THUNDERBIRDS - Return Of The Hood


THUNDERBIRDS - RETURN OF THE HOOD





Guy Blythman





(c) Guy Blythman 1996















His uncle had been carrying out some decorating inside the house, and somehow he'd managed to knock over the can of paint, spilling it all over the living room carpet. It was the third time he'd done something silly that day. Normally he wasn't allowed out of the house except under rigid supervision, not so much because of his forgetfulness as because his uncle was like that. But today his uncle had decided he'd had enough, and thrown him out of the house telling him to go and amuse himself. He wasn't as understanding as the boy's parents had been, wasn't at all tolerant of his absent-mindedness.
The boy was actually quite pleased to be outside. He decided to walk down to the river, where he would lie in the sun and dream of all the great things he'd do when he was older. He took along his toy plane, the one he'd made himself, intending to play with it.
Unfortunately, he hadn't gone very far down the road that led to the water's edge when he ran into two boys from his class, a pair he'd been having a lot of trouble with lately. Immediately they started to taunt him.
Right from an early age he'd had to wear the enormous spectacles, due to an eye defect that even modern science couldn't cure. They were a kind of uniform, one he didn't wish to wear because it made him a target for ridicule. He tried to be brave and not show them he was upset. When they saw their insults weren't having any effect they decided it might make a difference if they got physical. They shoulder-charged him, knocking him to the ground. The model slipped from his grasp as he fell and he landed on top of it, breaking it in two. They kicked him several times as he tried to get up, then ran off laughing.
Shakily he got to his feet. One or two tears managed to force their way past his eyelids but otherwise he didn't cry. He looked sadly at the model and put the remains away in his pocket.
To cheer himself up he decided to go and see his friend, the ancient Indian who lived in a run-down little house a short way down the river from where the road met it. Normally, his uncle didn't like him having anything to do with the old man, even though there was common agreement that Bill Redclaw was harmless. Maybe it was just because of his race; even in this century bigotry and hatred hadn't been entirely eliminated from the world. In any case, it was sheer loneliness that made him call on the old man whenever he was able to get out.
Redclaw was very, very old. No-one, including himself, knew his exact age but he was rumoured to be over a hundred; born not in the previous century but the one before that. Despite his years his eyes still shone brightly, as if from the light of some powerful wisdom, and mixed with that wisdom was a gentle kindness which told you you had nothing to fear from him. He was still able to look after himself, although he walked stiffly and with his body bent forward slightly.
He knocked on the door, and the old man let him in. He seated the boy in what passed for the living room, lit the log fire, and made cups of coffee for them both.
There was more damage to the toy plane than there was to its owner. Redclaw found a tube of adhesive and mended it. "And what's this, then?" he asked, examining it curiously. It was a funny shape, not at all like any ordinary plane. While the fuselage - one supposed it should be called that - was massive and bulky, the wings and tailplane were slender and streamlined. The fantastic nature of the aircraft and vehicles he kept on designing was one reason why the other boys at school thought he was weird. More intelligent people would have said he had a vivid imagination. All the same, the Indian couldn't help laughing inwardly as he studied the model. That'll never fly, he decided.
"It's a ...well, I don't really know what it is actually," said the boy in response to his question. "I haven't thought of a name for it yet." He smiled proudly. "I made it all by myself."
"What does it do?"
"I don't know right now. Go to the Moon or something, I guess." "Is that what you're going to do when you're older? Make things like that? Real planes, I mean, not models."
The boy nodded. "But I guess while I keep on making mistakes I won't be good for anything," he said miserably.
"Then you must try not to make mistakes. You won't always succeed, because nobody can. But you have to try.”
"I do try," said the boy firmly. He contemplated the toy plane wistfully. "Oh, I sure wish I could decide what to call this thing."
"Names aren't everything," said Redclaw.
"It's no good without one. It's got to have a name, it can't just be a thing."
"You're clever. You will think of one, I'm sure." Redclaw handed the model back to the boy, who laid it on the table beside him.
"Do they tease you often, those kids?" he asked.
"Yeah, they do. They hate me because I'm cleverer than they are. I don't know why. I don't hate them."
"It's not only my people who have a hard time," he said with a smile.
They often talked about the history of Redclaw's people, and about their myths and legends. About the world which the coming of the white man to the plains had destroyed. Sometimes during these discussions Redclaw became angry, which frightened the boy a little, although the old man was always sorry afterwards.
Redclaw was old enough to remember a time when memories of Wounded Knee were still fresh, and bitter. His parents and grandparents had told him how the white man had taken away their land, and inflicted various other indignities on them. Even those who tried to make their way in the white man's world, like his brother who felt it was a mistake for them to cling always to the past, had been treated with prejudice. Many times he had experienced that prejudice himself.
For a long time he had thought of white people only as enemies, and his people as their victims. Then, one day, a little white girl had got lost and wandered onto the reservation. She looked round at the host of unfamiliar, impassive, even hostile faces, and burst into tears.
Ever since he could remember, he had hated and feared the whites
with equal intensity. They seemed so strong, so powerful, and so determined to use their power to grind the red man down. It had never occurred to him that he might ever be seen as the oppressor. The incident had left him strangely moved, and since that day he had venerated all life. She was only a child; but it is often through the innocence of a child that we understand ourselves, understand what we should be. If only we could recapture that lost innocence.
"There's too much suffering in the world, don't you think? Too many people doing bad things to each other."
"I want to stop all that," said the boy passionately.
"To stop wars and that kind of thing you need to be someone very powerful - like the President. But even he can't always do it."
"But when a house burns down and someone dies..that sort of thing's bad too."
"It's the same there. You don't always know when it's going to happen. Of course, you can try to save the people when it does."
A smile came over the boy's face. "Hey, I've got an idea. Suppose someone was drowning, or in a fire, or anything like that....my plane could get there sooner than anything else, and it would have special things inside it which would save them."
"Then that's what you want to be doing with your life - making that sort of plane. Saving lives is the best thing anyone can do." He patted the boy on the shoulder. "Keep at it. Don't let anyone tell you you're crazy. You'll get things right some day, I'm sure."
The conversation now turned once more to Native American mythology. His young friend had already heard from him about such things as the Ghost Dance, and the Spider Woman (who rather frightened him). He tried to think of something he hadn't told the boy yet.
"Animals figure a lot in our legends. You've heard about the Spider Woman. Now one tribe also believed in an enormous bird, the size of a house, which could draw lightning to itself." The boy was rather more interested in science than in old myths and legends, but all the same his attention was captured.
"Do you think there really was one?" he asked. "Hey, maybe there still is.."
The old man smiled. "Well, I've never seen it." There was a dreamy look on his face, as if he were staring through the mists of time into some far-off, vanished world. "A pity if there aren't any Thunderbirds left......they'd be a magnificent sight."
The old man drifted slowly off to sleep. The boy was deep in thought and didn't notice. Suddenly his face lit up and he jumped to his feet, shouting with glee and causing Redclaw to wake in alarm. "That's it! That's it! That's it!" His eyes gleamed with triumph as he realised what he should call his invention.
He glanced towards his model plane. It might just have been his imagination, but the fire seemed to cast strange shadows around it. Shadows that formed the shape of an enormous bird.






PROLOGUE
The silence of the peaceful waterside spot was violently disturbed as a black saloon car came screaming along the road that ran beside the river, heading towards the coast. Of the man at the wheel retired businessman Jake Mullard, who'd been doing a spot of fishing when the noise of its approach had disturbed his concentration, caught only a brief glimpse of a smooth, hairless head and a scowling face before the vehicle disappeared around a bend, lurching crazily from side to side.
"He's sure in a hurry to get somewhere," Mullard thought.
He wondered if he should report the man for speeding but decided against it, the sunny weather having put him in a mood of amiable laziness.
A moment later the roar of a powerful engine announced the approach of another car, from the sound of it going just as fast as the first. He was taken aback by the vehicle which came into view, and for several moments could only stand and stare after it, open-mouthed. It was a British make - a Rolls Royce, sleek and elegant, its polished fender and radiator grille gleaming brilliantly in the sunshine. What struck him most about it, apart from the six wheels, was its shocking pink colour, which clashed hideously with its surroundings. There were two occupants. The driver was a man in a brown chauffeur's uniform and peaked cap. The figure in the back appeared to be that of a woman; he glimpsed a bell of blonde hair.
The rattle of gunfire made him jump, and he saw fragments of gravel fly into the air between the two cars. The Rolls was evidently equipped with some kind of cannon; it seemed to be a cross between a fashion accessory and a weapon. What sort of person owned a car like that?
While he was trying to decide what the car revealed about the character of its owner, the vehicle disappeared from sight. Wondering whether he'd dreamed it, Mullard returned to his fishing, and soon the Rolls and its quarry had passed from his mind.
Meanwhile, the driver of the saloon looked to his left and with a sigh of relief saw a small, ramshackle corrugated iron building come into view in the distance, close to the water's edge.
In the Rolls, the chauffeur turned to address the elegant figure behind him. "These bends are slowing us down a bit, I'm afraid M'Lady," he remarked as the car negotiated another.
"It can't be helped, Parker. But we're bound to catch him in the end. I doubt if his engine is anything like ours. He'll run out of fuel long before we do."
Half a mile ahead, the black saloon skidded to a halt outside the dilapidated boathouse, creating a strong stench of burning rubber. The driver jumped out and ran towards the building. Moving with frantic speed, he unlocked the door and vanished inside.
As it rounded what turned out to be the final bend in the road, the Rolls' occupants saw the sleek black shape of a motor launch speed through the open doors of the boathouse. It swung round to head east in the direction of the sea.
"I was just reflecting, Parker, that the car could do with a bit
of wash," remarked the blonde woman, seemingly unperturbed by the development.
"Yeah," replied Parker with a grin. "As a matter of fact I was thinking that meself."
The Rolls turned off the road onto the concrete jetty beside the boathouse, not reducing its speed. It hurtled towards the edge and flew right over it to hit the water with a resounding splash. Parker touched a button on the dashboard and the car rose above the surface on four small hydrofoils, one located behind each wheel. It set off after the launch, travelling across the water with as much ease as a conventional boat.
The Rolls gathered speed, and the distance between it and the launch narrowed. Realising he was still being pursued, their quarry glanced round. His eyes widened in amazement as he saw the Rolls.
"I don't believe it!" he gasped. "Can no-one escape from International Rescue?"
Again the Rolls' cannon fired, the water around the launch erupting in a series of explosions, one of which shook the boat violently and almost overturned it.
He heard the chauffeur's voice addressing him through some kind of tannoy. "The game's up I'm afraid, mate! Call it a day or we'll blow you clean out of the water!"
"Wait, Parker!" cried the blonde woman. "It looks as if he's got company."
Intent on pursuing their quarry, neither of them had seen the black helijet gunship appear in the sky and descend towards a jetty on the west side of the river, near where another boathouse stood. The craft's menacing shape bristled with weaponry, and it bore the markings of a power whose aggressive foreign policy was causing the United Nations grave concern.
"I think discretion ought to be the better part of valour here, Parker," said the woman. "Their armoury looks pretty fearsome. We'd better not attack unless they give us an excuse. Come on, let's get back to the hotel."
A moment later the Rolls swung round and headed away downriver. A man who had got out of the helijet watched it disappear from sight through a pair of binoculars.
Meanwhile the launch had pulled in alongside the jetty and the bald man was climbing out. The man who had come from the helijet ran to meet him. He wore the uniform of a captain in the naval wing of his country's air force.
"We seem to have scared them off. Were they International Rescue agents?"
The man known only as The Hood nodded curtly. "I imagine they were International Rescue agents, yes. But whether or not you have succeeded in scaring them off, I wouldn't like to say."
"Well, we're all ready for you." He gestured towards the helijet.
The two men climbed on board the aircraft. As the captain was strapping himself into his seat The Hood turned towards him.
"There has been a change of plan," he announced. "I am not coming with you."
The captain stared at him in astonishment. "What?"
"You are to perform a most important service for me."
Then his eyes began to glow weirdly, and a peculiar sensation swept over the captain, as if his mind was being compressed in a powerful vice. He felt as if all the willpower was being squeezed from him, along with his sense of identity. He tried to turn his face away from the painfully intense light, but his muscles would not respond to the instructions his nervous system was sending them. It held him transfixed, unable to move any part of his body a fraction.
A minute or two later, an exit hatch opened and The Hood emerged. As he walked away the helijet's rotors started and it rose into the air. It hovered, then flew in pursuit of the Rolls Royce.
The car was nearing the riverbank when its occupants heard the roar of the helijet's engines. "I think they're coming after us, Parker!" shouted the woman. "Take evasive action!"
The cannons mounted beneath the helijet's wings fired. The Rolls swerved from side to side as a fusillade of shells churned up the water around it.
The radiator cannon, now at a higher angle, blazed away. The bullets raked the helijet, holing it in several places.
A hatch in the helijet's side opened and a pair of stubby black cylinders dropped into the water. If their enemies had thought the shells might have damaged the car, it wasn't leading them to take chances. A massive explosion rocked the vehicle and sent huge waves racing towards the shore.
The helijet banked and started to descend towards the Rolls, its crew no doubt preparing to drop another set of charges. Parker's hand went to the dashboard, selecting a more powerful shell from the car's magazine. The Rolls' cannon fired again, hitting the helijet squarely on its side. Next second it exploded in a ball of fire, raining burning debris onto the water.
The echoes from the explosion faded away, the waters subsided, and a deathly silence fell over the bay.
"Well, Parker," said the woman, "I don't think there's much point in looking for survivors."
"No, M'Lady."
Lady Penelope Creighton-Ward took another puff of her cigarette and sat back with a sigh. "I fear we've been rather naughty, Parker. I'm not sure Mr Tracy will approve."
She reflected on the irony of it; they were supposed to be members of an organisation dedicated to the preservation of life - any life - rather than its extinction, and yet they seemed to find themselves killing people on a fairly regular basis. Sometimes, though, you didn't have any choice. In protecting important secrets, whether they were International Rescue's or anyone else's, you frequently came up against determined and highly dangerous people, and the only way to stop them was to take extreme measures. "S'pose not, M'Lady. But personally I'm glad to see the back of that bloke, if he's the one what's been causing us trouble ever since we got started. And so will Mr Tracy and the boys."
"Well, there's nothing we can do about it now. Let's go home."
From a window of the boathouse the bald man watched the Rolls turn and head for the opposite shore. He threw back his head and erupted in triumphant, mocking laughter.















ONE
The explosion, for which an obscure terrorist group claimed responsibility, happened at nine-thirty in the morning, not long after the last of the employees had settled down to their work. It completely destroyed the first, second and third floors, killing about a dozen people, and started an enormous fire which spread rapidly up the building via the miles and miles of flammable wiring. It was, of course, unsafe to use the lifts; the flames soon found the shaft, which acted like an enormous chimney, funnelling them upwards.
The employees had retreated to the top floor, where they could only wait to be rescued - or to die. The roar of the flames was growing steadily louder, and the heat from the inferno below more and more oppressive.
The only way they could possibly be evacuated - there was now no chance of putting out the fire - was by air. The problem here was the sheer height of the building; it was so tall that wind pressure would make it impossible for any conventional aircraft to carry out the operation.
Any conventional aircraft.
And so They had been called. Because They had a reputation for pulling off rescues which for one reason or another anyone else would find impossible, whatever their resources. That was what They were in business to do.
"I figured it was already too late," the Fire Chief had told them, "but I wasn't quite sure, and you were the only guys with the slightest chance of doing it in the time there was left." His decision had been the right one, and they had no choice other than to go ahead with the operation. But the circumstances were unfortunate for them; if, as seemed not unlikely, it was too late to get the trapped employees to safety before the flames reached them, they would be seen to fail, and although it would only be the first time in a great many rescues that that had happened, it would still be hard for them to take.
As soon as it became apparent they would be needed, the call had gone out. It was reckoned the blaze would reach the top floor in about an hour from then; probably rather less. It had taken them twenty-five minutes to reach the danger zone.
At that moment, the bluish-grey cigar shape of Thunderbird One was hovering at a safe distance from the blazing facade of the skyscraper, awaiting the arrival of its sister ship, Thunderbird Two. Scott Tracy, the craft's pilot, had deployed a number of drones, miniature remote-controlled aircraft containing tanks of a fire-resistant material called dicetylene, which were spraying the greyish-white foam onto the burning building to hold back the flames. Scott had also checked on the condition of those trapped on the top floor using the "flying eye", a small robot camera. There wasn't much he could do now until Thunderbird Two, heavier and therefore slower than his own craft, arrived on the scene.
He found the waiting to be the worst part of these operations. On the ground, the Fire Chief shared his impatience. "What's that other craft doing? At this rate it'll never be here in time."
"That fire spread much faster than anyone expected," his deputy reminded him. "I don't think I could blame them if they didn't pull this one off."
"They've never failed before," a third fireman said.
From Thunderbird One Scott surveyed the danger zone grimly. The building was an awesome sight; four solid walls of flame some eight hundred feet, over two-thirds of its height, tall. An ugly plume of thick black smoke rose from it, disfiguring the blue summer sky. Every few minutes a large area of wall ignited as the spreading inferno came into contact with a pocket of gas, or something else of a particularly flammable nature. All the time he could hear the sound of breaking glass as one by one the windows shattered from the intense heat.
He decided it was time to call Virgil again. "Thunderbird One to Two. What's your ETA, Virg?"
"I'm approaching the danger zone now, Scott. Should be with you in a couple of minutes. Hey, that fire is lighting up the whole sky!"
"OK, Virgil, we know the drill for this one. The emphasis is gonna be on speed. At the rate the fire's spreading, I reckon we'll have just five minutes to carry out the rescue."
"FAB, Scott. How are those trapped people?"
"They're unharmed, but probably close to panicking. I just hope none of them try to jump. Unfortunately there's no way of contacting them by radio. It's up to the manager to control the situation and keep them calm."
Grim-faced and tense, the men on the ground waited as seconds, minutes, passed with still no sign of Thunderbird Two. Then a great cheer went up as the familiar green shape of the heavy rescue craft came into view from behind a cluster of tall buildings and began to approach the burning skyscraper.
Virgil flicked a switch on the control panel beside him, and a hatch slid open in the underside of the craft's fuselage.
From it emerged a wedge-shaped metal object about six feet long. It travelled through the air with a wasp-like buzzing noise, small wings opening out to stabilise it against the buffeting wind. It descended until it reached a point just below the level of the top floor, then moved towards the building. When it was almost touching one corner of the structure, it stopped.
"Thunderbird Two to One. Scott, I'm gonna try to get rid of that thing on the roof. Reckon it'll get in the way of the rescue otherwise."
"FAB." Scott glanced towards the forty-foot metal spire, which had been included in the building's design purely for ornamental purposes. Right now, all it was doing was putting people's lives in danger. If only architects and designers realised how they could render IR's job easier by making their creations less difficult to rescue people from! Perhaps you couldn't blame them; this was the 21st Century, when people liked to build impressively. It was a period of arrogant self-confidence, which the world's unexpected survival of the appalling hazards of the previous century had merely swollen.
Scott issued a warning to those on the ground to keep clear, as Virgil guided Thunderbird Two in until its nose was touching the tall, but relatively fragile, structure. The upper half of the spire snapped clean off with the force of the huge craft's engines and toppled away, crashing down onto the roof below and rolling over the edge. Only a minute or two wasted there, but it could have just made the difference between life and death, Scott thought bitterly.
The giant heavy rescue craft was now hovering directly above the building, smoke pouring from its thruster outlets. Four small openings appeared in the craft's underside, two at each end of it behind the thrusters, and thick cables were shot from them by jets of compressed air, the powerful suction cups on their ends connecting with the concrete roof. Thunderbird Two rose a few feet, and the cables tautened.
At the front of the wedge-shaped device nestling against the wall of the skyscraper was a serrated blade like a saw, which now started to vibrate. As it did so, the whole contraption began to travel sideways, cutting through metal, concrete and glass at a remarkable rate.
Aware that something was happening near the top of the building, but not quite sure what, the Fire Chief glanced through his binoculars and gasped in astonishment. The machine's action reminded him of the things with which modern-day masons cut blocks of stone into the right shape when repairing cathedrals, or the device used in his profession to get people out of trapped cars.
But this was larger and much more powerful.
"Well, I'll be....." he breathed. "These guys seem to think of everything."
The cutting device, like the rest of International Rescue's amazing hardware, was a product of the many hours "Brains", their chief engineer and scientist, had spent studying various disasters, predicting what sort were most likely to happen in the future, and working out how they could be avoided. Brains' resourcefulness, ingenuity and total dedication to his work had combined with the wealth of millionaire Jeff Tracy, Scott and Virgil's father and the organisation's founder, to produce an incredible range of equipment far in advance of its time.
"The cutter's working OK, Virgil. Let's hope the dicetylene doesn't run out too quickly."
All the time, Virgil was monitoring the cutter's progress on the television screen before him, controlling its movement with the aid of a camera fitted to the device which was relaying back a picture of its environment. Whenever it came to a corner, he altered its position so it could deal with the next side.
Two sides still to go. One side. A few feet below the cutter was the mass of dicetylene, keeping back the flames while it carried out its work.
When the machine had described a complete square, he operated the controls again, and it withdrew. It descended a few feet, then moved towards a window, pressing against the glass with just the right amount of force, enough to break it without sustaining any
damage itself. Entering through the opening, it smashed its way through the partition between this room and the next.
Watching the camera, Virgil directed it towards the two massive columns which rose up through the centre of the building from foundations to roof to give it extra rigidity and strength. Thankfully, these would take much less time to deal with. He positioned the cutter against one of the columns, and the device began its work.
On the floor above, the trapped employees were huddled together awaiting their fate, whatever it might be. Some were rigid from their fear, others trembled uncontrollably. One man jumped up and began shouting hysterically.
"We're going to die! We're going to die! They'll never get to us in time, you can see that! We're....."
Doug Hickson, the company's director, ran to him and grasped him by the shoulders. "Keep calm," he told the man, speaking gently but firmly. "You saw the Thunderbirds. If International Rescue are here, that means we've got a chance. We don't want to ruin it by losing our cool."
For Heaven's sake do something, you guys, he said beneath his breath. I can't keep them under control for much longer. He fought to control his nerves, aware he was starting to sweat and hoping his subordinates wouldn't notice it. If the flames reached them before International Rescue, he knew what would happen; they'd jump to their deaths, himself probably included. You couldn't be sure smashing to pieces on the concrete over a thousand feet below
felt any better than being burnt alive without one or the other actually happening to you, but that probably wouldn't make any difference.
One of the columns was now cut right through, and the cutter was starting on the second.
The dicetylene chose that moment to run out. Scott cursed aloud; but it had retarded the fire's progress and bought them valuable time.
The fire was not slow to make up for the delay. Within seconds it had climbed visibly higher.
Virgil saw with relief that the second of the columns had now been cut through. He withdrew the cutting device, at which the flames were now licking hungrily. "Done it, Scott."
"OK, Virgil, away you go."
Thunderbird Two's thrusters fired, and the onlookers on the ground saw it rise, taking the entire top storey of the building with it.
Those inside felt the vibration as it shifted, and there followed a moment of alarm. Then realisation sunk in that whatever was happening, it could only be for the best; International Rescue were up to something.
Alarm turned to harmless astonishment as they registered the changing cloudscape through the windows. They were moving! But how......
Virgil steered Thunderbird Two away from the building until it had reached a safe distance from the inferno; then the giant craft began slowly to descend.
Scott glanced towards the skyscraper. Where the top floor had been was a mass of flame. He shuddered, an ice-cold spider scuttling down his spine at the thought of how close they'd come to disaster.
He and his subordinates watched as Thunderbird Two lowered its burden gently to the ground.
The Fire Chief stared at it in amazement. "I'd never have thought that was possible."
"Nice work, brother," Scott called to Virgil. He switched channels to speak to the people on the ground. "OK, guys, they're all yours. Thanks for your help. We'll be getting back to base now."
The cutting device had now returned to Thunderbird Two, and the other drones to Thunderbird One. The hatch in the latter craft's cockpit opened, and a waving arm appeared. A moment later the rocket plane's wings folded into its body and the atomic engines fired, sending it screaming through the stratosphere in the direction of International Rescue's secret base.
The firemen ran towards the fragment of building and started to cut into it with their tools. The Fire Chief grinned, gazing after the departing Thunderbirds. "They did it!" he exclaimed triumphantly. "You'd never have thought so, but they did it! What an outfit!"
"'Thanks for your help'," said the Deputy. "I like that! We may as well not have been there. You'd think they'd let us have some of that equipment, then they wouldn't be needed."
"I guess they've got their reasons," the Fire Chief replied. "If they thought it would do more good than harm, they would. Maybe we wouldn't be able to use the technology without them having to tell us a lot of other things at the same time - things the world isn't meant to know just yet."
Soon the rescued employees had all been freed. A few were still in a state of shock, or sobbing uncontrollably with relief. They had a lot to thank International Rescue for, but of course they would never be able to do so; not personally at any rate. That was a shame, but there you were.
A wailing siren announced the arrival of an ambulance.
The Fire Chief gazed up at the fiercely blazing building. All that was needed now was for people to stay away from the area while the flames gradually burned themselves out, and the barriers and warning notices had already been set up. Their task here finished, they collected their equipment and piled into their vehicles.
Meanwhile, International Rescue were returning to their own base; like many others before him the Fire Chief wondered where that was, and what sort of people they were.

Scott cut Thunderbird One's speed as a dark smudge appeared on the horizon. It grew steadily larger until one could clearly make out the island, a mass of grey volcanic rock thrusting out of the waters of the Pacific.
The palm trees that dotted its shores swayed in a gentle breeze, and blue water, sparkling in the sunshine, lapped sandy beaches. This was the island retreat where Jeff Tracy had made his home; and not only his home, but the secret headquarters of the organisation he had created, International Rescue.
Passing over the ultra-modern residence where the Tracy family lived, Thunderbird One tilted backwards into a vertical position and descended towards the swimming pool in front of the house, which was sliding beneath the patio on rollers to reveal the cavernous interior of the rocket plane's launch bay.
A few minutes later, Thunderbird Two touched down on the runway used by Jeff Tracy's private jet. It turned round until its tail motors were pointing towards the cliff face which rose from the end of the runway to where the Tracy house stood. An area of rock rose up into an artificially created recess, and Thunderbird Two began to move backwards into its hangar. Once it was inside, the rock face came down again to hide it from view.
Changing from the distinctive blue and yellow uniform he wore on call into casual everyday clothing, Virgil made his way towards the living room of the house.
Here, an attractive young oriental woman was watching amusedly as a man-like robot walked across the room, carrying before it a tray on which rested a number of cups of coffee, a cake and a bowl of sugar lumps. Beside the girl, his arm around her shoulders, sat fair-haired Alan Tracy, the astronaut who along with Scott piloted the space rescue vehicle Thunderbird Three. Also in the room were Brains, observing the scene keenly through his enormous spectacles, Kyrano, Jeff Tracy's Malaysian friend and colleague and the young woman's father, Scott, and another of his brothers, aquanaut Gordon Tracy.
"TEA-IS-SERVED," the robot announced in a toneless stacatto voice, placing the tray carefully on a table. "ONE-LUMP-OR-TWO, MISS TINTIN?" it asked the girl.
"No sugar, please, Braman," she replied, patting her stomach. "I'm trying to watch my figure."
Kyrano, who on his own insistence normally carried out such tasks as these within the Tracy household, had a rather rueful look on his face. Noticing it, TinTin smiled.
Virgil seated himself on the sofa. "Hi, folks. Hey, what's with the butler act, Brains?"
"I've been testing Braman's ability to perform simple physical tasks," the young scientist replied. He spent a great deal of time working to improve his robot creation. It was intended Braman should eventually be able to assist in rescue operations by carrying out the more complex and difficult tasks they involved, and taking equipment into environments where human beings functioned inefficiently or would not survive. Unfortunately, he hadn't yet achieved the right degree of mobility. Scientists had been trying for years to build robots able to do anything a human could. It was an extremely difficult undertaking, and even Brains' phenomenal mind was having trouble with it. Perfecting Braman's various functions had to be an on-going job, done as a sideline to other projects. At the moment he was little more than a highly advanced computer.
Having taken the others' orders, Braman proceeded to pour the coffee and cut the cake into slices.
TinTin sipped at her coffee, then wrinkled her nose in distaste. She gave Brains a look of mild annoyance. "I don't think you need worry about Braman taking over your job, father," she said to Kyrano. "He's not quite mastered the art yet. For instance, he's got our orders mixed up. There's sugar in this!"
"Mine too," said Gordon.
"And mine," announced Scott.
"Oh, er....I'm s-sorry, folks," stammered Brains, embarrassed.
TinTin smiled. "Never mind, Brains. With the sort of situations we have to deal with on our rescue missions, I'm sure we won't let a thing like this bother us."
But Brains, as always, took failure in one of his inventions badly. "I must find out what the fault is and rectify it," he said crossly. "I'll attend to it as soon as I've finished my current project." Of course Braman, being a robot, had no feelings to hurt - at least, they assumed he hadn't.
"Perhaps, as the fault is mine, I, er, ought to get you all some more coffee," Brains told the others.
"Oh, don't worry about that, Brains," said TinTin. "I'll do it myself."
"Back to the laboratory then, Braman," instructed Brains. The robot walked stiffly out of the room, its creator following.
Kyrano was the most modest and self-effacing of men, yet they could be sure he watched Braman go with a more than faintly perceptible look of self-satisfaction.
TinTin took the tray and carried it from the room. Entering the kitchen, she put it down beside the sink and took a bottle of washing-up liquid from a wall cupboard.
From the direction of Brains' laboratory-cum-workshop she could hear a peculiar whining sound. It grew steadily louder, and as it did so the cups and saucers on the tray started to vibrate.
Before her astonished eyes they shattered into several large pieces. Alarmed, she ran out into the corridor. "Brains!" she shouted. "What's happening?"
As the noise grew louder its effects, from which no loose object save the heaviest appeared to be immune, spread to the other rooms in the house. In the lounge, several valuable ornaments toppled to the floor and broke, and an oriental vase disintegrated where it stood. One after the other, all the windows in the room shattered too.
The noise was now so loud it was physically painful. "What the heck's happening?" cried Scott, covering his ears.
"Must be Brains's current project," replied Virgil. "We'd better go and let him know it's about to bring the house down - literally!"
They ran down the passageway to the laboratory. Reasoning that he wasn't likely to hear them amid all the noise, they didn't bother knocking. Bursting into the room, they saw their colleague wrestling frantically with the controls of a large and complex-looking piece of equipment, helped by TinTin. Both of them were
wearing protective helmets.
Scott clapped Brains on the shoulder. "Brains, what on Earth's going on? The place is being shaken to pieces!"
Brains ignored him, and continued to frenziedly manipulate the controls of the machine. Realising he was aware of the situation and doing his best to deal with it, Scott stepped back and waited for results, grimacing from the throbbing pain in his eardrums.
At length, the hideous sound died away, and everything stopped vibrating. Brains removed his helmet and turned ruefully to face them.
"I'm sorry, folks," he said, for the second time in a few minutes.
"I don't know what Dad's going to say about all the damage when he gets back from England," sighed Scott.
He knew though that no serious repercussions would follow from the incident. Brains would always be forgiven for this kind of thing. Although he might be absent-minded at times, he slipped up hardly more frequently than anyone else who experimented with new and untried technologies. And besides, they owed him too much. Without his phenomenal mind International Rescue would simply not have been possible.
"So what happened, Brains?" asked Virgil. "I know that thing…” Hhe gestured towards the contraption, which resembled the sort of equipment you might find at a disco, with acoustic hoods added. “Is some kind of, what did you call it, sonic generator. But what's gone wrong with it?"
"Well, as you know I have been trying to explore the possibilities of using sound as a source of energy." Brains was convinced that if sound waves could be concentrated enough, and the right frequency attained, they might be used to manipulate heavy objects. They could thus be used as a source of motive power instead of fossil fuels or atomics. This would be of enormous benefit to the environment; although, thought Scott, there was such a thing as noise pollution, of which what had just happened was surely an example!
Brains gestured towards the machine. "This is, as I said, a sonic generator. It works on similar principles to a musical instrument. I have been using it successfully to power some of the equipment here." They saw that a number of wires and cables connected it with a lathe. "The frequency used to produce the right effect upon a solid entity isn't normally such as can be painful, or destructive, but malfunctions can of course occur. If it is wrong by just a few megacycles, the sound waves can have a damaging effect, upon both objects and people."
"As we've just found out," muttered Alan.
"At the experimental stage there are bound to be dangers involved. However, I'm aware there is a need to be careful. Above a certain level, the sonic emissions can cause illness or even injury. Fortunately, on this occasion TinTin and I were able to prevent it from reaching that level."
"Let's hope you can do it again if you have to," said Alan, alarmed.
Gordon noticed a tubular object with a rubber handgrip lying on a
nearby bench. "What's this, Brains?"
"Ah, yes. To make the generator easier to demonstrate, I have built a much smaller, but nonetheless very powerful, version." Picking it up, he pointed the object at a heavy scientific textbook which lay on a workbench a few feet away, and switched it on. A whining noise emanated from the gadget. To their amazement the heavy book began to move across the table, without any visible cause. As it neared the edge, Brains switched off the sonic device and the book stopped moving. "Well, I'll be......." began Scott.
He pointed the device at the ceiling, held the book above it, then switched it on again, at the same time letting go of the book which began to rise into the air.
"My device can be used to move objects in any direction. I'm hoping it might also be employed some day in changing their nature. That after all is what happens when a note sung by an opera singer, or the noise from a supersonic jet, shatters a piece of glass. If that force were to be safely harnessed it might be used to reshape materials in a way that'd be invaluable to the manufacturing industry."
He switched off the device, unfortunately forgetting about the book which fell squarely on his head, leaving him momentarily stunned.
Gordon picked up the sonic generator and examined it with interest. "Hey, I reckon you could have a lot of fun with this." He fiddled with the controls and waved the object around, a mischievous grin on his face. The results exceeded his expectations; things began flying in all directions, forcing them all to dive for cover. A spanner went crashing through a window and a glass retort jumped off its bench and shot across the room, demolishing an array of test tubes before shattering against the wall. Hurriedly Gordon tried to switch it off, alarm rising in him when he couldn't find the right button.
Brains took it from him and deactivated it. "P-p-please, Gordon," he said irritably. "I would rather my laboratory remained in one piece!"
"This is fantastic, Brains," said Alan. "Let's hope you can make something of it."
"Strikes me though that it could be dangerous if it got into the wrong hands," said Scott.
"Like Gordon's, you mean!" smiled TinTin.
"Worse than that - I think," replied Scott. "You'd better be careful about that, Brains."
"I know, Scott. The, er, thing is, I am convinced the benefits far outweigh the possible dangers."
"You may well be right there. All the same, you'd better keep a close eye on these gadgets until you've worked out some way of safeguarding them against any misuse - if there is one."
"I don't think anything's likely to happen to them while they're here," pointed out TinTin.
"That's just as well. To some people, what we've got here would make a pretty powerful weapon. And there's enough destruction and killing going on these days as it is."

Of the many old temples to be found in the jungles of South-East Asia, a study of which would no doubt have been a fascinating undertaking, one was of particular interest, being different from the others in several respects. It was surprisingly well-preserved, largely because it was still in use.
And it was a temple not to Buddha, or Allah, or the Christian God, but to a much older and darker deity than any of those.
The creed worshipped there was that of power; the crushing underfoot of the weak by the strong. And it had only one priest.
There was something sinister about this part of the jungle. The vegetation was denser even than the usual tropical standard, light finding it difficult to penetrate the barrier of green, so that everything was shrouded in a murky gloom. There also seemed to be
a virtual absence of animal life; it was as if the birds and beasts could sense the evil that dwelt there. The area's human inhabitants shunned it equally.
Today, however, the building was to receive visitors. It was important for certain people's plans that they should be there.
An unmarked helijet landed in the clearing where the temple stood, several hundred yards from its venerable grey walls, and a group of men, dark-skinned and of Middle Eastern appearance, got out of it and began to walk towards the entrance, an iron door at the top of a tall flight of steps. As they approached it, a metallic voice rang out, stopping them in their tracks. "HALT! REMAIN WHERE YOU ARE."
Then one of the temple's pagodas split down the middle, and the two halves swung away to reveal a scanning device mounted on a tall pole. It swivelled to cover them, its single eye regarding them balefully.
A few of them were annoyed at this treatment, muttering angrily. The rest merely exchanged looks of weary resignation. Having had dealings with the temple's occupant before, they had come to learn that he never trusted even his closest allies.
One of the men chose to ignore the instruction, and took a few steps forward. A concealed machine-gun fired, its bullets raking the ground less than a foot in front of him. He jumped back in alarm.
The electronic voice addressed them again. "YOU WERE ORDERED TO REMAIN STILL. ANY FURTHER DISOBEDIENCE OF INSTRUCTIONS WILL RESULT IN SEVERE PENALTIES."
The scanner whirred and bleeped a number of times, moving from side to side and up and down as it surveyed them. After a few moments a light flashed just beneath the lens.
"ONE OF YOU IS CARRYING A WEAPON. THIS IS IN DIRECT CONTRAVENTION OF OUR AGREEMENT. REMOVE IT OR YOU WILL NOT BE ALLOWED TO PROCEED."
Sullenly, the owner of an automatic pistol extracted it from an inside pocket and placed it on the ground at his feet.
Then the halves of the pagoda came together again, and a moment later the iron door slowly opened.
"YOU MAY ENTER."
They climbed the steps and entered the building, to find themselves in a carpeted entrance hall, its walls adorned with swords, shields and grotesque war masks. Here and there a bust of some distinguished Oriental personage stood on a pedestal.
"This way," said one of the men, who had been there before. He led them through an open doorway into a much wider and longer passageway. This terminated in another pair of doors, made of bronze and decorated with a bas-relief of a huge, leering face. These too swung open, and they passed through into the room beyond.
The group stood looking around in awe. Even those of its members who had been here on previous occasions found themselves subdued by the place. It was vast, with a cathedral-like atmosphere. Despite the flaring torches in their ornamental brackets on the walls, and the columns of fire which sprang from openings in the floor, fed by hidden gas burners beneath it, much of it was dark and shadowy. Numerous statues were dotted around.
The walls were covered with tapestries and frescoes, some of the latter abstract in style while others depicted cataclysmic events from long ago, battles or natural disasters. The men were not noted for their interest in art, or indeed any other form of culture, but a certain curiously led the newcomers to the place to take a closer look at them.
They had all killed other human beings at some time, and their victims often died in particularly brutal and revolting ways. But when he saw what was happening to the people in the frescoes, each man felt a chill of horror.
Weird shadows created by the torchlight leaped and danced on the
walls. From somewhere they could hear a tinkling, jangling noise as of bells.
This building, and the strange forces it harboured, made them uneasy. They wished they did not have to be there, yet some contact was from time to time necessary with the man who led their organisation, if it was to function properly. Greed for power and wealth may sometimes lead us into dark and sinister places; places we might not otherwise go.
In the centre of the room was a huge carved wooden table with a number of chairs positioned around it. It was laden with goblets, tureens, bowls of fruit and plates of succulent-looking meats and vegetables.
Again they heard the booming voice. "PLEASE BE SEATED."
As they took their places at the table, a curtain which had been covering part of one wall slid aside, to reveal an opening from which stepped a majestic, commanding figure whose clothing suggested an oriental priest or warrior. He wore a tunic with huge shoulder pads, leggings and boots, and a flowing robe into whose fabric was sown an assortment of fabulous jewels. A sash at his waist held a great curved knife with a golden hilt.
The Hood was of merely average height, but stocky and tremendously powerful in build. His yellowish-brown skin was completely smooth and hairless, and unusually large eyes burned fiercely beneath severe black brows. The facial features were harsh, rather ape-like, and cruel. It was difficult to say, going by his physical appearance, which ethnic group he belonged to; certainly he was not a Malay. He seemed to belong to no known race, or combination of races.
The effect of this was somehow disturbing, as if The Hood were not quite human.
As he approached the men, they could feel the overwhelming power of his personality. The aura of authority surrounding the strange figure held them transfixed.
The Hood spoke. His voice was deep, rich and powerful. Its accent like his race was hard to identify, though it held traces of the Middle East and also of Eastern Europe. "Welcome, gentlemen. It will not take long, I imagine, for the other guests to arrive. I will return in a short while, when everyone is here. In the meantime, feel free to feast on the delicacies you see before you." He turned and walked back towards the opening, disappearing into the darkness within it.
The men were silent for a few moments, then began to talk quietly, almost fearfully, still awed by the atmosphere of the temple and its owner. After a short while others began to enter the chamber, until there were some two dozen people there. Their number included men and women of all races and quite a wide range of nationalities. Those of the company who knew each other began to converse, and gradually the effect of the food and drink and of familiar companionship overcame their unease.
When they had more or less finished their meals, The Hood's voice cut through the chatter, silencing them all immediately. "Ladies and gentlemen! I trust you all had pleasant journeys. We have much to discuss, so let us proceed."
He settled himself at the head of the table, and his powerful gaze swept over the company.
"First of all, I would be interested to hear what each of your groups has achieved in its respective part of the world."
The spokesmen for each group gave an account of its activities since they had last met there. The successive accounts added up to an impressive catalogue of terrorism - attacks with bombs and nerve gas on centres of population and vital installations - protection rackets, assassinations, and election rigging, along with a number of successful arms sales whose purpose was to make one side in a war, it didn't matter which, think it could get what it wanted on the battlefield and didn't have to make unwelcome concessions during tiresome negotiations at the conference table.
When it had finished The Hood nodded approvingly, his broad smile and the gleam in his eyes making plain his delight.
"Excellent. Even without us, the world would be a turbulent place, and we have succeeded in destabilising it further. It seems to me however that to achieve something on a truly massive scale would involve the use of nuclear weapons; the most destructive force known to Mankind. At present we have none. It will be difficult for us to obtain some; but not impossible. A number of us, of course, are highly placed in those countries who are seeking to develop a nuclear capability."
"What about that conference they've announced for September?" The speaker was Kieran Mulligan, a thickset, curly-haired man who in the days of the IRA had been one of that organisation's leading members.
"I was going to come to that. Yes, the forthcoming International
Conference on Nuclear Proliferation. If it succeeds in its aims, it will rob us of the means by which our cause can triumph. Somehow, we must disrupt it.
“The security surrounding the conference will be formidable. But what good will that do the world if the participants fail to reach any agreement?
“The conference faces a difficult task; one might say an impossible task, were it not for the man who is to be its president."
At the touch of a button on a control panel built into the table before him, a television screen in the wall nearest to them came on. It showed a still photograph of a distinguished-looking elderly gentleman, white-haired and moustached. "That is Sir Joseph Price, the former British Foreign Secretary. He is a brilliant diplomatist with a record of solving apparently intractable disputes. If anyone can persuade the powers participating in the conference to abandon their nuclear programmes for the sake of international security, it is Price. He is therefore a major obstacle to our plans."
"So we're going to kill him," said Mulligan.
"If we can get the chance we certainly shall. However, there is another way to deal with the problem. Price has a daughter, who currently attends a British university. She is very dear to him, and if, for example, she were to die, he would suffer severe emotional damage of a kind which would be fatal to his health. He would not be able to continue with the negotiations. I am proposing we kill her, rather than kidnap her and then threaten her life, because hostages are in my opinion a time-consuming nuisance. One has to ensure they are fed, watered and not maltreated any more than is absolutely necessary. It might seem more logical to attack Price directly, but for certain reasons I am convinced the daughter is a better target. Our British section have the matter in hand as I speak.
"There is one other thing, gentlemen, that stands in our way," he continued. He paused, then spat out two words.
"International Rescue!"
Tom Castle, a huge man with a broken nose who at some time had been a member of the British National Front, reacted with puzzlement to this. "International Rescue? I don’t know what you mean. They're what their name says they are, a rescue organisation, and nothing else. There's no reason why they should involve themselves in politics, however important the issue might be. I just don't see how they can be a problem."
"You are forgetting something. A full-scale atomic war will cause death and devastation over a wide area. If International Rescue can do something to prevent that - and as you have said, their purpose is to save lives - they will. It may be that even their remarkable technology can make little difference to the consequences of a nuclear holocaust. But one cannot be sure. No, I would be happier if they were first neutralised."
"That's not going to be easy," said Mulligan. "The only sensible way of doing it would be to get them when as far as we know all their equipment and personnel are in one place: in other words attack their base. But we don't know where it is, and there's little chance of getting a steer to it. Their craft can move pretty fast and their anti-detection equipment is the most advanced in the world. Anything we've got they could outrun quite easily."
"There are subtler ways of doing it than bombs or missiles," replied The Hood.
"What are they exactly?" asked Mulligan.
The Hood smiled. "Since they are subtle, it is probable few of you would understand them." There followed a few scowls and angry mutterings, which The Hood ignored.
"Something else we could try to do," he went on, "is discover the secrets of their technology. Then we could use it to destroy them, or create such devastation that not even they could cope with. Either course would serve our purposes. But the latter is going to be the more difficult, in view of the efficiency of their security measures. If, however, an opportunity arises to pursue it, we must take that opportunity.
“Some of what I have in mind I can probably achieve on my own, and some of it I may require your help with. I trust it will be forthcoming."
A stony, hostile silence greeted the last few words of the speech. "Now, are there any questions?" asked The Hood.
"Well, I got a couple of things I'd very much like to say," declared a tubby little Italian American called Rossolini, who represented a certain very powerful criminal organisation.
"I don't much like the lip you gave us just then. Reckon I ought
to warn you my people don't take kindly to that sort of thing."
"I said questions," snapped The Hood. Rossolini ignored him.
"And there are too many things you aren't telling us about. If International Rescue are as big a problem for us as you make out then we want to be a part of whatever you're doing about it. Stands to reason we should be.
“My people don't give up their freedom without a price. You got to let them know everything that's going on. So either you tell us right now what you've got in mind, or we're pulling out of this whole operation, and pulling out for good. And if you get any bright ideas about interfering in our territory after that, you'd better forget them or you'll be very, very sorry."
The strange light came into The Hood's eyes as anger mounted in him. He rose and moved slowly down the table towards Rossolini. The American got up and turned to face him. He jabbed a finger at The Hood, face twisting in a snarl of rage.
"Don't you try anything with me, you hear? Lay hands on Vito Rossolini and you'll regret it for the rest of your life - if you still have a life. Chances are you won't."
The yellow eyes glowed brighter. Rossolini frowned, clasping a hand to his forehead. A dull, vacant expression appeared for a moment on his plump face. He shook his head furiously, trying to clear it of the unfamiliar, unnerving sensation which had engulfed him. With amazement and shock he realised The Hood was trying to control his mind - and for a moment had nearly succeeded.
It was frightening, but he wasn't going to let this creep mess about with his brain. He wasn't accustomed to being manipulated, no matter who by or what methods they used.
Sweat streamed down his face as he struggled to resist the hypnotic influence. The two men stood locked in mental combat, their faces tightly screwed up in concentration. The others looked on in awe and fascination.
This went on for several minutes. Then the vacant expression returned to Rossolini's face, and this time it stayed there. The glow remained in The Hood's eyes for a moment longer, then faded. From beneath his robes The Hood produced an automatic pistol, handing it to Rossolini.
"Point the gun at your head, then slowly pull the trigger. Slowly."
Without hesitation Rossolini proceeded to obey him.
Gradually he increased the pressure. A second before it would have been sufficient to cause the gun to fire, The Hood's voice rang out again. "Stop!"
Rossolini released the trigger.
Again the glow came into The Hood's eyes, and a tremor ran through the Mafioso's body. When it had passed he stood looking around in bewilderment, as if not quite sure where he was. He became aware of the gun levelled at his head and stared at it in abject horror as he realised what he'd been about to do.
He regarded The Hood briefly, then walked slowly back to his chair and sat down, his face deathly pale. Somehow you knew he wouldn't be giving any more trouble for the time being.
"Listen, all of you!" commanded The Hood. "I have powers you cannot hope to understand, and I can use them to destroy you if you reject my leadership. Even the Mafiosi, though they may seem all-powerful, cannot stand against them. I would also remind you that without them our organisation would be much less of a threat to our enemies than it is. That is why you need me, and why you should not try my patience.
“In all that we discuss you may make suggestions, even disagree with me if you like. But in the end my decision is final, and you forget that at your peril. If I am keeping some things secret it is for a reason, and you will not ask what that reason is. Is that clear?"
"I....I guess so." It was Mulligan who spoke, as no-one else seemed able to say anything. He had to fight to keep his voice steady.
So, he thought, the rumours about this man were true. Of that they had just had a most convincing demonstration.
Mulligan was a ruthless, unscrupulous man, and during a long career of violence and crime he had mixed with a good many people of similar character. He wasn't the sort who normally experienced fear; he couldn't afford to be. He could shrug off blood-curdling threats and bully the hardest and most violent thugs into meek submission. But the atmosphere which emanated from The Hood, and the powers he possessed, were unlike anything he'd ever encountered.
The Hood surveyed his colleagues with a contemptuous expression. Craven, miserable cretins, he thought, although at that moment he
could have said it out loud with no problem. Of course, he needed them enough for any threat of dispensing with their services to be ultimately meaningless. But the climate of fear he had created around himself would prevent them from seeing that.
"That I think concludes our business. No doubt we shall all be meeting here again in due course. May I wish you safe journeys home."
He rose and left the chamber. Slowly and silently, his accomplices did the same. The grotesquely grinning idols which flanked the exit might have been mocking them, and from above the door the stone face of a long-forgotten deity looked down on them with an impassivity that itself was somehow cruel.

"Here we are, Jeff," said Lady Penelope to the handsome middle-aged man beside her, as she led him down a short flight of steps into the little tavern. "You're now going to see what a real English pub is like."
Penelope had told Parker to leave the Rolls a short distance down the little side street, since they didn't want to appear conspicious, and let them walk the rest of the way. For the next couple of hours he was free to amuse himself as he pleased. Leaving the car's anti-theft system on, the chauffeur had taken himself off, intending to revisit some former haunts (he'd been active in the area during an earlier and very different phase in his career) and look up a few old friends (those who weren't currently guests of His Majesty, anyway).
Jeff Tracy observed their environment with interest. The atmosphere of the place was warm and friendly. It did have a slight air of decadence, but of a pleasant and cheerful kind. However, although not much of an expert on the different types of English public house, he couldn't help feeling that the smartly-dressed Penelope, and himself in his business suit, looked rather out of place there.
In truth Penelope wasn't entirely comfortable with their surroundings, but characteristically she did her best not to show it.
From the counter the landlord was studying them keenly, wondering if he'd better up his prices.
The bar was alive with chatter and bustle. Close to where they stood, a group of young men were drinking toasts to one another and loudly singing a rather rude song. A juke box blared away on the other side of the room. Penelope bought drinks for both of them, and they found a couple of seats in a quiet corner.
"And this guy you reckon might agree to be our new agent in the European sector; this is where he hangs out, is it?"
"That's right, Jeff. This is where he, er, hangs out."
She surveyed the bar. "I don't see any sign of him yet. But from what I know of his habits, he should be here before too long."
While they were waiting for the man they were seeking to appear, Penelope managed to press Jeff into taking part in a darts competition which happened to be going on. Not being experienced or skilled at the game, he didn't do particularly well, despite a creditable effort, eliciting from the others some good-naturedly derisive remarks about his competence at it both as an individual and as an American. Afterwards he was thumped on the back in a friendly fashion and offered a free pint of beer to share with the other competitors.
Rejoining his companion a while later, he saw she was watching the lunchtime news on a television screen built into the wall. It was rather depressing; civil wars were still raging in Africa and parts of the former Soviet Union, and crime and pollution had reached record levels in America and Western Europe. Terrorist activity seemed to be on the increase everywhere.
Jeff sighed, thinking of all the effort his organisation put into saving people's lives. Sometimes, when you considered how successful they were at killing each other, it hardly seemed worth it.
The news ended with a special report on nuclear tension in the Far East, arising from the efforts of several countries in the region to develop atomic weapons, and the implications if they should happen to use them against each other. "There is no doubt that a nuclear conflict in the Pacific Rim region would have devastating consequences," a Professor of International Politics from Oxford was telling his interviewer.
"For one thing, it is a world economic powerhouse. The impact on the global economy would be shattering. And of course the radioactive fall-out would affect a wide area, particularly if one
takes into account turbulent weather patterns arising from global warming.
“We might also bring in the region's geological instability. It's one of the world's major earthquake zones, which could lead to something horrific happening if a nuclear device were to go off on or near a fault line. And it's often been called the Ring Of Fire because of the chain of volcanoes which stretches across it. A nuclear missile strike might trigger a series of eruptions affecting the whole of the Southern Pacific as well as Japan and parts of the South-East Asian landmass."
Lady Penelope shuddered. "Oh dear, I don't like the sound of all that."
"It's the volcanoes I'm worried about most of all," said Jeff. "It's quite likely those eruptions would directly affect Tracy Island."
"It may not happen, Jeff," Penny replied.
"Let's hope not."
At that moment the door to the bar was opened and a girl in her late teens or early twenties came bouncing in, accompanied by a group of friends. Her lustrous dark hair framed an attractive and engagingly impish face. Watching the girl as she proceeded to supervise the buying of drinks and seating arrangements, Jeff thought everything about her radiated an exuberant self-confidence. Penelope had noticed the girl too, and Jeff realised she was frowning. A stern expression on her face, she got up and walked swiftly over to where the young lady was sitting.
Penelope stood over the girl, arms folded, looking down at her with a rather peculiar smile. The young woman went on chatting, as yet oblivious to her presence.
Then one of her friends nudged her and jerked a thumb towards Penelope. Looking up, she gave a start.
"Oh, er, hiya, Penelope! Um...didn't expect to find you here." She laughed nervously.
"No, I don't expect you did, my dear. Otherwise you wouldn't have come, would you?"
The girl waved a hand towards her companions. "Pens, meet the gang. This is Mike...." She indicated a young man with long hair and a beard. "Steve..." A lanky fellow with greased black hair and an amiably vacuous expression on his face. "Claire.." A girl with plaited hair, rings in her nose and ears, and a leather jacket emblazoned with numerous badges. "And last but by no means least, Kate." A pleasant-looking fair-haired girl, whose dress and appearance were rather more conventional.
Penelope smiled briefly at each of the youngsters, then her attention returned to the girl. "Just what do you think you're doing here, might I ask?"
"I often come here. It's a bit lowbrow" (she wrinkled her nose here) "but the music they play is great, not like the rubbish you get in the charts these days. Er....can we get you a drink?"
"No thankyou," replied Penelope. She took a mobile 'phone from her pocket and dialled a number.
"Hello, officer? Penelope Creighton-Ward here. It seems the young lady has managed to evade your clutches again. Well, she's right here with me as I speak; we're at the Bulldog in Faversham Street. If you send a car over right now, I can promise you there won't be any trouble."
"I should hope not," said the disgruntled voice at the other end before ringing off.
Penelope looked challengingly at the young woman, who looked equally defiantly back at her. They faced each other rather like professional boxers before a fight.
Tiring of the staring-out competition, the girl turned to her friends. "I'm not putting up with this, folks. Let's be on our way."
Penelope addressed the other young people. "If you want to all go back to the house and stay there for a bit, I can try to prevail on the police to give you a lift. But for goodness' sake don't wreck the place like you did last time."
"We did not wreck the place," said the raven-haired girl indignantly.
Penelope ignored her. Now then, my love. Let's have no argument over this, shall we? You're getting in that police car and then e going straight back to the Hall."
"I don't know what your plans are, folks," said the girl, looking round at her friends again, "but I'm going to find some other joint where I might be able to have a drink and listen to some music without being molested. Anyone coming?"
Penelope knew the girl was quite capable of carrying out her intention, and without any feeling of shame on account of the inconvenience it would cause the police.
She leaned forward and grasped the young woman by the shoulder. With the minimum of effort on Penelope's part, or so it seemed, the astonished girl found herself rising to her feet.
Before the eyes of the pub's clientele, of whom some were amused, some bemused, and some both, by the spectacle, Penelope placed one of the girl's arms behind her back and marched her over to where she had been sitting with Jeff. "Gerroff! Leggo!" shouted the girl, struggling quite ineffectually to free herself from the older woman's grip. "Penelope!" She proceeded to call Penny a variety of unflattering names - none of them the kind of thing you'd expect a well-brought up and educated young lady to say, the latter reflected. The landlord watched them in astonishment, uncertain whether or not he should intervene. Then he resumed wiping the glasses, grinning. The people who came here often did behave in an eccentric way. It added to the fun of working there.
Penelope sat down, pulling the young woman onto her lap and wrapping both arms tightly around her body.
What kind of hold Penny was using Jeff had no idea, but it seemed very effective. The girl twisted and struggled ferociously, but was quite unable to break it.
She was bright red with embarrassment, probably feeling rather like a naughty child being restrained by its mother. Jeff couldn't help being sorry for her.
The girl's friends looked at one another uncertainly for a few moments, then grinned. Jeff had the impression they weren't without a certain sympathy for Penelope.
The girl went on struggling to escape. "You can't treat me like this, it's against the law. You're holding me prisoner. I'll have you reported. Let me g - owwwwwww!!!!"
"Forgive me, my dear, I should have warned you. That position can be very painful if you try to escape from it too vigorously. Now, while you're here aren't you going to say hello to Mr Tracy?"
"Hello," said the girl weakly.
"Er - hi," replied Jeff, extending a hand. He had to lean forward quite a bit for her to take it, because of the position she was in with her arms pinned tightly to her sides. She shook it limply and without smiling.
Penelope resumed her conversation with Jeff as if nothing had happened. Meanwhile the girl's friends went on with their drinks quite happily, from time to time glancing in their associate's direction and waving, and not looking at all put out at her situation. She continued to look sulky and resentful. Since it felt insensitive not to acknowledge her feelings, Jeff inevitably found his own position rather embarrassing.
Also, people kept on looking at them oddly, and it was rather a relief when the police turned up. Penelope left Jeff for a moment to "escort" her charge to the car, keeping a firm hold on her until the vehicle had been reached and then bundling her inside before quickly slamming the door.
There followed some heated discussion with the officer in charge
about various matters, after which the girl's friends got into the car with her and it drove off.
"What was all that about, Penny?" inquired Jeff, by now thoroughly intrigued.
"I'll tell you when we're back in the car," she whispered. "Now then, I wonder if the gentleman we came here to see has turned up yet."
She scanned the room for a minute or two, then smiled. Nudging Jeff, she pointed out a grey-haired individual with glasses. He had had rather too much to drink, and was talking to himself about a previous occupation in a way which, judging from its apparent nature, he probably shouldn't have been.
"Burnt out?" he was saying aloud. "Yes, you could say I am. The Service has no use for me anymore. But what do you expect when they chuck you in at nine? I always thought there was something unethical about it. Ought to be a law against that sort of thing." They sidled over to him.
It was some time before he had sobered up sufficiently for meaningful conversation to be possible. But eventually, their business there satisfactorily concluded, they emerged from the building and began to make their way towards the spot where they'd left the Rolls.
From a car parked on the other side of the quiet little street a man was watching them. As soon as he was satisfied they were who he thought they were, he spoke into a mobile phone. "Yeah, it's them. And they're coming your way. There isn't anyone else around at the moment so it should be all right."
Jeff and Penny's route took them near the mouth of a dingy-looking alleyway. As they went past it two burly figures jumped out and strong hands seized them, dragging them into its darkness before either could react.
They found themselves flung against the wall and then pinned there, knives pressed to their throats. Three other men were standing behind the ones who had grabbed them.
"All right, darling," said the man holding Penelope, thrusting his ferrety face aggressively at hers. "Where's the girl?"
"Which girl?" she answered, coolly. "There's a lot of them about, you know."
"You know the one I mean. And if you don't tell me it might be rather unfortunate for you and your friend here."
"She's safely in police custody. Now why don't you stop these childish games and find some honest occupation? I mean, if you were to get caught it'd be rather hard on your wives and families, wouldn't it?"
"Shaddup. Now then, you're lying about the girl, aren't you darling?"
"We dunno that," said one of the other men.
"No, we don't do we. So you two are coming on a little journey with us. That's so we can cut you up into little bits and dump you at the bottom of the Thames if we find out you haven't been entirely honest with us. 'Cause we would, I promise you."
This threat had been made purely with the intention of frightening his victims (and even then it didn't work, since neither of them were the type who felt fear easily). Whether or not the woman had been telling the truth, he wasn't planning to harm either of them unless it became absolutely necessary. She was worth quite a bit of money, he knew that. And wasn't her friend some American millionaire or other?
If only he had known that both of them were members of International Rescue, the American being in fact its boss, and that the ultimate leader of the organisation he was currently working for would reward him more handsomely than he could possibly imagine for delivering them to him.
They started to drag Jeff and Penny further down the alleyway. Just then a familiar grey-haired, brown-uniformed, beaky-nosed figure came running along it towards them.
The men were inevitably distracted by its appearance, and for a second Penny's abductor relaxed his grip on her. Immediately she took the opportunity to twist free, grabbing the man and hurling him towards two of his colleagues. He crashed into them and the three villains fell down in a heap.
In a sort of domino effect the man holding Jeff had also been distracted, and he too was able to get free. He swung round to face the man, and delivered an uppercut which sent him sprawling on the ground. The remaining thug rushed at him, whereupon he sidestepped and shot out a foot. The villain tripped over it and struck his head sharply against the wall, collapsing unconscious.
The men on the ground struggled to rise but their arms and legs had got tangled up, making it rather a difficult task. Before they could accomplish it Penny and Parker had jumped on them, and with swift chopping blows laid two of them out cold. Managing at last to get to his feet, the third man saw the odds were against him and ran off.
The three International Rescue members dusted themselves down. "I think you acquitted yourself rather well there, Jeff," said Penny.
"I didn't think I had it in me any more," he replied with some satisfaction.
She turned to Parker. "You shouldn't have taken such a risk, you know." She patted him on the shoulder. "But that's not the point; well done. I take it you saw them pull us off the street in that rather literal fashion?"
"I'll tell you what happened," said Parker. "I was just on me way back from looking up some old friends when I saw him {he pointed to the prone figure of the ferret-faced man} and him {he gestured towards another of their assailants, a massive shaven-headed individual} coming out of a pub together. I recognised them both from my days on the wrong side of the law. Weasel Watkins and Baldy Baker, we used to call them. He was always trying to get our gang involved in some really nasty stuff, protection rackets, murder and the like, though we always drew the line at that sort of thing. The pair of 'em were thick as thieves, as it were M'Lady. Whenever you saw them together you knew they were up to no good. So I thought I'd follow 'em, see what they were up to and maybe get the cops onto 'em. Thieves honour don't apply to the likes of him. E's a real vicious......beggin' your pardon Mr Tracy, M'Lady.
"I saw 'em ensconce themselves in that alleyway, and knew they were lying in wait for someone. I had an idea it might be you and Mr Tracy since I knew we was near to where you'd gone. I gave the cop shop a ring, and of course they told me not to try and handle it meself, but I didn't like to think what those characters might do to you before the rozzers got there. Good job it worked out all right."
With a chorus of sirens three or four police cars pulled up beside them. The unconscious villains were swiftly handcuffed and bundled into the vehicles.
Penelope explained what had happened.
"It would help matters a great deal if your chauffeur didn't try to take the law into his own hands," said the officer in charge, looking disapprovingly at Parker. "I mean, I know he's got a lot to make up for, bearing in mind his past record, but it's setting a bad example. And he could have ended up badly injured or even killed."
"So might them, if I hadn't come along when I did," protested the chauffeur.
"Trouble does seem to follow you, doesn't it?" said the policeman to Penelope, with a sigh. "Well, if you people wouldn't mind coming to the station with us to make your statements." He gestured towards one of the cars.
"I have my own means of transport, thankyou officer," said Penelope. "We'll see you again in a few minutes. Come along Jeff, Parker."
"You'd better be there, all right?" snapped the policeman.
"Dear me, there's no need to be so rude, officer." She strolled off with her companions, the policeman staring after them and shaking his head.
A minute later, Fab One was speeding through the London suburbs towards the police station, and Penelope was giving Jeff an explanation for the situation he appeared to have been drawn into, a situation which was now getting rather lurid.
"The young lady I was forced to manhandle back in the, er, pub is Miss Judith Price; you remember, I told you she was staying with me for a while. She's the daughter of Sir Joseph Price, who will be presiding over the conference on nuclear proliferation to be held in this city in a few months' time."
"That makes her a very important young lady, I guess."
"Indeed. There are those who would want to threaten her in order to put pressure on Sir Joseph."
"Like those guys who just tried to kidnap us," said Jeff grimly. "Precisely. It's in someone's interest, apparently, that the talks be wrecked. Maybe the hardliners in some of the emerging states don't want their compatriots to give up their weapons of mass destruction, and are sabotaging it in order to give themselves some time. Or possibly it's some lunatic who just likes destabilisation for its own sake. Whoever they are, they've obviously been keeping a close eye on Judy's movements, and know I'm associated with her. They can achieve their aims either by attacking Sir Joseph himself, or someone close to him. Of course, Special Branch are giving the family all possible protection. The trouble is, Jeff, young Judy still isn't quite mature in every respect. She doesn't really appreciate why it's important to have policemen with her all the time, wherever she is and whatever she's doing. Either that or it doesn't make a blind bit of difference to her. So she keeps on giving them the slip, as she did today. I expect she'll change in due course, but in the meantime she has to be looked after much as one might a recalcitrant infant, and kept out of harm's way." Penelope sighed deeply.
"I guess it's understandable a young person like her shouldn't be happy with the kind of restrictions we're talking about," said Jeff.
"Oh, don't think I don't see that, Jeff. I can quite sympathise with her. But it's only until the conference has been held. Anyway, I managed to persuade the police to let me be partly responsible for her safety, and have her to stay with me at the house until the whole business was over. I've known her since she was quite young; in fact, we were both at Roedean for a short time. I was Head Girl then, and she was a very young junior. And I'm also a friend of the family. So I thought she'd prefer things that way, and wouldn't misbehave too much out of respect for me. It hasn't really worked out like that, I'm afraid. We seem to end up fighting each other, just as we did at school. She was difficult to manage there, too!"
Jeff thought again about what the consequences of a nuclear war in the Pacific region might be, for International Rescue and for the world. It almost made him dislike Miss Judith Price for her irresponsibility; though not quite, for there was something about her which made it impossible to feel any real antagonism.
But for the sake of much that was dear to him, he earnestly hoped she would grow up. Preferably within the next three months or so.

From a window of the temple The Hood watched the last of the helijets depart. As it disappeared from sight he muttered a derisive remark and turned away.
There was something to be said for operating entirely on his own, as he had done until recently. He couldn't help thinking it degrading to have to associate with common thugs of limited intelligence.
He despised and distrusted all those who worked with him. In fact he shunned companionship of any kind, living here completely alone. Yet in the great things he was currently planning, there was no doubt he needed the help of others.
The only alternative was to operate on his own, but for someone else. Working entirely in his own interest, as he had done on some occasions, had not brought him much success, despite his formidable powers. But he had come to find being another's stooge, acting as an agent for those powers who wanted world domination or the secrets of International Rescue for themselves similarly degrading. In any case he would never in what he planned and did be entirely his own master.
He turned and walked towards a pair of massive doors in one wall of the Inner Sanctum. These swung slowly open at his approach, as if in obedience to him.
Beyond the doors was a huge, dimly lit, stone-walled room. It was completely bare apart from the one or two torches on the walls. Most of the floor was taken up by a vast pit into whose dark and fathomless depths a flight of stone steps led down.
The Hood went to stand near its edge, looking down into it with a kind of morbid fascination; this feeling was mixed with an emotion few would have credited to him, fear.
No sound came from the pit, and nothing was visible within it. One just knew something was there; invisible, silent, still, and brooding.
The thing had no physical form, except in his nightmares where it appeared to him as an indescribably malignant face surrounded by a mass of writhing tentacles.
It was evil, pure evil. That was not, in itself, something likely to disconcert The Hood. But to be its servant, though it brought its rewards - rewards which would one day, he hoped, include the whole Universe - was in some ways a terrible thing. He was, he supposed, merely using it to achieve his own ambitions; what he felt towards it was not "loyalty" as such. However he often had the unsettling suspicion that at the same time it might be using him. The trouble was, to be what he wanted meant accepting its lordship without question.
He could have forsaken it, abandoned the temple and left the creature to brood in its pit until it found someone else willing to serve its cause. But the lure of what it offered him was always too great.
In return for the powers it had given him, the creature expected him to be successful in whatever he did in its name. The price of failure could be a high one. The Ancient Books made it clear that eventually, should he fail too often, the creature would reject him and seek another minion. And dismissal from its employment tended to be accompanied by death.
Too often his schemes had been unsuccessful. Sometimes the failure was due to his own arrogance and over-confidence, sometimes to mere chance. But the reason made no difference to the creature; it had begun to grow restless, and angry.
And so The Hood had changed his strategy. Instead of operating for most of the time without assistance from others he had built up a network of agents all over the world, many of them poached from other criminal organisations, whose purpose was to foment crime, war, suffering and unrest in whatever way possible, and thus prepare the way for his eventual triumph over all earthly powers. They had been strikingly successful in this undertaking. Now he was really achieving something - although it would have been even better if the agents who had assisted him when, in the guise of the Black Phantom, he had made the most recent of his periodic attempts at uncovering the secrets of International Rescue, had not bungled their task - and he sensed the creature was pleased. He hoped for his sake that his prospects would continue to improve.
There was one aspect of his position which was particularly terrible. The Hood had many formidable powers, beyond the understanding of other mortals, but he was not infallible or indestructible. Sometimes he needed the creature's help. And every time he called on it for aid, every time he needed to be saved from some seemingly hopeless situation, it took away a small part of him in return for the energy it expended. Each time he took longer to recover. One day, perhaps, he wouldn't recover at all. Maybe though, if everything went well in the future, he wouldn't have to beg its indulgence too often.
He left the room, locking the door behind him. Although he knew he had nothing to fear from the creature at the moment, and in any case no door would be a barrier to it, he felt safer that way.
As he turned the key in the lock, he had the feeling it was taunting him. "Do you fear me, then?" it whispered. "Do you not trust me? Why, that is an insult!" It was pretending to be angry; taking pleasure in frightening him. He hated it for this, but while he remained in its service such mockery was something he had no choice but to endure.
The Hood returned to the Inner Sanctum and approached one of its many statues, whose base was surrounded by a rotating platform with railings on which were hung the various masks he wore on his operations around the world.
The statue was of a man aged about sixty and wearing a traditional Oriental kimono. Had its builder been interested in capturing the personality of its subject, rather than merely his physical appearance, its face would have suggested wisdom and kindness; but these were qualities which The Hood did not fully understand or appreciate. To him kindness was only of value for the way it might be exploited, and he could not be said to possess "wisdom", only intelligence - intelligence which enabled him to manipulate the traits of others, whether good or bad, for his own advantage - and cunning.
The Hood stood before the statue and raised his arms. Immediately a series of gas burners in the floor ignited, and the statue was surrounded by a ring of flame which threw its stony features into stark relief.
It was as if every function of this sinister place responded automatically to his command.
Wind howled somewhere in the eaves of the ancient building. The glow of the flames was reflected in his smooth, hairless scalp.
His powerful voice rang out commandingly.
"Kyrano! Kyrano!"

Tracy Island lay bathed in the light from a tropical moon. Its occupants had retired to bed, and all was silent and still in the night.
In his room Kyrano stirred in his sleep, muttering. His eyelids flickered open.
A voice was speaking inside his head. A cruel, harsh voice that he seemed to recognise from long ago.
"Kyrano, my half-brother, I have need of your services again."
Kyrano knew who its owner was and what he sought to do. He tried to shut it out by thinking of other things and concentrating on them as hard as possible. The things he had to do around the house in the morning. All the recipes he knew, and the names of all the plants in the house as well as those which grew wild on the island. He knew there was little point in it, because the voice always won in the end. But, knowing as he did the evil of its owner, he could not give in.
Several thousand miles away in his Malayan temple, The Hood scowled as he felt Kyrano's mental resistance. But he knew he could break it down eventually. The glow in his eyes became brighter as he increased his concentration, directing every ounce of his psychic energy at the statue. "Kyrano, you know you cannot resist me, that I will make you speak in the end. Do not cause yourself needless pain."
The man in his bed on the Pacific island tossed from side to side, face covered with sweat. The voice now seemed like a physical force, a hammer pounding away at his brain, trying to batter him into mental submission.
He jerked upright, the bedclothes falling away from him.
And from the unmoving lips of the statue in the temple came a terrible cry of pain and fear.
"No...no! Not again! I will not help you! I will......."
"When do you next visit the mainland, Kyrano?"
"No! Go away! Leave me alone.....Please...do not make me betray
them......."
"I shall not leave you until you tell me what I want to know, Kyrano! Answer me, or I will destroy your mind!"
Kyrano was now thrashing about so violently that the bed was shaking and moving backwards and forwards, the sheets in disarray. The door to the room was flung open and Scott, Virgil, Gordon, Alan and TinTin rushed in. The young woman ran to kneel beside her father, Alan joining her. The others gathered round the bed, looking on in concern.
"Father! Father, what's wrong?"
Kyrano did not reply, but continued to writhe and scream in agony. He was quite oblivious to the other people in the room, and to his daughter's voice pleading that he answer her. Then he stiffened and fell back onto the bed with a sigh.
In the temple, the eerie disembodied voice issued again from the statue's lips.
"I...I am going to San Francisco tomorrow with TinTin on a shopping expedition. We are leaving early in the morning and will take off for home just after lunch."
"Is there anywhere we can meet?"
"There is a small park off Grays Avenue......a few minutes' walk from Robson's Stores."
"You will find me there at half-past two standard time. Do not fail to keep this appointment, Kyrano. If you do, I shall punish you severely. I shall use my powers to burn out your brain and leave you a gibbering imbecile. Remember that."
The Hood's eyes returned to normal, and with a satisfied smile he turned away. Now he must get some rest; in the morning there would be much to do.

"Father! Can you hear me? Father, please answer! Did you have one of your attacks?"
Kyrano's eyes opened, and he smiled weakly up at her. "TinTin........"
"What happened, Father? Was it one of your attacks?"
"It may have been," he replied, his voice faint and shaky. "Or maybe....maybe it was just a nightmare. I don't know.....don't know......."
She looked down at him and sighed. Gently Alan placed a hand on her shoulder. "We'd better leave him for the moment, TinTin. He should be OK; he always was before."
Glancing at the others, Scott pushed up his lower lip in a gesture of helpless puzzlement. If it was a nightmare, there was probably nothing to worry about in the long run. If it was one of the mysterious attacks Kyrano suffered from from time to time, there was nothing any of them could do. The family doctor had tried hard to find some explanation for them but without success. Although traumatic, they seemed to leave no lasting mental or physical damage.
TinTin rearranged the bedclothes and made sure her father was comfortable, then they bade him goodnight and left. Soon he was sleeping peacefully again.
Outside in the corridor they had a little conference. All shared Scott's opinion that there was nothing which could be done. So they returned to their beds, and peace and quiet descended once more upon the island retreat.
As before, Kyrano would have no recollection of what had caused the attack.
The first step in The Hood's plan had been taken.


















TWO
The peace and quiet of the night-time countryside between the little village of Creighton, where stood Lady Penelope's Georgian mansion, and the northern fringes of London was being violently disturbed by the roar of a powerful engine, and the screech of protesting tyres, as Penelope's pink Rolls hurtled along the narrow lanes, taking corners in a highly dangerous manner. Inside it four young people, all to different extents somewhat the worse for drink, were singing away merrily.
It wasn't until he saw a pair of lights coming towards him that Mike, who was driving, realised he had been going straight down the middle of the road. Both vehicles swerved, the van veering off the road. The latter's driver fought desperately to keep it under control, just managing to stop in time to avoid hitting a tree.
The car continued on its way. Its headlights picked out the entrance to Penelope's driveway. At first Mike went straight past it, then realised his mistake and reversed sharply. Turning into it, Fab One came up to the tall wrought iron gates, screeching to a halt just in time to prevent a collision with them.
"Hey Jude, which is the remote control for the gates?" asked Mike, scanning the dashboard in bewilderment. He knew one of the buttons would send out a radio beam to open them, but wasn't sure which. He had no idea what most of the switches and controls were for, Penelope having been somewhat secretive about the matter.
"I dunno," said Miss Judith Price, hazily. "I can't remember."
"I wish you'd had the sense to tell someone before getting sloshed," groaned Mike.
"I'm not......hic....sloshed!" She burped loudly.
Sighing, Mike selected one of the buttons at random.
From the hubs of each of the four wheels emerged a wicked-looking blade, useful for slashing the tyres of cars containing enemy agents or malefactors attempting to steal the secrets of International Rescue.
Seeing that the gates remained closed, Mike chose another button. Two powerful steel cables shot from the rear of the vehicle, the grapnels on their ends embedding themselves in the wall of the little cottage on the other side of the road where Lil, Lady Penelope's cook and housekeeper, lived.
Still the gates remained obstinately shut. Mike pressed the next button along. Twin jets of oil spurted from the rear of the car onto the road behind them, forming a large and rapidly spreading black pool. The car's occupants were blissfully unaware of all these happenings.
"For God's sake get it right, Mike," hissed Claire. "We've got to be back in the house before Lady Muck realises we've been out." Mike tried again, and this time struck lucky. The gates opened, and the car moved forward - taking with it a large section of Lil's wall. A moment later an irate figure in nightie and slippers came running out of the hole thus created, shaking its fist after Fab One as it disappeared up the drive.
A heavy articulated lorry came along the road. The driver saw the pool of oil glistening in his headlights. Aware there hadn't been
any rain that day, he realised what it was and trod hard on the brakes, but was too late to prevent the truck from skidding. Lil jumped out of the way as the lorry hurtled off the road towards her, the driver leaping from the cabin. It ploughed straight into the little cottage, completing the work of demolition begun by Fab One. When the smoke had cleared and the echoes from the crash subsided, the whole of the wall facing the road had disintegrated into a pile of rubble, along with much of the building's interior.
Meanwhile the Rolls Royce hurtled down the drive towards the house. At some point its occupants had forgotten they were supposed to be making as little noise as possible; though if they could have seen the numerous dents in the car's bodywork, the number plate and fender half torn off, and the badly scratched paint, and been able to think rationally, they would in any case have abandoned all hope of concealing the evidence of their escapade.
The car lurched crazily, veered off the drive and began to career around the grounds, the fragment of wall bumping along behind it on the ends of the cables, demolishing a greenhouse, several statues, a summerhouse and various items of garden furniture, as well as taking a sizeable chunk out of the wall surrounding the ornamental fountain, before these successive collisions reduced it to a mere few bricks. It drove right across an array of flower beds, the tyre slashers neatly decapitating Penelope's prize geraniums.
A window opened and Penelope's head emerged. The car was nowhere in sight, having disappeared around a corner of the house, but she
could hear the sound of its engine and the whoops of those who had commandeered it. Other heads appeared, those of Jeff Tracy, Parker and Kate. The last had sensibly decided not to join her friends on their joyride, pretending to have a headache so they wouldn't think her a spoilsport.
Beyond their view, the car swerved to narrowly avoid a collision with a folly by a renowned eighteeth-century architect (a Grade One Listed Building). By now the statuette above the radiator had somehow been wrenched off, and one of the headlights was cracked. As the Rolls turned another corner Mike, who had temporarily forgotten where they were, remembered they had arrived at their destination. Then he saw the swimming pool come into view ahead and braked. He was too late; the car landed in the water with an almighty splash and sank to the bottom.
Along with her companions Penelope followed the trail of mutilated vegatation and broken garden furniture, sighing as she realised the extent of the devastation. The sound of police sirens - there were at least half a dozen cars there, she reckoned - became audible. "Oh no," she groaned. "I really don't feel like dealing with them right now." It was a few minutes past midnight.
She took a remote control device from her dressing gown pocket and pressed the button that would close and lock the gates.
"Won't you be in a lot of trouble about that in the morning?" asked Jeff.
"Yes," sighed Penelope. "I probably will. Now then, where have those wretched kids got to?"
They came round a corner of the house and saw the two cables disappearing into the swimming pool.
Penelope grinned in a rather disturbing manner. She touched another button on the remote control and spoke into a receiver.
"Penelope calling Fab One. Penelope calling Fab One, can you hear me?"
A panic-stricken voice answered her. It belonged to Judy, who had been shaken out of an amiable stupor by the car's descent into the pool.
"Penny! Penny, for God's sake get us out of here!"
"We'll do that in the morning, if you don't mind," Penelope replied. "I've had a hard day and I'm very tired. The car's waterproof, so there's no need to worry. The automatic escape system comes into operation if it does start leaking, though I doubt if that'll happen. Goodnight, dears, and sleep well."
She grinned at the others, who grinned back at her. Then they all retired for what remained of the night.

Jeff Tracy's private jet, with TinTin at the controls, touched down at the Tracy Corporation's airfield just outside San Francisco, and there TinTin and her father took the car kept at the airfield for the family's use and headed for the city.
As they drove through the suburbs towards their destination, Kyrano glanced across at his daughter and thought with pride what a wonderful person she had grown into; attractive, sweet-natured,
yet also highly intelligent and capable. It was a pity, in a way, that she had become absorbed so much into Western culture; but it was perhaps inevitable that that should happen, given that they lived in a predominantly Western household. And she adopted Western ways because she chose to, not because she felt any pressure to conform (though the Tracys would not have sought to exert any). She was too strong-willed and sensible to let anybody pressurise her into anything. And there was still much that was Malay about her: for example her soft, sing-song voice still had the unmistakable speech patterns of the Orient.
In any case, although Kyrano regretted one or two things about leaving his Malayan home, he knew he and his daughter were much better off where they were. He felt he would not be safe back in Malaya. There was nothing wrong with the place itself; but going back there would mean being closer to....to something disturbing, he didn't quite know what. On the island they were in a happy, warm, caring environment. As friends and colleagues of one of the world's wealthiest men - members of his family in all but name - they were also in a very privileged position, and couldn't be blamed for enjoying the comfort and security it gave them. Such was only human, although it was Jeff's philanthropy, his desire to use his vast wealth for the benefit of his fellows, whether or not they were members of his circle, that made it a particular pleasure to be associated with him.
It was nice that TinTin was so friendly with Alan. It would be fitting for his treasured daughter to marry a son of the man who had done so much for them both. It would also, like the vases and other ornaments around the house - living as he did in the South Pacific region, with Asia just as close as America, Jeff keenly felt the influence of the Orient - be a fitting symbol of union between two cultures. If only the wretched boy could make his mind up about commiting himself! You could never be sure whether they were just good friends or something more. It was extremely frustrating.
TinTin parked the car a few minutes' walk from the Stores. They spent some time looking at what was on display, deciding what they would need over the next few weeks, then went to the check-out counter. TinTin began to unload her shopping basket onto the conveyor belt.
Without quite knowing why, Kyrano looked at his watch.
A sudden spasm seemed to pass through him, and a voice spoke inside his head. It was almost time.
TinTin was still at the counter, with her back to him. He turned and hurried out of the building, making his way along the street towards the park.
Once there, he wandered around for a few minutes before someone called out to him. Turning, he saw a man standing by a bush about a hundred yards away; a middle-aged man, apparently of European stock, in spectacles and an immaculate business suit. Kyrano walked up to him.
"Are you alone?" the man asked.
The Malay nodded.
The man produced a small cardboard box and handed it to him. "This contains a number of miniaturised listening devices. You will plant them in all the Thunderbird craft, and in those places on the island where people go regularly. Do you understand?"
Again Kyrano nodded.
"Good. That is all I need to say to you. Now go back to that lovely daughter of yours, Kyrano. She will be worrying about you. Of course you will tell no-one of this meeting."
Kyrano went off. The man glanced around for a few moments; when he was sure no-one could see him he removed his glasses, then put his hands to his face and pulled at it. A mask, made from a synthetic material which looked exactly like human flesh, came away to reveal the harshly-chiselled features of The Hood.
The Hood took a few deep breaths. After a while, the masks tended to start suffocating him.
He gazed after Kyrano, who was just about to disappear from sight. "Weak, pathetic fool," he sneered.
Yet Kyrano was a valuable tool in his operations against International Rescue. One might have wondered why he didn't simply force his pawn to tell him everything there was to know about the organisation and its members. The reason was twofold. For one thing Kyrano knew very little about the technical side of its affairs, which limited his usefulness. Secondly, if he suffered too many of his strange attacks the Tracys would become concerned
enough to take action of a sort which might make it difficult for The Hood to use him again, as well as cause the arch-criminal serious problems. It wasn't likely they'd find out the cause of the trouble, but all the same it was best if he only engaged Kyrano's services from time to time, or when it was absolutely necessary.
He replaced the mask and started to make his way back to where he had left his helijet.
TinTin was standing outside the supermarket, looking around in concern for any sign of her father. She was just about to go in search of him when she saw him coming towards her. "Father! Father, where have you been?"
"I felt faint...dizzy. I went out for some fresh air. I feel all right now."
"You didn't have another of your....."
"Oh no, it was nothing like that. This was quite different. There's nothing to be worried about."
TinTin frowned, unconvinced. "Well, if you're sure you're OK, we'd better be on our way back. I've got everything we need."
Kyrano seemed perfectly well and happy, but she couldn't shake off the feeling that something was very wrong somewhere.

"You ain't 'alf going to be in trouble, you are," Parker was saying to Judy as he finished washing the plate off which he'd been eating his breakfast. "At this rate she'll be telling you to sling your hook."
"We were only having a bit of fun, Parks," protested Judy.
"There's ways and means of doing it," replied Parker.
"Didn't you muck about when you were young?"
"Not the way you kids do. Though I didn't have as much money to spend on things as you and your pals." Parker told himself this wasn't quite the truth. Very often he had had the money......and it was probably best she didn't know how he'd got hold of it.
"But you would have wanted to go out and have a good time, if you could."
"I didn't have your freedom," he told her. She grinned wickedly at him. Although Penelope was rather guarded about her sidekick's past, Judy was intelligent enough to realise that Parker must often, in his former life, have been on the wrong side of the law.
"No, I bet you didn't," she said knowingly. His remark might have been interpreted in more than one way.
Parker gave her a half indignant, half rueful, look. "You watch it," he said good-naturedly.
At that moment Penelope came into the kitchen. "Morning, Penny," said Judy brightly. She wasn't quite able to banish a trace of nervousness from her voice.
"Good morning, my dear," replied Penelope, a little stiffly. She would have greeted Parker too, but her ward's appearance caught her attention and she quite forgot he was there. She stared at Judy in amazement. "What have you got your hair done up like that for?"
On top of Judy's head was a bulbous shape which reminded Penelope
of a certain variety of beehive.
"I'm a Sixties Revivalist," she said proudly.
"A what?" gasped Penelope.
Judy looked at her scornfully, and sniffed. "You don't really understand youth culture, do you? It's the in thing these days among young people. It's really caught on. There are all sorts of different factions within the movement; you've got the Carnaby Streeters, like me....and then there are the hippies..."
"The….?" Penelope's bafflement was increasing.
"The hippies. They've got long hair, kaftans and beards, and they're all into peace and love and that sort of thing. They sit on the grass and hand people flowers."
"Sounds rather dubious to me. In any case, I fail to see what excites people so much about a particular decade in the last century."
"There's nothing modern about having a butler," taunted Judy.
Parker grinned at this remark. A lot of people would have agreed with Judy there.
"Don't be cheeky," said Penny.
"Now then.." Her voice became stern. "What do you have to say concerning last night's little escapade, mmmmm? We had half the Hertfordshire Constabulary round here last night." She expected some representative or representatives of law and order would be turning up shortly to take up the unresolved matter of Judy's nocturnal escapades. "I was in enough trouble with the police already, thanks to you, and now......my garden is a total mess, and that's got to be paid for too...."
"Do you mind, Penelope," groaned Judy, indicating the bowl of cornflakes she had been eating. "How can I be expected to enjoy my breakfast with you going on at me all the time?"
At this point Parker, having finished his cleaning up, decided it would be as well to leave the room.
Penny ignored Judy's complaint. "And that's not to mention Lillian's house.....and my car," she added with particular chagrin. The original version of Fab One had been destroyed as a result of the Black Phantom's attempt to capture her and other members of International Rescue. Brains had spent a great deal of time building into its replacement the same modifications that had been incorporated into the original, with a few more besides. Now it looked as if that too was destined for destruction, thanks to the activities of a bunch of irresponsible students.
"It shouldn't be too difficult to put things right," said Judy. "You've got pots of money."
"I won't have if it things go on like this. Judith..."
"My name is Judy," replied her charge.
"If you don't start treating me and my house with a bit more respect, I shall have to cancel our little arrangement. Which means you'll be under police protection at your father's house. And that, I imagine, won't be half as much fun as it is here."
"However," she went on. "That's not really the point. You shouldn't have gone out like that last night. You've got to stay here, where we can keep an eye on you. We shouldn't be adding to your father's worries. He's having a particularly difficult time at the moment, what with that conference coming up, and that's why I haven't told him about your numerous misdemeanours. You must understand the danger you're in, and the responsibility you have. If anything happens to you, he's going to suffer as well, and that won't do the conference any good I'm sure." She had told Judy about the kidnap attempt on her and Jeff. For a while the girl had clearly been shocked, but now she seemed to have reverted to her usual ebullient self, although Penny suspected she was more affected by the news than she was letting on.
"All right, but you can't blame me for wanting to get out a bit, especially at this time of year. I want to be lying on beaches, and that sort of thing. Going to interesting places....." Penelope understood the girl's feelings: like most young people, she was living only for the day. And by the time the conference finished it would be autumn.
"I'm afraid that isn't going to be possible right now. But if you must go gallivanting off - although I'm going to do all I can to stop you - at least wear this so I know where to find you if anything nasty does happen." Penelope handed her a silver medallion on a chain.
"What is it?"
"A Saint Christopher. A lucky charm." She handed the medallion to the girl, who inspected it carefully as if she might catch something from it.
Judy wrinkled her nose. "I wouldn't be seen dead in this. I mean, it's hardly fashionable. Went out years ago."
"It's not just for appearances' sake. It's keyed to your heartbeats and it transmits a signal we can home in on. Aren't our police wonderful?"
Judy grinned mischievously. "You didn't get that from the police." She had already worked out that Penelope was some sort of secret agent, although she had no idea who exactly her guardian was working for.
Penelope wagged a finger at the girl. "Don't you dare tell anyone about that," she said. "If certain people found out about it I'd be in serious trouble." Not that she hadn't been in serious trouble before, on various occasions, but she really didn't want unsavoury characters following her around trying to kill her. She found that sort of thing extremely tiresome.
A thought occurred to Judy. "What if I want to go for a swim?" she asked. "For example. How I am I going to wear it with a bikini? What if it came off in the water - the medallion, I mean."
"I'm sure you'll find a way," smiled Penelope.
Judy returned to her theme. "I don't want to be a prisoner," she said miserably. "Here or anywhere else."
"You'll have to be, until that conference is finished. If it doesn't come off, there may not be any more summers ever."
"Then maybe I ought to be making the most of this one," said Judy.
Penelope tried to work out the logic behind the girl's attitude, something which rather escaped her.
"Don't you think it'd be better if I did try to get around as much as possible, rather than stay in one place, because then the people who are after me won't know where I am," said Judy, apparently in all seriousness.
Penelope stared at her in astonishment for a few moments. Then she burst out laughing. She laughed long and loud. "Come now, my dear. That's complete and utter rubbish, and I think you know it really."
The girl's expression became angry. "Penelope, you're so patronising! You're treating me like a child!"
"Then don't act like one." Penelope's voice seemed to lash out and crack like a whip. The severity in her tone took Judy aback, and she became pale and subdued. For a few moments she seemed to be back at Roedean, being reprimanded for some misdemeanour.
"You," went on Penelope, deciding to give full vent to her repressed feelings, "are a selfish, thoughtless, childish, and unbelievably stupid young woman who is causing those who care for her - and I'll have you know they care very deeply, though you may not appreciate it - a great deal of worry and stress. I just cannot believe the insensitivity of your conduct. Grow up, will you!"
The girl flushed red with humiliation. This was embarrassing; embarrassing because of the reminder of her schooldays, and because her guardian was normally so calm and self-controlled that you never thought her capable of losing her temper whatever the provocation, which made her feel ashamed at having caused it. Suddenly she burst into tears.
Penelope's face softened. She went over to Judy and gently placed a hand on her shoulder. "I thought you needed to be put in your place, but I honestly wasn't trying to make you cry. I understand how much you want to go out and enjoy yourself......how much you want a world where you can do what you like when you like. But my dear, you may not be able to have that world if the conference breaks down, or certain people get their hands on you and force your father to withdraw from it. A lot depends on you right now. “I'm not sure why, but our enemies seem to be concentrating on you rather than your father....probably because they know you tend to be careless. They're vicious, ruthless, and thoroughly dangerous. I expect you don't believe they'd be interested in you and not him, but if they can get at him through harming you, or threatening to do it, they will.
And I'll say it again, it's not only for your sake. I'm sure it would destroy your father, and a lot else besides, if you were killed or permanently harmed in some way. No way would he be in a fit state to preside over the conference, and the general feeling is that if he can't make it a success no-one can. You've just got to discipline yourself to accept all the restrictions until it's all over. Do you understand?"
Judy nodded, blinking away her tears. “I’m sorry.”
"OK then." Penny ruffled the younger woman's hair affectionately. "I suppose it would help you to settle down if you found a young man," she said thoughtfully. An idea occurred to her, but she dismissed it from her mind. She would only cause trouble if she got any of Jeff's sons involved with a young lady without his agreement. The whole International Rescue set-up made that sort of thing inadvisable.
"Now, are you going to be at the party tomorrow night?" she asked.
"I guess so," replied Judy.
Penelope looked again at her hairstyle and grimaced. "If you are, for goodness' sake don't go looking like that. Although it's up to you how you look, I suppose."
Judy brightened as a thought came into her head. "Hey, will there be any fellas there?"
"Of your age, you mean? As a matter of fact, yes......three of Mr Tracy's sons are coming over to join him. But they have a rather busy life. They don't have much time for young ladies at the moment. Still, you can have a pleasant little chat with them. They're all nice people. You'll like TinTin too..."
"TinTin?"
"That's her name. TinTin Kyrano. She's Malaysian. Mr Tracy's sort of secretary."
Judy laughed. She'd always thought Tintin was a fictional character.
"Now don't be rude," Penny chided, more mildly this time. "She's a very nice person, and it will be interesting to meet someone who comes from a different cultural background."
"Right you are - Head Girl!" Penelope's well-intentioned bossiness had been a source of amusement to Judy for as long as
they had known each other.
This time Penny smiled with her.
"Now, my dear, I'm going to see if I can't put my garden in some semblance of order. I'll deal with our friends in blue should they come calling. You and your chums may amuse yourselves however you like, as long as it's sensibly. I promise you I'll give some serious thought to the question of keeping you suitably entertained. See you later."
Judy went upstairs to see if any of her friends had bothered to get up yet. Finding everyone still in bed, she sighed and returned to her room. She looked at herself in the mirror, admiring her new hairstyle. She frowned: come to think of it, it was a bit stupid. Fancy anyone wanting to go around with that on top of their head! Sighing, she set about the task of remaking it.
As she attempted to tidy up the mess that had been made of her flower beds, Penelope reflected on the conversation she'd just had with Judy. She felt a kind of bond, an understanding, had been created between the two of them. She could only hope it was the start of a permanent improvement in the girl's attitude. Time alone would tell.....

Thousands of miles away, deep in the heart of the Nevada Desert, a rugged open-topped vehicle with enormously thick tyres was drawing to a halt on a ridge overlooking a cluster of concrete buildings. The buildings, most of them windowless, were surrounded by a high perimeter fence. A sign beside the gate read "NATIONAL
AERONAUTICS AND SPACE ADMINISTRATION: WHITMAN SANDS FACILITY. NO ENTRANCE TO UNAUTHORISED PERSONNEL."
From his jeep The Hood, undisguised and wearing casual, overall-
like clothes, scanned the complex through his binoculars. He saw the guard at the gates glance in his direction and stiffen.
The Hood smiled. He surveyed the buildings for a moment more, then put away the binoculars and took a camera from the dashboard compartment.
In the complex below, the guard who had noticed him had drawn him to the attention of a colleague. "I don't believe it. Look at the guy! Does he want to get arrested, do you reckon?"
"Dunno, but we'd better get up there and find out what his game is. Chances are he's just eccentric, or a nutcase, but it could be some sort of double bluff."
The Hood meanwhile had put the camera away, and was now making a sketch of the complex.
He looked up as the two guards approached him. "Good afternoon, gentlemen!" he said cheerfully. "What can I do for you?"
"You do realise this is a high security establishment, Sir? The notice you'd have seen back there did say no-one was allowed to take photos. May I ask why you're...."
The Hood smiled. "There is no harm in asking."
His eyes began to glow.
Seconds later, the two men were standing gazing into space, their eyes dull and their expressions vacant.
The Hood handed one of them a small black box with a single screen built into it, like a miniature television set, and gave him a series of instructions.
He turned to the other man. "I have no need of you. You will go back to your post and remember nothing of me." The hypnotised guards turned and began to walk back down the slope towards the complex. The glazed expressions had gone from their faces, and their movements were like those of normal men. But neither would forget what they had been told - or remember it once they had carried out their instructions.
He started the jeep, swung it round, and drove off into the desert, the vehicle's massive wheels sending up great clouds of dust.
In his laboratory within the largest of the buildings, Professor Gilbert Santos was working on a machine which would radically change the nature of space travel. They had tried the device on inanimate objects first, then animals, then finally humans. Initially, the latter had been down-and-outs (for, sadly, such people still existed in the twenty-first century, despite everyone's best efforts); people who didn't value their lives that much and weren't particularly bothered if something did go wrong with the process. They'd had doubts about the ethics of the matter, but careful consideration of it had eased his conscience, to some extent at any rate. However hard Man might try to look after the planet of his birth, and at the moment he wasn't trying hard enough, there would still be too many people competing for too few resources. It was essential that he at least explore the
possibility of finding and exploiting any mineral sources which might exist on other planets. At present the costs were far too high for such ambitious, if necessary, projects to be practical. His invention would revolutionise the whole business of space travel, and in such a way as to cut its costs by over half. The benefits to the human race far outweighed any other consideration; if these people were available, you had to make use of them.
Was he right, or was he wrong, to do what he was doing? It was so difficult to decide....and in the meantime something had to be done to ensure that the human race had a future. (It should be noted that those who agreed to participate in Santos' experiments were always rewarded with enough money to give themselves a new start in life).
Despite his qualms, it had been a wonderful moment when the machine had first been successfully tested, the subject dematerialising and then reappearing a few seconds later a short distance from where he had been standing. Further tests proved that the process was completely safe. The machine only transmitted human molecules, rejecting any other kind, so there was no possibility of getting one's atoms mixed up with those of, say, a fly, as in a certain old film, and producing some horrific monster. The prototype device had been a huge, clumsy affair. The machine Santos was currently working on was much smaller - small enough, in fact, to fit into the palm of your hand. It was a flat, rectangular black box, like a TV remote control in appearance. It generated a field which broke down anyone or anything existing
within it, including the device itself, into their constituent molecules and transmitted them to the point whose coordinates had been keyed into it.
Now more or less complete, it lay on the desk which took up one end of the laboratory, where Santos was sitting scribbling out notes and mathematical equations in an attempt to find a way to increase the machine's power so that it would work on more than one person at the same time. Until he had succeeded in this task, the device as it was would be useful mainly for demonstration purposes.
Someone knocked at the door. "Come in."
One of the security guards entered the room, closing the door behind him. "Professor? I've been asked to give you this."
He held out the device The Hood had given him. The little screen began to pulse with a golden light, and strange vibrations emanated from the black box as Santos stared at it in bemusement. He began to feel odd. What was going on? What.........
A voice seemed to speak inside his head. "Santos, you will obey me," it said. You will obey me. You cannot resist my power...."
From the cabin of his helijet The Hood was staring into the screen of a similar device, and speaking into its receiver. Able to relay his hypnotic powers to any point on Earth, it represented an alliance between mystic forces and high technology.
"When you finish work this evening," he went on, "this is what you will do....."
At the end of the day Professor Santos did not go straight home, but drove out into the desert to where, some twenty or thirty miles from the base, a stocky four-engined helijet was parked near an outcrop of rock. A man stood waiting in its shadow.
Santos drove up to the helijet and got out of the car, carrying a
leather briefcase.
The man took the briefcase from him, and without a word turned and disappeared up the ladder into the belly of the craft. Santos returned to his car and drove off, this time in the direction of his home.
Like Kyrano, and the guards, he would remember nothing. Behind him, the helijet rose into the air and set off on its journey back to Malaya.

There wasn't really anything more for Jeff to do in England. Everything he'd had in mind, whether in the line of business or that of pleasure, had been successfully accomplished. Well, almost. His agent recruiting drive, something necessary from time to time to replace those of IR's agents around the world who for one reason or another were unable to carry on with their duties, had hit a problem. He needed just one more new recruit, but it didn't seem the man he had approached for the job, again at Penny's instigation, was interested in his offer, although they couldn't be sure exactly what his feelings were. The elderly vicar had smiled and said something in a strange incomprehensible language before going on his way.
TinTin, Gordon, Alan and Scott had gone out to join him for the
last day or so of his holiday. Now all of them were enjoying the party Penelope was hosting for her society friends in the spacious oak-panelled ballroom at Creighton Hall.
The Tracy party were among the first people to turn up. As always they surveyed their surroundings with interest, admiring the portraits of Penelope's distinguished ancestors, the magnificent crystal chandeliers. At the side of the room was a long table where Parker and Lil were attending to the food and drink.
They sipped at their drinks, chatted and watched the other guests begin to arrive. Sir Joseph Price, tall, straight-backed and dignified, with his impressive mane of white hair, was immediately recognisable. Penelope was with him, clad in an elegant blue gown which made her look even more stunning than usual.
"I hope my daughter hasn't been too much of a handful for you,"
the diplomat was saying to her.
"Oh no, not at all," said Penny brightly.
As she had expected, the police had soon called to question her about the previous night's incident, and had interviewed all those involved in it. She'd managed to talk them out of taking any action, partly by promising to accept full responsibility for compensating the injured parties.
She decided it might not be a bad idea to change the subject. "How are the preparations for the conference going then, Joe?"
"Slowly, Penny, slowly," the old man replied, sighing deeply. "There's a lot to organise. If we'd just invited the Middle Eastern countries, which is where most of the trouble is at the moment, it would have been a lot simpler. But....well, the world's been so worried about the whole nuclear business lately that we wanted to get it all sorted out in one go." There would, in fact, be not one conference taking place but about half-a-dozen; each nation which at that moment was actively seeking to acquire nuclear weapons would be represented there. All of them would be driving very hard bargains as they sought to find out just how much they could secure for themselves in return for abandoning their nuclear aspirations. "That's really why it's taking so long to prepare."
Judy entered the room and came towards them, smiling. Penelope noted her ward's change of hairstyle with relief. Sir Joseph greeted his daughter with obvious pleasure; it was clear she was the apple of his eye, despite everything.
Judy's friends, suitably kitted out at Penelope's expense in skirts and suits - the normal appearance of one or two of them would have raised more than a few eyebrows among her clintele - arrived a moment later. They hung back from mixing with the other guests, by whom they were somewhat overawed (there were quite a few cabinet ministers in the room, as well as film stars, business tycoons and a couple of ex-Prime Ministers). At the same time they clearly relished being in such distinguished company. They stayed together, surveying the other guests and having great fun trying to identify them, when they weren't helping themselves liberally to the food and drink.
Judy had a few words with her father and Penelope. Then the latter pointed out the Tracy contingent to her, suggesting she go
over and introduce herself.
One of the three young men in the party caught her eye immediately. Really dishy, he was; tall and darkly handsome, with a face that suggested good humour as well as strength of character. The blond guy looked a stunna too, but with that elaborate coiffeur he was also, quite frankly, a bit of a poseur. Judy made her way towards them. She contrived to speak to the dark-haired one first.
"Hi!" she said.
"Hi there," responded Scott. "Guess you're Judy."
"That's right."
"Scott Tracy." They shook hands. He introduced her to his brothers and TinTin.
"I've heard a lot about you," said Scott. He tried to make the remark sound polite, aware the girl might misunderstand it.
"Yes, I expect Penelope's been going on about what a bad girl I am!" she laughed. "Still, she means well, even if she is a bit of a fusspot at times."
"She has her ways. But you needn't worry: everything she's told us about you has been complimentary, I'm happy to say."
Liar, Judy thought. But she understood that he was only trying to be nice.
"So what do you do all the time?" she asked him. "I mean, you don't have to work for a living.....you must have a lot of time on your hands."
"Oh, uh, this and that. There's always something to be done towards the running of all our father's businesses. You don't have a lot to do yourself, or so I hear."
"You don't in your first year at college. It's a great life, but you can get a bit bored sometimes. All that freedom and not knowing what to do with it. But I think I'd prefer that to not having enough." She sighed. "Which is the way things are at the moment. With all the security precautions and everything, I can't really do what I want."
"That's a shame," he said sincerely. He felt a pang of sympathy at the genuine sadness in her voice. If she was someone else’s daughter she wouldn’t have to put up with it.
"I know there's a lot of things you can get up to here," Judy went on, "but you get so bored with being stuck in the same place all the time. There are so many things I want to do but can't...and I've got to put up with it for three months! The whole of the summer!" She was pouring out all her troubles. "You need to make the most of your freedom while you've got it - if you've got it. You get three years at University - that's all - then you're stuck in a job most of the time until you're old.....I know that's what happens to everybody, but it's still hard to take."
"Yeah, I guess so. But you can't do much about it. And there are ways of getting used to it. Of course we don't have to worry about it so it's easy for us to say these things! I suppose you're right...if you've got freedom, the way we have, you've got to make the most of it." He wished he could tell her about the time and effort he and his family put into the International Rescue set-up, but of course that was impossible.
"But don't you ever think you ought to be doing something more useful to society...." She broke off, realising she was saying the wrong thing. "Er...I mean..."
Scott smiled and gave a little laugh, to show her she hadn't caused any offence. "I can understand people thinking that. But
we don't just lie in the sun or play tennis. Tracy Corporation gets involved in all sorts of charitable activities, and we help out with that as well as everything else. We've got the interests of the whole world at heart, believe me. A lot of people owe their lives to us."
Which was true in other ways too.
He decided to change the subject back to Judy's incarceration at Creighton Hall. "You've got to look on the bright side...at least it's not going to be forever."
"It seems like that at the moment!"
"Well, let's try and think what we can do to keep you amused. Why don't you...."
They went on talking about their lives and interests. He had a lot to tell her about the Tracy Corporation and its many and varied activities, about the interesting life which the family's wealth and connections made possible for him and his brothers.
She wasn't that mature, Scott thought; there was a lot she had yet to learn about the world. But she seemed interested enough in what he had to say, and her sense of fun came out all the time, making her company enjoyable. At the same time, the frustrating situation she was in, and the insecurity he detected in her, made him feel sort of tender and protective towards the young woman.
She for her part could sense that he liked her, and that made her warm to him. He also knew how to make a conversation interesting, what sort of things would make people laugh or hold their attention.
While they chatted Alan was studying Judy with interest. Aware of that interest, TinTin gave him a half-reproachful look. It wasn't completely reproachful because she knew his interest in other girls tended to be occasional and short-lived. Not that she needed to worry, thought Alan wistfully. Scott seemed to have snapped Judy up well and good, judging by the enthusiastic way they were talking.
Since Scott had monopolised Judy's attention, the others decided to leave her to him, and went over to talk to Penelope and Sir Joseph.
Penny glanced across to where Scott and her ward were chatting together animatedly. With a feeling of irony, she remembered her misgivings about involving Judy with any of the Tracy sons. It looked as if they'd managed to hit it off without any prompting from her.

On the terrace of the Tracy house, Brains and Virgil were having coffee.
"I wonder how your father's enjoying England?" said Brains.
"Having a great time, I expect," said Virgil. "I'd sure like to have gone there with them, but I guess someone's got to stay on here. You know, you need a holiday too, Brains. But you just can't tear yourself away from your work, can you?"
"I've just got to find a way to control the frequency of the sonic generator," Brains replied. "I'm sure I can do it. It's just a matter of putting in a lot of hard work."
"I have the feeling you're kind of obsessed with getting it right."
Brains sighed. "So many benefits in it....and so many disadvantages. It's not just the accidental problems I'm worried about, either. As Scott quite rightly pointed out, there are people who might deliberately use it to destroy, and that's a very different sort of matter. Oh, it's such a frustrating business. I've just got to find some kind of solution, I've just got to..."
Thousands of miles away in Malaysia, in a room somewhere in The Hood's temple, a series of lights began to flash on one of the banks of equipment which filled the place as the ultra-sophisticated circuitry recorded what Brains and Virgil were saying, analysing it in order to isolate any key words which might indicate something of interest to The Hood. For what he planned to do it was important for him to know as much as possible about what went on in the Tracy household. Whatever could in one way or another be used against them was of value to him. It would be impossible, as well as thoroughly tedious, to sift through everything his enemies might say during their waking hours, so he confined himself to the two matters which really concerned him; anything to do with technology, and anything which suggested a member of the organisation was intending at some stage to leave the island.
When he returned later that day from his visit to America, he found the information very interesting indeed.

"Oh well, back to work now," remarked Jeff wistfully.
He was sitting with his three sons and secretary in the wing restaurant of the Fireflash airliner as it cruised above the Atlantic, reflecting on the events, both pleasant and traumatic, of his holiday.
"That was a nice little break, wasn't it?" remarked Alan.
"Great to see Penelope again," said Scott. "She's a character, she really is. And nice to meet some different people too."
"Like Judy," said Gordon. He grinned mischievously at his brother. Scott had seemed rather thoughtful since meeting Lady Penelope's attractive and vivacious young ward.
"What do you mean?" asked Scott.
"You did seem kind of interested in her." The others were also grinning. Scott looked slightly embarrassed for a moment, then recovered his composure.
"You certainly enjoyed her company," said Alan. "At least, that was the impression I got."
"Well, she did seem a nice sort of person."
"And I bet you wouldn't mind seeing her again." Scott continued to look as if he didn't know what the others were talking about.
He smiled. "I guess the life we lead is too dangerous for anyone
outside our circle to be brought into it." Was there a hint of regret in his voice as he said it?
"From what Penelope says about her, I don't think she'd mind that," TinTin said. "High-spirited people like her are often brave too."
"But she may not be happy about coming to live on the island," Gordon pointed out. "And is she reliable when it comes to respecting our secrecy? That's what we've got to ask ourselves."
"You know, Scott," said Jeff. "If you did want to get serious with her, or any other young lady, there's nothing to stop you. I couldn't object.....and we must do something to keep the dynasty going, I suppose. Mind you, that Judy would be a lot to handle. But then again, maybe you could be a restraining influence on her. She certainly needs one, from what I've seen of her..."
Despite the philosophical way in which Jeff seemed to be approaching the matter, TinTin could tell he was worried. Ever since International Rescue had first been started, he'd been afraid that one or more of his sons would become attached to a girl of their own age, and want to marry her and start a family of their own (the relationship between Alan and TinTin wasn't a problem because both were members of the organisation).
There was nothing that could be done about it, and it had always been bound to happen some day. All the same it was something Jeff had always contemplated with more than a little apprehension, because of the consequences it might have for the future of International Rescue. And when the young lady was Judy Price, there were additional complications. She had courage, yes, but it was of an irresponsible kind. And the carelessness in her character made Gordon's point about secrecy particularly relevant.
"I don't know if she's the right girl for me," said Scott, partly to put his father at ease. "Penelope told me she could be a bit sort of immature at times. Best if she's allowed to grow out of that before anyone gets involved with her."
It was quite true that he just wasn't sure whether he should get "serious" with Judy. Apart from its implications for International Rescue, the girl did have her faults. But it might be worth checking up on her at some time in the future to see if she'd grown out of them. Penelope had told him she thought the girl had a decent streak in her somewhere, and he'd got that impression too. She reckoned Judy might be trying to mend her ways after the talk they'd had the other day.
This was a suitable case for him to take up, perhaps. Something told him that a more mature and sensible Judy would be a wonderful person, provided she didn't lose her boisterousness and sense of humour.
As it turned out, future events were to drive all thought of her from his mind, at least for a while.

The Hood was sitting with a number of other men at a table in a room in a house on the outskirts of the capital city of the Middle Eastern state of Maghrabia. The main window of the room looked out over a vista of clean white buildings, paved terraces and well-kept lawns. Beyond them was a barren desert landscape with a range of mountains visible on the horizon.
"As you know, our beloved leader General Hosani is attempting to introduce some form of democracy in this country," said one of the men.
The Hood laughed. "Democracy!" He repeated the word, his voice full of contempt.
"Of course, when we have achieved power we will put an end to all talk of such things. But in the meantime, Hosani's reforms can be turned to our advantage. He is due to retire soon - he feels that by being a strong leader he has made the country safe for democracy, which has always been his long-term aim, if only because it will increase his popularity among his Western backers - and in the election which will be held to determine his successor, under the new system, I myself am regarded as the candidate most likely to win. I have succeeded in convincing the people that I am a very "democratic" sort of person." He sniggered. "The fools! If we lose the election, there is always the possibility of a coup d'etat. But democracy will allow us to achieve power without the need for bloodshed. The problem is that if, by the time we are in control here, Hosani has dismantled our nuclear capability, and the facilities needed to construct and service it, it will take many years to build it up again. We could try to obtain the materials we need from elsewhere, but that nowadays is not easy." The intelligence services of Britain, America and the other powers who were concerned about the spread of atomic weapons were getting very good at exposing the international black market in nuclear technology. "The conference must fail, or all our plans will come to nothing."
"It will fail," The Hood assured his ally. "It will."
"Well," said the Maghrabian, "I'm not sure we're going about things the right way. This concentration on killing the daughter seems strange to me, somehow."
"I assure you, I know what I am doing. The situation is this: the best course of action is to get Price, or someone near to him. My spies in England report that she is irresponsible, that she has little care for her own safety, and is always trying to evade her bodyguards, whom she finds an undesirable hindrance to her liberty. However well she is guarded, she seems very adept at finding ways to elude her protectors. So she must be the target. Believe me, Mr Jabal, psychology is everything. Only Price can bring the conference to anything like a successful conclusion. And he will not be in the right mental condition to work his usual magic if his daughter is destroyed. Those are the essential principles of the matter.
“So far I have, unfortunately, been unsuccessful at killing her. I shall of course continue trying."
"And if we do get nuclear weapons...."
"We will use them, of course. That is part of the plan."
"But the destruction it will cause..the damage to our own country. Are you sure it is sensible..."
"Of course I am sure. You have seen the powers I possess. The being we serve will protect us from the worst of the holocaust until it is time for us to emerge and take our place as rightful rulers of the world. Everything must be left in ruins so that it can be rebuilt in the way that is right. When millions are dying, the air and soil are poisoned, health and prosperity have been eradicated.......when humanity is at its weakest, when courage and enterprise are no more and there is only despair, then the Power will grow until nothing can resist it."
The Hood knew there were at least half a dozen places in the world where he could provoke a nuclear war. North America and Europe, the wealthiest and most powerful of the continents, were not among them, but would none the less be seriously affected by the conflicts he sought to provoke. The countries on whom they depended for their prosperity would be devastated. And of course the environmental consequences of the holocaust would be apparent everywhere.
Misery and suffering - the things which gave the creature in the temple life - would reign all over the planet. It would be strong enough to emerge from its hiding place, take on physical form, and dominate every living thing on Earth. Then it would grant he and his followers eternal life and eternal power.
Eternal power……

Kyrano entered Brains' laboratory on Tracy Island, duster in hand. He usually tended to do whatever cleaning was needed around the house, so his being in the room would arouse no suspicion.
A set of keys was lying on one of the workbenches. Picking it up, he went to a metal cabinet marked "PLANS" and unlocked it. Pulling out one of the drawers, he proceeded to search carefully through its contents. Finding what he was looking for, he took it over to the microcopier standing in a corner of the laboratory.
Kyrano switched on the copier and fed the document into the slot in one end of the machine. It whirred and clicked for several seconds, and a perfect duplicate of the plan emerged from the corresponding slot at the other end.
Kyrano folded the copy neatly and tucked it into a trouser pocket. He replaced the original in the drawer, exactly where he had found it. Rearranging the plans so as not to betray the fact that someone had been going through them, he shut the drawer and relocked it. Then he left the room, closing the door behind him.
*
Exactly what caused a robot truck loaded with canisters of a highly toxic substance, which it was taking to an internationally-owned chemical plant in the north of the small, poor, but gradually developing African country of Kambata to go out of control as it was crossing a bridge over the country's principal river early in the afternoon of 24th July 2027 was never established. Most likely there had been some mechanical defect. Whatever the reason, the lorry suddenly skidded towards the parapet of the bridge. Since it had no driver, there was no way of getting it back under control (after several accidents in other parts of the world the drawbacks of robot trucks had become clear, but the firm which operated the plant preferred to continue using them in order to save money, a policy which would now land it in serious trouble).
The truck collided with the parapet, knocking out a large chunk of concrete, and screeched to a halt with its front half hanging over the edge, eight hundred feet above the gorge.
The bridge was immediately closed to all traffic, and the rescue
services alerted. The danger was clear: the lorry was so delicately balanced that the slightest jolt could tip it over the edge. If its deadly load fell into the river, and the canisters were damaged in any way, they might leak their contents and contaminate the main drinking source for hundreds of villages. There was no immediate likelihood of it overbalancing, but it obviously couldn't be left where it was. However the vibrations from any kind of heavy equipment would probably upset it. With conventional hardware the operation would be impossible to attempt without bringing disaster upon the region.
There was only one solution.
The police officer on the scene took out his radio and broadcast a message on a special frequency reserved for occasions like this.
"Calling International Rescue! Calling International Rescue!"
Thousands of miles above the Earth, free from atmospheric interference, Thunderbird Five - International Rescue's space station, which monitored all radio messages broadcast anywhere on the planet's surface - isolated the call for help. John Tracy, whose job it was to man the giant satellite, was in the domed observatory above the doughnut-shaped main structure, studying the
stars through a powerful telescope. Astronomy was an obvious way for him to pass the time between distress calls, but it had also been his lifelong hobby.
It was fortunate that fate had blessed Jeff Tracy with sons who shared his devotion to International Rescue and the values it stood for. It had been possible to find each of them some kind of role in the organisation, allocating to him his own craft. Perhaps the least inviting job of all was to look after Thunderbird Five, which meant being stuck out in space entirely on your own for several months at a stretch. But John didn't mind that. Like Brains, with whom the quiet young man had much in common, he preferred his own company. He could always find something to do to keep himself occupied; the satellite contained, among other facilities, a considerable library of books and videotapes. And it was an ideal place to write the books on astronomy and space travel for which he was becoming renowned, free from noise and other interruptions. Up here among the stars was John's element.
A high-pitched bleeping from below interrupted his star-gazing. As he hurried down the ladder to the main communications room with its masses of complex and sensitive equipment the auto-translator came into operation, analysing the Kambatan policeman's words, translating them into English and sending the information to the computer's central processor. The processor activated the machine's voice circuits, rearranging the syllables that made up a recorded message.
They had wanted a pleasant-sounding voice for the computer, and there had only really been one choice as to the donor. John, like Brains, was so immersed in his work and hobbies that he had little time for the ladies; but even so he had to admit that Lady Penelope's husky tones sounded sexy in any language.
"International Rescue here. What is the nature of the emergency?" As he spoke these words the machine was recording them, and a second after they had left his lips was translating John's reply into the policeman's native language. The man gave him an account of the situation, along with precise co-ordinates of the danger zone.
"OK, we get the picture. We'll be out there right away. I'll keep the channel open in case you have any further messages."
The Hood, also, had picked up the call for help. The highly sensitive equipment in his communications room had intercepted it and sent out a signal which could be heard anywhere in the temple. He left the gymnasium where he had been toning himself up and quickly changed into casual, overall-type clothes. Then he hurried along a passageway into the room which served as his workshop and laboratory. Seating himself at one of its many consoles, he played back the recording of the message, at the same time keying information onto a VDU.
A detailed picture of the danger zone, relayed from the Gaat Group satellite orbiting the Sub-Saharan region of Africa, appeared on a screen. He studied it carefully for a few moments, then operated more controls. A patch of red light appeared over a clump of vegetation on a hillside, fifty feet or so below the level of the bridge and a few hundred yards from it, and a set of figures appeared on a liquid crystal display. The Hood went to a desk and opened one of its drawers, to take out a metal case from which he extracted two things. One was Professor Santos' teleportation device. The other was an object not unlike Brains' sonic generator. With the plans Kyrano had taken from Brains' laboratory, and the technology provided by his allies, The Hood had been able to build his own version of it. A brilliant man in his own way, he had been able to make one or two alterations to Brains' original design. It was now equipped with a focusing mechanism, rather like a rifle. And indeed that was what it was - a rifle that used sound instead of bullets.
These were the ideal tools for what he wanted to do, the perfect weapons for his private war against International Rescue.
He attached the sonic rifle to his belt, then pressed several of the buttons on the teleporter, keying in a set of co-ordinates. An observer would have been astonished to see his body shimmer and dissolve into crystals of light before appearing to fade out of existence.

In the living room of the Tracy house, on the wall facing Jeff's desk, were mounted portraits of each of his five sons, plus Lady Penelope, Brains and TinTin. The eyes of John's flashed, and Jeff flicked a switch on a small control panel built into the top of his desk. The portrait seemed to vanish, and was replaced by a monitor screen showing the real John as he stood at the main console in the space station.
"Father? We have an assignment." He briefed Jeff on the situation at the danger zone.
Jeff called a council of his four earthbound sons, plus Brains and TinTin, as he usually did at the start of a rescue operation.
"The obvious solution is to airlift the truck off the bridge," he told them. "But how are we going to get near enough to it without Thunderbird Two's thrusters tipping it over the edge?" This was a problem they had never found a satisfactory solution to, and one that had come close to causing disaster on at least two rescue missions.
"Looks like Pod Two will be needed," said Virgil. "We can use one of the Recovery Vehicles."
"Right. Good idea." Jeff turned to his eldest son. "OK, Scott. Away you go."
"Yes, Sir."
"Virgil, you'll need some help with this one. Alan, TinTin, you go with him."
Scott stood with his back to one wall of the lounge, his hands grasping a pair of ornamental lamp brackets. A section of the wall, and of the floor beneath his feet, swung away, rotating through one hundred and eighty degrees until he was inside Thunderbird One's hangar, directly facing the ninety-foot high shape of the rocket plane, presently in its vertical, pre-launch position. He stepped forward onto a moving walkway which carried him up to the hatch of the control cabin. It slid open to receive him.
While he changed into his uniform Thunderbird One began to move down a pair of angled rails that led through an inclined tunnel into its launch bay.
Meanwhile, Virgil was standing with his back to a portrait of a rocket, the height of the lounge wall, which Jeff had commissioned as a memento of his days as an astronaut. The portrait tilted into a horizontal position, taking him with it. It dipped down, tipping him gently onto a conveyor belt which carried him a short distance along a tunnel excavated through the solid rock of the volcanic peak and onto to a turntable. This rotated through 180 degrees before tilting sufficiently to send him sliding down a chute in the wall of the tunnel.
In Thunderbird Two's hangar beneath the cliff house the main body of the freighter stood on its four tall legs, waiting to receive the pod containing the heavy equipment needed for the operation. The chute carrying Virgil to his craft had telescoped to connect with a hatch in the roof of its cabin, which then opened allowing the chute to extend a few feet further. Virgil slid from the chute into his pilot's chair, after which it retracted through the roof of the cabin.
Another chute connected with a corresponding hatch towards the rear of the cabin, and Alan and TinTin emerged from it. Now a conveyor belt began to carry the six interchangeable equipment pods underneath the craft; when Pod Two was directly below it, the belt stopped moving and Thunderbird Two sank down on top of the pod, clamps snapping shut to lock it into position. As with the launch of Thunderbird One, everything was entirely computer-controlled.
By now the swimming pool had retracted out of sight beneath the patio, and Thunderbird One had reached the bottom of its ramp. A further set of rails carried it onto its launch platform. Now seated in the control cabin, Scott fired the engines. Thunderbird One trembled slightly, then rose up through the yawning cavern where the pool had been and into the sky.
The door of Thunderbird Two's hangar opened, and the giant heavy rescue craft rolled forward onto its runway, the palm trees that fringed the strip of concrete moving back on concealed rollers to allow for its wingspan.
When it was about halfway along the runway it slowed to a halt, and clamps closed to hold it stationary while the runway beneath it rose up and tilted back to an angle of forty-five degrees. Behind it another, smaller, area of concrete opened out in the same manner, forming a blast wall. The twin engines at the rear of the craft fired, the clamps opening simultaneously, and Thunderbird Two hurtled skyward.
At the same time Thunderbird One was tilting into a horizontal position, gyroscopes all the while maintaining the pilot's seat in the correct attitude. A minute or so later Thunderbird Two also began to level out. The two craft banked and changed direction, heading at phenomenal speed towards the danger zone.
Another International Rescue mission was about to commence.

Brains was sitting at the desk in his laboratory, a cup of coffee growing steadily colder beside him.
The advantages of his latest brainwave would be colossal. The world would soon be going through a serious energy crisis. It seemed the future lay with nuclear power, but you couldn't deny that the risks it involved were a cause for concern. A truly safe method of harnessing the power of the atom - nuclear fusion - was still some years away. In the meantime, pollution from fossil fuels was reaching alarming levels, and no-one, at present, seemed able to find a way of making renewable energy - energy from natural sources of power like the wind, the tides, the sun, and the Earth's internal heat - work. His sonic device might possibly be the saviour of humanity. On the other hand, if the wrong people got hold of it the power they might unleash would be just as destructive as a nuclear explosion.
It might, for example, be employed as a weapon of war, and as such cause appalling devastation. Whoever possessed it could bend the whole world to their will. Did he really want to be responsible for that kind of thing?
He had been over the matter time and time again in his head. He was fairly certain that he could eliminate all possibility of accidental problems. The basic principle of the whole thing, however, meant there was no surefire way of eliminating altogether any possiblity of deliberate misuse. The technology could all too easily be adapted for military purposes, once news of his discovery spread and people became aware of the possibilities it implied.
Yet surely, if he was as clever as he was supposed to be, he could find a way to overcome the problem.
Minutes passed as he thought the matter over, face screwed up in fierce concentration.
Eventually, he went over to the drawer which contained the plans for all his inventions, and opened it. Sorting through its contents, he found the one he wanted and extracted it. Then he turned on the shredding machine and fed the document into it, watching sadly as the machine's rollers churned it into thin strips and ejected them into a rubbish receptacle.
He did the same with all copies of the plan. Finally, he seated himself at his computer and switched it on. His hands flickered over the keyboard, calling up the menu, selecting from it the item he required and deleting it. Then, with a sigh, he turned the machine off and resumed once again the on-going task of perfecting his beloved Braman.

From his clump of vegetation on a rise about half-a-mile from the bridge, The Hood observed the danger zone through his binoculars.
At one end of the bridge a number of police vehicles were gathered. Otherwise, there seemed to be no-one in sight. The remoteness of the spot made it ideal to operate in; nevertheless he glanced from time to time at the satellite picture being displayed on the miniature screen fitted to his utility belt to make additionally sure no-one had come near enough for there to be any risk of his being spotted.
The policemen, along with one or two representatives of the chemical company, and of course The Hood, waited patiently until a droning sound from somewhere above caused them to look up. Over the horizon the familiar shape of Thunderbird One, its wings now extended, its silvery body glinting in the sunshine, came into view.
It hovered above the group of people standing by the vehicles, and Scott addressed them through a tannoy.
"Thunderbird One calling Incident Control. There's not a lot I can do until Thunderbird Two gets here, but in the meantime I'm going to fire a cable to steady the truck."
He guided Thunderbird in until it was hovering on a level with the precariously balanced lorry. A cable shot out, and the clamp struck the side of the truck with a clang and fastened onto it.
"Thunderbird One to Two. What's your ETA, Virg?"
"Be with you in twenty minutes. What's the situation down there?"
"Well, none of the canisters seem to be leaking, but one of them's broken free of its restraining harness. Someone will have to go down and fix a rope to it so we can haul it up; otherwise it might fall when we lift the truck. Now John's just given me a map of the area, and I've identified the spot from which we've got to fire that other cable. It's just about on a level with the bridge; co-ordinates are X234187J."
"FAB."
A few minutes later Thunderbird Two came into view and began to approach the ridge. The onlookers on the ground gazed upward, admiring its smooth, heavy curves. Everything about the craft radiated an awesome power.
Thruster outlets spurting flame, it touched down on the ridge. A moment later it took off again, leaving the pod behind. The pod door opened, and the Recovery Vehicle lumbered out, Alan Tracy at the controls. It had a long, narrow, low-slung body but nevertheless managed to be rugged-looking; mounted just behind the control cabin were a pair of pods housing powerful magnetic clamps.
"OK, Alan, we've got to be very careful here," Scott warned his brother. "That truck is on a knife edge. There has to be hardly any slack in those cables...preferably none at all."
"Yeah, I know," replied Alan testily, as if he didn't need to be told.
Scott realised he was in one of his moods, but didn't feel any serious concern. It wasn't likely to interfere with the rescue operation, going by past experience.
"Calculating required angle.....elevating by six point three degrees...." Alan angled the pods upward slightly. A screen on his control panel showed a close-up of the truck, with a circle and cross-hairs over the points where the cables were to be attached. He studied it carefully.
"Firing now."
With a hiss of compressed air the cannons fired, and a cable travelled through the air from each one. The clamps hit the side of the truck, and fastened on. Then four jointed "legs" like those of an insect, two on each side of the Recovery Vehicle, unfolded and descended, sinking into the ground.
"Target stabilised," reported Alan curtly.
"OK, Virg, you can do your stuff now," said Scott.
Thunderbird Two moved steadily into position above the lorry, which shifted slightly with the force of its thrusters but did not fall. In the transporter's cabin Virgil turned to where TinTin was waiting. "OK, TinTin, you'd better get your harness on."
The plan was for her to attach a rope to the loose canister so it could be lifted up into the body of Thunderbird Two. Then, once that had been taken care of, the transporter's magnetic grabs would be used to carry the truck and its remaining load to a safe spot.
A hatch in the underside of Thunderbird Two's nose slid open. In a moment Virgil would start lowering TinTin down.
The Hood looked on. It was tempting to use the sonic weapon to seriously damage Thunderbirds One and Two, perhaps destroying the craft and killing their pilots. That would be a really devastating blow against International Rescue. But it seemed much neater and tidier to stick to his original plan, pursuing it to the end and with care, until the entire organisation was destroyed.
He raised the sonic rifle to his shoulder, peered through the sights and pulled the trigger. It emitted a series of high-pitched pings as the stream of sonic particles left the muzzle. They struck one of the clamps from the Recovery Vehicle at a sharp angle. It jerked to one side, and the force stabilising the truck against the force of Thunderbird Two's thrusters was no longer being evenly applied.
The truck moved - only slightly, and imperceptibly, but all the same it moved. It shifted forward enough for its centre of gravity
to be unsupported. To his horror Scott saw the front of the vehicle dip. It began to slide over the edge.
"Pull back, Virgil!" he shouted. But he knew it was too late. He could see what was going to happen, and yelled into the three-way communicator. "Alan, get out of there, and fast!"
Scott knew that if he didn't move quickly he, like the Recovery Vehicle, would be pulled to destruction. His fist slammed down on a button and the clamp on the end of the cable was instantly demagnetised. It came away, swinging wildly, and Thunderbird One was safe.
The rescue had gone wrong so suddenly and unexpectedly that Alan was just a second too slow in reacting to things. Before he could demagnetise the clamps the Recovery Vehicle was flipped over onto its back by the weight of the falling truck, too much for it to bear despite the stabilisers, and dragged towards the edge of the cliff.
Although shaken, and disorientated by his upside-down position, he kept his wits. His finger stabbed at the controls and the clamps came away. But the momentum of the vehicle, and the slope of the ground beneath it - it had passed the point where the ground began to dip towards the valley below - was such that the action made no difference. The vehicle continued rolling towards the point where the cliff face became sheer. With one hand Alan unstrapped himself from his seat, while the other grasped its edge. He fell towards what was now the floor, twisting as he did so, managing to keep hold of the seat. Letting go, he dropped down to land feet first. He scrambled out through the cabin window and with seconds to spare jumped to safety, landing heavily on the sloping ground. He started to roll rapidly towards the thousand-foot drop, scrabbling desperately to gain a purchase on something. By grabbing hold of a projecting rock he managed to save himself. Twisting round, he watched the Recovery Vehicle disappear from sight over the edge.
The truck continued to fall towards the river, several of the canisters breaking free as it did so. It struck the water and sank beneath it. A second later the Recovery Vehicle hit the ground at the foot of the cliff and exploded, hurling chunks of blazing wreckage through the air.
There followed a long moment of astonished, deathly silence. The onlookers on the bridge stared at the scene in horror.
Scott's first instinct was to check that his brother was safe. "Alan, are you OK?" he shouted into the radio.
"Guess so," Alan replied. "But I'm afraid the Recovery Vehicle isn't." He gazed down ruefully at the burning, twisted wreckage.
Slowly, realisation of what had happened sunk in. Scott kept calm.
"We've got to find out whether any of those canisters have leaked," he told the others. "I'll get the remote camera down there and take a look." The "flying eye" was designed to operate in almost any environment, including underwater.
They waited breathlessly for the results of its inspection. If the worst had happened, if there had been the smallest leakage, International Rescue would for the first time, the very first time, have failed on a mission. And even if there hadn't, it was worrying enough for the accident to have occurred at all.
Concealed in his bush, The Hood stifled a triumphant laugh. His s eyes were alight with an evil glee.
He reached inside his pocket, activated the teleporter, and vanished.





















THREE
"All right," said Jeff, "What went wrong?"
They were back in the lounge of the Tracy house, where an emergency conference had been called.
"We, er, can't say that until we've carried out a full investigation, Jeff," pointed out Brains.
"Well, can't we come to some sort of conclusion? What caused that truck to overbalance? We'd got it secured against the force of Thunderbird Two's thrusters, there was no reason why it should have fallen. I say again, what happened?"
"It's hard to say.....unless there wasn't enough slack in that cable." Virgil realised as soon as he said this that he shouldn't have.
"Are you making out it was my fault?" protested Alan angrily. "This has got nothing to do with slack. I made certain that cable was as taut as possible. I can't be sure, but I think the clamp moved, and that was what caused the truck to overbalance. Everything happened so quickly..."
"So you can't be sure."
"No."
"I suggest we wait for the results of the investigation before we indulge in any, er, speculation," said Brains diplomatically. "Of course, it's possible the fault was in the clamp and does not lie in any way with the operator of the Recovery Vehicle."
"Whatever the reason for it is, it doesn't look good for us," sighed Jeff. "The world has come to think of us as invincible. It's just had a very nasty shock. And as for how I feel right now....."
"We feel pretty bad about it too, Dad," said Scott gently.
"At least nobody was actually killed," said Virgil.
"They may as well have been. What happened today amounts to the same thing.....I've no doubt the relief agencies will do their best, but over the next few months a lot of people are going to die. "
The flying eye had confirmed that the canisters from the truck had leaked.
"And it's our fault," Jeff went on. "Maybe there wasn't enough slack in the cable, maybe the clamp slipped. Either way, we fouled up."
He sighed deeply. "Thousands of people have effectively been condemned to death. And then there's the Recovery Vehicle - millions of pounds of expensive hardware lost. Sure, it can be replaced. But what if it's needed for a rescue?"
A moody silence fell over the room.
"We knew it had to happen sometime," said TinTin. "That one day our luck would run out." She, like Brains, could see that the shock of their first failed mission had had a very bad effect upon the team, and she was anxious to minimise it.
Jeff made a great effort to be philosophical. "Yes," he sighed at length. "I guess you're right........."
"Just don't go blaming me, OK fellas?" said Alan.
"No-one's blaming you just yet," Gordon said. "Just keep your
cool, kid."
Alan gave him a hostile look.
"Come on, you two, stop arguing," said TinTin, putting a hand on Alan's arm. "We'll talk about it tomorrow night," she whispered into his ear.
"So, Brains, you're going to try and figure out what went wrong."
"I can, uh, try, Jeff. Unfortunately, as the Recovery Vehicle was destroyed it will be difficult to identify the precise cause of the accident. I'll go over the wreckage and see if I can find any clues."
Jeff turned to his secretary. "TinTin, we need to start ordering the parts for a new Recovery Vehicle. Will you see to that?"
"Yes, Jeff."
"And I think we'll donate ten million pounds of Tracy Corporation funds towards the relief efforts that'll be needed in Kambata. That should go some way, at least, towards alleviating the situation."
TinTin nodded.
The meeting broke up, and Jeff was left alone with his thoughts. After a while, he drew himself up and began composing a fax message, to be sent to all the world's leading news agencies.

"International Rescue would like to express their deepest regret for their failure to prevent the disaster which occurred in Kambata earlier today. This is the first time since our organisation began operating that any such failure has occurred, and we trust it will be the last. We will be assisting in relief efforts, and also of course investigating the cause of the incident. I hope that this matter will not diminish everyone's faith in us."
*
Fab One, now repaired after the damage it had suffered due to the recklessness of Judy and her friends, passed through the gates of Creighton Hall and came up the drive towards the house. Penelope was returning from a society engagement in London.
A hideous noise from the direction of the house assaulted the eardrums of the car's occupants. Someone was singing in a loud voice, to the accompaniment of a kind of banging and thumping. She couldn't make out the lyrics. The overall effect was as if the singer were in extreme pain. Penelope grimaced, covering her ears. The car drew up beside the door, and they hurried into the house. The sound seemed to be having a deadly effect upon the fittings. A priceless Meissen vase shattered into several pieces before her horrified eyes. The little nodding Chinaman she was rather fond of began to slide towards the edge of the table it stood on as the latter vibrated furiously, Parker dashing forward and just managing to catch it before it hit the floor.
The sound seemed to be coming from the ballroom. They made their way there to find the place had been turned into a kind of discotheque. Speakers and other equipment had been set up, from which the offending music - if music was the right word for it - was blaring. Judy and her friends were gyrating furiously, expressions of what seemed like fierce determination on their garishly painted faces.
Seeing Penelope, Judy smiled and gestured for her to join in. Penny decided to decline the invitation. Instead she scanned the range of equipment until she had identified the main power cable, then marched over and yanked it from its socket. The music stopped abruptly, and the young people turned to look at her in disappointment.
"Pens, what on Earth did you do that for?" said Judy.
"This is not the place to hold a rock concert, I'm sorry."
Penelope had been looking forward to a quiet evening in front of the television. "You've probably woken all the neighbours. Sorry, about that, my dear, but if you must play some music choose something a bit quieter."
Judy said nothing, having decided it wasn't worth arguing. She nodded resignedly. "If you say so. Come on, gang, we'd better start clearing all this gear away."
Penelope retired to the living room. On her way there she stopped to inspect the broken vase. Deciding it was beyond repair she collected the pieces and threw them away.
She settled into her armchair and pointed the remote control at the television. The screen flickered into life. A young woman and an older man were running down a corridor towards a sort of blue box, followed by something that looked like a giant mobile pepperpot with guns and things coming out of it and screeched death threats after them in a metallic voice. She made a gesture of disgust and changed to another channel.
She was just in time to catch the start of the news.
"And the big story tonight is that International Rescue have failed to prevent the water supplies of thousands of villages in the north of Kambata, central Africa, from being contaminated after a truck carrying toxic chemicals crashed while crossing a bridge over the country's main river."
Penelope listened in horror.
"The top secret organisation were called in once it became apparent that the truck could not be moved to safety with conventional equipment. Exact details of the operation are being suppressed for reasons to do with International Rescue's security, but it appears a cable which was being used to secure the truck before airlifting it off the bridge broke, causing it to fall into the river. On being recovered a number of the canisters were found to have leaked. The result of this accident will be a humanitarian tragedy of terrible proportions; just a few grammes of the substance they contained will have been enough to make the water undrinkable even with advanced purification techniques.
"This is the first time International Rescue can be said to have failed on a mission. Today's events must have come as a severe shock to them. But world opinion will, it is thought, be forgiving. Though we know very little, beyond mere speculation, about the organisation and how it operates, we must assume that like everything in this world it is not perfect. How International Rescue themselves are feeling at this moment, we can of course only guess. As to why the offending cable should have broken, that too is something we can only speculate on."
Penelope switched off the set, not wishing to hear any more. She glanced around, making sure Judy wasn't about. From a handbag she took out a powder compact and pressed a button on its side. The lid sprang open and its inside face became a screen on which Jeff Tracy's face appeared.
"Oh, hi, Penny." As she had expected he sounded pretty miserable. "What can I do for you?"
"I just heard the news. I thought I ought to call and let you know how sorry I am. It must be a terrible shock to you."
"That's great of you, Penny. Yeah........guess we'd come to think we were invincible. It's hit us all pretty hard."
"That newsreader was quite right. Nothing's invincible, Jeff. I know it must be hard for you to take, but you'll just have to put it behind you. I'm certain what happened wasn't your fault."
"I wish I could be sure of that," he replied.
"Even if it was, Jeff, there's little point in blaming yourselves. However important our jobs are, it doesn't change the fact that we all make mistakes. And you've had an excellent record so far...that's what you have to remember. Take comfort from it. Apart from that, all you can do is find out what went wrong and make sure it doesn't happen again."
"We're looking into the cause right now, Penny. Nice of you to call." He'd normally have gone on chatting for a while longer, but just now he probably he wasn't in the mood.
"Chin up, Jeff. 'Bye."
She wished there was something more she could do to help, but the actual rescue side of the business wasn't her territory. The problem was something for Jeff to sort out. And there was no reason to suppose they would necessarily slip up again.
She decided to donate a fair slice of her own money to the relief efforts in Kambata.
Penny turned the TV back on and selected another channel. To her delight one of her favourite soap operas was just beginning.
Glued to the screen, she didn't notice Judy standing in the doorway. "Penny.."
"Yes, darling?"
Judy came and sat down beside her. "About just now."
"Yes....I didn't mean to spoil your fun, of course. But you just weren't thinking, were you?"
"No," said Judy sadly. "But look, Penny......I've been OK these last few weeks, haven't I?"
"You certainly have, and I'm pleased." Since their heart-to-heart talk the other day there had been no more attempts to escape from the secure environment of the Hall. "But what were you going to say?"
"If I have to be here all the time, I've got to keep myself amused somehow. And I'm not having much fun right now. I can't be sure that I won't start mucking about again. It isn't because I'm ……irresponsible....I just think that as long as I'm here, that's what's going to happen."
They had soon begun to run out of interesting things for Judy and Co to do. Penelope had suggested an attempt to locate the secret room which was supposed to exist somewhere in the house, and where, legend had it, the rightful Earl of Creighton, born a hideously deformed monster, had been imprisoned in the fifteenth century. She'd also told them the blood-curdling story of the family ghost, which walked the Long Gallery at midnight. Dare they sit up to watch for it, at the risk of their hair turning white from shock? Despite all their efforts they had failed to locate the hidden room, and the ghost had not deigned to show its face. She very much doubted whether either existed, strongly suspecting that Penelope had made them up just to give her something to do and so keep her out of mischief.
"You ought to read a bit more," said Penny. "Especially since there's nothing good on television nowadays; nothing at all, except endless repeats. There's plenty of good books in the library."
Not that she herself made much use of the library's contents, she told herself, apart from the various trashy romances it contained. The rest, which had been inherited from her late husband's family, hadn't been touched for quite some time.
She smiled. "And I can't say I think much of your taste in music either."
"What am I going to do?" said Judy miserably.
"I'll think of something, I promise you," Penny said.
"I guess I'll just have to get used to it," Judy sighed, and left.
Penelope sat there pondering the situation. The truth was, there
wasn't much more they could do to keep Judy happy. Some serious thinking was called for.
Oh dear, nothing but problems, she thought.
There came a knock on the door, and Parker's head appeared. "Cup of tea, M'lady?"
"Yes, Parker. Right now I fancy a cup of tea very much indeed."

INTERNATIONAL RESCUE FAIL TO AVERT HUMANITARIAN DISASTER
Thousands will die, say experts
Water supplies poisoned as top secret organisation slips up

The Hood smiled as he read through the newspaper report of the Kambatan catastrophe. For the most part, it seemed the world was prepared to forgive his enemies for their apparent blunder - but that was to be expected. It would take more than one failure to discredit International Rescue.
And there was more than one way to achieve his aims. In keeping with the two-pronged strategy he had decided upon, he would continue trying to obtain the secrets of their technology. He appreciated the importance of being flexible; he would adjust his strategy whenever possible or necessary to give himself the maximum advantage. Even if he did not succeed in acquiring the information that was so vital to his schemes, any damage, any anguish or embarrassment he was causing IR would be for the better.
Whether he gained possession of their secrets or destroyed them, he would have achieved his ambitions. And at the same time he would have his revenge for all the times they had defeated and humiliated him.
*
Inside the restaurant various couples, among them Alan and TinTin, were sitting talking to each other while a pianist played romantic tunes. Through the windows the lights of the seafront glimmered on the water.
Alan and TinTin had finished their food and were now on to the wine. They talked quietly over their drinks, discussing the failed rescue and its effect upon things generally.
"The others are blaming me for what happened, I'm sure of it," Alan was saying. "You reckon I'm lying about that cable?"
"No, I don't." She patted him consolingly on the arm. "Whatever your faults might be, I'm sure you wouldn't do that. But I don't think it's true to say they're blaming you."
"No? Come on, TinTin. It's obvious they don't trust me on a rescue mission. And if that's the way they feel, I reckon I'll be saying goodbye to International Rescue pretty soon."
"Oh, Alan! You don't mean that."
"Why wouldn't I mean it?" he asked aggressively.
"Because I know you! You always talk about things but never do them. You've always been like that, or so the others tell me. You used to threaten to run away...and they had to remind you that you couldn't do that because you lived on an island. So then you threatened to drown yourself...."
Alan was in no mood to be reminded of childhood misdemeanours. He scowled.
"Oh, Alan! Laugh!"
He managed a weak smile, more to please her than anything else.
Then he became moody and disgruntled again.
"If I haven't left, it's because you usually manage to talk me out of it," he said, a little resentfully.
"That's not true. It's because of you as much as anything else. Because you know at heart that you're being, well..."
"What?"
She searched for the right word to use. "Rash."
"It's not just because of the rescue going wrong."
"I thought not. What else is there?"
"I'm sick and tired of being stuck on that island, always having to be on call in case a rescue comes up. I want to lead my own life. What makes it worse is that I'm always being treated like a kid. For example, whenever the spaceship goes up Scott's always there to hold my hand."
"I don't know how to say this politely," said his girlfriend, "but perhaps...perhaps it's you that's the problem."
"What do you mean by that?"
"Well, if you get treated like a child it may be because you act like one."
He glared at her. "Oh, yeah?"
"Let's be honest about it, you do tend to make a fuss if you can't get your own way. Alan, I think you should look at things a bit more carefully. Perhaps it's only to be expected that the others will treat you the way they do from time to time, when you're the youngest in a large family. I don't think they mean to annoy you. But you make it worse by being so quick to take offence."
I think you're unhappy right now because of a combination of different reasons. You don't have to let things pile up in that way. If you can keep calm, you'll raise the temperature a lot less and make things easier for yourself and everyone else. And remember, it may be Brains' investigation will prove it wasn't your fault.
“If you want to leave because you want a diferent kind of life, that's something you've got to make up your mind about. But don't just let it fester, like you're doing now. It'll only start to infect everybody else, and we're all upset enough as it is."
"Right now you're the only thing that's keeping me here," he told her.
"I'm sure that if you wanted to leave the organisation, and start your own life on the mainland, I would at least consider going with you."
"Well, let me say this, TinTin - If it goes on, I'm out!"
"It doesn't have to come to that." She wondered if he'd really been listening to what she'd been saying. Probably he just wasn't willing to admit he was in the wrong.
"So, are you going to leave the island or not?" she asked.
"I don't know, TinTin," he replied. "I just don't know."
TinTin sighed.
She had hoped the evening would be an occasion for them to sort out Alan's troubles, but she didn't seem to be getting anywhere with him. All in all it was a worrying business. She liked Alan, despite his faults - to some extent because of them, because you could laugh at them so far as they didn't cause too much trouble around the place, and he wasn't in sufficiently bad a mood to be upset - and that was why his unhappiness upset her.
She'd have been even more disconcerted if she'd known that in a car parked across the street from the cafe The Hood had been listening to their conversation, which one of his miniaturised bugging devices, planted on the underside of their table by a hypnotised waiter, was monitoring.
It was tempting for him to try to seize them now, when they were away from the security of the island. Then he would have a means of gaining access to all International Rescue's secrets.
No, he decided. Not yet. He wanted to make things as difficult for International Rescue as possible. It would be a pity not to let what he had started work its course. He had wondered whether any of the International Rescue team had weaknesses which he might exploit to damage the organisation, and had decided to try and find out by a bit of electronic eavesdropping. To his delight, it seemed he had found the weak link in the IR chain. Alan.

Jeff looked up as Brains entered his study. "I've finished my investigation," announced the young scientist.
"So what did you find?"
"I'm afraid I still don't know why that clamp should have slipped," said Brains unhappily. "I've run extensive tests on the other Recovery Vehicle, and I just can't work out what might have caused it."
"I see," said Jeff, grimly.
"However, I think it's worth considering that the fault may have been something, er, external."
"Like what?"
"I was thinking of......." He hesitated before saying what was in his mind. "I was thinking of sabotage."
"Sabotage? But who could have been responsible? None of us, that's for sure."
"There's the, ah, gentleman who's been causing us trouble on and off ever since our organisation was established. The one who hypnotised TinTin and buried me up to the neck in sand on our expedition to Lake Anasta."
"That guy? I got the impression he was more interested in stealing our secrets than in actually sabotaging rescue operations. Suppose he could be acting from a grudge....after all, we've messed up his schemes often enough. But I thought Penelope and Parker finished him off during the Zero X business, and in any case I can't see how he could have had the opportunity to do it. Nobody knows the location of this base."
"They may have carried out the sabotage at the actual scene of the rescue. But it's possible we've had sabotage on the island before. Remember the time the automatic camera detector on Thunderbird One got knocked out, just before a rescue operation....an operation during which someone - the guy we had the trouble with at Anasta - succeeded in taking photographs of our equipment in action." (On that occasion The Hood, as on all the other occasions when he had managed to photo the Thunderbirds, had been detected and foiled before he could sell the film to the highest bidder).
Disturbing thoughts, which they and other members of the organisation had entertained before but always dismissed, flashed through both their heads. Kyrano and TinTin had been in Thunderbird One just before that particular mission. TinTin had been carrying out some checks on the equipment, and Kyrano had gone there to watch her.....
Was it possible? Surely neither of them would......they weren't members of the family, but that wasn't a good reason for suspecting them of having been responsible for the sabotage.
"There's no proof it was sabotaged on the island," said Jeff.
"It would have been equally difficult to have done it at the rescue zone," Brains told him. "When one of our craft touches down and the crew leave it they always take strict precautions to stop anyone getting inside. Of course, there's no proof it was sabotage at all."
"If someone, somehow, knows where our base is, why haven't they told the whole world?" Jeff objected. "Just think of the power the knowledge would give them."
"I reckon they'd be inclined to sit on that knowledge, at least for a while," said Brains. "It would give them a powerful advantage over all the other people who'd want to know, and they may not have found the right way to use it yet."
"Maybe you're right. But it seems to me to be another argument against the sabotage theory.
"I don't like this, Brains," he went on. "Something goes wrong with a piece of our equipment, causing the failure of a rescue operation, and we can't find the answer. You say it might be sabotage, but I can't see who would want to do it....nobody who's alive, anyway. The fault must be in the equipment somewhere. Keep on looking for it."
"OK, Jeff," said Brains. He tried not to sound weary. He didn't share Jeff's conviction that the fault was mechanical. Although Brains was nothing if not modest, and was happy to admit that like everyone else he was capable of making mistakes, of overlooking things, he had enough confidence in his own abilities to know that if he couldn't find what he was looking for it wasn't there.
"There's one consolation with all this," he said. "Nobody seems to be too mad at us about what's happened."
"The Kambatans are," said Jeff.
"You can't blame them. But otherwise, everyone seems to think we're bound to make at least one mistake during our lives. It hasn't damaged our reputation too badly."
"If the fault was in the destroyed recovery vehicle, and only there, we may not have any more problems," said Jeff. "I hope not, anyway."

The tunnel, which cut deep through the mountain range separating the towns of Harburg and Weideheim in southern Germany, was used by some two hundred vehicles every day. The road which passed through it had three lanes, with walkways on either side for the workmen who would be employed from time to time on repairs and routine maintenance. Along the walls at intervals of fifty yards or so were a number of subsidiary tunnels.
Some way along one of the latter, a patch of air seemed to crystallise and the bulky figure of The Hood materialised.
He was certain he could not be seen from any of the vehicles using the tunnel. All he had to do was wait for the truck to arrive.
The radio clipped to the belt around his waist bleeped.
"It's about to enter the tunnel, boss," an associate informed him. "Excellent."
A few minutes later he heard the rumble of the large multi-wheeled lorry as it entered the tunnel and came towards him. It was loaded with canisters of a highly volatile chemical used in the European space programme, each one bearing a skull and crossbones emblem along with warning notices in a variety of languages.
He raised the sonic rifle and squinted through its sights.
As the lorry passed the mouth of the service tunnel he fired repeatedly at the tyres. Several of them burst with loud reports. The lorry skidded, swung round through one hundred and eighty degrees, and overturned. It slid along on its side for a short distance before crashing into the wall of the tunnel.
The driver was saved from serious injury by his seatbelt. Dazed and bruised, he was able to scramble from the cabin and drop to the ground. His one thought was to get as far away from the wreck as possible, in case the petrol tank blew. The sound of the fuel trickling from the ruptured tank confirmed his fears. Running along the walkway, he just managed to reach a safe distance before a massive explosion hurled him to the ground. He lay there, stunned, the wrecked lorry blazing fiercely behind him.
The Hood knew that the blast would have damaged the structure of the tunnel, solidly constructed though it was. He now set his sonic rifle to a new frequency.
The part of the tunnel where he was concealed had been too far away from the explosion to be damaged. The sound waves had little effect on it, but cracks began to appear in the roof and walls of the main tunnel, which was already weakened from the blast. Showers of concrete dust fell from them.
Another vehicle was entering the tunnel, and it sounded as if there were several more not far behind it. The driver of the first saw the burning heap of wreckage and gasped in horror, treading hard on her brakes. The cars behind her all did the same. They were too close enough to each other to avoid colliding. As more vehicles entered the tunnel, more collisions occured, and within minutes a dozen or so vehicles of different kinds were piled up in a heap or jammed together, some overturned.
Recovering consciousness, the lorry driver ran to a phone installed in the tunnel for use in case of accidents like these, and called the emergency services.
Three ambulances and a score of fire-fighting vehicles headed for the tunnel, which the police had speedily cordoned off. Traffic was halted and diverted, bollards and barricades set up. The firefighters and medical crews, the latter in a huge multi-wheeled ambulance with equipment capable of treating a dozen or so people at a time, entered the tunnel and began freeing those trapped in their vehicles or unable to move because of their injuries. The fire chief, Gunter Schiedler, examined the scene, questioning a few of the victims to find out exactly what had happened. Swiftly he assessed the situation.
Sadly a few people were already dead, killed in the initial smash-up. Recent advances in medical technology would save the more seriously injured from death or permanent disability. All things being equal.
Schiedler's most urgent problem was the structural condition of the tunnel. At intervals he could hear an ominous creaking and groaning sound, and from time to time chunks of concrete fell from the roof and walls. He knew what it signified.
"The explosion has weakened the roof of the tunnel," he told the fire station. "I've a feeling it could collapse at any moment. There may not be time to get all those people out." That some of the vehicles were jammed closely together made it more difficult to rescue the people inside them.
"I think we'd better call International Rescue, just to be on the safe side," he told his deputy, Kuhlmann.
"Let's hope they don't slip up like they did in Kambata," Kuhlmann grunted.
"They're entitled to make at least one mistake from time to time. And just because they've fouled up once doesn't mean they will again."
He put out the call, and in a couple of minutes the message had reached Tracy Island. In another ten Thunderbirds One and Two were airborne, and heading west towards the danger zone. Jeff instructed Gordon to accompany Virgil in Thunderbird Two, in case he needed any help.
Having watched the craft take off, Jeff returned to his desk, where he had been attending to some Tracy Corporation business.
Alan was also in the room, reading a newspaper. He looked up from it and gave his father a rather dirty look. "I see you didn't ask me to go on that mission."
Jeff sighed. "Look, Son," he said, "Get the idea out of your head that I don't trust you. Gordon often helps Virgil out in Thunderbird Two. You know I try to rotate things a bit, so no-one gets bored or feels underused. He needs a change from undersea rescues now and again. There just wasn't any need to have you along as well."
"Oh, sure, Dad," replied Alan, evidently unconvinced. "If you don't need me on these missions maybe I'd better say goodbye to this outfit."
Jeff's mother, Grandma Tracy, looked up from her knitting and frowned. She'd only just come back from a holiday, and wasn't fully acquainted with the situation that had developed on the island, but she could see something was badly wrong.
Jeff got up and stepped towards him. "Don't say that, Alan.
"I'm afraid I do say it. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm just off to have a swim."
He stormed out, Jeff and Grandma gazing unhappily after him.

Thunderbird One's legs, which while the craft was airborne were kept folded flat against the undersides of its wings, swung down and it came into land vertically. Scott lowered the ladder and clambered down it to join the Fire Chief and his colleagues. Schiedler shook his hand. "What's the situation right now?" Scott asked him.
"We've been able to get most of the people out with no difficulty. But there's a coach in there with about sixty people on board. Quite a few other vehicles are jammed up against it, and they're blocking the emergency exit hatch. It's too far down the tunnel for my liking; by the time we've cleared away the other vehicles and got their occupants to safety, it may be too late to get them all out before the roof goes."
"That's where we come in," Scott told him.
By the time Thunderbird Two was nearing the danger zone, all but one of the other vehicles had been cleared away from the coach. Scott briefed his brothers on the situation. "We should be able to move in in a couple of minutes," he told Virgil.
"FAB. I brought the other recovery vehicle along; guess we'll be needing it."
"I suggest we use Thunderbird Two herself; she's slightly more powerful."
"OK."
"Tell the passengers to stay inside the coach," Scott instructed Schiedler.
Thunderbird Two waited, hovering above the space which had been cleared for it, while the last of the vehicles was towed from the tunnel and its occupants transferred to the ambulance. Then it came into land, its nose directly facing the mouth of the tunnel.
"I'll operate the gear," Gordon told him, making for the ladder which led down to the compartment beneath the cabin where the winch equipment was housed.
Virgil opened a hatch in the lower fuselage to give him a clear view of the tunnel. Seating himself at the controls of a piece of apparatus resembling a cannon, he squinted along its telescopic sights. He moved it a little to the left and lowered it a fraction, so it was properly aligned with its target. He fired the cannon and the cable shot from its mouth, travelling down the tunnel until the clamp on the end hit the rear of the coach and fastened on.
"Contact," he announced.
Virgil fired Thunderbird Two's retros, and the transporter started to reverse. Slowly, with a groaning of tortured metal, the coach was pulled back down the tunnel towards the waiting onlookers.
Concealed in another service duct, The Hood raised his sonic rifle once again and aimed it at the cable. By adjusting the frequency the weapon could be made to transmit sound in a variety of ways; the sonic waves could form a rapier thin beam able to slice in the manner of a knife, or be concentrated powerfully together like a massive fist to punch huge holes in solid metal or concrete. He must produce the kind of effect that would suggest the cable had snapped due to strain.
The Hood fired. The fabric of the cable started to tear, then snapped clean through.
"Virgil, the cable's gone!" shouted Gordon.
Another failure, thought Scott. He adjusted quickly to the setback. "We'll have to use the recovery vehicle now," he told Virgil. "Get it out of the pod - and fast!"
"FAB...we'll have to reel that cable in first, though."
Scott guessed the people in the coach must be wondering what was going on. He told Schiedler to make sure they stayed inside it.
It was then that fate lent a hand in things. Miraculously, one of the canisters of fuel had not exploded when the lorry went up in flames. The blast had hurled it some distance, to land not far from the coach.
A loose fragment of concrete came away from the roof and hit one of the wall-mounted fuse boxes for the tunnel's lighting system, striking sparks from it. The sparks ignited the petrol that had begun to seep from one of the crashed cars. Spreading rapidly, the flames soon reached the canister, which immediately blew up.
Fortunately the coach wasn't near enough to the blast to be damaged. Instead, the force of the explosion caused it to shoot along the tunnel like a bullet from a gun, coming to a stop about fifty yards from the entrance.
"It looks like that's done the job for you," commented Scheidler.
"They're still in danger," said Scott. This second explosion had further weakened the roof of the tunnel; as he finished speaking a largeish section of it crumbled away, the rubble falling alarmingly close to the coach.
"That roof will go any minute," Schiedler told him.
By now the broken cable had almost been reeled in, and Virgil was scrambling into the Recovery Vehicle's cabin. Scott wasn't sure if there was any time to use it, and the same thought occurred to Schiedler. The Fire Chief was impatient to get things moving, and he couldn't help being aware that International Rescue had twice now suffered disastrous equipment failures while on a mission, with appalling consequences on the first occasion. It wasn't, perhaps, a foregone conclusion that a third would necessarily occur, and in the next few minutes, but if it did, and at this very late stage with precious seconds fast running out...
Schiedler hesitated a moment longer, then began issuing orders to his men. Kuhlmann and several other firemen climbed into a rescue vehicle, which raced off down the tunnel, screeching to a halt beside the coach. Kuhlmann got out and ran to the emergency exit in the rear of the coach, yanking it open.
The Recovery Vehicle was now out of the pod, but Scott reckoned there was now little point in using it, and besides the firemen and their vehicle were in the way. He called his brothers. "Virgil, Gordon, I've decided to leave it to the authorities. I'm going to lend them a hand." Running into the tunnel, Scott helped the firemen transfer the coach passengers into their vehicle. All the time they could hear that hideous groaning from all around.
Once everyone was inside, the rescuers piled in and the vehicle reversed hurriedly down the tunnel. It had just cleared the entrance when the whole roof fell in, burying the coach. The dust began to disperse, and the echoes died away.
"Well, I guess you can leave it all to us now," said Schiedler. He shook Scott's hand again. "Thanks for your help." It was hard to tell whether or not he was being sarcastic.
"We didn't exactly do much....still, those people are safe and that's what counts." He radioed Thunderbird Two. "It's OK, fellas, there's nothing more for us to do here. Let's go home."
With a brief nod to Schiedler, he turned and started to walk back towards Thunderbird One.

As soon as they arrived back on Tracy Island, Jeff called another emergency conference.
"This is very worrying," he told them. "One slip-up could be explained away; we can say it's something that's bound to happen once in a while, according to the law of probabilities. But two, in such a short time is a rather more serious matter. Fortunately nobody was killed on this occasion, but we still end up with our reputation tarnished. The situation was saved by the conventional rescue services, and by pure chance."
"Well, at least we now know it isn't my fault," said Alan triumphantly.
"That's enough, Alan," growled Jeff. "Brains, I want you to look into the matter again." Brains nodded, sighing inwardly.
"Let's assume, folks, that there is a serious underlying problem," Jeff said. "How do we tackle it?"
"There are three possible explanations for these accidents," said TinTin. "Is it us, the equipment, or sabotage?"
"Right. Now let's take the first option. Could it be that you're not at heart really committed to the job any more....that you want lives of your own? Be honest and sing out if it is."
"I don't think that's the case, father," said Scott. He looked round at the others, all of whom nodded - except for Alan. The young astronaut said nothing.
"Besides, I doubt if it would cause us to risk anyone's life. We'd send in our notices and quit rather than let it affect the way we handled a rescue."
After a few moments Jeff nodded. "OK, let's agree to eliminate that possibility. Now what about the second?"
"I'm not saying I agree with the sabotage theory," said Gordon, "But the idea that there's something wrong with our equipment seems a bit unlikely to me....after all, it was only a cable that broke, for Pete's sake."
"A cable made, like the clamp on the Recovery Vehicle, from a totally new alloy," said Brains. "One that I designed myself. Like all our technology, something revolutionary; perhaps too revolutionary. Perhaps I didn't really understand its properties....the molecules may behave in ways I did not anticipate, so that the stress is impossible to detect. Maybe our technology has grown too complex for us to really cope with, to effectively safeguard against malfunction."
He was no longer quite so certain that the cause of the problem was something external. A second disastrous equipment failure, so soon after the first, along with the absence of any evidence to support the sabotage theory, had sown seeds of doubt in his mind.
"So it could be a human problem, then," said Jeff.
"To some extent, yes," Brains agreed. Jeff seemed to be seizing on the possibility, he thought.
"If there is an equipment failure, it must be possible to find it through analysis, however long it takes," said Jeff. "If the technology is too complex then the means we use to detect any faults in it must be complex too." And thus itself likely to go wrong, he thought.
"That leaves us with the third option...sabotage." Scott said this with reluctance.
"How?" asked Virgil. "How could anyone get the opportunity to.." "Well, I've been thinking," said Brains. "If there is a saboteur at work, the most likely means by which he could operate, I'm afraid, is Kyrano. He is the only way someone could possibly....."
TinTin reacted to this immediately. "If you're suggesting for one moment that my father......"
Scott got up from his chair, angrily, and took a few paces towards the young scientist. "Heck, Brains, if you weren't wearing glasses I'd probably..."
"P-please do not be so hasty, Scott. I said I thought Kyrano might be the one causing the sabotage. It's possible, however, that he may not be responsible for his actions."
Scott returned to his chair, a little ashamed at his outburst. "Sorry, Brains. We've all been pretty tense lately, and when you seemed to be accusing Kyrano of treachery, it got my blood up. But what are you getting at - he's not responsible for his actions?"
"These attacks he's been having. I'm wondering if there could be a connection with our current problem - and some of the problems we've had in the past. They could be the result of someone trying to control his mind. Kyrano's had at least half a dozen of them to our knowledge. There've probably been others which he hasn't told us about because he doesn't want us to worry; you know what he's like."
"When we went to San Francisco a few weeks ago to do the shopping, he disappeared for a while," TinTin told them. "I waited outside the shop for him to come back. When he did, he said he'd felt unwell and gone out to get some fresh air. That could have been another."
"Now it may be significant," Brains continued, "that the ones we know about happened before something or other went wrong. He had one just before our first ever mission - during which, you will recall, someone managed to take photographs of Thunderbird One. He had another before the business in Nevada; and a similar thing happened then. We put it down to overwork, but it could have been one of the attacks. Let's look at that particular incident again.. Kyrano has a fit of some kind. Then, not long afterwards, the automatic camera detector is sabotaged - and Kyrano was in Thunderbird One a short time before it took off for the rescue zone."
"But who would want to control his mind anyway?" said Jeff.
"The guy who photographed us on our first mission and during the Nevada affair. It seems almost certain that on both occasions it was the same person behind the trouble - the mysterious enemy who's been after our secrets right from the start. The only trouble is, he’d appear to be dead. That's why I'm not quite sure about the sabotage theory. Someone else could have developed the same powers, but it seems too much of a coincidence."
"In any case, whoever was responsible for the sabotage would have to know what equipment was going to be used for the operation," Gordon pointed out. "Unless they've got ESP that's not very likely."
"Kyrano could have been going around sabotaging all sorts of things over a long period of time," said Virgil. It was a thought which didn’t appeal to them in the slightest.
"That way he'd be more likely to get found out," Scott told him. "I'm afraid I just don't buy that idea."
"It's possible the sabotage is being carried out at the actual danger zone," said Brains. "Our enemy or enemies may be causing disasters, or intercepting our calls, then waiting for us to turn up and sabotaging the rescue operation."
"How?" asked TinTin. "With the security surrounding our missions, no-one could get close enough to do it."
"Could be they've got some weird and wonderful machine which operates over a long range," suggested Virgil.
"It would have to be something very revolutionary," said Brains. "My sonic device is one possibility. Kyrano could have stolen the plans under the influence of our enemy. But......Penny and Parker saw him get on board that helicopter, and there couldn't have been any survivors when it blew up."
"Well, what do you think, Dad?" asked Scott. "What action shall we take?"
"There are some pretty good arguments against our saboteur, or his agent, being Kyrano. But I'm not taking any chances. I'm going to send Kyrano away, if he's willing, to a place I know in Switzerland where they'll try and find out the cause of the attacks, and at the same time keep him under constant observation. Then, if the sabotage or whatever it is continues, we'll know it isn't him who's been causing all the trouble. How do you feel about that, TinTin?"
"I have no objection, Jeff. It really depends on what my father thinks of the idea."
"What if Kyrano's done something to our equipment that we don't know about?" asked Gordon.
"I'm aware of that possibility. I want every item of equipment we use thoroughly checked and re-checked. Got that, folks? Every item, from the largest Thunderbird to the tiniest rivet. As I see it, we may have to do that anyway, if the fault is in the equipment and nowhere else."
"Would it be a good idea to cease operating until further notice?" asked Virgil.
"It might be wise. But it could also mean someone might die. I think the best course of action is to respond if someone calls us." He sighed. "Otherwise I don't want any International Rescue craft to take off until we've solved this problem. So I'm afraid we'll have to excuse ourselves from the relief operations in Kambata."
He leaned back in his chair and sighed. "Well, folks, I guess that's about all we can do for the time being."
The meeting broke up. Jeff and Tin Tin went in search of Kyrano, whom they found watering the plants in the conservatory. "Father, may we speak to you for a moment?"
"Of course, my dear. Is anything wrong?"
"Kyrano...." began Jeff. He knew he would have to broach the subject gently. "Kyrano, you know these attacks you've been suffering from time to time?" His old friend nodded.
"We suspect someone may have been trying to control your mind, to use you against us.....that may have been the cause of the problems we've been having recently with our equipment. He's doing in some way that you'd have no recollection of it. I don't know if you think what I'm saying is at all likely..."
Kyrano was silent for a few moments. His face clouded. "The mind is a strange thing," he said. "It is possible, I suppose."
"Have you any idea who might want to do that, Father?" TinTin asked. "Who might know about your connection with International Rescue, and want to exploit it?"
"No," said Kyrano, shaking his head. "No, I'm afraid I don't."
Jeff studied his face for a moment or two, although he knew really that his old friend wouldn't deceive them.
He explained his plan to send Kyrano to Switzerland, and asked him what he thought of it.
"Well, if there is the slightest chance that someone is using me to do harm to us, to International Rescue....I would be prepared to do anything that would help prevent that. How long would I be there for?"
"Only as long as it takes to solve the problem."
Kyrano nodded. "Then I am willing. I would do it anyway, Jeff, I am sure you know that. But it is good for me to know that I won't be away from here for very long."
"OK. I'll get it arranged as soon as possible. In the meantime, don't worry. I guess it's kind of alarming, but all we can do is investigate the possibility thoroughly. I'll let you get on with your work. One more thing - rest assured I know you wouldn't deliberately do anything against us." He smiled and patted Kyrano on the shoulder.
They were not to know that the Hood had no further need of Kyrano, who had already played his unwilling and unwitting part in what the arch-criminal trusted was to be the final destruction of International Rescue.
The Malay resumed tending to his plants. Despite Jeff's urging him not to worry, his brown face was deeply troubled.

The German tunnel business had not turned out quite the way The Hood had planned, but it'd served his purposes well enough. International Rescue had been made to look foolish; foolish and unreliable. And as he had intended, the matter had further heightened the tensions he knew existed in the Tracy household. Finally, his new toys had again been proved to work splendidly. What would his next target be? A moonbase? An oil refinery? A submarine?
He smiled. It was a good feeling to be able to strike whenever and wherever he liked.

Scott sighed and put down the spanner. "Well, that's it. Everything checked and rechecked...and no evidence of any sabotage."
He and Gordon had been inspecting the engine housing of Thunderbird One - the last major task in their thorough examination of all International Rescue's hardware and software. Their faces and overalls were covered with grime and grease.
"If anything does go wrong again, we'll know it isn't sabotage," said Gordon grimly. Kyrano had departed for Switzerland that very morning.
"It's pretty weird," said Scott. "Everything points to sabotage as the explanation, in my view anyway, but there's no proof. We just can't be sure."
"What worries me most is the way Dad's reacting to things."
"How d'you mean?"
"Whatever the cause, it's screwing him up, making him irritable and unhappy. I get the impression he's already convinced himself it's our fault in some way. I think we've got to examine every approach to the problem before we write ourselves off. What if the sabotage isn't anything to do with Kyrano; if someone really has found a way to attack our equipment at the danger zone? He isn't really giving enough attention to that possibility.I was thinking...if Brains, and maybe Penelope, took a look at the site to search for clues......."
"Why not suggest it to Dad? No harm in that."
"I think he'll decide there's no point in it. But we may as well ask him."

Jeff was seated before the television, watching a news item on the latest failed International Rescue mission. A number of specialists were discussing possible reasons for the incidents. "One possibility is that the technology they are using is too complex," said one of them, echoing the suggestion Brains had earlier made.
Next, various members of the public and important personalities were interviewed and asked what they thought of International Rescue after the two disasters.
"Commander Paul Travers, International Rescue saved your life when the Zero X went out of control on its return to Earth from Mars. What is your reaction to the recent accidents?"
"I’ll always be grateful to them for what they did on that occasion. As for what's been happening recently, I'm sorry about it both for their sakes and those of the people who died. I think there must be some very special reason why these rescues have been going wrong, because they're not the kind of guys who'd slip up through incompetence. I just hope they manage to get the problem sorted out; the world needs them."
Not everyone was so forgiving. One person expressed a view highly critical of International Rescue.
"What bugs me is that they've always refused to share their technology with the world, despite the benefits it holds for everyone...."
"The fool," said Scott, who had just come into the room and overheard these words. "Does he realise what might happen if we did?"
"When we ask them why they don't, we always we get the same old and tired response, that the weapons would be dangerous if they... "fell into the wrong hands". The world wants something more. Of course, if they can't get it right that may not matter. But if they can't get it right, they shouldn't be in business. We can only tolerate them guarding their secrets so jealously while they are doing their job properly."
"He's right," muttered Jeff.
Scott cleared his throat. "Dad, may we have a word with you?"
Jeff nodded. "Go ahead."
"We had the idea that maybe Brains and Penny could check out the rescue sites for any clues...I wondered what you thought about that."
"We need Brains right now to try and find out the cause of the equipment failures."
"He doesn't seem to have had much luck so far. I was thinking we might try something different. Besides, you can't keep Brains here against his will."
"Does he agree with your plan, then?" asked Jeff.
"Well, I haven't asked him, but..."
"Then you'd better do that. He can speak for himself, I'm sure. But anyway, all the evidence is against the sabotage theory."
"By a process of elimination, it has to be the only possibility. What was it that guy Conan Doyle wrote, in one of the Sherlock Holmes stories?"
""When you have eliminated the impossible,"" said Gordon, ""Whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.""
"Even when it's so improbable that it can't be? I don't buy that one somehow. Well, you'd better see what Brains thinks about the idea. Then come back to me." He returned his attention to the TV set, signifying that he wanted them to leave. They abandoned him to his gloomy meditations.
Although they didn't yet know it, it wasn't just the failed rescues that were eating him. There was something else too, a matter which had been worrying him increasingly since some time before all the recent trouble had started.

Scott and Gordon found a "Do Not Disturb" sign on the door of Brains' lab. Evidently the little scientist was working hard on
finding the answer to their problem.
"We'd better come back later," Scott decided. "We've made a start, if nothing else."
But Gordon was frowning. "If Brains goes, and Dad doesn't want him to, that's going to cause some friction. And that's something we've got too much of round here at the moment."
"It may be for the best, all things considered," Scott told him. They made their way to the lounge. There everyone seemed quiet, withdrawn, wrapped up in their own pessimistic thoughts. The atmosphere in the room was awful.
They had been successful for too long. Long enough for their first big failure to be such a shock that it tore them apart. Virgil, seated at the piano, ran his fingers over the keyboard, playing a sad tune. They could always rely on him to express their feelings through music.
Alan came in, sat down and started to read a newspaper. He sensed the mood of the others. After a while he put the paper down and sat thinking quietly to himself. Then, making a sudden decision, he got up and left the room in search of TinTin.
Finding her in the kitchen preparing dinner, he went up to her and placed his hands on her shoulders. "TinTin, I've something to tell you....I've finally decided to leave."
She had been expecting something like this for a long time, but the news was nevertheless sad.
"Is that definite?" she asked.
He nodded. "Now seemed the right time to do it. I don't like the atmosphere that's been developing round here. What if we can't find the cause of all these equipment failures? Things are going to stay grim, and I don't reckon I can stick it. I've got to get out. I know I was thinking of quitting in any case, but this has made up my mind for me. And if the reason for the failures isn't found, it'll probably mean the end of International Rescue anyway."
"Are you sure you won't reconsider? Take some time to think it over?"
He shook his head firmly. "No, TinTin, You'd only talk me out of it." He paused. "Are..are you going to come with me?" He waited anxiously for her answer.
Torn by conflicting loyalties, TinTin looked deeply unhappy. "I..I don't know. I..I'll think about it."
"OK, you do that. Meantime, I'm going to tell the others and then get all my things ready. I should be away within a few hours."
She nodded silently. She knew there was nothing she could do to change his mind. "I'll give you a hand."
When told the news, Jeff seemed resigned. "All right, Son. It's your choice."
"There's no chance we can get you to change your mind?" asked Scott, clearly disappointed like all the others at Alan's decision. However much they might find him annoying at times, they nevertheless felt a great affection for their wayward younger brother, and didn't want to see him go.
"None at all," said Alan firmly. He clearly didn't want to discuss the matter.
"Well, as Dad says it's your choice." They knew that none of them could be forced to be part of the IR set-up. And Alan had always been the one most likely to leave it.
It didn't take Alan long for him to pack his belongings into the Tracys' private plane. Once he was finished the others came to say goodbye, shaking hands with him in turn.
His father handed him a small plastic and metal disc with a button set into it. It was one of the signalling devices members of International Rescue used to contact the island if they should find themselves in danger, or be captured by someone with designs on the organisation's secrets. "You'd better have this, Alan. If ever you're in trouble, don't hesitate to use it."
They wished him good luck in his new life, and exhorted him to keep in touch. He kissed Grandma and TinTin goodbye, then climbed into the plane's cockpit.
Sadly, they watched the aircraft take off and disappear into the sky.
They stood there in silence for a few moments. Then Jeff turned to TinTin. "And you're not sure what you're going to do, honey?"
"No, Jeff. I just don't know...of course, it's possible he might change his mind and come back. But I doubt it."
On hearing these words, the long faces of the others grew even longer. The same thought passed through all their heads.
If TinTin did leave to join Alan, the place wouldn't be the same afterwards. They would miss her lively personality, her warm and caring nature; so much so that if she was going to leave the organisation, they weren't sure they would want to stay either.
Jeff sensed their feelings, and his heart grew even heavier. It seemed that International Rescue, the organisation he had built up so painstakingly and devoted so much of his life to, was falling apart around him.







FOUR
Judy sat on the luxurious four-poster bed in her room at Penelope's mansion, staring blankly at the wall, which she had decorated with pin-ups of pop stars and footballers. The posters looked grossly out of place in the big old room, still with its original oak panelling and furniture.
Her friends had all gone home now, and she was bored. She contemplated going to bed, but decided she wasn't quite tired enough yet.
Perhaps there was something worth watching on the television. She tried a multitude of channels, but as Penelope had remarked a couple of days back there didn't seem to be anything on other than repeats, usually of old programmes going back years and years. Blake's Seven, The Avengers, Space 1999, UFO, and that dreadful thing with all the puppets, what was it called......
She found her thoughts turning to the opposite sex. There was definitely something about that Scott. He had a great sense of humour and a terrific personality. She had the impression Gordon might in some ways be even more fun, but nevertheless found herself drawn more to his elder brother.
Of all the fellas she'd known, he was the one she liked best, she decided. Steve was sweet, but he was a bit of a wally. Mike..well, Claire had staked out her claim to him long ago.
Yes, she'd definitely gelled with Scott. It would be a good idea to get to know him a bit better, just so she could make her mind up.
But, of course, they were now all back in America, or wherever it was they lived. She didn't suppose she'd see any of them again for a while, if at all.
Someone knocked on the door. "Come in," she sighed.
Penny entered, a smile on her face. "I've some good news for you, Judy."
The girl's eyes lit up. "What is it?" she asked eagerly.
Penny sat down on the edge of the bed. "I've been thinking very carefully about our situation and I've decided there's only one solution. I've decided it should be possible to let you disappear for a few weeks. It will be all right provided no-one knows where you've gone, and someone is there to see to your safety.
"So, I've arranged a little trip round the Mediterranean in my yacht. Parker will go with you - he's due for a break. And Lillian will be on hand to do the cooking.
"I don't know what plans you and your friends have made for the vacation, but I've no objection to them going with you."
Judy's face lit up. She let out a whoop of delight and hugged Penelope. "You're a brick, Pens!"
Penelope smiled, pleased to see her so happy. "But you must be careful, mind. One never knows whether or not some bad chance will lead our enemies to you."
"Don't worry, Pens," said Judy spiritedly. "I'll watch out for them."
"Don't you get too confident," warned Penelope. "They're very resourceful, very determined, and if you'll pardon the cliche I'm certain they'll stop at nothing."

The small, but compact and well-equipped, house was situated in pleasant wooded surroundings a few minutes' drive from the outskirts of the city. It had been owned by the Tracy family for some years, and served as somewhere to stay when they needed to be on the mainland for more than a short time. It had been Alan who'd tended to use it most in the past, and no-one had objected to his taking it over.
By now he'd unpacked his belongings and generally established himself there. At this moment he was seated in the comfortable living room, considering his future over a cup of coffee. Not for the first time he wondered whether he'd made the right decision. It was proving harder than he had thought, after his initial resolution, to abandon his old life. He earnestly hoped TinTin would come over to join him. If she didn't.....well, he wasn't sure, to be honest, whether he'd be able to maintain his resolution. And yet if he did change his mind and go back, he'd lose face and the others would have their view of him confirmed. They'd say he was indecisive, immature and unsure of himself.
Did it matter that much about TinTin, though? There were other girls who he had liked and found attractive.
He took the International Rescue calling device from his pocket and looked down at it. It would be as well to keep it, in case for some reason he should ever need it. But it was a reminder of his
past life - something which would make it harder to keep his promise to himself to break with it for good.
For a while he turned the matter over in his mind. Then he placed the signalling device on the floor and trod on it hard, shattering the delicate microcircuitry. He collected the pieces and deposited them in the bin.
He resumed contemplating his future. With his share of the family's wealth he was in no need of money. But he'd have to do something to keep himself busy. In the evenings there would be nightclubs and the like. He could live the life of a playboy; the life he liked best. The day was more of a problem. One thing he could do was resume his motor racing career, which his commitments to International Rescue had prevented him from keeping up. He loved the exhilaration of travelling at high speeds. And one advantage of taking up racing again, if he became famous at it, was that it would make it impossible in any case for him to rejoin International Rescue, since there'd always be the danger of someone recognising him. That would take care of any doubts he might have in the future about the wisdom of leaving the organisation.
A footstep caused him to jump up from the chair. Someone else was in the house; someone who hadn't been invited.
A man stepped into the room from the hallway; he looked to be somewhere in his forties, with a moustache, metal-framed spectacles and close-cropped brown hair.
"Mr Alan Tracy, I believe."
"That's right. How the heck did you get in?"
The Hood grinned. "Few doors are closed to me, Mr Tracy."
"I see. Look, who are you and what do you think you're playing at?"
Two more men, hard-faced and thuggish-looking, entered the room. Both were carrying guns, and the guns were pointed squarely in Alan’s direction.
"You will tell me all I want to know about International Rescue, Tracy. Or you will die."
Alan paled, staring at them in horror.
"You will have operated most of the International Rescue craft and vehicles, worked with Brains on their construction and maintenance. Besides which you trained as an astronaut, so you must have a good technical knowledge. You see, I am acquainted with the details and background, along with the strengths and weaknesses, of every member, or former member, of International Rescue. I know you have the information I seek."
In many ways it would have been better to snatch Brains, the brilliant scientist who had designed most of International Rescue's amazing equipment in the first place, and probably knew more about it than anybody else. But he reckoned Alan would do. And he had been the only one available, the one most likely to leave IR and the security of Tracy Island.
"You will start by telling me what means of propulsion each of the Thunderbird craft use."
He produced a tape recorder. "You may write it down instead if you wish, it does not matter. If I find you have been lying, the consequences will be most unpleasant for you."
Alan was still reeling with shock. How could this man have known about his connection with International Rescue? Once he had recovered his composure, he realised he could not comply with The Hood's request. He knew what the consequences in an unstable world might be if he released the information the man sought from him. He tensed himself to make a run for the door.
The Hood read his body language and guessed his intentions. The threat of death, it seemed, would not be sufficient to bend Alan Tracy to his will. He signalled to his men to lower their guns.
His eyes began to glow with their piercing yellow light. Alan felt the force of the man's mind tugging remorselessly, painfully, at his own, trying to force it to disgorge its secrets. He tried to turn his head away but the effort seemed too difficult.
He locked his will with The Hood's, face screwed up with concentration as he struggled to resist the hypnotic influence. "I..I can't tell you...." he gasped. "I won't...."
"You will tell me, Tracy! You will!"
The mental combat went on for several minutes, The Hood scowling savagely as Alan refused to succumb. Then Alan felt his consciousness slipping away, a great blanket of darkness seeming to descend upon his mind. He swayed, crumpled and fell. The Hood glared down at him and cursed savagely. He knew some people could resist his hypnotic powers, although they usually tended to black out (one exception had been Professor Blakely, the scientist who had accompanied Brains and TinTin on the Anasta expedition; although well into his sixties Blakeley had been strong-willed and courageous, and it had taken a fierce physical struggle to subdue him). It seemed Alan Tracy was among their number. He had thought, going by what he knew about Alan, that his will would be weak, easily malleable to the purposes of one such as himself. But evidently he'd been wrong.
He could wait until Alan recovered, then try again. But if Alan continued to mentally resist him, as seemed likely, the stress might damage the young man's brain permanently, and then he would be of no use to him.
"It seems your will is too strong for me, Mr Tracy," he snarled. "My congratulations."
"What are we going to do now?" asked one of his henchmen.
"We are never going to force the truth from him with guns, or even with mental powers such as mine. Though he is estranged from his family, he is still loyal to them in many ways. He will not betray them. But I think there are methods which will work."
He wrote something upon a piece of paper and placed it on a table. "Let's go," he said to his accomplices.
"Hey, wait a minute," protested one. "Surely we'll have to snatch him now. This little visit will have made him jumpy. What if he decides to go back to their base where he'll be safer?"
"I don't think he will do that. He does not know what is good for him. Believe me, I know I am right. Come."
They left, The Hood still fuming. When, as he had hoped, Alan's disaffection had led him to leave International Rescue, a chance to learn his enemies' secrets had presented itself. Now that his bid to force the information from Alan seemed to have failed, he would revert to his original plan, that of discrediting the organisation in the eyes of the world. There were, as he had said, other ways of forcing Alan to speak, but he would have to wait for the right opportunity.
When Alan recovered consciousness, he felt tired and shaken. He sat down and began to collect his thoughts. He noticed the message The Hood had left and inspected it.

CONGRATULATIONS, MR TRACY...YOU HAVE KEPT YOUR SECRETS. BUT DON'T GO TO THE POLICE, OR ALERT YOUR FRIENDS AT INTERNATIONAL RESCUE, OR YOU WILL CERTAINLY DIE.

Someone was after the secrets of International Rescue - someone with frightening powers. He knew who they were. His strange and unnerving visitor was the man who had several times tried to strike at the organisation's security, on one occasion hypnotising and capturing TinTin and Brains. And now that he had permanently left the security of the island, this mysterious enemy had chosen him as the means by which he could obtain the information he sought.
He ought to tell his family about this. But if he did, and they feared for his safety, as he knew they would, the pressure on him to return to the island would be so strong that it might be difficult to resist. He didn't want to worry them, but neither was he prepared to do what they, and he, knew was best for him. The Hood had been quite right in his estimation of his reaction.
But perhaps there was no need to be concerned. His visitors had tried threatening him with guns, then using hypnosis, and neither method had worked. It seemed they had given up and would leave him alone from now on. If that was the case, there would be no sense in ignoring their warning not to tell the police, and thus putting himself at risk. After thinking it over for a few more minutes he decided not to do anything.
All the same, the business left him shaken and uneasy for a long time.

"What do you say to it, Brains?" asked Gordon. He had bearded the young scientist in his laboratory, where he'd been sadly examining the prototype Thunderbird model he'd made as a child all those years ago.
Was it his fault that things were starting to go wrong with their equipment? After all, he had designed most of the hardware and carried out the bulk of its maintenance. Had his cursed absent-mindedness been responsible for the trouble? If so, he'd never be able to forgive himself. But he had never, surely, allowed it to seriously threaten the safety either of the rescued or the rescuers.
Whatever the explanation, the dream he and Jeff had shared, and turned into reality together, seemed to be crumbling.
Gordon put to him Scott's proposal that he undertake a close examination of the rescue sites.
"Well, I guess it won't do any harm. It might also be a good excuse for a holiday." He felt he needed a break after the gruelling sessions he had spent searching for clues to the cause of the disasters, and the depression caused by his failure to find any. "What will Jeff think, though?"
"He can't stop you from going. I don't think he's going to be happy about it, but if you agree with me that it's necessary... every possibility has to be explored before we write ourselves off as I think Dad's determined to do. I've spoken to Virgil and TinTin, and they're both in favour of the idea."
"Then so am I," said Brains.
"Like I said, I can't force him not to go," grunted Jeff when they told him they'd secured the scientist's agreement. As before he was remarkably unenthusiastic about the whole idea.
"Well in that case I'll be off, Jeff," said Brains. "Assuming Lady Penelope is able to give her assistance." Jeff simply nodded. So Brains went to his laboratory to get together the equipment he thought he would need.

"Right, all the details are settled," Penelope was saying to Judy. "You'll leave the house by the secret passage to Creighton church. That way, we'll minimise the chances of anyone spotting you." The passage, whose existence was a secret she shared only with the vicar and one or two others, was a useful means of getting about whenever people were watching the house with designs on her life. "And for goodness sake don't go telling anyone about it, or it won't be secret any longer."
Judy grinned. This was all getting quite exciting, like the spy thrillers she liked to read.
She'd already finished making her preparations. Upstairs, Parker and Lil were doing theirs. Parker was quite looking forward to his unscheduled holiday, but not without one or two reservations. A romantic Mediterranean cruise with Lil, on whom he'd always been a bit soft, certainly appealed to him, but having to look after Judy at the same time would be a chore, much as he felt affection for her. And he expected to be the butt of an endless series of practical jokes, just as he was at the Hall.
Parker sorted through his belongings, deciding what he would need to take with him. He took a metal case from inside a drawer and opened it. For a moment or two he contemplated the variety of safe-cracking tools and sophisticated alarm-neutralising equipment; then he shook his head firmly and returned it to its place.
When they had finished packing, they hurried along the secret passage with their luggage, emerging from it inside the little house, situated next to the Vicarage, in whose garage Penelope kept her other car, a Porsche.
"You'll drive down to Dorset, where I keep my yacht," Penny was meanwhile telling Judy, "then sail along the coast to Southampton and pick up your friends."
They would be using the Porsche for the journey to Dorset, and for any inland excursions they might want to take during the holiday (the car would be housed within a special bombproof compartment on board the yacht). Penelope had deemed it better not to let them borrow Fab One, since she never knew when the Rolls Royce and its amazing accessories might come in useful.
Penelope led Judy down a flight of steps into a dank, dark cellar littered with discarded bric-a-brac. In one wall was a big, metal-studded oak door. She produced a set of rusty iron keys and unlocked it. It creaked loudly as they swung it open.
Penny handed her a torch. "Goodbye, my dear. Have a nice time, won't you, and don't forget to send me a postcard." They kissed, and Judy hurried off along the dark passageway, reflecting that this was an odd way to start a holiday.
Penny gazed after her, wondering not for the first time whether she was doing the right thing.
She returned to the drawing room, where she poured herself a cup of tea. With nothing pressing to do for the time being, she sat contemplating her life.
I can't ask for much more than I have, she thought, looking round the sumptiously-furnished room with its priceless ornaments and antiques. Wealth, a position high up the social ladder, the freedom to do more or less what she liked and when, and a string of illustrious achievements behind her.
She had one, just one, serious regret. She gazed at the photograph above the fireplace of the handsome, pleasant-looking man who had briefly been her husband, before a car crash robbed him of his life, and sighed. If it meant she could have him back, she supposed she'd gladly give away all that she had. But of course it didn't.
The bleeping of her mobile telephone interrupted her thoughts. It was Parker. "We're ready to start off, M'Lady."
"Very good, Parker. You and Lillian enjoy yourselves, won't you?"
"We'll try," he muttered.
"It's all for the best, I'm sure. Oh, Parker?"
"Yes, M'Lady?"
"I expect you'll want to stop off in Monte Carlo for a while. Don't go gambling away my yacht like you did last time, will you?"
"No, of course not," he assured her.
He grinned. She wasn't going to let him forget that in a hurry.
Penny saw that the transparent knob on the lid of her favourite china teapot was flashing. That meant only one thing, a message from Tracy Island. She twisted the knob, and the lid sprang open, its inside face becoming a video screen, in a similar way to the powder compact.
Scott's handsome features appeared. "Scott, dear boy! How are you."
"Hi, Penny. You look great, as usual. And I'm OK. Uh…..how's Judy?"
Penelope smiled. "I expected you'd ask after her." She laughed good-naturedly at his embarrassment. "She's fine. You just missed her, I'm afraid. I've sent her off on a little trip." She told him where Judy had gone. "I'll send you her regards, shall I?"
"That'd be great. But are you sure no-one's going to try to get at her?"
Penny explained why she had allowed Judy to leave the security of the Hall. "She's sobered up a bit these last few weeks. And she should come to no harm with Parker to look after her.
"The police weren't too happy about it," she told him. "But Sir Joseph agreed with me there was no danger involved - I thought we should ask him how he felt about it - and that helped to persuade them. We agreed it was necessary to prevent something worse from happening. If she didn't have a change of environment pretty soon, she'd start kicking over the traces again out of sheer frustration."
They chatted for a bit, Scott telling her about Alan's departure from International Rescue. Penelope was sad to hear about it but shared Scott's opinion that nothing could be done. They also discussed the latest failed rescue. "You don't seem to be having much luck lately," she commented. "Are you any nearer to finding out the cause of the incidents?"
"That was why I called you, as a matter of fact. Penny, I'm convinced, and so are Gordon and Brains, that there's at least a possibility the trouble is due to sabotage. Dad's agreed that you and Brains should pay a visit to the rescue sites and look for any clues. I thought to ask you because in your line of work you'd be good at spotting that sort of thing."
"Why Scott, I'd be delighted to help you out of all your troubles. Do you have details of the danger zones?"
"Brains will be coming over tomorrow morning by Fireflash with all the information you'll need....he should arrive at about eleven thirty. Is that OK?"
"Yes, Scott, that's quite alright. Tell him I'll be at the airport to meet him. He'll be just in time for lunch."
"Well, that's all for now. Cheers, Penelope."
Penelope finished her tea, then decided to busy herself with a spot of housework. She hummed cheerfully as she went about it. She was glad not to have to worry about keeping Judy happy. And it was always exciting to be off on one's travels again.

Awful damned business this is, thought Captain Donald Regan of the former Royal Navy vessel Andromeda, sailing about the Pacific with an atomic bomb for company. It's all those politicians' fault we have to do it. Them and their stupid little wars. Of course, if it wasn't for wars, or the possibility of wars, he'd be out of a job. But there were some aspects of that job he would rather avoid if he could, and this was one.
In its cargo hold the ship, which had been bought from the British by the United Nations after being laid off, was carrying a dozen low-yield nuclear devices of a kind which affected a relatively limited area, within which it produced total destruction of both buildings and living things. They could be dropped from an aircraft, or placed in occupied territory which was to be destroyed by a retreating army as part of a "scorched earth" policy, and set to detonate, allowing enough time for the troops to get clear.
Developed by Bereznik, one of the more aggressive and militaristic of the new countries that had appeared after the collapse of the Soviet Union, they'd been withdrawn from use after it was discovered that the detonation mechanism was too sensitive to allow them to be used safely. The slightest accidental jolt could trigger it off, as would any attempt to defuse it. So somehow the bombs had to be disposed of. It was agreed that the UN should accept responsibility for the operation.
For them to be fired into space, eventually to end up in the sun - itself basically a giant nuclear reactor - was in many ways the safest option. But what if the rocket carrying the bomb exploded on the launch pad - or, even worse, in the atmosphere? Burying them underground was a bit of a risk because of earthquakes and the like, although the real trouble with this method of disposal was that no country could be found which was prepared to accept the bombs being buried on their soil. So it had to be done at sea, the oceans being after all international territory. And the Pacific had traditionally served as a kind of nuclear dustbin.
The ship had now jettisoned all but one of its dangerous load. The bombs, each cylindrical in shape and about fifteen feet long, had been loaded separately onto a conveyor belt and ejected through a hatch in the stern of the vessel into the water, their weight immediately causing them to sink to the bottom. They had been dropped at points about thirty miles or so apart, for if one should happen to go off it would detonate the others, and the consequences of them all exploding at the same time would be pretty horrendous. In view of their sensitivity, great care had to be taken in handling them. The area where they were being dumped had been declared a total exclusion zone on grounds of safety, and would probably remain one for many years.
Everything had been going smoothly until a fault developed in the ship's reactor, causing radiation leakage. The reactor had been shut down and sealed off before there could be any danger to the lives of the crew, but much valuable fuel had been lost and needed to be replaced. With its lethal cargo still on board, the vessel switched to chemical propulsion and made for the nearest supply station - one of a number of installations dotted around the world's seas, which allowed ships to refuel, and replenish their stores of food and other necessities, without having to return to port, and thus stay at sea for years on end if necessary.
Standing on the bridge, the Captain watched the outline of the supply station, a structure similar in appearance to an oil rig, grow larger on the horizon.
Behind him were the arrays of computers which maintained the ship's course. Like many vessels nowadays the Andromeda was almost entirely automated, requiring only a small crew, whose presence was always necessary in case something should go wrong with the equipment. The crew included a helmsman who checked the equipment regularly and manually controlled certain vital operations. He was at his post right now, preparing to supervise the docking.
Regan went onto the bridge and told the man to check their course. He programmed a set of instructions into the computers, and gradually the ship swung a few degrees to the right. It was now heading more or less directly towards the supply station.
"Adjust the course as necessary," Regan said. "I'm going to the galley for a bite to eat."
"Aye aye, Sir."
He knew the helmsman was perfectly competent, and could be left to get on with his task without supervision.
The helmsman studied his VDU, which showed the positions of the Andromeda and the supply station. He waited for the moment when he must switch to a course that would bring the ship alongside the station, from which metal arms were now being swung out over the sea to engage them. Then the Andromeda would gradually slow until the arms could grasp it securely as it passed, without doing any damage either to themselves or the ship.
Behind him the air seemed to shimmer and distort, and a hazy figure started to appear. The helmsman felt the atmospheric disturbance and looked round in puzzlement. He saw the ghostly form of The Hood and started back in astonishment and alarm.
The Hood's figure solidified. Its eyes glowed and immediately the helmsman was transfixed.
"You will forget that you have seen me," The Hood commanded. "I have not been here. Do you understand?"
The man nodded. The Hood's eyes glowed brighter and he collapsed in an unconscious heap.
Then The Hood activated the teleporter and vanished.
The Andromeda was now less than a quarter of a mile from the supply station, and the figures of the latter's crew could be seen moving about on the deck.
By now, the ship should have veered slightly to the right. But it was still heading directly towards the station, and at its present speed would smash straight into it.
The crew realised something was wrong and alerted Captain Regan. "Helmsman, what are you doing?" he snapped into the Intercom. "Thirty degrees to right."
There was no reply. "Helmsman?"
Still no reply, apart from the crackle of static. "Helmsman, are you all right? Change course like I said, or......"
The ship continued on its way. "For Heaven's sake answer, man! We're going to hit them any minute!"
He realised the helmsman must be absent from his post, or had fallen ill. He gave the order to cut the motors, though he knew it would make little difference. Stopping the vessel now, whether manually or by some other means, would slow them down but not enough to reduce the force of the collision. If they dropped the anchor the ship's momentum would shear it off.
Then he turned to the First Mate, who had come up beside him. "Sound the alarms and warn the station." In a moment warning klaxons were sounding on both the supply station and the ship. On the former's deck figures could be seen running about in agitation. They had already realised, from the speed of the Andromeda and the course it was taking, what was going to happen.
"All hands on deck!" the First Mate was yelling into the tannoy. "Prepare for collision!"
There was no time to abandon ship, or for those on the supply station to evacuate it. The distance between the two diminished rapidly.
With a massive crash of rending metal the Andromeda smashed into the side of the huge steel platform, the impact stopping it abruptly. The Captain and several of his crew were thrown to the deck. As they got to their feet, they saw that the ship's bows were jammed inside a web of twisted metal girders and stanchions.
Immediately the Captain contacted the station superintendent. "I'm sorry, I've no idea what happened. The helmsman didn't change course when he should have done. We're trying to find out why. What's the damage your end?"
"Looks pretty bad, but she's still sound. No-one's hurt, thank goodness. What about your crew?"
"We're all OK. Can we give you any help?"
"I don't think so. Your helmsman had better have a good excuse for this, or someone's going to crucify him."
Just then one of the crew came up to the captain, clearly agitated. "Sir, the helmsman's just been found unconscious. Looks like he blacked out or something. And we've got an emergency on our hands!"
"What's happened? Is the bomb..."
"The collision's triggered the detonation mechanism, Sir!"
Regan briefly went pale, then composed himself. "That means we've got just thirty minutes before we get blown to Kingdom Come." They could try and get off in the escape pod, but they'd never get beyond the explosion's range in time. The pod would travel little faster than the ship itself, now jammed immoveably against the supply station.
He informed the station superintendent of the danger. It would e an easy matter for the installation's crew to reach safety in the helijet kept on the structure for use in emergencies such as this. But the craft could only carry five men - the station's full complement - at once. There would be no time for it to return and pick up the crew of the Andromeda.
"What are you going to do?" asked the superintendent.
"Don't you worry about us, just get your men into that helijet. We'll call International Rescue."
*
As Thunderbird One approached the danger zone Scott contacted the Captain of the Andromeda.
"We're going to airlift you all to safety. Get out on the deck; Thunderbird Two should be here in about fifteen minutes. We don't have a lot of time but what we do have should be enough."
The captain and his men, the by now recovered helmsman among them, began to congregate on the deck waiting for Thunderbird Two to arrive. By now the crew of the supply station had departed in their helijet and were well on their way to safety.
The figure of The Hood materialised on board the abandoned supply station; the best place, he had reckoned, from which to sabotage the rescue operation. He grinned. He had been certain that the collision would trigger the bomb's detonation mechanism, and his interception of the call to International Rescue confirmed he was right. Now he had the chance to deliver yet another crushing blow to his enemies' morale.
However, he soon hit upon a problem. From his monitoring of IR's communications with their space station, he knew how they intended to carry out the rescue. Since Thunderbird Two was too big to land on the deck of the Andromeda they were planning to carry out the airlift using an escape capsule lowered from the transporter. But while it was easy to work out what he had to do, actually doing it proved to be rather more difficult. He found that the places from which he'd be able to shoot at the equipment were all far too exposed; he risked being spotted from Thunderbird One, or by one of the men on the deck if he should chance to look round.
He was still trying to work out what to do when Thunderbird Two arrived on the scene. Soon the huge freighter was hovering above the stricken Andromeda. The Hood saw the hatch in the underside of the fuselage open. The cylindrical capsule began to descend from it on the end of a thick metal cable.
The capsule clanged against the metal of the deck, steadied. The hatch in it opened and the sailors hurried inside.
The Hood had rematerialised on board the ship, and was moving around in search of a more suitable spot from which to sabotage the rescue. It took him several minutes to find one; a small open space between the reactor housing and the main superstructure. It
gave him a clear view of his target, though only just, and the massive structures on each side of him would be sure to hide him from anyone's sight.
But by now the capsule was rapidly being winched up into the belly of Thunderbird Two. Only a few feet of the cable was now visible, and if he fired he could not be sure of hitting it.
He wondered if he should let this one go. Then he saw how the situation could be saved. But he would have to move fast.
As the capsule disappeared inside Thunderbird Two he raised the rifle a few degrees and fired at the point behind where he reasoned the winch control mechanism to be. The sound waves passed straight through the rescue craft's hull.
He was lucky first time. A split second before the hatch began closing, the sound waves found their target. The winch gear caught fire and exploded. The reel on which the cable was mounted spun round rapidly, and at the same time the end of the cable came away from its housing.
Already, in response to an alarm signal, thick white foam was pouring into the fire-damaged area, stifling the flames before they could spread very far. But the capsule plummeted downward and hit the deck of the ship with a force that knocked those inside it unconscious.
Scott swiftly made the only decision he could. "Virgil, it's too late!" he yelled. "There's no time to fix up something else. The bomb's due to go off in three minutes!"
"But Scott," protested Virgil, "we can't just let them - "
"We've got to! We'd only get ourselves killed as well! And the Thunderbirds are too valuable to be risked!"
Virgil hesitated a moment longer, then with a sinking heart realised Scott was right. He swung his craft round and fired the motors. Together, the two Thunderbirds hurtled at top speed into the blue.
Captain Regan and his men were just recovering consciousness when the explosion happened. They barely had time to collect their thoughts before it engulfed both the ship and the supply station, the two disappearing together in an enormous and rapidly expanding orange fireball.
*
That night on the island, no-one spoke to each other unless it was absolutely necessary. The Tracy house was wrapped in a blanket of gloom.
"Well, Dad," said Scott. "I guess that proves beyond any doubt…..it wasn't Kyrano's doing."
Jeff nodded, but said nothing. He continued to sit at his desk, staring glumly into space.
At length, he got up and left the room.
Scott and TinTin watched him go. Both of them looked anxious as well as gloomy.
Jeff made his way to a clearing in a wooded part of the island, where he had gone in the past to think over difficult problems and make difficult decisions. He felt more relaxed there, more able to think clearly.
As he sat there with his back against a tree, his mind flashed back through the years. It was in this very spot that he had found solace when suffering from depression after his wife and father had died, killed by the crushing, suffocating tide of snow that had buried the family's Colorado ski-ing resort.
The shock had been almost unbearable. He had really freaked out, really lost it. For weeks he was depressed, moody, irritable. And then one day he'd taken his private plane and flown off into the blue, not knowing or caring where he was going. Eventually he'd decided to go to the island - his island, as he'd come to think of it (he'd landed there some months before after parachuting from a crashing space shuttle, and had been captivated by its charm and beauty, afterwards paying several return visits to it) - because there, in its peaceful solitude, he'd be able to think about his life, try to recover from the terrible blow fate had dealt him.
And there - in the very spot where he was now, he reckoned - he had had the idea of forming International Rescue. There was nothing he could do to bring back his father and Lucille. Was he to spend the rest of his life mooning over the tragedy? No. There was only one way he could get over it, only one way he could compensate for their deaths. He would use his wealth and other resources to create an organisation which would save lives by using technology as it had never been used before.
There had followed long years of careful planning, establishing the contacts who would supply the right materials and recruiting the agents who would protect the organisation's secrets. He had told his sons what he had in mind, knowing they would keep it confidential; he recalled his joy when they all declared they wanted to be part of it. And so he'd trained them to operate the rescue equipment, and arranged for a former member of the British SAS to teach them to shoot straight so they could defend themselves against anyone who might use drastic methods to satisfy their curiosity about the organisation. After many setbacks the equipment was perfected, the agents selected, the infrastructure established. International Rescue had been born.
And now...now the whole thing was falling apart. Neither the human element nor the technological were functioning properly.
But that wasn't the only reason why he was considering calling a halt to the whole thing.
The more unstable the world became, the more he dreaded the consequences if the secrets of International Rescue fell into the wrong hands. They could be used to wage war, to destroy life rather than save it. Armies could equip themselves with ships and aircraft that could cover vast distances in an incredibly short time. And spacecraft that could reach one end of the solar system from another in a few days, enabling them to have space, and therefore also the Earth, at their command. It was a terrifying thought.
Had the dangers to the world from International Rescue always outweighed its benefits? Had he been seriously misguided from the start? Was his life's work nothing but a massive and very dangerous mistake?
If, while on a rescue mission, an IR craft and its crew were captured by a power such as Bereznik....it had never happened, but it might have done. And it could certainly happen in the future. The current international instability, the increase in crime and terrorism, was having a profound and unsettling effect on Jeff Tracy. There were more and more people about who had an interest in adapting Brains' wonderful inventions for military uses, and they seemed to be establishing themselves easily in positions of power.
International Rescue had saved lives on a not inconsiderable scale. But in certain people's hands its technology could destroy them on a far bigger one. Surely that was the deciding factor.
Well, he couldn't go wallowing forever in inconsequential gloom. He had to make up his mind what to do.
Eventually he turned and began to walk back towards the house. He found the lounge empty. Seating himself at his desk, he began to type out a fax message.

From: JEFF TRACY, HEAD OF THE TRACY INTERNATIONAL CORPORATION
To: ALL WORLD NEWS AGENCIES
You will know of me and my company from our many activities worldwide and the role we have played in the space exploration industry. I have a very important announcement to make.
For the past few years I and my family have been responsible for setting up and running the organisation which calls itself International Rescue, the identity of whose personnel has not been
revealed until now.

There came a knock on the door.
"I'm busy," he called. "Please come back later."
The door opened and TinTin came in. "Hey, do you mind, honey," Jeff said crossly. "I said I was - "
Scott entered the room. "Dad, I..."
"Look, Scott, if I say I don't want to be disturbed, I don't want to be disturbed - OK?"
Scott remained where he was.
Jeff rose from his seat angrily. "GET OUT!" he yelled. "DO YOU HEAR WHAT I'M SAYING? JUST GET OUT, WILL YOU!"
Just then a third person came through the door. He was about to shout at them when he saw it was his mother. The shout died in his throat and he looked shamefaced.
Gordon followed her in, Virgil close behind him. Scott and TinTin had been busy while Jeff was in retreat.
"Might I ask what all this is in aid of, folks?" Jeff grumbled.
"I think I know what you're going to do, Dad," said Scott. "We had the idea you were planning something drastic. That's why I got this little gathering together." His eye fell on the fax message.
"Read it if you like, Son. Whatever happens you're not going to stop me making it."
Scott glanced over the message, long enough to be appraised of its gist.
"Don't do it, Father," he urged. "Please."
At that moment the eyes of three of the portraits on the wall -
those of Brains, Lady Penelope, and John - started to flash.
"I, er, think there are some people who want to talk to you," Scott said.
There's timing for you, he thought.
With a scowl, Jeff opened the channel. Everyone began speaking at once.
"One at a time, please," Jeff growled.
"Hi, Dad," said John. "Scott asked me to call in....."
"Oh, did he?" snapped Jeff. "He had no right to call the space station without my permission."
"I just want to say, father..don't do it."
"I second that, Jeff," said Lady Penelope.
"Me, too," said Brains.
"And Dad..." Scott began. "Well, they're not here right now for us to ask them, but I'm pretty certain Parker and Kyrano would agree with us."
"I'm sorry everyone, but my mind is made up. It's not just because of the sabotage, or whatever's been responsible for all our slip-ups. I've decided you were right to get Penny and Brains to check over the rescue zones for clues." He explained the other motive behind his decision to wind up International Rescue.
"If that was the problem, why didn't you mention it before, Dad?" asked Scott.
"Because I didn't think you'd agree with me. I thought you might try to stop me somehow. That's why I was going to reveal our identity, because then it would have been a fait accompli. Then we'd have had to finish it all, destroy all our equipment and the plans for it, because if someone came here and forcibly tried to grab them.....
“Perhaps I should have been more honest with you. But whatever you might say about that, I'm convinced - reluctantly - that what I'm doing is sensible. Even if we found the reason for the jinx and dealt with it, or the UN took over the running of the organisation, misuse of our technology would still be a problem. That's why I've decided to dismantle all our hardware.......the Thunderbirds, the pod vehicles, everything. I should never have started the whole thing in the first place. Just because my wife and father got killed...."
"You can't do that, Dad," said Scott quietly. The others joined together in a chorus of assent. The thought of destroying machines for which they had come to develop a great affection made them recoil.
"I will, and with my own bare hands if I have to," said Jeff. "Are you going to stop me?"
"Not if you're in charge," said Scott.
He found himself becoming emotional. "Please, don't destroy everything we've built up over the years. I understand your reasons. But I still can't bring myself to accept it."
Penelope cut in. "Jeff, do you remember that business with the Erdmann gang? They would have blown up half of England if we hadn't got to that nuclear store in time. We can also stop that kind of thing from happening. We're as much of a danger as a blessing to the terrorists and the criminals."
"Yes, Penny...but we're a rescue organisation, not a police force."
"We were saving lives, Jeff. And I think that's all you ever wanted to do. That's what International Rescue was set up for.
“You might say let the international authorities sort out that kind of thing. But there's not much difference between our doing it and them doing it; after all, we can only function with their support, and their approval, in any case."
"She's talking sense, Jeff," said Grandma. "Oh and by the way, you're probably mad at them for involving me in this. Well let me tell you, son, I may not be as young as I used to be but I haven't quite got to the stage where people can manipulate me into things. If I was fifty years younger I'd still go along with it."
Jeff was silent for a minute or two. Then, gradually, a wry smile appeared on his face. "You know something, folks?"
"What's that, father?" Gordon asked.
"You're absolutely right about all this, and I'm absolutely wrong. It's another reason why Scott should be running this outfit instead of me. Maybe I'm getting too old..."
"No, Dad," protested Scott. "You're not being fair to yourself. I guess we've all been screwed up by this business. I suppose it was the shock of failing on a mission for the very first time."
Jeff screwed up his message to the press and threw it away, filled with a new resolution.
"I thought I was making the right decision," he said ruefully, telling them how he had gone to the little clearing in the jungle to think things over.
"You needed to make a decision, Dad," said Virgil. "Things couldn't have gone on as they were. And if you hadn't been about to do it, TinTin and Scott wouldn't have gone and got this little delegation together...so in a way it was right."
"So, we're all friends again," Jeff smiled. "I reckon that makes things a lot better."
"Jeff, I'm going to pay a visit to Alan," TinTin announced. "I might try and persuade him to come back."
"Great. Let him know the atmosphere here's a lot better now. But handle him carefully, won't you."
"You...you understand I could still leave here, if Alan doesn't want to come back?"
Jeff nodded slowly. "It's your choice, honey. And if that makes the others want to leave, I can understand it. But at least it'll be a better reason for International Rescue to break up."
He sat back in his chair with a sigh. "And we've still got to find the reason behind the equipment failures. I just hope Penny and Brains can turn up something."
*
It proved impossible to examine the German road tunnel, which had been sealed off pending repairs, and the scene of the Andromeda tragedy was right out in the middle of the ocean, which of course made an inspection of it rather difficult. So Brains and Penelope set off for Africa to conduct an investigation of the Kambata site. Right now they were approaching the scene of the disaster in a jeep borrowed from Penelope's cousin, a safari park warden. Penny had equipped herself with a safari outfit and hat. While she drove the vehicle Brains consulted a computer-generated map of the area, compiled using data gathered by John in Thunderbird Five.
"It seems to me that whoever sabotaged the rescue operation would have preferred to do it from a distance," Penny was saying. "They'd've wanted to be as far away from the scene as possible, to minimise the risk of detection. And that suggests they used some kind of projectile."
Brains agreed. "So what we have to do, then, is calculate the precise point from which it was fired."
They were almost at their destination now. Coming over a rise, they saw the valley below them, and the bridge spanning it.
Brains studied the surrounding landscape, relating the details of the map to what he saw on the ground. "We could stop now," he told Penny. "This should be a good enough place from which to carry out our investigation." She slowed down and turned off the road, stopping after a hundred yards or so. They got out of the vehicle and studied the panorama before them through binoculars.
"There's the bridge," said Brains. "Now we don't know the exact range of our enemy's device, but let's assume that it was fired from somewhere fairly close, at least - and I think we'll have to, unless we want to make things impossibly difficult for ourselves. The saboteur would also have to make sure he wasn't spotted. Bearing those two things in mind, the best place to do it from, by
my reckoning, would be......about there." He pointed to a large clump of trees and other vegetation about a quarter of a mile to the east and a little way down the slope of the ridge on which they were standing. "That foliage would provide excellent cover. What do you think, Penelope?"
"I think you've hit it right on the head, Brains. Now let's give the place a looking-over."
They started to walk down the slope, all the time keeping a look out for any sign of footprints or vehicle tracks. They couldn't see any, and that worried Brains. Penny pointed out that it might have rained since the day of the disaster, which would have washed away the signs they were looking for; that was something they'd have to check with the local Weather Bureau. "Also, the wind would have blown up quite a bit of dust, and that'd have obscured any footprints - no, wait a second. I guess the vegetation would act as a windbreak."
"Now," began Penelope as they reached the thicket, "if someone was using all this foliage as cover from which to fire his projectile, tiny fibres from his clothing would have adhered to the leaves. That's something else we should consider."
They began a painstaking search for clues. Some minutes later Penelope cried out excitedly, pointing to the imprints of two large booted feet. Brains came over to look at them.
His eyes shone with elation.
"This obviously proves someone was here recently," he said once he had managed to control his excitement. "Now we've got to work out exactly when - and who they were." They took photographs of the footprints, then cut leaves from the vegetation surrounding them, depositing the samples in plastic containers. When this laborious and time-consuming task had been completed, they returned to the jeep.
Their next port of call was the Weather Bureau, where they learned that there had been no rain in the area under investigation since the 17th July; a week or so before the disaster had occurred. Their excitement mounting still further, they headed back to the hotel where they were staying.
"It doesn't prove someone was there on that particular day," said Brains. "We may have to carry out a few more investigations. But it's too much of a coincidence not to suggest that the rescue was deliberately sabotaged."
"There's something that's been puzzling me about this business," Penny said. "I expect you've noticed it too. If there's been no rain in that spot since the day of the tragedy, then we should have seen more footprints, and some tyre tracks. But there weren't any."
"He could have come in a helijet or some other form of aircraft."
"Then the downblast would have disturbed the vegetation. And we didn't see any sign of such disturbance. It's really odd, don't you think? As if he just appeared there out of thin air, and disappeared in the same fashion."
"There must be a rational explanation for it. Anyway, I think we know now what the cause of our troubles is. We must call Jeff right away."

They radioed just as Jeff was saying goodbye to TinTin, who was about to leave on her visit to Alan. She had phoned him earlier to let him know she was coming. He'd seemed happy enough at the thought of seeing her, although she was perplexed to detect a slight nervousness in his voice, as if something was worrying him.
Their faces lit up as they heard the news from Africa. "Penny, that's wonderful! Well done, the pair of you."
Scott was also in the room, and Jeff turned to face him. "All right," he said. "I'm prepared to agree with you now. There's a good enough chance it was sabotage for us to proceed on that assumption."
He turned to TinTin. "This is something else for you to tell Alan. With any luck it should help to persuade him to rejoin the fold."
"I hope so too. But I'll have to be careful how I do it. I don't want him to think I'm pressurising him."
They wished her good luck in her mission, and she left to don her flying gear.
As they watched her plane take off, Virgil pointed out that their troubles were far from over. "We've still got to find out who the saboteur is; and what's more, make sure he doesn't do it again. We're not out of the wood until we can do that." At this their mood of euphoria was dispelled.
"There's another problem," said Jeff. "If our enemy knows who we
are, there's always the possibility he'll reveal that knowledge to someone."
"He hasn't," said Scott. "Not yet. So for the moment we're OK. And in any case I don't see there's anything we can do about it."
Jeff turned his attention to compiling a further press release.

From: INTERNATIONAL RESCUE
To: ALL WORLD NEWS AGENCIES
"An investigation has confirmed that the failure of our three most recent rescue operations was due to deliberate acts of sabotage. Who was responsible for the sabotage, and why, we do not yet know; we are doing our best to find out. In the meantime, we will answer any calls we may receive. We will notify the world of any further developments."

In a dingy office somewhere near the western seaboard of the United States, The Hood grinned as he sat over a complex piece of equipment, listening to the latest news from International Rescue's headquarters, which was being relayed by satellite from the equipment in his Malayan temple.
The message ended and he switched off the device. Now that the way was clear to the fulfilment of his plans, there was no need for him to continue monitoring events on Tracy Island.

A couple of hours later, TinTin's plane touched down on the runway at the Tracys' private airfield. Leaving the aircraft, she went over to the small administrative building where she logged details of the flight and removed her flying gear. Then she took the car and headed in the direction of the city.
Alan was visiting an old racing acquaintance at the moment, but had told her he expected to be back by the time she arrived at his house.
As she drove along the remote country road, an unmarked helijet flew overhead. She barely gave it a thought, seeing nothing about it to alarm her. In the cockpit of the helijet the pilot was speaking into a radio. "She's heading your way...should reach the interception point in the next few minutes."
Shortly afterwards, TinTin turned a corner to find another car positioned across the lane about two hundred yards ahead, its nose buried in the vegetation at the side of the road. Fortunately it was far enough away for her to stop in time. She trod on the brakes and the car skidded to a halt.
Assuming there had been an accident, she got out and approached the vehicle, whose driver was slumped across the steering wheel. Perhaps he'd blacked out or something. She'd better see if there was anything she could do, then call the police and medical services if necessary.
A rustling sound caused her to turn round. A man was emerging from the hedge, covering her with an automatic pistol. A second man came towards her from the opposite side, and he too was pointing a gun at her.
"Don't make the slightest move," the first man said menacingly.
The man in the car, who clearly had not been unconscious at all, got out of it and went to the boot, from which he fetched a length of plastic tape. While his comrades kept TinTin covered, he slapped a section of the tape over her mouth, then forced her hands behind her back and tied them securely. He lifted her up and carried her to the boot, dumping her inside. He tied her feet too, then slammed the boot shut and locked it.
TinTin heard the men climb into the car and start the engine. She began to struggle furiously.
In her pocket was a transmitter for sending distress signals to the island, identical to that Jeff had earlier given Alan. With her hands tied she couldn't reach it but she might just manage to shake it out.
After several minutes of painful contortions she succeeded in working it out of her pocket. It fell onto the floor. She wriggled round and grasped it between her fingers.
In the lounge of the house on Tracy Island, the eyes of her portrait flashed rapidly on and off, and the high-pitched bleep of the emergency signal filled the air.
Jeff leaped from his seat. "TinTin's in trouble!" Urgently he began issuing orders to his sons. "Scott, take off in Thunderbird One. I'll get John to pinpoint her location. Virgil, remain on standby in case you're needed."
Within minutes Thunderbird One was airborne, and heading at top speed towards America's Pacific coast. John soon established a fix on the signal. "It's coming from a moving vehicle, travelling along a country road thirty miles west of Spoke City," Jeff told Scott. "Co-ordinates Z3X6815K. I'm afraid it looks like she's been abducted."
"FAB. Proceeding to intercept. Shall I inform the local police?"
"Only as a last resort. Where International Rescue secrets are involved, it's not a good thing. If they realise TinTin is one of us I imagine they'll be willing to keep quiet about it, but something might still leak out."
"This isn't good news, Dad," Scott said grimly. "Whoever's got her must have an eye on our secrets. And what's just as bad, they seemed to know she'd be visiting the mainland. They must have bugged the island somehow."
"I guess you're right. While you're taking care of TinTin, we'll mount a search for the bugs."
A map of the region around the Western seaboard of the United States had appeared on a screen before him. The car's position was indicated by a moving point of light. There was no way of telling where it was ultimately heading; the countryside for miles around was open and sparsely populated, with only a few small and widely scattered settlements.
Thunderbird One had by now crossed the coast. Within five minutes Scott had visual contact with the car. It was a tiny blob on the road far below him. "I've sighted it, Dad, and I'm about to intercept. I'm going to fire a few warning shots first."
"FAB. It goes without saying you must be careful not to harm TinTin."
"Don't worry, Dad. None of us would take any risks with her life."
Thunderbird's nosecone dipped and it plunged towards the road, its engines screaming. At about twenty feet above it Scott levelled off, opening out the wings. He flew along twenty or thirty yards behind the car.
The occupants of the vehicle were alarmed by the roar of what sounded like an aircraft, flying unnervingly low. A shadow fell over the car as Thunderbird One began to overtake it. One of the men, glancing through the rear window, cried out in amazement and anger. "International Rescue! It's International Rescue!"
The muzzle of a small cannon extruded from the rocket plane's fuselage. One might have wondered why a rescue vehicle was equipped with such a device; the reason was that such things were essential in case the organisation had to defend itself against those who might seek to steal their secrets. They were only used when it was absolutely necessary - like now.
The cannon fired repeatedly, its shells sending chips of gravel flying into the air from the road surface. The kidnappers heard Scott address them through a tannoy. "OK, stop the car and get out or I'll blast you to pieces."
But they failed to heed the warning. Evidently, they thought he wouldn't seriously contemplate carrying out his threat while TinTin was inside the car, in case any harm came to her.
Scott proceeded to harry the vehicle, continually swooping and diving at it, or coming up beside it so close that it was forced to swerve sharply to the other side of the road. After several minutes of this the driver decided to reduce speed suddenly, causing Thunderbird One to overshoot. The car braked, then turned and headed rapidly in the opposite direction. Scott swung Thunderbird round and flew in pursuit. He guessed what the driver's aim was. They had now entered a heavily wooded stretch of country - which made it difficult for Scott to manoeuvre, thanks to the trees on each side. But a quarter of a mile or so ahead there was a wide gap in the trees, an area of open ground. The kidnappers' plan must be to swerve into it and then stop, abandoning the vehicle and running off into the trees. The driver's evasive manouevre had gained them just enough time in which to do that.
In the wood it would be impossible for Scott to get a clear shot at them. He'd be forced to leave Thunderbird and pursue them on foot, which as they were almost certainly armed might be very dangerous. And he'd probably lose them before long.
Rapidly the car approached the break in the trees. Scott knew he had to move fast, and time what he was going to do just right.
A hatch in the underside of Thunderbird's fuselage slid open, and a pallet was lowered from it. On the pallet lay four long, thick metal spears. Scott dipped his craft slightly and at the same time his hand went to the instrument panel. The spears shot from the pallet and thudded quivering into the road ahead of the car, five feet or so apart, forming a barrier right across it. There was no time for the car to stop. The driver braked, then, realising he would not be able to avoid a collision in time, swerved to the left. The vehicle's nose hit a tree and crumpled up.
Thunderbird One, though considerably smaller than Thunderbird Two and with less room for amazing hardware, nevertheless contained quite a variety of useful devices, much of it designed for apprehending those who had stolen IR equipment or kidnapped IR personnel.
A minute or two later, Scott came in to land beside the crashed car. He spoke into the tannoy. "All right, come out of there with your hands up." He punctuated the request with a few shots from the cannon, which tore up the ground near the vehicle.
There was no response. After a moment Scott lowered the ladder and climbed down it. He approached the car cautiously, drawing his stun gun. The two men in the front were unconscious, but unharmed. The one in the back had been stunned by the collision, but as Scott examined him he began to regain consciousness. A blast from the stun gun sent him back into oblivion.
Reasoning TinTin must be in the boot, Scott called her name. There was no reply. He fetched some tools from Thunderbird One and forced it open. TinTin was dazed and shaken, but unhurt. He freed her and helped her to her feet.
"We'd better get back to the island," he told her. "As soon as we've checked the car for any clues." He had already satisfied himself that anyone coming along the quiet country road, which few vehicles used at any one time, would be able to spot the obstruction he'd placed across it soon enough to prevent a nasty
accident, regardless of the speed at which they were travelling.
Scott made a swift search of the vehicle, glancing every few seconds at the two men in the front in case they showed signs of coming round. He found one or two things in the glove compartment that might be of interest.
They got into Thunderbird One and Scott took off for home. He reported back to his father. "It was definitely a kidnap. TinTin's OK; she's a bit shaken, but otherwise fine."
"Any idea who those men were?"
"I found one or two possible clues; we'll take a look at them when I get back.
"A worrying thought's just occurred to me, Dad. If they'd bugged the house, they'd have found out at some point that Alan had left the island. Why haven't they kidnapped him too?"
"As a matter of fact I've just called him, Scott. Seems he's not in; I only hope there isn't a sinister reason for that."
Jeff had left a message on the answerphone urging Alan to return to the island until the matter was cleared up, if only for the sake of International Rescue's security. While he was away from it, none of them could visit him without the risk of being kidnapped like TinTin.
"Let's hope that'll do the trick," he told Scott.

"They should have been here by now," The Hood snapped. "What is wrong?" He paced anxiously about the office.
On a desk a communications device bleeped. He spoke curtly into
its receiver. "Yes?"
His face twisted with rage at what the caller had to say. "You idiots!" he snarled. "You could have ruined everything! Let's hope for your sakes that International Rescue have not been led here. Await further instructions - and make sure you do not fail me again, or you know what will happen."
The man beside him, the owner of the establishment where he had set up his temporary base, spoke. "They loused it up?"
The Hood nodded. "Unfortunately, yes." He told his accomplice what had happened. "I do not think International Rescue will inform the police. But they may try to do something themselves, and we must guard against that."
"What's the plan going to be now?"
"Our first priority must be to make sure they do not contact Alan Tracy, if it is not already too late. They will tell him about what happened to TinTin, and urge him to return to the island. It is quite possible he will agree." He picked up a telephone and dialled a number.
"Hello, this is Alan Tracy," said the answerphone. "I'm not here at the moment, but if you'd like to leave a message for me please speak after the tone."
"Mr Tracy, you will know who I am," the Hood said. "Now listen carefully. I have TinTin and I will kill her if you do not do exactly as I say." He told Alan what he must do, warning him as before not to contact either the police or Tracy Island.
"His friends may already have called and left a message," said The Hood. "We must go to his house immediately. Tell Brosznowski and Hannan to meet me outside." The accomplice picked up a portable radio and issued some orders into it.
"What's going to happen when he finds we don't have the girl after all? Without her he's no use to us."
"It would have been ideal if we had succeeded in kidnapping her. Anything which threatens her life is likely to change his way of thinking. Certainly, we can only secure his co-operation by threatening another person. He has a sense of honour, like all his family. If it is someone else's skin that's in danger....."
"If you just let me and the boys work him over...."
"That would be a crude and counter-productive way of doing it," said The Hood contemptuously. "As I have said before, Tracy is strong-willed, stubborn, and still loyal to his friends. He will die before he betrays their secrets. We could use a truth drug, I suppose, but drugs sometimes have dangerous side-effects. It will not be much help to us if he dies."
"So who do we use to make him give us the info? Do we just pull someone in off the streets?"
The Hood paused, thinking carefully. Then he smiled. "I have decided on a slight change to our overall plans.”
“Like what?”
“You’ll see. It’s a neat way of killing two birds with one stone - one of them a Thunderbird."
*
The Hood gained entry to Alan's house as before, by using his sonic device to unlock the back door. He discovered that his telephone message had not been necessary. A message, probably from Tracy Island, had been recorded, but to his relief, the answerphone had not been played back. It seemed Alan wasn't in. He concealed himself in one of the back rooms and waited for Alan to arrive. Before long he heard the front door opening.
Whenever Alan had been out, his first action on arriving home was to check his answerphone to see if there were any messages on it. As he reached for the playback button, a harsh voice stopped him. "Hello again, Mr Tracy."
"You," said Alan. "I didn't think you'd be back so soon. What do you want this time? Whatever it is, you'll get nothing from me."
"Oh, but I will," said The Hood, smiling evilly. "You see, I have kidnapped the lovely TinTin of whom you are so fond."
Alan stared at him in horror, turning the whitest shade of pale. No!
"I don't believe you," he snapped. "It's just a ruse."
Again the Hood grinned his evil grin. "I am afraid it's the truth."
"Prove it to me."
He gestured towards the door. "Come with me and you'll have your proof. Unless you want me to produce her dead body."
"Let me speak to her on the phone."
"That will not be possible. She was foolish enough to attempt to escape, as a result of which it was necessary to render her unconscious."
Alan had no way of knowing whether The Hood was telling the truth.
"So, let's go," The Hood said.
"All right," sighed Alan. "You win."
Whatever happened he knew he could not sacrifice TinTin's life.
They went outside to where The Hood and his men had parked their car. There followed a long drive through the countryside, lasting about an hour, until they reached their destination, which Alan recognised as one of those new plants where scrap metal was crushed, melted down and recycled into new items all on the same site. It had been built in this remote place to minimise the chances of either the scrap or the things manufactured from it being stolen. Covering several square miles, or so he reckoned, the complex was surrounded by a high perimeter fence. He saw a small cluster of buildings, and further away one very large building with openings in its sides into which disappeared the conveyor belts which led from the giant compressors that ringed it, carrying the compacted metal to the furnaces. All around were huge mountains of scrap, twisted into weird and sinister surrealist shapes. The ground was bare earth with tufts of grass here and there.
The car entered the premises through a gate which Alan guessed was the back entrance. He had the impression it was rarely used. One of his captors got out, pressed a button in the wall and waited, while a security camera swivelled round on top of its pole to survey them. A few moments later a light flashed and the gate retracted into the wall. They drove inside.
There were few people about the place, which he knew would be almost completely automated. That would no doubt have made it easier for The Hood to establish a base here, although Alan presumed some if not all of the staff must be in league with him, or under his hypnotic influence. On their way there they had passed one of the trucks which carried the finished product to the point of sale; it was owned by the same company as operated the plant itself, and most likely the driver was under their enemy's control, or on his payroll, providing an additional guarantee of security.
They drove about for some minutes before halting outside a low concrete building. "Get out," ordered The Hood. Alan obeyed.
They entered the building, and Alan was led along a corridor to a small dusty storeroom. One of the men fetched a chair, and he was ordered to sit in it. The man began tying him securely to it. "Where's TinTin?" he demanded. "I want to see her now."
The Hood threw back his head and roared with laughter.
Alan realised with anger that he'd been tricked. He yelled a curse at The Hood, struggling fiercely to escape from his bonds.
"Call me whatever names you like, Tracy, it will not help you."
"And bringing me here won't help you. I've told you you'll learn nothing from me."
"I am not so sure about that. In due course you will see what I mean."
One of his henchmen slapped a plaster over Alan's mouth. "Keep watch on the door, and check every so often that the ropes are secure," he ordered. "If he tries to escape, shoot him."
The Hood returned to the office and switched on the communications device, which enabled him to speak simultaneously with the most important of his various allies around the globe.
He gave them an account of recent developments, explaining his plans. "Soon we shall have the information we seek."
"So you have a member of International Rescue in your power," said one of the Maghrabians. "I presume, then, that you know who they are. Why don't we just go ahead and capture them all?"
"Let us be frank about it," said The Hood. "We do not entirely trust ourselves, do we? You don't trust me and I don't trust you. And you certainly don't trust each other."
This was quite true. The Hood knew very well, from the sort of people he associated with, what human nature could be like. His allies, for their part, knew he had often in the past betrayed those who had helped him, using them merely as pawns and discarding them once they were no longer of any use. And if any of them could steal a march on the others by being the first to acquire International Rescue's secrets, they would. These undercurrents of hostility were strong enough to be easily sensed.
"If I were to tell you who they were, you could easily deduce the
location of their base. You could attack it and capture the International Rescue craft and personnel, and all the plans of their equipment. You could get what you wanted without any need for my help."
Kieran Mulligan gave a hollow laugh. "I have to admire you, you're no fool. But it doesn't really matter who International Rescue are. What really counts is getting hold of the technology. Then we can mass-produce the Thunderbird machines as weapons of war."
"Mulligan is right," said a former Russian Communist. "There's only one question which concerns me. Are we sure we will be able to copy International Rescue's equipment using our own facilities and materials?"
"In due course it should be possible, if your scientists are truly competent. I am not without considerable technological ability myself, so maybe I can help them."
"I'd like to be there when he talks," said the Russian. "Just so we can be sure nothing funny is going on. We must be satisfied no double-cross is being planned." There was a murmur of agreement from the others.
The Hood sighed in vexation. "Very well, but no tricks. Understand?"
Everyone said they understood.
"Good. I shall contact you all again when I have the girl." He switched off the videophone.
"And now I have a little journey to make," he told his accomplice. He went outside to where his helijet awaited him.

Scott was now back at Tracy Island. The search for The Hood's bugs was interrupted while they discussed what they had learned from TinTin's kidnapping and rescue.
"It's pretty remote territory," said Scott, studying a map of the area through which the kidnap car had been travelling. "In the direction the kidnappers were going, that road leads only one place; the Harverson recycling plant. And they seem to have some connection with that establishment because I found one of its business cards in the dashboard compartment."
"We need to check out that plant," said Jeff. "But we can't use the police."
"I know who we can use," said Virgil.
Gordon nodded. "The little lady with the classy pink Rolls."
At that very moment the eyes of Penny's portrait flashed.
"Well, well, what do you know," grinned Jeff. He opened the channel. "Hi, Penny. Anything more to report?"
"Not much, Jeff. I put on my Universal Mirror hat, told the authorities we were investigating the possibility that the International Rescue missions had been sabotaged, and asked a few questions. There's no evidence that anyone within easy reach of the danger zone hired a car, plane or any other vehicle at or around the time of the disaster. We found some fibres on the leaf
samples we took {Brains had set up a temporary laboratory in his hotel room, complete with microscopes} but they don't tell us anything about who the saboteur might be. They're from casual overalls of the sort a lot of people wear for outdoor work. So our investigations have reached a dead end, I'm afraid."
"What you've already found has been valuable enough. Now then, I've another job for you and Brains."
"Glad to be of service. What is it?"
He told her of the kidnap attempt on TinTin. "We want you to fly to the States and check out that plant. We think whoever kidnapped her was operating from there."
"FAB, Jeff. I'll pay a visit there and have a scout round, if I can."
Jeff tried again to contact Alan, but once more was unsuccessful. "I just hope he's all right," he sighed.
"If he isn't," said Virgil, "his only hope is Penelope."

It was dark now in England. The walls of the Creighton-Ward mansion stood out whitely in the moonlight. Nothing disturbed the silence and stillness of the house and its environs save the occasional hoot of an owl, or the rustling of some other night creature in the hedgerows.
A car came along the road that ran past the house, stopping a short distance from the gates. The Hood and a couple of his men got out of it. They began to walk slowly towards the gates, The Hood holding his sonic device out in front of him. "This will neutralise the alarm systems," he told his accomplices.
As they came up to the gates The Hood levelled the sonic device at them; with a click they unlocked and swung open. He dealt with the front door in the same fashion.
The Hood did not, as yet, know that the owner of the house and the protector of his target was Lady Penelope Creighton-Ward, a member of International Rescue, or his objective would have been twofold; to kidnap Penelope as well as Judy. It was perhaps just as well, from his viewpoint. Penelope, like Alan, would probably have died before she talked, and the effort would have been wasted.
They began to search all the rooms, untroubled by any fear of discovery. The sonic device would take care of the alarms within the building as well as those positioned about the grounds.
It took a long time to check the whole of the massive, rambling house. Concluding in the end that neither Judith Price nor anyone else was to be found there, The Hood instructed his men to look for clues as to where the occupants might have gone. Eventually, on a table in the drawing room, one of the men came across a postcard sent from the South of France by Judy. And in her room on the upper floor, The Hood discovered an itinerary she'd written out of her holiday, with dates and destinations.
He smiled. "Excellent. Our journey has not been wasted."
From these clues, they could with reasonable accuracy work out where Judy might now be.
*
Lady Penelope's luxury yacht, Fab Two, lay moored in the harbour of the Aegean holiday resort of Skythros. Judy and her friends lay on the deck, their bodies glistening with sun-tan lotion. From time to time the three girls would cheerfully return the waves of the young male holidaymakers.
A short distance away, Lil and Parker were sitting in deckchairs. Lil was busily knitting, and from time to time casting a watchful eye over the quay nearby for unsavoury-looking characters, while her companion simply relaxed.
Parker gazed out across the bay to the open sea and the islands on the horizon, and felt happy. Going on trips like this was one of the perks of working for Penelope. It reminded him how lucky he was in the way his life had turned out.
Herbert Aloysius Parker (he wasn't all that fond of his first name, and he liked his middle name even less - the Lord alone knew what had possessed his parents to bestow it upon him - which was the main reason why everyone tended simply to call him "Parker", or "Nosey" after his most prominent facial feature) had no great ambitions in life. His pleasures were simple, although he had to admit that his travels with Penelope had broadened his mind. Once, of course, he had been....had been a criminal, let us not put too fine a point on it. In his day he was said to be the greatest safebreaker in the world. He'd got sort of roped into crime through his own stupidity, and then addicted to it. He'd been good at it.....one of the best. Parker thought he could deal with every anti-theft system that had been, or was ever likely to be, invented. He'd met his match in Brains. One night, while breaking into Lady Penelope's garage to steal Fab One, he'd been caught by one of the numerous anti-theft gadgets the young whizzkid had designed to protect the many valuable items in her possession. No sooner had he touched the door of the garage than his hand became stuck to it by some incredibly powerful, invisible force. Some minutes later, it began to lessen and he was able to break free. But by then Penelope had come on the scene and was covering him with a pistol.
To his astonishment she did not turn him over to the police, but instead offered him the chance of respectable employment, provided he promised to go straight. She revealed she was an intelligence operative - a secret agent, in popular terminology - and had been looking for someone from the underworld whose skills at breaking into high security establishments would come in very useful on her missions around the globe.
At first he didn't believe any of it was happening. But he knew when he was onto a good thing, and once his initial incredulity had passed was quite happy to go along with it. Common sense told him it was much more sensible than remaining a criminal, always in danger of capture and imprisonment no matter how skilled he might be at evading detection. She had told him there would be dangers, and he wondered for a time if prison would not at least be safer than what Penelope was proposing. But there was danger, he supposed, in the life of a thief, even if it was danger of imprisonment rather than of being executed, as she had hinted might conceivably happen. And in the long run his loyalty to Penelope had ensured that he faced any perils the twosome might be exposed to.
He couldn't help feeling a certain nostalgia for his days on the wrong side of the law, but on the whole he was glad they were behind him. He was grateful to Penelope for rescuing him from a criminal existence; his life had turned out much better than many others', even those from more salubrious backgrounds, might have done. He, a man of humble origins and a criminal who might well have ended his active days in prison, had not only preserved his freedom but been able to put his talents to a really good cause, the defence of peace and liberty (of course, it was debatable whether any one country or group of countries had a monopoly of right or wrong, but Penelope never agreed to undertake a mission for anyone unless absolutely convinced its objectives were morally sound).
They had saved the world together, Penelope and he, on more than a few occasions. It gave him a warm feeling of satisfaction whenever he thought of it.
He had put his former life behind him - more or less, anyway. From time to time he did slip back into his old ways; the habits of a lifetime died hard. Once or twice he'd stolen something and Penelope made him put it back; on another occasion he had returned it after suffering a fit of conscience.
Of course Penelope had taken him on partly because she needed his
services. But she had taken a genuine interest in his moral and cultural welfare, in a way that tickled and chuffed him, insisting on educating him to a high standard of speech and etiquette (an enterprise in which she hadn't been entirely successful). Sometimes her ways made life with her difficult. For example he'd felt a bit silly driving Fab One at first, though it was surprising what you got used to if you had to. More than once he'd told her, only half-jokingly, that she should find something a bit more sober and tasteful (as well as less distinctive, an important consideration in the field of espionage).
But you couldn't fail to be fascinated by that intriguing combination of eccentricity and earthy common sense that was Penelope. He felt for her something like love, and rewarded her with a loyalty as great as that Kyrano showed for Jeff Tracy. One reason why he didn't slip back into a life of crime, apart from his knowing which side his bread was buttered, was that he knew it would upset her. He was aware the respect was mutual; she was proud of having rehabilitated him, and appreciated the services he performed her.
Theirs was, he supposed, a rather odd sort of relationship, but there were good reasons for it. It suited Penelope for the world to think of her as a benevolent, slightly dippy, but harmless aristocrat who lived in a quaint, if cosy world that for most people had disappeared a hundred years or so before. Things were not entirely as they seemed. Anyone who witnessed the affectionate bickering which went on between them would have realised theirs was more a partnership of equals. And when he called her "M'Lady" it was as a jocular reference to their seemingly anachronistic situation, one which had become a habit, as much as a form of deference.
Although in his middle years, and with more behind him to bemoan than to celebrate, or so some might have thought, Parker felt he could have no complaints in life. His one regret was that he had so far been unable to secure the hand of Lillian; he still lived in hope.
There was one other thing he sometimes regretted. It was a shame the world could not be told, for reasons of security, about the part he and Penny had played in averting global disaster, whether by exposing plots to undermine world stability or helping out International Rescue with some particularly thorny problem.
He had no need of the money which the resulting fame would bring him. But it would be nice to write his memoirs some day, and gain a bit of recognition for his services to Mankind.
Drifting off to sleep, Parker was woken a while later in abrupt fashion by Judy throwing some water over him, making him gasp and splutter. He looked up to see her grinning down at him. A yachting cap was perched on her head at a jaunty angle.
"Wotcher, Nosey!" she said cheekily.
"Hey, I brought you some lemonade," she announced, indicating a tray of drinks which lay on the table nearby. Parker smiled resignedly. You had to love her.
Judy went to see to her friends, who were sitting at a table chatting and joking. They talked for a while over their drinks about this or that. Eventually Judy lowered her voice conspiratorially. "Hey gang, there's this island I thought we might go to. The beaches there are lovely. And Tom says he might join us there later on."
Several times during their conversation she had seemed about to say something, then changed her mind in a way that suggested she was unsure as to its propriety.
Although she preferred being away to incarceration at the Hall, her holiday still wasn't as exciting or enjoyable as she had hoped. The need to avoid the possibility of danger had overshadowed everything to some extent or other. After crossing to France they had kept close to the shore all the way, which Parker felt was safer. Judy reckoned it was much more exciting to be out on the open sea. And although young men had plenty of times shown interest in her when they were on the beach or in the cafe, she hadn't been allowed to get too friendly with them just in case they turned out to be enemies trying to insinuate themselves into their confidence (nevertheless Tom, a fellow Briton of her own age whom she rather liked the look of, had managed to strike up quite a rapport with her).
And generally, although she liked Parker and Lil, the constant presence, whatever the party was doing, of two older people rather spoilt the fun in her reckoning.
She wanted to get away from these restrictions, to shake off Parker and Lil, even if only for a short time. The holiday atmosphere had put her in a carefree mood; besides, she saw going to the island as a necessary assertion of her independence.
"Parker's never going to agree to that," said Kate of Judy's plan. "It's too out of the way."
"I'm not suggesting we tell him," said Judy.
Her friend gave her a reproachful look. "For goodness' sake, Ju, it's not right to deceive people like this. And it's bound to land you in serious trouble. That's not to mention the danger."
"Just this once. It'll only be for a few hours. And no-one knows where we are, do they? I can't see what Parker's so worried about."
"What are him and Lil supposed to do while we're off on this island?"
"I'm sure they can find plenty of ways to enjoy themselves. And they'll be glad of some time to themselves, really. You can tell they'd rather not have us to look after."
"Anyway, how are you going to get them off the yacht?" asked Claire. Parker and Lil always made sure one of them, at any rate, was always on the yacht, or wherever Judy and her circle might be. "I don't know," replied Judy. "I'll have to think about that."
Kate knew her friend was quite cunning when it came to getting what she wanted. She also knew she would be perfectly able to pilot the yacht out of the harbour and over to the island. Judy was fascinated by anything to do with machinery, and over the last couple of days she'd taken a close interest in the workings of Fab Two, watching Parker while he operated the controls and carried out routine maintenance. Parker knew she liked technology, and it hadn't occurred to him that there might be other reasons for her interest in the vessel's mechanics.
"Well, you can leave me out of this," said Kate firmly. "I don't want to end up being kidnapped or something."
"You don't have to come if you don't want to. But please don't go telling Parker....you won't, will you? Kate?"
"No, of course not," said the blonde girl disgustedly. She knew a lot more than Judy depended on Judy's safety, that she ought to put whatever obstacles she could in the way of this crazy scheme. But somehow it still didn't feel right to do so. Judy had to be allowed to face the consequences of her own actions.
Judy felt a twinge of conscience at taking advantage of her friend's principles, but dismissed it, a little uneasily.
Kate thought of another objection. "It'll be dangerous for me to go about on my own."
"We'll think of something," said Judy.
At that moment Lil put down her knitting and turned to Parker. "I'm going ashore to get some souvenirs."
She stared at him. "What are you looking at me like that for?"
"I was thinking that wasn't your only reason. You're going to see that Annis bloke, aren't you?"
"Yiannis." This was a young Greek man who Lil had got talking to the previous day on the beach. Parker was rather jealous of him.
"And I was just having a friendly chat to him, that's all," Lil insisted.
She got to her feet. "Well, I'll see you later."
Judy, whom nature had blessed with excellent hearing, had overheard the conversation. She saw Lil head for the gangway.
Good, that was one of them taken care of. Now how was she going to deal with Parker?
She told Kate what was happening. "Why don't you go and find Lil? You should both be all right if you take care."
Fortunately for her scheme Kate accepted the proposal, albeit with weary resignation rather than enthusiasm. She knew Lil spent most of her time when ashore in the cafe/souvenir shop a short distance along the quay from the yacht. It wouldn't take long to walk there - less than a couple of minutes, she reckoned. The chances of anyone abducting her in that time were pretty slim, and in any case she doubted they would try it in a crowded resort in broad daylight. Lil must have come to the same conclusion, or she probably wouldn't have left the yacht at all.
Time passed while Judy waited for an opportunity to put her plan into action.
Parker, keeping watch on the yacht's surroundings, saw a car join the others parked at the edge of the quay, and two men in casual wear get out of it. They stood looking over at the yacht. He regarded them suspiciously.
They seemed to be taking rather a lot of interest in Fab Two and its crew. It was possible they were simply admiring the young women, as so many others had been doing recently. But he couldn't
be sure their intentions weren't sinister.
Ten minutes later the men were still there. He decided to investigate. He'd start by taking the car's registration number, in case it should come in useful.
If there was any danger, it was better they were all together in the same place. He glanced over at Judy. "Lil back yet, me darlin'?"
As Kate had concluded, Judy was nothing if not smart. She saw her chance.
"She's in the kitchen making something to eat."
Parker considered. He knew - as did Judy - that Lil didn't like being disturbed while preparing a meal. She saw cooking as an art form, needing and deserving intense concentration. Best not to bother her. He could trust her not to leave the yacht without first checking whether he was on board.
"I'm going ashore for a bit," he told Judy. "You know the drill; don't leave the yacht, and pull up the gangway." He didn't tell her of his suspicions about the two men; no need to alarm them, he thought.
"Kate, this is your chance," said Judy as Parker descended the gangway. "You can get off now if you want to."
"OK then. Now for Heaven's sake take care."
"We'll be all right," insisted Judy.
Kate sighed deeply as she went to her cabin to put on a T-shirt and shorts. Judy was slipping back into her old habits again. And the others were quite happy to go along with her crazy scheme.
They don't have an ounce of sense between them, she decided. They tended to do whatever Judy wanted, even if it was thoroughly irresponsible and dangerous. How on Earth had she managed to fall in with such a bunch of idiots? It seemed her friends were either weird or, like Judy, specialised in outrageous and foolhardy behaviour. Some of the students at the university, intrigued by the contrast between her and her companions, had dubbed her "Straight Kate".
She hurried down the gangway. As soon as she was off the yacht it was pulled up.
One of the two men saw her leave the vessel and nudged his companion.
From the shelter of an alleyway between two of the buildings on the seafront, Parker was scanning the car through his binoculars. Having noted down the number he headed towards the vehicle, intending to challenge the two men.
He saw them leave their position by the railing and approach a fair-haired young woman who was coming along the quay in their direction. She looked decidedly familiar. He left the alleyway to investigate.
In English the men attempted to speak to Kate, asking if she was on holiday and where she was from. She wasn't sure whether to answer. In the end she smiled and told them she couldn't stop to chat as she had to meet someone urgently. The men's eyes followed her as she headed towards the cafe.
She paused, unease growing within her. Maybe they were just being amorous, but....
There was something shifty about the pair. Should she go back and warn Judy and the others?
She could almost feel the men's eyes boring into her as she stood there.
As she was trying to make up her mind, she heard a familiar voice shout "Oy!" Looking round, she was immensely reassured to see Parker appear, a fierce glare in his eyes.
The two men regarded him with a sort of polite interest as he approached.
He spoke to Kate first. "What the flipping heck are you doing off the yacht?"
Kate hesitated for a moment. She opened her mouth to speak, then shut it. He'd find out in a moment what was going on.
Parker repeated his question. Again he got no response from her, save a rather embarrassed look. Turning to the two men, he saw they were now chatting casually about something or other, apparently no longer interested in Kate or the yacht.
"Well, let's get back on board," he said to Kate. They started to walk towards Fab Two. Just then the yacht began to move away from the quay and out into the bay. As it gathered speed Parker ran after it, yelling furiously. He saw Judy and her friends gathered on the deck, grinning and waving at him.
The yacht turned round and headed at full speed towards the open sea. Parker glanced at Kate, who sighed and shrugged her shoulders.
He realised what had happened. "The crazy young idiots," he snapped. "We've got to get after them." They hurried in the direction of the local police station.
"What about Lil?" asked Kate, but in his haste Parker failed to heed her.
The two men who had approached Kate climbed into their car and drove away.

Fab One cruised gently along the road which ran round the perimeter of the giant scrap plant. Its occupants saw that the high walls were surmounted by four strands of electrified wire, with video cameras positioned at regular intervals. The plant's owners were evidently highly security-conscious. But that was unsurprising, considering the amount of valuable material on the premises.
A uniformed guard was standing by the entrance. They pulled up beside him. At a touch of a button the window retracted, and Penny leaned out. The man came towards her, a hostile expression on his face. She took an instant dislike to him, but didn't show it. "Hello there," she said, giving him her most charming smile.
"What do you want?" asked the man abruptly.
"I just wondered if anyone was interested in buying my car. I'm sure you can appreciate its value in scrap metal would be quite considerable."
The man regarded her sceptically. "You want to get rid of that?"
"Oh, I've got a whole fleet of these back home. I just don't know what to do with them all. Besides, the aristocracy of England have been hit by the global recession just like everyone else. We need to economise. Can I come in and talk to someone, do you think? I'm certain some kind of agreement could be reached."
The man regarded her dubiously for a moment, then took out a portable radio and spoke into it. Then he moved to a control panel built into the wall. The barrier across the entrance to the plant elevated to a vertical position. The man pointed to a small administrative building about a couple of hundred yards away, and told her to drive up to it. He would radio the yard's foreman and let him know of her arrival.
Fab One drove into the yard and up to the building. Penny got out, and while she was waiting for the foreman to arrive scanned her surroundings. She could see nothing which on the face of it ought to arouse any suspicion.
A tough-looking security guard walked past, shooting her a brief, suspicious glance.
From out of Penny's hand flew what would have appeared to anyone noticing it to be a small winged insect. In reality it was a tiny remote-controlled mobile scanning device, so small that it was barely visible to either the human eye, naked or otherwise, or the highly sophisticated security cameras that seemed to be all around the plant. Despite its size it was made of a material so hard as to prevent it being accidentally crushed when carried in the hand.
The foreman came out and took a look at the car. "I should think this would be worth something like....fifty thousand pounds," he
told her.
"That sounds fine. Look, I still need it for one more spin, but I should be able to deliver it to you within the next couple of days. I take it that's satisfactory." The man nodded curtly.
"Very good, then. I'll see you again soon. Cheerie bye." She got into the car and drove out of the yard.
She flicked a switch on the dashboard and a screen came on. It showed a picture of the yard as seen through the eyes of the tiny flying camera.
"Now watch that screen," she told Brains. "And look out for anything interesting. If it's there, our little gadget is sure to find it."
"I know that," grinned Brains. "After all, I designed it."

Parker could speak Greek - he had mastered a variety of languages to some extent or other on his travels with Penelope - but with such a peculiar accent that few people could understand it. It took some time for the policemen he spoke to to comprehend what the trouble was. But once they understood who, and how important, Judy was they set about the urgent task of finding the yacht. Air and boat patrols were sent out, Parker accompanying one of the latter while Kate remained at the police station.
Meanwhile Fab Two lay at anchor a few hundred yards off the island of Judy's dreams. Its student crew planned to have a bite to eat before going ashore to lie in the sun and wait for Judy's new love interest and his friends to join them.
The island was as beautiful as the reports of it had suggested. Masses of rock towered spectacularly above gentle wooded slopes from which golden beaches swept down to the sea.
From the ruins of an ancient temple on one of the higher slopes The Hood was observing the yacht through a pair of powerful long-range binoculars. Not far away, concealed behind an outcrop of rock, waited a "Jumping Jack" helijet.
With the sophisticated surveillance equipment at his disposal, some of it provided by the companies he owned and some of it by his allies, the master-criminal had been able to locate the yacht much sooner than would Parker and the police.
He could see two of the young people sitting at a table on the deck, chatting. There was no sign of Judy Price.
He turned to the two men beside him, the pair who had been spying on the yacht in Skythros earlier that day. "Get ready to go on board when I call you."
He activated the teleporter and vanished.
In the yacht's cabin Mike was sitting reading a magazine. The figure of The Hood materialised behind the young man and took the sonic device from its pocket. The long barrel had been removed so that it functioned like a pistol rather than a rifle; in this form it was much easier to carry.
The Hood pointed the device at Mike, who jerked violently and then slumped unconscious in his seat, the magazine slipping from his hand. He used the device to disable the radio equipment, then left the cabin, moving silently along the corridor that divided the yacht's superstructure, alert for any sound which would lead him to his quarry. Hearing the sound of voices from the deck outside, he crept towards it.
He came to a door which gave onto the deck; it was open, and through it he could glimpse Steve and Claire. They would be well within range of the sonic gun.
Like Mike the two students convulsed, then lost consciousness, as the sound waves began to affect their brains.
The Hood stepped through the doorway and briefly examined their unconscious bodies.
He took out a small portable radio. "Kubarek, Menzelos? I've taken care of the girl's friends. Get over here and help me look for her."
Judy, in bikini top and shorts, had been in the kitchen making some sandwiches when she heard the strange sound and the cries of her friends. She had not been close enough to the noise for it to knock her out.
Abruptly dropping the knife she was holding, she turned in alarm. What was going on?
As she stood there, wondering what she should do, she heard someone moving stealthily about the yacht.
Her heart jumped into her mouth. The conclusion seemed obvious. Someone had got on board, taken care of her friends in some unexplained way, and was now looking for her.
She considered making a dash for the motor boat, or to the bridge
where she could radio a message to the local police. But if she ran, the intruder would hear her.
Feeling inadequately dressed for dealing with a difficult situation, she decided to put on a T-shirt. Then she slipped off her sandals and crept barefoot from the kitchen, heading away from the footsteps. Reaching the door that gave onto the deck, she started to make her way along it towards the communications room. Hopefully, her enemy would be busy searching the interior of the vessel.
She heard the sound of a motorboat approaching the yacht. That could be Parker, or it could be some accomplice of the intruder's. If the latter, they seemed to be coming from the other side of the vessel, and so fortunately wouldn't spot her.
On arriving at the bridge, she saw the damaged radio, smoke still rising from its shattered and blackened circuits, and felt a chill of horror. Her only means of summoning assistance had been destroyed.
She considered taking the motorboat, but the sound of its engine would alert them, and once she was out on the open sea they'd have a clear view of her. There was no knowing what equipment they might have. They might go after her or try to shoot at her. And if they'd come from the island, and might have accomplices on it, going there was ruled out.
Her only chance, she reckoned, was to hide somewhere and hope Parker would find out where they were and rescue her before she could be discovered. She knew that with more than one person searching for her, it might not take long to locate her, although the yacht was a big affair. But there just wasn't much else she could do.
Where was the best place to conceal herself? She decided to go back to the kitchen.
Stepping out onto the deck and cautiously looking this way and that, she saw no sign of any intruder. He must still be searching the interior of the yacht. Probably he had realised - as she had - that there weren't many places on the deck where one could hide, and so was ignoring it for the time being.
The kitchen was some way down the deck from the communications room, and she reckoned she could easily get there before he did. He would be moving slowly, carefully, so as not to alert his quarry. She made her way along the deck, moving as swiftly as she reckoned was possible without making too much noise.
She stepped through the door into the superstructure. Just in front of her were the stairs that led down to the kitchen.
By now, the launch had reached the yacht and The Hood's two accomplices were on board. The Hood met up with them, telling them to split up and go in search of Judy.
Menzelos' search eventually took him to the kitchen. His eye fell on the large storage cupboard in the corner. Realising it was the best place for someone to hide, he flung open its door.
He screeched in pain as Judy squeezed the bottle of washing-up liquid she was holding, ejecting a stream of the thick green fluid into his face. Dropping his gun, which Judy immediately snatched up, he turned and staggered away from her, clawing at his stinging eyes. Forgetting her for the moment, he dashed to the sink and turned on the taps, frantically splashing the cold water into his eyes.
Judy heard someone running towards the kitchen. Kubarek had heard his colleague's cry and rushed to investigate. She stood there for a few moments, uncertain what to do. Then he burst into the room, skidding to a halt as he saw her standing in front of him with the gun. The two stood facing each other.
Stalemate.
If she lowered the gun he might shoot her, supposing that to be his intention. But then he might shoot her if she didn't.
"Drop the gun and put your hands up," Judy snapped. She tried to sound like that Clint Wayne person, or whatever his name was, from the old movies, but didn't manage to hide the nervousness she felt. Kubarek was considerably more experienced at using guns, and intimidating people, than Judy was. But he was also, like many of his kind, a coward. The girl was nervous, frightened, despite her feigned bravado. That meant she might pull the trigger on an impulse. Though he felt foolish surrendering to a woman barely out of her teens, he didn't want to take the risk.
With a scowl, he let the gun fall to the floor, raising his arms.
Her attention focused on Kubarek, Judy had quite forgotten about Menzelos, and was caught unawares when he jumped at her, pinning her to him with one arm while the other tried to wrest the gun from her. In the resulting struggle the gun went off, hitting Kubarek as he moved forward to help his colleague. Kubarek lurched and fell to his knees, one hand going to his chest. Blood started to seep through his fingers.
Judy dropped the gun to stop Menzelos from getting hold of it. Then she dug her fingernails deep into his wrist, causing him to yelp and relax his grip slightly. he broke free and turned to face him. As he lunged at her, she sidestepped and delivered a sharp blow to the side of his neck. Immediately he collapsed unconscious.
Thank you Penny, she thought. Her guardian had given her some lessons in self-defence, aware they might possibly come in useful. They were about the only thing Penelope had told her that she'd actually listened to; she liked the idea of being able to do that to people who annoyed or tried to mess about with her.
Kubarek had completely collapsed and was lying on his back, groaning. He made no move to pick up his fallen gun. His eyelids fluttered, then closed.
Judy's feeling of satisfaction at dealing so roundly with both her attackers was mixed with horror at having wounded one of them. The thought that he might die filled her with fear and a sense of guilt. She berated herself mentally for having got into this whole frightening situation.
And now she could hear someone else coming towards the kitchen. The Hood had heard the shot and was investigating. He had assumed it must have been one of his men who'd fired it, since although he could not be sure there were no guns on board the yacht it was likely the young people would not know how to use them. Otherwise he would not have subjected himself to personal danger.
Judy picked up Kubarek's gun and put one weapon in each of her pockets. Of course, it could be one of her friends coming to help her. But if it wasn't..if they came in and saw her with the gun, they might think she was going to shoot them, and so try to shoot her first. Arming herself with a large frying pan, she stood a little to the right of the door, so that whoever it was wouldn't immediately see her on entering the kitchen.
The door was pushed open, and The Hood came into the room. He glanced to one side, fortunately not that where Judy was standing. Seeing that the newcomer was not one of her friends, she raised the frying pan and as he turned and saw her brought it down hard on his head. The earphones he, like his two colleagues, had for some reason been wearing were knocked off.
Physically she was quite strong, and wielded the pan with enough force to briefly stun him. He dropped his gun, a strange-looking thing different from the ones his accomplices had had. Grabbing it, she backed away, holding it with both hands in the way of someone not familiar with firearms.
The Hood turned to face her, rubbing his bruised scalp.
"Funny-looking gun, this," she said. "But I suppose it is a gun."
The Hood replaced his earphones. He smiled in a way Judy didn't like, as if he had some kind of advantage over her that she didn't know about.
"Put that down. It will be of no possible use to you." He stepped towards her, and his eyes glowed with an unearthly yellow light.
Judy felt a weird, unpleasant sensation come over her. She became faint and dizzy, and consciousness began to slip away terrifyingly as if down some huge plug-hole. Struggling furiously against the strange force that attacked her mind, she managed with difficulty to resist it. She pressed one of the buttons on the strange weapon, but nothing happened. She reached for the gun in her pocket but seemed unable to make the effort. Her will was weakening rapidly as the unearthly power grew stronger.
Panicking, she started to press all the buttons on the sonic gun at once. The resulting screech of high-pitched sound caused her to drop it with a cry. She staggered about, covering her ears, her face twisting in pain. The Hood had intended the device to serve if necessary as an instrument of torture, to cause pain rather than immediate unconsciousness, and she had happened to find the frequency used for that purpose. Had she not been concentrating on shutting out the piercing waves of sound she might now have realised the significance of the earphones.
The Hood lunged forward and grabbed her around the waist. Since it seemed impossible anyway to block out the terrible sound, she took her hands from her ears and pummelled furiously at him. Agitated by the pain, she fought with the savage ferocity of a wildcat, punching, kicking, scratching and biting as he dragged her towards the door.
Her flailing arms knocked off the earphones. As the hideous sound attacked his eardrums he let go of her with a shout of pain. Freed from his grip, Judy's first thought was to stop that awful noise. But which button would switch off the device? She couldn't tell, and for all she knew something even worse might happen if she continued pressing them at random. Then an idea came into her head. She snatched up the gun, ran to the microwave oven standing on the sideboard near the sink, and yanked open the door. Flinging the sonic gun inside, she slammed it shut, switched the oven on, and turned the power up to full. With a cry of rage and horror The Hood made to retrieve the device.
The noise it was making had already lessened, muffled by the oven. Judy whipped one of the guns from her pocket and pointed it at him. He stopped in his tracks, glaring at her.
There was a loud bang and the interior of the oven could be seen filling with smoke through the window.
"You will pay dearly for that," snarled The Hood.
Judy ignored him. "Go and sit against the wall with your hands above your head."
The Hood obeyed.
He could use his hypnotic powers on her, but this was always a dangerous course with someone who had a gun in their hand. Not everyone blacked out, or succumbed to the influence, immediately, and they might succeed in pulling the trigger before they did.
He decided on a war of nerves. "You cannot hope to hold two people at gunpoint forever," he told Judy.
Menzelos was beginning to recover consciousness. He sat up, rubbing his bruised neck and looking around blearily.
"Besides, the man you shot earlier will need medical treatment urgently. What are you going to do about that?"
Judy's face showed her uncertainty, although she didn't take her eyes from him for a second.
She started to back away towards the door. "Don't try to follow me."
She backed out of the door and down the corridor. When she reckoned she was at a safe distance, she turned and ran.
The Hood took his hands from his head and got to his feet. He opened the door of the microwave and took out a blackened and smoking fragment of metal. Swearing savagely in an obscure language, he threw it across the kitchen. The sonic gun was now completely useless.
"What happened?" asked Menzelos, by now fully conscious.
"Just stay where you are and look after this fool," snapped The Hood, indicating Kubarek.
He took out his radio, and called one of his accomplices on the island. "Can you see the girl? What is she doing?"
The accomplice, studying the yacht through his binoculars, saw Judy arrive at the stern of the vessel, where the motorboat was stored. She put the gun on the deckrail while she operated the hoist which would lower the boat into the water. The other she threw over the edge.
The man reported what he had seen to his master. Once again The Hood operated the teleporter and shimmered into nothingness.
The motorboat was now on the water, and Judy began lowering a metal ladder.
The Hood materialised a few feet behind her. Moving swiftly, he closed the gap between them and wrapped both arms around her, pinning her own to her sides. The young woman cried out in anger and surprise. The two of them reeled and staggered about the deck. Suddenly The Hood let go of Judy. She was thrown by the unexpected move, and before she could recover he grabbed her and threw her across the deck. She stumbled, fell against the wall of the superstructure, and slid to the floor. Before she could pick herself up The Hood had snatched the gun from its place on the railing. He swung round to face her, the weapon aimed straight at her heart.
She stood quite still, realising she was completely at his mercy.
His eyes glowed, and she struggled to fight the hypnotic influence.
"Do not resist me, or I will kill you," he warned her.
She knew there was no choice but to obey him. She let the influence sap her consciousness and willpower, everything dissolving into a dizzy whirling vortex.
Judy stiffened, her face turning blank and lifeless. She stood as motionless as a statue, unblinking.
The Hood regarded her venomously. She had given him quite a fight, her fingernails leaving bloody scratches down both his cheeks. And, of course, she had destroyed the sonic gun. Unable to control his rage, he struck her a savage blow across the face. Immediately a huge red weal started to appear on one cheek, but she did not react.
The Hood left her and went back to the kitchen. "We must get away from here fast," he told Menzelos. Together they carried the wounded Kubarek to their motorboat and laid him inside. Then the Hood went away, returning a couple of minutes later with Judy. They climbed into the boat and it set off towards the island.
They must hurry before the girl's protectors managed to track the yacht down, and realised what had happened. From here it would not be far to one of the countries with whose government he had an understanding, and who would make trouble if anyone tried to enter it in search of the kidnapped woman. There the trail would go cold and it would be virtually impossible to pick it up again. And Kubarek could be given medical treatment, though that was more of a tiresome necessity than a moral imperative.
From now on, he was certain, everything would go smoothly. When he had the time, he would make himself a new sonic gun. But right now there were even more important matters to attend to.

Fab One was parked by the roadside a safe distance from the plant. Inside, Penelope and Brains were watching the screen intently as the scanning device relayed pictures of its surroundings onto it. "Nothing so far," observed Brains.
A low concrete building appeared on the screen as the scanner moved towards it. It entered the building through the narrow gap at the bottom of the door and travelled along the corridor, pausing to look in each of the rooms. There seemed to be nothing of interest in the place.
Until they saw Alan, tied to his chair with the plaster over his mouth. Both of them gasped in horror.
"Well, that proves it beyond doubt," said Penelope grimly. "There is something going on at that plant. They must be meaning to force him to reveal all our secrets. Fortunately he doesn't appear to have been harmed, but we've got to get him out of there right away."
On Tracy Island, they were in the process of searching for The Hood's bugging devices. Several had already been located; their minute, almost microscopic size had made their detection difficult, and also showed that their enemy was a man of great technical ability.
They called Jeff with their news. An emergency conference - they seemed to be having quite a few emergency conferences these days - began, with Penelope and Brains listening in.
"Shall we inform the FBI?" asked Gordon. The American President had impressed on the Federal Bureau of Investigation that whenever any threat to International Rescue secrets arose, they were to give whatever assistance was needed to deal with the problem.
"There's no time for that," said Jeff. "It's all down to us. Now how do we get inside that plant without being spotted and endangering Alan's life? If we do try anything, they'll probably respond by using him as a hostage."
"We'll need Parker," said Penelope. "He's got plenty of experience at breaching security systems. He's in the Mediterranean at the moment - Greece, I think - and he'll need to pick up certain equipment from the Hall. But I expect we can have him over here in a couple of hours if we use Thunderbird One. Judy and her friends will have to be got out of the way somehow, but it should be possible to think of something. They should be all right in the care of the local police; once they know who Judy is, they'll be careful not to let them out of their sight."
"OK, Penny, you'd better call Parker right away."
Jeff turned to Virgil and Gordon. "You boys take Thunderbird Two and touch down at what you reckon is a safe distance from the plant. We can't get too close to it in case they see us; and if they do, you know what'll happen. As for equipment... well, we don't know what we're going to find there. You'd better load everything you can into Pod...." He considered. "Pod Five. When you've landed, wait for further instructions."
As they made to leave TinTin came forward. "I'd like to go with them, Mr Tracy."
"Well, as long as you understand the dangers," said Jeff.
"Of course I do. But I can't stay here while Alan is in trouble. And I'm sure I can handle a difficult situation just as well as the boys."
Jeff grinned. "OK then, honey - away you go."
"Take Thunderbird One to Greece and pick up Parker,” he told Scott. “Penelope will give you his location as soon as she's spoken to him. You'll then have to fly to Creighton Hall to pick up the equipment Parker will need. Once you've done that, head for the danger zone and rendezvous with Thunderbird Two. I'll tell you more when you're in the air, and you can keep Virgil and Gordon informed."
As Scott ran for Thunderbird One's launch bay the eyes of Penelope's portrait flashed.
"We can't seem to raise Parker at the moment, Jeff. I'll keep on trying."
"FAB. Penny, we may need your help in this too." He told her what was going on. "Can you rendezvous with Thunderbirds One and Two?"
"I'm your girl. Keep in touch."
"Um, what can I do, Jeff?" asked Brains.
Jeff considered. They'd need all the help they could get, but Brains, though he didn't lack courage despite his timid manner, wasn't much use when it came to handling guns; in fact he'd probably end up causing as many casualties among his own side as he would the enemy.
"I think you'd be better employed trying to track down our saboteur," said Jeff, smiling sympathetically at Brains' wistful look. "Penny will take you back to the hotel."
Penny tried again to contact Parker, and this time was successful. "M'Lady! I...." he began. She could tell from his tone of voice that there was something wrong.
"Parker, what's the matter? Has something...."
"I...I've got some pretty bad news, M'Lady. It's young Judy......they've got her, I'm afraid."
Every cell of Penelope's body seemed to turn to ice. It was a whole minute before she could collect herself enough to speak. "She's been kidnapped? Are..are you sure, Parker? What..what happened?"
Parker told her how Judy had succeeded in escaping from him, how he had eventually managed to locate the yacht only to find her missing and her friends just recovering consciousness (fortunately the sound waves had not caused them any lasting physical or mental damage). "There's been some kind of struggle in the kitchen. Everything points to someone grabbing her...."
Penelope gave a wailing cry, and her face crumpled. Brains stared at her in amazement. She was crying. Really crying.
It was extremely rare that anything broke down her cool, composed, stiff upper lip front. She hardly ever lost her temper and only occasionally, when looking at a photograph of her late husband, had anyone thought they detected a tear in her eye. Now Penelope, the Head Girl to whom all the Juniors took their problems, the confident socialite, the invulnerable secret agent, was disintegrating before his eyes.
Yes, to see her like this was altogether something of a shock, although reason had always told those who knew her that she must have a more vulnerable side somewhere.
"Oh Parker, how I can I ever forgive myself?" she sobbed. "I should never have done it. I should never have let her go away like that."
Brains wasn't at his best in situations like these. He couldn't think of anything to say, so he contented himself with placing a consoling hand upon her shoulder.
"It's all right, M'Lady," said Parker gently. "Hardly your fault, was it? We warned her to watch out but the little scamp wouldn't flamin' well listen. We thought she was getting better, but she fell back into bad habits."
Penelope was already starting to recover her composure, telling herself they were in a desperate situation and crying wouldn't help. But that made no difference to the pain and worry she felt inside.
"Have you any idea who took her, and where they've gone? Are there any clues?"
"Well, I haven't made a proper search of the yacht yet. But I slipped a homing device into her drink - I wasn't sure she'd wear that medallion thing you gave her, and surprise surprise, she didn't. It's still signalling, so we know they haven't killed her."
"That suggests they must be going to hold her to ransom, as soon as they've secreted her somewhere safe. And I know what'll happen........her father will withdraw from the talks. She'll be all right. But the consequences to the world..."
"That's what I was thinking, M'Lady."
"Where do they seem to be heading?"
"Looks like one of those new countries in the East. Once they're there, there won't be much we can do. We'll lose the trail completely."
"This is terrible, Parker, absolutely terrible. And something else has come up which we must deal with."
She told him about Alan's kidnapping. "I want to do something to find Judy, for the world's sake as much as hers. But if his kidnappers force him to tell them all about International Rescue, this planet will be in just as much danger as if the talks break down. Parker, we'll have need of your...skills in certain areas. I suggest we leave the World Police to locate Judy if they can...although what they can do when they find her, unless Sir Joseph is prepared to risk his daughter's life, I honestly don't know.
“Look, Scott is going to pick you up from Greece in Thunderbird One. I expect the police are wanting to ask you all sorts of questions......see if you can get rid of them, and as soon as you've done that call Scott and arrange a rendezvous site. Leave Kate in their care. Now, what about Lillian?"
Parker groaned, realising he'd quite forgotten about Lil. "She's probably gone to the cop shop."
"We'll have to assume she has. There's just no time to make sure."
"Right you are, M'Lady."
In fact Parker's supposition was correct. The Greek police offered Lil their hospitality, allowing her, along with Kate and the rest of Judy's party, to spend that night in the cells at the Skythros station. They were cold, draughty and uncomfortable, and both Kate and Lil decided to have some extremely strong words with Judy should she chance to turn up unharmed.
Penelope smiled at Brains, sensing his embarrassment. "I'm sorry
about all the waterworks, dear boy. It wasn't fair to inflict that on you."
"Er, th-that's all right, Penny. Shall we tell Jeff about Judy? It may be we can do something, once we've cleared up the business at the plant."
"I don't think that would be a good idea. He's got enough to worry about at the moment. Let's deal with one problem at a time."

Sir Joseph Price was working late on preparations for the London conference, about the only thing he could afford to devote time to these days. A portable lamp cast its light over the mass of papers on his desk.
Someone knocked at the door. "Come in," he said, a little curtly. He smiled as his wife entered the room with a cup of tea. She placed it on the desk and withdrew, knowing he didn't take kindly to being disturbed these days.
He took a few sips of the tea and afterwards forgot about it.
At length he put down his pen and sighed. All this correspondence with the authorities responsible for security at the conference, and the powers who would be represented at it, was time-consuming and tedious. Some of it was quite unnecessary. Several of the attending countries, and especially the Maghrabians and Taikanans, were behaving unreasonably, threatening to withdraw unless certain impossible guarantees were given in advance. He was sure he could win them over, but the strain of it all was most unwelcome.
This will be my last great service to the world, he told himself. I'm getting too old for the stresses of all this high-level diplomacy. I need to spend more time with my family. He looked across at the photographs on the mantelpiece of his wife and children.
He wondered how his daughter was enjoying her holiday, and at the same time hoped she was managing to stay out of danger. Despite Penny's assurances that no-one could know where she was, he couldn't shake off a deep concern for her safety.
By the time Judy, an only child, had been born Sir Joseph was already well into his fifties. As he grew older, he found his high-spirited, energetic, and often troublesome daughter hard to handle, especially when he also had to cope with a very important and difficult job. The answer, he decided, was to send her away to boarding school. He chose Roedean, one advantage of this being that Penelope Ward (as she then was) was a senior pupil there. Sir Joseph held Penelope, whose family were old friends of the Prices, in high regard; she displayed a common sense and maturity beyond her years, and could be a sobering influence upon Judy. For her part Judy had always looked up to Penelope, treating her like a sort of older sister. The idea was that she would be deterred from doing anything too outrageous out of respect for Penelope's feelings. Penelope for her part saw Judy as a sort of wayward younger sister, who needed looking after so she didn't get into trouble. However, things had not worked out quite the way Sir Joseph had planned. Judy didn't always take the older girl's good
advice.
At first she had been terribly homesick, crying inconsolably. However, her adventurous temperament soon asserted itself. She overcame her initial unhappiness much sooner than the other new pupils; it was quickly replaced by excitement as she saw the extent of the wonderful facilities the school offered. She collected around her a wide circle of friends, whom she led in a variety of escapades. Her mischievous streak, which had been evident from a very early age, soon began to cause problems for the school authorities. Several times she'd come close to being expelled. Penelope and her father had both put in good words for her, and on one occasion it was only a special plea from Sir Joseph that persuaded the Headmistress, against her better judgement, to keep Judy on. Frequently Penelope had bailed her out, once or twice covering up for her in a way that if it had been found out would probably have led to her being demoted; certainly she would never have reached the dizzy heights of Head Girl.
He smiled at these reminiscences. Judy's faults could be exasperating, but somehow they also made her more likeable.
It was for the young that he was striving to make the Earth a safer place, free from the threat of mass destruction. And particularly his daughter. If anything should happen to Judy, he knew without giving it more than a moment's thought that he wouldn't be able to carry on with the task. No, he really didn’t think he could cope.

"A pink Rolls Royce? You say a pink Rolls Royce?"
"That's right, boss."
When he received the message The Hood was in his helijet, about to cross the border of one of the former Soviet republics. At the back of the cabin, still in a hypnotic trance, sat Judy Price. His plan was to smuggle her into America via Alaska and Canada, or possibly Hawaii. The powers and contacts he possessed would ensure them an easy passage.
All in all things had been going well. The Tracys would by now have realised he had bugged their residence, and probably dealt with all the bugs, but that was to be expected. And he no longer needed to bother about International Rescue. Within a very short time he would have finally defeated them. Their secrets, he was sure, would be in his hands.
The news he had just received spoilt his gleeful mood. He swore savagely. “That stupid car belongs to a member of International Rescue. She has meddled in my affairs on at least two occasions. This proves they know of our connection with the plant."
"What can we do about it?" asked the man.
"We have a valuable trump card," The Hood replied. "And we must use it."
He proceeded to broadcast a message over the helijet's radio. "Calling International Rescue. Calling International Rescue."
Thousands of miles above the Earth, in Thunderbird Five, John Tracy picked it up.
"It would seem you know where Alan Tracy is being held prisoner. Bear this in mind; if any International Rescue craft or personnel
are seen within thirty miles of the plant, he will be killed immediately. That is all I have to say."
Hopefully that would make them think twice about trying anything. And in any case it would not be easy for them to break into the plant. All the same, he would have all his agents in the area keep their eyes open, and if they saw any sign of International Rescue activity report it, as well as deal with it if possible.
He fingered the teleporter. If anything did go wrong, at least he would have a means of escape.

John relayed The Hood's message to Tracy Island. So, thought Jeff, their enemies knew that they knew where Alan was. It would make rescuing him that much more difficult.
But it also gave him cause for hope. Evidently they had not yet succeeded in getting Alan to talk, or finished extracting the information from him. He'd expected Alan would not betray the organisation easily, but all the same he felt a lot better for the knowledge.
He became aware of his mother standing anxiously beside him, and wondered how much of what was going on she had managed to gather. Enough to worry her, judging by her face. "It'll be alright, mother," he said gently.
She nodded, and turned away silently.
He went to the kitchen to make himself a cup of very black coffee.











FIVE
Two hours later Thunderbird One touched down at the rendezvous point, just outside the thirty-mile limit set by The Hood. Fab One and Thunderbird Two were already there.
While Parker joined Penelope, Scott placed warning notices and a series of force field generators around his craft. The electrical field the generators gave off would deliver anyone who ignored the warning signs and ventured too close to the Thunderbird an unpleasant shock.
"OK, folks, we'd better start moving," he told the others. "TinTin, Gordon and I are going in. Virgil, Penny, we'll call you as soon as we've located Alan."
"What have you got in mind?" asked Penelope. "I don't see how you can even get near the plant without anyone seeing you."
"Well, Penny, if we approach it by air or by land we'll almost certainly be spotted. So that leaves only one way of getting in."
Hydraulic motors whined, and Thunderbird Two rose above its pod. The door of the pod slowly opened, revealing a great gleaming drill-head on a cylindrical body which rested in a cradle above a caterpillar-tracked chassis.
The clamps which had held the Mole, the amazing digging machine to which many a trapped miner or potholer owed his life, in position while Thunderbird Two was in flight sprang open. At the same time an extendable gantry was carrying Scott, Gordon and TinTin up to the entry hatch in the side of the main body.
They took up their positions within the cabin. The motors which
powered the trolley started up and the Mole lumbered forward and down the ramp formed by the open pod door. A hundred yards or so from Thunderbird Two, it stopped and the cradle supporting the vehicle proper tilted forward until the tip of the drill with its twin cutters was almost touching the ground. Then the drill began to rotate, the cutters biting deep into the soil, and slowly the machine slid down the trolley, gradually disappearing from sight beneath the surface. The churning drill threw up great clouds of dust and debris.
As soon as it had vanished altogether, Virgil touched a control and the trolley tilted back into a horizontal position. It reversed up the ramp and into the pod, the door closing after it. Again the transporter sank down on top of the pod. He was now ready to take off as soon as Scott called him.
They settled down to an agonising wait.
When it had reached a depth of twenty feet Scott adjusted the Mole's angle of descent until it was travelling horizontally. In the cabin a moving point of light on a VDU showed the boring machine's progress.
"The plant is just within the Mole's range," he commented, studying the instruments before him. "Maximum speed, Gordon."
Sitting beside him, his brother operated the relevant controls, feeding to the machine's engines as much power as they could cope with. "Where are we going to surface?" he asked.
"Inside the Processing Plant, where all the scrap metal is melted down and recycled. The noise of the machinery will muffle the sound of the drill."
"If Parker's done his work properly, there'll be much less chance of our being spotted," he went on. "It's fortunate the plant is mostly automated; there won't be very many people about. That's another factor which will work in our favour."
"I just wish we knew what's happening there right now," sighed TinTin. "What we'll find when we arrive." She had said almost nothing since leaving the island, clearly thinking about Alan.
Scott called the space station and outlined their plan to John. "Can you get a map of the plant?"
"Should be able to." John moved to his main console, and a moment later a camera mounted on the outside of the space station swivelled to focus on the relevant part of the globe. He operated more controls, and in a couple of minutes a detailed map of the plant and its environs appeared on a monitor screen. Tiny red patches moved about here and there, indicating the presence of human beings.
"There's more people around than you might have expected. Chances are most of them are this guy's sidekicks, rather than the normal workforce. Of course one of those red blobs is Alan, but at this distance it's impossible to say which. Now the good news is that the plant's a pretty big affair, which should be to your benefit even though there are too many large open spaces for my liking."
The Mole continued on its journey, burrowing through the soil at a rate of a hundred feet a minute.
Silently they waited for the drilling machine to reach its destination. Eventually, on the VDU which gave those within the Mole a picture of what was on the surface above it, a series of lines appeared, joining up to form a rectangular shape. "That's the Processing Plant," said Scott. He called Fab One. "Penny, we should break surface within five minutes."
Inside the car Penelope turned to her sidekick. "Right then, Parker - do your stuff!"
Parker opened the bag beside him and took from it a laptop computer. Placing it on his lap, he switched it on. The screen flickered into life and his fingers darted over the keyboard.
After a couple of minutes he sat back with a triumphant expression. "Don't say you can't teach an old dog new tricks," he grinned.
"How long will the alarms be off for?" Penelope asked.
"I reckon about twenty minutes," he replied. Penny relayed this information to Scott.
"Hopefully, that'll be enough for us to find and free Alan," he said.
The Mole was now directly underneath the Processing Plant. "Up we go," Scott announced.
The blip of light on the screen began to rise as the Mole burrowed upwards at a forty-five degree angle.

In the room from which the plant's security was monitored consternation reigned. Banks of monitor screens suddenly went blank. Red lights started blinking everywhere, indicating a fault in the computer which controlled the alarm system and video cameras.
Immediately there were suspicions that someone had deliberately hacked into the system and caused it to crash. The technician whose responsibility it was to maintain the system frantically set to work trying to bring everything back on line, while another employee hastened to radio The Hood and notify him of the problem.

A web-like pattern of cracks appeared in the concrete floor of the Processing Plant, and from beneath the ground came a rumbling noise, like the anger of some great subterranean beast. The cracks widened, spread, joined up, and the tip of the Mole's drill came bursting into view.
Once the whole of the drill-head was above ground, it began to slow down. By the time the Mole had stopped moving one third of the vehicle's main body was above ground. Scott adjusted the position of the control cabin, whose attitude, like that of Thunderbird One's, was controlled by gyroscopes, until it was no longer at an angle. The hatch opened and the three of them climbed out and jumped down.
They studied their surroundings. The interior of the building was vast, cavernous, with complex equipment - furnaces, conveyor belts and other machines whose purpose they couldn’t identify - lining the walls and spaced at intervals about the floor. The air rang to a cacophony of different noises.
They set off in search of the main door, their guns all the time
levelled, alert for any sign of danger. A blue-overalled technician came into view and saw them. He turned and ran, intending to warn his colleagues, but before he could get far the ray from Gordon's stun gun struck him and he crumpled senseless to the floor.
Scott commented that the man's reflexes had appeared dulled, as if he were under some form of hypnosis.
They made their way past a row of hungrily roaring furnaces to the main door, and emerged into the daylight.
"We'd better keep close to those," said Scott, indicating the huge mounds of scrap all around them. "They'll give us valuable cover."
He called Thunderbird Five again. "OK, John, can you guide us to the building where Alan's being held?"
"Sure. Hey, Scott, a whole lot of cars have just turned up at the entrance to the plant....and now I can see a larger vehicle, probably a van of some kind, coming through the gate. I wonder what's going on?"

The van stopped and The Hood got out from it. "I have something urgent to tell you," he declared as his allies emerged from the vehicles and came forward to greet him. "The computer system which controls the alarms has shut down. It is possible someone has purposely deactivated it so they can break in here undetected. I suggest we postpone this meeting until we have established there is no danger and restored the alarm system."
There was a moment's silence while they digested this information. "You mean to say we've got to turn round and go back home, just like that?" growled Tom Castle.
"I am afraid you must. I am sure you have no wish for our enterprise to be exposed."
The men muttered to each other for a couple of minutes.
"And I suppose we can assume this isn't a ruse of some kind on your part?" asked Kieran Mulligan, a hint of menace in his voice.
"Perfectly sure," responded The Hood icily.
Mulligan didn't look convinced by this. Nor did any of the others.
"Sorry, mate," said Castle. "It looks as if no-one minds taking the risk. We've waited too long for this."
"Very well," sighed The Hood. "If you insist. But it will be entirely your fault if anything goes wrong." He turned and stomped back to the van.

From the space station John tracked the van's progress. "Hey, it's going towards the place where Alan is!"

The van bumped across the ground towards the concrete blockhouse where Alan was being held prisoner. A moment later the ex-astronaut emerged from it, unbound now but pinioned firmly between two of The Hood's henchmen.
The van drew up beside them, and The Hood got down from its cab.
"I trust my men have been treating you well," he said to Alan, who responded with a look of contempt.
The group went round to the back of the van and the rear doors were opened. Inside on the floor, bound hand and foot and gagged, sat Judy Price. Although unhurt, she looked pale and her face was stained with tears.
Since the hypnotic influence had worn off she had been in terror at the thought of what her captors might do to her. They hadn't killed her so she might be all right, but it was still frightening to be in this situation and she was worried about the effect on her father once he found out what had happened. Then there was the indignity of being tied up like this. And all the time there'd been the massive figure of The Hood leering down at her, a sense of inhuman evil emanating from it.
Alan moved forward, intending to comfort her, but The Hood held him back.
"What....what's she doing here?" Alan asked. This, he realised, could be no coincidence. He was aware of Judy's importance, and the conclusion seemed obvious that the arch-enemy of International Rescue was also one of those who sought to wreck the talks on nuclear arms limitation.
"She is here partly because she figures in my geopolitical ambitions, and partly because she can help to secure your co-operation. I know that if I had succeeded in kidnapping the lovely TinTin, your co-operation would be assured. But I decided it wouldn't matter that much who I used. And as I was intending to abduct Miss Price anyway...."
"I see," said Alan. "But I'm not sure you won't kill both of us
whatever happens. What if you decide we know too much?"
"You need not worry about that. Until such time as I have so much power that I can do whatever I want, the two of you will come in useful as hostages in case International Rescue or anyone else should try to interfere in my designs. But Miss Price will certainly die now unless you give me the information I seek.
"Get into the van," he ordered. "We are going on a little journey."

"Scott, three people just left the building and got into the van. There's nobody in there now. I can't tell where the van's going, as the place is so huge, but all the cars have stopped near one of those big compressors. Most of the people seem to be heading there too."
"Thanks, John. Hmm..it all sounds pretty interesting. Seems almost certain that little gathering is something to do with Alan. Reckon we'd better check it out."

The van stopped beside the compressor, and Alan was ordered to get out. Judy was dragged from the vehicle by The Hood's men and dumped roughly on the ground.
"Here they are," said The Hood to the assorted group of men who stood nearby. Some of them had guns at the ready, as did The Hood's own henchmen, who were on hand in case his allies should attempt any treachery.
"This man is from International Rescue?" asked one of the Arabs, indicating Alan. The Hood nodded.
"What is your name?" someone asked.
"No!" hissed The Hood. "You are not to ask such questions."
He nodded towards the half a dozen or so gunmen who stood a short distance away. "I advise you not to try my patience any further. It would be very unwise."
Alan, for his part, certainly wasn't going to oblige The Hood's pals by telling them who he was, tempting as it might be to cause some dissent among the wicked.
The Hood glanced towards him. "So, our friend here is now going to tell us all about International Rescue."
"You know I can't give you that information," said Alan. "It's a pretty safe bet you'll get up to no good with it."
"You know where you stand. Tell me what I want to know or the girl dies."
Alan considered the situation. His father had always said that if a choice had to be made, people's lives came before International Rescue secrets. There had been one occasion when they'd had to rescue a man who knew the Tracy family. As it happened, it had been possible to carry out the rescue without actually leaving their craft, and he didn't get a sight of them. If the truth had emerged, they would have urged him to keep quiet about their identity; he'd probably have co-operated, especially when he owed his life to them. But to release vital information to someone who would deliberately use it for evil purposes, resulting perhaps in the death of far more than just one person, was a very different matter. The consequences, especially in an unstable and dangerous
world, were not pleasant to think about.
Alan could barely bring himself to look at Judy. "I....I.....I'm sorry...I can't do it..I just can't..."
How the heck could he expect her to understand? How could he find the right words to say it? Inwardly Alan cursed himself. Had he not decided to leave International Rescue he would never have got into this situation.
The Hood grinned, clearly enjoying Alan's torment. Though Judy could say nothing, her frightened eyes made clear the effect of his words.
"So you have made up your mind you are not going to co-operate, then," said The Hood. He addressed the two men holding Judy. "Right, you know what to do."
They picked up the struggling girl and carried her towards an ancient car, one of a number of vehicles which stood in a row awaiting scrapping.
With a sick thrill of horror, Alan realised what was going to happen. Even the arch-criminal's allies glanced uneasily at one another, accustomed though they were to death in a variety of forms.
Not far away stood one of the giant compressors which flattened the items of scrap into wafer-thin sheets, which conveyor belts then whisked away to the furnaces in the processing plant. The machine was in the form of a huge, rectangular metal bin, one of its ends formed by a great finger of steel pointing towards the sky.
One of the doors of the car was yanked open, and Judy was flung onto the back seat. The man shut and locked the door.
Indescribable horror filled the girl. Surely they couldn't be meaning to........
A cold sweat broke out all over her body and she began to shake uncontrollably, whimpering with fear. Her struggles became fiercer, but to no avail. The ropes around her wrists and ankles were made of some incredibly tough material, and had been expertly tied. They cut painfully into the skin.
Whatever it was Alan had to tell their captor, please God make him do it. Whatever it was.
Next to the compressor stood a huge crane, whose grab, its jaws open, hung from the jib like a great metal spider on its thread. The Hood signalled to the man in the crane's cabin, and the jib swung round until the grab was poised menacingly over the car. It dipped and the grab clanged against the roof. Then it closed around the car.
Up the jib came, lifting it into the air and swinging it round until it was suspended over the crusher's bin. The jaws sprang open and it dropped inside with an impact that left Judy stunned.
The Hood sensed Alan’s thoughts. "You don't believe I would do it, perhaps. But there is a perfectly sound reason for it. In my experience, it's not just the mere threat of killing someone that makes someone else do what you tell them to. The way you mean to carry it out can make a crucial difference. That is the psychology of the matter. I felt sure that when you saw how I intended to dispose of Miss Price you would change your mind about so stoically resisting my demands.
"Understand this," he said savagely. “I am quite prepared to see that young girl crushed into a shapeless pulp if it means I get what I want. Now it may be that you are capable of resisting my demands even at the cost of her suffering a most unpleasant death, though somehow I doubt it. If that is so, then it would make little sense for me to kill her, since it would serve no purpose other than to earn me your undying enmity; I suppose it is more advantageous to be liked than hated, although in the last resort I care not a jot what you think of me, and any enemy is a potentially dangerous one - that is the only sensible philosophy. “But suppose others were to know that I was not prepared to carry out the threats I made? If another situation like this one were to arise, I should be at a distinct disadvantage."
He nodded to another of his men, who ran up the steps at the side of the machine to the control cabin. Through its windows the man could be seen operating its controls.
In the car Judy's terror mounted as she heard the crusher start up. Muffled sobs issued from beneath her gag as she contemplated the imminent extinction of her young life and the horrible manner in which it was going to take place.
The tears streamed from her eyes as she thought of her father. I'm sorry, Dad....Penny.......if only I hadn't been so stupid....if only I'd listened to you.
Alan watched as if hypnotised as the huge slab of metal began to descend towards the car. Then he shook himself out of his trance-like state. "Stop it!" he shouted. "All right - I'll tell you what you want to know!"
The Hood signalled to the man in the crusher's cabin, and a second later the mighty machine shuddered to a halt.
The Hood smiled. “I’m glad you have decided to see sense, Mr Tracy.”
Only of course, once The Hood had the information he wanted, the crusher would start up again. Or if his allies proved too squeamish to accept that he would settle for shooting her instead.
It made little difference.
"Now let her out of there," Alan snapped.
"No chance. She stays where she is until I have everything I want from you."
Alan hesitated briefly, then sighed, nodding slowly.
The Hood produced a tape recorder. "We will begin where we left off, I think. The propulsion systems for the Thunderbird craft."
Alan hesitated again, then began. "The International Rescue craft are powered by a process called nucleic fusion. It has to take place within a chamber constructed of metacryllic cobaltesium, held in a heteropolar relationship with polymer bonds. It's an amalgam of megahesium, cobalt and voralexium....."
Meanwhile, John had been guiding Scott, Gordon and TinTin towards the group gathered by the compressor. Hearing the sound of voices, the International Rescue party crept slowly towards it, all the time keeping close to the towering heaps of scrap metal.
Scott peered out from behind an ancient boiler and saw the cluster of people. "We're hopelessly outnumbered," he whispered.
"But we've got the advantage of surprise," said Gordon.
The Hood had been listening to the flow of technical information with a frown. "He's talking nonsense," the master-criminal snapped. "Anyone with a certain amount of scientific knowledge, like myself, can tell it's a load of rubbish." At the same time, he wasn't quite certain about that.
"If IR are as advanced as they seem to be, it's bound to sound incredible to us," pointed out Tom Castle.
"In any case," said The Hood, "we shall soon find out, once we have all the information and are ready to start building our own Thunderbirds, whether it makes any sense. If it turns out he is lying, he and the girl will die....slowly and painfully."
In fact, Alan had been talking a load of rubbish. He decided it was an unwise thing to do.
"All right, I get the message," he said. "I was lying."
"Very wise of you to admit it. Now start telling the truth. No further stupidity, or I shall kill you both despite the setback it would mean to my plans." It was quite clear The Hood meant what he said.
Alan opened his mouth to speak. Then a couple of shots rang out, and the weapons of two of the gunmen flew through the air. As they stared at their empty hands in astonishment, Scott and his companions jumped out from behind their scrap heap and started firing. Several of the gunmen fell. The others returned fire, and the Thunderbirds took cover again.
The other two men were still searching for the guns that had been shot from their hands. One had landed on the ground a few feet from its owner. As he made to retrieve it Alan dived for the weapon, but The Hood threw himself onto him, knocking him to the ground. The man snatched up the gun and joined the battle.
The other gun had landed among one of the heaps of scrap. Its owner began to search for it, but only suceeded in dislodging the pieces of junk and burying it further among them.
Scott paused to speak into his radio, making sure his enemies could clearly hear his voice. "OK Virgil, Penny! You can move in now. And make it quick will you, we're rather pinned down at the moment!"
(Thirty miles away, Thunderbird Two lifted skyward on four columns of smoke and flame. At the same time Fab One roared away towards the road that led to the plant).
The Hood whipped his own radio from a belt at his waist. "This is an emergency! Everyone is to come armed to compressor number six immediately!"
On receiving The Hood's message, the guard at the gate ran to his control panel. A thick metal shutter rose up from the ground, closing off the entrance. The gate control system fortunately operated on a different principle from the alarms. The guard hurried towards the sound of gunfire, drawing an automatic pistol.
The Hood saw with disgust that his allies had run off. The man who had lost his gun had also abandoned the struggle.
He and Alan stood watching the gunfight. "Looks like your little game's over, pal," Alan said.
The Hood did not reply; he was observing the battle intently, trying to decide which way it would go. It was not so much a battle as a game of hide and seek. His forces and those of his allies attempted to stalk and flush out the IR team, who were constantly dodging from cover to cover, every now and then jumping out from behind their scrap heaps to shoot at them.
Any minute now his reinforcements would arrive. But he had heard Scott call in International Rescue's own. If they succeeded in outgunning and capturing these three IR members, they could then wait for the others to arrive and overpower them. However, they couldn’t be sure of doing so.
One part of his plan was in jeopardy. But he could still ensure the success of another. He turned and ran towards the menacing outline of the crushing machine.
At first Alan assumed he was merely making a bid for freedom. Then he saw with horror where The Hood was heading.
He couldn't be! The heartless, vindictive.........
The Hood ran up the steps to the machine's control cabin, Alan close behind him. He yanked open the door and ran to the control panel. His fingers were closing around the starter lever when Alan leaped on him. He tried to drag The Hood away from the controls, but the arch-criminal broke free and sent him sprawling on the floor with another powerful blow. As Alan struggled weakly to his feet, he pulled the lever.
He snatched up a crowbar and began laying about the control panel, smashing the circuitry. Then, his task accomplished, The Hood ran from the cabin, knocking aside the recovering Alan, and down the steps.
In the car, Judy heard the crusher roar into life again and gave another muffled, despairing sob. She resumed her frantic struggling, but with no more success than before.
One glance at the control panel told Alan it was totally wrecked. There was, of course, no time to repair it. He was probably too late to save Judy; in less than a minute she would suffer an agonising death. But he had to do something.
He hurtled down the steps, his heart pounding. There must be some kind of power plant for the crusher, probably an atomic reactor.
Within seconds he had located it; a small shed at the side of the massive bin, its door standing open. As he made towards it The Hood burst out of it, knocking him aside. Were it not for the urgency of the situation he might have laughed at the feeling of deja vu.
To his dismay he realised The Hood must have done something to the reactor, as a further precaution against anyone stopping the crusher. Getting painfully to his feet, he staggered inside the little shed. The reactor was just in front of him; beyond it were
the massive gearwheels of the crusher's internal workings. A glance at the shattered and smoking control panel confirmed his fears.
Alan's mind raced. What could he do now? Then he caught sight of a heavy metal bar, probably what The Hood had used to wreck the control panel, lying on the floor a few feet away.
With an effort Alan picked up the bar and hurled it into the mass of churning machinery. Abruptly, it juddered to a halt as the bar caught between two of the gearwheels.
The bar vibrated furiously as the machine struggled to eject the obstruction from its workings. It was already beginning to bend with the hideous pressure.
There were various other loose objects lying about, wrenches, screws and the like. Alan picked up everything he could find and threw it into the machinery.
How long would that hold the machine for? Would the obstructions cause it to break down? Something told him it would not remain immobilised for more than a minute or two at the most.
Then from outside he heard a familiar sound; the roar of Thunderbird Two's exhaust jets as it came in to land. He ran out and looked around for it.
Alan sighted the massive green bulk of the transporter hovering between two of the great mounds of scrap. He ran towards it as it touched down, ignoring the smoke from its exhaust jets, which caught at his throat making him cough and weep.
As the smoke cleared Virgil emerged from the hatch in the side of the fuselage, stun gun in hand. Virgil!" Alan gasped. "Judy's here....Judy Price.....in the crusher!" He pointed towards the shuddering mass of metal, which had stopped at roughly a thirty-five degree angle. It was jerking furiously up and down as it strained to expel the foreign matter in its innards.
"She'll be smashed to a pulp! We've got to..got to do something! I've managed to foul up the works a bit but I don't think that'll hold it for long."
Virgil absorbed this. "All right, Alan, leave it to me."
"I'm going to give the others a hand. Lend me your gun, will you?" Virgil tossed him his weapon and he ran back towards the gunfight.
Virgil hurried back into Thunderbird Two's cabin and over to the controls. He raised the main body of the craft above the pod. Then he took the lift down to the inside of the pod and operated the door controls.
Meantime, the crusher's hideous power had succeeded in overcoming the metal bar's resistance. With fantastic force it was ejected from the works and shot through the air like a bullet, smashing a hole in the wall of the little shed and travelling quite a distance before landing amongst the scrap. The various other objects Alan had thrown into the machinery shot out too in a potentially lethal fusillade; fortuitously, a spanner hit one of The Hood's men and knocked him out instantly, eliminating him from the gunfight.
When the crusher had stopped for the second time, Judy wondered briefly what was going on. Had the machine broken down, the idea of which seemed rather funny, or - her heart leaped at the thought - was someone trying to rescue her? Either way there was something grimly amusing about the situation. Make up your mind, folks, she thought hysterically.
It might be some sick game they were playing in order to frighten her. If so it was certainly succeeding.
A succession of thoughts raced through her head. If this was the end of her life......what about the next world? Dare she hope for any chance of going to Heaven? It was a bit difficult to pray with her hands tied behind her and the gag in her mouth, but the Chaplain had once told her that with God it was the thought that counted. But maybe it wouldn't count, because she'd only shown interest in it when at death's door. She wished she'd paid more attention during Religious Studies lessons.
Story of my life, she thought miserably. Like everything else, you've left it too late.
All the same, she could only hope. She made a promise to go to church every Sunday, and never mess Penelope, Parker, Lil, her father or anyone else about again, if He got her out of this.
Now she heard the machine roar into life yet again. A second later the back and roof of the car started to crumple. Simultan-eously the rear and side windows shattered, showering her with broken glass. She was now in no doubt that this was the end. She wriggled towards the front of the vehicle in an attempt to postpone her death for a few more seconds. She tried to keep calm, unwilling to die sobbing like a little girl, but her nerve broke and a final, terrible noise of utter despair tore from her.
Then, once again, a shudder ran through the mighty slab of metal and the pressure on the car ceased as for the third time the crusher's descent was arrested.
Holding it firm was the DOMO - Demolition And Object Moving Operator – which Virgil had unloaded from the pod. Strictly speaking the first part of the vehicle's name was inaccurate, since it was not actually used, as had originally been intended, in demolition work; rather, its purpose was to support or manipulate heavy objects. It was particularly useful in the aftermath of an earthquake or fire, holding up walls which threatened to collapse and kill people trapped in cellars or working nearby on rescue operations. It sometimes came in handy for other situations too. At the front of the rugged, caterpillar-tracked vehicle were three linked and jointed metal arms, powered by an atomic reactor. Each one ended in a powerful suction cup. The suckers had fastened securely onto the immense slab of metal, the anti-gravitational field they generated holding it stationary.
The crusher shuddered furiously as it tried to resist the pressure. Seated in the dome-shaped control cabin at the rear of his vehicle, Virgil felt the tremor which ran through it. He reversed the DOMO, pulling the crusher slowly back into a vertical position. For a moment the DOMO held it, then it started slowly but surely to inch down again. Suddenly it gave a sharp jerk and the DOMO shot forwards with a force that knocked the breath from
Virgil's body and almost hurled him from his seat.
The crusher began to descend again at its normal speed. Virgil manipulated the controls for the reactor, boosting the power up to maximum. Again the DOMO pulled the crusher back, again it resisted, again the DOMO stood firm. The vehicle's wheels became blurs of spinning metal and its tracks whizzed round, biting deep into the ground and sending up showers of earth, as Virgil fought to achieve maximum traction. He glanced at the gauges on the control panel which showed the amount of force his machine was applying as well as that exerted by the crusher in resisting it. They were about equal. The crusher was the largest and most powerful of its kind in the world but the DOMO was similarly unique in the force it could apply to heavy objects. The two metal giants were more or less evenly matched in strength, and it was impossible to say which of them would win the titanic struggle.
Meanwhile the shoot-out continued without resolution. Two more of The Hood's men had been gunned down, but by now his reinforcements had arrived. The Thunderbirds were outnumbered, but their tenacity and courage, and their skill in evading being shot as they moved from cover to cover, was prolonging the gunfight. Those of The Hood's men who were acting under hypnosis did not fight well, and were easily picked off.
It could not be long, though, before one of the IR team was hit. A bullet struck Gordon in the shoulder and he fell, grimacing in pain, his gun dropping to the ground. It was then that Alan joined the fray, making up for their loss. Darting forward, he snatched up Gordon's gun and blasted the man who had shot him into uncon-sciousness.
The Hood observed the proceedings from a distance. From a mixture of prudence and cowardice he preferred to take no part in them. He could have used his hypnotic powers against Scott and his friends, but although he could knock out as many as four or five people at the same time they had all to be looking more or less in his direction.
He had no choice but to wait for the outcome of the battle.
Meanwhile, Fab One was speeding through the countryside towards the plant, whose massive outline was already visible on the skyline. Penny supposed they were breaking the speed limit. That, however, was the least of her worries. So much was at stake, and if they failed to get there in time....
She glad there was at least some reason to believe Judy would be all right; it meant she was much better equipped for handling the situation.
Concealed in a thicket by the roadside, one of The Hood's men saw the car and radioed a colleague. "It's the Creighton-Ward woman. She's heading in your direction. You know the boss's orders; blow them right off the road."
In a moment or two Penny would find herself wishing, not for the first time, that she hadn't chosen such a distinctive means of transport as the pink Rolls Royce.
She saw a car ahead of them, and Parker was forced to slow down. She opened her mouth to tell him to switch to the other lane so they could overtake it. Then a man leaned out of a side window and next second there was a large explosion right in front of Fab One, shaking the car.
A good move, thought Penelope. It was usually the car behind you that you tended to worry about, in case it might be following you.
Acting on instinct, Parker swerved to one side.
"Trouble, Parker!" cried Penny. "They're using some kind of armour-piercing gun, more like a bazooka. Heaven knows where they got that from."
"They'll blow us to pieces," said Parker grimly. No sooner had the words left his mouth than there was a second explosion. This time the shell actually hit the car, making a sizeable dent in its bodywork.
Parker returned fire with the cannon, but the car's bodywork seemed armour-plated, like Fab One's, and metal shields had descended over the tyres to just above the level of the road, protecting them from any bullets.
Another explosion, and another, shook the Rolls. Parker was being forced to swerve constantly from side to side. The bodywork of the car was amazingly strong, but nevertheless he feared it would be tested to destruction. The impact of the bullets was causing it to slew about all over the road, on several occasions almost leaving it altogether. At the same time it was slowing them down and preventing them from overtaking their enemies.
Penelope sighed regretfully. "The same old story, Parker."
"That's right," he replied. "Them or us."
"Manoeuvre B, I think Parker."
"Manoeuvre B it is, M'Lady."
She glanced to the left. The ground on that side of the road was
covered with thick vegetation; there were too many obstructions for what she planned to do. The other side was much more open.
Then she saw a car come into view along the other lane. Their enemies had thought the stretch of road was clear, making it safe for them to engage Fab One without causing a scene, but they'd been mistaken. Rapidly the car came towards them. To try manouevre B now would be appallingly dangerous, but they might not get another chance. In a few moments they would be shot to pieces. She could also see a cluster of farm buildings coming into view on the right. If they hit one at full speed, death was sure to follow instantly. But it was now or never. "Don't let me down, Parker," she breathed.
"I never have," he replied quietly.
Parker swung the car sharply to the right, stamping on the accelerator as he did so. Brains, who was also in the car, having insisted despite Jeff's orders on accompanying them on their mission, screwed his eyes tightly shut and braced himself for certain death.
Fab One shot across the road and off it, missing the oncoming vehicle, Parker reckoned, by centimetres.
The Rolls hurtled along beside the road, while the gun from the other car continued to fire at it, punching several holes in its side. It began to overtake the enemy.
A concrete barn rushed towards them at terrifying speed. Brains felt they must surely hit it. Then Parker turned to the left, back onto the road. They missed the barn by about the same distance that they had the car. Fab One was now directly ahead, and twenty or so yards in front of, the enemy vehicle. Twin cables shot from the rear of the Rolls and clamps fastened onto the enemy's bonnet. Then a pulse of energy, visible as a ball of glowing light, travelled along each cable to the car and surged through its body. It ignited the fuel in the tank and the vehicle exploded immediately, becoming a blazing heap of wreckage which careered off the road and overturned.
As always Penelope felt a twinge of remorse at what they'd had to do. But she soon dismissed it from her mind.
"Let's hope that little delay hasn't cost us valuable time," she murmured.

Virgil was now exerting the maximum possible force on the crusher, but it was fighting him all the way, the computer which controlled it adjusting to every increase in pressure. It was continually jerking up and down, pulling the shuddering DOMO backwards and forwards. The strain was telling on both the vehicle and its operator; the outcome of the struggle would depend to some extent on Virgil's own endurance and determination.
The crusher seemed to be gaining the upper hand; although the pressure was at maximum the slab of metal was still moving remorselessly downwards. The DOMO rallied, but managed to slow its descent only by a fraction.
"Scott!" he yelled into the radio. "Scott, I need a hand over here!"
But Scott was too wrapped up in trying to outshoot The Hood's men to do anything to help him; indeed didn't even catch what he was saying.
Virgil realised there was only one way to hold the crusher until they could rescue Judy. His hands darted about the controls, increasing the speed at which fission was taking place within the DOMO's reactor. Warning lights flashed all around him, and an urgent-sounding bleeping filled the air.
Yet again the crusher's descent was halted. But even with the DOMO's reactor overloaded to a dangerous degree, it still struggled fiercely. It started moving again, only more slowly.
Meanwhile Scott and his companions were fighting on. They were starting to tire; the Hood's men were tiring too, but continued the struggle, emboldened by the knowledge that they outnumbered their enemies. Before long International Rescue would be outgunned and have to surrender.
Fab One, battered but intact, screeched to a stop outside the plant's main entrance. Twin battering rams emerged from its front fender, and it surged forward. With a crash the shutter blocking the entrance was knocked from its mountings and sent flying to one side.
The car roared around the complex, searching for the scene of the
action. Parker saw the gunfight and drove towards it. The Hood's men, engrossed in the struggle, did not notice the car's arrival. It screeched to a stop and its occupants jumped out, drawing their stun guns.
A shot in the back caused one of The Hood's men to collapse unconscious. Not a very gentlewomanly thing to do, thought Penelope, but in the circumstances....and perhaps it didn't matter if you were using a stun gun.
Parker shot down another of the enemy. The arrival of the twosome had distracted their adversaries, and Scott and TinTin were able to knock out two more of them. The odds were now considerably evened. Scott realised all the enemy gunmen were occupied in dealing with Penny and the others; no-one's attention seemed to be on him. He became aware of Virgil's voice yelling frantically from the radio. Glancing around, he noticed the crusher and the DOMO struggling to hold it back. He presumed someone must be trapped in there, although he'd no idea who or how they'd come to be in that situation.
Deciding to leave the rest of the Hood's men to his friends, he ran towards the crusher. He flew up the steps to the platform that ran round the top of the machine, clambered over the safety rail and jumped down inside the bin to land with a thud on the bonnet of the car, legs apart to cushion the impact. Placing his hands on the roof to steady himself, he lifted a foot and with several powerful kicks smashed in the windscreen. Then, knocking out as many of the remaining fragments of glass as possible with the butt of his gun, he heaved himself through the opening and clambered over to where Judy lay. She let out a sob of relief. He untied her and they scrambled out onto the bonnet.
He realised to his horror that there was no way of getting out of
the huge metal bin, except through the hatch at the front through which the scrap was ejected onto the conveyor, and the body of the car was blocking that.
The crusher was descending towards them in fits and starts as it struggled to overcome the pressure being exerted by the DOMO. The gap between it and the top of the bin was narrowing alarmingly.
"Virgil, you gotta hold it!" Scott shouted into the radio.
"I'm doing my best," yelled back Virgil.
In the DOMO's cabin, a warning message appeared on a screen in front of him, its illuminated letters flashing on and off.
THIS MACHINE IS IN DISTRESS MODE
REACTOR OVERHEATING
SAFETY MARGINS ARE BEING EXCEEDED
MELTDOWN WILL OCCUR IN THREE MINUTES THIRTY-THREE SECONDS
Already wisps of smoke were emerging from the control panel, and a nasty smell of burning reached his nostrils.
"Scott, the reactor's gonna blow any second!" he shouted.
The explosion would not result in large-scale devastation of the area, but the radiation would certainly kill him.
The gunfight had been going on for too long, Penny decided. It was time to bring it to a swift conclusion. She broke off the fight and ran back towards the Rolls Royce. One of The Hood's men aimed his gun at her retreating back, but Brains appeared from behind the car and shot him down. Reaching it, she scrambled in and groped about in the glove compartment. A few moments later she emerged holding a handbag, from which she took one of her powder compacts.
Penny raised an arm and drew it back. She flung the powder compact towards two of The Hood's men. It landed on the ground between them and exploded with a flash of fire, releasing a cloud of thick white smoke. The gunmen were hurled through the air, losing their grip on their weapons. A second powder compact landed near another gunman and burst, throwing him to the ground. All three men lay where they fell, quite unconscious. Only two of the gunmen were now on their feet; Brains took care of one of them, Parker the other.
They heard Scott yelling for assistance and ran for the crusher. Inside the machine their colleague and Judy stared up at the vast metal surface, now about ten feet above their heads and descending with increasing rapidity. Judy threw her arms around Scott and hugged him, trembling in silent terror.
Then the heads of Parker and Alan appeared over the top of the bin. Parker reached down and his strong hands grasped Judy and lifted her to safety. Then he helped Alan pull Scott up and over the edge onto the platform. The Thunderbird pilot's legs escaped being snapped off between the crusher and the top of the bin by a few seconds.
"OK, Virgil, you can let it go now!" shouted Scott.
The DOMO's suckers released their grip on the crusher. They heard the sound of crunching metal as the machine completed its descent, flattening the car. It reminded them of a gigantic beast devouring its prey.
In the cabin of the DOMO Virgil was frantically busy at the controls, trying to shut down the reactor. The cabin was rapidly filling with smoke and a computer voice was yelling in his ears. MELTDOWN WILL OCCUR IN THREE SECONDS..TWO SECONDS...ONE SECOND...
The warning lights stopped flashing and the noise died away. The message on the screen changed: FISSION PROCESS TERMINATED. DANGER OVER. Virgil breathed a deep, shuddering sigh of relief.
At that moment Scott and Judy were doing the same. Amid the strain of her ordeal Judy had failed to recognise him. Now she saw who he was and grinned broadly in delight.
The Hood watched the happy reunion from behind the cabin of a lorry. His face was a terrifying mask of hatred.
He activated the teleporter and vanished.
“Thanks...." Judy planted a kiss on Scott's cheek.
"It's this guy you should thank," he told her modestly, as Virgil came up to them.
The others stood around talking, relaxing from the strain they'd been through. "I never knew you could handle a gun that well, Brains," said TinTin admiringly.
"Penelope gave me some quick lessons," the scientist grinned.
With a whine, the hatch in the front of the crusher slid open and a wafer-thin sheet of compressed metal that had previously been the car was ejected onto the conveyor belt, to begin its journey to the furnaces in the Processing Plant a mile or so away. They turned their heads away. Judy gulped, looking pale and queasy.
"Well, I can't help but be grateful," she said when she had recovered her composure. "Considering what was about to happen to me. But what are you doing h..." Her voice tailed away and she stared at him in astonishment, mouth open, as realisation dawned. "Scott....you.....you're International Rescue!"
Scott looked down at his distinctive blue and yellow uniform and grinned. "Yeah........yeah, I guess I am."
Oh, no, he thought. They couldn't have guessed that this kind of thing would happen. Now it had, they were presented with something of a problem.
"And TinTin too......and Gor-" Judy glanced to where TinTin was tending to the wounded Gordon. He was unconscious and bleeding heavily. "Is he going to be all right?"
"I think so," answered TinTin. "If we can treat that wound quickly." With Brains' help she carried Gordon towards Thunderbird Two. The medical equipment stored in every Thunderbird craft, which she like all the other members of the organisation was trained to use, would save his life.
"And Penny and Parker! Are you in this too?"
"We are," said Penny. "I was rather hoping you wouldn't find out, but it seems it couldn't be avoided."
"I thought there was something funny about you....wondered whether you were some sort of secret agent. But I'd no idea you were working for International Rescue."
"I've worked for all sorts of people in my time," said Penny. "You may as well have the full story one day. But you mustn't go
telling everybody, you realise that?"
"And you've got to keep our secrets too, Judy," said Scott.
She grinned. "Since I owe my life to you.......that'll be no problem.
"What about you, Alan, are y-" They realised Alan wasn't with them. "Knowing him, he's probably gone after the guy who started all this trouble," said Virgil. "We'd better make sure he doesn't come to any harm." He and Scott went off to look for their brother.
Suddenly Judy, who had seemed to have recovered from her terrifying ordeal, started shaking again, her face crumpling, as the combined strain of recent experiences overcame her. "Penny, I'm sorry," she sobbed, her voice breaking. She collapsed weeping into Penny's arms.
After what she'd been through, Penny could only forgive her.
She had begun to compose herself by the time Scott and Virgil returned with Alan, having been unsuccessful in their search for The Hood.
"As soon as we've reloaded the Mole and picked up Thunderbird One we'd better be getting back to the Island," Scott said. "And I think it's best Judy comes with us."
Penelope nodded her agreement with the suggestion. "That's fine by me, as long as she doesn't go picking up any ghastly American accents."
"She'll be a lot safer there. We're well versed in security, and she already knows our little secret so that isn't going to be a problem."
Judy herself was delighted with the idea. It'd be thrilling to get a look at the secret base of International Rescue, and she'd been wanting to see more of Scott for a long time.
"Shall we tell the police to come and collect all these bad guys?" asked Virgil.
Scott nodded. "Yeah, we may as well, although it'd better be done anonymously." He sighed. "It won't do a lot of good unless we come forward as witnesses, and of course that's impossible."
He called his father on the island, and gave a brief account of the situation. "We're all OK - although I think the DOMO may need some repairs when we get back to base. Oh, and Father, we'll be bringing a guest with us." He explained about Judy, and Jeff was quick to agree with his decision that she should come to stay with them until the Conference was finished.
The girl in question was at that moment gazing up at the massive shape of Thunderbird Two, positioned above its pod a bit like a mother hen sitting on an enormous egg, she thought. She marvelled at the forward-pointing wings which on any conventional aircraft would have looked ugly, and which seemed too small to be able to lift that enormous bulk, although she saw when she got closer that they were much bigger than they appeared at first, and at the impressive assortment of vehicles visible within the pod.
"You're very privileged," Virgil told her. "Not many people outside the organisation get to ride in Thunderbird Two."
"It's fantastic," breathed Judy, spellbound by the craft's size
and power.
Virgil patted the transporter's side affectionately. "She's fantastic."
Scott turned to Alan. "I'm not pressing you, but I think it's best you come back with us too. While you're away from the island, we're all of us in danger."
Alan was silent for a moment, then nodded. "I guess you're right, Scott."
"It's the sensible thing..at least for the time being."
"It'll be for good, Scott. I've caused you all enough trouble already. And fellas...." He turned and looked round at them all. "From the bottom of my heart - thanks. And Penny, and Parker, and TinTin." He embraced his girlfriend in a way that told the others they were well and truly together again.
"What plans have you two got?" Scott asked Penelope and Parker. "I think this calls for a celebratory get-together."
"I suppose it does. Tell you what, we'll pop in on you as soon as I've retrieved my yacht and Lillian."
Saying their goodbyes, they headed for their respective vehicles. As Virgil approached the DOMO a figure emerged from a building some distance away, catching his eye. "Hey, what's going on over there?"
They saw a group of men creep furtively from the building. When the gunfight had started The Hood's allies had made for the gates only to find the guard had closed the shutter. Since all the other exits from the plant were also sealed they had decided to hide themselves away and await the outcome of the battle. They’d heard the sound of gunfire cease, and after a short interval decided to leave their hiding place and try to find some tools with which to force the gates open.
"I don't know," said Scott in response to Virgil's question. "But it doesn't look like they were up to any good."
"Hey, you over there!" shouted Alan. Hearing him, the men started to run. They were too far away to be sure of hitting them with the stun guns. Scott and his brothers ran after them.
"It's all right, Scott," called out Penelope. "Let me take care of them." She took out her remote control device and her elegant fingers flickered over the buttons. They heard the roar of a powerful engine, and Fab One came hurtling into view, heading straight towards the group of men who scattered in alarm. The car drove in all directions, constantly heading them off as they tried to escape from it. Penelope was literally jumping up and down with glee, her face lit up like that of a child with a new toy.
The Rolls harried the men for a few moments longer, then began gradually to herd them towards the International Rescue party. It started to circle them, forcing them into a tight ring so that the Thunderbirds were able to shoot them down easily, except for three or four who made a desperate break for freedom. They managed to dodge the car and reach a sort of alleyway between two buildings, disappearing down it. Penelope sent Fab One racing along the alleyway in pursuit. The men realised the passage was a cul de sac, ending in a stolidly immoveable brick wall. They yelled in fear as Fab One continued to speed towards them. The Rolls screeched to a halt with its fender mere inches, Scott reckoned, from the terrified men. It stayed where it was, its engine growling menacingly.
Scott and Company walked up to them. "Who are you guys, and what's your game?" Scott asked. None of the men answered. Then he saw that one of them, a gaunt, hawk-faced individual, was staring at Penelope in apparent recognition.
"Why, what an unexpected pleasure!" Penny cried. "If it isn't Mr Varenkov."
"And what does Mr Varenkov do for a living?" asked Alan.
"He's the head of the Bereznik secret service."
"And you know him, obviously."
"I'd never forget him," Penny said. "He tried to torture me."
"He did, did he?" growled Virgil.
Grishkov spoke. “In the kind of game you and I play, Lady Penelope, it is easy to get hurt. And I had my orders."
"Maybe. But you always enjoyed what you did, just as I'm going to enjoy doing this to you."
She marched up to him. It is perhaps best not to try to describe what she then did; suffice to say Varenkov was in considerable pain for some time afterwards.
"Now I'll let you sleep it off," she told him, firing her stun gun.
"Goodnight," she said sweetly as he collapsed senseless across Fab One's bonnet.
She studied Grishkov's companions, thinking they looked familiar
too. "Mr Venek, too. And Mr Castle, and Mr Mulligan. Why, this is turning out to be quite a pleasant little reunion."
"You sure get around a bit, Penny," remarked Scott.
"You've got no cause to be smiling," said Mulligan. "You can't turn us over to the authorities without us telling them she's one of you. I figure that'd cause you quite a few problems."
"Not so, pal," said Alan. "The CIA and FBI are under orders to keep anything they find out about International Rescue a secret. They know how important it is that our cover stays intact."
"It doesn't matter anyway," said Castle. "You can't go to the police without blowing your cover."
"That's not a problem," said Penelope. "Whatever you've been up to, it isn't good for the world. I know that all of you are wanted for something somewhere or other. You've been involved in crime and terrorism on an international scale....in things which threaten America's security along with everybody else's. And rightly or wrongly, the CIA aren't the sort of people to let technicalities stand in their way where vital national interests are involved."
The men now seemed to abandon any hope of freedom, concentrating instead on mitigating their circumstances.
"We would not have killed the girl....not in the crusher," said Venek.
"A little too gruesome even for your tastes, I imagine," Penelope conceded. "But you'd certainly have bumped her off in one way or another if it had suited your purposes."
"Who's the guy that masterminded all this?" asked Scott.
No-one answered him. Although they had been prepared to stand up to The Hood when necessary, they were nevertheless afraid of him. If they told the authorities anything about him, something unpleasant might befall them should they ever manage to escape from prison - or even if they didn't.
"Forget it, Scott," said Alan. "Let's put these guys to sleep and leave them to the CIA. I want to go home."
*
Jeff studied an item in his morning newspaper gloomily.
HUNDREDS DIE IN AIRLINER TRAGEDY
ALL 500 PEOPLE on board an Air Terrainean 797 passenger jet are believed to have perished when the plane crashed in a remote mountain region in South America yesterday. The aircraft was reported to be losing height following a fuel leakage. By the time rescue services from the nearest airport, some 150 miles away, arrived on the scene it had crashed and burst into flames. An extensive search of the area revealed no survivors.

"If only they'd called us in. I'm sure we could have prevented it if we'd been there," Jeff said.
"Maybe, Dad," said Gordon. "Maybe. You're forgetting about the saboteur."
It was quite possible that the person behind the failure of their most recent rescue operations was the man who had kidnapped Alan and Judy in a bid both to wreck the conference on nuclear proliferation and obtain the secrets of International Rescue. From Judy's account of her capture, it seemed he had used a kind of sonic device - something which would have been ideal for sabotaging the rescues, as Brains had earlier speculated. Judy had put paid to it during her run-in with the felon, but he might well have other exotic and formidable weapons in his possession.
At first his plan had been to discredit IR by sabotaging rescue operations; then when Alan left the island he saw the chance to gain possession of their secrets, and changed his strategy. When Alan had failed to succumb to his hypnotic powers he'd gone back to his original scheme until TinTin's visit to her friend presented him with another opportunity.
"At least we know who he is," said Alan. "So you didn't finish that guy off after all, Penelope."
"I'm very much afraid the helicopter we shot down must been a decoy," said Lady Penelope. "He couldn't have been on board it. Rather foolish of me really, not to consider that possibility."
"We still can't be sure it's him. Even if it is, it's not much of a help. We're finished for good as a rescue outfit unless we can somehow put a stop to his activities. It doesn't matter that everyone knows our recent mishaps were deliberately engineered. All he has to do is turn up whenever IR are on a mission and foul it up. That makes us too much of a liability. People just aren't calling us anymore; if things continue this way, there won't be much point in carrying on. We may as well bring John down for good and dismantle Thunderbird Five."
"At least we've put a stop to our friend's political activities,"
said Gordon. He glanced again at the newspaper's main headline.

INTERNATIONAL TERRORIST NETWORK EXPOSED
An anonymous telephone call to the headquarters of the CIA has led to the exposure of what appears to have been an international organisation of terrorists, criminals and political malcontents. It is not clear exactly who led it, but initial investigations suggest the existence of a mysterious, shadowy figure who has been extremely careful to hide his identity and avoid detection.
The call is understood to have been made from the Harverson recycling plant near Oaksville, California, where police discovered and arrested the gang. Local police had had their suspicions about the plant for some time, but there was never enough evidence for them to take any action. It appears that some of its staff are deeply implicated in the affair while others are wholly innocent. The gang includes members of various terrorist and criminal organisations, along with extreme politicial activists from a number of countries, who are suspected of fomenting unrest and civil war both within their own nations and elsewhere. They are expected to go before an International Court shortly charged with a variety of crimes against humanity. Further details are awaited.
Rumours that International Rescue were involved in uncovering the conspiracy, based on sightings of two of their Thunderbird craft in the area, cannot be confirmed.

"We've certainly done the world a favour there," declared Parker. "Sure, it's good," Jeff agreed. "It probably saved a lot of lives. But all the same, we're a rescue organisation not a police force."
"Maybe that ought to be our new profession," said Virgil dryly.
"Look on the bright side, Jeff. At least you've got all your family back in one piece," continued Penelope.
Jeff smiled, looking round at the people gathered in the room. She was right. Everyone was safe and well. Scott, Judy - somehow he felt she'd already become one of the family - Virgil, Gordon, Brains, Penny, Parker....
And of course Alan and TinTin. International Rescue was back together again.
That included Kyrano, who had returned yesterday morning from Switzerland. The doctors at the medical centre in Switzerland had found no clues to the origin of his strange attacks. The only way to make sure he couldn't be used against International Rescue in the future was to keep him under constant observation, twenty-four hours a day. That would be impossible, and in any case Jeff wasn't prepared to do it since he knew it would make Kyrano feel like some kind of criminal.
Scott and Judy stood up. "We're, uh, just going for a walk round the island," Scott announced.
Jeff nodded, smiling just the faintest of smiles.
Once again, he told himself that trying to put a stop to their relationship was out of the question. As a father he had no right
to interfere, and even as the head of International Rescue there wasn't really anything he could do. Besides, the way things were going it looked as if he needn't worry about its effect on the organisation. In a few weeks' time there wouldn't be an Inter-national Rescue. All its craft and equipment would be taken out of commission. They'd be mothballed rather than dismantled, just in case they were ever needed again. But who would know if, and when, the Thunderbird machines would ever again emerge from their hangars into the light of day, and how many lives might be lost in the meantime?
"In that case I'll say goodbye to you, Judy," said Penelope. "I've just remembered, I'm supposed to be going on the maiden flight of that spaceplane thing. I'll have to start moving soon if I'm to be at Glenn Field in time." She and Parker said their farewells and made their way to their plane.
The conversation continued. "I was thinking," said Virgil. "If we gave everything to the UN.....I mean, if it's basically us who the saboteur hates..."
"Something tells me that won't do any good," Jeff replied. "We can't be sure the sabotage would cease. If our friend with the funny eyes is the saboteur, then he won't stop at separating the Tracy family from International Rescue. He seems to glory in causing chaos and destruction. And the UN may not be happy about having to cope with him."
"Do you think we'll ever hear from him again?" asked TinTin.
"Well, he might have another go at stealing our secrets. As for
sabotaging another rescue operation, I doubt if he'll do that. He's succeeded in what he set out to achieve."
"He may do something out of revenge," said Alan. "We did mess up his plans in a big way by saving Judy and rounding up his gang of international hard cases. He's bound to be pretty mad at us."
"We'd better all be on our guard," agreed Jeff. "We just can't be sure what he'll do...."

In his Malayan temple The Hood, now wearing his priestly robes, sat staring into the flames from one of the gas burners. He raised his fist and slammed it down on the table beside him, uttering an oath in some ancient, obscure language.
Curse International Rescue! Curse them!
They had probably ruined his plans for world domination. Not only that, they had caused a good deal of friction between himself and his supernatural mentor. He glanced uneasily towards the room where the creature dwelt, sensing its anger.
He had finished off International Rescue for sure. From his monitoring of the world news he had come to the same conclusion as Gordon Tracy; people no longer had any faith in IR. He had achieved his long-cherished aim of destroying the organisation. It was a pity he had not been able to steal their secrets as he'd long wanted to do, but one could never be entirely successful in all one's endeavours.
He had had his revenge. He should be content. But he was not content. He could have accomplished much more than just the demise of International Rescue. He could have had the whole world....were it not for their interfering. They must pay for what they had done.
And yet was there any point? Surely it would be better to concentrate instead on rebuilding his network of agents, on trying to sabotaging the nuclear conference some other way.
He resumed gazing into the fire, deep in his dark and bitter thoughts.








SIX
Scott and Judy were walking along the beach, talking. They felt happy and relaxed in each other's company.
"I guess you could say we're Anglo- rather than entirely American," Scott was saying. "Mid-Atlantic. We've got plenty of connections with the UK. I studied in Oxford for a while..." He thought nostalgically of the old town with its historic buildings, the colleges and the Union with their wonderful atmosphere and quaint traditions. It had fascinated him, being so different from anything he'd previously known. "We've got connections in lots of places. Officially this is US territory, and we're US nationals, but we like to think we're citizens of the world."
They stopped and stood gazing out to sea for a moment. A gentle breeze blew in, ruffling their hair.
"Don't you ever get bored - stuck on a small island like this?" asked the girl. "I mean, I'm sure it's a very nice place to live," she added hurriedly.
Scott grinned. "There's more to it that meets the eye. It's a fascinating place.......that's why Dad liked it so much, decided he wanted to live here. It's bigger than you might think; in fact there's quite a lot of it we haven't properly explored yet." A brilliantly-coloured tropical bird flew with a squawk from a palm tree.
"You get some rare kinds of wildlife here, like that parrot. It causes a bit of trouble from the security point of view whenever someone wants to have a look at them. One guy did a special study of the island and its ecology, back in 1910. Then there are some interesting myths and legends connected with it. For example, it's said to be inhabited by survivors of a lost undersea race....fish-people. I can't honestly say I've ever seen anything, but I have had one or two odd experiences while I've been out exploring; felt I was being watched, that sort of thing. If they do exist, they don't seem to be harmful. We're not that bothered about them as long as they don't spill the beans about the IR set-up!
“I've often thought of mounting an expedition to find them sometime. Hey, shall we do that?"
Judy's eyes shone with excitement. "Hey, why not?"
They walked on.
"I'm sure sorry your holiday turned out the way it did," Scott said.
"Never mind," replied Judy. "This looks like a good place to spend one."
He nodded. "Sure is. Plenty one can do here; swimming, scuba diving, water-skiing..."
"It's a beautiful place. And so lovely and remote. But it still beats me how you've managed to stay undiscovered for so long."
"Well, I imagine there are plenty of people who've been making intelligent guesses concerning the identity of International Rescue. I expect we're high on their list of possible candidates. After all, it's obvious whoever ran an operation like ours would have to be pretty wealthy, with huge financial and other resources, and preferably operating from a remote location. But no-one can ever prove anything. I suspect most people think it's a UN operation, but Geneva always deny it."
"So who knows about it, apart from you? There's Penny and Parker.."
"Well, we have about thirty or so other agents around the world. They're all people who can be trusted not to talk. Most of them Dad knows personally. A few are former, or part-time, members of other security organisations, like Penny. There's a guy who used to work for the KGB, one or two ex-FBI people. Then there are a few - a very few - people in the UN and the US government who know the secret. We couldn't possibly operate if that wasn't the case. Those people can make sure nobody pries too closely into the matter. If the Navy or Air Force detect an aircraft in this vicinity with an unusual radar signature, they're told to stay away. If the crew ask any questions, their superiors tell them the island is a testing ground for some extremely secret weaponry."
"And the UN are quite happy about what you're up to? Why don't they do this sort of thing themselves?"
"They were thinking of setting up something like it when Dad came along with his own scheme. But they're quite happy to let us do the job. It saves them a lot of bother. They'll probably take it over eventually; but not just yet, I hope. I prefer it as a family business."
Judy watched a small crab emerge from a hole in the sand and scuttle across the beach. "And you can manage OK with just the five Thunderbirds....with only one of each type of craft?"
"Most of the time, yes. They're pretty sturdy and it takes a lot to damage them beyond repair, so if any do get damaged it can usually be put right fairly quickly. The intervals between rescue operations are quite long - which gives us plenty of time to relax in - so there's little chance of an emergency happening while they're out of commission. The situations we're called in for are pretty extraordinary - otherwise the conventional rescue services could probably cope by themselves. Besides, the more of them there were kicking about the more difficult it would be to stop them being stolen.....and there just wouldn't be room for them all on the island!"
"Do you reckon you've got enough people to run the set-up?"
"We rotate things so there's always someone available. And from time to time we get some practice in operating each other's craft, in case it becomes necessary. Me and the guys could handle any one of the craft, and so could Brains and TinTin. I reckon Dad could too, if he had to. He's not as worn-out as he sometimes thinks.
"Hey, I shouldn't be telling you all this. I mean, you may know a certain amount about us already, but it's best not to add to it. The more you know, the greater the chance you might let something slip out accidentally."
Judy nodded. "I understand."
"Unless perhaps you're going to be a permanent fixture here," he said.
"Would you like me to be?" she smiled.
"Well," he said, "one more addition to the team wouldn't do any harm, and it could come in useful."
"I love technology," she said. "I'm good with it, too." She told him how she had mastered the workings of Penelope's yacht, reflecting ruefully on what that had led to. "And that could be one way of ensuring my secrecy…."
"I don't think we need to worry about your secrecy," said Scott. "But look, Judy, it's a very dangerous business at times. Would you really want to do it?"
"I don't know," she replied thoughtfully.
"Of course, it all depends on what Dad thinks. There's another reason too." He said the last four words without thinking.
"And what's that?" she asked.
Scott shook his head. "No, it's stupid. Forget it."
"I won't laugh," she said.
Scott hesitated.
"Well," he began eventually, "If you went on a mission and something happened to you..."
Gently he ran a hand through her hair. "I don't think I could handle that," he said softly.

Many thought it was a crazy idea, a waste of time and money. Nothing big would ever come of it. But although there might have been some who took a cynical view of it, seeing it as just a publicity stunt, others sincerely believed it would serve a valuable purpose in the long run.
The craft which was emerging from its hangar at Glenn Field Space Centre was about the size of the old Concorde supersonic airliner, which it resembled somewhat in appearance. It also had similarities with the NASA space shuttles. It was sleek and elegant, with delta wings and a fuselage that tapered to a point. There was seating on board for some two hundred people.
The vessel, which could function both as an ordinary aircraft and as a spacecraft, had been named the Hawking after one of the great figures who had been responsible for shaping the history of the previous century. This, its maiden voyage, was to take it beyond the Earth's atmosphere; but the Hawking was not carrying professional astronauts. Those on board were ordinary people, chosen to go on the voyage from many different countries using a lottery system.
If Man was ever to really conquer space, this kind of thing had to be attempted. It had to be ascertained whether ordinary people were able to accustom themselves to space travel. The idea had been to get at least one representative from each race and nation on Earth, forming a microcosm of humanity, in accordance with the World Space Agency's belief that anyone should be able to experience the wonders of space travel.
The plan was for the ship to go into orbit once around the Earth, then visit the Moon and Mars, where it would spend a brief time before returning to the home planet. Altogether the voyage should take just over a week.
The project was in part an experiment, and one about whose outcome NASA were rather nervous. A lot of time and money had been invested in it, and if anything went wrong it would be a public relations disaster of the first magnitude.
As the organisers had expected a few people had backed out, one or two at almost the last minute, but they'd been able to replace them. What was surprising was how many people had stayed on. Of course many of those who had put their names forward for their various national lotteries were science fiction fans keen to realise their fantasies. But by no means all of this element were impractical dreamers who would find the reality difficult, in one way or another, to cope with.
In the departure lounge relatives of the passengers were bidding them goodbye. Many were fearful for the safety of the their loved ones; some clearly did not expect ever to see them again, and there were a few tearful scenes. To many of the parents and grandparents space travel seemed awesome, terrifying; something they'd thought they were too old to undertake themselves.
What had possessed them all to do this thing? Each of them had their own reasons. Jean Randall, a fairly ordinary girl from a fairly ordinary district of London, had wanted to do something different. Unlike most of the people she lived and worked with, she wasn't satisfied with limited horizons. She knew the world, and the universe, were much bigger and more fascinating than her friends, family and work colleagues, worthy people though they might be, seemed to realise or appreciate. And its wonders were her heritage just as much as anyone else's. She felt she ought to sample them at first hand. She'd heard people say space was boring, and maybe they were right, but the only way to find out for sure was to go up there oneself. And even if it was boring, just to think that she'd done it would be enough. The idea of going where Gagarin, Sheppard and Armstrong had gone was staggering to contemplate.
They'd needed a certain courage to go ahead with it. They'd also had to undergo tests to establish their psychological stability, but most of them had passed with flying colours. Of course, in time even that would become unnecessary as space travel became more and more commonplace. (Where physical wellbeing was concerned, there was no requirement for them to be any more or less fit and healthy than most other members of society).
A number of celebrities would be accompanying the intrepid astronauts on their journey, to add a touch of glamour to the proceedings. Among them was the son of the US President, a flamboyant individual who much to the annoyance of his father and those responsible for America's national security had managed to carve out a successful career for himself as a singer and actor, involving numerous public appearances of the sort which gave those assigned to protect him from kidnappers and assassins a major headache.
Lady Penelope, who knew the WSA's Director and had been unable to
resist using a bit of influence to get herself a seat on the spaceplane, in order to undertake what would be her first ever experience of space travel, would not after all be on the flight. Her friend, the elderly and somewhat absent-minded Duchess of Royston, had managed to fall down some stairs and hospitalise herself, and Penny had reluctantly pulled out of the enterprise, feeling she ought to be looking after her.
Huge crowds were gathered on the observation terraces to watch the Hawking's departure; as might be expected the world's press were heavily represented among them.
A WSA employee and her boyfriend looked on as the Hawking moved along the runway to the Centre's newly-built Passenger Terminal.
"It'll never catch on, if you ask me," said the man. "You'll never succeed in making space travel interesting enough. I mean, there's nothing to do out there. Believe me, it's a non-starter."
"I'm not so sure about that," replied the girl. "There's more to be got out of it than you might think. Some people who go up in space get religious experiences, and to them, anyway, that's something good. Others end up with a resolution to value this world more, and even if that was all that came out of it......well, I guess it'd be no bad thing."
Meanwhile the passengers were entering the extending tunnels which would carry them up to the craft's airlocks. Once everyone was inside and had taken their seats, the airlocks were sealed and the Captain addressed them over the Intercom.
"Ladies and gentlemen, this is Captain Dhuleep Rajani speaking. Welcome to the maiden flight of the Hawking, and congratulations on winning your place on it. I hope to get to know you during the flight.
“We hope you will enjoy your journey. Now please fasten your seatbelts; take-off will be in five minutes."
They waited, excitement and apprehension mingling within them as they heard the craft's engines power up.
The Hawking began to move off along the runway, past the administrative buildings, past the massive hangars for the Zero X craft, past an old NASA space shuttle now preserved as a memorial. It was too late now for anyone who might be having have second thoughts to pull out.
Gradually the spaceplane gathered speed. Hawking's nose lifted and the assembled press, the crowds on the observation terraces, and the spaceport workers, who had been given time off work to watch the take-off, saw it leave the runway. It rose into the air to the accompaniment of thunderous cheers and a forest of waving flags.
The take-off had been no different from that of a conventional aircraft, and the sensations were just the same. This was both a relief and something of a disappointment. But the real delights were yet to come.
The Hawking continued to rise, soon passing the point where conventional aircraft would have levelled out. In a few minutes the passengers, gazing through the windows, saw the sky change from bright to dark blue.
"Ladies and gentlemen, we are now leaving the Earth's atmosphere.
Within a few minutes we shall be switching to proton drive. There will be a slight jolt as the craft gathers speed, but it is not likely to cause discomfort."
Soon the dark blue changed in its turn to the jet black of space.
Everyone had survived the take-off OK. Now they found themselves experiencing a strange, indescribable thrill. They were in space..actually in space!
"We are now going into orbit around the Earth. You may unfasten your seatbelts and move around as you wish." He gave an account of the many and varied facilities which the Hawking offered, and where they were located. "I would also recommend that you sample the view from the main observation port on the Upper Deck."
Everyone made first to B Deck, where they stared out in wonder from the observation port at the Earth, their home planet. As had been predicted they found it an intensely moving sight; the more so because few of them had expected ever to be lucky enough to see it like this. It was to have a profound effect on them. One or two people were in tears.
"It's beautiful," remarked Jean Randall, softly. "And somehow it looks....I don't know....so....so fragile..."
"Seeing it like this does something to me," said one man to his companion. "It's kind of hard to describe, but...well, at times like this I can't help feeling there must be a creative intelligence behind everything."
The other shrugged. "Who knows?"
Turning away, they proceeded to check out the other delights which the Captain had mentioned. It was a little disappointing perhaps that the spaceplane looked, and felt, much like an ordinary airliner on the inside. But it offered a much wider range of recreational facilities, and on a far grander scale. Among other things there were a disco, bar, restaurant, gym, cinema, and an observatory where one could getter better views of stars, planets and other than could be obtained from the homeworld. A few of those who did find their first experience of space travel disappointing decided they didn't mind as long as the facilities were so good. The most popular attraction was the anti-gravity chamber, where the passengers had a lot of fun attempting to perform in zero gravity tasks that back home would be straightforward and dull. Who said space travel was boring? Of course even that sort of thing could be experienced in special circumstances on Earth, but then only if you were a professional astronaut.
The passengers mingled and chatted. People made friends, even fell in love in one or two cases. International understanding was forged as folk of different nationalities got talking, comparing each other's cultures. Captain Rajani, moving among the passengers, sensed their mood and was pleased. Whatever it was exactly that they were supposed to be getting out of the voyage, there was no doubt everything was going well.

On Tracy Island a meal had just finished. Jeff and TinTin were still seated. They watched Kyrano clear away the plates and cutlery, noting the gloomy expression on his haggard face.
TinTin sighed, her own features downcast. Her father had been unhappy ever since they had told him they thought someone had been interfering with his mind so as to use him as a pawn in their schemes against International Rescue. He seemed to think he was in some way personally responsible for it; and he imagined they were constantly watching him, closely scrutinising his every movement. The worry was making him ill, and everyone could see it. But at the moment there was nothing, absolutely nothing, they could do about the problem.
"I understand Judy wants to join us," said TinTin, changing the subject. "Do you think that'd be a good idea? It means Scott liking her won't be a problem."
"Well, she's mixing well with everybody.....she's good with technology from what I hear..... and I think she's sobered up a bit since her brush with our enemy."
"And it wouldn't do any harm to have an extra body about the place," TinTin added.
"But of course, there won't be an International Rescue for her to join, if things go on the way they are."
"At least we'll be on our guard, if the saboteur does strike again," TinTin said.
On the beach, Scott and Judy were towelling themselves down after a swim.
"Is it really that much of a problem?" Judy was saying. They were discussing the implications for Scott of her joining International Rescue.
"I'm afraid it is. If we were on a mission together, and ran into problems, I might take the wrong decision out of concern for your safety. And that could mean someone dying."
"But you and your brothers are all in this outfit together..and the same problem applies there, surely?"
"It's not quite the same thing."
"What about Alan and Tintin? It doesn't seem to worry them."
"I guess some people can manage it, and some can't." He stopped and turned to face her. "Judy..please don't make me choose between you and International Rescue. Both are equally important to me."
There was a pause. They finished changing and started walking back to the house.
"Do you like this kind of life?" Judy asked after a moment.
"Yeah....I guess so. I certainly can't think of anything I'd want to exchange it for."
"But there's one thing missing, isn't there?"
"Like what?"
"Like...well, like......" She hesitated over what she was going to say.
"You mean someone to share my life with, don't you? Yeah, I guess I do miss that kind of thing."
"More than you care to admit, I reckon."
By the look on his face, Judy could tell she was right.

The Hawking continued on its journey. It flew low over the mountains of the moon before touching down, again like a conventional aircraft, on the lunar surface. Despite its barrenness, the passengers found the Moon beautiful in a stark, and somehow evocative, way. The planetary excursion vehicle took them to the site of the first manned lunar landing, now an international memorial, where they saw the footprints of the astronauts, the flag they had planted, and the lunar module itself, before going on to the recently established international moonbase, where they saw at first hand how the problems of adapting to an extra-terrestrial environment could be overcome. Of course they had seen photographs of the base and could have obtained all the relevant information about it from a library, but the real thing always gave you more of a kick.
And so to Phobos, one of the twin moons of Mars, where they witnessed the attempts that were being made to terraform the satellite's surface. There followed a brief trip to the Red Planet itself. They found the red colouring of the Martian sky, and the rocks and soil of its surface, attractive - and, also, like the Moon, evocative. Several of the party came away feeling that this strange red world had a beauty and a character all its own, and that it would be a pity to transform it into just a replica of Earth.
They were fascinated to be able to glimpse, from a safe distance, the only extra-terrestrial life form which had so far been discovered, the fire-breathing Rock Snakes which had posed such a
threat to the Zero X Mission two years before. The serpentine creatures were clearly composed of a kind of living silicon, something which demonstrated how different alien life seemed to be from anything existing on Earth, and hinted at the other marvels waiting to be discovered out there among the stars.
Altogether the feeling of standing on another world had proved just as fantastic as had that of being in space.
The round tour now over, Hawking took off from the Martian surface and set course for Earth. Those on board would be relieved to get back to the home planet, but nevertheless glad they had done what they had done. It was an experience whose wonder would always be with them.
"Well, I think that was a great success," the Captain told. "We may well be doing a lot more of it in the future."
Two days later, the spaceplane began to approach Earth. "Hawking calling Glenn Field. We should enter the atmosphere in approximately one hour. Everything went splendidly; there've been no problems, and all the pasengers are happy."
"That's great. Well done for making it such a success. See you back here tonight."
On the observation screens the Earth was now about the size of a golf ball. "Switch to chemical propulsion," Rajani told the co-pilot.
The spaceliner began to slow. Rajani leaned back in his seat, stretching. "Now can relax and leave everything to the computers." No sooner had the words left his mouth than a massive explosion
rocked the entire vessel. It was followed by another, and another. People and objects flew in all directions. As the Hawking steadied the stewards immediately attempted to calm the passengers, while the medical orderlies tended those who had sustained injuries. Fortunately no-one was badly hurt.
"Please keep calm," Rajani urged the passengers. "We are trying to ascertain what has happened."
According to the ship's computer there had been four explosions rather than one big one; two on the belly of the spaceplane, one on the tail, and one on its left side.
"Damage report."
"Heatshielding seventy-five per cent destroyed."
They'd never get through the atmosphere safely, the Captain realised. But it didn't necessarily spell disaster. They might, by controlling the angle of entry, be able to enter unscathed. Or they could go into orbit while repairs were carried out.
The computer continued with its account of the damage. "Engines and guidance system disabled."
They couldn't change direction: they were on a collision course with Earth. Nor could they adjust their trajectory. They would have to abandon the ship.
By now he was growing increasingly uneasy. If the escape system was damaged too.....
The computer's next words chilled him to the marrow. "Escape capsule ejection system inoperative."
There still remained one tiny gramme of hope. "Computer, what is
the precise nature and extent of the damage to the escape system?"
"All circuits and wiring ninety percent destroyed."
They had the tools to effect a repair. But they'd never do it in time.
They couldn't slow down, they couldn't change course, they couldn't alter their trajectory, and the escape system was dead.
We've had it, he thought.
"Hawking calling Glenn Field. We have an emergency."
The news horrified Commander Travers and his men. "We'll try and do something," Travers told Rajani, even though he knew there wasn't a lot they could do. "In the meantime, try to keep the passengers calm. Don't tell them the whole truth, of course. Over."
"There appears to have been an explosion on board the craft," Rajani informed the passengers. "Damage has been sustained but it is not serious and we should be able to re-enter normally. Repairs are now in hand. There is no need to worry, I repeat, no need to worry."
In the control room at Glenn Field, Travers' mind flashed back several years. The sequence of events paralleled strikingly his experience on the Zero X mission. The damage caused to the craft by the rock snakes had been much greater than they'd thought. They had re-entered the Earth's atmosphere and Zero X was about to receive the two lifting bodies which would enable it to function as an aircraft. Remote control of the bodies had been turned over to them by ground control; then a malfunction in the equipment had
caused one of them to smash against the body of the craft. Further damage had resulted, and the flight computer had given an account of it which culminated in the chilling information that the escape system was out of action. That time, International Rescue had saved him and his crew from certain destruction. But now....
He turned to his second-in-command, Frank Morgan. "It looks pretty grim."
"I can't see what we can do," Morgan said quietly.
"Well, I guess there's only one outfit who could get to them in time."
"You mean International Rescue."
"Yes," replied Travers softly. "I guess I do."
"It's a bit of a risk, Sir. Even if they're right and someone has been trying to sabotage their operations, it still makes them a liability."
"I know. It's not because they saved my life that I'm suggesting we call them in. We owe it to those people to do something to save them; we can't just let them all melt to nothing. Besides, the President's son is on board, and quite a few other well-known figures. There may not be much hope for those people, but if we just do nothing, and they die, it's possible there could be serious consequences for us."
Morgan knew his superior was right. "OK, Commander. I'll put out a call."

On the island TinTin and Alan were splashing about in the pool, while on the patio Judy was reading a book and Brains and Gordon were playing chess. Grandma was having a quiet little nap while Scott and Virgil were deep in conversation. Not far away Kyrano was pruning some roses.
Jeff sat at his desk, deep in thought. The eyes of John Tracy's portrait lit up, and the bleeping of the radio interrupted his musings.
He opened the channel to the space station. "Go ahead, John. Don't tell me we've got a call."
"It is a call, father! That new spaceplane, the Hawking, is in trouble. Seems there was a series of explosions on board, and they did quite a lot of damage. She's falling back to Earth with her heatshield shattered, and they can't eject or do anything else to save themselves because the guidance, propulsion and escape systems are all dead too.
“They're due for re-entry in one hour and twenty minutes. I guess Glenn Field called us in because we were the only people who could get there in time to do anything."
"Do they know what caused the explosions?"
"They're not sure yet, but the crew are trying to find out."
"I see. OK, John. Tell Paul Travers we're on our way."
Jeff saw that Scott and Virgil were in the room. "Did you get all that, boys?"
"Sure did, father," answered Scott.
"Get the others in here, will you. It looks like this could be our chance to make a comeback."
A few minutes later, every member of International Rescue was seated in the lounge. Their hearts were pounding with a strange excitement. Now they knew there was a saboteur at work, they had a better chance of stopping him.......and if there wasn't, then that was obviously for the best. If they succeeded in this mission, they would show to the world that they still had their uses.
Jeff gave them a run-down on the situation. "First thing I have to say to you is this.......you mustn't let the fact that Penelope is on that spaceplane cloud your judgement, although I don't expect you will. We all know it's not what she'd want." Not knowing that the spaceplane would run into trouble, Penelope had seen no need to tell Jeff she wouldn't be going on its voyage.
"Now," he said, "we don't know if that explosion was caused by our mysterious enemy; or, if it was, how he plans to mess up the rescue operation. From what Glenn Field say it sounds like sabotage, but we can't be certain. And there's not much time in which to try and find out for sure. So all we can do is our best...like we've always done. We've got to go ahead with the rescue and, if we can, try to flush out the saboteur at the same time.
“Scott, Alan - launch Thunderbird Three. TinTin and Brains, you go with them; TinTin to operate the shielding equipment, Brains to help search for evidence of sabotage.
“Virgil, Gordon, take off in Thunderbird Two and remain on aerial standby ready to escort Hawking back to Glenn Field."
Jeff felt a strange sense of euphoria. They still didn't know how their enemy was sabotaging the rescue missions, and how they might
stop him. There wasn't really any reason to be optimistic. But they had been called in and they had to go ahead. And now they had put all their differences behind them they were in a much better state to cope with the trial that was about to begin.
As his team hurried to change into their uniforms and board their craft, he spoke aloud the words which had become the organisation's catchprase.
"THUNDERBIRDS ARE GO!"
*
The crew of Thunderbird Three seated themselves on the luxurious sofa in the centre of the room. As the telescopic column that supported it retracted, it sank out of sight beneath the floor; a few minutes later an identical sofa rose up from the opening to take its place, so as not to arouse suspicion on the part of any friend or other visitor who might arrive unnanounced.
Beneath the house, the wheeled platform moved off along a set of rails down the tunnel that led to the International Rescue spaceship's launch bay, situated at the other end of the island. Brains, meanwhile, was making his way along a separate tunnel, connecting with the spacecraft's airlock, which allowed additional crew to gain access to it.
Ten minutes later the trolley emerged into the launch silo. They gazed up at the towering, cathedral-like shape of Thunderbird Three, the largest and perhaps the most aesthetically pleasing of the five Thunderbird craft.
The rails terminated in the centre of the triangle formed by the
three engine pods, which acted as supports for the massive rocket when on its launch pad. The telescopic column extended upwards, the hatch in the cylindrical pod at the rear of the craft opening to receive them. Once inside, they took the lift up to the control room.
"Take up launch positions," ordered Alan. They strapped themselves into their seats, and Alan positioned himself at the controls.
Far above them, the hatch in the top of the launch silo, situated beneath the roundhouse, the odd-looking circular building which served no other purpose than to help screen the hatch from view, was sliding open.
A light on the main control console came on, telling Alan that the hatch was now completely open. Kyrano called them from the launch control room. "Thunderbird Three, you are cleared for take off."
"Lift off," announced Alan, and fired the craft's motors. Thunderbird Three rose off its launch pad, the silo filling with smoke behind it, and up through the hollow centre of the roundhouse. Jeff and Grandma lifted their heads to watch as it rocketed into the sky.
"There they go," said Jeff. He realised he'd sent Scott along with Alan, as had been traditional; he'd been thinking of letting Alan take the spaceship up without his elder brother in future, since Scott's presence on space rescue missions had been a major cause of Alan's recent disaffection. Still, Alan hadn't objected. He had turned over a new leaf and wasn't likely to sow any discord....besides, he'd need as much help as he could get on what could be a very difficult mission.
As Thunderbird Three dwindled to a tiny orange speck against the vastness of the sky, before disappearing among the clouds, they heard the rumble of another set of engines as Thunderbird Two blasted into the ether. They turned their heads for a glimpse of the transporter as it passed overhead, heading for the point at which Hawking would enter the atmosphere.
Silently they began walking back to the house, aware of how much depended on this mission.

"They've called in International Rescue!" sighed the Hawking's co-pilot. "Now we really are finished! If they're our only hope...."
"Look, Bob, Glenn Field wouldn't have taken the risk if there'd been another way," said the Captain. "At least someone's doing something. International Rescue said their troubles were due to sabotage. And I reckon that if they did slip up on a rescue mission it wouldn't be their own fault. If they're right, then we've got to help them."
Commander Travers called them. "Have you found any clues yet?"
"No. We're still looking."
"We've just had an anonymous videophone call from a terrorist group saying they caused the explosion. I'll be letting International Rescue know that. How are the passengers?"
"They're worried, you can sense it. I don't think they believe we're telling them the whole truth about how bad things are. Some of them understand that and some don't. I don't think any are going to panic just yet. After all, they were selected for the journey because they were a pretty level-headed bunch. I guess the one's who've got religion think they're better able to prepare for whatever's in store."
"Well, let's hope praying won't be necessary," muttered Travers.

The blue-green orb of Earth receded rapidly behind Thunderbird Three as Alan switched from chemical to nuclear propulsion.
He contacted the spaceplane. "Thunderbird Three calling Hawking. This is International Rescue calling the Hawking."
"We hear you, International Rescue. When will you get here, do you reckon?"
"In about five minutes' time. You should have visual contact with us in three. Listen, Captain. Have you noticed anything suspicious at all during the flight? Has anything been out of place, and have any of the passengers been acting strangely?"
"Not that I've noticed. Everyone and everything was checked thoroughly before we took off from Glenn Field - although of course someone still managed to plant four bombs on board."
"If the saboteur is who we think it might be, he's got ways of breaching security systems that we don't yet fully understand. We need to check again."
"OK. Trouble is, we don't have the proper facilities for it like they do at Glenn Field. But we'll do our best."
"Two of us will be coming over to give you a hand. We've got some equipment that'll help to detect anything unusual."
"Great. See you soon."
The co-pilot turned to Rajani worriedly. "When the passengers see the Thunderbird they may get worried."
"I know," replied the Captain grimly. He started to think about what he should say to them.

Alan was alone in Thunderbird Three's control room. The others were checking over the ship for any sign of sabotage.
Jeff called from the island. "Penny's just called to say she cancelled her place on the flight. So at least we don't have to worry about her. And John's just heard from Glenn Field; they've been informed some kind of terrorist organisation was responsible for the explosions."
"That doesn't sound likely to me," said Alan. "If they wanted to kill everyone, why not just plant a bomb in the reactor unit? That'd destroy the whole craft in one go."
"The way it's designed makes that difficult. The shielding is so thick it could withstand almost anything, and it also makes access to the reactor core a problem. They must have decided instead to plant a series of bombs at strategic points. They'd have made a careful study of the layout of the Hawking, so they knew exactly where those points were. And they must have reckoned we wouldn't be called in in case our friendly neighbourhood saboteur got up to his tricks."
"All we can do is be watchful," said Alan. "We're searching Thunderbird right now for anything suspicious. But we won't have time to complete the search before we rendezvous with the spaceliner. That just can't be helped.
"We've got just twenty-five minutes, once we intercept them, to carry out the rescue," he went on. Thunderbird Three was the fastest spacecraft in existence, with a propulsion system whose details NASA scientists would have given their right arms to learn. But time would still be against them. "It's long enough to carry out the rescue, but not to make sure that nothing, either here or on the spaceliner, has been sabotaged, unless we strike lucky. That suggests there is a saboteur, because that's how they would have wanted things."
"Then again," said Jeff, "a saboteur might have realised we'd come to that conclusion, and given us more time so as to throw us off the scent." He sighed. "So many uncertainties. Alan, we've got to think carefully about this; analyse all the possibilities. Just how is our saboteur going to...."
"Hold on, Dad," said Alan, his eye caught by the scanner screen. "Looks like we're about to rendezvous with the Hawking."
"OK, Alan, I'll sign off. Keep me in touch with developments."
Alan spoke into the Intercom. "OK folks, we're about to intercept Hawking. Scott, Brains, get your spacesuits on. You'll be going over to do the checking."
"FAB, Alan," answered Scott. They headed for the airlock, where the spacesuits, and other equipment used in rescues that involved
extra-vehicular activity, were stored. Alan instructed TinTin to continue searching the craft for signs of sabotage.
On the scanner two blips of light were rapidly approaching each other. Alan spoke into the radio. "Thunderbird Three to Hawking. We'll be coming in above you in a couple of minutes. Get ready to receive our men."
Again Rajani addressed the passengers. "Ladies and gentlemen, we have to report that International Rescue have been carrying out operations in the area and have agreed to assist with the repairs. Please do not be alarmed when you see Thunderbird Three. There is no danger."
But they were clearly uneasy at his words. They knew of IR's troubles with a mysterious saboteur, and the possibility of his being at work on the Hawking alarmed them. The first signs of agitation began to show.
As Thunderbird Three came into view, the Captain and co-pilot stared at it in astonishment. The Hawking was huge, about the size of two football pitches, but the immense rocket nevertheless dwarfed it.
The crew of Thunderbird Three could clearly see the damaged areas of the spaceplane's heatshield, from which the ceramic tiles were still flaking.
On the scanner, the two blips passed each other. Alan fired the retros and Thunderbird Three swung round to head after the spaceliner. Alan cut his craft's speed to match that of the other.
Slowly, Thunderbird Three moved into position about a hundred feet above the Hawking. "Are you ready, boys?" asked Alan.
"FAB," called back Scott.
"Great. Extending boarding tube now."
The airlock tunnel telescoped out, and in a couple of minutes Scott and Brains were on board the Hawking. Alan glanced at his monitor screen, on which the stars seemed to be flashing by, and the Earth loomed ever closer. He fancied the planet was growing visibly with each moment. Normally he found the world from space a beautiful, moving sight. But just now it seemed to symbolise death. Death for the hundred souls on board the Hawking, including his brother and Brains.
Alan called TinTin to see how she was getting on. "Found anything?"
"Nothing yet, Alan."
"It's crazy," he sighed. "We know what we've got to do, and it should be fairly easy, even though it's the first time the new equipment has been used in anger. But we can't do a thing until Scott and Brains find something."
"What do you mean, Alan?" TinTin sounded concerned at his words.
"I'm not going to start the rescue operation until I know how it's going to be sabotaged."
"Don't you think that's taking a bit of a risk? For all we know there isn't a saboteur. You might be condemning the people on the Hawking to death; and just think what that'll do for our reputation. We'll definitely be finished then."
"Of course there's a saboteur," said Alan savagely. "A terrorist attack! Do you believe that? I certainly don't. It’s obvious those explosions were designed to endanger the Hawking but not destroy it – so we could slip up on the rescue.
"This guy's been messing us about for far too long. He's very nearly destroyed International Rescue and torn the family apart. People have died because he's been fouling up our rescues. He forced me to choose between someone's life and giving away all our secrets. And we all know what he tried to do to Judy. It's got to stop!"
"The saboteur must have realised that he's succeeded in his aim. We haven't had any calls for a long time...."
"They called us in for this one," Alan reminded her.
"We could attach a rocket to the spaceplane's hull and fire it," she suggested. "That would slow it down and give us more time to make sure."
"We daren't do anything," said Alan. "If something goes wrong with it and it jeopardises the rescue......"
She sighed. A terrible sense of foreboding filled her mind.
"And remember," Alan said. "What Dad said when we first set this outfit up, and a few days ago when I came back to the island. When Thunderbird Three lifts off, I'm the boss."

Scott and Brains were each searching different sections of the spaceplane, assisted by a member of the crew. Brains and the Flight Engineer were checking over the engine room, Scott and the co-pilot the recreational areas. They were equipped with a variety of optical and other devices for detecting suspicious substances and objects.
On the island Jeff had just finished his fifth cup of coffee, but was still in a tense and irritable mood. Every few minutes he wanted to call Alan to find out how things were going, but told himself that would be silly. He should leave them to handle the situation themselves; otherwise he'd only be making a nuisance of himself. And he was sure Alan could handle the situation capably. Couldn’t he?

On Thunderbird Three, the Earth now filled the entire scanner. There were ten minutes to go before they began re-entry. Alan sat with his chin resting in his hand, deep in thought.
He called TinTin. "I've changed my mind," he said. "Sort of. I'm not starting the rescue until two minutes before re-entry."
He smiled at her audible exclamation of relief.
"That's cutting it a bit fine, Alan," she said.
"I think it's the right course of action. We'll just have to hope Scott and Brains can find something in the meantime."
He contacted the island and told his father what was happening. Jeff agreed with his strategy.
"Now I think we should resume that conversation we were having a while back," he said. "Let's think about this carefully. What is the most likely way for anyone to sabotage this rescue?"
"Shouldn't we bring Brains and Scott in on this?" TinTin asked.
"Better not disturb them from what they're doing right now. It's too important."
The knowledge of how much depended on the outcome of this mission concentrated their minds wonderfully, so that the situation was considered with the utmost precision. "Well," said TinTin, "either it's Thunderbird Three that's going to be sabotaged, or the Hawking itself. Up till now the saboteur's strategy has been to neutralise our own equipment, but there's no reason to suppose he might not change it."
"Right. Now if we have to make a decision as to where to concentrate our efforts, I think we should assume it's not something on board Thunderbird Three that's been, or will be, sabotaged. Ever since we realised all our problems were due to foul play, we've been careful to check all our equipment, from the Thunderbirds down to the tiniest rivet, at regular intervals. And in any case we haven't got the time to make absolutely sure the problem isn't over here. So whatever's going to happen will happen on the spaceplane.......agreed?"
They agreed. "But what will it be?" asked TinTin. "And at what stage of the operation will our enemy make his move? It's not just a case of making sure Hawking survives re-entry. We also have to escort her safely back to Glenn Field."
"Let's just deal with one problem at a time. The re-entry is our first obstacle. Now I guess it would be stupid to contact any of the space stations that are currently in orbit and ask them if they've noticed any suspicious activity. At the moment, space isn't so full up that any unusual incidents would easily be detected. I was thinking our enemy might use a radio or laser beam, projected from somewhere on Earth......."
"That could be traced to its source," said Jeff. "As could any sonic wave."
"If he's planted something on board the craft, some device or other.....well, right now Scott and Brains are doing all they can about that possibility. So where does that leave us?"
"Our enemy is very clever, very cunning," said TinTin. "We've considered the likely scenarios. I think we should consider the unlikely ones as well. If it saves all those people and ensures International Rescue have a future, every possibility is worth considering."
"Such as, honey?" asked Alan.
"Well, for example it's not very likely the saboteur is still on the spaceplane, and is doing something which is preventing us from finding out anything. But suppose he is...." Her voice tailed away. No, it was too stupid an idea, surely.
"How could he get off it before whatever's going to happen happens?" asked Alan, echoing her own thoughts. "Unless he's going to commit suicide."
"The saboteur could be an agent of his, acting under hypnosis."
"He'd need to be able to react to any unexpected event which might expose him," Jeff said. "That means he'd have to know exactly what he was up to."
"Seems to me any possibility of the saboteur being on board right now is ruled out," said Alan. "Unless he can beam himself up like they do in Star Trek," he added dryly.
"Wait a moment," said Jeff. "That's not as crazy as it sounds. Brains and I have always felt something like that was conceivable. And you're right, we do have to consider every possibility. When Brains was telling me how he and Penelope were examining the Kambata site for clues, he said there was something he'd noticed that was odd. Someone had obviously been there, but there was no sign of any vehicle having been used, or any footprints, when there should have been. It looked as if they'd just appeared out of thin air and vanished back into it. He was pretty puzzled, but he thought there must be some conventional explanation for it. But now we're on this line of thought.......until recently NASA were trying to develop a gadget that could break things down into their constituent molecules and transmit them from one place to another like radio impulses. You could get from here to Mars, and back, in as much time as it takes radio messages; a good deal quicker than any spacecraft. It'd have revolutionised the whole business of space exploration. From what Brains heard on the scientific grapevine, it seems their research had reached quite an advanced stage. Then it stopped. Now, if they could get so close to succeeding, it suggests that someone else could as well...and not only come close, but actually build the thing. And there's another possibility. Maybe they did manage to perfect the device, and then somebody stole it. I have an idea they'd have wanted to keep quiet about the matter."
"It might be such an invention could be misused," said TinTin. "I mean, just think........thieves, or spies, could use it to get in and out of all kinds of places. And whole armies, if the technology was sufficiently developed, could invade a country by just appearing in the main centres of population, and the defence establishments, and occupying them. It could have caused panic if news of the theft leaked out."
"How much time do we have left?" Jeff asked.
Alan consulted the instruments. "Eight minutes."
He looked again at the scanner, on which the globe rushed ever nearer, and like the others considered the situation carefully.
"That's it," he said at length. "I've got it. It's a bit of a long shot...but unless Scott and Brains find something out within the next few minutes it could be our only chance."
He told them his plan, and they agreed with it. He spoke into the radio, adjusting the frequency so that Scott, Brains and the Captain could all hear him. "Thunderbird Three to Hawking. Captain, I want you to patch me into your Intercom. In a few minutes I'm going to make an announcement over it. Brains, Scott, carry on with your work as normal. The rescue operation will go ahead as planned. The problem is that when the passengers hear the announcement they may panic. That can't be avoided, but if you can do something to prevent it..." He told them what he was going to say.
On the spaceliner, Scott and Brains glanced at each other. "I guess the risks are justified," said Brains.
"Me too," said Scott.
"The worst thing that could happen will be that we make ourselves look a bit stupid," Alan told them. "And if we pull off the rescue I'm sure we'll be forgiven for that."
He sat back in his chair, an intense look on his face. "I know he's around.....doing something to mess up this mission. I was wrong to take the risk earlier on, but all the same I know he's there......somehow I just know it....."
Dhuleep Rajani would not, of course, have earned his Captain's stripes unless he had known exactly what to say to his passengers in difficult, maybe life-threatening, moments. He now made the best performance of his career. He explained the situation and what International Rescue were planning to do about it, his calm and carefully-phrased words having a profound effect upon his audience. "We are entirely in their hands. If we panic, nothing will be achieved. Whatever happens, you must remain calm....otherwise some of you may be hurt. That would make no sense, considering it's possible we may be perfectly all right."
There were now four minutes to re-entry.
Taking into account the speed at which the ship was travelling, Alan reckoned that once they hit the fringes of the atmosphere the spaceplane's occupants would be unconscious in two minutes, and dead in four.
The craft would flare up and streak across the sky like a shooting star. It would be a spectacular sight, but no-one who knew that a hundred and fifty people were vaporising, melting into nothingness, inside the fireball could possibly appreciate it.
"You're through," the Captain told Alan.
He paused and took a deep breath. "This is International Rescue speaking. We suspect there may be somebody on board the spaceplane who's sabotaged the rescue operation. And if you're there, my friend, let me tell you that we know how you're planning to get off it before it's destroyed.
“So we've surrounded it with a force field we invented some time ago. It's of a kind the molecules of your body won't be able to pass through. Try to use that teleporter of yours and you'll end up as a lot of atoms drifting about in space..forever!
“We're not deactivating the forcefield until the Hawking is safely back on Earth. So you'd better tell us what you've done and how we can stop it, or you're going to die along with everybody else."
“His next words were spoken with a savage intensity. "I know we run the risk of getting killed ourselves, but that doesn't make any difference to us. We've faced death many times in the past. And people have died because you've been messing up our rescue operations. It's got to stop!" He paused for the effect of his words to sink in.
"So what's it going to be? Well, we hit the atmosphere in about three minutes so you'd better make your mind up fast!"
On the scanner the outline of the Earth's major land masses was now clearly visible. Glancing to the east, Alan could make out the Great Wall of China.
"You'd better get into position ready to launch the lifting body," he told TinTin.
On the Hawking the passengers sat awaiting their fate, whatever it might be. They knew there was nothing they could do to influence it except pray, which quite a few were now doing.
As with the Andromeda affair International Rescue had been the only people capable of reaching the danger zone in time. This time they had to pull it off; just had to. Their trip in space had impressed on them the need to care more for their home planet, to do the things that would make life on it better for themselves and their fellow humans. Now it seemed they wouldn't get the chance. This wasn't the way they wanted to return to the world of their birth.
A woman in the row of seats at the very back of the passenger compartment was so intent on making her peace with God that she didn't notice when the eyes of the bearded man sitting next to her began glowing with an eerie yellow light, his face twisting with rage.
They are bluffing, The Hood told himself. They are bluffing!
But he didn't know that; not for sure. And there was no time left for him to make sure.
If they were telling the truth..it was not a pleasant thing to contemplate. In his fury he slammed his fist against the wall beside him, bruising his knuckles.
In another minute or two the heat of re-entry would start to overcome him, and then his fate would be sealed.
He leaped from his seat and ran down the aisle towards the flight deck. A number of people tried to stop him but were thrust roughly aside. Others hesitated, not sure if he was the saboteur or was merely panicking.
"Let me go, you fools!" he yelled.
The Chief Steward held back those who were trying to grab him. The occupants of the flight deck spun round as he burst onto it.
He almost gabbled in his urgency. "There's another bomb...in my pocket....the detonation process begins when the heat of re-entry reaches a certain level. We must get it off the craft, quickly!"
"Can't you deactivate it?" asked the Captain.
"That isn't possible. The bomb is very small. The circuitry is so complex, so delicate....any attempt to tamper with it may cause it to explode prematurely."
The Hood's plan had been to wait until just before the bomb exploded, then teleport off the vessel, leaving it behind. The detonation process starting before the bomb actually exploded was a precaution against the possibility, however unlikely, that the bomb would be discovered and deactivated between his departure and
the point at which it would go off.
"The waste disposal ducts," snapped the Captain. "The nearest is on the upper deck, just outside the entrance to the gymnasium."
"Let's go," said the co-pilot. He and The Hood ran from the flight deck. The Captain told the IR men what was happening, and Scott and Brains ran to join them.
In the secondary control room of Thunderbird Three TinTin's finger was poised over a button. From his instruments Alan saw that the ablation temperature was starting to rise. "Time's up, TinTin. Launch the lifting body!"
"FAB, Alan." She pressed the button. The doors of Thunderbird Three's cargo bay, located inside the drum-shaped rearward pod, opened out and robot arms lowered the lifting body down. They released it and retracted into the hold. The wings, nose and tail sections unfolded. Then the four engines at the rear of the rugged, wedge-shaped structure fired, and it began to move towards the spaceplane, gathering speed.
Through an observation port Alan saw the sky turn rapidly from jet black to dark blue as they encountered the upper layers of the atmosphere. Then he noticed it...a patch of red appearing on the belly of the spaceliner. Slowly it spread, growing brighter.
On the spaceplane everyone was starting to be overcome by the heat. First they felt uncomfortable, then drowsy. One or two of the older passengers lost consciousness.
The Hood and his companions had almost reached their destination when the sudden rapid rise in temperature hit them. It became difficult to think straight or to co-ordinate their movements. They stopped running and began to stumble about.
"We've got to make it!" the co-pilot yelled. "We're nearly...nearly there......."
Scott guessed the man was about to lose consciousness. "Where?" he gasped. "Where is it...."
"Another few yards...in that alcove.." with an effort he pointed to the rectangular hatch in the wall. They staggered on, soaked in sweat, their vision blurring. With a sigh the co-pilot collapsed. A second later Brains fell too.
The lifting body, its own underside now starting to glow, began to move gradually into position beneath the spaceliner.
Everyone on the Hawking was now unconscious except for Scott and The Hood. Would they both black out together or would one of them succumb first; if so, which one?
"The bomb...." gasped Scott, his words barely intelligible. "Where..is...it...."
They came up to the hatch. Fumbling, The Hood managed to remove the tiny device from his pocket. Then he crumpled to the floor, the bomb falling from his hand. It was a disc about an inch across and fashioned from some transparent material within which lights were now flashing on and off, with increasing brightness. Clearly the detonation process had been triggered and the device would go off at any moment.
Scott could barely keep his eyes open, and everything was a blur in front of him. With agonising slowness, afraid that a swift lunge for the bomb would exhaust his remaining energy, he picked it up. He blinked furiously but could not clear the dense mist obscuring his vision. He felt for the rim of the hatch with the hand holding the bomb, and with his last remaining ounce of willpower thrust it through it. Then his world dissolved into blackness and he slumped to the floor beside The Hood.
A jet of compressed air shot the bomb along the duct, through an opening in the hull and out into space. It travelled rapidly away from the spaceplane. There was a brilliant flash as it exploded in a massive orange fireball which would have obliterated the Hawking and everything inside it. The shock of the blast caused Thunderbird Three to lurch violently, flinging Alan halfway across the control room. Collecting his wits, he got up and staggered over to the scanner on which there were now three blips, one of them being the lifting body. All his thoughts were on the spaceplane.
By now they must all be out cold, although cold was hardly the right word in the circumstances, on the Hawking. Rapidly the temperature continued to increase.
"Now, TinTin! Now!" he shouted.
Like him TinTin had been thrown from her seat when The Hood's bomb went off. She had been slightly stunned, but recovered her wits just in time to hear his command. She lunged for the control panel and hit the button.
The lifting body rose and slammed against the underside of the spaceplane, clamps locking it securely into position. Two of the blips merged into one.
His heart pounding, Alan watched its progress as the last few seconds ticked away. It flared briefly, and his heart seemed to miss a beat. But it didn't disappear from the screen. The lifting body's heatshield had saved both it and the spaceplane from destruction.
They were now entirely within the atmosphere. "We've done it!" Alan yelled. "We saved the Hawking!" TinTin came running into the control room and they hugged each other, whooping in triumph.
Alan checked the instruments to make sure The Hood's bomb had caused them no serious damage. He called Virgil in Thunderbird Two. "Virg, the Hawking has entered the atmosphere and she's in one piece. I imagine there's no point in trying to raise Scott just yet; he and Brains must have been knocked out."
He gave his brother a brief account of events. "Thunderbird Three is OK, but I can see some damage to one of the lifting body's engines."
"FAB, Alan, and well done. We'll keep an eye on the damage; we're prepared for any emergency. See you back at base."
Alan programmed Thunderbird Three's computers for atmospheric flight. As he sat back, the task completed, he saw Thunderbird Two come into view on the monitor screen.
In response to a radio beam from Thunderbird Three the lifting body's engines fired, and it levelled off. Then it changed direction, heading for the North American land mass.
Its task done, Thunderbird Three also levelled out, changing course for Tracy Island, while Thunderbird Two inched slowly into position alongside the Hawking. Virgil called the island. "Thunderbird Two to base. Am escorting the Hawking back to Glenn Field."
By now those on board the spaceplane were starting to regain consciousness. The Hood was the first to do so, partly because of the ox-like constitution of his stocky body, and partly because he
had blacked out a little before Scott.
He staggered to his feet and looked down at Scott's unconscious body.
Scott recovered consciousness to see The Hood gazing triumphantly down at him. The villain had taken his gun, which he had brought with him when boarding the Hawking in case of any trouble, and was covering him with it.
"Welcome back, Tracy," The Hood sneered.
"You were lying about that force field, weren't you?" he asked Scott. Now he wasn't in a situation where his life might be under threat, now he had time to consider things calmly, it seemed less likely to him that Tracy had been telling the truth. "Apply a significant amount of heat to an electromagnetic field and it will be destroyed. That produced by re-entry would have neutralised it and allowed me to escape."
Scott considered. If The Hood thought he was trapped on the spaceplane he might be led to take him hostage, to try to force concessions from his brothers. On the other hand the idea of his being at liberty, and able whenever he liked to sabotage their rescue operations, was not something he relished. IR could not remain functional if he continued to sabotage their missions, appearing and disappearing whenever he wanted to.
He wanted all their worries to be over, over for good. But if The Hood believed he was cornered, and got desperate, things might be even worse.
"Only you didn’t want to take the chance,” Scott said. “But yes, it was a ruse." he sighed.
The Hood smiled, sensing he was telling the truth. "Then in that case, I shall take my leave of you." He took the teleporter from his pocket. "Goodbye for the moment, Mr Tracy."
"Before you go," said Scott. "Tell me - you've been using Kyrano against us, haven't you? Messing about with his mind.”
"You shouldn't jump to conclusions," The Hood replied. His power over Kyrano might come in useful again in the future, and he had no intention of throwing away the advantage it gave him. But on the other hand, Scott's tone showed that he was more or less certain in any case.
"Very well, so I have," he smiled. "A pity, from my point of view, that you came to realise it. I suspected you would, at some point or other. But there will be many other ways to destroy you and your friends."
His attention focused on Scott, The Hood had not noticed Brains start to recover. Now fully conscious, the little scientist threw himself at the master-criminal. He was smashed aside easily, but The Hood's attention had been distracted and Scott jumped on him, knocking the teleporter from his hand. With the help of the co-pilot, who was now also conscious, The Hood was firmly pinioned. Scott aimed his stun gun at The Hood and fired. The big man went limp.
"Well done, Brains," said Scott, patting the scientist on the shoulder. Aware that his radio was bleeping, he answered it.
"Scott, this is Virgil. What's been going on?"
"Sorry, brother. We had a little trouble here, but it's taken care of now." He explained what had happened.
"Scott, I'm right alongside you. I'm going to see you back to Glenn Field." He told his brother about the damage the bomb had caused to the lifting body. "We can handle the situation if anything does go wrong."
"FAB. You'd better tell the authorities to have a police guard standing by for our friend here."
He spoke to the co-pilot. "Is there anywhere we can lock this guy up?"
"The kitchen stores would be the best place."
"Then let's go there." They called the chief steward, who along with everyone else on the spaceplane was now fully recovered. Telling him to meet them outside the storeroom, they dragged their prisoner off.
The steward produced a set of keys and unlocked the storeroom door. The Hood was unceremoniously dumped inside and the door locked again.
Scott and Brains went to the flight deck. "Hopefully we should have no more problems now," Scott told Rajani. "Thunderbird Two is escorting us back to Glenn Field, and our friend is safely under lock and key."
The Captain gave a protracted sigh of relief, feeling he could now relax after the strain of the last two hours. "We sure are grateful to you people," he said. Once again he addressed his passengers. "Ladies and gentlemen, I am pleased to announce that
we have entered the Earth's atmosphere safely - thanks to International Rescue. The saboteur has been exposed and apprehended. Now I reckon they deserve a big hand for that." Scott and Brains grinned at the sound of cheering from the passenger compartment.
Rajani continued with the announcement. "Thunderbird Two will now escort the aircraft back to - "
Before he could finish the sentence the floor dipped, sending them crashing into each other. It stayed at an angle, although they managed to keep their balance.
Scott whipped out his radio. "Virgil, what's happening?"
On Thunderbird Two Virgil was studying his instrument panel, where a green light had just winked out and a red one come on. "Scott, the damaged engine has failed." He glanced at a gauge. "You're losing height at the rate of a few feet a minute."
"It's not over yet," Scott told the pilot, who gave another long sigh, this time of vexation.
"What's our current position?" Scott he asked Virgil.
"By my reckoning you should impact somewhere in the Pacific, in about forty minutes' time."
"We could try to fix the escape system," said Brains. "There might just be time, but we have to allow for the possibility that something might go wrong."
Scott considered the situation. "It'll be a tight squeeze, but there should be just enough room on Thunderbird Two for everybody. And there's certainly enough time to transfer them."
"OK, I'll get the boarding tube fixed up," said Virgil.
At that moment he heard someone step into the cabin; someone who had been standing just outside the door, listening to his conversation with Scott.
He and Gordon swung round. To their astonishment they saw it was Judy.
"Um.....is there anything I can do to help?" she asked.
"What the heck are you doing here?" Virgil gasped.
"I suppose it's something I owe Penelope. I heard John tell your Dad the spaceplane was in trouble. I wasn't sure whether you'd be using Thunderbird Two, but I hid myself on board. I.....I didn't think you'd let me go if I asked you."
"You little fool!" said Virgil. "Don't you realise these missions can be dangerous....very dangerous! We brought you to the island to ensure your safety!"
"Penelope's not even on the spaceplane," Gordon told her. "She cancelled her seat at the last moment."
Judy felt rather silly on hearing this news. She looked embarrassed and unhappy, and they couldn't help feeling sorry for her.
"You'd better keep out of harm's way, Judy," said Virgil gently. "Go back to wherever it was you were hiding and stay there."
Her tail between her legs, Judy returned to the storeroom where she'd concealed herself.
"OK, Gordon, let's get after that spaceplane," said Virgil.
Thunderbird Two's nose dipped and it headed after the falling spaceliner. Slowly it slid into position beneath one of the delta wings. Using both his pilot's skill and the instruments on the flight console, Virgil carefully guided the craft in until the telescopic boarding tube was aligned with the airlock. The tube extended out to connect with it.
Meanwhile Rajani was letting the passengers know what was going on. "As a result of the attempted sabotage, we have developed a technical fault and are losing height. All crew and passengers are to be transferred to the International Rescue craft. Please make your way slowly and in an orderly fashion to the main airlock."
"What about the guy who started all this?" he asked Scott.
"He can wait till last," said Scott brutally. Rajani grinned in sympathy.
Virgil was explaining the situation to Glenn Field. "I'm afraid we're going to have to lose the Hawking."
"That's OK," replied Travers. "The people should always come before the hardware. Besides, she ought to survive the impact. After the first Zero X crash we built quite few modifications into our craft, including reinforcements to the hull structure. It should be possible to salvage her at some point."
The jolt that had occurred when the engine failed had assisted The Hood to recover consciousness. He registered the slanting floor, and wondered what had happened. He tried the door, and as he had expected found it locked.
Whatever was going on, he certainly didn't want to stay here. But how was he going to get out? He searched the room for something he could use as a tool to force the door.
Eventually, he selected a knife from a cutlery drawer, one with a long, thin blade. He inserted it in the lock and began to twist it about. It took some minutes and a great deal of patience, but eventually he succeeded in springing it.
He stepped cautiously from the room. If he was going to try and recover the teleporter he would need some kind of weapon. From his study of the spaceplane's layout he knew there were weapons on the ship, kept in a permanently locked strongroom in case of terrorist attack.
But how was he to break into it? Only the Chief Steward knew the combination.
He heard someone coming towards him, and hid behind a soft drinks dispenser.
The Chief Steward was making sure no-one, apart from The Hood, was now left on board. As he came along the corridor The Hood stepped out from the drinks machine, standing directly in front of him. His eyes began to glow.
"You know the combination for the lock of the weapons store. Open it for me."
The steward led him to the strongroom, where The Hood selected the gun he needed.
Meanwhile, about two dozen or so people had still to be evacuated to Thunderbird Two. Scott asked Virgil for a timecheck. "Twenty minutes until splashdown, Scott. We're doing fine."
Just then an unexpected complication arose. As Scott put away the radio a shot rang out above his head. He whirled round to see The Hood pointing a gun at the head of the chief steward.
Scott saw at once that the man was under some form of hypnosis. There was no doubt now about the saboteur's identity.
"Give me the teleporter," The Hood snarled. "Or this man will die."
Scott hesitated while he adjusted to this unwelcome development. As before the simplest and perhaps the safest thing to do would be to let The Hood escape to fight another day. But if there was the slightest possibility they could find a way of preventing his escape it was worth trying, especially if it could be pulled off without risking the lives of the crew and passengers.
"Quickly!" The Hood rapped. His finger tightened on the trigger.
Scott thought fast. "It's on Thunderbird Two. I thought the further away it was from you the better. I'll go and fetch it."
"Do so. And no tricks, or you know what will happen. First I will kill the Chief Steward, then I shall start shooting at random."
Scott entered the boarding tube and made his way along it to Thunderbird Two's cabin. "Virgil, we've got a spot of trouble on our hands." He told his brother about The Hood's escape. Virgil was glad he'd sent Judy down below.
"We need to buy ourselves a little time so we can think up a way to stop him. I think I've got it."
He instructed Virgil to call the Hawking, asking the Captain, who in accordance with the traditions of his profession was staying at his post until the last, to patch him through to the Intercom. Then Virgil made an announcement over it.
"This is Thunderbird Two. The locking mechanism on the boarding tube has developed a fault. It may be a little while before we can get the teleporter to you, but we'll do our best."
"You are trying to trick me, Tracy. And I have already warned your brother about that. I won’t be caught out a second time.”
"Suppose I'm telling the truth? You've no way of knowing for sure, so you'll just have to trust me. Kill any of those people and you'll have nothing to bargain with."
"If I am caught, I will in any case be facing a life sentence. So I have very little to lose. I'll give you ten minutes. If that door isn't opened by then, I will start shooting."
Scott sighed. "OK, it seems you saw through us. I'm coming over with the teleporter right now."
He turned to Virgil. "How long before we hit the water?"
"About half an hour, at the present rate. Hey Scott, I think I know the answer." He explained his plan. "There's still a slight risk to the passengers. I'm not sure it's worth it, but...."
"I am," said Scott. "More or less, anyway."
When told about the plan the Captain was sceptical, but agreed to it nonetheless. "I guess you know what you're doing."
I only hope you're right there, pal, thought Scott.

The Hood heard Scott coming along the boarding tube. He emerged onto the spaceplane, carrying the teleporter. "Right, I've got it."
"Place it on the floor and kick it towards me."
Scott obeyed. The Hood released the chief steward and gave him a shove which sent him staggering.
The Hood bent to pick up the teleporter, all the time keeping his eyes on Scott. He backed away to a safe distance and started to key the co-ordinates into the device.
Scott brought the radio to his lips and yelled into it. "Now, Virgil!" The boarding tube came free and Thunderbird Two pulled away from the Hawking, just as Virgil shut off all the lifting body's engines.
As The Hood was about to key the final co-ordinate into the teleporter the spaceliner's nose dipped sharply, its rate of descent rapidly increasing. The resulting violent jolt threw everybody to the floor, including him. The Hawking plummeted towards the waters of the Pacific at a forty-five degree angle. With the floor slanting steeply it was impossible for anyone to stand up.
The Hood saw the gun and the teleporter, both of which had been knocked from his hand, sliding away from him. He made a grab for the teleporter and missed. Then both were lost among a tangle of struggling bodies.
In the prevailing situation it was impossible to do anything much except wait until the Hawking hit the water, and take things from there.
Rajani glanced at his altimeter. It registered three hundred feet...two hundred...one hundred..fifty.... The surface of the sea rushed up to meet them. He braced himself for the shock of the impact.
Hawking struck the water with a force that stunned everyone on board, shaking every bone in their bodies. It was fortunate the older of the passengers had already been evacuated, as the shock would have been very dangerous for them.
From Thunderbird Two, Gordon and Virgil watched the vessel disappear beneath the surface.
The water gradually slowed the Hawking's descent as it ploughed through it down towards the sea bed. It rose up into a horizontal position then sank gradually towards the ocean floor, hitting it with a bump and clouding the water with sediment thrown up by the impact.
Inside, everyone was struggling to their feet and trying to regain their bearings. The Hood assessed the situation. He could see no sign of either the gun or the teleporter. If Tracy had the gun, or managed to find and grab it, then of course he would gain the other hand. He turned and ran off, seeking somewhere to conceal himself while he decided on a plan of action.
Scott was on his feet by now. "You OK?" asked Brains.
"Yeah, I guess so." He picked up the teleporter from where it had fallen. They looked round but could see no sign of The Hood. Deciding his recapture could wait, they made sure the passengers were all unhurt, then headed for the flight deck. "Any damage to the ship?" Brains asked the Captain. Rajani replied in the negative.
Scott radioed Virgil. "We're all in one piece, and so is the Hawking. Now, how are you going to get us up?"
"We brought the diving equipment along, in case something like this happened. What about our friend with the eyes?"
"He's run off and is hiding somewhere, I expect.....working out his next move. Recapturing him is our priority, since there's no immediate danger to the spaceplane. Trouble is, he'll probably equip himself with another gun from the weapons store."
"That's no problem, we can seal off this whole section so he doesn't get in," Rajani told him. "Apart from the damage caused by the bombs everything seems to be working OK."
"Great. We'll leave him where he is for the moment. But Gordon had better be armed, just in case.
"Well, I don't see any reason to wait," he told Virgil.
"FAB. See you soon."
In Thunderbird Two's cabin, Virgil turned to his younger brother. "OK, Gordon. You'd better get down to the pod."
Virgil steered his craft into position close to the danger zone. They could see clearly where the Hawking had gone down, for an area of water was steaming and bubbling from the passage of the lifting body's underside, still red hot from re-entry.
Thunderbird hovered some thirty feet above the water. Virgil warned the people in the pod to brace themselves; they'd be in for a slight bump when it was dropped.
He waited until Gordon confirmed he was in position, then released the clamps. The pod dropped slowly into the water. The hatch opened and an inclined ramp extended to touch the surface. With Gordon at the controls, the underwater rescue vehicle known as Thunderbird Four slid down the ramp and disappeared beneath the sea.
The clear blue water around the submarine gradually became darker and murkier as it dived deeper. Gordon switched on its beacon, and a shaft of light penetrated the gloom, causing shoals of fish to swim away in alarm. Soon the vast shape of Hawking could be made out below him.
"Thunderbird Four calling Scott. I'm going to come in through the main airlock."
As it neared the ocean bed the submarine levelled off and began to approach the sunken spaceliner, a minute speck of yellow beside its enormous whale-like bulk. It settled on the ocean floor close to the craft's hull, and the autolock telescoped out to form a tunnel linking the sub with the Hawking's own airlock.
Gordon fetched his gun and made for the autolock. A bleeping from the control panel caused him to turn. The lines on a computerised graph were shifting, and warning lights flashed above it. Gordon inspected the graph for a few moments, then turned from the console with an anxious face.
"Scott, the underwater seismograph is picking up some kind of massive disturbance of the sea bed; I've never seen anything like it before. The epicentre's about five miles from here and it's heading this way pretty fast."
"I don't like the sound of that. What do you make of it, Brains?"
"Well, it's obviously some kind of undersea earthquake." A thought occurred to him and he called Thunderbird Two. "Virgil, what exactly is our position?"
"We're in Sector Red Four, about 150 miles north-east of New Zealand. Co-ordinates 1872KJF."
"We seem to be in the middle of where all those atom bombs were dumped. At some time one or more of them must have gone off and caused some kind of disturbance in the earth's crust beneath the sea."
"The cause isn't the important thing right now," Scott said. "It could be dangerous if we get caught up in it." He ran a hand over his forehead. "Whew! This is turning out to be some rescue!"
"It'll probably cause a massive tidal wave," warned Brains. "Maybe affecting both coasts. We'd better tell Virgil to notify the authorities."
"Oughtn't we to do something about it ourselves?" asked Gordon.
"They should be able to cope with the situation if we alert them now. Let's just get on and save those people on the Hawking."
"I'm worried there may not be time to transfer everyone to Thunderbird Four," said Gordon. "I'd have to make at least ten journeys.”
Brains thought for a moment, then turned to the Captain. "Is the escape capsule structurally intact?"
Rajani nodded. "It was only the wiring and all that which was destroyed. The capsule itself is in one piece."
"Have you a plan of the escape system?"
The co-pilot punched up a diagram on a VDU. Brains studied it for a moment. "Hmmmm.......yes. If we plant explosives at the right points, we should by my reckoning be able to blow the escape capsule free of the main body of the spaceplane, just as the original escape system was meant to do. I estimate it should then rise to the surface and float."
"I've got some magnetic mines in here with me," said Gordon. "Will they do? They can be made to explode by remote."
"Yes....they should do the job all right."
"Let's get started, then," said Virgil.
A minute or two later Gordon came through the airlock, carrying the packs which contained the small but powerful explosives, along with several laser cutting torches. Scott was there to meet him. "OK, Gordon, the crew will help you and Brains plant the mines. I'm going off to look for the guy who started all this trouble. I don't know what his plans are, but either he comes with us or he'll end up pretty well deceased."
"Don't get yourself killed on his account, Scott," said Gordon, a little disdainfully.
"We're in business to save anyone, no matter who they are or what they've done," Scott reminded him grimly.
Gordon grinned. "FAB! But Scott - watch out for his eyes, won't you?"
"I will," replied Scott. An idea came to him, and he asked the pilot where the kitchen storerooms were.
He positioned himself to the right of the door, aware The Hood might be standing on the other side of it with a gun, and told Rajani to open it. There was no sign of his quarry. Cautiously he stepped out and moved off in the direction of the storerooms, all the time glancing from side to side.
After a while he realised he still had the teleporter in his pocket. He hesitated, then moved on.

The escape capsule, which accounted for most of the rear half of the fuselage, was situated immediately behind the main passenger compartments, to allow for the passengers to be speedily moved into it in an emergency. Gordon took the equipment from the pack he was carrying, and they positioned themselves at the six points indicated by Brains. They started to cut out square holes, each large enough for one of the bombs to be placed inside, with their laser beams.

Having got what he wanted from the storerooms, Scott continued his search for The Hood.
Not far away, just inside the door of the Hawking's engine room, the arch-criminal waited. He had, as Scott had predicted, equipped himself with another gun. Then he'd left his hiding place, moving cautiously in the direction of the escape capsule. He had heard the captain instruct the passengers to go into the capsule. Was this a trick intended to force his hand, or had they really devised some means of launching it?
It was then that the floor trembled beneath his feet; only slightly, but enough for him to be aware of it. He realised the announcement had been no ruse.
He did not of course want to be left behind when the capsule was ejected, but nor did he want to be captured. Somehow he must gain the upper hand, force International Rescue to return the teleporter. He knew they would be looking for him; their scruples would prevent them leaving him to die in whatever disaster was about to occur.
He found the door to the escape capsule sealed. Retreating to a safe distance, he'd debated with himself what to do. Tracy must at this moment be looking for him. The best course of action was to wait until he found him, then try to overpower him.

The lines on the oceanoseismograph in Thunderbird Four continued to undulate with increasing frequency.
A few hundred yards from the sunken Hawking a small fissure had opened up in the ocean floor. Others began to appear, branching off from it.

The first of the holes had now been cut, and Gordon reached in and pulled out a tangle of charred wiring. Carefully he placed the mine inside, then turned to start on the next. A few feet away one of the stewards had finished making a second hole. He removed the square of metal he had cut out. The spaceplane gave another lurch and he yelped in pain as his hand touched the still red-hot edge of the hole.

Scott approached the engine room door cautiously. If The Hood was hiding in there he might try to jump him as he came through it.
There came another tremor, more violent than the first.
Again he shouted to The Hood to show himself, explaining what was happening outside. "We don't want to be hanging around when the big shockwave hits us, so stop playing games and give yourself up."
The main fissure crept with increasing speed towards the spaceplane, widening as it did so. The water began to fill with the sediment thrown up by the convulsing sea bed, rocks and clumps of weed disappearing into the spreading cracks in the ocean floor.

Three of the bombs were now in position, and Gordon and his helpers were starting on the fourth.

There was only one way for Scott to guard against being jumped as he came through the door. He yanked it open, stepped back a few paces, then ran quickly through it.
Diving at him, The Hood missed and nearly lost his balance. Scott aimed his stun gun at him and was about to fire when there came another tremor, the most violent so far. Both he and The Hood were thrown off balance. Losing his grip on his gun, Scott saw it slide away from him. The Hood raised his own weapon, but Scott ducked underneath it and butted him hard in the stomach. The Hood gasped and dropped the gun.
Scott followed up with a powerful blow to his adversary's chin. The punch should have dazed him, but although flinching he remained alert. Scott was young and strong but The Hood, while some years older than he, had managed to keep himself in a state of remarkable physical fitness. Closing, they staggered about the engine room. Scott stumbled and fell, pulling The Hood down with him.
They rolled across the floor, locked together in fierce combat. "Give me the teleporter," The Hood snarled, clawing at the bulge in the pocket of Scott's uniform. His strength was phenomenal, and Scott heard the fabric begin to rip. He drew up his legs and thrust, knocking The Hood to the ground. He got to his feet, and as he did felt the teleporter slip through the torn lining and clatter on the floor. The Hood dived for it, and Scott lunged at him in a bid to stop him grabbing it. They collided, crashing to the floor again.

The fissure had reached the Hawking and was gradually enlarging beneath it. The vessel's violent shaking was making it difficult to place the fourth and fifth bombs. Frequently it would cause their flesh to come into contact, painfully, with the edges of the holes, still warm from the lasers. But they persevered with their task, aware they were racing against time.

With a heave The Hood tore himself free and flung Scott away from him. He glanced around for a sight of his fallen gun but it was nowhere to be seen, the motion of the spaceplane as the seismic convulsions agitated it having caused it, like Scott's, to slide out of sight into some corner. Scott took advantage of the brief distraction to hurl himself at his enemy, but The Hood dodged out of the way. He turned to face Scott and the piercing eyes glowed unnaturally. Scott closed his eyes, turned away, and dived for the bottle of cleaning fluid from the stores, which he had had to drop in order to engage The Hood. Grabbing it, he whirled round and sprayed the contents into the criminal's face. The Hood screamed and staggered away, clawing at his eyes and lashing out in blind fury. Yet another tremor hit the spaceplane, disorientating Scott and preventing him from exploiting his enemy's distraction.
Recovering from his pain, The Hood made another lunge for the teleporter, and this time managed to snatch it up. Scott tried to wrest it from him and with a mighty heave succeeded, but it came out of The Hood's hand with such force that he lost his grip on it and dropped it.
Yet another tremor threw them apart. "Before long we...won't be able to stay on our feet..." Scott warned him. The intervals between the shocks had become ominously shorter.

All round the Hawking the ocean bed was breaking up fast. The fissure beneath the spaceplane had become a yawning black chasm, threatening any minute to engulf it.
The fifth bomb was now in position, and they were struggling to place the sixth.

"Give it up!" shouted Scott. "It's too late to find your gun. We'll both be killed if we don't get to that escape capsule in time!"
He was aware of Gordon's voice over the Intercom. "Scott, the bombs are all in place! You'd better get into the capsule right now!"
The Hood made another grab for the teleporter, and they closed once more. Scott was seized in a powerful grip and slammed painfully against the wall. The Hood was about to repeat this action when Scott broke free, tripped and fell, landing on his back. His enemy dived on top of him, intending to throttle him into unconsciousness, but Scott rolled aside and he landed face down on the floor. As he got to his feet Scott kicked out from his prone position and caught him on the knee, knocking him off balance. The IR man got up and made to grab him, but he dived to one side.
Again Gordon could be heard yelling frantically over the Intercom. Scott backed away as The Hood prepared to rush at him again. "OK, you win," he gasped. "The longer we stay here fighting, the more likely we'll be crushed to death. Just take the teleporter and get out of here. We'll get you one day."
The Hood's eyes gleamed in triumph and relief. He'd been about to give up the fight himself, his nerve tested to breaking point.
"Curse you, Tracy," he sneered. "Curse you!"
As Scott ran for the escape capsule The Hood glanced around for the teleporter.
And froze in horror as he realised it was nowhere to be seen.
He began a frantic search, and a minute later found it. At some point in his fight with Tracy their struggling bodies had knocked it and caused it to fall through the gap between the bars of a grating in the floor that covered the mouth of a maintenance shaft. He forced his fingers through the gap and groped for the device, but it was just out of reach.

Scott hurried into the escape capsule. "What happened?" Gordon asked.
"Had to let him go. Are we all ready?"
"Yeah. I'm going back to Thunderbird Four."
"FAB. See you in a little while, if all goes according to plan."
Handing him the remote control device for the explosives, Gordon turned and ran.
"I'll detonate in one minute," Scott told the crew. They braced themselves against the walls of the capsule.

With a snarl of rage The Hood realised he was not going to retrieve the teleporter in a hurry. His only chance of survival was to give himself up.
He jumped up and ran towards the escape capsule at a pace which
would have earned praise from an Olympic athlete.

Scott glanced at his watch. Fifty seconds until detonation....forty-five.....forty......thirty-five.....

Gordon had almost reached the airlock when the Hood came bursting into view. The arch-criminal cannoned into him, almost knocking him over, then with a hiss of rage ran on. Gordon hesitated briefly, then continued running for the airlock.
He hurtled through it and into Thunderbird Four. Retracting the airlock, he seated himself at the controls.
The submarine tilted upwards and headed towards the surface at maximum speed. A moment later the area of sea bed where it had been caved in, sucking sediment and vegetation into the huge hole.
The massive shock wave slammed Thunderbird Four against the hull of the spaceliner with a force that jarred every bone in Gordon's body. If it hadn't been made of a revolutionary alloy designed to withstand the hideous pressure of the ocean depths, the little sub would have been smashed to pieces.
On the surface conditions were less violent, but the shock nevertheless made itself felt, rocking Thunderbird Two's pod. Inside it, Judy was helping Jean Randall and the American President's son to comfort the other passengers from the Hawking, many of whom were shaken and bruised. Not much but it was a start, she thought; her first rescue job.

On the spaceliner The Hood had been sent sprawling. For several minutes he struggled to rise to his feet. He succeeded, fell down again, got up.

There had been fifteen seconds to go before detonation when the shockwave hit. "It would be better to wait until it's passed," said Scott. He would detonate immediately once when the wave had subsided.
They waited. The tremors gradually ceased.

The Hood ran towards the capsule.

The Hawking was now supported at its nose and tail by just a few feet of crumbling rock. At any moment it would be sent plummeting into the bowels of the Earth.
Scott pressed the button on the detonator. The escape capsule shot away from the rest of the spaceplane in an eruption of bubbles and rose rapidly towards the surface.

The Hood ceased his frantic pounding on the door as a loud bleeping from a control panel in the wall signified that the escape capsule had been ejected.
He stared blankly at it for a long moment. Then he turned and ran back to the teleporter. His only chance was to try again to free it and hope he was successful.

As soon as the latest shockwave had died away Gordon had sent Thunderbird Four shooting again towards the surface. It burst spectacularly from the water in a shower of spray and foam. A few yards away the escape capsule was also surfacing. It bobbed rapidly for a few moments, then settled.
Thunderbird Four fell back to the surface, and as soon as it had steadied Gordon swung it round until its stern was pointing towards the capsule.
A cable shot from the submarine and a magnetic clamp fastened onto the capsule. Thunderbird Four's surface motors roared into life, and it started to move towards the pod, towing the capsule after it. "Virg, we'd better wrap this one up quickly," Scott told his brother. "Brains says that if the spaceplane falls into that chasm, and it closes up, the reactor will rupture and explode. And then things will get really nasty from an oceanographical point of view."
"FAB. I'll use Thunderbird Four's launch ramp to bring everyone on board. The capsule would be too heavy for the grabs to lift."

The jolt caused by the capsule's ejection had shifted the Hawking fractionally closer to destruction. The next shock wave proved the last straw. As the rock ledge beneath it crumbled the craft's tail dipped and it slid backwards over the edge, plunging vertically to the bottom of the abyss.
The Hood, frantically trying to retrieve the teleporter, was flung away from the grating, sliding twenty feet or so down the slanting floor.
The spaceplane's tail hit the bottom of the chasm, and it came to
rest leaning against one of the walls at a steep angle.
Somehow, perhaps by willpower alone, The Hood managed to claw his way up the smooth sloping surface and reach the grating. He clung onto it with one hand, while the other resumed trying to grasp the teleporter. His fingers brushed it, and he felt it shift slightly. He felt the spaceplane move again. It seemed to be tilting back into a vertical attitude.
The walls of the chasm were moving slowly towards each other. As the side the spaceplane was resting against began to move towards the other, the vessel was being pushed into an upright position.
The Hood hung from the grating, desperately straining to reach the teleporter, conscious that his time was fast running out.

Gordon released the cable, then used Thunderbird Four's grabs to grasp the capsule, firing his motors against the ocean swell so that it remained more or less steady while everyone clambered from it onto the launch ramp. They hurried along the ramp and into the pod.
Then Virgil saw something through his cabin window that froze him with horror. A towering wall of water, higher than a fair-sized block of flats, had appeared in the distance and was rushing towards them at a terrifying rate. If it hit the craft at that speed while it was retrieving the pod, Thunderbird Two would probably be destroyed.
The wave would reach them in about two minutes. "Scott! Are you all on board now?"
"Nearly, Virgil." He caught the urgency in his brother's voice. "Is something-"
"Yeah, it is - there's a massive tidal wave heading straight for us. Let me know as soon as you're all inside!"
"We're inside now, Virg."
"Great. Gordon, get Thunderbird Four into that pod now! Boy, are we going to have to move fast!" He struggled to keep calm.
The wall of water was now twice as big as when he'd first sighted it. As soon as Thunderbird Four was inside the pod, he retracted the ramp and the door closed. Thunderbird Two settled over the pod, raising it up. Warning those below to prepare themselves for a nasty jolt, Virgil fired the thrusters and the craft rose vertically into the air. After a moment it tilted up and began to climb, rapidly gathering speed.
Virgil closed his eyes as the onrushing wave filled the windows. They cleared it by only a few feet.

The Hood nearly lost his grip on the grating as the pressure of the moving mass of rock caused the spaceplane to topple over backwards. It struck the opposite wall with a force that jangled every nerve in his body, nearly causing him to let go of the shuddering grating.
His wrist was sore and bleeding, most of the skin rubbed off. His fingers brushed the teleporter again, but he only succeeded in pushing it further away from him.
As the walls moved ever closer together, the Hawking was once more pushed into a vertical attitude. He heard a fearsome grinding, crunching noise, and realised that the hull was starting to crumple inwards, distorting with the hideous pressure of the moving rock outside. From somewhere he could hear a warning klaxon, which obviously meant something unpleasant was about to happen.
He felt the panic rise within him. He wasn't going to free the teleporter in time.
And that meant......that meant he was going to have to call on it for help. He knew what the price for its aid would be. And it would be much greater this time. It was angry at him for having failed..failed both in his geopolitical ambitions, and in his plan to finally destroy international Rescue. He had plotted each move with greater care than in any of his previous schemes, yet still the Tracys and their friends had defeated him. And this time the energy required to save him would be greater than ever before.
"No!" he screamed. "No! NO! NOOOOOOOOOOH......"
His face twisted into an insane mask of rage and he clawed at the trapped teleporter with the fury of a maddened beast. Still it refused to come free.
Water was swirling around his feet, rushing down the corridor at him, knocking him off balance. Then the noise of the warning klaxon, rising to a crescendo, mixed with the horrible screeching of tortured metal as the converging masses of rock crushed the Hawking between them.

The explosion tore up the surface in a vast convulsion which shattered the abandoned escape capsule to pieces and sent up a column of water hundreds of feet into the air.
The shock wave caught Thunderbird Two and for a few moments tossed it violently. Then it passed.
Virgil levelled out. "Gordon, Scott, Brains, are you all right down there?"
"Yes, Virgil. A few people suffering from shock, but they'll be all right. Judy's been doing a wonderful job looking after them."
Just then Jeff called. "Hi, boys. Thought it was high time I checked to see how you were getting on. What's the score?"
"Mission accomplished successfully, Father. Well, almost."
"Almost? What's happened, Son?"
Gordon had told them of his encounter with The Hood; obviously something had happened to the teleporter, trapping him within the doomed spaceliner. Virgil informed his father of their enemy's presumed demise.
"I know how you feel...it always hurts to lose a life, whoever's it is. But it's the guy's own fault he got killed. And at least it means he won't be giving us any more trouble. Kyrano won't be having any more of those attacks, either. We can't be blamed for feeling pleased about that."
"Well, we'll drop our passengers off at Glenn Field and then I guess it's back to base."
"Not quite, I'm afraid. The authorities tell me they'll want some help later on in clearing up after that tidal wave. As soon as you get back I'll brief you on what equipment you'll need, and then it's all systems go."
Virgil turned to the others with a grin. "Well, I guess that proves beyond doubt that we're back in business."
"Then there'll be the relief supplies for Kambata," Jeff went on. "With our help it won't take long to get the situation under control. Then we can let our hair down - and in a big way. Something's been creeping up on us while we were wrapped up in all our troubles. In a few days' time it'll be the anniversary of our first ever mission. So we can have a big get-together, with Parker and Penelope there as well. See you later boys, and once again well done."
"Do you suppose that guy really is dead?" asked Gordon, as Virgil set course for Tracy Island.
"Well," said Scott, "he's survived some pretty tough situations in the past....but I don't see how he could have got out of it this time."

What staggered into the one of the many rooms of the Malayan temple at about the same time that Virgil was setting course for Tracy Island looked barely human. It was probably best that no-one was there to see it, for they would have had nightmares ever after. It made its way, crawling rather than walking, towards a strange complex of equipment. Here, the combination of ultra-modern technology with ancient, mystical forces almost beyond comprehension would enable it to recover - eventually.
The creature's voice echoed through The Hood's head, mocking him.
Once again you have failed me. But I have to admit, you were nearly successful. Very nearly. You came closer to triumph than ever before. That is why I did not quite destroy you. But be warned; your next chance may well be your last.
This would not be the end. Some day there would have to be a final reckoning. But it would be a very, very long time before International Rescue heard from him again.

Judy sat on the shore gazing out over the moonlit Pacific waters.
She heard a footstep and turned round. It was TinTin. "I've been sent to find you," said the Malay woman, with a smile.
She had already worked out that Judy must have something on her mind, and the girl's morose expression emphasised her thoughts.
"What's the matter?" asked TinTin.
"I did the wrong thing again, didn't I?" said Judy miserably. TinTin sat down beside her. "You mean stowing away on Thunderbird Two?"
Judy nodded. "I put myself in danger. Just like I did when I went off in the yacht. I could have been killed......and I very nearly was. If that wave had hit us....."
"There's nothing you can do about it now," said TinTin.
"I'd have thought that was pretty obvious," said Judy sharply. Immediately she felt remorseful. "I'm sorry, that wasn't fair of me.
"And I made such an idiot of myself," she went on. "But I just had to do it. It was the best way I could think of of paying Penelope back for all the trouble I've caused her. I guess I've messed her about pretty badly...she felt responsible for me and it
screwed her up when I went off and got myself kidnapped."
"I'm sure Penelope realises how sorry you are," said TinTin comfortingly.
"That's not enough," said Judy. "You see, there's so much I have to make up for. I've always been the troublemaker, at home, at school, at college. Always wanted to do my own thing, without a thought for the consequences. Never really cared about other people's feelings.....well, maybe I did, in a way, but I still messed about too much. No way to reward people for what they'd done for me.
“When I nearly died in that horrible machine, back at the scrapyard...." She shuddered at the recollection. "It hit me how painful it was not to have a chance to make up for what you've done wrong. I thought I was doing something right for a change by helping save Penelope. But it seemed afterwards that all I did was the wrong thing again...."
TinTin realised that this girl was more vulnerable than her boisterousness and self-confidence suggested.
"Still, I did it for a better reason." She gave a little laugh and smiled weekly. "So I guess I must be learning."
"That's right," said TinTin. "I think you are. You've become more....more moral, but in a confused sort of way. But that is better than nothing. Now look, you can't spend all your time being miserable until you find a better way to make amends. You don't know when that will happen."
"That's just what's so bad about it," said Judy. "It may never
do."
"I think it will. Life's like that." She smiled. "Come on, let's go and join the party."
Feeling cheered up by TinTin's quiet wisdom, Judy picked herself up and walked with her back to the house.
In the lounge, which had been cleared of furniture preparatory to turning it into a kind of ballroom, Kyrano, looking more cheerful now that he knew the agency which had been using him against those he valued was destroyed, was helping Jeff, Penelope and Grandma put up some decorations. Brains and Parker were putting up some speakers, while Lil prepared the food.
In another room of the house the Tracy boys were all watching television. John was among them, having put Thunderbird Five on automatic monitoring, something which could be done for a short time without causing any problems, while he attended the celebrations.
"The International Conference on nuclear proliferation closed today with most of its aims fulfilled," a newsreader was saying. "Out of the twelve countries attending, nine have agreed, in return for certain concessions, to abandon their nuclear weapons, which will be dismantled under international supervision. In the case of the remainder, agreement could not be reached, but the parties have indicated a wish to resume discussions at some stage in the future. Everywhere, the feeling is unanimous that the talks have been a success, and that the world is now a much safer place. “The overall benefits to the human race far outweigh any damaging effects of the concessions that have had to be made to regimes whose foreign and domestic policies may be thought to leave much to be desired.
“The success of the conference owes much to the masterful diplomacy, tact and negotiating skill of its president, Sir Joseph Price.
“But it is also due to the effect on international opinion of the violent undersea earthquakes which occurred yesterday in the South Pacific, caused by the nuclear devices dumped there after recent arms limitation agreements. Although no lives were lost, due to the warning given by International Rescue, devastation along the coasts of Australia, New Zealand and various islands in the region was considerable. There could be no more timely demonstration of the dangers of a nuclear arms race; it would not be worth the problems its legacy would cause."
"I've found her," announced TinTin triumphantly as she entered the room with Judy.
"We were getting a bit worried about you," smiled Scott.
"I had a few things to think over," answered Judy. "TinTin gave me a hand with them."
"Well, we'd better get going, fellas," said Virgil to Gordon and John. "We don't want the proceedings to be over by the time we get back."
"Where are they off to?" asked Judy as the three of them left the room.
"You'll see," TinTin said. "Let's head for the lounge....."
They arrived there to find balloons and bunting all over the place, and a banner hung across one wall which read "HAPPY BIRTHDAY INTERNATIONAL RESCUE."
Parker poured the drinks, Lil served the food. Everyone started to mingle. Alan and TinTin gravitated towards each other.
"Well, the last few months have been pretty eventful," said Alan.
"You can say that again. But now we can all relax. And you're definitely staying here for the time being?"
"I definitely am. Like Judy, I've learned my lesson." He sighed. "And like Judy, I had to learn it the hard way."
"Not entirely," said TinTin. "You made the right decision back there on Thunderbird Three."
"I did," said Alan. "Although if Dad had called us to see what was going on, before I changed my mind...I could have lied about what I was planning to do, but that would have been going too far. I don't know whether I'd have given in if he'd argued with me. As it happened, he didn't call. So we'll never know.”
"What about wanting your own life....and all your differences with the others?"
"I guess a lot of our arguments were my fault. I reckon I can learn to sort things out if I try. As for the restrictions of being in International Rescue....well, I often find myself thinking we're probably crazy to go along with it all. But I'm too much a part of it now. We all are. Besides, as long as I've got you I don't mind what I haven't got."
Scott was sipping a drink and gazing out of the window when Judy
came up to him.
"Hi there!" she said, patting him on the arm.
"Hi," he grinned.
"I'm so glad you're all right," she told him. "I'm not much of an astronaut, or I'd have gone on the spaceship instead of Thunderbird Two. If anything had happened to you.....listen, I want to talk to you."
"Go ahead."
"I was thinking.....even if I don't join your outfit, there's no reason why I shouldn't still see you."
"No," said Scott. "You're right. Guess you'll have plenty of time during your holidays. And I can always come over to England from time to time and see you. But are you going to join the organisation, do you think?"
"Yes, I am. I sort of got the feel of it when I was on the Hawking rescue, and it made me want to do it again. Besides, I want to make up for having been such a selfish little so-and-so. I want to do something to help other people....and I reckon I can't do it any better than by being a member of International Rescue. I'm sorry, Scott, but you'll just have to accept my decision."
Scott was thoughtful for a moment, then smiled resignedly. He didn't feel he could leave International Rescue, but neither did he want to leave Judy. It was a problem, but maybe there was some way of getting round it. And in any case, he had the impression trying to change her mind would be a non-starter.
"If you're going to turn over a leaf, don't throw the baby out with the bathwater. There's a lot in you that I don't want you to lose, like your great sense of humour."
"No reason why that should happen. Anyway.....I've spoken to your father and he seems to like the idea of it. I haven't got a lot of time for it at the moment, what with my studies....and Dad wants me to have a proper job when I leave College. He says he's not going to pay for me to be a playgirl, and I guess he's right. But I wouldn't mind helping out from time to time, and it might become a permanent arrangement some day.....who knows?"
"That's it," Scott replied with a wink. "Who knows. Hey, shall we dance?" He offered her his arm, and she took it.
Parker surveyed the happy scene benignly. Again, he wished he could tell the world of his role in saving it from disaster. But it would be enough of a consolation if he could persuade Lil to get a bit more friendly with him.
He went up to the lady in question. "Thought we might take a stroll around the island," he said.
For a moment Lil looked, shall we say, undecided.
Then she smiled, thinking of the global catastrophe they had helped to prevent, and a young woman saved from an untimely death. "I reckon you've earned it, Nosey," she smiled.
Just then Jeff got up and made an announcement. "Ladies and gentlemen, if you care to step outside onto the balcony you might see something quite spectacular."
They all did as he suggested. They heard the roar of several sets of powerful engines, and a moment later Thunderbirds One and Two -
the former piloted by Gordon - flew over the house. The two craft banked, changed course, and proceeded to fly twice round the island before soaring spectacularly into the stratosphere.
"Now look a bit higher," suggested Jeff. They did so. A point of light brighter than any of the stars was moving across the heavens. "What is it?" asked Judy.
"That's John," answered Jeff with a smile.
One hundred and fifty miles above them, Thunderbird Three circled the Earth, the material with which it was coated to allow it to re-enter the atmosphere without the need for a conventional heatshield causing it to shine brilliantly against the night sky.
"I wouldn't, normally," said Jeff. He had a rule that no International Rescue craft was touched unless someone was in obvious danger. "But on this occasion I just couldn't resist it. I doubt if it'll do any harm."
He gazed up proudly at the three craft.
"Excellent machines," said Scott.
"Flown by excellent people," added Penelope.
"Wonderful set-up altogether," commented Jeff.
"And we've never slipped up once," said Scott. "Well, apart from.."
"Someone was deliberately sabotaging our operations," Jeff reminded them. "That doesn't count."
"How about a toast to the man who made it all possible?" suggested Scott.
"That's just what I had in mind," said Jeff.
They gave Brains a standing ovation. The young scientist blushed, but nevertheless was clearly happy at this recognition of his services.
"I wonder how long it can go on for?" said Penelope.
"As long as the world needs it," replied Jeff. "Of course, it may not always be us doing it, although I've no doubt whoever operates the equipment will be just as brave and resourceful as I know we are.
"But that day hasn't come yet, and I'm in no hurry for it to. For the time being International Rescue will remain what it's always been; a family business."
"That's the way I like it too," said Penny. She tapped him on the shoulder, pointing to where Scott and Judy were swaying to the rhythm of a piece of dance music, their arms round each other's shoulders. Judy wore an International Rescue cap at a rakish angle.
"And we might just be looking at the next generation," she smiled.

THE END