotel room. Give you some time with your family," John told Bekkah.
"Nothing of the sort," declared Ellen. "Our daughter has enjoyed your father's hospitality, and now you will enjoy ours. You're staying with us." And with that she turned and headed for the exit, taking the boys' hands as she left.
John started to protest, but Philip leaned in and said, "There is no use arguing with my wife. When she sets her mind to something, it usually goes her way." John looked at Bekkah for support, but she just smiled and shook her head.
They all got into Bekkah's minivan. The trip to the house was quick, and John was ensconced in the family's guest room.
Dinner at the Talmadge's was plainer than John was used to; there was no wine or liquor served, but he could choose almost any soft drink he wanted. Still, it had an atmosphere of home because they ate family style, and all together. He found it amusing that one of Bekkah's rules as mother was that the children had to eat at least as many bites of the food on their plates (including what they didn't care for) as the years in their age. Thus, when Joey complained about the peas he was served, his mother told him he had to eat seven bites.
"And not just one pea at a time, either!" By the time he had seven bites, the peas were almost gone.
Talk around the table was dominated by the Big Move. Both John and Bekkah were asked lots of questions about Tracy Industries, and why she had to move so far away. He thought Bekkah handled her parents very well, telling them the truth, up to a point. The children asked about where they would live and would they get their own rooms (a question Terry asked more than once) and what was the island like, and so on. John was able to answer them with exciting tales (slightly embellished) of his and his brothers' escapades on Tracy Island. By the time dinner ended, John felt comfortable with these people, and with International Rescue's decision to hire Bekkah.
The next day was spent packing, and John made arrangements for a hauling company to pick up the boxes that would be traveling to the Island. Bekkah also spent some time calling her friends to say goodbye. She packed all the essentials for the first few weeks of living on the Island, pared them down to the basics, then pared them down again. She put together bags of toys, books, recordings, and games for the kids to take with them on their flight. John took those bags and the luggage to the Lear for storage, so that all they would have to do the next morning was get in the plane and go.
So the big day arrived, and Bekkah and her children took tearful leave of the elder Talmadges. Bekkah was to drive her minivan out to the airport, and her father would pick it up later.
John was startled when Bekkah turned the van into the parking lot of a grocery center.
"Why are we stopping here?" he asked.
Bekkah started to get out of the minivan. "We need snacks," was her answer.
"Snacks? We've got some stuff already aboard. Grandma Tracy made some cookies for us."
Bekkah looked at him with amusement.
"Have you ever traveled long distance with more than one child, John?"
He thought for a minute, then shook his head. "Don't believe I have."
Her smile widened. "I have. Many times. Believe me, we need snacks." She closed the van door and turned to him. "Any requests?"
He shook his head again.
"Okay. Kids, behave yourselves."
She left the ignition on while she hurried inside.
Once inside, she made some quick selections. Individually packaged juice, a box of cookies, some apples, and her children's favorite chips. Plus some moistened wipes and napkins for clean-up. She thought again, and bought some sealable plastic bags, too. Then she took the items she wanted up front to pay for them.
Before she left the confines of the store, she bumped into an older gentleman with a thick salt-and-pepper mustache.
"Oh! I beg your pardon!" she looked at him and smiled in apology.
He looked at her, and his eyes began to glow. She felt like a deer in headlights, like she was drowning without water. He murmured to her quietly, but with power. Her hands dropped to her sides and she walked after him out of the store.
The Hood was delighted! He had the woman, and right under John Tracy's nose!
Rescue and flight
John was getting bored waiting for Bekkah. The children were behaving themselves. Chell and Terry had their noses buried in books, while Joey was taking his space vehicle apart and reconfiguring it into new items.
Joey looked up from his play.
"Hey! Where is Mommy going?" he asked.
John straightened up, and looked around. He didn't see Bekkah anywhere.
"Where did you see her, Joey?"
"Over there!" Joey pointed to a spot three parking lanes down and at the end. "She's getting into that car with that old man!"
John jumped into the driver's seat, and put the van in motion. The shopping center parking lot was busy, and there were pedestrians in the way. He impatiently used the horn to clear the way. The children were getting agitated.
"What's the matter? Where's Mom?" Chell shouted.
"Listen! Your mom may be in danger. I need to be able to concentrate on following the man who has taken her with him. So, please be quiet for now." John was firm, but not loud. The children, wide-eyed with fright, obeyed. Point one for the mom, John thought.
He pulled down the third parking lane and made for the end of it. Before he could block the car, it pulled out, fast, and took off into traffic. John followed, but traffic was tight, and he seemed to be losing ground against Bekkah's kidnapper. Still, he hung on doggedly, sometimes getting close, sometimes dropping back. The kids hung on to each other, but kept quiet.
The kidnapper's car sped to the jetport, and ignoring security personnel, drove right out onto the tarmac. John was right behind it. It was headed for a black helijet that stood at the end of the runway. Suddenly, as if from nowhere, the car was headed off by a hefty Gold Wing motorcycle, carrying two riders. The car had to bank sharply to avoid the bike, and overcompensated. The tires rose up too far from the pavement, and the car came crashing down on its side.
"Mommy!" the same scream came from three young throats in unison. John grimly slowed down and headed for the smoking wreck. The Gold Wing turned around, too, and made its way to the motionless car. Suddenly, a man jumped out of the car and began to run toward the helijet, which was powering up. It began its take-off just as he leaped up and made his getaway into the open side hatch. The helijet lifted up and away, leaving John Tracy and the two bike riders behind.
John parked Bekkah's van but left the motor running. Looking each of the Barnes children in the eyes, he said, "Just stay here. Keep quiet and stay here." He looked over at the approaching motorcycle. "Lock the doors. If anyone tries to get in, blow the horn. Loud." Each child, numb with fear, nodded at him. He turned and ran toward the damaged car.
The two bike riders dismounted, ran for the wreck, pulling off their helmets as they came. John reached the wreck first, and looked in through the windshield. Bekkah was there, crumpled up against the tarmac, eyes open and unseeing. A breath caught in John's throat.
"Is she all right?" asked the first of the bike riders. John glanced around to see a black woman and man, both about his age.
"IR Agent 127, at your service, Mr. Tracy," said the woman. John looked again, startled. She squatted down beside John and peered intently at Bekkah.
"She's alive, sir. I can see her breathing." She turned to her companion, "Jonah, please go get the emergency kit and the hammer." Jonah turned and ran back to the Gold Wing.
"I could kick myself, sir," Agent 127 said disgustedly. "I was assigned to watch her children and parents while she was with you this past week, and keep an eye on y'all until you left. Now this happens. Her kidnapper got right past me."
Jonah came back with the emergency kit.
"Here you go, Simone."
"Security will be here soon, Mr. Tracy. I suggest you move Dr. Barnes to your plane and take her away. Now." With that, she used the hammer to smash the safety glass of the windshield, making a hole big enough for them to pull Bekkah through. Agent 127 Simone looked the unconscious woman over carefully.
"No breaks that I can detect, just some bruising and scraping," was her final conclusion. "But why are her eyes open?"
"Hypnosis," John answered tersely.
John began to lift Bekkah. Jonah helped him carry her to the van, then returned to the bike. Simone followed John, and sat in the middle seat behind Bekkah. Seeing the three children huddling there, she smiled at them reassuringly.
"Your mama's gonna be okay. She's got some bumps and bruises, but she's gonna be all right," she told them. Turning to Chell, she said, "Now, honey, you just take good care of your brothers. Do what Mr. Tracy says and pretty soon you'll all be safe and sound. Okay?" Chell nodded.
Security forces were beginning to converge on the site of the wrecked car. John quickly turned the minivan around, and raced across the jetport, surprising the oncoming police cars. Jonah followed in his wake. They made for the Tracy Lear jet. As soon as they got there, John opened it up, and he and Jonah boosted Bekkah into the co-pilot's seat. Better there than in the back where her kids can see her all banged up and staring, John thought. Simone worked at getting the children settled in the jet.
"Security is coming this way now, Mr. Tracy," she warned. She ran back to the Gold Wing and returned with three bags.
"I managed to snag Dr. Barnes' shopping and her handbag as I followed her and the kidnapper out of the store. You might need this." She handed the handbag to Chell, and put the shopping bags in front of the boys.
John climbed up into the plane and the pilot's seat. Simone came around for one last piece of advice.
"I've got to get back and watch the Talmadges. They could be a target now. I suggest you contact base and get emergency clearance for this jet. The people here will bend over backwards for International Rescue."
John nodded. "Thanks. For everything." He closed the pilot's door and spoke into his watch.
"John Tracy to Thunderbird Five. Alan, relay this for me: Dad, Scott, we have a problem..."
Moments later, he was given emergency clearance to use Runway four. He was so intent on piloting that he forgot the children entirely. Once he was airborne, however, they made their presence known in a formidable manner. It was a good thing Bekkah had bought those sealable plastic bags, he thought. She never told me her kids were first-time flyers. Point two for the mom.
John's nerves were raw when he touched down on Tracy Island the next day. The kids haven't whined too much, he thought, but when there were three of them doing it, it feels multiplied by nine. Their battered mother was still oblivious, but now her eyes were closed, and as far as he could tell, she was asleep. The children were also finally asleep, but Chell began to stir once they had landed. She rubbed her eyes.
"Where are we?"
"Tracy Island, Chell. Your new home," John answered.
Jeff Tracy met Brains as he was being wheeled back to his room after hydrotherapy. Under a constant pep talk from Jeff, and Penelope's special brand of bullying, Brains was making some slow progress. As the nurses helped him get settled, Brains turned to Jeff.
"H-h-how is Bekkah g-g-getting along, M-Mr. Tracy?"
"Better and better, Brains. Her children are settling in and having the time of their lives. She has been reading up on the specs of each Thunderbird and is formulating ideas for their refits while she recuperates from her abduction. Tin-Tin will be showing her what needs to be done during normal and post-rescue maintenance as soon as she's ready. I think she'll be a good addition to you and Tin-Tin."
Four days after her hypnotic kidnapping, Bekkah got up and set about making an active contribution to the Tracy household. She got her kids settled in their living quarters with books and the microcomp's computer games, then she shouldered her equipment duffel and set out in search of Tin-Tin. She found her quarry and Scott working together on Thunderbird One.
"Hey up there!" she called. "What are you doing?"
Tin-Tin and Scott looked down from the scaffolding.
"We're doing some routine monthly maintenance on Thunderbird One," Scott replied.
"Mind if I look in?" Bekkah asked. "It's something I'll need to learn."
"Come on up!" invited Tin-Tin.
Bekkah carefully climbed up the scaffolding. Scott looked her up and down when she reached their level. She was dressed in a sturdy denim coverall, brown steel-toe boots, neon orange hard hat, and wore a combination safety belt/tool belt around her waist. Several general tools were already attached, and the ends of a sturdy pair of leather work gloves poked out of one coverall pocket. She looked ready to work, and Scott said so.
"Can't lay around all day. Got a lot to do. Lots to learn," she told him. "Now, what exactly is it that you are doing?"
"We're looking for stress fractures in the hull of Thunderbird One," Tin-Tin explained. She showed her the special magnifier that Brains had developed. "We only do a section at a time because, well, it takes time to do it right."
"May I?" Bekkah asked, and Tin-Tin handed her the lenses. Bekkah fitted them to her eyes and looked closely at the Thunderbird's gleaming hull. Then she took off the lenses and looked at them.
"I might have something in my equipment that could make this job go faster, and still be accurate," she offered. "I can get it if you are interested."
"Sure!" said Scott. "Anything to make this boring job more efficient."
"Okay then." Bekkah carefully climbed down from the scaffolding, and began to rummage around in her equipment duffel. She stuck a wand-like contraption in a pouch on her toolbelt, and perched a different pair of magnifiers on her head, removing her hard hat. Then up she climbed again, and presented the wand to Tin-Tin. It looked like an old-fashioned mobile metal detector wand, a handle with a horseshoe-like piece attached at one end. It had digital readouts on one side that covered the opening in the horseshoe, but on the other side you could see the edges clearly defined.
"How does it work?" Tin-Tin wanted to know.
"Here. You turn it on, then pass it slowly over the metal. It shines a cobalt/tungsten light on it. When it finds a fissure, it will beep loudly and give you a reading on how long and wide it is, in microns." Bekkah demonstrated. The wand was silent for a bit, then gave out a loud "Beep!" that made Scott and Tin-Tin jump. Bekkah passed the wand over the spot again and they heard the "Beep!" again. She showed the white on black screen to them.
"See there is a fissure, 18 microns wide and almost 2 cm in length." She handed her magnifiers to Scott. "Put these on and turn the dial on the left until you see Co/W displayed at the bottom. Then look under the wand, and tell me what you see."
Scott did as bidden.
"Wow! I can actually see the fissure!"
"Take the grease pencil and circle it for Tin-Tin." Scott did so, but Tin-Tin was puzzled.
"But that's so small! I can't see it in our magnifier." Scott handed her Bekkah's magnifier and while Bekkah held the wand still, she took a look. "Oh, my! That's wonderful!" she took a closer look at the magnifier. "Where did you get such a device?"
"Designed it myself," Bekkah answered, "I found that many of the things I needed for testing and detection at the ISO just didn't exist. So I came up with them myself. Hiram gave me direction on some of them. He's got co-creator credit on the patents."
For the next two hours, the three of them went over a large portion of Thunderbird One's hull, Tin-Tin and Scott filling Bekkah in on some of the other routine maintenance needs while they worked. Then they were interrupted by John, summoning Scott on his wrist telecomm.
"I'm getting ready to head up to Thunderbird Five and swap with Alan, Scott. Thought you should know," he told his brother.
"Oh, wait a minute, John!" Bekkah cried. "I know my kids would like to say goodbye. Let me go get them. Meet you in the lounge in 10 minutes, okay?" She turned to Scott. "Is it okay? Will it interfere with his timetables?"
"I don't think so," said Scott, grinning. "Go ahead and round up your brood."
Bekkah hotfooted it over to the Round House.
"Kids, John is going back to his station. Do you want to say goodbye? He won't be back for a month."
"Sure!" they chorused, and pelted along the corridor to the main house and the lounge.
"Uncle John! Uncle John!" Joey called. "Where you going, Uncle John?"
"Oof!" grunted John, as Joey jumped into his arms. "Boy, you feel heavier today than four days ago!" He put Joey on the floor. "I'm going to fly Thunderbird Three up to Thunderbird Five, and send our brother, Alan, back to Earth in Thunderbird Three. It's his turn to eat Grandma's good cooking and be your unofficial uncle." The children had heard Simone mention International Rescue, and had been let in on the big secret soon after they arrived. They were awestruck that their mom was working with such an exalted (in their minds) group of people.
"Who's Alan?" asked Terry. Everyone laughed.
"He's the pip-squeak over there." Virgil pointed to Alan's painting on the wall.
"Oh," was Terry's disappointed reply. He looked carefully at the portrait. "He doesn't look like much fun." John had become Terry's favorite because of his willingness to teach Terry about astronomy and show him the stars through his telescope.
Each of the children gave him a hug; Joey and Terry gave big bear hugs at waist level, Chell gave him a shy hug around the waist and a chaste peck on the cheek. Even Bekkah gave him a hug around the neck, to the accompaniment of wolf calls by Scott and Virgil. She looked him in the eye and winked as she said, "Thanks. For everything." His brothers and Tin-Tin added their good-byes, then he was gone, on his way to Thunderbird Three launch bay.
"Let's watch the launch!" Bekkah exclaimed to her kids. She turned to Scott. "Where's the best place to watch this?"
"Actually, from the beach. Look toward the Round House," Scott advised. Virgil joined them to watch Thunderbird Three as it roared through the Round House, into the sky, and out of sight.
"Where's Gordon?" Bekkah asked Virgil. "I haven't seen him since I came back. Not even for meals."
Virgil looked pained. "I wish I knew. He saw you the night you came in; in fact he helped carry you up to the sick room. But since then, he comes home, eats a bite, then disappears again. He's been available for rescues, but that's all. We are all really worried." They fell into step as they headed back to the villa, the children running before them. "With Dad in Singapore with Brains, and Gordon disappearing all the time, we appreciate having an extra pair of hands around."
"I'm glad to be here. I love a challenge like this. Even if it's dangerous," she answered, rubbing her still bruised and scraped up arm.
They mounted the steps to the lounge, just as the eyes on Alan's portrait began to blink.
Scott was already behind the desk, opening up communications with Thunderbird Five.
"Thunderbird Five to base. We have an emergency call."
"Oh, no," whispered Virgil, "This is the worst possible time."
"Tell us what's going on, Alan," said Scott, grimly.
"The captain of a small passenger jet has reported that his engines are on fire, Scott. But get this. There's no flame, and the smoke is purple!"
Bekkah started. She moved quickly closer to Alan's face.
"Alan, do you still have communication with them?"
"Ask them two questions for me, please. What are they flying, and what kind of fuel are they using?"
A minute or two went by, and Alan returned.
"Bekkah, they are flying a VT98A, and are using VI304 for fuel."
"As I thought." She turned to Scott. "Their engines are not on fire."
"What?" demanded Scott, "If they aren't, what is going on?"
Bekkah took a deep breath and marshaled her thoughts.
"The engines are venting the product of a chemical reaction. The synthetic fuel they have contains an impurity that, when heated to a certain temperature, begins to react with the rest of the fuel, burning it up inside the tank itself."
"Then this is not a job for International Rescue," Scott said.
"Actually, it might be." Bekkah told him. "Depends on whether or not they can make it to an airstrip for an emergency landing before their fuel is used up."
Scott turned to Alan. "What are their coordinates and is there a landing strip nearby?"
Alan checked his information. "They are over the Atlantic, Scott. The nearest air strip is 500 kilometers away. The pilot says his tanks each read one-quarter full."
Bekkah shook her head. "I don't think they'll make it."
"What can we do to stop it?" asked Tin-Tin. "Is there an agent that will stop the reaction?"
"Yes, there is." Bekkah almost chuckled. "Beer."
"You are nuts," Virgil chimed in.
"No, I'm not. I discovered this as an ISO agent. Beer is the only thing that will bind to the impurity and stop the reaction."
"What do we do? We are so short-handed it isn't funny," Scott looked around the room. "I suppose that I could fly Thunderbird One, and have Virgil and Gordon take Thunderbird Two with pod 4 and the winch."
"Bekkah and I can monitor things from this end," suggested Tin-Tin.
Scott made his decision.
"Virgil, get Gordon. Bekkah, just how much beer will we need for this...rescue?"
"I'll calculate it now, Scott." Bekkah put her hand in a pocket and pulled out her earpiece/microphone, then inserted into her ear. The others in the room looked surprised at this, but they were soon immersed in plans on how to accomplish the rescue.
"Computer, alert children to bring microcomp to me." A signal began to chime in the Round House, and a window opened on the computer screen. Joey, who was playing a game on it, knew what to do. He closed his game window, and, slinging the microcomp over his shoulder, hurried down the hallway to the main house and lounge.
While he was moving, Bekkah was still dictating.
"Computer, bring up fuel tank specs for the VT98A. Assuming two one-quarter full tanks of VI304, calculate how much bonding agent will be required to bind impurity and stop reaction."
By the time Joey had knocked on the door to the lounge and been told to enter, a window on the computer screen had Bekkah's answer for her. Scott was just leaving via the Thunderbird One entry walkway, and Virgil had taken the Thunderbird Two chute. Gordon burst in the room right after Joey.
"Where is everyone? I got the emergency signal."
"John is on his way to Thunderbird Five to switch with Alan," said Tin-Tin, taking on the leadership role. "Scott's gone on in Thunderbird One to scout a potential plane crash, and Virgil is waiting for you in Thunderbird Two." As she spoke, Thunderbird One roared out of its launch bay. Bekkah still hadn't seen Thunderbird One launch; could it really be coming from the direction of the pool? Kyrano rushed in from the kitchen with four one-liter bottles of beer. Bekkah took them from him and pushed them into Gordon's arms.
"You will need this to effect the rescue and forestall the crash," she said, looking him straight in the eye. "No questions right now. Just go."
He looked startled, but headed obediently for the passenger lift to Thunderbird Two.
Bekkah heard Thunderbird Two's engines fire up, and saw the massive machine trundle out to the airstrip. She watched intently while the strip moved up into a sharp angle, and a blast door unfolded to give a backdrop to Thunderbird Two's thrusters.
That's the best way to do it, she thought approvingly. Thunderbird Two would need an airstrip 4 times as long as what's here to take off like a regular aircraft.
Alan stayed on the air with the two in the lounge, then Scott's portrait blinked. The live feed of his face appeared.
"Wow! I've never seen such a purple color in smoke before!" he exclaimed. Then he looked intently at Bekkah.
"Are you sure about this?"
Bekkah raised her head and looked him straight in the eye.
"Yes. I am."
"Okay. What do we do?"
Virgil in Thunderbird Two had finally caught up with his brother in Thunderbird One. Scott relayed Bekkah's plan.
"Okay, Virgil. You'll have to fly beneath the cargo carrier and steady Thunderbird Two for a winch shot. Like what we did with Fireflash's wing. But get closer if you can. I've already told the pilot to hold her dead on. Then Gordon will have to use the winch and, bringing two liters of beer with him, get up between the fuselage and the innermost engine, right at the rear edge of the wing. A tricky shot, but the fuel intake is on the fuselage at the junction of the rear of the wing. Then Gordon is to pour the beer into the tank. The smoke should stop almost immediately. He has to do both tanks." Scott consulted his watch. "And make it snappy. They don't have much fuel left by Bekkah's calculations."
"F-A-B, Scott," confirmed Virgil.
Gordon, in flight suit and helmet, entered the winch apparatus, the beer bottles clinking in a sack slung over his shoulder. He opened the overhead hatch, and waited for his opportunity. Watching as Virgil maneuvered the giant Thunderbird closer, closer...
"That's as close as I can get, Gordon. It's up to you now," Virgil said.
"F-A-B." Gordon waited a beat, then fired the winch ejector. The magnetic coupling shot up and missed.
Gordon swore under his breath. He recalled the magnetic coupling and tried again. It shot up and this time hit the wing just where he wanted it.
"Contact made, Virgil." He took a deep breath and activated the winch mechanism. It lifted him up quickly into a howling wind. In seconds, he was at the top, looking for the fuel intake. It was there, but he wasn't positioned right to reach it. He shifted his weight, turning the winch platform until he could reach up with both hands and undo the cover. This he slipped into the bag with the beer bottles, then he pulled one of them out, unscrewed the cap, and lifted it up to pour it in. Foam from the beer spilled over onto his gloves, and splattered his helmet and visor. When he knew it was empty, he did the same thing with the second bottle. He kept an eye on the billowing purple smoke up and to his left, and was startled when it abruptly ceased.
"It worked, Scott! It worked!" he cried.
Back at base, Bekkah let out a held breath and smiled, while Tin-Tin clapped her hands.
Gordon was careful to shift his weight back so the winch ropes wouldn't get tangled as he returned to Thunderbird Two. He released the winch motor, and slid on a controlled fall back into Thunderbird Two's pod. Then he recalled the magnetic clamp.
"Okay, Virgil. Let's get the other one," he told his pilot brother.
When the weary rescue team came back, Alan was waiting for them, and John was in charge of Thunderbird Five. Jeff was on the videophone, waiting to hear from his sons about the rescue.
"So we swung over to the starboard wing, and this time, Gordon got the winch set in one shot. There was a hairy moment when he was coming back; the ropes got tangled, but I put Thunderbird Two on autopilot and got him straightened out." Virgil finished his part of the story.
"The passenger jet got emergency clearance to land at the first available airport and landed there safely," added Scott.
"Great work, everybody!" Jeff said. His gaze turned to Bekkah. "Now, suppose you tell us exactly how you knew what to do." All eyes turned toward her.
"Well, the purple smoke was the key," she began. "The VT98A, like all Virenov Technologies vessels, are dependent on the synthetic fuels that Ivan Virenov developed. He's a great structural designer, but lousy at chemistry. His first fuel, VI304, contained an impurity, which, when heated to a certain temperature, reacted with the rest of the fuel, kind of burning it all up in the tank. The resulting product would vent out through the engines as purple smoke. There were two crashes, and several near misses before the ISO got wise to what was happening. Virenov was fined, and told to go back to the drawing board on his fuel. Which he did; the newer VI307 is a much better product."
She made a face. "What the ISO did not do is make him recall all the VI304. 'Too expensive,' they said. Instead, they put me to work trying to find something that would stop the reaction by binding the molecules of the impurity. Beer was what worked." She chuckled. "I got royally teased at work, too. I'm not a drinker, and here I was bringing beer to work every day."
Everyone laughed at that.
"We're glad you knew what to do." Jeff's gaze swept the room. "Now, a good meal and some sleep for you all. Scott, you have night watch."
"Father, how is Brains?" Alan asked.
"Making progress, son, making progress. The hydrotherapist is almost ready to discharge him from the hospital to a recovery unit, where he will undergo more rigorous physiotherapy."
A timid knock was heard at the door. Virgil opened it, and Terry looked in at everyone.
"Mommy, we're hungry. And Mrs. Tracy says dinner is ready."
Bekkah drew Terry into the room and took him over to the videophone. "Mr. Tracy, this is my oldest son, Terry. Terry, this is Mr. Tracy. He is the dad of Scott, Virgil, John, Gordon, and Alan. Mrs. Tracy is his mom."
Terry shyly sketched at small wave at Jeff.
"Hello, there, Terry. I hope to meet you in person real soon. Go have a good dinner, now. Goodbye." Jeff closed off communication.
Everyone filed out for dinner. Bekkah looked around for Gordon, but he wasn't there. No one noticed when he slipped out.
What can I do for him? she asked herself. I've been through this myself. But how do I help him?
The next day, Bekkah found Gordon on his way out of the villa. He was eating a piece of toast, and heading out the door. She stood in his way, and looked at him with a smile.
"Gordon! Just the very person I wanted to see." He stopped and gave her an irritated look.
"Would you please introduce me to Thunderbird Four? I need to give her a physical before beginning her refit."
Gordon softened. "Sure. No problem."
"Thanks. Please wait a just minute while I get my gear." She hurried back to the Round House and picked up her equipment duffel. She was already dressed for work, so she slung the duffel with practiced ease over one shoulder, and then grabbed the microcomp, too.
"Aw, mom! I was going to play on the microcomp today!" Terry complained.
"Sorry, son. Work before play." She kissed the top of his head as she went out. "I'll be down in Thunderbird Two's bay if I'm wanted."
She rejoined Gordon and they took the little monorail to Thunderbird Two's cavernous home.
"That thing looks heavy," Gordon said, indicating the equipment duffel. "Want me to carry it for you?"
"Thanks, but no. I'm used to it."
When they reached the ground floor, Bekkah looked around carefully. She had a quick tour of the facilities after she had agreed to come on board, but hadn't been down there since.
"Now, correct me if I'm wrong, but the pods are on this track. They have certain equipment in them and the track moves them back and forth under Thunderbird Two, until the required pod is directly below her. Then the hydraulic lifts lower her down over and around the pod. The pod is secured magnetically, and Thunderbird Two can take off. Do I have it right?"
"Yes." he replied.
"Where is Thunderbird Four?"
"In pod four."
They made their way across the floor to pod four. Gordon opened it up and she saw the sleek yellow craft sitting on its launch pad. Gordon explained to her how the launch was carried out, with a set of rails telescoping out to the water so Thunderbird Four could glide down them.
"I can launch her from the end of the runway, too, if need be. The very end of the airstrip hinges down into the water for that."
"Very interesting! Are there lights in the pod?" Gordon turned them on for her. "Very good. Now, I need a worktable or bench."
They looked around for something suitable and found a long table. Together, they moved it to the pod entrance.
Bekkah put down the microcomp. Gordon looked at it; he had seen it briefly before but now he scrutinized it carefully. Bekkah began to take the tools she needed from the duffel and lay them out on the table.
"Cool computer. Where'd you get it?" he asked.
Bekkah grinned. "Ah! My pride and joy, apart from my children. I designed, built, and programmed it all by my li'l ol' self. I plan on having some version of it in each of the Thunderbirds." Now she picked up the fissure detector. She explained its function to Gordon.
"I want to start with the hull, and work my way in, ending up at the reactor."
She put her computer link in her ear.
"Computer, open new file, title, Thunderbird Four check up." A window opened on her computer screen. She then put her specialized magnifiers on over her eyes, and began to pass the fissure detector over the front of Thunderbird Four. Immediately, a series of beeps sounded. Gordon jumped, startled. Bekkah frowned under the goggles, then took them off and handed them to Gordon.
"Take a look under the light."
Gordon put the magnifier on, and was appalled to see a spiderweb of tiny cracks and fissures spread wherever the light touched the metal.
"What is it?" he asked.
Bekkah pursed her lips. "Could just be in the paint and paint sealant, but it looks more serious than that to me." she paused, then spoke into her microphone. "Computer, bring up specs on Thunderbird Four. Identify 18 places, three in the bow, three in the keel, three starboard, three to port, three aft, and three topside where it would be easy to access the inner hull through the bulkheads." The specs came up in a 3-D picture of Thunderbird Four's hull, with bright orange spots indicating the areas Bekkah had requested. Working from the diagrams, Bekkah passed the wand over each space. On nearly every place, she was rewarded with multiple sharp beeps. She would look carefully at the spot, then call Gordon over to do the same. His heart sank; his beloved Thunderbird Four's hull was spiderwebbed with thousands of tiny fissures.
Bekkah drew a deep breath, then let it out. She looked at her crestfallen companion.
"Don't worry yet, Gordon. This might still be negligible." She put a small button on each of the areas. The buttons flashed, but did nothing else.
"Markers," she answered Gordon's unspoken question. "They will help us find these areas while working inside Thunderbird Four. C'mon, we need to take off some bulkheads." She checked her tool belt to be sure she had the right implements on it, then climbed up to the hatch on top of the small craft. Gordon opened the hatch, climbed inside, then made room for her to join him.
"Let's start in the bow, shall we?"
Getting access to the inner hull often proved harder than it looked. Both of them were required to manhandle some of the larger pieces of bulkhead from the hull supports. Sometimes, the access space was small, just large enough to put a hand or arm in. But in each one, Bekkah would somehow fit the fissure detector into the hole, and push it past the wiring and insulation inside and pass it over the selected area. The markers on the outside confirmed that this was the spot by chiming louder and faster as she neared them with her device. She often had to rely just on the screen to show her what was happening, but sometimes she could bend far enough to see the spider pattern. She would show this to Gordon, who could not believe what he saw. At each site she would reach her hands up with a small plastic bag and scrape something off the inner hull. Gordon picked up one of bags. It had scraps of a white powder, and flakes of what looked like rust in it.
They had finished the starboard side of the bow, and had started on the starboard hull when Scott beeped through on Gordon's telecom.
"Grandma says lunch is ready. Are you coming? Have you seen Bekkah anywhere?"
"She's here with me."
She looked at Gordon. "I need to get me one of those watches. If lunch is ready, then my kids should be starving. I hope they haven't been giving Kyrano a hard time. Let's have something to eat and get fortified for the rest of this job." She got to her feet wearily, and gave a hand up to Gordon. "This isn't going anywhere, and besides, I want to consult Tin-Tin. Have her working with us on this."
Before they left the launch bay, they moved the table to inside the pod. Bekkah put her tools on the table, and then they closed the pod up again.
"Just in case of an emergency call." she said. Gordon nodded in agreement.
In the Tracy kitchen, the Barnes children were making themselves useful. Kyrano, an experienced father, put them to work washing veggies, setting the table, and carrying things from kitchen to dining room. Bekkah smiled when she saw this.
"They're not giving you any trouble, are they, Kyrano?"
"No, Dr. Barnes. They are good helpers."
Chell approached her mother. "Mom, can you take us swimming this afternoon?"
Bekkah sighed. "I'm afraid not, Chell. This project is going to take longer than I thought."
Alan turned and said, "Why not let them, Bekkah? I'll watch them swim. I promise Uncle Alan will take good care of them."
"I'll go swimming with them," chimed in Virgil.
Bekkah held up her hands in defeat. "Okay, okay, I know when I'm outnumbered. You can go swimming for an hour this afternoon. Just don't forget the sunscreen, okay?" Terry, who was exceptionally fair-skinned, was still peeling from a sunburn.
They sat down to a filling lunch. Alan, Scott, and Virgil argued good-naturedly about a baseball game they had watched; Scott and Alan teamed up against Virgil for a change. Bekkah was busy supervising the children as they ate. Gordon watched as she accepted a kiss on the cheek from young Joey, and then, instead of returning it properly, playfully buzzed his cheek with her lips. He listened to her as she praised each child for their part in making lunch, and watched her rapt attention focus on Terry as he told her about some shells he had found on the beach that morning.
"We even found a chocolate chip sea star, Mom!" he exclaimed excitedly. "We put it back after everyone had seen it, though."
"Good, son. I'm glad you didn't wait for me to see it before you put it back. That was very responsible of you."
Chell told her mom that she had almost finished the mystery story she was reading.
"I think I know who the thief is, Mom."
"Let me know if you were right, Chell."
Gordon realized that his father, as great as he was with his sons, hadn't had the time for each of them like Bekkah had for her kids. He had not been as playful, either. I guess that's just what mothers do, Gordon mused.
Before long, lunch was over. Gordon saw that the Barnes children were trained to carry their own dishes from the table. Their mother set the example, and they followed. Gordon found himself automatically picking up plate and cup as he left the table. Kyrano was startled to see him bring the implements into the kitchen.
"Ah, thank you, Mr. Gordon," he stammered.
"No problem, Kyrano."
Bekkah was giving last minute instructions to the kids.
"Now, you have to wait an hour before going out to swim. Go back to our quarters and read or play one of your video games or something. Set the timer, and when it goes off, you can go looking for Uncle Alan and Uncle Virgil."
"Okay, Mom!" said Chell, brightly. The three children then pelted off to their rooms for the requisite hour.
Scott pulled Gordon aside.
"Are you okay, bro? This is the first meal I've seen you at in a while."
Gordon shrugged. "Yeah, I'm okay, I guess. By the way, Bekkah mentioned that she could use one of the telecomm watches. Could you clear it through Dad?"
Scott was surprised at the request. "Sure, Gordon. I'll do that."
"I've gotta go help Bekkah again. She's giving Thunderbird Four a thorough going over. I'll be in pod 4 if you need me."
"Okay, Gordon. Thanks for telling me." Scott watched his younger brother as he walked over where Bekkah and Tin-Tin were in close conversation. He hadn't seen Gordon much lately and was glad to see him occupied with something, instead of just taking off and not coming back for hours. He knew from Kyrano that there were nights where Gordon's bed had not been slept in. He wished he could get at the root of what was bugging his sibling. I hope he can pull the thorn soon, he thought.
Tin-Tin looked over at him. "Scott, Bekkah and Gordon have something to show me on Thunderbird Four. I'll be in pod four today."
"F-A-B, Tin-Tin." The threesome left, and Scott walked down to the lounge, alone with his thoughts.
On the return to pod four, the work seemed to go faster. Tin-Tin's smaller hands were helpful in getting into the places where Bekkah had trouble reaching. She was alarmed, however, at the number of fissures, and in the stuff they were collecting in the bags. The afternoon wore on, and they kept working. Finally, weary beyond measure, they called it a night, and went to dinner. They had finished the four sides of the craft, and only had keel and topside left to do. After dinner, Gordon collapsed in his bed. And, like every other night since the Chilean rescue, he had a nightmare.
In his dream, he was in the crevasse again, with the carnage he had witnessed that day. But the victims had the faces of his friends and family. There was Brains, with the pool of blood seeping from his head like it did the day he fell. Bekkah was there, bruised and battered as she had been the day he had helped carry her to the house. Scott, Virgil, John, Tin- Tin, Alan, Dad, they were all there. Their bodies draped over each other, in grotesque poses. All dead. A whimper reached his ears. It was Terry, still alive. A stretcher appeared, and in slow motion, Gordon prepared him for transport as he had the children at the rescue site. But the stretcher moved away from him, and he couldn't catch it. He couldn't winch Terry up. No one was there to help. He howled in frustration and pain... then he woke up. Sweating profusely, he panted to catch his breath. Once his racing heart was calmer, he got up and left the house, making for a little hammock he had strung up in a secluded place by the beach. Only the sounds of the waves were able to drown out his nightmares and give him some fitful rest.