The next morning was cloudy and windy. Bekkah was awakened by her children much later than usual. As the family came into the kitchen for breakfast, they found Jeff finishing up his cup of coffee. He looked up at them and smiled.
"Well, since the sealant has to dry for at least 24 hours, I've decided to go to Singapore early. It won't hurt to give the sealant an extra day to dry, and we can see Brains while we are there," he informed Bekkah. "Besides, you have an appointment of your own."
"I do?" Bekkah asked, befuddled.
"Yes. Gordon found out why you lost the air in your tank yesterday. There was a hole in the tubing to the air mask." Jeff gulped down the last of his coffee. "There is the possibility that you may have inhaled some of the sealant. I called Rinocot and read them the riot act. They are sending their top medical specialist to meet us at a hospital in Singapore. He will check you over to make sure you are okay."
"Oh! I never thought about that!" Bekkah exclaimed. "I guess it would be wise to make sure. When do we leave?"
"As soon as you finish eating." Jeff got up. "Get your things together as soon as you can." He left. The room was silent for a moment.
"Well, that's a surprise!" said Bekkah. "I guess I'd better eat quickly."
"Mom! Can't we come too?" Chell asked.
"No, hon. I am going to see a doctor, remember? I'll be back tomorrow." The children were very disappointed, and griped and grumbled their way through breakfast.
Once they had finished, Bekkah put a change of clothes and some p.j.s in a carry-on bag. Then she went to the lab and picked up something she had been working on for Brains. She wrapped it up as a gift, and tucked it in her luggage. Then she met up with Jeff and Tin-Tin for the flight to Singapore. The children walked with her down to the airstrip.
"Now, be good for your uncles, and for Mrs. Tracy. I've asked Uncle Virgil to be the one to read to you and tuck you in. You can go swimming in the afternoon if the sun comes out." She kissed and hugged each of them, then sent them on their way back to the villa, where Grandma Tracy watched for them at the bottom of the steps. Jeff took her bag, and helped her into the jet. She sat in back while Tin-Tin sat up in the co-pilot's seat. The jet's engines whined into life, and then they were off across the wide Pacific.
Bekkah slept most of the journey. Jeff and Tin-Tin talked quietly between themselves. They woke her before Jeff made the approach to the jetport at Singapore. Kyrano waited there for them with a hired car.
"Hello, Kyrano!" Jeff greeted his old friend.
"Hello, Mr. Tracy, Dr. Barnes. How is my Tin-Tin?" he asked as he gave his daughter a big hug. He turned to Jeff. "The Rinocot people are waiting for us at the hospital where Brains was treated." He took the luggage and got them all in the car. He had become experienced in driving through the crowded Singapore streets. Once they arrived at the hospital, Bekkah was hustled into the outpatient wing.
In the lobby, two nervous-looking men awaited Jeff Tracy and his party. Bekkah smiled as she recognized one of them.
"Johannes! Wie gehen sie?" she asked the younger of the two men. Jeff and Tin-Tin looked surprised. Johannes Abt was equally surprised to see his friend, the ISO agent.
"Was ist das? Meine kleine freundin, Frau Doktor Barnes? Wie gehen sie hier?" He took Bekkah's hands and kissed her on both cheeks.
"Mr. Tracy, let me introduce Johannes Abt, of Rinocot. He showed me the ins and outs of the Rinocot materials when I was with ISO. Johannes, Jeff Tracy and Tin-Tin Kyrano."
Johannes shook Jeff's hand, then Tin-Tin's.
"We are here to see to your employee, the one who may have inhaled the sealant. Here is Herr Doktor Neussel, of Rinocot. He is our head of medicine." He looked at Jeff. "Who is to be treated?"
"I'm afraid I am, Johannes." Bekkah gave him a rueful smile. Johannes looked surprised, but he lead the Tracy party to the second floor, walking beside Bekkah.
"So, when did you leave the ISO and go to work for Tracy Industries?" he asked.
"Oh, about three weeks ago," she replied. It seems like much longer, she thought.
"And what are you doing for Tracy Industries? If I may ask?"
"I've been hired to work on some priority projects for them while their lead engineer is laid up. It's been fascinating."
"We are so sorry that we supplied you with a faulty air mask. There is a replacement ready to go back with you, and if you have inhaled any of the sealant, we have brought an antidote to it." He looked at her soberly. "I truly hope that you will have a clean bill of health."
A nurse ushered Bekkah into an examination room, where Bekkah undressed and put on a hospital gown. A technician came in and took her temperature and blood pressure. Another technician took several vials of blood. Bekkah asked if Tin-Tin could remain in the room with her. Tin-Tin watched as Dr. Neussel listened intently to Bekkah's lungs and breathing and examined her nasal passages and throat. Then he left and waited for the result of the blood screening.
The examining room was warm, and Bekkah was getting drowsy. Tin-Tin stepped outside to see if the results had returned. As she left, a hospital janitor came in. He had with him a rolling cart with a lid for putting linens in. Bekkah shook herself awake, and looked at his back as he checked the room. Something about him niggled at the back of her mind. Something that she connected with danger. She slipped off the examining table quietly, putting it between the two of them. She slid over the cabinet holding medical supplies, looking for something, anything to help her. She glanced over and saw the alcohol spray bottle. Picking it up, she hid it behind her back.
He finished his examination of the room, and then turned to the examination table itself. She didn't recognize his features as he smiled at her benignly. Suddenly, his eyes opened wide and began to glow. For a split second she was entranced, but then she shook her head, raised the spray bottle and pulled the trigger. A howl of pain echoed in her ears, and she, eyes tightly shut, heard him scramble from the room. A commotion followed in the hall. Tin-Tin flung open the door.
"What's the matter, Bekkah? Who was that?" she shouted.
"The guy with the glowing eyes!" Bekkah explained.
Jeff, who was standing behind Tin-Tin, swore, and hurried off to try and catch the fleeing suspect. He came back shortly, huffing and puffing. "I lost him. But he couldn't have gotten far. Security is looking for him."
After all the furor had passed, Dr. Neussel came in with the test results. "Doktor Barnes, I must tell you that you do have a slight amount of the sealant in your bloodstream. It is not enough to poison you, however, it is affecting you, making you sleepy and raising your blood pressure levels. To be safe, we will give you an injection of the antidote." He slipped a syringe into a bottle of clear liquid and filled it.
"Hold it." said Jeff. He called Johannes into the room. "I want to be absolutely sure that what Herr Doktor here is going to inject into Dr. Barnes is really an antidote. Please read the label on the bottle of fluid for me, Herr Abt." Johannes nodded and checked the bottle.
"It is indeed the antidote, Herr Tracy."
"Okay. You may proceed, Herr Doktor."
Bekkah flinched slightly when the needle was inserted into her vein. A nurse put a bandage on the site of the inoculation, then told her to get dressed. Outside, Jeff thanked the doctor and Johannes for their help, and told Johannes to send the new air mask to a hotel nearby. Once she was dressed, Bekkah was discharged with instructions from the doctor.
"You will be very sleepy for the next twelve hours, and may develop a headache. Do not take any painkillers for the headache. Keep hydrated, and listen to your body when you are sleepy." The doctor shook her hand, and Johannes gave her another kiss on the cheek as they parted. Then Jeff whisked Bekkah and Tin-Tin into the hired car and had Kyrano take them to the hotel, where Jeff had reserved rooms. By the time they got there, Bekkah was visibly drooping. Tin-Tin helped her get undressed and into bed and then she was out.
Jeff reported back to Scott at Tracy Island. "It seems the Hood is still interested in Bekkah. He tried to attack her at the hospital."
Scott's face showed concern. "What can we do about this guy? He just appears out of nowhere. He seems to know her every move."
"I don't know, Scott. Bekkah was able to send him packing today; I'm not sure how. In all the excitement, I never got her story. She may be able to help us fight him when we encounter him. Right now, she is sleeping. She did have some sealant in her bloodstream and required a shot of antidote." Jeff rubbed his eyes. It had been a long day.
"Kyrano and I will stand watch over her. Tomorrow we'll go see Brains, and then high-tail it back to base. Then we'll see about that second coat of sealant."
"Okay, Dad. Don't forget to get some rest yourself. After all, you're doing the flying."
"F-A-B, Scott. Over and out."
When Bekkah woke the next day, Tin-Tin was eating the breakfast provided by room service. Bekkah's head throbbed, but she remembered what Doctor Neussel had said, and didn't take a pain reliever for it. Instead, she ordered a light breakfast and several bottles of water to take along on their visit to see Brains. Jeff called for the car at eleven, and together the foursome went to the rehabilitation center where Brains was continuing his recovery.
Brains had buried his nose in a technical manual. His first physiotherapy session of the day had been painful, but he was determined to ignore the pain today and catch up on some reading. A cough from the door made him look up.
Leaning on one doorpost, fist on opposite hip, her expression sour, stood...
She regarded him with a cool look, raised an eyebrow, and spoke. "You still shirking in here, Hiram?"
He shook his head, a smile coming to his lips. She began to chuckle, then walked over to him and gave him a hug. Tin-Tin, Jeff, and Kyrano entered, smiling broadly. Soon there were peals of laughter coming from his room and he and Bekkah began to joke around.
"Did you hear about Tom Swift and His Electric Bathtub?" Bekkah asked.
"No, what about it?" Brains riposted.
"It's the last book in the series," she answered. Brains, who got the joke immediately, began to guffaw. When the other three got the joke, they laughed.
"This reminds me of the guy that fell into the upholstery machine," Bekkah continued.
"Oh, poor man! What happened?" Tin-Tin asked innocently.
"Oh, he's fine. He's completely recovered," Bekkah answered. The pun sent Brains and Kyrano into gales of laughter. Jeff and Tin-Tin just groaned.
Jeff caught his breath, and asked, "Are you two this bad when you get together at conferences?"
Brains replied, "Actually, Mr. Tracy, we are worse."
"Oh, yeah! We have Sir James Masters to bounce off then. He is the master of the well-turned pun!" Bekkah grinned. "And we have Ivan Viranov to pester. He has absolutely no sense of humor, so we are always picking on him." She turned toward Brains. "That reminds me, you still owe me a cup of coffee."
"You won't let me forget that, will you?" Brains grinned.
"Not a chance. Hopefully I won't have to wait until November to collect, either," she retorted.
Jeff stood. "I hate to break up this party, but we are due back at Tracy Island. Bekkah's kids expect to see their mom sometime today."
"And tomorrow we put the second coat of sealant on our yellow submarine," added Bekkah. She began to sing under her breath, "We all live in a yellow submarine, a yellow submarine, a yellow submarine..."
Brains cracked up again.
Jeff and Kyrano moved out of the room. Tin-Tin stood in the door and waited for Bekkah.
Bekkah took out the package she had brought. She sat down next to Brains and looked him in the eye, smiling. "Your mission, and you better accept it, is to get better by the conference in Cote D'Ivoire in November or the date in this parcel. Preferably this date." Then she added, "This tape will not self-destruct at all."
He opened the package. Inside was a model of the new Thunderbird Four. There were no markings to identify it as such, but there was a date painted on the bottom: Shakedown goal, October 31.
He looked at her, and nodded. "I will try." He sat back to admire the model. "I'm so glad you came. They say that laughter is the best medicine."
Bekkah winked at him, "And spinach is the best vegetable." He chuckled again. "Remember this, too.If you aren't making progress, we'll send in our secret weapon," she threatened with a grin.
"And wh-what would that be?" he challenged.
"Mrs. Tracy!" she exclaimed triumphantly. He groaned in mock fear.
She held out her fist. He brought his gently down on hers, and then she repeated the motion on his outstretched fist. Then she kissed him on the cheek and was gone. Tin-Tin also gave him a peck on the cheek, then followed Bekkah out.
Kyrano and Jeff had already headed down the hall and were waiting for Tin- Tin and Bekkah near the entrance.
"Y'know, Kyrano, Bekkah must make him feel really secure," Jeff commented.
"Why do you say that, Mr. Tracy?" queried Kyrano.
"All the time that she was there, he didn't stutter once."
The soft touch
"Bekkah? Could you tell me what happened in that examination room?" Jeff asked. They were on their way back to Tracy Island.
"Well, this janitor came in and looked over the whole room, as if he were looking for dirty linen. He had one of those rolling hampers with him," she began to explain. "I was kinda sleepy, but woke up enough to notice him. Something about him made me think I had seen him before and he was dangerous. So I got off the examining table, and looked for a weapon. The alcohol sprayer was handy, so I picked that up. When he looked at me, I realized I had never seen his face before, but his eyes began to glow strangely, and I did remember that! So I closed my eyes and sprayed alcohol in his general direction. I must have hit him in the eyes," she concluded. "The rest you know."
"How do you think you recognized him?" asked Tin-Tin.
"I think it was mostly build and body language. Those are things he can't hide," Bekkah explained. Then she said, "I don't know why I didn't recognize his face."
"He usually wears masks to hide his identity," Jeff explained. "That's why we call him the Hood."
Bekkah looked thoughtful for the rest of the journey. When they arrived at Tracy Island, it was early evening. Scott came down to the airstrip to meet them.
"We've already eaten, but Grandma has saved some dinner for you three. You'd better go eat first. Virgil is watching Bekkah's kids."
The travelers went up to the dining room, and ate a hearty dinner. Then Bekkah excused herself and went to her quarters. She heard music and laughter coming from the living area. She put an ear to the door and recognized the movie version of The Pirates of Penzance. The major general had just finished introducing himself, and she knew from long experience what was coming next. So she eased the door open and stood there, leaning on the doorpost. And when the Major General Stanley said, "Now that I've introduced myself, I'd like to know..."
"What's going on?" she joined in.
Her sudden appearance startled the children and Virgil. He was sitting cross-legged on the floor with Joey on his lap. The kids all jumped up to greet their mom. Virgil struggled to get up on nerve-dead feet. He paused the movie with the remote.
"No pajamas? No teeth brushed?" she asked, giving each child a raised eyebrow and a look.
Chell spoke up, "Not yet, Mom. Uncle Virgil is watching the movie with us."
"So I see." She fixed Virgil with an eyebrow, a look, and a faint smile.
"Mom, if we get our p.j.s on and brush our teeth, can we finish the movie?" Terry pleaded.
Bekkah made as if she had to think about the matter. "Okay. But make it snappy!"
"Thanks, Mom!" The three happy children scattered to their rooms. Virgil, circulation now restored in his feet, began to make an exit.
"Virgil. Why don't you stay? Finish the movie with us," Bekkah invited. "Don't you want to know what happens?"
Virgil grinned. "Here I thought I was in hot water for letting them watch it!"
Bekkah shook her head. "Nah. This is one of their favorites. By the way, how many chapters of Around the World did they hit you up for last night?"
Virgil looked sheepish. "Three."
Bekkah laughed. "Three! You, Virgil Tracy, are what is known as a soft touch."
The children returned, and the movie resumed. Virgil and Bekkah sat on the floor with the kids. Joey resumed his place in Virgil's lap, and Terry sat between them, leaning on his mom. Chell leaned on her from the other side. Virgil was surprised to hear the kids and Bekkah singing along with the libretto of the operetta. He hadn't had much exposure to Gilbert and Sullivan, and now wished he had; he was enjoying himself.
When the movie was over, Bekkah sent her three off to bed and followed to tuck them in. Virgil looked around the confines of the room that had been designated as a den or living room. It was cozy, an inviting place to sit and read or watch TV. He looked at the full bookshelves. There were lots of mysteries, science fiction, and literature to choose from. One whole bookcase was dedicated to children's books.
On one of the emptier shelves he found a family portrait and took it down. It was an older one; Joey was little more than a year old. Boy, have those kids changed, he thought, as he looked at it. Bekkah hadn't changed much. She weighed a bit more in the picture and had less silver in her hair. The man in the portrait interested him the most, though. He was heavy-set, with a full beard, and the beginning of a bald spot on his head. He wore glasses as thick as Brains's spectacles. Not an imposing figure, Virgil thought. I wonder what she saw in him.
Bekkah returned, and found him looking at the portrait. "Joey was about a year and a half when we had that taken. Our last family portrait," she said, sadness creeping into her voice.
"What was he like?" Virgil found himself asking.
"Terrence? He was patient, gentle, kind, intelligent, artistic, imaginative, and an antique in every way. He got me hooked on old movies, old books, old music, old art. My love for Gilbert and Sullivan was something he gave me. All of us, actually. He was funny, too. We got so that he could send me into hysterics with just a word or two," she explained. "He was my husband, my one and only lover, and my very best friend." She sat down on the couch, pulling her legs up and leaning on one arm. "I still miss him."
Virgil sat down on a chair next to her. "How do you do it?" he finally asked.
"Keep your sanity. Raise such good kids. They were really good for me. Keep up with your field. It looks like you can do it all."
She smiled again. "I can't do it all. I keep my sanity by allowing myself to be silly from time to time. Otherwise, I'd be a depressed basket case. As for the kids, I try never to make a promise I can't keep or a threat I won't carry out. They know that I mean what I say, and that keeps them on their toes. As for my field, well, my work was my lifeline there. But there are times when I just want to give it all up and put my head in the sand." She added, "Not now though. I'm having too much fun working here." She sighed. "I guess what it all boils down to is joy. If I have joy in my life, even the saddest of circumstances can't keep me down."
Virgil's watch beeped at him.
"Virgil, you have night watch," Scott told him over the telecomm.
"F-A-B, Scott." He rose.
"Thanks for watching the kids for me, Virgil. I really appreciate it."
"You're welcome. See you later." He walked out and closed the door quietly behind him.
Bekkah sat, calm and quiet for a few minutes. She looked at the photo that Virgil had replaced on the shelf. I hope I'm doing the right thing here, Terrence, she thought. I hope I'm going to be able to hold it all together. And keep the kids safe from this Hood nut. Then she took herself off to bed.
The next day found Bekkah looking at the results of Tin-Tin's metallurgy study. She frowned as she compared Tin-Tin's notes to the original lading list of what Jeff had ordered for Thunderbird Four's hull. Tin-Tin came into the lab.
"Hi! Just came for my metallurgy findings." She picked up the small pile of papers that Bekkah put down on the lab table.
"Need any moral support when talking to Jeff?" Bekkah asked.
Tin-Tin shook her head, "No. This is pretty straightforward. They were supposed to give us a molybdenum/titanium blend of steel and just sent molybdenum instead." She grimaced. "Mr. Tracy won't like this at all."
"If you need any back up, just holler," Bekkah told her. Tin-Tin gave her a wry smile as she headed down to the lounge.
Bekkah was at loose ends. Gordon, Alan, Scott and Virgil were putting the second coat of sealant on Thunderbird Four. Jeff had Tracy Industries business to do from his home office, and he and the boys had ganged up on her and flatly refused to let her go anywhere near the repair bay.
"We can handle it," Scott told her. "Virgil and I can show Gordon and Alan what to do." So now she needed something to do herself.
She began to play back her encounters with the Hood. She remembered the face she saw on the island, the old man's face at the grocery store, and the man's face at the hospital. She picked up a piece of blank paper and began to sketch the faces. When she was done, she cut the faces of her would-be abductor out and stacked them one on top of the other. The fact that they each had the same facial structure reached out to her and grabbed her attention right away.
We can use this to identify him, she thought. His facial bone structure doesn't change from disguise to disguise. Neither do his body language or his build, she remembered. Another tell-tale clue. But those eyes! What could they do about them? She sat down in front of the microcomp, pulled out her wireless connection, and began to dictate.
She dictated for a full-half hour before she was satisfied that she had all of her ideas out and in the microcomp's memory. Then she turned her attention to the computer that was in the lab. She decided to read up on all of International Rescue's missions, but she was especially interested in the Fireflash incident that took the life of her husband. She accessed the pertinent file with the password that had been assigned to her, and began to read.
Mission Log, date 04/12/2027.
Fireflash ride along.
Mission leader: Scott Tracy
Summary: After rescuing the pilots of the second crashed Fireflash, International Rescue offered to fly alongside a Fireflash vessel, using IR communications technology to keep in contact with London Control as well as with IR Thunderbirds Two and Five. Scott Tracy was appointed to fly on the Fireflash itself, while Virgil and Gordon Tracy flew beside it in Thunderbird Two. Alan Tracy was on duty in Thunderbird Five.
Fireflash was performing well, but Alan noticed that Fireflash navigational controls were malfunctioning. He reported this to Scott in Fireflash. Then communications between Fireflash and London Control went out, and IR radio equipment was activated, keeping Fireflash pilots in contact with Thunderbirds Two and Five, as well as London Control. Elevator power in the starboard wing failed, and the Fireflash began to lose altitude. London Control advocated bail-out. Scott disagreed.
In order to discover the problem in the starboard wing, Gordon used the winch equipment to hoist himself into the wing assembly. Before he did so, he mentioned seeing someone there, but dismissed it as his imagination. Once hoisted into the wing, he discovered that the wires to the elevator control unit were cut. He was fired on by a saboteur, and fired shots back. The saboteur jumped from the wing at 40,000 feet, possibly hit by Gordon's gun shots. Gordon could not properly fix the elevator control wires at that time. In order to save the plane, he put the cut ends of the elevator control wires together. The resulting electrical connection was enough to pull Fireflash out of its dive and enable a return to London.
Injuries: burns to Gordon Tracy's hands
Mission considered successful.
Bekkah sat back. Well, this explains the burns on Gordon's hands, she thought. This is the hot-wire job he told me about. She got up and wandered into the kitchen for a cup of coffee. Lunch preparations were under way, so she got out with her steaming mug quickly. She met Tin-Tin in the corridor.
"How did it go?" she asked.
Tin-Tin sighed. "Okay. He wasn't pleased but he doesn't know what to do about it. I know he's going to register a complaint with the company, and he probably will look elsewhere for Mark Two's steel." She brightened up. "Maybe we should start putting together the materials list for Thunderbird Four. Get a head start on ordering so we can get the project under way."
Bekkah grinned. "An excellent idea, little sister! Let's get cracking!" They both hurried on to the lab.
Fire in the hole
"There is a monorail train stuck in a tunnel in the Colorado Rockies. It can't get out of the tunnel because of a forest fire at either end of the tunnel." Jeff explained to his sons. "Scott, you take Thunderbird One and get out to the Danger Zone. John will give you the coordinates en route. Virgil, take Thunderbird Two with Firefly and the Monobrake. Take plenty of dicetyline, and those nitro and dicetyline shells that Brains developed. Alan, you ride double-crew on Thunderbird Two." He looked sharply at Gordon, noticing the exhaustion in his son's face, and remembering his son's still bruised ribs. Gordon is going to get some rest, he decided.
"Thunderbirds are go!" he intoned, and the three Tracy brothers hustled off to their respective assignments.
Jeff turned to Gordon and said gently, "You look all in, son. Go ahead and get some sleep. I'll wake you if there is any news."
Gordon's anger flared, but just for a moment. He realized that his dad plainly saw that he hadn't been sleeping and was looking out for his best interests. His shoulders sagged, and he said wearily, "F-A-B, Dad." Then he went to his room and lay down on the bed.
Scott surveyed the Danger Zone from the sky. It's gonna be tricky, he thought. There's really no place to land Thunderbird One, never mind Thunderbird Two. And we've got to get the pod down to get out the equipment. He flew along down one end of the monorail a little further. About four km from the tunnel, he found a lake. The shore of the lake was close enough to the monorail track to make getting the vehicles out of the pod possible.
"Thunderbird One to Thunderbird Two. Virgil! You'll have to land Thunderbird Two at vector 17/82C. It's going to be a tight fit, and Thunderbird Two's back struts will be in water, but it's the closest I can get you to the Danger Zone. At least the fire hasn't reached there yet. I'm going to look for a place to set up Mobile Control."
"F-A-B, Scott," replied Virgil. "ETA, 11.5 minutes."
Scott continued to look for a place to set Thunderbird One down. The mountain through which the tunnel ran was wooded and massive, with its vegetation on fire in spots. The monorail ran along an old railroad track bed that had been cut from the mountain over a century before. It was narrow and often had a steep cliff on the side away from the mountain. The forest fire raged in the stands of timber below. Burning trees had fallen across the track in several places.
"I guess I'll just have to hover," he muttered. Then he spotted a wide ledge above the track, about 1 km from the tunnel mouth. The forest fire had not spread there, and there was enough room to put Thunderbird One down.
"Thunderbird One to Thunderbird Two. I've found a place to set up Mobile Control. It's at vector 17/83D. Let's just hope the forest fire doesn't spread this far."
"F-A-B, Thunderbird One," answered Virgil. "I am at the Landing Zone and will be offloading the Monobrake and the Firefly momentarily." He turned to Alan. "Better get back to the pod, Alan. Firefly is yours today."
"F-A-B, Virgil." Alan was already wearing a fire-proof suit. He turned and ran to the pod. Once inside, he climbed into the cockpit of the Firefly, and did a quick systems check. He felt the thump that the pod made when it hit the sand of the lake shore.
"Boy, that's a tight fit," Virgil said from the cockpit. "Opening pod door now. Be with you soon, Alan."
"F-A-B." Alan started up the Firefly and drove it slowly down the pod ramp. He nursed it up to the old rail bed, then turned left, and began to rumble along it toward the tunnel. Alan began to clear the track of burning, fallen trees, making way for the Monobrake that Virgil was driving behind him. He came to a spot where there were several trees blocking his way. "Scott, I've got a large knot of burning debris in front of me. I'm going to use one of the new nitro and dicetyline shells on it," Alan reported.
"F-A-B, Alan. Let's see how they work." Scott replied.
Alan backed the Firefly up a bit. Then he pulled a lever, and a cannon's bore stood out from the Firefly's bulldozer blade. He aimed carefully and fired! The shell knocked the burning wood aside, creating a path for the Firefly. Plus, the shell's dicetyline load put out the fire in most of the wood surrounding the path.
"Nice shooting, Alan!" praised Scott, "Those new shells are twice as effective as the plain nitro ones!"
Alan grinned and retracted the cannon. Then he pushed the Firefly along until he came to the entrance to the tunnel.
Virgil spoke to him through the radio. "Alan, we've got to change places. It's going to be tricky because the rail bed is so narrow."
"Can you lift the Monobrake up onto the monorail, Virgil? Go over me instead of around?" Alan asked.
"I can try. It's still going to be a tight fit." Virgil extended the Monobrake's rail mechanism. It slowly reached up and clamped itself to the rail above him.
"Looks good, Virgil." said Scott, "Now try and pull the Monobrake up and over the Firefly. Alan, make sure the bulldozer blade is as far down as it can go."
"F-A-B, Scott," was the answer from both brothers. Slowly, the Monobrake's rail arm pulled the craft up and off the ground, just like a monorail train. Its flat design, meant for driving under monorail trains, enabled it to get close to the rail itself.
"Okay, Scott. Here I go." Virgil moved the Monobrake slowly forward, gingerly moving over the massive Firefly. He gritted his teeth as he heard the bottom of his machine grind over the top of Alan's.
"Yikes, Virgil!" he heard Alan say, "Be careful! Can you get any higher?"
"No, Alan, I'm at the limit now. Can you move backwards slowly? It might minimize the scraping."
"F-A-B, Virgil." Alan slowly backed up the Firefly. The scraping sound stopped quickly and the Monobrake was free. Virgil wiped sweat from his brow. He lowered the Monobrake to the rail bed. "I'm going into the tunnel to bring the train out, Scott."
"F-A-B, Virgil." was the reply. "Alan, you're going to have to turn Firefly around so it's pointing in the opposite direction.
"F-A-B, Scott." Alan said, then muttered under his breath, "Here comes a 21 point turn."
After about ten minutes, Alan had gotten the Firefly turned around and ready to clear the track as the monorail train came out of the tunnel. Scott watched as his youngest brother carefully turned the big machine.
"Good job, Alan!" he told his brother.
"Whew! That was tough." Alan replied. "How is Virgil doing?"
"I've finally found the train," Virgil's voice sounded in his ear. "Hooking the Monobrake up now. ETA to tunnel entrance; ten minutes. We're taking this nice and slow."
"F-A-B, Monobrake." Scott kept his binoculars on as he scanned the burning area. He turned toward the lake where Thunderbird Two sat. It was undisturbed. As he turned toward the tunnel mouth again, he saw a stand of flaming trees on the mountain above the Firefly. The trees were swaying back and forth, and suddenly, they fell toward the rail bed, aimed right for Firefly. "Look out, Alan!" Scott shouted.
The burning timber fell with a boom on top of Firefly's cockpit. Scott frantically picked up the microphone.
"Alan! Are you there? Mobile Control to Firefly! Alan! Please respond!" He waited for a response, any response, his heart sinking.
"Mobile Control to Firefly! Report, Alan!"
"Firefly to Mobile Control. I'm okay. Just knocked out of my seat." Hearing Alan's voice calmed Scott's fears.
"Can you get out from under that timber?" Scott asked.
"Yes, I think I can. I'll have to back up into the tunnel, but I should be able to get it off of Firefly and then clear it for the train."
Scott put binoculars up to his eyes again and watched as Firefly backed up ponderously, the timber falling to the front of the vehicle. Then it moved forward, catching the hot lumber with its bulldozer blade and clearing the rail bed.
Virgil's voice chimed in. "I'm almost to the end of the tunnel, Scott. Alan had better get moving."
"F-A-B, Virgil. Alan, did you copy that?"
"F-A-B, Scott. Am moving Firefly now."
The Monobrake emerged from the tunnel to find its way clear of burning debris. It rumbled in the wake of the Firefly as the latter machine pushed any new flames out of the way. Finally, the train was at the lakeside. Both Alan and Virgil left their vehicles and went to talk to the train's driver. They were reassured that the train could make it from there, and accepted the thanks of the crew before the train departed.
"Scott, it might be wise to follow the train to its destination and make sure it's okay," Virgil told his older brother. "Besides, you need to get Thunderbird One off that ledge. The fire is moving this way."
"F-A-B, Virgil. The fire fighting equipment is on its way to this area and can contain the fire. I have heard that all monorail traffic will be rerouted around this area. I'll get Thunderbird One airborne and follow the train." He paused. "Good work, both of you! See you back at base."
"F-A-B, Scott," both brothers said in unison. They hurried to put the Monobrake and Firefly back into the pod, so Thunderbird Two could take off. Scott lifted Thunderbird One from the ledge and followed the monorail along until it reached a station. Then he turned it around and headed back to base. To home.
Gordon wasn't able to sleep once his brothers were gone. He worried about them while they were on any rescue and he was stuck at home, just like they worried about him. He knew better than to go into the lounge while the rescue was going on; his father would just send him back to bed. So he decided get information the sneaky way; through John in Thunderbird Five.
"Hey, John." He used his wrist telecomm to contact his absent brother.
"Yeah, Gordy? What's going on?" John's face appeared in place of his watch face.
"Dad's banished me to my room for the duration. He wants me to get some rest."
"So you should. You look beat," John observed.
"Yeah, I know. But I can't sleep during a rescue any more than you can. Just tell me what's going on so I don't worry," Gordon pleaded with his older brother.
John sighed. "Okay, Gordy. So far, Thunderbird Two has landed on a beach about four km from the tunnel..."
John kept Gordon apprised of every move his brothers made. John even shakily relayed the action when Scott thought Alan was hurt by the falling debris. They were both relieved to find out their youngest brother was okay.
"They are returning to base now, Gordo. You go have that lie down and get some rest. Father won't be happy if you don't," John admonished.
"Thanks for letting me in on the action, Johnny. I owe you one." Gordon lay down on his bed and closed his eyes.
"Sweet dreams, Gordy," John told him. "Thunderbird Five out."
When Gordon awoke, it was night on the island. He felt hungry for a change, and went to see about dinner. The kitchen was dark and quiet; dinner had been over long before. I guess no one wanted to wake me, he thought. He checked in the refrigerator. Sure enough, there was a portion of the meal left for him, ready to reheat. It even had a note on it in Grandma Tracy's handwriting: THIS IS GORDON'S! DON'T YOU DARE EAT IT! He chuckled as he took it from the fridge and put it in the quick cooker for reheating. He sat down at the table with a glass of wine and ate the entire portion. I really must be hungry, he thought. I've barely been eating lately. He finished the wine and poured himself another glass. This he took out with him as he headed for the beach.
Bekkah was coming up from the lab as Gordon was leaving. He didn't notice her or hear her footsteps. She watched him go, then turned into the kitchen. She saw the dishes on the table. He's eating again, she thought. That's a good sign. She cleared the table for him and put the dishes in the autowasher. Then she poured herself some ginger ale and followed Gordon down to the beach.
She found him sitting at the base of two palm trees, legs outstretched, head and back resting on the tree trunk. She walked up quietly and waited until he noticed her. "Is this tree taken?" she asked with a soft smile.
"No," was his sullen reply.
"Mind if I sit?" she asked again.
"Go ahead. Can't stop you."
She sat crosslegged on the sand, her back to the second trunk. She sipped her drink. "Thunderbird Four should be ready the day after tomorrow for her final test. You can take her down for a while and then we'll see if the coating is working."
"That's good." There was silence for a while.
"Tin-Tin and I started work on a materials list for the Mark Two. Pretty soon we'll be ordering the steel and other things needed to build her. I can't wait to start."
"Sounds like a plan." Gordon wished she would go away.
There was silence again.
"Y'know, I'm really glad to be part of this organization. It's always been a comfort to me to know that International Rescue was around." She sipped again. "Whenever I've been to a disaster, I would always look for the signs that International Rescue had been there. I'd look for the marks of Thunderbird One's struts, or Thunderbird Two's pod, or a hole dug by the Mole. And I'd be comforted. Because I knew someone's life had been saved." She stared out to sea. "Even at that horrific crash in the Andes I could see the signs that you'd been there, and it was comforting to know that you'd saved a life."
Gordon looked at the sand. "We didn't do enough there. Only two kids survived."
Bekkah looked at him with compassion. "You did all you could. You gave three families..."
"No. Only two." His voice was angry and hard.
"You're wrong." Her voice challenged. "You gave two families back their little ones. And you gave a third the chance to say goodbye." He met her gaze. "And you and I both know how important it is to be able to say goodbye."
He turned his gaze away from her. She kept looking at him. He drew his knees up and laid his arms across them. "Still, so many die. We can never do enough. I can never do enough."
"That's the way things are, Gordon. You can't save everyone." She closed her eyes. "But I know there are people out there, people you've never met, people who weren't part of any rescue, but whose lives you saved simply by doing what you do."
"What do you mean?" he asked, drinking the rest of his wine.
"I mean that you and your brothers touch lives that you'll never know about. You save lives aside from those who you actually are in contact when you rescue someone." She looked at him again. "I know because I am one of them. You saved my life."
He glanced at her, then looked out to sea. "If you're talking about that encounter with the Hood, I..."
"No," she interrupted. "I'm not talking about that. I am telling you that you, Gordon Tracy, saved my life."
He looked at her, intrigued. "How?"
Bekkah took a deep breath and began. "I told you about how my husband died when Fireflash went down in the ocean. What you might not know is that I was part of the original Fireflash design team. And that the area I worked on most was the equipment in the wings." She drew her knees up to her chest and wrapped her arms around them.
"When the plane went down, I was devastated. And I wasn't thinking rationally. I had some contacts at Air Terrainian, and they told me that the wings had something to do with the crash. So I had this germ of an idea that something I did or didn't do contributed to my husband's death." Gordon could hear the tears begin from her voice. "Then the second Fireflash went down, and my contacts told me the problem was definitely in the wings. So the little germ of an idea grew to monstrous size, and I became convinced that I had sent my husband to his death. I couldn't deal with the pain and loss and guilt I felt. So I decided to put myself out of my misery."
Gordon looked at her sharply. "You mean you were going to..."
"Yes. I was going to commit suicide."
Her tears flowed freely now. "I made out a will, so the children would be provided for. And I wrote a note. But I was waiting to find a time and place to do it where my kids wouldn't be the ones to find me. Joey was just a toddler and was with me all the time. I didn't want the kids to have the trauma of finding their dead mother to haunt them." Bekkah rocked back and forth. "Then I heard from my contacts that International Rescue was going to fly alongside a Fireflash plane to see if they could discover what was going wrong. I decided I would wait until after that happened to do the deed. Then I would know for sure it was all my fault, and I could kill myself with a good conscience." She shot him a look. "Like I said, I wasn't too rational at the time."
"So, International Rescue flew alongside Fireflash, with one of its operatives as co-pilot to Captain Hansen. Things began to go wrong just like before. But this time the results were different." She took his hand, and lightly stroked the burn scars. "Someone did something very brave and daring and let himself be winched up into the wing of the plane. And he surprised a saboteur who had cut the wires to the elevator power unit." She continued to stroke the scars. "And that man did something else brave and daring and a little bit stupid. But necessary. He put the elevator power unit wires together, saving the plane and everyone in it." She looked at him, her wet eyes full of compassion. "It must have hurt, all that electricity pouring through you. And the wires caught on fire, didn't they? That's how your hands got burned."
Gordon nodded mutely. Tears were welling up in his eyes.
Bekkah continued. "When I found out that the Fireflash went down because of a saboteur, it was like a huge load lifted from my shoulders. I realized that I hadn't killed my husband." She sniffled, and sobbed. "I put the will away. I tore up the note. And I began to live again." She squeezed his hand. "So, thank you, Gordon Tracy. Thank you for saving my life."
Gordon wiped his wet eyes and tried to compose himself. "I never knew. I never knew that kind of thing happened." he said.
"Well, it does. All the time. That's why you can't dwell on what you didn't do. Especially in the Andes." She wiped her own eyes. "I noticed that you've been keeping my kids at arms' length. Is it because of that rescue?"
"Yeah," he sighed. "That and Brains's accident. It seemed like no matter what I did, I couldn't keep people I cared about safe. Couldn't keep little kids safe." He looked at the ground. "So I didn't want to know your kids and start caring about them. Just in case something happened."
"Have you been having nightmares? Is that what's been keeping you from sleeping?"
"Yes," he whispered.
"Tell me about it." she softly asked.
Gordon swallowed, and began, "I'm in the crevasse. And there are bodies littering the ground. Brains, Father, Scott, Tin-Tin, Virgil, Grandma, you, everyone I care about is dead. Then I hear a whimper, like I did during the rescue. It's one of your kids, usually Terry. I try to prepare him for transport up in a stretcher, but I can't catch the stretcher. And I realize that there is no one there to help me winch him up anyway. I scream. And then I wake up." Silent tears ran down his cheeks.
Bekkah took in a long, shaky breath and blew it out. "Well, that explains why the happy, easy-going, practical joker Gordon I've been hearing so much about has been on vacation," she told him. "I think you've been suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome. That's what the psychologist told me I was dealing with after Terrence's death. He told me that talking about it was the best thing for me to do." She paused, then looked down. "Though I've never told anyone about my desire to end it all. Never."
"I won't tell anyone. Promise," he said.
"Thank you," she answered softly. She gave him a wry smile. "You look like you could use a hug." She got on her knees and wrapped her arms around him from behind. She could feel him shuddering as sobs released the pain he had been enduring these past weeks. She held him across her lap as she would her daughter who was too big to sit there. She hugged him tightly, as she would her sensitive oldest son when he needed comforting. And she rocked him, as she still did her youngest son when nightmares disturbed his sleep.
Eventually he relaxed, his eyes closed, his breathing deep. She moved him slightly, so his head rested in her lap. He slept the sleep of the exhausted, deep and without dreams. She sat back and leaned her head on the trunk of the tree. Then she closed her eyes and slept, too.
An hour later, Alan came in search of his brother. He found them there, slumbering together. He called his brothers and father and they bore the two sleepers away to the villa and their beds.