Hansen dropped his tablet in disgust before scrubbing his face with both hands. It skittered across the coffee table, coming to rest at the edge. One simple email, addressed to General Lambert, burned on the screen and in his head.
“Start with Scott Tracy.”
Scott, Alan, Gordon, Virgil – after his last run with the Fireflash he had their names. Hell, Scott had pretty much given them to him during the flight! He figured they needed an astronaut for that rocket of theirs and they had one ready-made in brother John. It made sense that Scott’s dad, billionaire industrialist-philanthropist Jeff was bankrolling the outfit. The search took longer than he expected – they’d done a fair job in scrubbing their existence from the web. Unfortunately, they had a history-making astronaut, a well-known astronomer/author, and the sole survivor of a horrific hydrofoil crash in the family, which made it kinda impossible to do a complete wipe. Asked his buds in the military, too. With their names, he’d probably dug up more info than anybody else could. He didn’t know who else they had in on their scheme, but this was a start. He wondered why they had such lax security.
He got to his feet, retrieving the tablet. Ignoring the email, he idly flipped through the material he’d collected. He could out International Rescue. He had the means to do it. He was ready to do it. The question was: why hadn’t he?
Yeah, he owed them his life and his reputation. Yet there were bigger issues here. If you believed Lambert, they’d been doing all this seemingly heroic work in order to steal the plans to a top secret fighter. Lambert’s crew were investigating all the known rescues for similar security breaches. Kerr crucified them daily in the court of public opinion. The military was searching the world for International Rescue.
He could help them. End the search and catch the thieves by sending this one-line email.
He shook his head sharply. His lips twitched with frustration as he paced his living room, abstractedly tapping a corner of the tablet on his palm. What other intel had they lifted? In his mind, he went over the flight when Scott Tracy sat in as co-pilot. How much had they learned about the Fireflash on that last run? Was putting a man – Gordon, he recalled – in the starboard wing really necessary? He recalled thinking how risky the maneuver was, especially in flight. Had Gordon been in the wing before the flight even began? Did a saboteur really sever the EPU, or was that a ruse of some sort?
If gathering information about the Fireflash was their goal, why rescue the pilots of the second doomed flight? It was said they’d lost the majority of that plane to an explosion but the engines were still on the sea floor, accessible to their submersible. What about the first “sabotaged” flight, the one where over 600 people died? Why hadn’t International Rescue stepped in then? Hansen didn’t want to ascribe some dark ulterior motive to them, but there were easier, less destructive and conspicuous ways to gather intel on Fireflash. Sure, this wasn’t the case with the AL4. That mutha was saved in hard copy only. There were no virtual back doors to sneak in. They had to come up with some crap that got them near the vault. Still, why be so damned public about it? Why spend so much money on this whole charade and why, after months of expecting complete secrecy, would you let the press take your picture?
He snorted, a derisive sound. If there was anything in the universe he was sure of, it was this: that operative-turned-thief – who wasn’t part of the Tracy family as far as he knew – allowed that damn photo to be taken.
Now an astronaut floated in space, a dead man for sure because only International Rescue could get to him in time and they were in hiding.
“It just doesn’t make any sense.”
He stopped in his tracks, a bit surprised that he’d given voice to what nagged at him. No, it didn’t make sense. None of it did.
It still left him with a dilemma: send the email or not?
He moistened his lips as he maximized the email on his screen. His jaw hardened. His finger hovered over the “Send” button.
An icon flashed and caught his eye, signaling a breaking news item on one of his search aggregators. Irritated, he stabbed at it. A fresh article appeared.
His breath caught. His eyes widened. He staggered to the sofa, dropping to it as if poleaxed.
International Rescue cleared! AL4 thieves caught! Lost astronaut saved!
He took a moment to skim through the entire report, getting all the details down. Breathing a sigh of relief, he turned back to the email and emphatically deleted it.
“Damn. That was a close one.”