The smoke rising from the blaze at the newly completed British Science Centre could be seen from miles around.
The whole area had been cordoned off and dozens of fire crews were hard at work directing appliances to try and contain the inferno.
“We’re getting reports that there are people still trapped inside, Chief!” one of the fire-fighters called over the roaring flames, “They’ve taken shelter in Sector 7!”
The Fire Chief looked grimly at the devastating blaze that was threatening to totally engulf the building as he replied, “Just about the worst spot they could have picked. It’ll be darned near impossible to get anyone through to that sector! If only Lucky was here!”
“You’re right! That new contraption of his would have given us a chance to get those people out – but he’s the only one who can operate it!”
Leonard “Lucky” Lungren was one of the most experienced fire-fighters in the business. He had recently completed work on a purpose-built Cahelium-strengthened rescue machine he dubbed the Fire Bug.
Unfortunately, Lungren’s luck had run out on his last assignment and he had been gravely injured while fighting a wildfire tearing through a forest. Although he had managed to rescue three trapped hikers, he’d ended up in a coma as a result.
Unknown to the Fire Chief and his crew, Lucky’s brain pattern had very recently been recorded by a mysterious man who visited the coma ward and claimed to be an old friend of Lucky’s.
Less than an hour later, equipped with the brain pattern that Sam Loover had transmitted from the hospital, Joe 90 sat at the controls of the Fire Bug and was moving it towards the Science Centre.
“Sam Loover from Joe 90, I’m almost at the perimeter. I suspect the other fire crews will get a bit of a shock when they see me coming.”
“Right, Joe.” Sam replied over the radio circuit, “Don’t worry about them, no one will be able to see it’s you driving that machine. Just get in there and get those scientists out in one piece. The information in their heads is not only cutting-edge, but could be incredibly useful to WIN.”
“I understand, Sam.” Joe replied coolly, “I’ll get them out alright, don’t worry.”
“Be careful, Son. And keep that fire-suit on no matter what happens.” Professor McClaine added.
“I will, Mac. Okay, I’m going in.”
The tank-like Fire Bug trundled noisily up to the perimeter of the fire and, at the touch of a button, twin water cannons mounted on top of the vehicle began blasting high pressure streams of water directly ahead.
Slowly, Joe advanced the machine, swivelling the cannons this way and that to beat back the flames on the approach to the building.
When he reached the remains of the entrance, Joe activated the laser cutter in the centre of the rugged front end. A beam of searing white energy made short work of the debris blocking the entrance. The Fire Bug moved forward into the main reception area.
There was a lot of smoke obscuring Joe’s view, so he switched on the sophisticated detection system. A series of green pinpoints flickered into life on the monitor screen to his right. He pulled on the steering controls, moving the Fire Bug off in that direction.
Thankfully the vehicle was compact enough to navigate the ruins of the structure without much difficulty, though there were a few tight squeezes.
At one point, part of the roof caved in on top of the craft and flaming debris bounced off the hatch above Joe’s head. Thankfully the powerful motors pulled the machine free and the toughened shell prevented any serious damage.
Finally Joe reached Sector 7. The temperature outside the Fire Bug was dangerously high. He would have to do something to give the scientists a chance to get aboard when he had opened the sealed security doors.
Once again the laser stabbed out, cutting through the metal like a hot knife through butter. At the same time, Joe pressed a yellow button in the centre of the control panel.
Outside the Fire Bug, a series of small hatches opened and several spherical devices dropped onto the floor of the building, rolling out and away from the machine.
Several seconds later, they exploded with huge puffs of white smoke. The specially formulated fire retardant worked quickly to snuff out the nearby blazes as Joe finished cutting through the door.
As it clanged to the ground, Joe activated the loudhailer system, “Attention! I’m here to help! I need you all to get into this vehicle as quickly as possible!”
He opened the hatch and, without needing to be told again, the small group of scientists squeezed inside.
When the hatch was sealed once more, Joe spun the Fire Bug around and sent it charging back the way it had come.
The heat was still climbing outside, but even in the air-conditioned cabin Joe could feel the air getting hotter.
As the machine neared the main entrance again, Joe switched on the warning klaxon. The visibility was so poor that he didn’t want any of the crews outside to be caught unaware.
With a crash that shook everyone inside, the Fire Bug burst out of the rubble and trundled over to the control vehicle where the Fire Chief was waiting.
One by one the scientists disembarked. Then, to the Chief’s amazement, the hatch closed and the Fire Bug motored away.
“What the-?” the Chief exclaimed, “Fancy not even stopping to check in!”
As Joe drove the Fire Bug back to the rendezvous point, he smiled to himself. The Fire Chief’s reaction would have been somewhat more incredulous if he’d discovered that the group of scientists had been saved from certain doom by a nine-year-old boy!