Rescue On The Way
"Changing to horizontal flight," Sally Ride Tracy tucked a lock of her nearly black pageboy behind her ear as she piloted Thunderbird One through the blue skies over the Pacific. Her sapphire blue eyes scanned her instruments, and lighted on her hat. She made a face, one that still brought out the deep dimples in her smooth cheeks.
I hate that hat. We all hate the hat. Why does Daddy make us wear it? It's not becoming, it squashes down our hair and it's not like it protects our heads or anything. Makes us look like a bunch of twentieth century airline hostesses. Her internal grousing was interrupted by a voice coming over the radio.
"Thunderbird Five to Thunderbird One. Are you there, Sal?"
"I have the numbers now."
"Okay. Give me the coordinates." Sally shook her head. Mae can understand over seventeen languages and can even write shorthand. But she can barely string together a coherent sentence in English. Mom or Dad must have dropped her on her head when she was a baby or something.
In Thunderbird Five, Mae Jemison Tracy, space monitor, carefully read off the coordinates, giving her oldest sister directions to the Danger Zone. Her white-blonde curls framed a perfect, beautiful face, so perfect that she had been a model and had plans on becoming a supermodel before her father gathered her up, paid off all her modeling contracts, and forced her into astronaut training. "It's what your mother would have wanted," Jeff had said at the time. And Mae was sure he had muttered under his breath, "Anything to get her away from those pervert fashion designers."
Now Mae spent every other month in geosynchronous orbit above the Earth. She didn't mind much; she had the stars to entertain her--stars of the silver and the plasma screen, that is. She read every gossip rag she could get her hands on. And it had other advantages, too. No one complained about her music and how loud she played it like they did at home. And Daddy was very strict about it being only a month at a time. Mae smiled; she knew that her baby sister, Val, would be on her way in a few days. And she knew why.
"Thunderbird One to Thunderbird Five. Thunderbird One to Thunderbird Five. Come in, Thunderbird Five." Sally was getting agitated. One of the coordinates that Mae had given her had been rejected by the onboard guidance computer. "Earth to Mae!"
"Oh, yeah. What is it, Sal?" Sally could tell by the tone of Mae's voice that her blonde sister had been daydreaming again.
"Please give me that third coordinate number again? The computer said it wasn't right."
Mae made a soft 'hrmph' through her nose and read the coordinates off again. This time the third and fourth coordinates resolved themselves into something that the computer liked and it gave the destination as Fiji. Sally muttered under her breath.
Mae's outraged voice came loud and clear over the air. "I heard that, Sally!"
Sally shook her head and made no response. Trying to would just get her into a fight with the space monitor and Daddy would most likely start shouting.
In Thunderbird Two, still sitting in the hangar bay, petite, chestnut- haired Christa McAuliffe Tracy was swearing up a storm. She was having trouble with her pilot's seat. Behind her, short-haired Jerrie Cobb Tracy, familiarly known as "JC", schooled her face into a concerned but uninvolved look. Changing the settings on the pilot's chair was JC's most favorite way to get back at her prissy older sister. Christa was petite in stature and in build and under normal conditions she almost needed to sit on a thick phone book to see out of Thunderbird Two's wide ports. Almost. However, Brains had modified the seat so that when it was extended to its limit, Christa could sit comfortably and see out as well.
It had been months since JC had fiddled with the settings. The last time, Sally had dragged her down to the beach and had tried to beat the tar out of her. It had been a close one; Sally had both the reach and the heft on the younger woman and in the end, JC went down, face in the sand, promising she'd apologize and she'd never do it again. And she had kept her promise; it wasn't actually her hands that had moved the chair, it was Val's. Under coercion, of course.
Christa finally stopped trying to fix the chair while sitting in it and got up, glaring at JC as she did so. The copper-haired woman spread her hands and gave Christa her most innocent look.
"Not me. Not this time."
"Better not have been," Christa hissed through clenched teeth. She had just sat back down, trying out the hopefully restored settings, when Jeff's voice came over the radio loudspeaker.
"Thunderbird Two, what is the hold-up?"
"Uh, equipment glitch, Dad. I've got it resolved now," Christa told him as she powered up the big green machine. She grabbed the steering yoke and pressed down on the accelerator and the cargo carrier headed out to its launching spot near the end of the runway. A flip of a switch and a piece of the airstrip rose at an angle. JC hunkered down in her seat; she hated take-offs and this one in particular.
The engines fired, and Thunderbird Two rose majestically into the sky. JC's face paled, and Christa glanced back at her younger sister with a small smile. If JC had been the one to change the settings on her chair, Christa had just gotten her revenge.
They rose to cruising height, and Sally relayed the coordinates to keep Mae from making the same mistake again. Sally had landed at the base of the volcano and had set up Mobile Control. She was using ultra-strong binoculars to review the situation.
"I don't have any contact with the vulcanologists, Mae. Will you see if you can raise them?"
"Uh, raise them?"
Sally sighed. "Will you call them back? Ask them how many of them are there?"
"Oh, yeah. Okay." Mae's face on Sally's telecomm frowned. "Is that what 'raise' really means?"
"It's one of the meanings. Now, when you call back the vulcanologists, can you patch them through to Mobile Control? I mean, can you send the signal here to me?" Sally changed her wording so that her sister would understand.
"Yes, I can. I understood you the first time," Mae said huffily.
"Mae, could you please use the code word?" Sally pleaded. Her Air Force training had accustomed her to acronyms and code words. She found it was hard working with someone who refused to use them, even when Daddy had said it was to be SOP (standard operating procedure).
"Eff-Ay-Bee!" Mae shouted, making Sally wince.
Great. Now she'll be in a snit all day long.
The face of the lead vulcanologist appeared on the screen in front of Sally, her sweaty face streaked with dirt.
"Thank God you're here!," she exclaimed in accented English. "How soon until you can get us out?"
Sally consulted her chronometer. "Our heavy equipment should be here soon. How many of you are there?"
"Seven! And we have our research and computers and...."
Sally cut her off. "We save lives, ma'am. I'm afraid you'll have to leave your research and computers behind."
The vulcanologist sighed. "Of course. We'll be ready."
Sally looked up as the welcome sound of Thunderbird Two's engines rumbled overhead. "We'll be with you in a few minutes." She opened communications with Christa.
"Chris, you want to change places? This might be a heavy one." Sally tended to offer Christa the lighter jobs and take the heavier ones on herself.
"No." Christa wiggled in her command chair. It still didn't feel right. "I'll take this one." She would talk to Sally later about the changed settings.
"F-A-B, Thunderbird Two. There are seven vulcanologists in the research station. Keep in communication with Mobile Control," Sally said crisply.
"F-A-B," Christa answered. She guided her cargo carrier over to the beleaguered and besieged buildings.
"Thermal imager registers six hits in the main building. I can't see a seventh," JC told her older sister. She had moved to the console controlling that device and was scanning the Danger Zone with it.
JC likes to be on top of things, Christa thought. The years she spent in WASP paid off for Daddy after all. She turned to her ginger-haired sister. "I'll put it on autopilot and work the rescue capsule winch."
"Nah. I'll use the remote control on the winch and you can pilot. Looks like you'll have some wicked thermals to fight up here above that fresh lava," JC said off-handedly.
"Are you sure?" Christa asked. Ever since the hydrofoil accident, JC had been very indifferent to her own safety. She was more likely than any of them to jump first, check the parachute later.
JC grinned at Christa and winked. "Yeah. I'm sure. You just keep your big green baby in the sky. If you can."
Christa fumed. The girls had been scared spitless when she had been shot down by the USS Sentinel; but once the incident was over and she had recovered, they had teased her mercilessly about it as well. Almost as much as they teased Sally about being shot down by the Zombites.
JC left the thermal imager and headed back to find a heat resistant suit. Her sisters complained about any and all of the equipment that they wore, including the uniforms. But JC didn't much care. There was no looking sexy in a deep sea diving suit, after all. She pulled the heat resistant coverall on over her uniform, taking care to remove the sash, but she didn't put on the hood. Not yet. Not unless she really needed it and the oxygen.
Taking the remote for the rescue capsule winch and checking the batteries to see that they were fresh, JC picked up the portable thermal imager and headed down to the lower level of Thunderbird Two's main body. She radioed up to Christa. "I'm set."
"F-A-B. I'm over the Danger Zone. Winch away when you are ready."
The bay doors in the floor of the winch room swung outward. JC started to manhandle the rescue capsule into place. This was why she said she'd go down. As much as Christa took weight training and worked out, she was still not as strong as the aquanaut. And as much as their father tried to make things easy for them, changing the winch scenarios was one thing neither he nor Brains had been able to improve on. Yet.
JC positioned the metal box over the bay doors and stepped inside. This thing's just a glorified elevator, she groused to herself as she pushed the 'down' button on the winch controls. And it doesn't hold enough people either.
The winch let her down easily but she jumped out of the capsule before it could hit the ground between the two main buildings and she set off running. The adrenaline pumped through her as she ran; this is what she lived for, the thrill of staring death in the face and spitting in its eye.
She reached the building where the six thermal hits had registered. The lava of Mae's 'rumbling' volcano was coming closer, eating up parking lot and taking out cars with massive explosions of gas tanks. JC pulled on the door, trying the latch, but it was locked from the inside. She pounded on it and shouted, "It's International Rescue! Open up!" but to no avail. Disgusted, she turned to her sister in the sky.
"JC to Thunderbird Five," she called tersely into her wrist telecomm.
"Thunderbird Five here," Mae answered, sighing. "What do you want, JC?"
"Number one: tell those vulcanologists that we are here to rescue them."
"Eff-Ay-Bee," Mae intoned in an sarcastic voice.
"And number two: tell them to unlock the goddamned door!" JC shouted.
"Okay, okay. You don't have to get huffy about it. Good thing Grandma didn't hear you say that. She'd get very upset."
"I'm sure she would, Thunderbird Five. But you're not going to tell her about it."
"Oh? And why wouldn't I?"
JC grinned wickedly at her beautiful sister. "Because you are due to be dirt side in just a couple of days and if you want to stay on my good side, not a word will you utter about my language."
Mae huffed. She did not want to be on the receiving end of one of JC's infamous practical jokes. The last time she was, JC had tampered with Mae's mud pack so that its olive color transferred itself to Mae's face. Fortunately for JC the color came off with the application of rubbing alcohol. And also, fortunately for JC, Mae did not tell Daddy. Very seldom did Jeff learn about any of JC's pranks, mostly because you never knew when JC had a juicy tidbit about you that you did not want him to know about.
On JC's end, there was no way she wanted their straight-laced grandmother, Ruby Mae, to know that she had been swearing. No one risked a flaying from Grandma's sharp tongue.
Ruby Mae had spent the past twenty years or more trying to mold each of the Tracy girls into what she termed as "ladies". It was to her everlasting despair that two of her granddaughters had chosen the military: Sally joining the Air Force and Jerrie (no uncouth "JC" for Grandma!) enlisting with WASP.
She was thrilled that her namesake, Mae, had decided to be a model; thrilled, that is, until she went backstage at one of François Lemaire's shows and saw the shocking state of undress that Mae had to endure during ensemble changes. "And with men walking around and everything!" Grandma had said when she'd recovered from her faint. She was pleased with Christa's talents in music and art and displeased when Jeff insisted that Christa learn to be a pilot. "Ruby Mae, we live on an island in the South Pacific. Flying is our main way of getting anywhere. Try to think of it as 'learning to drive'," he had told her. His comparison didn't cut it at all; she still didn't approve and she never learned to fly herself.
But the biggest headache Grandma gave to the girls, and to Jeff, too, if truth be told, was that she doted on and spoiled the youngest Tracy girl, Valentina Tereshkova Tracy, familiarly known as Val. "She's the last remnant I have of my beloved daughter," Grandma was often heard to say tearfully. "I will raise her as if she were my own." As a result, Valentina could do no wrong in Grandma's eyes and many were the times as teenagers that one or more of the older girls were punished for returning to Val that aggravation she had inflicted on them.
The door to the building finally gave way, and a sweaty, Asian man poked his head through. He flung open the door, calling back to his companions to say that, yes, International Rescue was really there!
JC shouldered her way inside. "Is anyone hurt?" she asked the small knot of people who stood huddled together, the Asian man rejoining their ranks. Strangely enough, they kept looking at something behind her.
Just in time, JC ducked.