An Uneasy Feeling
I had returned from a lengthy shopping trip both to New Zealand and to the mainland of the United States. My purpose had been to purchase food and other supplies for the Villa. With five strapping young men and their robust father to feed, not to mention his mother, my own daughter, myself and the engineer, Brains, large quantities of food had to be purchased and shipped to the Island.
I usually made a trip every one or two weeks to purchase perishable staples such as bread, fruit, dairy, and meats. But on this occasion, I was purchasing in bulk such items as we would need throughout the year: soups, canned and frozen vegetables, pastas, paper goods, personal grooming items, snacks, cleaning supplies, and various items that Jeff or the boys would ask me to procure for them.
Since some of the items could be found only in New Zealand, and others only in the United States, I flew west first, purchasing only those things that would not rot in a lengthy plane ride, and then I flew east, towards the United States, stopping over in Hawaii to rest and refresh myself before the remainder of the trip.
Upon my return, I noticed that something was different, something I could not put my finger on, just a different feeling to the household. Tin-Tin greeted me with her usual enthusiasm. Jeff told me that he had taken his mother home to Kansas for a little vacation. Indeed, I found this to be the case as Mrs. Tracy called in to say hello, and I noticed the phone number from where she was calling. It was truly a Kansas phone exchange.
Scott regaled me with the story of a rescue that he and Virgil had conducted in Sumatra. They seemed to be in good spirits and ate well at dinner, as did Gordon, Alan, and Jeff. Brains was working hard in the lab, so I brought a tray down to him. Most of the food was gone when I returned for the tray after Brains had gone to bed. So I filed my feeling at the back of my mind, telling myself that it had been the absence of both of myself and Mrs. Tracy that made the household feel different. 'It will get back to normal in a day or two,' I told myself. And waited for my anxiety to calm down.
The next morning, I was up early as usual, fixing breakfast for the household. Jeff is usually the first one up, taking a cup of coffee to the lounge until breakfast is ready. But today was different. Today he did not come out for breakfast at all. I asked Scott about this when he arrived in the kitchen. He told me his father had to fly out early in the morning to tend to Tracy Industries business in Singapore, and that he took Virgil with him. It was a plausible explanation for the disappearance of the two Tracy men, and I thought nothing more of it that day. That is, until an emergency call came in from Thunderbird 5. I joined the boys in the lounge to hear what the emergency was from John in the space station.
"Scott, where's Father?" John asked, puzzled by the noticible lack of his father's presence in the lounge.
"He's in Singapore on Tracy Industries business," Scott answered with a grin. "You're going to have to put up with me for a change."
"Okay, Scott," John grinned back, then his tone and face became sober. "There is a school on fire in Thailand, and students are trapped in a building. The local firefighters are keeping the fire from spreading, but they can't get into the building because the door locks are all on an automatic timer that now can't be shut off. If they wait until the timer goes off, the students will be dead from smoke inhalation. They want us to come and rescue the students."
"Okay, John. Thanks." Scott looked at the small group he had with him. "I'm going to make an executive decision here. I'm taking Thunderbird 1 out to the Danger Zone, and will set up Mobile Control. Gordon, you will stay here and monitor the situation from Dad's desk...."
"ME? Why me?" Gordon asked, incredulously.
"Because it's time you had a turn here. If Virgil were here, I'd have him stay for a change," Scott explained. "Alan, you take Thunderbird 2 with Brains and Tin-Tin. Use pod three with Firefly and the Domo." He looked around at those of us in the lounge. "Are we ready? Thunderbirds are go!"
Scott walked over to the pilot's access to his sleek silver craft, held on to the lighting sconces, and pressed the buttons to turn the section of the wall around. Alan stood by the picture of the rocket taking off from its gantry. The picture flipped up and deposited him onto the padded slide which would take him to the cockpit of Thunderbird 2. Brains and Tin-Tin went down in the passenger elevator to join him in the cockpit. Gordon sat down heavily behind his father's desk.
"I hope I'm up to this, Kyrano," he commented.
"You can count on my support, Mr. Gordon. And do not hesitate to ask my advice should you feel the need for it," I bowed to the young man. "Would you care for some coffee, Mr. Gordon?"
"Yes, please, Kyrano. I think I'm going to need a lot of it," he said, already sounding weary.
The rescue was proceeding well, and it seemed that Scott had little need for Gordon's help or advice. Of course, his position as his father's stand- in meant that the young red-head could not leave the lounge to take a swim or do something more exciting to him than sitting at his father's desk. But he seemed to take it in stride, content to sit somewhere in the lounge as long as he was not called upon to make a decision. Before long, Scott signaled that he was breaking down Mobile Control and that Thunderbirds 1 and 2 would be arriving home soon.
"ETA on Thunderbird 1, 23 minutes." Scott told Gordon.
"ETA on Thunderbird 2, 1 hour 10 minutes," Alan said to Gordon.
"Good. We'll see you when you get back," Gordon acknowledged. "Can I go for a swim now, Scott?"
"Only if you want the pool to move while you're in it!" quipped the dark haired, oldest brother.
Gordon reconsidered his swim, but changed into trunks and waited on the balcony for his brothers to arrive.
"Thunderbird 1 to base, permission to land?" Scott asked. Since Gordon was on the balcony, I switched the communicator on.
"Permission granted, Thunderbird 1."
"FAB, Kyrano. Thunderbird 1 out." The silver rocket plane slipped neatly into the space left by half the of the pool retracting. I began preparations for supper.
When Thunderbird 2 arrived, supper was nearly ready. To my surprise, only Alan came up in the monorail from Thunderbird 2. In answer to my unspoken question, he said, "Brains and Tin-Tin have gone straight to the lab. They got a bee in their collective bonnets during the rescue and wanted to work their idea out. I don't think they want to be disturbed."
This was unusual behavior to be sure, but when I checked the time I realized that they might have wanted to confer with their colleague on the east coast of the United States, and with the time difference being 12-13 hours, this would be the best time to catch her at work. So I prepared trays for both of them, and left them in the refrigerator for later reheating. I served food to the remaining Tracy brothers, then ate my own meal in the kitchen. When the dishes were done and the kitchen shone, I retired to my room to rest.
Again, when I woke up the next morning, Jeff was not there, but Virgil was.
"Father stayed on in Singapore. Things there were more of a mess than he originally thought." Virgil explained. It again was plausible, but a warning bell was sounding in my mind. If Jeff was going to stay over, he would usually call me himself and let me know. It was a safety measure we had developed; if he did not call, it meant that he was in some danger and that I should take appropriate steps to ensure his well-being.
But here was his own son delivering a message that should have come from the father's mouth. How could I dismiss what Virgil had told me? It was very likely that Jeff could not get to a phone if things were as bad as I had been told. I could not yet make any move in any direction. I would have to wait and see what else would happen.
I went down to the lab to see if Brains had stayed there all night. I knew that my daughter would not stay all night; she did not have the tenacious mindset or the ability to ignore her body's needs that Brains seemed to have. Nor did their colleague; she would have broken off communications with the two here when she needed repose. So my first quest was to find Brains.
The lab door was closed, and a sign on it said, "Do Not Disturb, Experiment in Progress". Surely he could not have been experimenting all night! Besides, the usual chemical odors were not present around the lab. I knocked lightly on the door. There was no answer. I tried to open the door, but it would not slide up. It was locked.
I pulled out my master key. As major domo to the household, Jeff asked me to keep a master key, one that would open all the rooms, including those in the hangars. I used the key on the laboratory door and opened it. Upon entering, I noticed that one of the computers, the microcomputer that currently held all the specifications and repair logs of the Thunderbird crafts, was missing from its usual spot.
"Mr. Brains? Mr. Brains!" I called, walking slowly around the lab. There was no answer. Brains was not there.
I went down to Brains' quarters. It was neat as a pin, and empty; obviously he was not there. The bed had not been slept in. With a growing sense of alarm, I checked my Tin-Tin's room. No one was there. Her bed, too, showed no sign of recent occupancy. Where could they be?
I went back up to the lounge and found the entrance to the monorail system. I rode it out to see which Thunderbirds were here and which were not. Thunderbird 1 was in its hangar. Thunderbird 2 was also in its hangar and poised over pod 4, which holds Thunderbird 4. But when I reached the launch silo of the impressive red rocket, Thunderbird 3, it was clear to see that the spacecraft was gone. Where? Had there been an emergency in space overnight? If so, why had Virgil not told me? If there had been one, it meant that Scott and Alan were gone. But where was Gordon? There, I realized, was my next step. I had to find Gordon. He might know what was going on. I also realized that I should call John in Thunderbird 5 and see what he would know about a possible space rescue.
Returning to the lounge, I flipped the switch that put me in contact with Thunderbird 5.
"Base to Thunderbird 5. Come in, Thunderbird 5. Are you there, Mr. John?" I could see the interior of the space station, but not its occupant. John Tracy was nowhere to be seen. The station was empty and silent.
I closed communications with Thunderbird 5, and went in search of Gordon Tracy. First, I checked his quarters. Here was definite evidence that Gordon had indeed spent the night in his bed. It was rumpled and unmade. Yet, I had not seen him in the kitchen at all. Where else to look for him? The pool was an easy conclusion, and equally easy to check. I stood on the balcony, shading my eyes against the morning sun, and saw that the pool area was deserted. Now where? The shooting gallery seemed to be a good idea. Gordon was the best shot of all the Tracys and could often be found practicing there. But the gallery was also deserted.
My next step was to check his Thunderbird. I moved quietly down to Thunderbird 2's hangar, keeping to the shadows and hiding behind barrels and boxes in my effort to remain unseen. My usual footwear, Chinese-style slippers, enabled me to walk unheard along the concrete floor. I crept up to pod 4, and opened it. The huge flap door moved down silently and I could see Thunderbird 4 inside. I climbed into the pod and looked through the front viewport. No one was aboard. I scanned the rest of the pod and saw no one. Then I left, closing the pod up as I did.
Suddenly, I heard the retro rockets of Thunderbird 3 as she landed in her nearby silo. I hurried over to the monorail, and rode it to where Thunderbird 3 was kept. Crouching down so I would not be seen, I watched and waited.
In a few minutes, I saw two figures exiting the space craft on the couch: Alan and Scott. But on the couch between Scott and Alan lay a third figure with his head in Scott's lap. The blond hair made identification simple. It was John. I wondered what had happened to John that made his brothers go and fetch him from the space station, and why Alan had not been left in his brother's place. Something was not right.
The couch made its way into the underground bunker between the entry to the lounge and the launch silo. I made my way hurriedly to the lounge via the monorail. Once I reached the end of the monorail, I crept into the true headquarters of International Rescue and hid myself to see what was going on.
The empty couch in the lounge disappeared through the floor, and its twin, bearing Scott, Alan, and an unconscious John rose up in its place. Scott and Alan draped the arms of their brother over their shoulders and bore him off to the passenger elevator of Thunderbird 2. Into the great green craft they descended together; the elevator came back up empty. Then I heard the sound of a struggle.
Gordon, bound and gagged, was struggling against the strength of his brother Virgil. They had of necessity stopped in the lounge, as Virgil could not make Gordon go any farther, and indeed, was on the verge of losing what little control he had over the wiry aquanaut. Virgil lifted his arm and called into his telecomm watch.
"Scott, get up here! Gordon's giving me trouble!" It was not the usually soft, deliberate voice of Virgil Tracy. Instead, it was harsh and cruel- sounding, even as it was still the voice of the man who spoke. I started audibly to hear such strident tones coming from the mouth of a man whose voice was usually lilting and musical. That was a mistake. I heard someone come up behind me, and before I could turn and move, something came in contact with the back of my head, and all was dark.
I do not know how long I lay on the floor, but it was evening before I woke, my head throbbing. I got up carefully, even so, the room spun and my stomach threatened to erupt. I sat down on the nearest couch and took stock of myself. Nothing was broken, and I had no wounds except a bloody lump on the back of my head. I took the time to do some focusing exercises, just sitting, breathing deeply, and letting my mind go blank for a moment before returning to the problem at hand. Then I stretched, using some tai chi movements. This improved my balance almost immediately, and the spinning in my head went away.
I realized that I was thirsty and hungry. Knowing that I would not be able to function properly without having those needs met, I went into the kitchen and reheated one of the plates I had prepared the night before. I also poured myself a glass of water to wash the food down. With my hunger sated, and my thirst quenched, I began to try and put together the pieces of the puzzle that confronted me.
That Scott, Virgil, and Alan were not themselves was obvious to me. Whether the men I saw were imposters or something or someone had taken control of them, I did not yet know. That Jeff, John, Gordon, and probably Tin-Tin and Brains were their prisoners was a distinct possibility. But why? I decided to do another inventory of the Thunderbirds. This time, to my dread, both Thunderbirds 1 and 2, and pod 4 were missing. Thunderbird 3 remained.
I could only think of one entity who would have the power and the desire to bring all of the Thunderbirds and their pilots, as well as the scientists to him. That was my half-brother, Belah Gaat, the Hood. Listing the places where International Rescue had last been of use, I saw that they ringed my country, the country of Malaysia. How easy it would be for Belah to create disasters requiring the help of International Rescue and then hypnotise one or more of the pilots and use them to bring the others to him. But I had to know for sure.
I remembered that Virgil at least was wearing his telecomm watch, and that each of those devices had within it a tracking circuit, the location of which could be pinpointed from Thunderbird 5. 'Belah knows this,' I thought, 'and he would destroy the telecomms to hide his location.' But there was a chance that one or more of the devices had been overlooked. I had no way of getting to Thunderbird 5, nor any way of utilizing it's tracking equipment from the Villa. However, I knew someone who had that access. Looking at the clock, I thought I might catch her at her office. Walking down to the lab, I activated the direct link that existed between Tracy Island and one particular city on the eastern coast of the United States. It took a moment for the long-distance link to be established, but soon there was a lady's face with a pleasant smile looking back at me.
"Kyrano!" she said, "To what do I owe the pleasure?"
"Dr. Barnes," I said gravely. "I need your help."