Chapter Nine

Thunderbird Two

A Few Moments Later

Gordon Tracy didn't look up from his work as the soft shudder of landing ran through the deck beneath his feet. Almost done, he thought as he slotted a fire suppression/control pod into Hornet Seven. The pod locked home with a soft, almost inaudible click and lights on the side of the drone came on, some of them pulsing for a few moments as the Hornet's control processors ran self diagnostics. Finally the lights went solid as the drone's processors confirmed that all systems were operational. Excellent, Gordon thought, seven down, one more to go.

He was just starting to prepare the last Hornet when the sound of approaching footsteps reached his ears. Gordon ignored them and continued working on the complex drone. He was just about to fit the mission pod when Jeff appeared in the pod bay section where they kept specialized equipment.

"How's it coming, Gordon?" Jeff asked.

"Almost ready, Dad," Gordon replied, not looking up from his task. "I'll have this last Hornet ready in another few moments."

"Good. We passed the Raykier Building on the way in. It looks like the situation in there is getting worse."

"The fire has spread some more?" As Gordon spoke, the pod clicked home and the Hornet drone began running its self diagnostics.

"Yes, it has. Six floors of the tower are now completely engulfed by the inferno. It's only a matter of time before a seventh floor starts to catch as well."

Gordon grimaced as his father spoke, knowing that they were running out of time to affect this rescue. They didn't even know exactly what Scott wanted them to do yet. All they knew of Scott's plan at the moment was the fact that they would use the Hornets to extinguish the fire.

"Looks like we are running out of time before we even get started," Gordon said at last, before looking down at the Hornet again. I hope the Hornets are up to the task, he thought. Putting out the fire in the Raykier will be their toughest test so far.

"Is that Hornet ready now, Gordon?"

"Yes, Dad, it is. All diagnostics confirm that the Hornet is ready to go slay the dragon."

"Excellent," Jeff replied, laughter in his voice from the amusing metaphor that Gordon had just used. "Let's go and get into the rest of our gear. Then we can go and see what plan Scott has come up with."

"F-A-B, Dad."

Jeff smiled, then left to get into the full field gear of helmet, gloves and breather pack. Gordon followed just behind him, silently hoping that the Hornets would be able to put out the fire.

Lift 19

Raykier Building, A Few Minutes Later

Dismay sunk upon Diana Kingsfield as her latest attempt to call for help ended in failure – just like all the others had. No matter how many times she pressed the emergency alarm button, the lift intercom panel remained stubbornly silent. She was beginning to wonder if she was the only one left alive in the Raykier Building. Has everyone else been killed by the explosions and the fire, she thought.

Diana knew there was a fire somewhere on one of the levels below her current position. She could smell things burning, things that weren't meant to burn. The stench was awful and even starting to think what could be burning turned her stomach and made her want to throw up. Another tell tale sign was the fact that the air temperature in the lift car was rising. It wasn't unbearable yet, though.

Abruptly there came the thunderous roar of another explosion; the lift car and the tower immediately shaking violently. Diana bit back a scream of terror as she suddenly feared the emergency break's would fail and send her plummeting to her death. After what seemed like an eternity – but was in reality only a few seconds – the shockwave died away. What was that? Diana thought then answered her own question. Another bomb must have detonated.

Diana sighed and reached out to hit the alarm button again. The alarm buzzer went off as always. She waited and prayed for the intercom to activate, all the while knowing that it was probably going to stay silent. Consequently, she was surprised when the intercom panel crackled to life.

"Hello," she called out, hoping for an answer, and that it was not some malfunction spawned by the fire. She was not disappointed.

"This is field control for the Mexico City Fire Department," a strong male voice said from the intercom. "We are aware of your situation. Can you tell us exactly where your lift car is stranded?"

"I'm not sure," Diana replied. "All the level indicators have gone dark; there is only emergency battery power in here. But from the heat rising from below I would say I'm above the fire. Please, you've got to get me out of here."

"Do not worry, miss; we will. International Rescue has arrived to assist. Rescue operations will be commencing shortly."

International Rescue! Diana thought as a profound sense of relief and hope swept through her. Those two words made all the difference, lifting her out of the depths of despair. If anyone can save me, it's the Thunderbirds, she thought, a smile coming to her face.

"I understand."

"Do not worry, miss. We will soon have you out of there and safely back on solid ground."

I believe you will, Diana thought. Now that the Thunderbirds had arrived and were getting ready to do their thing, she knew her chances of getting out of this alive had just gotten a lot better.

Mobile Control

Not for the first time since they had first started International Rescue, Scott found himself wishing that the visors on their uniform helmets weren't one way transparent. Then he would have been able to study the expressions on the faces of his father and brothers as they thought over the details of the plan he had just outlined.

The plan he had developed looked simple on Mobile Control's computer screens; the reality was very different though. Scott knew that it was going to be a difficult plan to implement.

"Well, what do you think?" he asked at last.

"It's a good plan, Scott," Jeff answered. "Are you sure that restoring power to the lift rails once the fire is out will work?"

"According to schematics for the Raykier it should, Jeff," Scott replied. "The main power lines to the lift rails were knocked out by the blasts that started the fire. Emergency power is out as well, but according to the schematics there are manual power terminals to connect portable generators to the lift rails. There are three terminals but only two are accessible; the third is on a level that's been engulfed by the fire. The two that are still intact will be enough to pull lifts either down or up to the levels they're located on."

"In other words, the top and ground floors of the tower," Virgil said.

"Precisely. Now, the local rescue services assure me that they can handle the ground floor power terminal. We just need to do the one at the top of the tower."

"And we can get at the top floor via the maintenance door that you mentioned," Jeff added. "The one the maintenance techs use to work on the telecommunications mast."

"Getting someone inside through that door should be easy enough," Gordon agreed. "We just lower them and the appropriate equipment down in the rescue platform once the Hornets have put the fire out."

"Exactly," Scott answered. "Are there any more questions?"

One by one, Jeff, Virgil and Gordon shook their heads. They had no questions; they understood perfectly what they needed to do. Scott smiled, even though they wouldn't see it through his visor.

"Then let's get this done," he said.

"F-A-B, Scott," Jeff replied, speaking for all of them. Then he turned away, leaving the field command area. Virgil and Gordon followed, all three of them heading back to Thunderbird Two to get the rescue operation underway.

Thunderbird Two

A Few Minutes Later

Virgil resisted the impulse to wipe imaginary sweat from his brow as he guided Thunderbird Two into position to deploy the Hornets. He had brought her right up close to the Raykier Building, so close that the fuselage was barely four to five metres away from making contact with a wall of permaglass windows. They were also only about a dozen floors above the inferno raging inside the tower, the upshot of that being that he couldn't see through the windows due to smoke, and was having to rely on instruments alone. The rising heat also produced turbulence, which caused a constant, rattling vibration throughout Thunderbird Two. This made keeping her in a stationary hover difficult, to say the least. Quickly, daring to take his hand off the control for only a moment, he reached out and flicked a switch on the panel in front of him.

"Dad, Gordon. We're in deployment position," he said into the intercom.

"F-A-B, Virgil," Jeff responded. "We'll deploy the Hornets now. Try and keep us steady."

"I'll do my best, Dad, but with all the thermal updrafts the fire is creating I can't guarantee it."

"Understood, Virgil; we'll be as quick as we can."

"F-A-B, Dad." The intercom bleeped once then went quiet as Jeff cut the connection. Virgil sighed softly and turned his full attention back to the controls. It was going to take all his concentration and honed skills to keep Thunderbird Two steady enough to safely deploy the Hornets.

Primary Pod Bay

After signing off with Virgil, Jeff moved over to where Gordon was just putting the last Hornet in the deployment rack.

"How's it going, Gordon?" Jeff asked.

"Ready to deploy, Dad," Gordon replied, stepping back from the rack.

"F-A-B, then let's get this done quickly. Virgil won't be able to hold this craft steady for too long given what's going on not far beneath us."

"F-A-B, Dad," Gordon acknowledged as he headed over to a nearby control panel that he could use to send the Hornets on their way. Before he could press any buttons, however, both he and Jeff were thrown off their feet as Thunderbird Two shook violently. The shudder was accompanied by a distant rumble of what sounded like thunder from somewhere below them. After a moment, the craft stabilised as the shockwave passed.

"What was that?" Gordon asked as he picked himself up. Before Jeff could answer, Gordon answered his own question. "Some more of the Raykier's windows must have blown out."

"Must have," Jeff agreed as he got his own feet back under him. "The heat inside the tower must be extremely intense now to be blowing out permaglass windows like that. We're running out of time." Gordon nodded. Permaglass wasn't really glass at all but an immensely strong transparent polymer material that was almost indestructible. The fire wouldn't breach the permaglass – only lasers could do that – but it would melt the windows frames causing windows to blow out triggering a massive inrush of fresh air to the flames.

"Yes, well, the fire won't be a problem for much longer," Gordon replied as he operated the console. With a soft humming sound, one of the hatches in the floor of the bay opened, letting in an avalanche of heat and smoke from the inferno below. "Virgil, I'm deploying the Hornets now; hold her steady," he said into his helmet intercom.

"F-A-B, Gordon," Virgil replied. "I'll do my best."

"F-A-B," Gordon acknowledged before pressing another control. The launch rack moved on a powerful track along the ceiling, the same track that normally mounted the rescue platform. Once in position over the hatch, a powerful hydraulic arm lowered the rack out of the bay and aligned the docked Hornets onto their target. A final command to the console released the Hornets. The drones engaged their engines while, simultaneously, tiny magnetic catapults threw them clear of the launch rack.

"Hornets away," Gordon said.

"F-A-B," Jeff and Virgil acknowledged in almost perfect unison.

"Gordon, retract the launch rack and close the hatch before the bay gets full of smoke," Jeff said. "Virgil, move us away from the side of the tower."

"F-A-B, Dad," Virgil replied, his voice echoed a moment later by Gordon.

The eight Hornets launched toward the Raykier Building like a volley of missiles. They crossed the distance between Thunderbird Two and the burning building in less than a second.

A moment before the drones could slam into the side of the skyscraper and inflict even more damage; they came to a dead halt. For a moment, the drones hovered motionless then they deployed themselves into a ring around the Raykier. They descended through the smoke to the topmost of the burning floors; the permaglass windows were intact on this floor but they were no obstacle to the drones. From the tip of each Hornet, a slim but highly focused laser beam streaked forth and struck an individually targeted window. For a second, the panes of permaglass glowed brightly, resisting the power of the lasers, then molecular cohesion in the panes broke down and the permaglass disintegrated.

The Hornets shut down their lasers, even as air rushed in through the gaps they'd opened. The flames greedily sucked in the surge of additional oxygen available to them, roaring and growing bigger and hotter. Massive jets of flame blasted out through the opened windows; thick clouds of glowing hot gasses rising skywards even as the flames hungrily lapped at the sides of the tower. The mechanical brains of the Hornets paid the flames no mind, instead, with the single minded purpose only machines had; they went about the next phase of their mission.

Just above the laser beam emitter of each drone, a hatch opened and a small cannon muzzle emerged. For a millisecond more nothing happened then – in computer synchronised unison – each drone fired two golf ball-like projectiles into the inferno. The outer casings of the projectiles melted almost immediately under the intense heat of the fire; the inner plastic casing melted the moment it was exposed to the heat. Each sphere burst open like a miniature grenade, releasing the liquid dicetylene that they had contained, dumping it right onto the flames. Instantly, before the fire could boil it away, the dicetylene reacted with the air that was present and transformed into foam. The dicetylene spread rapidly, smothering the roaring flames and coating everything in a cooling blanket of greenish foam.

With one entire level of flame now extinguished, the Hornets began moving again, dropping down to the next level to repeat the entire process again.

Mobile Control

Five Minutes Later

Scott smiled as data from the Hornets, relayed automatically via Thunderbird Two, reported that the last of the fire had been extinguished. The dragon that had been slowly consuming the Raykier Building had been slain. Excellent, he thought, impressed that the Hornets had been able to do that so quickly, even though he was fully aware of their capabilities. The Hornets have done it again. Brains was really thinking on all cylinders the day he invented them. Now we can get on with the next phase of this operation.

"Mobile Control to Thunderbird Two," Scott said.

"Thunderbird Two to Mobile Control. Go ahead, Scott," Virgil responded immediately.

"The Hornets have done it, Virgil; the fire has been extinguished."

"Already! Man, Brains really did a good job when he came up with those Hornet drones."

"You'll get no argument from me about that," Scott replied. "Now, Virgil, what I want you to do now is send a remote command to the Hornets. Have them move over to Thunderbird One and remain in stationary hover over her. We can retrieve them later; we haven't time to do it now. Then I want you to begin the next phase of the rescue operation."

"F-A-B, Scott. I'll tell Gordon to start hooking the rescue platform back up now. It shouldn't take long. I estimate we will be ready to send Dad and Gordon down into the Raykier in ten minutes."

"Okay, Virgil, let me know when you are ready. In the meantime I'll get the local rescue services moving."

"F-A-B, Scott."

The commlink with Virgil and Thunderbird Two closed down with a soft bleep. As he heard the sound in his helmet speakers, Scott stood up and headed over to where a number of city emergency service chiefs were waiting. The fire was now extinguished and Thunderbird Two was getting ready to deploy the rescue platform. It was time to get the locals moving on their part of the plan to rescue those trapped inside the Raykier Building.