A ruthless industrialist hatches a devious plot to steal the secrets of international rescue while Scott wrestles with a deep personal dilemma.
Satoza Enterprises Headquarters Tower
Manhattan, Sometime Later
Alexander Satoza sighed in relief as he half sat, half collapsed in his chair behind his expensive desk. He had not had the best of mornings; in fact it was one of his worst for a good long while. Things had started well enough; he'd gotten up on time and his driver had gotten him into work quickly, avoiding the traffic jams with practised ease and with the aid of drive time radio. It was only when he had arrived here that the problems had started.
As soon as he had arrived, his secretary had informed him that one of his company's biggest component suppliers for their defence contracts was unhappy, threatening to withdraw from agreements with his company and to take the matter to the authorities. Apparently a glitch in his company's accounting systems - one that had gone undetected for the last financial quarter - had resulted in the accounts department not paying the supplier the agreed upon price for their goods.
Alexander had spent practically the whole day, personally trying to resolve the matter; he could not afford to lose those contracts, nor did he want the authorities poking their noses into his affairs. He had even gone to the suppliers at their headquarters near Times Square and had personally spoken to the CEO. In the end, he had been able to resolve the situation, but he was now going to have to make up the deficit with increased payments for the next quarter. But Alexander could live with that - at least until he could find which idiot hadn't thought to check the accounts system to see if it was working properly. Then he would make the idiot pay for the error, even if it turned him or her into a pauper in the process.
For a few moments, Alexander just sat back in his leather chair, glad to have some peace. Then he sighed and started the process of booting up his computer before looking at his in-tray and groaning at the huge pile of files and memos waiting there for his final approval on. Oh brilliant, he thought, whom have I annoyed recently to deserve a day like the one I'm having today? Who has it in for me?
A sudden bleeping made him jump. The bleeping stopped almost immediately but Alexander had recognised it. An alert had sounded in response to his computer being booted up; there was a message for him. A message that, because of its very nature, could not be trusted to the company's regular email servers. Reaching under his desk, he pressed a control covertly hidden there and heard a soft click.
A section of his desktop dropped down slightly, revealing the hidden compartment there. Quietly, Alexander reached in and retrieved a personal computer pad. The pad reported that it had received an email message from Benson, the message dated as being nearly five hours old. Alexander smiled as he accessed the message and read what Benson had to say. The mission to deploy the first set of Doctor Avoki's nanospiders on Thunderbird One had been successfully completed and no one was any the wiser that the spiders were there. Especially not International Rescue; they had been naturally focused on the distraction that Benson had 'arranged' for them to deal with.
At least something has gone right today, Alexander thought with a smile. My plan advances. Soon their secrets will be mine and my company will be the richest in the world. With a quick command, he authorised a payment to Benson's bank account, then sent him an email, instructing him to begin preparations for the next phase of the plan.
Then he returned the pad to its secret pigeonhole and closed the compartment. The compartment sealed seamlessly so even with an in-depth examination, no one would know it was there. Alexander smiled again, then sighed and picked up the first memo that he had to read. It was going to be a long day, but he would manage, happy in the knowledge that this long cherished plan was finally underway.
Thunderbird One's Silo
Tracy Island, That Same Time
Scott Tracy sighed in relief as the dull thuds of the docking clamps engaging echoed through Thunderbird One, producing slight shudders as they made contact with the hull. With quick, familiar movements, he began powering down Thunderbird One's systems and setting the fusion plant that powered his Bird to stand by mode.
He was glad to be home, and that today's mission to Madrid could now be officially declared over. As much as he loved the high, and the buzz of adrenaline that he got flying the turboscram powered Thunderbird One, it was always nice to return home. There was only the normal post-mission debrief to go through - in which he would have to let Brains know his suspicion that the shock absorbers on Thunderbird One's landing gear were starting to wear out again. Then he would be able to put his feet up and relax for the rest of the day; they all would be able to.
Satisfied that everything was as it should be, Scott gave his instruments one last look before powering them down as well. Instantly the panels went dark, and a fading humming filled the cockpit for a moment as Thunderbird One completed her power down cycle. Scott sighed to himself before undoing his restraint and climbing out of the pilot's seat.
Carefully, he made his way to the hatch, opened it and left Thunderbird One, closing the hatch behind him. Scott had only taken a few steps when a soft sound caught his attention, and he stopped dead in his tracks to listen. There it was again - a soft, repeated tapping noise that echoed slightly in the silence of the silo.
"What the-?" Scott said softly to himself, listening intently to determine where the strange sound was coming from, and what it was.
He was able to determine that it was coming from somewhere below him, though the sound was too weak to identify. Cautiously, Scott leaned on the guard rail and looked down the length of the silo, hoping he could spot what was causing the noise.
Now that the silo roof had closed, cutting off the bright light of the tropical sun, illumination in most of the silo was very poor. The only light came from a floodlight that illuminated the nose cone and cockpit area, blue light panels spaced broadly along the length of the silo, and the blue guide lines running under the access gantry he was standing on.
With such poor illumination, Scott saw nothing other than the odd glint of blue light reflecting weakly off the hull of Thunderbird One. Certainly, he saw nothing that could be the source of the faint, tapping noise.
After a few more moments the tapping noise seemed to stop. Scott sighed and stood back upright, a puzzled frown on his handsome face. What could have caused that noise? Scott thought. I've never heard anything like that in here before. With another sigh and a mental shrug, Scott resumed his journey out of the silo to the complex on the surface.
Unseen but not unheard, twelve of the twenty-four nanospiders secretly deployed aboard Thunderbird One left the machine. They crawled quickly along the data conduits, power cables and fuel feed lines that ran along the underside of the massive arms holding Thunderbird One in take off position. As they moved, their legs made the repeated soft tapping sounds that had teased Scott Tracy's sharp hearing.
Reaching the side of the silo, the spider-like machines paused and scanned the area, each sweeping a different part of the silo with a tight focus scanning beam, a beam whose frequency and energy emissions were far too weak to be detected by the island's security net. With only twelve of the nanospiders scanning, it took the complex, clandestine little robots some time to scan the - on their level - vast space around them. But eventually they located their objective.
With the single-minded purpose that only machines could display, the nanospiders first made their way across the open space. Like the creatures they were modelled after, the nanospiders had no trouble clinging to the vertical walls. Then they descended to the very bottom of the silo, where a diagnostic console was located in the maintenance space for the engine block right where the silo connected to the island's service tunnel network.
Quietly, they slipped through the ventilation grill at the base of the console into the circuitry behind. Then they moved so close to each other that they were touching and began to glow and change once more. Each nanospider's outline blurred and softened, then the individual spiders seemed to melt, like ice cubes in the sun. Their masses merged together as they radically changed form and function according to their unique programming.
In minutes, they had become a slim device made of complex electronic micro-circuitry about the size of a saucer. From this central panel, six slim metallic tendrils emerged. Like metallic serpents, these tendrils coiled themselves around the panel's conduits before thrusting their tips in. The complex tips pierced the protective layers around the conduits and spliced themselves seamlessly with them. They established solid connections between the device that had spawned them and the island's power grid and computer network.
For a few more moments, nothing happened, then the device lit up as a tiny fraction of the power from the island's fusion reactor began running through its circuits. Then it began broadcasting low level radio signals that - like the nanospiders' scanning beams - were on a bandwidth that the island's security systems did not normally scan.
Within Thunderbird One, the remaining twelve nanospiders picked up the signals and came to life. From their position in the very core of the machine, they set about their programmed task. Reaching out with their scanning beams, they began examining the Thunderbird's interior, beginning the long, laborious process of building a chip by chip, circuit by circuit schematic of the Thunderbird from the inside out. It would take time, but time was of no consequence to the nanospiders as they set about gathering the data for their master.
Alexander Satoza's plan to get the secrets of International Rescue had well and truly begun.
Jeff Tracy's Office
Thirty Minutes Later
Scott mentally sighed in relief as his father brought the debriefing session to its conclusion. Thunderbird Two had arrived back barely five minutes after him. They'd spent fifty minutes since then reviewing their performance; breaking it down, going over every aspect of the operation to determine if there was any room for improvement in their next rescue mission... whenever that was. It was painstaking work and, as always, had taken ages, but finally they were done.
"B...b...before we l...l...leave, is there anything anyone n...n...needs to t...t...tell me about the Thunderbirds?" Brains asked. "I have y...y...yet to run post flight c...c...checks."
"Nothing for Thunderbird Two, Brains," Virgil replied immediately. "All systems worked fine; all the readings were A-OK." Jeff and Gordon nodded agreement, having noticed nothing wrong with Thunderbird Two either.
"There is one thing with Thunderbird One," Scott said.
"G...g...go on, Scott," Brains replied, mentally bracing himself for bad news. When problems with Thunderbird One did occur, they tended to involve either the control systems for the variable geometry wings used in the different flight modes, the flight systems or the turboscram jets. All of which were very complex systems and could be a major maintenance headache.
"It is not that bad, Brains," Scott answered, inwardly amused by the look on Brains's face. "It is just that, when I landed in Madrid, there was much more of a bump on touchdown than normal. I think that the shock absorbers in the landing gear are starting to wear out again."
"I s...s...see," Brains replied, breathing a mental sigh of relief. While a long and dirty job, replacing the shock absorbers in Thunderbird One's landing gear was a straightforward repair.
"Is there anything else we need to talk about, boys?" Jeff asked. One by one, Scott, Virgil and Gordon shook their heads, all more than ready to sit back and relax for the rest of the day. After today's mission they had more than earned it. "Good, then this debrief is over. Onaha will have dinner ready soon so, if you do go outside, please try to stay within the villa complex."
"Sure thing, Dad," the boys chorused as the three of them stood up and started to leave the room.
Jeff watched them go. Brains followed them almost immediately, but going in a different direction to the boys once out in the corridor. Jeff knew from experience that Brains was going to go check Thunderbird One to see how many of the shock absorbers needed replacing.
After a moment, Jeff sighed and turned his full attention to the mountain of paperwork that had arrived for him while he'd been out on the rescue. No rest for me today, he thought with another sigh as he picked up the first file.