"Welcome, Mr. Hackenbacker, Dr. Barnes, Miss Kyrano," a soft, cultured, feminine voice purred. Tin-Tin frowned; she had heard that voice before but she just couldn't place it. Lights came on in the room, and she could see others there. Ivan Virenov sat in a chair, hands in his lap. Beside him sat Rashid Allabadah, a blank look on his face. A handsome, bespectacled black woman sat on the other side of Virenov, arms crossed. A man with a gun was watching her intently.
"I must thank Dr. Mohenu for playing her part so very well. Her phone call was very convincing, don't you think, Miss Kyrano?" Tin-Tin turned her head and saw the president of the International College of Engineering and Design, Elise Rudd. Standing behind her, a sly grin on his face stood...
Sir James Masters came over to Tin-Tin and took her hand.
"So good you could come, Miss Kyrano. However, sticking by your friends may cost you this time, my dear." Tin-Tin whipped her hand away, recoiling as if from a snake.
"What is this all about?" she asked, almost not wanting to know the answer.
Scott was in communication with Virgil.
"Thunderbird 1 to Thunderbird 2. Drop the pod at vector 12/002B. There will be police there to guard it. Then go up and see if you can get close enough to the roof to get the people trapped up there. The concierge says that there seem to be about two dozen up there. Most everyone is accounted for so far."
"FAB, Thunderbird 1." Virgil moved over to the indicated vector and landed Thunderbird 2. The mighty green vessel raised up on its hydraulic struts, releasing the pod. Then it took off again, headed for the roof of the hotel.
"Gordon, you operate the winch on the rescue capsule. John, you were at the hotel and might be recognized, so take over Thunderbird 2's controls, while Virgil goes down and helps people in. Virgil, assess for injuries and send the most injured up first," Scott directed his brothers.
"FAB, Scott," they all responded. Gordon seethed at not being able to do more, but he knew his unnatural anger was the reason why he was put in this position. So he did some deep breathing to calm himself and clear his fuzzy head.
Virgil went down with the rescue capsule. He was immediately surrounded by people, all pushing to get off the roof at once.
"Hold it! Hold it! Injured first." He went to the back of the crowd, where a couple of people were lying down and one person was coughing from smoke inhalation. He assessed the injuries as non-life threatening, but helped the injured parties to the front of the line anyway.
"Gordon, two injured and one case of smoke inhalation coming your way."
"FAB, Virgil." Gordon winched the first load of people up, and helped them into the sickbay. Then he sent the capsule down again.
"Okay. Six at a time." Virgil indicated which six were to go first. An impressive looking man tried to get on, too.
"Sorry, sir. The rescue capsule is full." Virgil told him, stepping in front of him. "Thunderbird 2, lift them up."
"Young man. Do you know who I am?" the man asked, affronted.
As a matter of fact, Virgil did know who he was. William Smithcraft the Third, owner and CEO of Smithcraft Tool and Die, purveyors of tools to industries all over the world. Including Tracy Industries.
"I'm sorry, sir. But women and children come first," Virgil told him soberly.
The rescue capsule came down again, and the rest of the women got aboard. Two older men were selected to ride up with them. Virgil once again told Gordon to take the capsule up. He kept an eye on his beloved Thunderbird 2 to make sure that John wasn't manhandling her. So far, so good.
Another six. Then finally Mr. Smithcraft got on board as part of the final group. So did Virgil.
One of the men in this last group leaned over to Virgil and spoke softly in his ear.
"You know what I like about International Rescue? You folks don't take guff from anyone."
Virgil smiled slightly. He liked that, too.
Once the rooftop rescue was complete, and the victims brought down to ground level, Virgil and Gordon set up the dicetyline blasters. This new equipment, mounted forward in the underbelly of the cockpit, enabled Thunderbird 2 to shoot Brains's miracle foam, dicetyline, in a strong stream, directed towards whatever spot the operator chose. To Gordon, it looked like two science fiction-style laser cannons, with a seat for the operator. They could also be operated by the pilot, using remote access, but today, Gordon and John got to show off their shooting skills. Virgil took back the controls and moved Thunderbird 2 to the front of the hotel, hovering at the level of the fires.
John strapped himself into the operator's seat on the port side and put a computer interface in one ear. Gordon did the same on the starboard side. They initialized the controls and primed the dicetyline pumps.
"Ready, Gordon?" John asked.
"FAB, John." Gordon grinned at his brother. Shooting down a fire was one good way to get rid of the aggressiveness that had been building in him.
He aimed at the flames on the 15th floor, depressed the firing button and watched the dicetyline spray out under high pressure.
"Yee Hah!" he yelled as the fire began to diminish and go out.
"Yahoo!" John shouted as he fired at the flames licking the 14th floor. Under the steady flow of dicetyline, the fire began to die.
They kept up the barrage until they heard from Scott.
"Good news, guys. The fire marshal is up on the 14th floor. The fire is out."
"How about the 15th?" Gordon asked.
"He says it looks good there, too."
"Casualties?" Virgil piped up.
"No known fatalities, but several people are still missing. Three are presumed dead." Scott's voice got very, very quiet.
"Who?" asked Gordon, closing his eyes and fearing the worst.
"Dr. Rebekkah Barnes, Tin-Tin Kyrano, and Hiram K. Hackenbacker."
"Base to Thunderbird 5. Do you still have a fix on Tin-Tin's watch, Alan?"
"Yes, Father. Vector 12/012A."
Scott's face appeared. "The fire marshall tells me that the fire started in Tin-Tin's, Brains's, and Bekkah's rooms. That is primarily why they are missing, presumed dead, Father."
"I have a hunch that the fires were started to cover up the fact that they were missing, not dead. Who else is missing?"
"The engineering president Elise Rudd, and Sir James Masters."
"Masters is a friend of Brains and Bekkah. He was that blond guy who was escorting Tin-Tin all over the place," John reminded his father.
"Yes, I remember." Jeff thought hard. How could he send his sons to rescue Tin-Tin and still preserve the secrecy and anonymity of International Rescue? He posed the question to Scott.
"Maybe we should go in as the Tracy family. After all, she is an 'employee' of Tracy Industries."
Gordon spoke up. "Scott and Virgil could go. They weren't at the hotel. They wouldn't be recognized. And John stayed in the background, so he might be okay to go, too."
"Good point, Gordon." Jeff made a decision. "Boys, arm yourselves. Civvies, shades, be as non-descript as you can. Take the Thunderbirds to the airport. I'll commandeer a couple of hangars. The coordinates of Tin-Tin's communicator are close to the airport. Hopefully, Brains and Bekkah are with her. Gordon, you work the thermal imager and act as communications relay. I'll be flying out as soon as I can."
"FAB, Father," the boys chorused. Jeff set about getting the aircraft hangars.
"What is this all about?" Sir James repeated. "Why, industrial espionage, my dear." He moved next to Elise and put his hands on her shoulders.
"Dear Elise and I are tired of our current positions. There's no future for us at British Space and Technology. We wanted to start our own company. But we've no money to hire the best and the brightest, such as yourself. So we decided to pick your brains. Literally."
"Elise here used what money we had and her connections with a shady biotech company to develop a drug. A drug that stimulates the adrenal gland to produce the primary sex hormones of estrogen and testosterone. The elevated levels quickly bring a person down to a non-functional, unthinking state. As you have seen with Hiram and dear Bekkah. It passes quickly from person to person, through droplets and saliva. What would you give to be able to think again? To be able to function with all your emotions under control? We are wagering that people of high intellect, like those who are in this room, would give anything to return to normal. Including the engineering secrets of their employers."
Elise stood by the machine. "This machine is the cure for the drug. It injects an antidote into the brain stem. But it also scans the brain, copying engrammatic patterns from the brain and translating them into readable images. The clearer the mind, the clearer the image. So the drug must actually be neutralized in order for the machine to work properly." She walked closer to Tin-Tin's little group. "Of course, you are the only ones who will know the whole story. In the future, we will simply offer it as a cure for the problems the drug causes. You won't be able to tell anyone, of course, because you will be dead. But we will have the secrets of your employer, Tracy Industries, the top areospace and industrial manufacturer today."
"It's simple blackmail, isn't it?" Tin-Tin said hotly.
"Not simple blackmail, my dear." Sir James smirked. He moved closer to her.
"It is in your best interests to cooperate. Rashid did not, " he indicated Allabadah, sitting with a painfully vacant expression. "We had to sedate him and found, much to our regret, that an empty mind scanned by the machine stayed empty."
"This is ou-outrageous." Brains said, thickly. He had finally come around from his pistol-whipping and stood unsteadily by Tin-Tin's side.
"It can't be too outrageous, Hiram, dear boy. For it works. We've also used it on dear old Viri there. His secrets are safely stowed on disk for later perusal." Masters extended his hand to Bekkah. "You will go first, Bekkah dear. You are the biggest prize of all. All of our effort was planned to bring you here."
"Huh?" Bekkah's attention was captured.
"Oh, yes, dear Bekkah," Masters continued. "We used old Viri's unspoken desire for you to infect you." Virenov's head came up at the mention of his name. "Of course, he was rather crude in his methods, but he got the job done. We hoped old Hiram would be infected, too, but didn't expect that Rashid would be afflicted. He was a bonus." Masters turned to Tin-Tin. "I was hoping to have the pleasure of infecting you, my dear. But you held me at arm's length. Very wise of you." Tin-Tin's cheeks flamed red.
"Why me?" Bekkah whined. "Why does everybody pick on my mind? Why always me?"
"In this case, my sweet, because of your work at the ISO. You have access to the secrets of many, many different companies, Tracy Industries being just one of them," Elise told her. "Then there is your groundbreaking work in nanocircuitry. No one else has the expertise. We are so looking forward to reading what your memory holds."
The two men who brought them down to the laboratory now grabbed Bekkah by both arms. Brains moved forward to stop them, but the woman pointed her gun at Tin-Tin's head.
"Don't even think about it," she told him. He subsided.
Bekkah struggled and squirmed, but her captors manhandled her onto the chair. Swiftly, they fastened the restraints at ankles, knees, hips, wrists, chest, neck, and forehead. The forehead one was particulary tight and allowed no movement of her head at all. She closed her eyes in the bright light that shone down. The men returned to guard Tin-Tin and Brains.
Elise moved to the control console of the machine. She began to switch it on, putting a high density CD disk into a drive. She uncovered a needle on an IV line, and slipped it into a holder at the back of the chair.
"Now, dear Bekkah, I am about to give you the antidote. You must hold perfectly still for the needle will be entering at the base of your skull. You move one tiny bit and you will damage yourself. Severely."
Bekkah's eyes squeezed tightly shut as the needle was inserted. Big tears welled up in her eyes.
"You will sleep for a short time. Then we will test your blood to see if your estrogen levels have diminished. This will take about 30 minutes." Elise indicated Brains and Tin-Tin. "Take them to the other room. Handcuff Hiram to a chair. We don't want him throwing himself through a window on Bekkah's behalf."
The last thing Bekkah saw as her heavy eyelids closed were the three who brought them there removing Tin-Tin and Brains from the room.