Fermat was pleased to find he was the first occupant of his room to arrive. “Means I can t-t-t … have the lower bunk!” He slung his heavy backpack, filled with the books he and his father had purchased, onto the aforementioned bed.
“Third f-f-f … story! Good thing there’s an el-el-el … lift!” Brains huffed as if out of breath, smiling at his son’s obvious pleasure.
“Whew! I agree! I’d hate to have to climb those stairs everyday … several times a day!” Gordon pulled a luggage float behind him, piled with boxes of Fermat’s belongings. Most of the other boys in the dorm were waiting for the maintenance men to help them with their bags.
Jeff had shaken his head in disbelief at the pampered ones; he had always taught his sons to do as much as they could for themselves, a habit he knew would hold them in good stead all of their lives. So, he sent Gordon and Alan out in search of something to carry the heavier things while helping Brains and Fermat unload the trunk of the limo. The driver offered to help, too; Jeff accepted the offer. Together they sorted out the individual boxes, after which the driver carefully put Alan’s things back in the trunk.
The spacious room held a desk for each of the two students who would be living there, as well as two armoire-style wardrobes. Gordon and Alan helped Fermat put away his clothes and linens in the armoire’s drawers and shelves, hanging up what needed it and neatly laying out Fermat’s footwear on the floor of the closet portion. While they worked, Jeff made Fermat’s bed, tucking in the sheets and blankets with military precision. When he was done, he glanced around and, seeing everyone else occupied, took a coin from his pocket, dropping it on the bed. It bounced. Satified, he smiled and started to unload the books.
In the meantime, Brains was piecing together the parts of Fermat’s computer. A laptop/desktop combination, it was one of the best on the market, but was enhanced with Hiram Hackenbacker’s unique and efficient upgrades. The main component of the computer, the laptop, could be easily disconnected from the screen and the stationary CPU for mobile work. When plugged into the rest of the outfit, the computer’s processing power increased tenfold. The screen, a thin, flat plasma model, was easy on Fermat’s diminished vision. On this special model, they were beta testing a wireless modem which connected the computer’s hidden, tertiary hard drive directly to Thunderbird Five, using a dizzying series of major and minor satellites to bounce the signal around the globe. Brains unconsciously hummed while he worked; he loved the challenge of fitting the puzzle pieces of technology together. Suddenly, he was struck with a thought. He glanced over at his son, and then at Jeff.
“G-G-Gordon? Close the door, please?”
Jeff could hear the seriousness in his chief engineer’s tone. “What’s wrong, Brains?”
“I-I-I just realized something. The boys aren’t g-g-g… won’t be able to use th-th-the new drive.”
Jeff frowned. “Hmm. You’re right. If the two of you were rooming together, it wouldn’t be a problem. But since you’re going to have roommates that know nothing about our operations …” His voice trailed off and he shook his head. “You can’t use the hidden drive.”
Alan huffed out a breath, frustrated. “Aw, Dad! That’s not fair! We want to know what’s going on when you’re on a mission!”
“We’d be really c-c-careful. Use it only when n-no one else was around,” Fermat chimed in.
The two fathers exchanged glances and both shook their heads. “N-N-No, son. It’s much t-t-t… it’s risky.”
Gordon suddenly spoke up. “Hey, look at it this way.” Everyone turned his way. “It’s one more reason to get the two of you rooming together again. Add it to the list, Dad.”
Jeff snorted a chuckle. “It’s not a reason I’ll be able to share with the board of directors, but it’s one I’ll keep in mind. C’mon, let’s finish up here and get Alan moved in.”
The five got back to work. Before they knew it, all of Fermat’s belongings were unpacked and put away. He looked around his room, still half-bare since his roommate had not yet arrived, yet feeling a bit more like home.
“The c-c-computer tests out fine, son.” Brains waved his son over to the desk. “You’d b-b-b … time to shut it down.”
Fermat joined his father, sitting in the ergonomic chair they’d brought especially for him. He began shutdown procedures. When asked for a password, he typed in something rather long. Brains smiled at him knowingly. He knew his son’s mind and where it would be when not focused on studies: Tracy Island with the magnificent Thunderbirds. The computer shut down with a slightly saucy, “Goodbye, Fermat!” startling the boy, but putting a slow grin on both Gordon’s and Alan’s faces. The voice was that of Tin-Tin Belegant, their friend and daughter of Jeff’s servants, Kyrano Beleghant, and his wife, Onaha.
For the first time, Tin-Tin was going away to school, too, but in England, close to Jeff’s good friend and International Rescue agent, Lady Penelope Creighton-Ward. She promised to keep an eye on the girl. Alan sighed. His grin faded as he thought of Tin-Tin. They’d been training together over the summer and had the adventure of a lifetime defeating her uncle and Jeff’s nemesis, Trangh Belegant, also known to police as the Hood. Alan knew English schools ran on different timetables than American ones, so he and Fermat couldn’t count on seeing her at home when they had vacations from school. The next time they would all be together again would be Christmas, which seemed a lifetime away.
Jeff looked around with satisfaction. “I think we’re done here.” He turned to his youngest son. “Alan, it’s your turn.”
The five men left the room, and Fermat put his palm up to the door’s locking device, keying in the code he had memorized. “W-W-Wait a minute.” He grabbed Alan by the hand. “I want to program this to accept your input.” He glanced over at Brains. “Y-Yours, too, Dad. Never know when it might be useful.”
Alan grinned, putting his hand up to the palm print scanner. Students were allowed to program two people other than themselves into their door locks. Fermat was good at programming anything; getting the lock mechanism’s silicon brain to accept first Alan’s, then Hiram’s palm prints was the work of a few moments. “There. N-Now you can get in any time.”
Jeff smiled, patting Fermat on the shoulder. “Good choice. Now, let’s find Chetwood.”
“Huh. My roommate’s already here.” Alan’s assigned room was located on the first floor. The lower bunk was made, an armoire was full, and a laptop computer sat closed on a desk. Alan shrugged; he’d had the top bunk rooming with Fermat the previous year. Jeff found making his son’s bed a bit more of a challenge than Fermat’s, but in the end the coin bounced. The drill was the same for Alan’s things as it had been for Fermat’s with the exception of a sleek, compact sound system. Brains tested it thoroughly, setting volume and bass levels so the previous year’s major complaint-music played too loud-would be eliminated. Alan didn’t mind; he figured he and Fermat could get around Brains’s lockouts. Gordon put the system together, muttering how he wished he’d owned something that nice when he went to Wharton. Jeff grinned but otherwise paid him no heed.
Once Alan’s room was done, the little group left. Alan asked Fermat to scan his handprint in the door’s lock, and for the first time since his enrollment at Wharton, Alan wanted his father’s handprint logged.
“I know I’ve usually given access to another friend.” Alan rubbed the back of his neck, giving Jeff a sheepish look. “It’s just … well, it turns out family means more to me than I thought it did.”
“Thanks for the vote of confidence, son.” Jeff put his hand up to the plate. The scanner’s light ran up and down his hand; he entered a password was unlikely to forget. Alan completed the process with his own password, leaving the small group in the hall without much to say.
“How about dinner in town?” Jeff suggested. “One last good meal before we leave you to the rigors of cafeteria food?”
“Sounds great to me.” Gordon smacked his father’s shoulder. “Afterwards, we can take them to the store for snacks and drinks to tide them over … for about an hour or so.”
Brains and Fermat both chuckled. Alan playfully swatted his older brother. “Sounds good to me, too, if only to satisfy this bottomless pit here.”
“Bottomless pit? Moi? I’m crushed!” Gordon raised the back of his hand to his forehead in a dramatic motion.
Alan swatted him again, while Jeff smiled, shaking his head. “C’mon, boys. Let’s eat before the day gets any later. We do have a sizeable trip back home, you know.”
“R-R-R … yes, we do.” Brains draped an arm across his son’s shoulders. “And I’m st-st-st … hungry.”
With that, they returned to the limo, where Jeff gave the driver directions to a restaurant Jeff knew from his many visits to Wharton.
It was nearing curfew when the boys returned to campus. They stopped first at Chetwood, intending to let Alan off first. As they approached the doors, Jeff paused, handing each boy the latest in satellite cell phones.
“Here are your phones,” he said. “Call anytime, son, and I mean that. Email is okay, but we like to hear your voice, too.”
“I will, Dad. Promise.”
“And, Fermat, d-d-don’t lose it,” Brains cautioned. “I expect to h-h-hear from you on a r-r-r … often.”
“I’ll t-take care of it, Dad.”
“Here’s another piece of equipment for you.” Jeff gave them each a stylish watch. “Something else we’re beta testing. It’s a communicator which puts you in contact with certain people in … ahem … high places. But I warn you both; it’s only to be used in extreme emergencies. The red button on the side will signal us you’re in trouble. It has GPS capabilities, too, so we’ll know where you are, anywhere in the world.” He wagged a finger at both boys. “Wear it at all times and remember: extreme emergencies only!”
“Right, Dad.” Alan strapped the watch to his wrist, his blue eyes shining. Fermat nodded eagerly, happy to be given such a cool piece of tech.
“Now, let’s get you inside, Alan.”
Brains said his goodbyes to Alan and returned to the limo with Fermat. Jeff and Gordon walked Alan to his room, Gordon carrying one bag of goodies and Alan the other. They paused before the door to Alan’s quarters, dropping the bags of groceries there. Father and son embraced, while Gordon gave his brother a friendly poke in the arm, before pulling him into a brief hug.
“I’ll miss you guys.” Alan’s voice was soft.
Gordon tousled his brother’s hair. “Ditto, Sprout.”
Alan didn’t even protest the name this time. They stood in a suddenly awkward silence, until Alan spoke.
“You’d better go. Get Fermat settled.”
“Right. Come on, Gordon.” Jeff turned to go, gathering Gordon up with him.
“Hey, let me know when you get home!” Alan called out as they walked away.
Jeff glanced over his shoulder. “We will. Take care, son.”
“Right. Goodbye, Dad.” Once they were out of sight, Alan sighed. He pulled the groceries into his room, setting them by the small refrigerator. There was no sign of his roommate’s return. He glanced around the room, sighed again, and put his goodies away in the fridge.
At Maplewood, Jeff accompanied Brains and Fermat up to the third floor. Gordon ruffled the boy’s hair as he got out of the limo. “Take care, sport.”
“I-I will, Gordon.”
Now it was time to say goodbye to Jeff and to his father. “You take good care of yourself, F-F-Fermat. And c-c-c … phone me whenever you want, o-okay?”
“I will, Dad.” The two embraced, a long, tight hug that both were loath to break. When they did, Jeff added a quick hug of his own and ruffled Fermat’s hair as Gordon had.
“Take care of Alan for me, Fermat.”
Fermat smiled. “I will, sir. I promise.”
Brains waggled his fingers as the elevator doors closed. “Bye, son.”
Fermat returned the gesture. “Bye, Dad.”
Alone in the hall, he swallowed and sniffed, before turning back to his room. He unlocked his door, hauling his bags of snacks inside. Quickly glancing around, his eyes widened in shock. He dropped the bags, spilling his treats across the floor as he exclaimed, “Hey! Wh-What do you think you’re doing?”