The satellite phone rang and rang through the earpiece in Fermat’s ear. He yawned. He still felt lethargic, even after the walk to Maplewood with Qaeshon. Stretching, he winced. Boy, a nap sounds good right now.
Suddenly, the phone stopped ringing. “Hackenbacker h-h-here.”
Hiram hurriedly plugged in his own earpiece so he could see his son on the phone’s tiny screen. He smiled, leaning back in his ergonomically correct swivel chair while slowly twirling it away from his workbench. “F-F-F… Son! It’s g-g-good to hear your v-v-v… it’s good to hear from you. H-How’s that arm?”
“St-Still hurts, sometimes, b-but the m-m-m… painkiller helps.” Fermat unconsciously echoed his father’s movements. “Makes me s-s-sleepy, though.” As if to underscore the point, he yawned, covering his mouth with his hand.
“M-M-Make sure you get enough r-rest.” His father wagged a warning finger. “N-N-Now, tell me what h-h-h … went on last n-night. John reported that you u-used your w-w-watch. He indicated it w-was an e-e-e … it was important.”
“It was, D-Dad.” Fermat recounted what happened to Qaeshon and his part in the affair.
Hiram nodded, his face growing more and more serious. “Sounds like you did w-well, son, in s-s-s… helping your f-friend. Good j-job.”
“Somehow, I think I should have h-helped sooner. M-Maybe they wouldn’t have ripped up the m-m-m… papers.”
“You m-might not have been able to s-s-s… keep them from doing that,” Hiram gave him a soft smile. “The i-i-important thing is that you were there for your f-f-f… for Qaeshon.”
“I guess s-so.”
“I kn-know so.” Brains’s smile turned to a grin. He punctuated his point with a finger which loomed large on the screen. “Now, what of A-Alan and track? Has he m-m-made the team? J-Jeff hasn’t h-heard from him since s-s-s… since you got there.”
Fermat shrugged. “He hasn’t t-told me yet. The t-tryouts were t-today. Maybe I’ll f-f-f… learn at dinner.”
“M-Maybe. What about you and the quiz team?”
“Oh! Yeah!” Fermat suddenly remembered is own “tryouts”. “Th-The qualifying test is t-t-tomorrow after classes.” He looked down modestly. “But the team c-c-c… leader doesn’t think I’ll have any p-problems.”
“Well, as I s-said before, send me your s-s-schedule and I’ll try to make it to a m-meet or two.”
“That would be so gr-gr-great!” Fermat’s face practically glowed with pleasure as he beamed at his father.
“I think so t-too, son.”
Fermat looked away as the door swished open and his roommate walked in. “I think I’d b-better go, Dad. I’d like to c-catch a nap before d-dinner.”
“O-Okay, son.” Hiram smiled. “We’ll t-talk again s-soon. Love you.”
“Love you too, Dad. B-Bye now.” Fermat terminated the call, sighing.
Trumbull unloaded his books onto his desk’s surface. He glanced at Fermat. “Talking to your parents?”
“Yeah, but it’s j-just my d-dad.”
“Where’s your mom?”
The older boy shook his head. “Don’t know. She’s not d-dead, but D-Dad doesn’t talk about her m-much.” Returning Trumbull’s frank gaze, he asked, “Where are y-y-your folks?”
Trumbull shrugged before returning to empty out his backpack. “I dunno. Dad’s probably in Geneva, where the world courts are. He’s a lawyer, specializes in international law. My mom and her man-of-the-month are probably some place exotic and warm, spending her alimony. I was supposed to be the glue that kept them together.” He sighed heavily. “Not strong enough, I suppose.”
“I’m s-sorry.” Fermat’s tone showed he meant it.
“You know, this is the first time you’ve said anything to me that wasn’t all angry sounding.” The younger boy looked thoughtful. “Why is that?”
“Well, th-this is the first time you’ve said anything to m-me that hasn’t been … sn-snobby,” Fermat returned. “You h-have to admit, when y-y-you walk into you room and find a s-s-s … someone you don’t know messing with your st-stuff, it leaves a bad f-first impression.”
“Hmm. I suppose it would; I didn’t think of it that way.” Trumbull made a face. “I’ve never been to a place where they pack them in like sardines the way they do here.”
“Wh-What do you mean?” Fermat’s voice warned Trumbull that his comment wasn’t particularly well received.
“At the other schools, I always had a private room.” The boy shuffled his feet a little. “I’ve never had a roommate imposed on me before.”
“W-Well, I was e-expecting to room with my friend, Alan, so I w-wasn’t thrilled about g-getting a stranger, either. I st-still might be rooming with him. D-Depends on what M-Mr. Tracy does at the director’s m-m-m… session next month.”
Trumbull regarded Fermat with a slight frown. “Then I’d have to get used to somebody new.”
“Maybe, maybe n-n-not.” Fermat shrugged, turning to put his phone away. “Depends on wh-what happens. Who knows? You might get a private room a-after all.”
There was a silence between them for a moment, before Trumbull stepped over to Fermat with his hand out. “I think I’d like to start over. Hi, my name is Andrew John Trumbull. What’s yours?”
Eyebrow rising, Fermat considered the outstretched hand for a minute. He shrugged slightly before taking it and shaking it once. “My name is Fermat H-Hackenbacker. Nice to m-m-meet you.”
“Nice to meet you, too.” When the exchange ended, the two boys looked at each other. Trumbull hooked his thumb over his shoulder. “What are those white plastic boxes out there?”
“Ah, my laundry!” Fermat levered himself out of his chair, yawning as he did. He loped over to the door, opening it to drag in the two boxes. Opening one revealed his clean uniform shirts, pressed and vacuum wrapped to present the thinnest possible package. He placed some things in his armoire’s drawers or shelves, while hanging others up. For his trousers, he unfastened the special hangars that the school provided at one end and slid the now-open bar straight through the plastic. Having only one good hand to work with was tough but he managed.
“Laundry?” Trumbull asked as he watched Fermat work. “Is that what those bags were up and down the hall this morning?”
Fermat groaned. “You d-didn’t get yours out? I’m sorry, I thought you’d f-f-figure it out. They do our laundry t-twice a week. All your st-stuff should be marked with your name. When you change, you’re supposed to put dirty clothes in your hamper bag–the one in the bathroom. Then on l-l-l … wash days, you leave the bag in the hall and it comes back late in the a-afternoon, in boxes like these. When you’ve p-put your clothes away, you put the b-boxes back in the hall. They’ll pick them up some time in the m-morning.”
Trumbull folded his arms. “Huh. At my other schools, I usually had to send my stuff out to the cleaners. When will they do it again?”
Fermat thought for a moment. “In three days. I’ll let you kn-know when.”
“How’d they come up with this system?”
“I asked about that last y-year. Seems it’s been a tradition ever since the s-school started. No washing machines existed b-back then, so the school provided a l-laundry service, which c-cost extra. They experimented with self-serve l-l-l … washers and dryers in the 1970s, b-but most everybody here is used to having their clothes washed for them, and besides, they kept d-damaging the machines. So they went b-back to the laundry service and made e-everyone pay for it.”
“Something else you should kn-know,” Fermat said. “There’s a room inspection once a w-week. We have to keep the room cl-clean, and they make sure we do. That means no trash or junk on the floor, the c-carpet v-vacuumed, beds made, and the b-bathroom scrubbed out.” He held out his arm. “I can do the vacuuming and take out the trash, but the bathroom…”
Trumbull held his hands up defensively. “Don’t look at me! I’ve never cleaned a bathroom in my life!”
“You’re going to l-learn,” the older boy warned. “They s-supply the cleaners and stuff. If we keep up with it, it’s not h-hard.”
“Can we talk about this later?” Trumbull sat down at his desk. “I’ve got my first chorale rehearsal tonight so I have to get my homework done. Besides, didn’t I hear you say you wanted a nap?”
“O-Okay. We’ll talk later. But they’ll check our room on S-Saturday. We c-can’t go anywhere until they do.”
“I’ll take that under advisement,” Trumbull said with a hint of sarcasm. Fermat shook his head, took off his shoes and glasses before pulling out his portable music player. Fumbling a bit with his earphones, he got them situated comfortably and then climbed into bed, clipping the tiny player inside his shirt pocket. He programmed it for his “thinking” playlist, a series of serene classical pieces he could tune out while studying. So, between the painkiller and the music, Fermat drifted off quickly.
It felt like only a few moments had passed before he was shaken awake.
“Hey, Fermat. Wake up!”
He waved irritably, but the intruder persisted. “If you don’t wake up, you’ll miss dinner.”
At that, Fermat’s eyes opened. He sat up, still groggy, the world a blur. “Here.” The boy, who sounded vaguely like Fermat’s roommate, thrust a solid, familiar object into his good hand. “Your glasses.”
Fermat automatically opened the frames and tried to slide them on his face. It was difficult, until he remembered and removed his earphones. The world around him suddenly became both louder and much clearer.
Trumbull pulled a light jacket from his own wardrobe, turning toward Fermat as he zipped it up. “It’s supposed to be chilly tonight. Hey, do you think I can sit with you and your friends?”
“Uh… s-sure.” Fermat pulled his shoes closer to put them on. Once shod, he rose and stumbled over to his wardrobe, feeling slightly dizzy and light headed. He pulled his jacket on, fumbling as he drew it over his cast. “G-Gotta stop by the i-i-i… nurse’s office before dinner to get my p-p-p… medicine.”
“Okay. You lead the way. I’m not familiar with the campus yet,” Trumbull agreed amiably. “Let’s go.”
Once out in the brisk air, Fermat’s head seemed to clear. The two boys didn’t talk much beyond giving directions to the infirmary. When they entered, the nurse practitioner–a young, dark skinned woman whose name tag read Marlee Bell, CNS–got up with a smile. “Hello again, Mr. Hackenbacker. Let me get your medicine.” She left momentarily, returning with a cup of milk and a small plastic baggie with his pill in it. “Now, how is this medicine doing for you? Any nausea, vomiting, lethargy, dizziness?”
“I w-was a little dizzy g-getting up from my nap just n-now,” Fermat explained as he took the pill in his hand. “I was really d-drowsy in class.”
Ms. Bell frowned. “Hmm. Let’s give it one more day. If you’re still too drowsy, we’ll find something else.”
Fermat nodded and took the pill. Ms. Bell made him initial on his meds chart. She also initialed it, making a note about the drowsiness. The two boys left, heading for the nearby dining hall.
Alan waited on the steps, looking for Fermat. He bounced up and down impatiently, hands in his jacket pockets. He could hardly wait to tell his friend all about the tryouts. A few of the older boys, including ones he didn’t know, walked by, greeting him with, “Hi, Pinky!” or “Hey there, Pinky!”
He groaned. Who did Lee and Xavion talk to? This’ll be spread all over the school by morning at this rate! Kay’s gonna get an earful at dinner, that’s for sure!
Suddenly, he heard his name–his real name–called out.
He grinned, jogging down the steps to meet his friend. His grin faded a bit as he saw that Fermat’s new roomie was tagging along. He raised an eyebrow at Fermat, gesturing with his head toward the other boy, his unspoken question in his eyes.
Fermat knew Alan well enough to interpret the body language. “It’s o-okay. Alan, I’d like to i-i-introduce you to my r-roommate, Andrew John T-Trumbull. Uh… Andrew? This is my f-friend, Alan T-Tracy.”
The younger boy put his hand out politely. “Pleased to meet you.”
Alan took it and shook it firmly. “Likewise. C’mon Fermat! I’m starving! And I can’t wait to tell you all about tryouts!” He put an arm around his friend to shepherd him inside. Fermat turned slightly, beckoning Trumbull to follow them.
“What’s with the kid?” Alan hissed as they entered the dining hall. “I thought you didn’t like him.”
“W-We sorta… started over,” Fermat commented in a low voice. “He made the f-f-first move.”
Alan glanced back at Trumbull. “Okay, if you say so. He can hang with us. But if he starts getting snotty–” He removed his arm from Fermat’s shoulders and waved Trumbull up to join them.
They moved as quickly through the line as the crowd of hungry boys would allow, and when they made it to the end, Qaeshon was waiting to help with Fermat’s tray. Jason stood at the table they had grabbed, his bright red hair as much a beacon as his waving arm.
“Kay, tell Jase we need an extra chair. Fermat’s brought his roommate along,” Alan said.
Quashon looked the newcomer up and down carefully. “Okay. I hope he can grab one.” He moved off with the tray. Alan, Fermat and Trumbull followed at a slower pace.
As they reached the table, there was a cry of “Hey, Pinky!” almost in unison and from several different people. Alan colored, grimacing. He gazed across the wide room to see Lee Sugimoto and Xavion Lewis sitting with their friends, all of them seniors, waving in his direction and laughing. Some even blew kisses his way. Xavion’s voice sounded a loud, “Narf!” which was picked up by the others at the table. Alan noticed many other students glancing between him and Lee’s rowdy friends–and putting two and two together. He groaned again.
“Alan! Don’t stand there looking like a deer in headlights! Sit down!” Ralph grabbed his tray and set it on the table as Alan quickly obeyed his friend’s command. Jason had commandeered another seat at the table; Fermat gestured for Trumbull to take it.
“I’m sorry, Alan.” Qaeshon tone was sincere and apologetic. “I accidentally let it slip last night after you guys had gone.” Qaeshon shot an angry glance at his older brother, who wasn’t even looking in his direction, “Zave promised he wouldn’t spread it around; looks like he lied to me.”
Alan sighed. “It’s okay. I know you didn’t mean it.”
“H-Hey, guys. I’d like to introduce my r-roommate, Andrew John T-Trumbull,” Fermat said, trying to deflect the conversation. Quickly, he introduced the others in their little group.
“Nice to meet you all,” Trumbull said politely. He turned to his food and began to eat.
Fermat could tell he was uncomfortable. He’s probably not used to a group as diverse as this is.
“Hey, kid,” Qaeshon said between bites, indicating Trumbull. “What do we call you? Andrew John’s a clumsy moniker, if you know what I mean.”
“Pardon me,” Trumbull said politely, wiping his mouth with a napkin. “But I don’t know what you mean.”
Jason swallowed a bite before jumping in to explain. “Well, we all have nicknames of one kind or another.” He pointed to himself. “The guys call me Jase sometimes. Qaeshon is Kay, and his idiot older brother Xavion over there is Zave. Alan is Pinky and Fermat’s the Brain.” He pointed to each of the group as he named them.
“What about you, uh… Ralph, is it?” Trumbull asked, unsure he had the name right.
Alan shrugged. “Oh, Ralph’s just Ralph. Not much you can do with ‘Ralph’.”
“Or would want to do with it,” Qaeshon chimed in. The boys laughed, except for Trumbull, who had a confused expression. “But back to the original topic; what do we call you? Andy?”
“Oh!” Trumbull’s face brightened. “Now I understand. You want to give me a nickname. I see.” He frowned a bit before shaking his head. “Not Andy.”
“I a-agree,” Fermat said around a mouthful, nodding. “It doesn’t f-fit.”
“Drew?” Ralph suggested. At this, all the boys made negative sounds and shook their heads.
A few quiet moments went by as the boys tried to think of something appropriate. Suddenly, Jason exclaimed, “I’ve got it!” The others turned their attention to him as he continued. “A.J. For Andrew John!”
The boys rolled this over in their minds for a minute before most of them began to nod and smile. “By George, I think he’s got it!” Alan quipped. He turned to Trumbull. “What do you think?”
The boy thought for a moment, and then shrugged. “It sounds okay. You can call me that if you want.”
“Okay, from now on you’re A.J.,” Qaeshon said with a grin. “I think it fits.”
“Good! Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let me tell you all about tryouts today!” Alan declared.
The two friends walked back to Maplewood together after stopping at Alan’s room to snag his math book. The newly-christened A.J. had excused himself, reminding Fermat that he had chorale practice. This gave Alan and Fermat some time alone to compare notes.
“I c-called my dad this a-afternoon,” Fermat said. “He told me J-John had reported about our using the w-watches.”
“Yeah, I got a message from Dad on my satellite about it. Thought he’d chew me out but he just said that he’d heard and reminded me to use it only in emergencies. He wants me to call him back, but I don’t want to until I know about track.”
“C-Call him back anyway, Alan. My dad mentioned that y-you hadn’t called. I think he wanted me to n-nudge you.” He suited his words with action, nudging his friend in the ribs. Alan grinned and nudged him right back.
“I guess I will, then. After we finish our homework.” They walked along quietly for a moment before Alan continued, “I got an email from Tin-Tin today.”
“Oh?” Fermat looked up at his taller friend, interested. “Wh-What did she say?”
Alan shrugged. “Not a lot. Just stuff that’s going on at her school. Y’know, girly stuff. About her new friends and all. She addressed it to both of us. Guess she doesn’t know that we’re not rooming together. I forwarded it on to you.”
“C-Cool!” Fermat exclaimed. “You want me to t-t-t… let her know we’re not r-r-roommates?”
“Sure, knock yourself out,” Alan said in a desultory tone. “I never know what to say anyway.”
“You can t-tell her about t-track,” the younger boy suggested. “She’d be interested.”
“I guess so. I’ll write later.” They walked along quietly again. A thought came to Alan and he glanced over at Fermat. “Hey, what happened with you and the snob today? Why the turnaround?”
“I dunno.” It was Fermat’s turn to shrug. “I was on the phone with D-Dad and he came in. When I h-hung up, he asked me about m-my parents. I t-told him about my d-dad and asked him about his folks. His f-f-f… dad is an international lawyer and his m-mom has… uh… other m-men. They’re d-divorced. We realized we were being c-c-civil to each other and he s-suggested we st-start over. Y’know, he’s been to private schools a lot but never had a r-roommate before. I don’t think he knows h-how to act.”
They reached Maplewood and entered the building. “I guess that makes sense, though,” Alan said. “I mean, I’ve got my brothers and you. You’ve got all of us, so we know how to act around other people we live with. If he doesn’t have anyone like that and never has, he’s got to learn.”
They were quiet in the elevator and on the way to Fermat’s room. Alan put his hand to the door lock for scanning. When they entered the room, he immediately noticed the rumpled bed. “Hey, what happened here?”
“I t-took a nap after c-classes,” Fermat said, sitting down at his desk. “The medicine was m-making me drowsy.”
“Does Ms. Bell know?”
“Yes, I told her when I st-stopped for my evening dose. If it continues, she’ll says we’ll tr-try something else.”
Alan nodded. “Sounds like a plan.” He sat down on the floor and opened his math book. “So, let’s get going.”
Fermat smiled and pulled out his own textbook.
Alan walked back to the dorm alone, whistling happily. He and Fermat had finished their math together and, thanks to his friend’s tutelage, Alan felt he had a better grasp of the concepts they were studying. He looked up at the stars and sent a mental greeting to his brother John. He knew from his current vantage point he could never see the actual spot of sky where Thunderbird Five was stationed, simply because it was in geostationary orbit over the South Pacific, where the rest of his family resided. On the other side of the world, he said to himself. Wonder what everyone’s up to right now?
He took the steps to the lobby of Chetwood two at a time, passing by the first floor common lounge on his way to his room. A news program was showing on the plasma screen TV; Lisa Lowe babbled on about something or other, so he paid it no heed. Instead, he knocked on the door to his room and heard a chorus of “Come in!”, before putting his hand up to the scanner to unlock it.
As he stepped inside, he saw a group of boys, mostly seniors, sitting on the floor in a rough circle. Each of them looked up at him as he made his way to his desk. Most of them, including his roommate, grinned and greeted him with some variation of, “Hi, Pinky!” He rolled his eyes as he put away the math book and pulled out his satellite phone. Turning, he was surprised to see the pile of chips in the center of the circle, and cards in just about everyone’s hands.
Trey Mackenzie, who Alan recognized from his first day back at school, nudged Lee and murmured something in his ear. Lee nodded, glancing up at Alan. “Hey, Pinky! You know how to play poker?”
“Yeah, I know how to play,” Alan responded. Surprisingly, it was Virgil who taught him the finer points of poker, having learned it in college from the son of a Las Vegas cardsharp.
“You do? Cool. Want to play? We can deal you in next hand,” Lee offered.
Alan shook his head. “Thanks for the offer, but no thanks. Maybe some other time.” He was confident he could hold his own in the circle but he had something more important to do.
Lee shrugged noncommittally. Alan entered the bathroom for privacy as he made his call. He put his earphone and mike combo in his ear so he could be seen by whoever answered. The phone rang and rang; he was just about to give up when someone picked up on the other end. The words “voice only” appeared on the screen, and a familiar voice sounded in his ear.
“Tracy residence, Kyrano Belegant speaking. Who is calling?”
Alan smiled. “Hey, Kyrano! It’s Alan. How are you? How’s Onaha?”
The screen’s words blinked out and the smiling face of his father’s Malaysian retainer replaced them. “It is good to see you, Mr. Alan. Onaha and I are both fine; thank you for asking. And you? Are you well?”
“Yeah, I’m doing great! Heard from Tin-Tin today. Sounds like she is doing okay out there in England.”
The retainer’s smile faded a bit., “My daughter is lonely without you and Fermat but her Ladyship has promised to take her shopping this weekend.”
“Shopping.” Alan snorted. “That’ll cheer her up. Hey, is my dad around?”
“I am afraid he’s not here, Mr. Alan. He and your brothers are away on … family business.”
“Oh! Okay!” Alan said, surprised. “I understand. Tell my dad I called, would you please?”
“I will, Mr. Alan. Is there any message?”
“No, not really. Just tell him I called and I’m sorry I missed him.” Alan grinned. “Wait! I know! Tell him ‘Tag, you’re it!’.”
The retainer chuckled as he answered, “I will pass the message on. Is there anyone else you’d like to talk to?”
The boy shook his head.. “Not if everyone went out with him. Fermat’s already talked to his dad. I’ll let you go and wait for Dad to call back, okay? Say ‘hi’ to Onaha for me!”
“All right, Mr. Alan. I will relay your greetings. Have a good week at school. Goodbye.”
“Goodbye, Kyrano.” The call ended and Alan frowned a bit. Out on a mission! I wonder if it’s on TV? He pocketed his phone, told Lee that he’d be back soon and went in search of the common lounge and the plasma screen.
It wasn’t on the televid, not really, simply because of the remote rescue venue and the abysmal weather conditions there. Even so, nothing stopped Lisa Lowe from babbling on about it from the University of Alberta, where the rescuees had started out. A small team of engineers and scientists had flown via helijet to the Upper Weather Station on the John Evans glacier in the Canadian Rockies. They were supposed to make repairs to the equipment there. While they worked, a previously forecast snowstorm moved in faster than anticipated and the team found itself stranded in white out conditions. The flight crews of those same helijets determined their conveyances weren’t powerful enough to retrieve the team through the wild, white winds. So the University of Alberta called upon the only people they thought could get through the weather and rescue the scientists: International Rescue.
“Thunderbird One, keep your belly lights focused on that tent!” Jeff called into his communicator.
“F-A-B! I’m trying but the winds are fierce up here,” Scott called back through gritted teeth. He had been, as usual, first on the scene, and had used the thermal imaging equipment in One’s nose to pinpoint the exact location of the five-man team. There hadn’t been much for him to do until Thunderbird Two showed up but encourage the people on the ground and use One’s bulk as a windbreak on this desolate river of ice. He didn’t completely land, just hovered near the surface of the glacier, shifting his position with the wind and protecting the small group of Arctic tents the team had set up.
In the space station, John accessed the weather satellites surrounding the Earth to pinpoint the spot where Scott tried his best to keep the snow and gales from blowing the team’s shelter away. He relayed shifts in wind direction on a moment-by-moment basis, helping the Thunderbird One’s pilot alter his position to provide better blockage. But it was a tough battle keeping the lead Thunderbird motionless in the air, especially when the de-icing system threatened to overload and the wet, heavy snow was beginning to stick.
At last the lights indicating the bulky form of Thunderbird Two showed up in Scott’s viewport, looking as if it were coming out of a dense fog. He could have cheered as the cargo carrier’s bright spotlights were added to his own.
“Thunderbird One from Thunderbird Two,” came the welcome sound of his father’s voice. “What’s the situation?”
“Thunderbird One here. We have five crew members, huddled together in the one tent. I’ve been trying to use One as a windbreak to both keep the structure from blowing away in these winds and the worst of the snow off so it wouldn’t collapse. I have had continuous contact with those inside; their leader reports some of the team members are feeling the effects of hypothermia. They aren’t going to be able to help themselves much.”
“F-A-B, Thunderbird One. You keep doing what you’re doing and keep the site lit up. Gordon and I will put on our cold weather gear and take the rescue basket down. John, relay the data from One’s thermal imagers to Virgil so he can put us as close to that tent as possible. We’ve only got one shot to do this. We need to do it right!”
“F-A-B,” was John’s reply.
Virgil managed to make the minute adjustments in Two’s orientation to plunk the rescue basket in the thick snow no more than two meters away from the tent. Jeff and Gordon stepped out, wearing thermal suits with helmets, bright personal lights and high-tech snowshoes. Gordon carried a laser to melt snow away from the tent’s entrance.
Finding the entrance was a bit problematic as it was on the other side of the tent from the rescue basket. Once this was discovered, Virgil lifted the platform into the air and moved it to the other side, while Gordon and Jeff pulled the first victim from the snow-covered structure. It was at this point that Thunderbird One had been snagged by a high gust and its belly lights, so crucial to illuminating the scene, moved away and elicited the shout from Jeff.
Scott wrestled with the controls, bringing his craft back to its previous coordinates. Worried, he glanced at the de-icing system readouts, long gone into the red and inching up to the critical level. Soon it would shut down on its own and ice would begin to accumulate even that much more, possibly grounding the lead Thunderbird. “Come on, Dad,” he muttered under his breath. “Get those people out of there!”
After three of the five scientists were safely aboard the rescue basket, Jeff sent it up to Thunderbird Two with Gordon. Scott grimaced. Now his father was down there with the scientists, waiting on the return of their transport. He watched as the basket, buffeted around by the winds, made a slow, choppy ascent into the belly of Thunderbird Two. The bay doors closed beneath it and Scott began to count the seconds until the platform made a reappearance.
“Come on, Gordon. We’re running out of time!” Scott knew very well that Virgil couldn’t just put Two on autopilot and help; his younger brother was in the same boat as far as keeping his craft in the air was concerned.
One hundred and eighty seconds later, the rescue platform came down again, empty. Gordon stayed behind on his father’s orders to bring the hypothermic scientists to the sick bay. Virgil was doing yeoman’s work, putting the platform down in nearly the exact same place. Now Jeff swung into action, pulling the fourth scientist from the tent and carrying him or her over his shoulder to the rescue platform. Scott battled with his controls to keep the spotlight on the scene, unconsciously biting his lower lip as his father plodded over the snow and back to the tent.
This time, Jeff had to climb into the tent itself. Scott could see a ripple in the accumulated snow as his father’s helmet slid across the surface from beneath. Suddenly, the weight of the snow on top combined with the disturbance beneath the surface caused the structure to collapse!
“Dad!” Scott shouted. He could hear Virgil making a similar cry in Thunderbird Two. The concavity that had been the tent didn’t move. Scott swore long and loud before his training kicked in. After taking a deep breath, he took over.
“Thunderbird Two from Thunderbird One! Virgil, get that platform back up into your craft. Gordon, be prepared to receive the fourth scientist. Get him or her into the warmth as quickly as you can then get back down there with that laser!”
“F-A-B!” came the voices of both of his earth-bound brothers. The rescue basket began its ascent once again, the weight within shifting as the yellow structure moved with the wind. Scott began to worry that they would lose the scientist who lay on the deck. But at last the doors in Thunderbird Two’s belly opened and the platform disappeared.
“Thunderbird One from Thunderbird Five. What the hell is going on?” John demanded, his voice worried and angry at the same time.
“The tent has collapsed under the weight of the snow and the Commander is trapped inside!” Scott began to count the seconds again, reaching only sixty-five before the doors opened again and Gordon made the descent, putting the winch into emergency mode and all but free-falling to the glacier. The basket landed with an almost audible crunch on the snow and the second-youngest Tracy ran as quickly as the snowshoes would allow to where the tent had once stood.
Using the laser on its middle setting, he carefully began to melt away the snow from the top of the quickly filling depression, and as he did, the snow on top began to push upwards. Scott let out a breath he hadn’t realized he was holding as their father crawled out of the tent, stepping back in just enough to brace the top so Gordon could nip in and grab the final scientist. Handing the laser to his father, Gordon lifted the final victim in a fireman’s carry to transport him to the waiting platform. Jeff plodded along behind but took a moment to raise two fingers in salute to his eldest son.
“Damn, that snow was heavy!” he said, a little bit out of breath. “Thunderbird One, you’d better haul butt out of here. You’re icing up. We’ve got things under control here.”
“F-A-B, Commander. As soon as your ass is on board the big green bug, I’ll head out,” Scott replied, his no-nonsense tone carrying his worry and serious intent better than his words could.
There was a slight pause before his father replied wearily, “F-A-B, Thunderbird One.” Jeff stepped into the rescue platform, leaning against the rail as Gordon manipulated the controls and it ascended into the belly of Thunderbird Two for a final time.
“Thunderbird One from Thunderbird Two. What did you call my baby?” Virgil’s peeved tone sounded in his ear. “A big green what?”
Scott laughed out loud. “You heard me the first time, Virge. Now, let’s get the hell out of here. See you at the hospital in Edmonton, as per orders.”
Virgil made some indiscriminate grumbling noises that sounded suspiciously like swearing, and Scott laughed again. “Thunderbird Five from Thunderbird One. We got him out and we’re heading for Edmonton. Stand down time…,” he glanced over at his chronometer, “…19:45 hours, local time.”
“F-A-B, Thunderbird One. Thanks for keeping me posted,” John replied.
“F-A-B, Thunderbird One out.” Scott watched as Thunderbird Two took off into the night, and then urged his craft forward through the winds, catching up with and pacing the bulkier craft as they headed toward the city of Edmonton and medical assistance.
“Lights out in five minutes,” came the voice over the loudspeaker. The crowd in the common room groaned and a few boys cussed. They had been watching the newscast, hoping for a glimpse of the Thunderbirds, which were supposed to make an appearance at the hospital in Edmonton at any moment. They began to disperse, knowing that when the lights went out in five minutes, the televid would shut off as well. Alan sighed, following the other boys out, glancing back to the still running commentary from Lisa Lowe, who said a lot of little importance as she waited for International Rescue to appear.
Now I really wish I were rooming with Fermat, Alan groused to himself. We could have followed the whole rescue through the downloads onto the tertiary drive. But no! We had to get split up. I hope Dad can do something to get us back in the same room. This is tearing me up being so far from home and not knowing what’s going on!