When International Rescue is called in to assist at a dormitory fire, they find challenges at different levels for all concerned.

The fire could have been much worse. The sprinkler system activated quickly and the internal fire doors effectively closed off the eastern wing of the high-rise dormitory building. The same could not be said of the central section, although the fire department was doing an admirable job of keeping the fire contained there. But it was the west wing of the building, where the fire had started, that Fire Chief McLain had been so concerned about. Although he now seemed embarrassed to have troubled International Rescue with a call for help.

Scott Tracy now sat at Mobile Control with the fire chief nearby, awaiting reports from their respective crews. With them waited an official from the college, as the fire had occurred in what had been, prior to the fire, a graceful dormitory building.

Neither had to wait very long. As Scott's brothers began reporting in, he switched their conversations over to his headset, allowing more discreet communications with his brothers as well as allowing the fire chief to hear his own radio traffic more clearly.

Virgil had been tasked with getting an accounting of the residents after it became apparent that Firefly was not needed. Gordon and John had deployed the special elevator car equipped with the dicetylene jets to help contain the fire. They had been assigned to check the eight rooms on each floor of the ravaged western wing looking for victims. Their efforts appeared to have been unnecessary, as everyone had apparently evacuated safely.

"I'm sure glad you folks were available," the chief commented sheepishly, "although I hope we didn't keep you from something more life-threatening than this turned out to be. I was certain that those boys..."

"They are not boys," the woman next to him corrected, using a tone that implied that this was not a new discussion. "They are young men with challenges."

"Look, I can use all the politically correct terms you want, Jessie," McLain countered. "But the fact remains that some of those "young men" might have panicked and might not have been capable of evacuating safely. Even you spent too much time in there accounting for everyone."

Scott turned a puzzled frown to the matronly, middle-aged woman, who the fire chief had not deigned to introduce. Her short brown hair was disheveled and her face was streaked with smoke.

She extended her hand to him. "I'm Jessie Myles. I'm the project monitor for the group of men on the fourth floor." At Scott's inquiring look, she continued to explain the chief's concerns. "The university set aside a few rooms in that residence hall for a unique experiment. In a joint project of the departments of mental health and vocational rehabilitation, we paired sixteen young men and housed them all on the same floor. One of each pair is physically disabled, the other has some mental impairments. The idea is that while the physically impaired member pursues a college degree, the other acts as his aide and companion. In this way both receive training for a viable occupation by the time the physically impaired student graduates. Unfortunately," she glanced grimly at the fire chief, "the plan has some detractors..."

"Hey, I'm all for those guys being able to make their own way in the world," the man protested. "It's just that putting two men who can't take care of themselves alone doesn't mean that they can take care of themselves together..."

At that moment, one of the lights on mobile control began to flash, indicating an incoming message.

Scott turned to his monitors. "Just a moment... FAB, Virgil. What? Yes, she's right here..." He looked up with a grim expression. "Ms. Myles, apparently two of your charges are missing and the rest are very upset; all Virgil can make out is that their names are Silas and Daniel."

The woman blanched, and gazed up at the smoldering building. "Oh, no..."

Scott gently settled her into the seat at the control panel before she fell. "Virgil, stand by." Chief McLain knelt down at her side, a hand settled on her shoulders. "Ms. Myles--Jessie. Let's stay optimistic. We know they got out of the wing of the building. Both International Rescue and my men searched every floor and didn't find anyone, remember?"

She pushed the hair back from her face and took a deep breath, regaining her composure. "Yes, that's right."

"What can you tell me about these two men?" Scott asked. "Is there another way they could have escaped the fire?"

She sighed. "Other than one is mentally impaired and the other uses a wheelchair?" She tempered her words with a slight smile, and continued to gather herself. "Silas was designated "educatable mentally impaired", Daniel has Muscular Dystrophy. Those two were probably the most successful pairing we made. Silas can't be taught to read and has memory retention issues, but he can drive a car as long as he has a co-pilot and he is a talented cook. Daniel is completely confined to a motorized wheelchair--he's the most physically disabled student here--but he has a brilliant mind. He was...is... one semester away from an engineering degree."

"I know Silas is strong enough to lift Daniel if he needed to. Is it possible they could have managed to get into the east wing before the doors closed?" She was looking hopefully up at the fire chief, who stood, worrying his mustache.

"It's possible," he admitted, "if the mentally deficient boy could get the other over the fire threshold."

Now the light flashed at mobile control again. "Yes, John. One moment." Scott quickly snatched up a pair of binoculars and trained them on the balcony on the far eastern end of the building. "Got 'em, John! Good work!"

He turned back to the two anxious people at his side. "Ms. Myles, Chief, they're okay." He pointed up at the balcony four stories above them, as the thick smoke began to clear enough to see the two figures huddled there. They were relatively safe for the moment.

The chief breathed a sigh of relief, but the woman still looked upset. "But how are we ever going to get them down?" she mourned, echoing his own, though less frantic, thoughts.

Scott turned back to her with a reassuring smile. "We'll get them down, Ms. Myles. We just have to figure out the best way to do that." He pursed his lips thoughtfully, then reached out to flick one of the switches in front of him. This created an open circuit, one which created a conference that included all the deployed International Rescue operatives and by-passed his headset to allow Chief McLain and Jessie Myles to hear what was being discussed.

"Mobile Control to Base. Open contact."

"Go ahead, Scott," Jeff Tracy's gravelly baritone wound from the speakers.

"This is the situation, Base..." Scott went on to summarize the circumstances for his father and Brains on Tracy Island, and also for Alan, who was listening in from the satellite. "...So, unless, the chief here believes that Thunderbird Two's vertical jets will cause a further hazard, I believe the rescue capsule can be lowered and the two men could be assisted on board..."

The chief looked dubious, but nodded his head. "Yes, if your men can get close enough, that should work," he said slowly.

"Go ahead, then, Scott," Jeff agreed. "Let me know if you hit any snags. Bra...I mean, our people here will be working out any possible contingencies."

"FAB, Base," Scott responded. "Virgil, leave the pod on the ground. John, you operate the winch. I think Gordon would be the best man in the capsule to help get the handicapped man aboard."

Three "FAB" 's acknowledged his orders, and Thunderbird Two was soon airborne.

Scott watched anxiously as Virgil's great green pride and joy hovered high above the building, looking oddly misshapen without the central pod that normally filled the space between the twin booms connecting the tail section to the nose section. She then began a gentle vertical descent to within mere feet of the roof. A hatch slid open under the flight deck, and the opening filled as the rescue capsule was skillfully maneuvered into place.

Gordon could be seen behind the capsule's narrow railing, his copper hair glinting in the fitful sunlight that penetrated the clearing smoky pall surrounding the building. Scott noticed that he had donned a fire-proof suit, sans the blocky head piece.

"Gordon!" Scott barked over the radio. "Where's your helmet?"

He could see Gordon lift his arm and push back the sleeve to get to his wristcom.

"I've got it right here," Gordon raised his other hand, showing him the bulky head piece that normally covered his head and shoulders. "But this thing makes us look like something from outer space. I didn't want to frighten those two guys."

Scott glowered, unseen by his brother, then re-considered when he saw Jessie nod approvingly.

The rescue capsule continued to slowly lower, until its floor was level with the top rail of the balcony. Gordon retracted the railing, and hopped lightly to the balcony floor. There, he held a brief discussion with the two young men, accompanied by much head shaking by all three men. Finally, Gordon raised his telecom to his mouth again, a note of exasperation in his voice. "Scott, Daniel refuses to leave his chair behind, and Silas won't lift him out of it until we agree to take it aboard."

Scott's anxious expression became a scowl, as he expelled an irritated sigh. He knew there wouldn't be enough room in the rescue capsule for the young men, the wheelchair, AND Gordon.

"Scott, those chairs are custom-fitted and very expensive," Jessie interjected. "Daniel is literally helpless without it, and to deprive him of it would be like an amputation. Isn't there some way to rescue his chair, too? Silas and your man Gordon should be able to lift it into the capsule..."

Scott eyed her a moment, then reluctantly nodded and keyed the radio. "Gordon, send the two students AND the chair up. John, as soon as they unload, send the capsule back down for Gordon."

"Fath... uh, Base is not gonna like it," John's voice warned.

"I know, but I'll deal with that later," Scott responded.

"FAB," John replied, resigned.

The capsule was making its painstaking way back up to Thunderbird Two when the chief's radio crackled out a message that Scott couldn't hear clearly.

Alarmed, McLain turned to Scott. "We've got a critical flare-up in the central section! It's building toward a flash-over..."

Before Scott had a chance to warn Gordon, an ominous rumble rattled the intact windows of the building and the ground shook beneath them. Gordon, still without his protective head covering, only had enough time to drop down and cover his head and face with his arms before the heat-resistant glass doors to the balcony shattered violently outward with a gout of flame and dark debris.

Stunned, Scott stared up at the balcony that his brother had occupied only moments before, but could see nothing at first except smoke and flaming debris.

He was trying to wrap his mind around the events that occurred above him, when John's voice ripped through Mobile Control's speakers. "Scott! I can't see Gordon!"

Scott swallowed hard against the dryness of his mouth. "Are the victims secure?" he managed at last.

"Yeah, uh, FAB," John acknowledged, clearly getting himself under control as well.

"Then get into a fire suit—a FULL fire suit—and switch winch control over to Virgil. Virg, can you get any lower?"

"Negative," Virgil sounded despondent. "If I move enough to clear the building, we'd be too far from the balcony for the capsule to reach it."

"I'm ready," John announced.

"Ready for what?" The voice was breathless and choking, but it was undoubtedly Gordon.

"Gordon, report!" Scott barked automatically. He tried again. "Are you all right?"

"Well, I've been better..." Gordon breathed. "Hey John, if you're ready, then you better lower that capsule...It's a little hard to talk here with all this smoke..."

"Of all the..." John grumbled, but clearly relieved. "Be right down..."

Gordon was soon back on solid ground, his hair and face smoke-stained, as the chief and teacher offered their profuse thanks to the team. Against his older brothers' better judgment, Gordon insisted he was uninjured and had refused any attention from the EMTs standing by. Daniel attempted to extend his hand to the red-headed Tracy, a motion that looked more like he was throwing his arm toward him using his shoulder muscles, while Silas gave him an unself-conscious hug.

"Well, Scott," said Chief McLain, "I guess International Rescue didn't make a completely wasted trip."

"No, but really, those two practically rescued themselves without us," Scott replied. "If it hadn't been for the back-flash, you'd have found a way to get them down." He turned to the Project Monitor with a grin. "Looks like your project is not a wasted effort, either. Those young men conducted themselves well, without any outside intervention."

"They did, didn't they?" Jessie remarked, then turned a sardonic grin to the fire chief, who returned a somewhat grudging answering grin.

"Yeah, they did okay...So Silas is great cook, huh? See if you can arrange for him to come down to the fire station and audition for our shift cook after Daniel graduates. You know a fire company is always on the look out for a great cook..."

"I'll see what I can do, chief, I'll see what I can do..."

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