Marooned

This story was inspired by the Tracy Island Writers Forum prompt No matter how hard he tried, he just couldn't get her to respond...

My thanks to Purupuss for her proofreading skills and to Gerry Anderson and his team for creating the characters that have given us such pleasure.

I acknowledge ITV as the current copyright holders of the series.

oooOOOooo

High above the ocean, Flight Lieutenant Jefferson Tracy was fighting for his life.

The tropical cyclone had blown up out of nowhere, slamming into his aircraft and tossing it across the sky like a paper dart. He had lost contact with his wingman in the first few seconds and could only hope that his friend was winning his own battle with the elements. As for himself, he was using every trick he had learnt but knew that his plane, despite being the best the Air Force had to offer, was no match for the forces that Nature was throwing against it. His hands tightened on the controls as another gust threw his craft over on its side.

The young pilot knew his only chance was to gain height and climb out of this tumult. He pulled the joystick towards him, flinching as a flash of lightning illuminated the surrounding clouds. He watched the altimeter crawl painfully upwards, only to lose his gains as the wind caught hold of his craft and slam-dunked it back down again with a force that made his eyes water. Blinking to clear his vision, he heaved on the controls once more then gave a yell as a bolt of lightning hit the cockpit, sending its charge coursing through his body.

The instrument panel went blank, but he didn't need an altimeter to tell him that his plane was in a suicidal dive. He pulled back on the stick but, no matter how hard he tried, he just couldn't get her to respond. There was a loud bang, the craft rocked and the rudder pedals beneath his feet lost all resistance which told him the tail section had sustained damage. From that point on, Jeff's survival training kicked in. As if he had done it a thousand times, he released the latch on the cockpit canopy and pushed the eject button.

A jolt ran up his spine and jerked his helmet back against the headrest as his seat rocketed upwards from the dying plane. The wind seemed to be delighted with its new toy, filling the parachute that was opening over his head as he separated from the chair, and throwing him across the sky. At the same time, the rain stung the exposed parts of his face and did its best to trickle down the gap between his helmet and flight suit.

Peering down, the pilot could see little through the curtains of rain until he dropped out of the bottom of the cloud layer. He had time to take a couple of deep breaths before he hit the surface of the sea and his velocity carried him down into the murky blackness. There was a brief moment of panic before he felt the pressure against his neck and chest as his life-jacket inflated around him and pulled him back to the surface.

It was a world of grey. Lead-grey skies and steel-grey waves that from his perspective towered above him. Only one speck of colour was visible - the bright orange life-raft that had been ejected with him from his aircraft and had inflated on hitting the water. He groped for the line that connected the raft to his life-jacket and pulled himself towards it.

Reaching the craft had been easy, but climbing aboard was another problem. Time and again he scrabbled at the edge but, in the heaving seas, it was like fighting a walrus. At last he managed to time one lunge with the crest of a wave and ended up being almost thrown on board.

Once there he lay back, exhausted with the effort, staring at the scudding clouds overhead as his little craft rose to the top of each wave then hurtled down into the trough below, only to rise again. He was just thankful that the Tracy genes had blessed him with a strong stomach.

He didn't know how long he had lain there when he gradually became aware of a new sound. Over the roar of the wind and the hiss on the relentless rain he could hear the unmistakable crash of breakers. Sitting up with some care so as not to upset the boat, he peered through the gloom. To his delight - and some amazement - he could make out a rocky pinnacle looming through the murk.

The roar of water hitting rock increased and he knew any landing was not going to be an easy one, but Jeff was determined to make the best of his chances. As soon as he felt the boat scrape on the bottom he leapt out and ran for the shore. The retreating waves tried to pull him back but he dropped to his knees and hung on to the nearest rock. As each wave receeded he advanced further towards the shore until at last he realised he was above the reach of the water.

It was so tempting to just sink to his knees and collapse on the spot, but Jeff knew he had to find some shelter from the driving rain or he would die of hypothermia. Looking along the shore he saw a dark slash in the cliff face and stumbled towards it. The fissure turned out to be the entrance to a cave and the bedraggled castaway hauled his soaked and battered body in just far enough to be out of the reach of the rain before collapsing on the floor.

oooOOOooo

Jeff awoke and gave out a groan. Every part of him felt as if he had been through his father's threshing machine. He sat up slowly and looked around. The daylight filtering through the cave mouth seemed to indicate that the storm was now over. Pulling off his life-jacket, he opened the attached survival pack and examined the contents. Two ration bars (each equivalent to a full meal), three self-igniting flares, a torch and a small knife. He knew the transponder on his life-jacket would have been emitting a signal ever since he ejected, so it was only a matter of time before the Air Force found him, but he might be able to reach help first; for all he knew, this island might be inhabited and he would be able to contact base. He wondered if his parents had already been told his plane was missing; he didn't want them, or his fiancée, Lucille, to have to worry a minute longer than he could help.

He tore one of the ration bars in half and bit into it as he left the cave then paused to check himself over in full daylight. His flying gloves had protected his hands from the jagged rocks but the knees of his flightsuit were ripped and torn. Looking down the rock-strewn beach to the shoreline he felt lucky he had not sustained more damage.

Turning around to examine the cliff behind him, he could see a route that would allow him to reach the top. It was a scramble that elicited protests from his bruised hands and knees, but at last he stood on the summit and could see the whole island.

His first reaction was disappointment; this was a rock outcrop, probably thrown up as a volcanic vent, and bare of any life or even vegetation; it was a miracle that his life-raft had landed here at all. Over to the west, near to where the sun was almost touching the horizon, he could make out a slightly larger volcanic cone; this seemed to have some greenery on it but he could see no signs of human habitation.

However, a smudge of land in the other direction seemed more promising. This was larger and, in the growing dusk, he could see several lights twinkling. He pulled out the pack of flares and fired one off, watching it arc over his head and explode in a flash of green.

Jeff knew how quickly the light faded in these latitudes; not wanting to be left on the cliff-top after dark he turned and made his way back down to the cave. This time he ventured further in, following the fissure, and gave a gasp of surprise when the narrow passage opened into a cavern so vast that his torch could not pick out the far side. Why, the whole crag must be hollow!

Turning back, he picked a spot not far from the entrance and tried to make himself comfortable, using his life-jacket as a pillow, but sleep eluded him. He finished the other half of the ration bar then lay staring up at the shadows the torchlight was making on the ceiling, images of his life flitting through his mind. He had first met Lucille Chambers just over two years ago, and they had become engaged before he had joined the Air Force. At the time, they had decided to wait until he had several years service before they married; he had even hoped to make Captain which would enable him to offer her a better standard of living than a Flight Lieutenant's pay.

Now, lying in the semi-dark, he realised his narrow escape had given him a new perspective and with it a new resolve. Fate had given him a warning that he and Lucille should make as much of their time together as they could - because you never knew how much time you might have left. As soon as he had his next leave, he would see if they could arrange the wedding.

Picking up his knife, he turned to the cave wall beside him and began to chip away at the rock.

oooOOOooo

Jeff didn't know what time he had fallen asleep but was awakened by a shout. "Hallo there! Can anyone hear me?"

Ignoring his protesting body, the castaway scrambled out of the cave to see a small motor-boat bobbing just off shore, with a man standing at the wheel, using a loud hailer.

Upon seeing him, the man raised the horn to his lips again. "Are you OK? Do you need help getting aboard?"

In answer, Jeff waded out into the shallows until he was level with the boat. A strong arm reached down. "Hi. I'm Max. You sure you're OK, mate?" The man had noticed Jeff's brief grimace of pain as he had clambered aboard.

Jeff waved him away. "Just a few cuts and bruises; nothing a hot bath and a couple of sticking plasters won't cure."

Max turned the boat deftly in the shallows. "No worries, we'll have you back on Moyla in less than an hour. The Air Force asked us to look out for you; we saw your flare last night but I had to wait for the tide before I could come to collect you. There's no way of getting onto Mateo Island except at high tide, but once we're back on Moyla they can come and pick you up from our airstrip."

Jeff sat back and let his rescuer's chatter wash over him. He was going home; home to his family, his girl, and a new chance of life.

oooOOOooo

Billionaire businessman Jeff Tracy sat at his desk in the lounge of the Tracy villa, scanning through quarterly reports from his various companies. He looked up as Scott entered the room.

"Virgil and I are just off to Mateo with some supplies for the stores."

"OK, son, have a good flight!"

He watched his eldest son leave. It had been a while since he had visited the smaller island that served as their supply depot and emergency hangars. He wondered if he would still be able to find the initials he had once carved in that cave down by the shore - JT and LC, surrounded by a heart.