Of course, the word held a different meaning to him than it did to most others, but the second oldest Tracy brother knew that, as the adult he was supposed to be, this was as close to being grounded as he could possibly get.
He missed the station.
Waking up was the hardest part. Mornings had always weighed on him, but they felt so much heavier under the effects of gravity. "It's time to wake up, John," chirped the familiar voice, radiating from the two speakers at the end of his bed.
"Five more minutes," he groaned into his pillow.
"My activity catalog states that you have a history of extending your sleeping period past the additional five minutes," she responded. She had been working on her portrayal of annoyance, he noticed, and he had to admit that it was coming along nicely.
"You know," he grumbled. "You were a lot more fun before you evolved."
She let out a stiff, "Ha. Ha." Her laugh, apparently, had not come as far as her other emotions. Or maybe this was still her annoyed voice. "And you were more fun on the station, so come on."
The blinds tore themselves open, so he only shoved himself farther into the sheets. "Remind me again why I didn't leave you in space?"
"Because we have grown quite fond of each other since my attempt at your life," she stated. "And you could not bring yourself to leave me alone."
"We need to work on your honesty," he told her, pulling up the top half of his body. The morning stung his skin and he regretted every decision he'd ever made that had led up to that very moment. His station had a regulated temperature, but Earth was so inconsistent. He couldn't bring himself to hate that fact, because it reminded him that while his station was on a strict, regulated schedule, Earth was alive and breathing and always surprising him. Still, he was quite sure he preferred watching the Earth's beauty from a distance and not from the cold, cruel surface.
But until the maintenance was done on Thunderbird 5, he and EOS were stuck down here with the heavy mornings and Grandma's cooking.
He tore the rest of himself out of bed, hating gravity for all its worth. There was gravity on the station, of course, but it was all artificial and didn't really stand any competition to the real deal. Not to mention, he could flip it off if he grew tired of it. This gravity was relentless and he was sure it had gotten stronger since his days spent on Earth. How did his brothers live with this weight on their shoulders?
Then he remembered that he and his brothers had always lived with a fair amount of weight on their shoulders, and that, in reality, gravity was a cakewalk. Or, rather, a spacewalk.
He laughed at his own joke, finding entertainment within himself like he had for so many years, and then opened his door, preparing to taking on not only the world, but also his brothers.
Scott was the first to notice when he walked into the room. Scott usually was. John knew that it was habit for his older brother, taking a headcount at every given opportunity. It must've been a relief to finally account for all five of them, instead of just assuming that all was well aboard Thunderbird 5. For that, John was thankful to be grounded. Scott could be a pain in the ass and he had a very real, very dangerous habit of trying to be the hero that drove John absolutely insane, but they were still brothers, and Scott had always taken on more than his fair share of responsibility. Anything John could do to help put his mind at ease was just fine by him. After all, someone had to take care of the guy who was always taking care of someone else.
But there was a reason he spent all that time up in the sky, and he was reminded of it every morning when he saw that desk. He hated that desk. He hated it more than he hated anything. More than he hated Grandma's cookies. More than he hated the Hood. Even more than he hated gravity, because not even gravity weighed as heavily on him as looking at that desk did.
"John!" Grandma called out when she saw him. His eyes snapped away from that far corner of the room and he saw her walking out of the kitchen, holding out a plate of something that resembled bacon and eggs. "I made you some breakfast."
He smiled, just like they all did when Grandma held a plate out to them, but then he held his hands up. "That's okay," he said, and right on cue, a two halves of a bagel popped out of the toaster. "EOS already made me something. I prefer a light breakfast-thank you, though."
He plucked the steaming bagel from the chambers, spreading butter across the crisp tops and watching them turn soggy. As he made the journey across the main floor, he brought his wrist to his mouth. "Thanks for that," he muttered.
If she could have smiled, she probably would have. "What are friends for?"
He had to admit, she had adjusted to living on Tracy Island quite nicely. She was in their walls, in their machines, and had even wriggled her way into the hearts of each Tracy brother. The assimilation had been so flawless that he'd even considered programming a sister code into the island, lending a hand where he couldn't, but he knew that it wasn't a viable option. He knew that, if he had things his way, he wouldn't be back often enough to take care of the program, and besides. There was simply no replicating EOS.
So she would come with him, and his brothers would whine, but then he would remind them that she was his only companion and they would all lose track of their arguments. They all acted like it was such a bad thing-being up there, alone. John couldn't figure out why. He had always preferred it. When he was up there, he was allowed to think. Allowed to breathe. When he was up there, it was like all of his weight had been left behind.
When he was down here, his weight pulled him down.
EOS didn't wait for him to reach the desk before she flashed over to it herself. She brought up the map and simultaneously flipped through the night's news headlines faster than he could have ever dreamed. She started pinning the reports to the globe, aligning herself with the world as she knew it. That was the thing he liked most about her, he was sure. They saw the earth in the same way. Data points. Disasters. One dotted line leading to another.
But one thing EOS could not understand was the feeling he got when he had to sit at that desk. There wasn't a single headline she could read that would do his father's crash justice. She couldn't pinpoint his location on their globe. She couldn't possibly know what it felt like to sit at Jeff Tracy's desk every day and pretend to know how the world worked. "Distress call coming in from Mozambique," she told him.
This, finally, made him take those final steps.
He knew every inch of EOS's programing. He knew every code, every evolution, and every single thing that she had learned over the years. But it was moments like these-moments when she knew exactly what to say in order to get him exactly where he needed to be-that made him think that maybe she knew his programming just as well. He was, after all, a Tracy, and Tracys would always step up to the distress call, father's desk or not. It was how they were programmed.
He reached for the insignia on his chest instinctively, so used to calling for his brothers hundreds of thousands of miles away. But he wasn't wearing his space suit. Scott was sitting just across the room, reading the morning news and munching on a bowl of cereal. "Hope you weren't planning on finishing that," said John.
Scott didn't even look up from the story he was reading. "I never do," he said back.
The two of them shared a smile and the thrill of a rescue hung alive in the air. It was the sort of thing he never felt on Thunderbird 5 and, for a split second, he thought that maybe he might miss a few things about Earth after all.
But the thought was gone as soon as it had come as he reached for the button at the base of his father's desk. In their rooms, Virgil and Gordon were seeing his hologram. And probably cursing at him. "International Rescue," he said. "We have a situation."