John takes action

"John, no! Wait! Dammit, John!" Scott shouted as the camera showed his brother's foolhardy maneuver. "What the hell do you think you're doing?"

John seemed to have a plan because he had grabbed one of the soaking wet blankets as he dove, feet first, down the slippery clay tiles. Holding onto two corners of the blanket, he aimed for the vent pipe that the novice was hanging onto so desperately. A violent heave and he was on his hip and shoulder, sliding sideways toward her position, rainwater spraying up from his track. Scott held his breath as John turned just slightly and snagged the vent pipe with the blanket, turning onto his belly as he used it to stop his fall and swing into the space between the girl and the flowing mud below. Startled, the young woman screamed and let go her grip. But instead of resuming her aborted slide into a muddy oblivion, she found her path blocked by John's stout shoulders.

Scott blew out his breath, and irritably said to his unheeding blond brother, "Nice move, John. Now what?"

John was ahead of him. He gave the girl instructions in French and, using his elbows as levers, he inched back up against the flow of the rain toward the vent pipe, pushing her from below. She stretched and reached as high as she could and her hands closed around the pipe once again. His boots scrabbled for purchase as he continued to edge up the tilting roof, her feet on his shoulders, until at long last, the novice could pull herself up and sat gingerly on the foot-long pipe.

He spat out a mouthful of water and shouted, "Scotty!" hoping that the mobile camera, which was following his every move, would pick up his voice over the cracking of wall supports and the roar of the mud river. "Get a rope down here or something! This pipe is not going to hold both of us for long!"

"F-A-B!" Damn fool kid takes a chance like that! If only he'd waited a second more, we could have done this with some element of safety! Scott griped inside as he lowered the rope he had already prepared. The line ended in a padded collar of sorts, one that could be tightened around the torso of a rescue victim. The novice watched as it came snaking down, and grabbed for it when it was within range. John instructed her from below on how to put it around her, under her armpits, and how to make sure it was snug so she wouldn't slip out. She followed his instructions, her drenched fingers fumbling with the catches, until at last she indicated that she was ready.

Scott rose very, very slowly into the air. He didn't dare use the winch; to do so would bring her into range of his retros and the turbulence kicked up by the engines would blow her around too much. Instead, he moved her gently up and over toward the waiting rescue capsule, flying carefully under Thunderbird Two, trying to stay out of the down drafts created by the cargo carrier's VTOL jets. The two caretakers, who were already in the metal box, reached out to pull her in. The novice unfastened the collar and, with a wave, let it go.

Meanwhile, John continued to elbow his way up to the pipe, sliding one hand then the other up the blanket. The school continued to shift in fits and starts, groaning as it moved, and the roof tilted more and more crazily until John was clinging to it, nearly perpendicular to the ground. It was also beginning to crumble, as were the walls. At last he came in range of the vent. He dug his toes into the clay tiles and made a desperate grab for it! His hand closed on it, then slipped off, catching the blanket again as he slid backwards a few inches. A look of extreme concentration came over his face, and he shot upward again, reaching for the pipe. This time he had it, his grasp on it secure! Bringing up his other hand, he swung himself onto the vent as the roof lurched again and threatened to dislodge him. John looked at the camera, which had stayed stationary, keeping an eye on him. "Scott, I need the rope now, if you please."

The camera withdrew, and the rope descended. John hurriedly fastened himself into the collar and, glancing up, gave Scott a thumbs up. This time, Scott used the winch as he gained some altitude. He could see that the roof of the school was about to slide off into the mud, and he needed to get his brother out of harm's way as quickly as possible.

"Whooaaa! Watch it, Scott!" John shouted as he flew into the air. He glanced down and saw the reason for Scott's haste. "Whew! That was close!"

Scott maneuvered Thunderbird One beneath Two again and John's momentum swung him straight toward the rescue capsule, where waiting arms grabbed him and pulled him in. He undid the harness and let it swing back out, peering out and giving his big brother a salute. His watch buzzed for attention, and Scott's scowling face looked out of the tiny screen.

"That was one damn fool stunt you just pulled and you'll be hearing from me about it later," Scott promised, his tone angry. "And I'm sure that when Da... our Commander finds out, he'll tear a strip out of you, too! Now, we've got some other people to pull off of roof tops and out of trees, so get back up top. And this time, you work the winch! Thunderbird One, out!"

John blinked a couple of times, then said mildly, "F-A-B," as the rescue capsule pulled him and the school's last refugees out of the rain to warmth and safety.

Two p.m. and Jeff had checked in at the little bed and breakfast. He grabbed a can of soda from the cooler in the common room, noticing the pool table, the comfortable looking couches, and the state of the art plasma vid screen that sat in a niche next to the fireplace. He walked out onto the back deck, closing the screen door carefully. Here the soft gurgle of a small fountain added to the sounds of birds and wind chimes to create a calm place for peaceful reflection. But Jeff's reflections were anything but peaceful. He sipped his soft drink and sat down in one of the wooden outdoor rockers, the ladder-style back of the chair reminding him of the seats in Lou's kitchen.

He had spent an hour or so trying to find some kind of report on what his sons were doing down in Haiti. Usually the press hovered around any place where International Rescue was purported to be. But not this time. A quick notice on the World Satellite Broadcast network and that was it. After what Lou has shown me, I suppose I should be grateful that the area is too small and remote to be of interest to the press, Jeff mused. But it tears me up to know that my boys are out their risking their lives without me to guide them. He rocked back and forth absently, the rocker creaking in an almost friendly way. One more reason to get Lou to come back to the island with me. I need to be back at the helm, but I also need to know that she's out of harm's way. Lucy would have shot me if I left her best friend to the mercies of those bastards.

A friendly dog came up to him, nose snuffling all over his jeans. He had been introduced to the canine, one of a pair, by the inn's owners. Suddenly, the pooch's attention wavered, and he peeled off, barking at something else on the deck. As Jeff watched the dog's antics, he saw what had been so attractive. It was Lou. In the natural light of the overcast day, she looked pale and the bruises, which were beginning to change color, stood out sharply. But the swelling had gone down around the one eye, and Jeff could see a brown iris peeking out from between the parted lids. She greeted the hound with a scratch between the ears then joined Jeff, sitting down in another rocker nearby.

"Shelly told me you'd come here," she said by way of conversation.

"Yeah. I thought it more fitting for your family to stay in the guest room," Jeff replied. He glanced over at her. "The boys are out again."

Lou glanced at him sharply and with interest. "Where are they this time?"

"Haiti. Mudslide," he replied, sipping his soda again. "Gordon's holding down the fort."

"Oh," was all she said as she tried to make sense of his statement.

He saw her puzzled expression and realized that for all she knew about IR, she didn't know the little details of what made it tick, and the way the well-oiled machine worked. She'll learn soon enough out at the island, he thought. Turning to her, he asked, "Your sister said you had something you needed me to help you with?"

"Yeah. I do. And I'm ready to do it if you are," she responded.

"I'm ready." He got up from the rocker, and offered her his hand to help her from her seat. She smiled and took it, letting him pull her from the chair. Jeff smiled back, giving her hand a comforting squeeze as they left the deck. Somehow, he forgot to let go until they stood on the porch of her cottage. Then they both noticed their entwined fingers, and each colored slightly as their hands parted.

"Your Mrs. Mason is back," Jeff remarked. "But why is that sheriff's car here?"

Before she could answer, Joze Mason came out of the house in uniform to greet them. "Hello, there, Mr. Tracy."

"Hello, Officer Mason." Jeff said as he stepped inside. "Are you here for another round of questioning?"

"No, not this time. I'm here to drive off the press if necessary."

"Ah! Have you had any business?"

"Well, yes... and no. A so-called reporter and photographer from one of the gossip rags were here slinking around. I sent them on their way with a warning."

Jeff glanced at Lou, then back at Joze. "The gossip press? What are they looking for?"

Lou sighed and looked down. "Me. You. I told you that you were a celebrity, Jeff. I wouldn't be surprised if there are rumors going around that you beat me up."

Jeff blinked, his face frozen in an expression of incredulity. "But that's not what happened."

Joze spoke up. "We know that, Mr. Tracy. You were found on the floor of the living room, handcuffed and blindfolded. There was no way that you could have done this. And besides, Lou is, or was, an officer of the law. She could have taken you down, no sweat."

She snorted a laugh. "I'm glad you have such faith in my abilities, Joze." Her voice became more serious as she turned to Jeff. "You'd better be prepared for an onslaught of those kinds of stories, Jeff. They are sure to surface."

By this time they had made their way to the kitchen. Shelly was busy taking some serving dishes from the upper shelves of the cupboards. Rachel was helping her, wrapping each plate in a padded wrap and fitting them in a sturdy box.

"Did you put those crates downstairs, Rachel?" Lou asked, opening the door to the basement.

The young woman nodded, and Shelly added, "Dee is down there waiting for you."

"Thanks," she responded. Jeff followed Lou down the now familiar steps. "I had Jadzia go out and get some boxes and other packing supplies," she explained. "I'll have a number of friends coming in and out tonight and tomorrow to help me pack this place up."

He stopped at the bottom of the stairs, and she turned to face him. "What are your plans?" he asked.

She shook her head. "I'm not sure yet. All I know is that I can't stay here." Jeff nodded and they continued on, entering the workshop where Dee was examining the splice that Brains had used to gain access to the secret room. Lou automatically turned on the surveillance detector, but when the light came up green, she didn't bother with the jammer.

Deirdre fiddled with the connections, and after a moment, the door to the secret room slid silently open. She whistled softly. "So, that's what you put in there. Pretty snazzy set-up, girl."

"Thanks." Lou stepped inside and the lights came on. "Dee, 'd'Artagnan' is behind that rack of data disks. You'll need a Phillips head screwdriver..."

Dee held up a hand. "Say no more. I'm on it." She ducked back out.

Jeff stood in the midst of the room while Lou sat down heavily in the computer chair. "So, what do you need me to do?" he asked.

"Discombobulate the computer and pack it and the data disks up for transport," Lou said wearily. "I can't do it one-handed. Rachel said she brought some crates down."

Jeff nodded, then retraced his steps to the workshop, passing Dee as she slipped back into the secret room. He found the plastic crates that Lou had mentioned, filled with padding, tape and other packing supplies. He carried them to the opening in the wall, then frowned and said, "It's going to be tight quarters with three in here."

Dee flapped a hand at him from where she was working. "Don't worry, I'll be out of the way in a jiffy. Just need to pull out li'l ol' d'Artagnan here and take him to the workbench to see what's what."

"You named the alarm units after the Musketeers?" he asked, raising an eyebrow.

"Yep. After all, they work on the 'Musketeer's Principle'," Dee replied, grinning, still concentrating on her work. "There. I've got it."

"So Lou told me," he riposted. " 'All for one and one for all'."

"And 'Up the Universe' while we're at it," Dee added, a merry smile on her face. "If you'll excuse me, kind sir? Thank you!" Lou shook her head and covered her eyes with one hand.

Jeff snorted, and moved out of Dee's way, then stepped back into the computer center. "She's got some attitude," he said, hooking a thumb in Dee's direction. He knelt in front of the computer and pulled the slim CPU from its slot, unplugging the printer/scanner combination. Then he began to wrap the processor in bubble wrap.

Lou pulled a crate toward her with her good hand. She started to awkwardly take the data disks from their racks and stack them in the box. "She's always been a bit of a maverick. Comes from having great ideas that are often so far ahead of their time that no one is willing to invest in them."

They worked in silence for a few moments, then he asked tentatively, "Your sister said that Greg called."

Lou huffed and her face took on a sour expression. "Yes, he did, the bastard. One of his old so-called buddies recognized my name from the televids and let him know what had happened. He called me and went on and on about 'dragging the name of Myles through the mud'. Then he asked snidely if you were my new 'sugar daddy'. I'm beginning to think that he's somehow gotten it mixed up, and thinks I was the one who cheated on him."

"What did you say?" Jeff put the CPU gently in the box, covered it with a layer of excelsior, and went back for the printer/scanner

"Nothing. I was so infuriated that I just hung up on him. He tried to call again but I finally programmed the phone to dump his calls. Still, it was an indicator of how people outside of the situation will see things."

"Hmm. You may be right." He laid the next, well-swathed piece of equipment in the crate with the first, then turned to her, touching her on the knee to gain her attention. "Lou, you said that you didn't have any real plans but that you couldn't stay here. I agree with that assessment, and I want to offer you an option. Come out to the island. No one will know where you are and you'll be safe, at least until we get this... problem... under control and have captured Franks." He smiled softly at her. "Please... say you'll come.

She sighed then returned the smile. Looking down, she said, "That's a very generous offer, Jeff. I really appreciate the way you've been sticking by me and looking out for me this past day and a half. It's been far more than I would have asked of you." She raised her eyes to his. "Do you mind if I sleep on it?"

He shook his head. "No, go ahead. Just remember that I'm leaving Friday and we'll have to make arrangements for your things tomorrow."

"Thanks. I'll remember." She picked up a few more disks, looking them over as she stacked them in the box. She stopped at one and offered it to Jeff. "You should have this."

"What is it?" he asked, taking it from her hand.

"The termite. Ask Brains to add it to your virus definitions... just in case."

He tucked it in his shirt pocket. "I will. Thank you."

She nodded, and they both got back to work.

"How bad is it, Tin-Tin?" Scott asked outside the sickroom. John was getting dressed again after Tin-Tin had examined him.

Tin-Tin shook her head. "He's bruised on his buttocks, hip, shoulder and side. Not much more than bruises, though. Nothing to call the doctor about. Still, he's going to be very, very sore for a long while."

Scott scowled. "He's going to have to work through it. Gordon's injury is more severe. What the hell was he thinking?"

"That a very brave young woman was about to die if I didn't do something about it," John retorted as he came out of the sick room, his face holding a scowl of its own. He turned to the engineer's assistant. "Do you mind, Tin-Tin? It seems Scott and I have something to work out here."

Tin-Tin huffed and rolled her eyes. "You two had better get this settled before your father returns." Shaking her head, she stalked off.

Once she was out of earshot, Scott rounded on John angrily, stabbing him with a forefinger. "Okay, mister. Explain yourself!"

"You watched her longer than I did, Scott." John responded in kind, his face reddening. "You know how she put the safety of the students and the other nuns before her own. There was no time to lose or she would have been swept away. Did you have a better plan at the time?"

"As a matter of fact, I did!" Scott replied hotly. "I was going to have you put the rope from my 'Bird around you and then lower you to her. Then you could have either extended the collar to put around the two of you or you could have played the hero then and let her go first! It wouldn't have taken any longer than your damn fool stunt! You would have spared yourself a lot of bruising and she wouldn't have been startled into losing her grip! But no!" He now stuck his finger in John's face and shook it. "You practically leapt without looking, coming that close," he put his other thumb and forefinger a small distance apart, "to going over the edge into the mudslide yourself and possibly taking her with you!"

John's mouth opened and closed a few times as Scott's sally hit home. Finally, his shoulders slumped. He let out a breath and ran a hand through his hair, holding out the other palm in a gesture of capitulation. "I-I'm sorry, Scott. You're right. It would have only taken a moment to ask you if you had a plan."

"Damn right," Scott said, his anger beginning to dissipate. "For all you knew, I could have told you to jump off the roof after her like you did. It's true we often sacrifice our own personal safety to save others, but only when there's no other option. In this case, there was one."

John sighed, running his hand through his hair again. "I get the point, Scott. It... it won't happen again."

Scott reached out and put a hand on his brother's shoulder. "I know it won't." He gave him a lopsided smile. "C'mon, you. Let's get something to eat." He put his arm around John's shoulders and the two of them headed to the kitchen.

"I think we're finished here," Lou said, looking around at the empty room. She sighed. "I liked having this little hideaway. I doubt..."

"What do you doubt?" Jeff asked as he fastened the last crate shut.

"Oh, I doubt anyone else would find it if I closed it up," she replied, smiling slightly. "I think I'll leave the door open."

"Good idea." Jeff looked around the workshop. "Can we deal with this room tomorrow?"

"Oh, sure. There will be more hands to help."

Dee poked her head in and smiled at them. "Are you two hungry? Shelly ordered pizza delivery."

"Sounds good," he said, smiling back. He put an arm around Lou's shoulders and said, "C'mon, you. Let's get something to eat."

Jeff was gone, headed back down the road to his bed for the night. Dee was gone. She said she was driving home, and then flying back to Atlanta in the morning, but she promised that someone named "Reynaldo" would be there for a few hours in the morning. Shelly and Rachel were asleep, sharing the bed in the guest room, the door closed against the cats. Only Lou was awake, sitting in front of the living room computer. She wore an earpiece with a boom mike, and was waiting for a web page to load.

"Okay, Quantavius. What have you got for me?" she asked. The web page loaded, and she scrolled down through the pictures, occasionally stopping to read one of the entries and take a closer look at the pictures. "What about number four? How close? A university town? Hmm. Maybe not. Number eight? That's a possibility. Remember, I'll want to take immediate possession. How about lucky thirteen? Looks nice. Do you have any more details? Hmm. Can I have Aaron go look at it? Okay. I'll wait on his report, but put in a good word for me. Seventeen? Do you really think so? I'll look... hey, that might work..." Her conversation with the mysterious Quantavius continued for another hour and a half. At the end she was yawning and her eyes burned from lack of sleep but, finally, she had made a decision.