“Earth to Pinky, Earth to Pinky.” Qaeshon waved a dark hand in front of Alan’s face.
Alan startled from his reverie. “Wha…? Oh! Hey, Kay.”
“Where were you?” his friend asked. “You looked like you were in outer space somewhere.”
The blond shook his head to clear it before giving his gathered crew a half-hearted grin. “Yeah, I guess maybe I was.”
The news of pizza delivered from a local pizzaria prompted many students who would normally skip Saturday night dinner to attend. They filled the dining hall, scarfing down pizza and generally enjoying themselves. Alan and Fermat’s little group, minus Ralph, were all present. Alan tried to explain some of the intricacies of football to A.J. on their way to the infirmary, but after obtaining Fermat’s medicine, he became quiet. Silently fretting over Gordon’s condition, he felt as if the world’s troubles lay on his shoulders. It did not go unnoticed.
“Hey, Pinky, what’s up?” Jason asked. “You’ve been awfully quiet.”
“Yeah, I know.” Alan sighed. He couldn’t explain his worries; Fermat watched him like a hawk all the way from the dorm- A hawk with glasses. Now there’s a weird image – to see that he didn’t. I can’t tell them about Gordon, but maybe I can spike Sugi’s guns a little.
“Hey, guys?” he asked, his serious tone garnering the attention of his friends. He paused, making sure all eyes were turned his way before asking, “If someone started a … a nasty rumor about me, would you believe it?”
The boys all exchanged glances, each of them making eye contact with Fermat. Not knowing what Alan was driving at, Fermat shrugged, shaking his head a little in answer.
At last, Qaeshon broke the silence. “What kind of fool question is that, Pinky? Of course we wouldn’t. You’re our Pinky and we know you. We know the kind of stuff you’re made of.”
“Yeah, Pinky,” Jason piped up. “We wouldn’t even listen.” He stopped and thought for a moment. “Well, if it involved some pretty girl, I might ask for a phone number.”
The boys chuckled and even Alan joined in.
“I think,” A.J. ventured. The other boys stopped their chatter to listen. He was still new to the group, but as he didn’t talk very much, when he did have something to say the others listened carefully. “I think,” he repeated, “that if I heard a nasty rumor about you – about any of you – I’d ask you about it.” He paused for thought. “I’d also try to track down where the rumor came from.”
“Yeah, that’s what I’d do, too,” Qaeshon agreed.
Alan nodded, his brows furrowed with uncertainty. “Okay. Well, um, what if it came from a … a popular source. Someone who people respect.”
“I-If you t-told me it was a l-l-l … it wasn’t t-true, it wouldn’t m- matter who the s-s-source was,” Fermat said firmly. “I’d b-believe you.” He stared at his old roommate, eyes narrowing behind his glasses. “Wh-What’s going on, A-Alan?”
“Nothing,” Alan lied, shrugging. “I was just wondering.”
Jason raised one ginger eyebrow. He poked a long index finger in Alan’s direction. “Hey, don’t think you can fool us, Pinky. We know something’s up. Come on now, spill it!”
Alan let out a long breath. His shoulders slumped. “I can’t, Jase, not yet anyway. But when I can, I promise I will.”
There was a moment of silence before Qaeshon put a hand on Alan’s shoulder. “Whatever it is, we’re here for you, man. Remember that.”
Alan smiled a little. “I will. Thanks, guys.”
Their conversation was slow to resume. “Hey, A.J.,” Alan asked. “How’d your call to your father go?”
“It was okay,” A.J. replied. “I think he was surprised that I called just to talk.” He snorted, a self-deprecating laugh. “I usually call to ask for more money – or to complain.” Looking at Fermat, he said, “I never really thought before about what I was doing when I called. I guess hearing you talk to your dad kinda … well, it showed me a couple of things.”
Before Fermat could comment, Alan jumped in. “I know what you mean. That was me last year. I hated the idea of being here, so far from my family. But this year’s different. I’m having fun.” He rolled his eyes. “Well, as much fun as you can have at school.”
“You c-can have lots of fun,” Fermat said firmly. “I d-do.”
“Yeah, but you’re the Brain,” Qaeshon cut in, grinning. “For you, school is like summer camp … that lasts for nine months.”
The resulting chuckles broke the ice again and the talk turned to less serious topics. Finally, their appetites sated, the little group split up. Alan walked close to Fermat as he disposed of their trays. “We have to call your dad! I need to know about Gords!” he whispered.
“I-I d-don’t see how!” Fermat hissed back. “Not w-with A.J. in the r-room!”
“Hmm.” Alan tried to think of a solution to their current dilemma. He didn’t want to bring Fermat back to his room in case it still smelled of stale cigarette smoke. Finally, he got an idea. “Wait for me at the games room. I’ll go get my phone.”
“Why can’t w-we go to y-your room?”
“We just can’t. Trust me on this.”
O-Okay.” Just then A.J. caught up with them. “A.J-J. I’m going to the g-games room for a b-bit.”
“Do you mind if I come with you?” A.J. asked.
“Uh, well,” Alan hemmed. “I, uh,” His words rushed out as he changed his plan. “I just remembered! I left my math book in your room. I’d better go get it so we can study together.”
Fermat rolled his eyes, shaking his head slightly at the sudden change of plans. “Y-You’re right. We’d b-better get the h-homework done f-first. Sorry, A.J.”
“Oh, that’s all right. Maybe we can go some other time,” A.J. commented amiably. “I think I’d better get my own homework done, too. I’ll walk back to the dorm with you.”
The two best friends glanced at each other and sighed.
Thunderbird Two landed smoothly on a cleared lot next to the Peyo’s main hospital. A sign indicated in Spanish that a new wing would soon be built there and Jeff absently made a mental note to look into it for a possible financial donation. He groaned when he saw Lisa Lowe. She tried to hurry over but was blocked. Jeff’s first visit to Peyo allowed him to touch base with their Ecuadorian agent, who set up security around the hospital. The militia now surrounded the building, screening people who really were sick or injured while providing a buffer between the eager populace and the Thunderbird craft. Jeff turned on the camera fogger and hurried to join Virgil, carrying his helmet under one arm.
“Do we have to wear these?” Virgil indicated his helmet as he strapped himself into the three-seater lift. “It’s pretty hot out there.”
“Afraid so, Virgil. The camera fogger has only so wide a range.” He snorted. “I have no desire to see my picture – or yours – in uniform, plastered all over the press.” He put his helmet on. “We can take them off once in private.”
The lift’s arm extended from the belly of Thunderbird Two’s main chassis, lowering them gently to the ground. Virgil used a control pad on his wrist to activate the recall function and the arm rose again. They were beta testing the wrist controller, too. Its software would not be integrated with the wristwatch communicators, which were meant for casual use both on and away from base. Jeff didn’t want some stray pickpocket or mugger ending up with the controls to a Thunderbird, even for a second.
The crowd shouted, waving at them, The two men gave a wave of acknowledgment before hurrying towards the hospital. On the way, they passed Thunderbird One, safely buttoned up, sitting on the helijet pad. Jeff nudged Virgil and they picked up their pace.
The militia guarding the hospital let them through without trouble. Their Ecuadorian agent, Augustin Enrico Diaz, met them at the entrance to the emergency treatment area. “This way,” he said in fluent, if accented, English.
They ducked behind a curtain and Jeff finally felt secure enough to remove his helmet. Scott was standing out of the way, holding onto his own helmet. Jeff handed his off to Virgil, stepping close to where doctors were treating an ashen-faced Gordon. “Hey, Gordon.”
Gordon peered up at his father and managed a small smile. “Hey, Commander.” He waved a listless hand, the one without the I.V. line in it. “C’n ya tell these guys I want outta here?”
Jeff smiled. “Let’s just find out what the doctor has to say, first.” He glanced across the bed. “Doctor? How is he?”
Diaz stood at Jeff’s right elbow, asking Jeff’s question in rapid Spanish. The doctor met the IR commander’s eyes as he spoke and Diaz translated. “He is suffering from heat exhaustion. His temperature on arrival was over thirty-eight degrees centigrade, which is normal for this condition. We are trying to bring his temperature down with cold packs. The intravenous line is there because there is indication of dehydration.”
Jeff nodded. Gordon’s heat suit had been cut away, as had the protective inner layer designed to wick away perspiration. His skin was pale and clammy. He lay still, a very unusual condition for this son. But his breathing sounded normal and the monitors he was hooked up to declared that his heart beat in a regular rhythm, though Jeff thought it sounded a little fast to his experienced ear. He glanced over at the doctor again, addressing him personally. Diaz translated, “How long will he need to be here?”
The doctor’s reply was short and to the point. “As long as it takes for his temperature to go down to normal.”
Jeff reached out to run a hand through Gordon’s short, dark hair before turning to Scott. “See what you can get to eat and drink then contact Five and Base. We may be here a while.”
The three boys returned to Maplewood, Alan trying hard to figure out a way he and Fermat could get the privacy they needed to call Brains. Once they got to the third floor, however, he suddenly stopped, his attention diverted by the news playing on the common room’s wide screen televid.
“Lisa Lowe here in Peyo, Ecuador, with an update on the injured International Rescue operative. The hospital has confirmed one of the pilots has been admitted to the emergency room for treatment, but is not giving any details on his or her condition. Thunderbirds One and Two are on the ground here, and three other operatives have entered the hospital. None of them seemed to be injured. Reports from the Parque Nacional Yaguní indicate that they were fighting a forest fire and rescuing people stranded at a small missionary camp within the park. There has been no… wait…”
Lisa put a hand up to her earphone. “I have just received official confirmation of the venue and nature of the Thunderbirds’ latest rescue. Yes, a missionary group in Quito has issued a statement thanking International Rescue and praising them for their work in reaching and removing over thirty campers and counselors from the midst of a raging forest fire.”
The scene switched back to the newsroom, where anchorman Ned Cook asked, “Lisa, with this news from Quito, is there any speculation on what injuries the Thunderbird operative may have sustained?”
“None, Ned. I will keep you updated on the situation.”
“Thank you, Lisa. That was Lisa Lowe, reporting from Peyo, Ecuador with the latest on the injured Thunderbirds operative.”
Fermat looked up at pale Alan, who stared at the screen. He touched his friend’s shoulder briefly. “A-Alan?” he called softly. “We h-have homework t-to do.”
Alan whirled, an angry retort on his lips. As he did, he noticed A.J. gazing at him with an expression of puzzlement and curiosity. He clenched a fist, took a deep breath, and replied, “Yeah, Fermat. Let’s … let’s get to it.”