The two were careening across the darkened plant in one of the electric trucks when they caught up to the robotic cargo. hauler.
"Looks okay," Willow said as the autonomous truck plodded along with the tarp covered massive engine on its lowboy trailer.
"Willow," Tara pointed, "that rope just untied itself." She was indicating one of the heavy tarp's tie-downs. Willow nodded and accelerating, pulled the truck in front of the hauler. The simple robotic brain detected the obstacle and immediately ground the hauler to a stop. Willow and Tara were out of the truck. Willow carrying the rifle and the prototype grenade.
"More a-ammonia than just you is present," the willowy android said after a quick scan.
"Yeah, they're here, " Willow activated her Little Sister, "This is Willow. We found the sneaky guy on Freight Road Two just past Warehouse 11. He's on the engine hauler."
Phil's voice came over the link, "Can you see him?"
"Tara can, and I'm about to even the odds," she threw the prototype grenade where Tara was pointing. Where it landed and activated with a loud hum. To her normal vision it just looked like a dull red throbbing. Willow then swung the odd rifle towards that point with her finger on the the trigger. All of a sudden a green light lit on the stock and the massive capacitor bank discharged, then began whining as it refilled from the Swift Solar Battery in the stock. Now even Willow could smell burned electronics as a helmet was tossed to the ground and a bodiless head began running away. Tara calmly raised her hand and extended her palm in the classic 'Stop' position. There was a faint whine and the sound of a body hitting the ground. By the time SSI security arrived they had managed to pull the invisibility suit off of the captive.
"Impressive," Phil said, "I take it the grenade worked?"
"And the rifle too! Blew out his complete sensor suite," Willow handed Phil the burned out wreck of the helmet along with the weird silvery mesh suit. The wearer was sitting there looking dazed with slight burns on his face received obviously when the circuitry had exploded. "Then Tara dropped him with a repelatron burst."
"Not bad, not bad at all. Any damage to the engine?"
"I don't think so. We got to him as he was climbing under the tarp. The test team should make a close check though," Willow said.
At this point Tom arrived and immediately began examining the suit, "Looks like an electronically deformable mesh. Probably so it can adapt to various frequency ranges. Looks like your guesses were right on target, Willow and Tara. Great work."
"Now we look for the other one," Tom said grimly "The Cobra's not the kind of guy to make just one attempt."
"Where could he get access to the repelatron circuits?" Willow asked.
"The limited a-assembly line!" Tara gasped, "It's where these were made a-and the specifications a-are still loaded. A-all they would have to do is slip the request for a-a complete unit into the job queue a-and it would be built."
Phil's security team remained with the hauler to escort it to the engine test pad and guard it, while Tom, Tara, Phil, and Willow headed towards the compact factory building called the 'Limited Assembly Line'. This building was completely automated and was capable of taking a finished and successfully prototyped set of designs, and produce them in limited runs for further testing.
As they bounced along Willow had changed the power cell in the dazzler grenade and had rearmed it.
"Willow, there are far too many hard metallic surfaces in the line to risk using the rifle. The chance of a ricochet is far too dangerous," Tom said as Phil squealed around a turn.
"I understand Tom," she set the weapon on the floor. "Tara, it's up to you."
The apparent teen nodded, "I can see them."
The jeep skidded to a stop and the group piled out. "Ready?" Tom asked.
"Yes sure we're ready as in Tara and I are prepared to confront whatever ..." Willow let the babble flow until Tom's eyes glazed slightly.
"Okay okay..." Tom said quickly, "Let's go."
The group unlocked one of the doors by the warehouse section and soon Tom was searching through the cartons of finished products. He quickly found what he was looking for; more of the dazzler grenades that Willow and Tara had designed and submitted earlier that evening. Soon all of them had several each.
"Tara, you and Willow get up on the catwalk. Maybe you can spot him from above," Tom said as he began tinkering with the trigger mechanism of a dazzler grenade. "Phil and I will stay low and set up some traps."
"Won't he be in the control booth?" Phil asked.
"Maybe one of them is."
"You think there's more, Mister Swift?" Tara said worriedly.
"Yes...the Black Cobra is a meticulous planner, and the only reason there would be only one at the hauler is that they were a diversion."
Soon Willow and Tara were climbing the ladder that led to the web of gantries over the factory floor. Tara had scanned carefully and they climbed as quietly as possible. Meanwhile Tom had wired three of his modified dazzlers with tripwires around the paths to the exit. He had a small blue pencil looking thing in his hand and scanned around with it periodically.
"Your sonar pen?" Phil asked.
"Haven't used it in years," Tom whispered, "Still in this case it may prove helpful. In fact there's an odd return over by that support column."
"I'll go check," Phil whispered in his ear before slipping over under cover of a massive CNC machine.
She saw a small cloud of metallic dust from shop waste move as if somebody had kicked it. Holding her breath, she lunged out from under the machine and grabbed for where she thought the ankles would be. Her hands made contact with that weird mesh and hanging on she pulled backward sending the thief crashing face first into the floor. The cacophony of sounds of the line covering the thud of impact. She swarmed on top of her opponent and soon had him restrained. After thinking for second she pulled off his suit and shucking her jacket, started putting it on.
"There's one," Tara whispered to Willow. The android was pointing at a area of the catwalk about thirty feet away. The two girls were crouched behind the motor unit of an overhead crane. Willow nodded and began moving in a slow crouching walk. When she was less then ten feet away she rounded the corner and charged the unsuspecting suited thief. Willow wasn't as strong or as skilled in unarmed combat as her friend Buffy, but she had grown up in Sunnydale. She connected with her shoulder to the pit of her target's stomach and with a loud whoosh knocked the wind out of him as he went sprawling, with her lying on top. Tara rushed up and grabbed his hands with her implacable titanium grip and soon he was trussed like a chicken. Willow slipped on his helmet and powered up the sensors.
"Tom! Phil! There are two in the control booth. Tara and I got the one up in the rafters and I'm using their helmet to search," Willow sent over her Little Sister.
"I'm wearing one of their suits Willow, and am currently heading along the south wall towards the booth," Phil replied.
"The tanglefoot wires are laid along the path to the north doors with dazzlers on trip wires right before them," Tom chimed in.
"Tara, I'll be all right up here, you go help Tom."
"A-are you sure?"
Willow nodded, "He'll need your sensors."
The slender android made her way back to the factory floor while Willow watched Phil, wearing one of the invisibility suits, make her way to the control booth door. She swung the door open and soon there was a heck of a fight going on. One of the guys in the booth took off past Phil and started running for the door, Willow threw her dazzlers in front of him, and turned her head so she wouldn't be blinded by the intense flashing now visible through the helmet's sensors. He turned and charged towards Tom and Tara, broke the tripwire firing another dazzler that was suspended at head height, and now slightly blinded, tripped over the radio transparent and therefore invisible web of thin nylon line Tom had tied at ankle height. Tom and Tara had him subdued quickly by the time Phil had finished off the one in the control booth.
All four, with their four prisoners, sat outside the factory building waiting for Chief Slater of Shopton Police to arrive. Tom rubbed his head bemusedly, "Sorry about the danger and the crises, Willow. I try to run a peaceful operation here."
"Still quieter than my hometown," the redheaded genius said with a grin. "Do you think this is it for the Cobra?"
"This time. Now that we know what he's after, we can guard against it better...and with your sensors, his suits won't be able to get in as easily. Now after these guys get carted away you need to get some sleep. We're going up to Nestoria like I promised."
"Of course Tara too. She's one of the family, right?"THE ENDa/n
I still love the Tom Swift jr. series and will until the bitter end. Thanks go to the Tom Swift Yahoo Group as always! You guys are great.