Any chance you'll be around next Wednesday? I have to be in the area all week, but I can keep it clear if there's any chance of that flight you promised me. Give or take the possibility of short notice cancellations on either side, of course.
Barring unforeseen circumstances, sure.
Easiest if it goes through the books at some level. Come to the gate and have the guard buzz me at Team Seven. You know I'm a lieutenant, right?
I'll see you around ten. Looking forward to it. A lot.
"So what's this all about?" Scott hadn't bothered to hurry when his father had called a meeting in the villa's living room, since no alarm had been involved. At the look on Jeff's face, though, he wished he'd been here sooner.
Virgil's expression was equally worried, and Scott sat down beside him on the sofa, rapidly rethinking his planned quip about urgency. Gordon, too, was sitting forward in his favourite chair instead of lounging back as he usually did. And John's portrait was in communications mode, with the space monitor wearing the same expression of horrified concern as all the rest.
"Since you've deigned to join us, Scott, I'll start over," Jeff said. "Alan was due at a meeting at our San Francisco office at nine this morning. He never showed up."
Three years earlier, Scott would have cracked a joke about how his little brother was probably in bed with some hot chick, or had simply overslept, or decided his vacation was more important. Now, he just listened. They'd have already checked the obvious.
"The hotel staff are almost certain they saw him leave this morning - just with a briefcase. He didn't check out and wasn't expected to."
"Cab?" asked Virgil.
"It's only a hundred yards from the hotel. He'd have walked."
The phone chose that moment to ring, and Jeff picked it up. "Yes?"
"Are you sure?"
"No, nothing's come to me."
"Send it on over here. Any extra resources you need, let me know. And I'd appreciate it being kept quiet for the moment."
The phone went down, and Jeff looked round a room full of worried faces.
"That was Agent Sixteen. CCTV footage shows a man who may well be Alan talking to someone who pulled up in a car, and then getting in."
"Why would he do that?" Virgil asked, and then snorted. "Because they had a gun on him, of course. They're sending the footage over?"
Jeff nodded. "We'll analyse it here. If any of you were planning on going anywhere in the next few days, cancel it."
Sorry, rain check. Maybe some other time?
Damn. Mark shut down his email reader with a a physical vehemence which drew surprised glances from the other people sitting in the ready room. Just what he needed before their weekly Monday morning snooze-fest, more formally known as an overview briefing. A rundown of anything going on anywhere in the Federation of Peaceful Planets which Intelligence thought that G-Force should know about. It generally didn't run to a paperclip count, but some of the items in it were about as useful. He'd planned to spend the less useful parts of it figuring out how he could get Scott into the G-1 flight he'd been promised, and, indeed, how to bring him face to face with Anderson for a long-overdue discussion. A cancellation, while hardly unexpected given the nature of Scott Tracy's occupation, was most unwelcome.
"Problem?" Jason asked, putting down a magazine with a theatrical sigh. "Please tell me it's a problem."
"Something taking us far, far away from here," Tiny added. "Right away. Can't be delayed."
He shook his head reluctantly, trying not to smile. "Nothing like that. And I believe we have a meeting to go to?"
Keyop groaned out loud. "Stupid briefing. Boring and useless, every time."
"Until the time it isn't." Princess got to her feet, graceful as always. "Come, Keyop. Make Anderson's day, and be early for once." She put her guitar away in its case and headed for the door, casually certain that she would not be alone - and as usual, the male members of the team glanced at one another and followed her. Mark might command G-Force, Jason back him up, but in the ready room, and when it came to matters of civilian behaviour, Princess was their unquestioned leader.
"So what made you beat hell out of the keyboard?" Tiny asked as they trailed unenthusiastically down the corridor towards the briefing room.
Mark grimaced. "Scott was due to come over Wednesday. He just cried off."
"Did he say why? Nothing rescue-related on the news this morning."
"Even if there was, he'd not be sending emails about three days from now." Mark fiddled with his bracelet, caught himself doing it, and forced himself to relax. "It's odd. I hope he's not hurt."
"He probably had to fit in another business meeting," Princess added.
"Yeah. Must suck, being the heir of the richest man on the planet."
"Jason!" Princess turned half round, but continued to walk. "That's mean. He can't help who his father is. You shouldn't joke about it."
"What makes you think I'm joking?" Jason's shrug held a world of meaning which Mark could interpret only somewhat. They'd discussed this before, though. Jason had been unequivocal that he'd rather be the penniless orphan that he was, than spend half his life wearing a suit and worrying about contracts and stock prices.
And then they turned into the briefing room, and everything shifted to their own version of business mode. Princess took herself to the right hand side of the table, where the projector controls were located, while Mark and Jason went left. Commander's chair, at Anderson's right hand, and the second in command next to him. Keyop varied on which seat he took, depending on whether he felt Princess or Jason was more annoyed with him, and Tiny evened up the numbers as required. Today, with no awkwardness in the air, Keyop followed Princess and Tiny sat down alongside him, the chair creaking under the big man's weight as he leant back and put his hands behind his head.
"Why can't we have chairs this comfortable in the ready room?"
"Because you'd never come to briefing?" Keyop grinned and ducked simultaneously as Tiny aimed a mock swat at his head.
"Quiet, squirt. I haven't missed a briefing this year. And I've only been late twice."
"That's twice too many," came from Jason.
Mark considered the affronted expression on his pilot's face, the relaxed innocence on the face of the man who was late more often than the rest of them put together, and joined his team in a burst of laughter.
"I'm glad to see you all in such a good mood this morning!" Anderson commented, coming into the room just in time to catch the tail end. "I have good news for you. Today's briefing should take only a little over an hour."
Just like last week's, which came in at nearly three. Mark sat forward, glared at Keyop until he was at least pretending to pay attention, and waited for Anderson to take his seat and start.
Scott didn't know what Agent Sixteen did in real life, but he suspected law enforcement, and at a high level. Certainly sending a copy of the CCTV footage wasn't an issue for him. It showed up barely half an hour later, complete with notes as to the relevant time period, and a superposed arrow pointing to the person in question. Scott wouldn't have needed it. Even poor quality (did nobody ever clean the lenses of their security cameras?), low resolution, and even lower frame rate, there was no question that it was Alan. He'd have recognised the long casual stride and confident posture anywhere. The camera was located high up, and on the same side of the street that Alan was walking on. He came into shot from the left, already moving across towards a car pulled over with a passenger leaning out of an open rear door and apparently asking him something. Over he went, pointing down the road - and then simply got in, the door shut, and the car pulled out into the morning traffic.
Gordon used an expression that would have shocked Grandma, a sure sign of how serious he considered this. "He was snatched. Off the street in broad daylight. What's that car?"
Scott shrugged. "Big, black and generic. And we never get a view of the plates. Maybe we can clean up the face of the man in the back enough to do a photofit?"
"I...I...I...I don't think that w...w...w..."
Brains had to be particularly upset, to be stammering like that, and all three of the Tracy brothers bent over the computer screen turned towards him as he came through the door.
"What do you have?" Virgil asked.
In reply, Brains wordlessly held out a single sheet of glossy paper. It was an enhanced enlargement of part of the photo they'd all been looking at. Not the man's face, though - his left hand, on the doorframe. And on his third finger, a signet ring. Probably gold, with a large blood-red insert, and on it the black stylised face of a snarling cat in profile. Even heavily pixellated there was no mistaking the emblem of Spectra.
"Oh crap," Gordon said dully. "What do we do now?"
"We --" Scott started to say, but was interrupted by a flow of furious profanity from Virgil.
"We should never have gotten involved! Never, never, never. Next time you see me agreeing to rescue property, you can shoot me."
"I think we did the right thing," Gordon said. "And so did Alan."
"Not buying it. We don't rescue property for a reason. And the one time we break it, the one time I agree to anything so stupid, this happens. I should have known better."
Scott said nothing, barely recognising this furious man as his utterly calm and composed brother. Virgil never lost it, no matter how bad the situation. The worst of it was that Virgil almost certainly felt guilty because he'd been the most senior member of International Rescue without personal interest in the situation. Scott himself was sure that he'd have made the same decisions even had he not considered the commander of G-Force a friend - and his father had shown time and time again that he put International Rescue above friendship - but still, they had been personally involved, and Virgil hadn't been. He understood his brother's guilt, even if he considered it misplaced. He also knew that discussing it would be a waste of time.
"So what do we do now?" Gordon asked again.
This one he did manage to answer. "We call G-Force. I think we did the right thing too, floating the Phoenix for them - but it does seem likely that's where all this stems from. They owe us."