A ruthless industrialist hatches a devious plot to steal the secrets of international rescue while Scott wrestles with a deep personal dilemma.
Two Weeks Later
The massive cloud of thick, black, acrid smoke hung in the air like the fallout cloud of an erupting volcano. It spread across the skyline of Madrid like an ominous black cloud of death, turning day into night. The city was silent and deserted; the normally packed streets were empty. Windows and doors were closed as every citizen sheltered from the potentially lethal danger of the toxins the cloud contained.
The source of the cloud was an industrial fire bigger than any that had been seen for nine years. Two hours before, the huge Trans-Continental Chemicals plant on the outskirts of the city had been ripped apart by a series of powerful explosions which had shattered the peace of midmorning and turned the plant into a raging inferno.
A familiar sleek, silver and blue aircraft streaked towards this scene from hell. Its passage over the skyline of Madrid didn't go unnoticed. The citizens who saw the form that everyone around the world recognised cheered, for they knew that help for the besieged city had arrived.
Scott Tracy grimaced as he guided Thunderbird One towards the burning chemical plant. Things did not look good at all. The plant was completely ablaze; the fierce dirty yellow and orange flames reached over a hundred feet into the sky, lighting up the underside of the cloud with a dull, ominous, orange glow. As he approached, another massive explosion ripped through the plant. Glowing chunks of torn metal flew into the air, only to come falling back down around the plant in a lethal hail of fragments.
Scott found it difficult to believe that there could be anyone still alive inside that inferno, but he knew there was. The chemical plant was largely automated, but a small control staff spent the bulk of their time in a large, reinforced, concrete bunker. The bunker had survived the initial explosions, but now was surrounded by debris and fire, trapping the people inside. To make matters worse, the bunker's emergency systems had been damaged by the concussive force of the blasts, and the staff only had about two hours of breathable air. Unable to see any way to get the trapped men out in time, the Spanish government had called the only people they could think of who could help: International Rescue.
Scott brought Thunderbird One into a stationary hover and assessed the situation with the aid of the forward sensors. He frowned at the information on his screens; as expected, temperatures inside the plant were extremely high. The fire was burning extremely hot, causing steel to buckle. But naturally the heat was not uniform; temperatures were higher in some areas, mostly where pipes were melting, providing additional fuel for the inferno. The fire was steadily advancing towards the main storage tanks, tanks that would be filled with a variety of dangerous chemicals. There has to be something I can do to slow the fire down, Scott thought. Then it occurred to him. Of course!
Scott abandoned his current position and moved to where he could get a clear shot. Hands dancing over his console, he accessed the weapons system and armed two of his missiles. Thunderbird One carried four missiles. Two were meant to protect Thunderbird One should she be attacked. The other two - the two that he had armed - had a more pacifist purpose. They were designed for one thing: firefighting. Carefully, he aimed the missiles, then - quietly hoping that this worked - he pulled the trigger.
A hatch on the underside of Thunderbird One's fuselage opened, and two small projectiles dropped free, engaging their engines, speeding towards the inferno. The missiles slammed into the area of fire that was closest to the main tanks and detonated. The explosions sucked up the oxygen, snuffing out the flames around the impact points and saturating the area with fire suppressant. After a moment, the glare faded, and Scott smiled when he saw that the flames in the area near the tanks had been extinguished.
Knowing he could do nothing more from his current position, Scott got Thunderbird One moving again, heading for the control area that Spanish authorities had set up. Locating the area that had been cleared for him to land, Scott moved so he was directly over it. A flick of a switch deployed and locked the landing gear; finally he fired the VTOL jets and began his descent.
Thunderbird One touched down with more of a bump than normal and Scott frowned. I must talk to Brains, /he thought. His hands danced across his controls, putting most of Thunderbird One's systems on standby - everything except the stealth system. /Could be the shock absorbers in the landing gear are starting to wear out again. Scott made a mental note to speak to Brains, then put it out of his mind, as it was not relevant to the task at hand. Calmly, he stood up and went to the storage cabinets at the back of Thunderbird One's cockpit.
A few moments later, Scott climbed down a ladder that had automatically been deployed from the side of Thunderbird One. In one hand he held a small metal briefcase. As he climbed down, Scott was grateful that procedures demanded that they ware helmets and emergency breather packs when they left the Thunderbirds in the danger zone. The heads up display on the inside of his helmet showed that the air quality was very poor; the air was a cocktail of chemical fumes mixed with the normal air. It would not be pleasant to breathe and would be harmful to health with prolonged exposure.
He headed over to the control tent and entered, his appearance being greeted with relieved smiles from every one of the HAZMAT suited people in the room. Scott smiled back though naturally no one would see it as the faceplate of his helmet was silvered and only one way transparent. It hid his features and when he spoke the helmet would adjust the sound of his voice slightly so it would be more difficult to place his accent. It was all designed to hide his identity. People would know his given name from the nametag on his uniform, but other than that he would be anonymous. Anonymity was an absolute must for the members of International Rescue.
"International Rescue, we're glad that you're here," fire brigade captain Enrique Fernandez said with a smile. He surprised Scott by speaking English; it wasn't perfect but it was intelligible. "I hope you can help us put this fire out and save the people trapped inside the plant."
"We will certainly try," Scott replied. "I'll work out a plan of action. Thunderbird Two will be here soon. As soon as they arrive with the heavy equipment, we can see what we can do to put this fire out and rescue the trapped staff."
"You can set up over here," Enrique said, leading Scott over to a free area of the table where they had the plans for the chemical plant laid out. "As you can see, we have all the plans of the plant."
"Good," Scott answered. "That will help a lot."
Benson cautiously approached Thunderbird One; making sure that no one saw him. Though he was wearing a fire brigade HAZMAT suit, he knew that caution and speed were the order of the day. He had to get this done quick before anyone spotted him.
Reaching the side of the Thunderbird, Benson didn't attempt to climb the ladder to get into the cockpit. Instead, he ducked under the fuselage and approached the nose landing gear. Carefully but quickly he reached into his pocket and took out four small spheres. Each was about half the size of a tennis ball and a smooth brown colour. They looked completely inconspicuous. There was no visible sign that they were really highly sophisticated pieces of technology.
Benson quickly placed the spheres on the landing gear, wedging them into place. Then he carefully turned and headed for the landing gear section under the right wing. Once there, he placed four more spheres before going to the third and final landing gear section under the left wing, repeating his actions. Then he carefully got out from underneath Thunderbird One and walked away from her.
While he did so, he reached into his pocket and pressed a small button on a control pad that was in his pocket. After a second he heard a soft bleep from the pad and smiled. Mission accomplished, he thought as he walked away. It was time to leave here now.
Quietly he slipped away into the city.
The spheres received the signal, but for a moment, nothing happened. Then the spheres began to change. A faint line of light appearing down the centre of each one, and they split in half along the glowing line. For a moment more nothing happened, then each hemispherical segment glowed and began to morph. In moments, they were no longer hemispherical segments; each had transformed into a small spider-like robot that looked exactly like a real spider.
Quietly and unnoticed by anyone, the spiders climbed up the landing gear, disappearing inside Thunderbird One, where they sat and waited.
Ten Minutes Later
Scott smiled when the long-range sensor feed from Thunderbird One appeared on his mobile control screen, showing Thunderbird Two coming in over the city. She would be in position to land in another few minutes, having made excellent time.
It was good that they had as conditions in the plant were deteriorating rapidly. They had lost radio contact with the people trapped in the control bunker. But the last message a few moments ago had indicated that the cooling system had lost power and temperatures inside were rising. Plus the fire was advancing once more, heading for the main tanks, overwhelming the dicetylene from the extinguisher missiles Scott had hit it with earlier.
Scott typed a command into his mobile control console and opened a communications link between his helmet radio and Thunderbird Two.
"Mobile Control to Thunderbird Two," he said, waiting for a response.
"Thunderbird Two to Mobile Control. Reading you loud and clear, Scott," Virgil responded immediately.
"Virgil, do you have extinguisher missiles onboard?" Scott asked. An idea had blossomed in his mind as to how they could knock a lot of the wind out of the fire. But it depended on if Virgil had any extinguisher missiles. For a moment there was silence.
"Yes, Scott, I've got three," Virgil answered at last. "Why do you ask?"
"Ok, Virgil. Here's what I want you to do," Scott said. His hands danced across his console, taking advantage of the direct feed to his console from Thunderbird Five. "I'm sending you the co-ordinates of the three largest hotspots of the fire. Take them out."
"F.A.B., Scott. Co-ordinates received."
Scott kept his eyes on his display as Thunderbird Two came in and went into a stationary hover. For a few moments nothing happened and Scott started to sweat slightly. The missile launch system was a new addition to Thunderbird Two, only added in a refit three months ago. It had never really been used in the field before, and he hoped that it hadn't decided that it was going to break down. After a moment more, three missiles dropped out of Thunderbird Two and streaked towards the plant.
Three powerful, concussive explosions from the missile warheads lit the area and Scott smiled when he saw the results on his displays. The three targeted hotspots had been eliminated; the fire there and in surrounding areas extinguished. In one blow they had deprived the fire of two-thirds of its force. As they saw what had happened, the firefighters around cheered. While they still had a big job ahead putting the fire out, the job had just been made much easier.
"Mobile Control to Thunderbird Two," he said into the radio. "Nice shooting."
"Thanks, Scott," Virgil answered. "Coming in to land now."
"F.A.B. Stand by to deploy the Firefly and the Mole," Scott instructed. It would be easier to burrow into the utility tunnels under the control bunker than slice a hole in the wall with the Thunderizer. It would also safer for the people in the bunker as they wouldn't have to face the heat, smoke and fumes from the fire, or walk on ground that would be scorching hot.
"F.A.B., Scott." Now the real work starts/, Scott thought before his thoughts turned to the people trapped inside the control bunker. /Hang in there, people. We're coming. Just hold on a little bit longer, then we'll have you out of there.