A Shocking Exposé
JC pulled out her pistol and braced herself as best she could, trying to target the kidnapper while sparing the victim. But the two were about to be swallowed up in the early morning darkness and it was apparent that to shoot one would mean the death of the other. So, with tears of anger springing up, JC lowered her gun.
"JC to Christa!" she snarled into her wrist telecomm. "The thiefhas Sally!"
"I see that!" Christa shouted back. "What do we do?"
"You and Mae go after Sal. The jet packs won't take them far," JC directed.
"But JC!" Mae chimed in. "What about you? What about the Crablogger?"
"I'll handle the Crablogger!" JC said as she climbed up the side of the yellow cutter. "Then I'll get back to the equipment depot and pick up whichever Thunderbird you don't take. But hurry! They'll be out of sight in a moment, and near impossible to find in the dark!"
"F-A-B!" Christa responded sharply. She peeled off and made a quick u-turn and headed back down the path, trying to keep the flying duo in sight. JC then turned her attention fully to stopping the forest eating juggernaut.
Climbing up to the top of the Crablogger was difficult, especially with the greenery swishing over her head at regular intervals in the darkness of the early morning hours. Every so often one of the hydraulic arms would slam into another tree as it flung its latest victim back and the machine's aim skewed, bringing the leafy projectile either closer to the side of the cutter or flinging it wide. JC hugged the side of the cutter, thankful for the bright warning lights that flashed at either side of the lead machine and the work lights that outlined the beast, allowing her to see where she was going. At last she made it to the summit of the relentless mechanical monster and slipped into the control room through the hole that Sally had cut.
"JC to base! I need those coordinates now!" she barked into her telecomm between panting breaths. She went immediately to the control console, but before she could sit down, a sudden motion made her look up and out the front view port. The radiation shield was up so JC could clearly see out, and that's how she saw the tree heading straight towards the control room.
"Aaagh!" she cried as she jumped back and tripped, landing on the metal floor. The tree's branches got caught in the bars that covered the clear, heavy duty material of the view port and hung there, stuck.
"JC! Are you all right?" came Val's anxious and concerned voice.
JC shook her head and got up, rubbing her behind. "Yeah. I'm okay. Just give me the coordinates, Val. I've got to shut this sucker down and get after Sally!"
"Sally?" Jeff's voice cut in. "What's wrong with Sally?"
"No time, base. The coordinates!" she growled. Valentina read off the coordinates and JC carefully keyed them into the computer, then hit the "Enter" button. Nothing happened. JC swore under her breath, long and creatively. Then she lifted her telecomm to her mouth again. "Val, does this thing still have a time-delay?"
"According to Eddie, yes. A three minute delay before the reactor shuts down," Val responded tersely. JC could tell that her younger sister was brimming with questions about Sally, but was holding back until JC had time to explain.
I've got to wait for the time-delay. Might as well make use of the time. She activated her telecomm again. Jeff's face filled the tiny screen. "Base, about Sally. She got in here approximately... 15 minutes ago. Five minutes later, the hatch opened and she came out, strapped to a guy with pale skin, red hair... and bushy eyebrows. She didn't seem to be conscious. The guy activated a jet pack on his back, and Sally's jet pack and flew off with her. I sent Christa and Mae after them."
She could hear Val's gasp of horror, and she saw her father's face drain of color. There was a jerk to the picture and she knew he had collapsed, either into his chair or to the floor. In the background, Kyrano's voice was calling, "Mr. Tracy!" and Ruby was ordering Tin-Tin to get some brandy. Then Jeff's voice, ragged and full of emotion, called out, "Just get me a glass, Tin-Tin."
The young man must have been quick about it, because JC could hear a clink, and Ruby saying, "Go easy on that rotgut, Jeff!" Then her father's face appeared again, pale, but resolute, his sapphire eyes hard and sharp with anger.
"You said you sent Christa and Mae after them?"
"Yes, Dad. I sent them to follow the two in the Crane for as long as they could, then get one of the Thunderbirds to follow whatever craft this bastard is using. I figure Sally and her kidnapper couldn't have gotten far; the jet packs aren't made for long range flight. He must have something more substantial waiting nearby. Once this hunk of junk is stopped, I'll make my way back and pick up whatever Thunderbird they left and go in pursuit myself."
"A sound plan, Jerrie. Damn! I wish Thunderbird Five was operational! We could use the sensors to pick up her watch's homing signal!"
Brains's voice could be heard in the background, but JC couldn't make out what was said. Val was speaking, too, and Jeff turned away to listen to them. JC heard him say, "You're sure?" There was more background chatter, then Jeff commanded, "Do it!" He turned back to JC. "Brains and Val think they can access the sensors from here, and patch the signal through one of the subsidiary satellites to Thunderbirds One and Two. Get back to the equipment depot and get Thunderbird One. Christa's on the tri-circuit now, giving us an update. She picked up Two and is following the bastard's helijet, hopefully at a discreet enough distance. They'll need One to force him to the ground. We can't allow him to keep calling the shots. Do you understand?"
"F-A-B, sir," JC returned smartly. She noticed that the Crablogger had finally slowed to a halt. The noise of the saw was gone and the arms had retracted into their sleeves. "This beast has shut down. Better tell Robotics International to take this damn machine's design back to the drawing board again. That 'safe mode' of theirs is anything but safe and it's a waste of dwindling resources."
"I will, Jerrie. In fact, I might just buy them out," Jeff said with a grim smile. "I have no desire to go through this again. Now, get moving. You have a long road to travel."
"Maybe not, base," JC returned. She had heard a loud horn blowing outside. "I may have a ride. I'll get back to you soon. JC out."
Getting out was harder than getting in. It seemed that the three minute delay had been programmed to allow the operators time to get out of the machine. Finally, she found an access ladder to the lower conference room, and another to the outside observation platform. Down in the track made by the behemoth, she saw a truck with the words, "Gray and Houseman" painted on its side. A group of men were piling out and one of them looked up at her and waved.
"Hey! We're here to take over and take this thing back. Charlie here can bring you back to your ship!" he shouted.
"Okay. I'm coming!" JC climbed down from the observation platform and was soon on ground level again. The man who had shouted at her now came up and shook her hand.
"Great work! We really appreciate what you've done for us. Any sign of how this thing got away?"
"Yeah. There was a thief inside, but he got away. My colleagues are tracking him now and I need to join them," JC said quickly.
"Okay then. Just get in and tell Charlie where you need to go. And thanks! We don't know what would have happened if you hadn't been available."
"You're welcome," JC said hurriedly and she turned to hop into the cab of the truck. "I need to get back to your base and pick up my vehicle."
"Sure, honey. Whatever you want." And with that, Charlie turned the truck around and headed back to the equipment depot.
In Thunderbird Two, Mae was staring at the console that tracked the signal from Sally's watch. She was in a black helijet that had risen from a jungle clearing just as the Mobile Crane arrived back to the equipment depot. Christa had opened the pod by remote and driven right inside, putting on the brakes just in time. She had hopped out and headed for the pod's small access door, shouting over her shoulder, "Mae! Lock that baby down while I get us airborne!"
"F-A-B!" Mae had shouted back, sliding into the driver's seat so she could move the Mobile Crane into lock-down position. Once she had it on the turntable in the center of the pod, she activated the magnetic clamps that would hold the vehicle still during flight. Beneath her feet she could feel the vibrations caused by Thunderbird Two's powerful VTOL jets as they lifted quickly into the sky. By the time she reached the flight deck, Christa was already apprising Jeff of their situation and getting instructions based on JC's information.
"Val is feeding you the coordinates from Sally's telecomm. Whoever he is, he doesn't know about the tracking function in the watch, or he would have either destroyed it or dropped it somewhere," Jeff told them.
"That's a break for us, Dad," Christa said, nodding. "We couldn't even see the helijet that took off. It must be painted matte black and has no running lights whatsoever. We could hear it as it flew overhead, though."
"Stay with it, girls. Jerrie will be joining you as soon as she gets One off the ground. You need to find a place to force this guy down, but do it safely. It's time we took the upper hand."
"That won't be easy, Daddy," Mae piped up. "He seems to know an awful lot about us."
"He might know about our tech, and our methods, but he doesn't understand what motivates us. Nor does he understand that we never give up. Not at any cost," Jeff reminded her. He turned away for a moment. "Jerrie is powering up One as we speak."
"Thunderbird Two from Thunderbird One," JC's clipped tones came from the speaker. "I'm airborne and five minutes from your position. What's your status?"
"We're following Sally's signal. The craft itself is painted black and running without lights," Christa replied tersely. "Can you get ahead of him?"
"I'll try to get on top of him," JC said distractedly. She was having trouble with One's controls; it was not a craft she flew often, or well. "Let him know he's being pursued, if nothing else."
"Careful there," Jeff warned both pilots. "I don't want him leading you into a trap."
"F-A-B, base. We'll be careful," Christa answered back.
"How?! How can they be following me?" the Hood shouted. "They should not be able to see my helijet!" The villain's eyes lighted on Sally, lying bound and senseless on the floor of the flight deck. "She must have some kind of tracking device on her person! But where?"
The frustrated criminal programmed a course into the helijet's computer, one that would take the helijet to a lower altitude and skim over the sea, and engaged the autopilot. "I have no time to search her and find the device," the redhead muttered. "But I must find it! I cannot allow my base to be discovered! I must take a risk and contact my nephew."
Sitting relaxed in the pilot's chair with eyes closed, the Hood's mind emptied of everything save the vision of Tin-Tin. Memory of the statue filled the outlaw's every sense and, with an ease derived from long practice, a snaking tendril of telepathic energy leapt from the enemy's consciousness to that of Tin-Tin's.
In the lounge at Tracy Island, Tin-Tin felt a sudden searing pain pierce his head from temple to temple. He jerked, twisting and falling from Thunderbird Three's couch to the lounge floor with a cry.
"Tin-Tin!" Kyrano cried.
"H-He's having a-another fit!" Brains called, dropping to the younger man's side, and grabbing a wrist to take his pulse. Tin-Tin twitched and writhed on the floor, his eyelids fluttering, moaning and muttering something that could barely be heard. His motions tore his wrist from Brains's grasp.
Kyrano knelt by his son, calling his name, trying to hold him down. Val looked anxiously on from her post at Jeff's desk. JC noticed her sister's distraction on the screen in Thunderbird One and asked, "Val? What's going on?"
"Tin-Tin's having another one of his attacks!"
Suddenly, Kyrano sat bolt upright. "Silence!" he shouted. The rest of the family instantly hushed, shocked by the usually serene man's outburst. In the silence, Kyrano listened intently. Then he turned to Brains. "Quickly! Get a sedative! Give him something to knock him out!"
"What is it? What's wrong?" Jeff demanded to know, as Brains ran for the nearest first aid kit.
"He is speaking to someone! Speaking to them in Malay!" Kyrano explained.
"Speaking to whom? In Malay? Is that bad?" Ruby asked.
Kyrano looked up at her, and she was surprised at the intensity of his gaze. "Tin-Tin was born and raised in Paris and educated in England and the United States. He knows no Malay!" He looked back at his son, his brow furrowed. "I think I finally understand. Tin-Tin has indeed been the weak link in International Rescue's security."
"But how?" Val cried.
"Someone has tapped into his mind from afar, overwhelming his consciousness, and has been extracting information from him." Kyrano held his thrashing son in his arms as Brains, who had returned with a hypospray of sedative, injected the young man. The medication took effect almost immediately and Tin-Tin relaxed in his father's grasp.
"H-How is that, uh, possible?" the scientist asked, pushing thick lenses back into place.
"There are mystic arts, what you would call magic, that allow for such mind control, but it takes a true adept of great power to probe so deeply from a distance. I myself am an adept, but as I do not use my skills, my power is limited." He looked up to meet Jeff's unbelieving stare. "Jefferson. Had I told you this about myself, would you have believed? Would it have made a difference in our friendship? Or would you have feared and shunned me? I do not tell people about what I can do because they will either not believe, or they will believe and fear." He stroked Tin-Tin's hair. "My son has the potential for such skills, but I have never instructed him in their use. It is perhaps this that has left him particularly open to such an attack."
"Dad?" Val said from the desk. " JC wants a word with you."
"All right. Brains? Help Kyrano get Tin-Tin off the floor and onto the couch. Ruby, do what you can to make him comfortable." Jeff turned to the bank of portraits. "Thunderbird One from base. Report."
"The guy's helijet took a dive to a lower altitude and set a course across the sea, heading for the Malay Peninsula," JC told him. "We're still getting a strong signal from Sally's watch but we don't dare take him down yet."
"F-A-B. Continue pursuit until an opportunity presents itself." Jeff paused to think. "In fact, you might ease up on your pursuit. Back off, make him think he's safe. He might be heading for his base, and I'm sure that the police in several nations would like to know just where that is. But stay in contact with me and with Thunderbird Two at all times. If Interpol hasn't found him, it's because he knows how to hide. That means some kind of radar deflector and probably jamming equipment."
"F-A-B, base," JC answered with a nod. "Will do. Thunderbird One standing by transmission."
In the helijet, the Hood had removed Sally's watch, and was inspecting it. "Ingenious. Communicator, watch, and tracking device all in one. I will destroy... no." A crafty gleam shone in the eyes behind the mask. "No, I will not destroy it. I will make use of it and of Sally Tracy... as bait. Let them follow the signal from this instrument and when they have arrived at my destination, I will be waiting to take them all. Then I will have most of the Tracy daughters as well as the most versatile of the Thunderbird craft under my control. Tracy will pay a heavy price to ransom his little bitches, and I will auction off the vehicles to the highest bidder. Perhaps I will demand the plans of the Thunderbirds as part of my ransom and sell those instead, keeping the craft for myself. No matter. I must wait until they are within my grasp before I make plans for their disposal."
The watch was transferred to a well-tanned wrist. A flick of a switch and the autopilot was disengaged. The black helijet flew on, changing course and rising as the land mass called the Malay Peninsula came into sight.
Elsewhere, Mae yawned and rubbed her sleepy eyes, shaking her head violently to keep awake. She rose and turned to her sister. "Christa? You want some coffee? I'm going to crew's quarters to make some."
"How can you think about coffee now?" Christa snapped. As soon as the words left her mouth, she regretted them. Turning as far back in her seat as she could, she sighed and said, "I'm sorry, Mae-Bee. I shouldn't have yelled at you. Between the lack of sleep and the situation with Sally, I'm really angry and frustrated right now."
"All of us are," Mae said practically. "JC is 'specially upset about Sally's kidnapping."
"I know. But it doesn't give me the right to take my frustration out on you. We're going to have to work together to get Sally back, and we can't if we're biting each other's heads off."
"That's right. And we're going to have to be alert, too. That's why I'm making the coffee."
"And it's a good idea. I'll have a cup when it's ready. Thanks for thinking of it."
"You're welcome," Mae said as she left the flight deck. Just before she passed through the door to the chambers on the flight deck level, she called over her shoulder, "For the record, I forgive you. Extra cream and two sugars?"
"Better make it three. I think we'll need all the energy we can get before this is over."
JC flew on in Thunderbird One, concentrating intently on the controls. They were so well-balanced and finely tuned that even the minutest motion in one direction would change her course or altitude.
How does Sally do this? She must mentally become one with this bird when she flies it. No wonder why it responds so quickly and gracefully to her. The simulator has nothing on the real thing. I'd better get in some more practice with it, and with the big green bug, for emergencies such as this. That is, if Sally and Christa will let me.
Jeff turned from his conversation with JC to find that the lounge was less one occupant. "Where did Kyrano go?" he asked, frowning.
Ruby, who was tweaking the blanket she had spread over Tin-Tin, looked up at her son-in-law and said, "He said something about trying to find out who was behind this attack."
"I-I think he went to, uh, his g-garden," Brains added.
Indeed, in the dark, dewy quiet of the morning, Kyrano trod the well-known path to his flowering garden, his slippered feet crunching slightly on the path of volcanic gravel. He found the center of the place, a peaceful spot with a small bench, a wide wooden swing, and a fountain whose water tinkled softly down the surface of a piece of slate into a bronze basin full of stones. He sat on the bench, breathing deeply of the heady aroma from the flowering bushes that surrounded the man-made glen. Closing his eyes, he could almost name the scent of every blossom that added its perfume to the air, mingling with the sharp tang of the ever present sea.
One by one, he relaxed his limbs, feeling their muscles slacken, then one by one, he shut down his senses. No longer could he feel the cool stone beneath him or the playful breeze that ruffled his silvered hair. No longer could he hear the cry of the sea birds or the background hum of the island's insects. The scents of the blooms that surrounded him faded, as did the taste of his own mouth, sour after that cognac so many hours ago. With his outer eyes closed, his inner eye opened and he reached out beyond himself, searching for that adept, that powerful persona that had been attacking his son. He knew himself to be safe; his own skills rivaled that of any other, and though they had not been used for some time, he was far from rusty. Besides, his knowledge of the Tracy family and its secrets was paltry compared to that of Tin-Tin, who held the very blueprints for their mighty vehicles locked away in his memories.
Flickers of light crossed his inner vision, signs of minds that were aware of this plane, this level of existence. There were thankfully few, and he knew that most of them were asleep and dreaming. Still, there were some brighter beacons, minds that were awake and, like himself, had actively sought this place, looking for enlightenment of one kind or another. He was beginning to despair of his search, knowing the toll this was taking on his aged body, when a familiar and mocking voice grated on his inner ear.
"Fancy meeting you here... brother."
Kyrano's inner eye roved this way and that, looking frantically for the source of the hated voice.
"Finally you realized the truth about your son, eh? Come to find his attacker?"
A bright, blazing red beacon, like a flame, approached him slowly. Kyrano stared in utter disbelief.
"No! It cannot be! Not... you!"
The blaze pressed closer. Kyrano could almost feel the heat generated by the hatred, the evil joy that radiated from the consciousness before him. He felt he was on the edge of oblivion, about to be swallowed by that consciousness, and in self-defense, he ran. Ran back to his body. Ran back to the world of the waking.
He opened his eyes to find himself on the ground behind the stone bench, his fall cushioned by the leafy ground cover that grew there. His heart beat wildly, and he was breathing heavily. His clothes and hair were drenched with sweat. He lay there for a moment, trying to gather his shattered wits and calm his racing heart, then with a groan, pulled himself to his feet. Cupping his hands beneath the fountain's slate, he splashed his face with the cool, desalinated water. Taking a deep breath, he trudged back up to the villa, every step heavy with weariness and despair. For the last thing he had heard before he made his headlong flight from the plane where he had encountered his sibling was:
"Tell Tracy I have his eldest, and that the others will soon fall under my power."
All eyes turned to him as he entered the lounge. Jeff's look of hope turned to one of surprise and then a frown of concern as he saw Kyrano's physical state.
"What happened? Did you find out anything?"
The retainer sighed heavily and nodded. "I did. I found out who is behind this. And I was given a message for you."
Jeff mentally braced himself. "What was it?"
"That our adversary has Sally and the others will soon fall, too."
"Damn!" Jeff cried. Valentina got up from behind the desk and went to her father, first touching him on the arm while looking him in the eyes, then wrapping her arms around him. He buried his face in her blonde locks, allowing himself a moment to regain his composure, then he speared Kyrano with a sharp stare.
"We just lost communications with Thunderbirds One and Two."
Kyrano's eyes widened in shock. He glanced over at the portraits. Where once the live feed images of Christa and JC had been, there were now only the painted faces in their uniforms.
"Who?" Jeff's sharp voice cut across the room, claiming everyone's attention. "Who is the bastard that's behind this?"
"Not 'bastard'," Kyrano said softly. "Rather, a 'bitch'. The enemy is my half-sister." Kyrano sighed and hung his head. "Her name is Bella Ghant."