Data input

"Brains, Bekkah, Tin-Tin, come to the lounge, please. As quickly as you can."

Brains and Tin-Tin looked at each other in surprise upon hearing Jeff's order. Bekkah stuck her head in the lab door. "Our fearless leader has spoken. Coming?" she asked. The two nodded and joined their colleague as they climbed the stairs to the lounge.

Penelope's portrait was now a live feed shot of her beautiful, perfect face.

Jeff turned from his conversation with her to greet his three scientists. They each found seats in the lounge where they could see both Jeff and Lady Penelope.

"We have news of that brain scanner machine," Jeff began without preamble. "Penny here will give you the run-down on the situation so far."

Penny began to speak. "Four days ago, in the late evening, a young couple showed up on my doorstep. Their names were given to me as Gregory and Janet Martin. Mr. Martin works for British Space and Technology, Limited. They related to me a fantastic story; they claimed that Mrs. Martin was kidnapped in order to secure the cooperation of her husband in a scientific experiment. This experiment was the scanning of Mr. Martin's brain by a technologically advanced scanner. Mr. Martin cooperated under duress and when the procedure was complete, he and Mrs. Martin were driven quite some distance and left on a lonely stretch of road behind my estate."

"When I heard their story, I insisted that they spend the night at my home. While they slept, Parker and I went down to Town to reconnoiter their flat for any surprises that their abductors may have left. Parker found, deactivated, and removed a bomb from their oven. Had the bomb been activated, it is likely that the deaths of Mr. and Mr. Martin would have been ruled accidental."

"Upon our return to the mansion, I called my good friend Sir Jeremy Hodges and invited him to tea. The conversation turned to science, and Sir Jeremy happened to mention that two scientists, Mr. David Bell of Heathrow Aerospace, and Dr. Hadji Singh of McGill and Sons, Limited, has recently died in accidents, along with some of their loved ones. In the case of Mr. Bell, his sister died with him in an auto accident. Dr. Singh's wife and five children perished with him in a house fire."

"This morning, Sir Jeremy called me and told me about the death of an engineer. Dr. Elena Rossiter of Virenov Technologies died with her fiance in a hit-and-run accident yesterday morning. So far, the police have not caught the culprit." Penny wound down her narrative. "I believe these deaths are not only murders, but are connected. Connected to the ordeal of Mr. and Mrs. Martin."

There was silence in the lounge for a moment. Then Tin-Tin spoke up. She had a look of deep concentration on her face. "These names are familiar to me. But I don't remember...Oh! yes! They had a panel discussion at the conference in Abidjan!" Tin-Tin ran from the room and returned in a moment with a schedule from the conference.

"Yes! Here it is! 'A discussion on energy weapons and shielding'." Tin-Tin passed the schedule on to Jeff. "There were two more people on the panel, Sir James Masters and Janis Campbell of Stellar Innovations."

Bekkah noticed the significant look that passed between Jeff and Brains. "Wait a minute. Jeff, Brains, you know more about this than you are telling." Bekkah gave each of them a long look in turn. "Spit it out. What's the deal with these people?"

Jeff and Brains looked at each other again. Finally, Brains nodded and Jeff sighed.

"All right," Jeff began. "The five people on that panel were participants in the development of an energy shield. One that could be used in space-going vessels to protect them from damage by meteors or weaponry. A shield that, if developed at a larger scale, could even protect our planet from large and deadly asteroids. Each person was working on one major component without knowing who else was working on the others. It was only when the components came together that the energy barrier would function." Jeff crossed his arms and sat back in his chair. "This was supposed to be a top secret project. Someone sold us out."

"" Bekkah asked incredulously. "Tracy Industries has something to do with this?"

"Yes, Bekkah." Brains now spoke. He removed his glasses and cleaned them absently, a nervous habit he used when he had to say something he didn't want to say. "There are five major components of this machine. And one minor one. A key, if you will." Brains replaced his glasses. "I designed the key. Without it, the energy shield will not work."

Bekkah shook her head. She had never seen so much cloak and dagger intrigue in all her life. She looked up at Jeff. "So this Janis Campbell is still in danger. Not to mention Brains," she stated. "What are we going to do about it?"

"Penelope, find Janis Campbell right away. Take her and her family to Bongo Bongo for a vacation. Get her out of range of these people as quickly as you can," Jeff ordered. "That should take care of the problem."

"Yes, Jeff. I will get right on it," Penelope promised. She turned to say something to a person not in the picture. A soft "Very good, milady" was heard in the background.

"It will be solved only temporarily, Mr. Tracy," Brains said wearily. "She can't stay in Bongo Bongo forever. She will have to return to her home sometime."

"True, Jeff," Penelope chimed in. "We have to do something to capture these people. Even if it isn't a usual job for International Rescue."

"Penny, what did Greg and Janet Martin tell you about their ordeal?" Bekkah asked. "Let's see if there are any clues to the whereabouts of these people."

Penelope related the story that the Martins told her, from the abduction of Janet, to their dumping in the middle of nowhere.

"Well, we know a few things about these people anyway," Tin-Tin said. "They are led by a woman. Someone with some technical expertise."

"Yes. And they don't have the drug. Or if they do, they aren't using it," Bekkah mentioned.

"How do you know that?" Jeff asked, nonplussed.

"They seem to be kidnapping the loved ones of the scientists to insure cooperation. And are promising release and safety for the same reason. Why would she need a cooperative victim?" she wondered.

"The scientists' deaths have all looked like accidents and not only have the scientists been killed, but their loved ones, too." Brains added. "Removing the witnesses."

Bekkah and Tin-Tin nodded.

"It feels to me that they are in a tearing hurry to get this done," Tin-Tin observed. "I mean, it was less than a week from the time that the machine was stolen until the first of the deaths. Am I correct, Lady Penelope?"

"Yes, Tin-Tin. Quite correct," Penelope answered.

"That may be why they're not using the drug," Brains pointed out. "It would take too long to infect the specific scientists they wanted."

"So. They have the plans of four components. Now they will be looking toward the fifth." Bekkah turned to Brains. "Who knew all of the information? Who had a list of all the people working on this shield?"

Brains thought for a moment. Then he turned pale. "Elise Rudd. She knew. She represented British Space and Technology in the top-level meetings."

"Would she have told Sir James?" Tin-Tin queried.

"From what I saw of her, I think she would have," Bekkah observed. "He can be very persuasive."

"And how did this other woman get the information?" Penelope asked.

The three scientists looked at each other, then said in unison, "From Sir James." Brains added, "He's quite the ladies' man."

Jeff sat watching in amazement. He had never been able to watch his technical crew wrestle with a problem before. It was fascinating to him to see how they worked together, each holding a piece of the puzzle and putting it together to form a whole.

"He has probably told this woman about Brains' work, too," Tin-Tin said with a sigh. She had quite liked the young baronet. Until his true intentions were revealed.

"So she would be aware that she needed Brains as well," Bekkah said. "I wonder how she plans to get hold of him?"

"I'm concerned that she might know about Brains' connection to International Rescue." Jeff finally got a word in edgewise.

"I doubt she does," Penny assured him. "In fact, I believe she has not done her homework very thoroughly. Otherwise, she would not have had the Martins dropped off so near to my estate."

"To what use could this shielding be put?" Tin-Tin asked Jeff. "It's not a weapon."

Jeff looked at her with a serious expression. "No, Tin-Tin, it's not a weapon. But it might give an advantage to unscrupulous people. Especially if it is ransomed to the world in event of an asteroid hitting the planet. And I seem to remember that with just a few adjustments, it could become a weapon."

Brains nodded at this. "It would be a true weapon of mass destruction, firing from orbit."

Jeff leaned over and pressed a button. He called all the boys to the lounge for a briefing. As they waited for the Tracy boys to arrive, Penelope asked, "Well, Jeff. What are we going to do about this?"

The three scientists looked at each other uneasily. They all knew the only answer to the question, and none of them wanted to voice it. Brains lifted an eyebrow suggestively at Bekkah, who shook her head slightly. Their combined gaze turned to Tin-Tin, who looked back at each of them and nodded, then lowered her head. Bekkah shrugged at Brains, and finally nodded. They were in agreement.

The Tracy boys filed into the room. Gordon, his arm in a sling, went to sit close to Bekkah, while Alan perched on the arm of Tin-Tin's chair. Jeff gave a brief overview of the problem to his sons.

"Well, what are we going to do about it, Father?" Virgil asked the question. Jeff winced; it was the third time he had heard it.

Scott was dismissive. "This is obviously not a job for International Rescue."

"I-i disagree, uh, Scott," Brains was nervous and his voice reflected it. "We n-need to get, uh, involved here." He turned around to look at each person. "I-indeed w-we are involved a-already. Through m-me."

There was a heavy silence. Tin-Tin broke it. "The only course of action I can see is baiting a trap."

The Tracy boys groaned or protested. They knew who would be the bait: Brains.

Brains spoke up. "It's the o-only way w-we can, uh, catch these people."

"But you can't go alone!" Alan cried.

"No. Of course not." Jeff said gruffly. "One of you boys will have to go with him."

Another silence. The boys looked at each other, wondering who would be chosen. Bekkah and Gordon exchanged glances. Gordon, alarmed, put his hand on Bekkah's. She looked at Jeff instead of Gordon's pleading face.

"No. The boys are needed here. Tin-Tin or I must go," she said ruefully. "After all, there must be a 'loved one' to kidnap."

The furor over this was loud! Alan in particular made his opinion known. Gordon said nothing; he just looked at Bekkah's resolute face.

"What is going to make them think one of you is Brains' 'loved one'?" Virgil asked skeptically.

Penelope spoke up. "If one of the ladies and Brains were... affianced... that would do it. And would be easily dissolved when this matter is concluded." Both Gordon and Alan shook their heads at this idea. They didn't like it one bit.

"Which one?" Virgil asked. He didn't want to see either of International Rescue's lady scientists going into danger, but if one had to, it had to be the right one.

Tin-Tin shrugged. "Flip a coin," she said.

"No," Scott growled. He was unhappy with the whole situation, but there was a matter that had to be brought up. "Bekkah must be the one." Bekkah looked at him in surprise.

"Why?" Gordon asked angrily.

Scott sighed. "Because with you out of commission, Gordon, and Brains going off on this loco scheme, we need someone with rescue experience to fill in. And I'm sorry, but Bekkah just doesn't have that experience. Tin-Tin does."

Everyone looked at each other, then at Bekkah. She shook her head. "Somehow, I knew this was going to come down to me." She swallowed, then turned to Jeff. "At least I'm going into this with my eyes open. Maybe I can stay out of the worst trouble that way. Plus, I have a plausible reason for being in England; I can teach the basics of nanocircuitry to the engineers at your London facility. It's about time I spread that around."

"Why would Brains be there?" Virgil queried.

"To keep an eye on his fiancée, of course," she replied with a tight smile. Brains looked at her with a strange expression and a slight smile on his face.

Jeff looked tired. He was sending the least prepared of his crew into certain danger. He knew he wouldn't be sleeping much until they were back home safely.

"Well," Penelope said with a sweet smile on her face, "I'll alert the media about the pending nuptials."

"The eternally pending nuptials," Bekkah quipped, getting a small chuckle from almost everyone.

"You should have a ring, Bekkah," Brains said.

Bekkah looked at the diamond solitaire and the wedding band still on her finger. "I have a large cubic zirconia ring that will suffice, Hiram," she told him. "My solitaire will come off okay, but my wedding band will have to be cut off. I can't get it off my finger. And I'm going to call you Hiram again. Have to have a proper name and not a nickname for this sort of thing."

"Okay, we'll work out all the details a little bit later. In the meantime, let's get back to work," Jeff ordered. "Brains, you and Bekkah get packed. I'll notify our London facility that you are coming. They'll set you up in a flat. Any questions? Requests? No? Okay. On your way."

Bekkah grabbed Gordon's hand as they left the lounge. She pulled him downstairs to the shooting range and turned to face him. "I hope you realize that this is all play-acting. I do not consider myself engaged to Brains, nor do I want to be with him on any extended basis. You are the man I love and nothing will change that."

"What if he decides he wants to make it a permanent arrangement? You know how he feels about you." Gordon said sadly.

"Yes. I know. But I don't feel the same way about him. I love him like a brother and a good friend, but not the way I love you, okay?" She reached up to kiss him, careful of his broken arm and c-collar. "Now, come down to the lab. My jeweler's tools are there."

"What do we need them for?" Gordon asked as he followed her.

"There's a specialized saw in there for cutting off rings. If I'm going to have this band removed, I want you to be the one to do it," Bekkah explained as they went in search of her tools.