John Tracy was in the middle of an internet video game when the call came through. He didn't understand the language- it sounded vaguely Slavonic, he thought- but the sender's desperation got through clearly enough. Hitting the pause button, John reached over and flipped on the control console's translator. The resulting plea was more than enough to get his attention.
Violet-blue eyes narrowing slightly, he listened closely as Thunderbird Five's mighty computer system spat out a rapid translation.
"Please," came the synthesized voice, "They're trapped! Fifty men, maybe more! There are others missing also, who do not respond! The mine has collapsed in many places, and there are many trapped and wounded! Help us, please! If anyone is listening, for the love of God, call International Rescue!"
A quick trace gave him the sender's coordinates, pinpointing the source far below him in Eastern Europe. It sounded authentic... but John hesitated, running a language scan instead of immediately putting out the alert. Once or twice a call for help had turned out to be a hoax; some sky-larking kids, say, or a couple of teenaged girls who just wanted a crack at a Thunderbird pilot. The scan checked out, though, matching the speaker's vocabulary and dialect to the indicated trouble spot.
John drummed his fingers on the console, mentally weighing the evidence. Such judgement calls were a big part of his job, and they never made him happy. Then, coming to a decision, he hit the comm switch, tensing just a bit as he did so.
Tall, blond and slender, with the chiseled face of a male model and the soul of a poet, John was something of an oddity amid the rough-and-tumble Tracy clan; sensitive and silent. He didn't call home often, or very comfortably, and when he did make contact, he stuck to business.
As John looked on, the center view screen flashed, switching from a transmitted view of Earth's night side to Jeff Tracy's teak-paneled study. He was in luck- Scott was at the desk for a change, looking decidedly bored. John relaxed a little, even giving his brother a faint smile.
"Good evening, Scott."
"It's afternoon over here, but who's arguing? Everything okay up there?"
Scott leaned forward, smiling broadly. Like John, he was blue-eyed, but his short hair was almost black rather than John's moon-lit blond. Heavy dark brows and a cleft chin gave him the sort of rakish good looks that made women warm and foolish... or would have, if he'd spent any time around them. Scott Tracy was die-cast in his father's mold; a type-A workaholic largely blind to anything but spreadsheets, piloting and coffee.
Responding to his question, John nodded solemnly. "No problems on my end, Scott, but I think I may have something for you."
Nodding once more, John replayed the message for his brother, who listened intently, rubbing at the side of his chin and frowning.
"Yeah...," he said at last, "sounds serious, alright. I'll whistle up Virgil, and we'll go have a look." Then, as a sudden afterthought, "Do me a favor and leave a message for Father, will you? He's at corporate HQ in some kind of international teleconference. He'll be out of touch till the meeting breaks up, but I want to keep him posted. Don't suppose you could hack past the comm blackout and get ahold of him now, could you?"
John shook his head. "Not in time to do any good. Brains designed TA's defenses, remember? Too many damn firewalls, countermeasures and spy-bots. Last time I tried, I brought the whole system crashing down."
Scott hastily changed the subject, wincing as he recalled their father's reaction to that little escapade and the months of expensive rebuilding that had followed.
"Right. Do what you can, then. We're on our way."
"F.A.B., Scott. Good luck..."
His older brother flashed him another quick smile, and then the screen switched back to distant Earth-view. Worried, suddenly, and unable to quite decide why, John rose and went to the space station's long window; stood looking down upon the slowly rolling planet below.
"...And be careful."