Part One of Il Mago
Sequel to Sotto Voce
15-16 Sep 2018
Fandom: Thunderbirds Are Go 2015/ Thunderbirds TOS
Summary: "How can we trust him, if we don't even know he is Virgil?"
Word count: 3700
Spoilers & warnings: Spoilers for Season 2 and Sotto Voce
Author's note: And here begins the sequel to Sotto Voce. Truly this began as a Tale of Sotto Voce but it got too big - blame Alan. Just like Sotto Voce it took a bit for my writing to get going in this. also like its predecessor, Cliffhangers Ahoy! It is just that style of writing, sorry, everyone. Oh, and a note for Tales of Sotto Voce - there will be more - this fic will likely answer several of the requests I've had regarding the brothers discussing the events of Sotto Voce, but that doesn't mean I won't be writing more in the Tales series. Kayo still needs her story written. I really hope you enjoy this and I can write to your expectations ::hugs::
Disclaimer: Mine? You've got to be kidding. Money? Don't have any, don't bother.
"International Rescue, we have a situation."
The response was immediate and reassuringly familiar. As Scott entered the comms room, his other three brothers converged on the hologram of their fifth brother at the centre table.
Unusually, John was dressed in a black uniform instead of blue, his gold baldric reflecting the temporary blond of his hair. It was a striking look, but no one mentioned it.
As Scott stepped into the circular lounge, Virgil moved to his side. The engineer was still grounded, but that didn't stop him. He still had knowledge, he could still help, and to be honest, Scott worked better with his brother at his back.
"What have we got, Thunderbird Five?"
"Mountaineer stranded on K2."
"Hopefully not the same one?" Scott remembered the last one. He had been a whiner.
"No, this one is female."
Gordon grinned. "Maybe you can pick up a hot date."
A glare at his brother. "That was lame, even for you."
Gordon shrugged. "You're hard material to work with."
Scott turned his back on him. "Okay, I'll take Thunderbird One and assess the situation and hopefully complete the rescue. Gordon and Alan hang back here and I'll call if I need you."
A glance and a small smile at Virgil, a couple of strides, and he was at his hidden entrance. He triggered the door and the comms room disappeared.
He always felt a spike of adrenalin when he faced his chute. There was something about the fast drop, the abrupt change of clothing, the impending rescue, that always got his blood pumping. It was likely a design aim to get him prepped not just in clothing. In any case, it was one hell of a ride.
As he stepped onto the platform it began its familiar plummet. The spinner deployed, its perfectly synchronised arms swooping around him in a smooth arc, removing the specially designed casual clothing. It separated at hidden seams and was quickly replaced by his uniform. It was horribly boring at times to have to wear the same clothing day in day out, but when a rescue call came in, the speed of which the chute was able to remove his comfortable daywear and replace it with his uniform made it worth it. A life was not worth a fashion choice.
It worked extremely quickly. A hiss, the flutter of cloth, the briefest draught on an arm, a leg…
A horrible grinding crunch, a screech of metal on metal, and he was suddenly thrown to the floor.
All the lights blinked out.
The soft sound of cloth falling to the floor.
What the hell-
He had one bare leg, one bare arm and most of his torso was open to the breeze. The bare arm was complaining loudly and investigation found it warm and wet. Damn, he was bleeding.
Poking around in the total darkness, he found a piece of his disassembled clothing and wrapped it tightly around his forearm hoping it would stop whatever was causing the blood loss.
Next job was to locate his comms. There were two options, the comm in his casual clothes collar or the comm in his uniform baldric. He struggled to his feet.
In the dark, he could find neither.
As he shifted from one foot to the other, there was a whining groan and the elevator car shuddered.
Very carefully he lowered himself to the floor. It wouldn't be long before his brothers realised that Thunderbird One was going nowhere.
He looked up towards the entrance far above him.
Virgil had his sketch book on his knee and he was drawing John.
His brother was still hovering above the table, but his focus was elsewhere, simply staying in shot so Virgil could draw.
It was yet another simple exercise to retrain his brain not to fear his next youngest brother. John had been amazingly understanding and patient with him over the last few months, altering his appearance quite dramatically in the process. He had to say that the black looked great on him. The blond hair, however, Virgil missed the red. He had always been just a little envious of John's red hair. Not the associated sunburn that came with it, but it was a dramatic colour and John wore it well.
Maybe it was time to let it grow back.
He sketched a line of his brother's original hairstyle, his eraser skipping out the spikes of pencil lead. He drew the shapes, daring his subconscious to complain. Daring his mind to launch into its instinctual cringe away. Daring himself to fear his brother.
The pencil scratched at the paper, shaping the familiar wave of John's hair, the soft cut of his eyes.
Something was missing.
Virgil frowned and looked up. He had been expecting the sound of the pool rolling back, the closing of the glass doors, the inevitable roar of his brother's Thunderbird.
He checked the time.
Well past the required sixty seconds.
"John, where is Scott?"
His brother frowned.
Of course, that's when he felt the cringe. Damnit. Get over it for, goodness sake! He swallowed his reaction.
"Thunderbird One is still in dock. Scott's comms…" John's eyes widened. "He's stuck in the chute."
Virgil was standing, his sketchbook hitting the floor. "What?"
"Virgil, the elevator has deployed emergency braking, but it is unstable. There is no answer from his comms."
But Virgil was already moving. He vaguely heard his brother deploying Gordon and Alan in Thunderbird Two, but then he was activating the wall sconces and jamming the chute door open. Peering own into the gaping hole in the floor he yelled out to his brother, "Scott?!"
Far down the chute he heard a faint answer of his name. "Hold on, Scott, I'll grab some gear."
He made a beeline to the equipment room, grabbing one of his baldrics and fastening it quickly over his jeans and shirt. He gathered a rope and climbing gear, mentally calculating the winch setup he would need to use.
Hitting his comms while on the move, he related to Brains what had happened. "Can you secure the elevator?"
"I-it should b-be secure. It is d-designed with triple red-dundancies."
"Well, its not. John can give you details. At the very least, the power is out as there is no lighting down there."
Reaching the comms room again, he dropped his load and grabbed one of the couches out of the comms pit, shoving it securely against the chute opening. Climbing over and into the entrance, he deployed his shoulder lamp, its powerful beam leaping down into the darkness. He once again heard his name faintly, as the light hit the elevator car far, far down below.
Eos, can you activate his comms?
Her musical response was immediate. I can try.
He activated his own. "Scott, can you hear me?"
Scott's answer was faint, but his comms were active. Thank you, Eos.
He is not wearing them, so the pickup is minimal. It appears his clothing is caught up in the machinery.
"Status, Scott?" he climbed over the couch and began securing his rappelling line and electronic winch.
"Get Gordon and Alan onto Thunderbird Two."
"Already done." Cue the thunder of his bird launching in the distance. It was always odd to hear her take off without him. "What is your status?"
"I'm stuck, Virgil."
"Goddamnit, Scott, medical status!"
"Hey, calm down, Virgil, I'm okay. A scratch on my arm is the worst. Though my dignity is in shreds."
Virgil took a calming breath, wishing he could centre himself as easily as he used to.
A last secure knot, a hook onto his harness and he was ready. "Okay, I'm coming down."
"I'm coming down."
Virgil had never really appreciated exactly how long and how deep the individual chutes to their 'birds were until now. Scott's elevator and his shuttle moved so fast, distance was hidden in speed. He was also rather grateful for his lamp. It kept the darkness at bay.
Eventually the roof of his brother's elevator came into view and beyond it a pair of familiar eyes peered up at him. "Hey, Virg."
Virgil eyed the emergency clamps on either side of the top of the car. Only one was deployed. His lips thinned. No way was he adding his weight to the elevator's payload. He secured his line and hung midair. "Catch." And he chucked his brother a harness, giving him the light he needed to put it on. He didn't miss the injured arm. "You okay for the climb up?"
"I'll live. You okay?"
Virgil frowned. "What? I'm fine. Hurry up, the elevator is not secure." He unravelled the extended line, letting it drop down to his brother's reach.
Scott attached it to his harness. "Okay, Virg, time to use all those muscles you're so proud of."
"Hah!" Why use muscles when machinery was available. He activated the winch far above and it began to evenly pull both of them upwards.
Just as Scott cleared the roof of the elevator car, it shuddered and dropped another couple of feet. The screech of metal on metal grated against his eardrums. His brother squawked and the secondary line shook. "That was close."
"I'm fine, Virgil."
Good. Stay that way.
To say he was surprised to find John, flesh, bones and all, in the elevator room when they made it to the top would have been lying. With Grandma on the mainland and Kayo still on assignment, that left just Virgil to save his older brother. He doubted anyone would trust him to save him alone.
To find John above him was jarring in itself, but he ignored it. "Hey, John. Dropped down to help?" Ask the obvious.
John offered him a hand out of the hole and he took it, levering himself over the edge and turning to help his brother the last few feet.
Scott was a mess. Emerging out of the darkness, a bare and slightly bloody arm was followed by messed up hair, a torso with half his uniform on one arm, the remains of his day shirt caught underneath, the rest of his torso bare and goose-pimpling. He had a belt on, but one side of his jeans were similarly caught up in parts of his uniform while the other leg was bare. Fortunately, his underwear had survived, keeping both the remains of his dignity and his brothers' eyeballs intact.
Though Virgil hadn't known you could get adult male underwear with planes printed on them. Or why anyone would want to.
"That's a great look, Scott." Virgil had one arm and John had the other.
"Yeah, yeah." He looked over at John. "What are you doing down here? Who is monitoring Gordon and Alan?"
Virgil cut in before an argument could start. "Gordon and Alan are still en route."
Both brothers looked at him.
"What?" Then he realised they thought he was discussing it with Eos. "Oh, for goodness sake, I know the travelling time between here and K2. We've done it enough." He unfastened the line from Scott's harness and began taking off his own gear. His baldric really wasn't made to work with flannel.
Eos, Gordon and Alan okay?
Crossing the Indian Ocean. Thunderbird Two is performing optimally. The thruster clean out yesterday has improved performance by a factor of five percent.
Only five? I was hoping for seven.
I told you it would only be five.
John helped Scott out of his harness and they all clambered over the couch and into the comms room.
Virgil turned to both of his brothers. Pointing at Scott, "You are going to the infirmary." He held up a hand. "No. No arguments."
"I'll monitor from down here." John walked over to his father's desk and deployed the holoprojector interface.
Virgil grabbed his brother's arm and dragged him from the room.
Gordon and Alan returned from K2 about three hours later. Gordon had taken a dive into a massive snow drift so wandered in dripping melted K2 in a trail behind him, his damp hair sticking up at all angles. "Stupid woman. Let's climb a mountain. Climbing gear, what's that? Safety harness, what's that? Frickin' Fischler's sister, I swear. Then she blasts me for not grabbing her politely when she stumbles and nearly plummets off a thousand foot cliff. I'll damn well grab anyone anyway I feel is damned necessary if it will save their life! Stupid woman."
The expletives faded into the distance as his brother continued down the hallway to his shower. Virgil just stared after him, a small smile on his face. Alan followed shortly after, a smirk on his face, which faded when he encountered Virgil.
Virgil swallowed and held his smile. "Debrief in ten?"
Alan nodded once and kept walking.
Once his youngest brother was out of sight, Virgil let his shoulders drop. Alan still hadn't forgiven him for what he had done to Thunderbird Three. He was wary around Virgil, hardly spoke to him, and ignored him when he could. It had been months, and it hurt.
Virgil had tried everything he could think of to help repair the rift that had formed between them, but Alan just didn't seem to want to come to the party. He was civil, but little else. All Virgil could do was hope his brother would eventually get over it.
Alan had the right to be angry, Virgil just wished Alan could forgive him.
Virgil continued onto the comms room where Scott sat at their father's desk, his arm wrapped in a white bandage. It wasn't serious, some tape and butterfly bandages had sealed the cut, but Virgil had no doubt it would be annoyingly painful.
John was conversing with Brains and Eos in the centre of the lounge, a hologram of code scrolling in front of them. He had that frown on his face that set Virgil on edge. He bit the inside of his cheek and ignored it again.
"What do you mean the results are unclear?"
"Exactly what I said, John. I am unable to determine why the elevator failed, much less why the safety precautions also mostly failed." Eos was irritated.
"W-we cannot use the ch-chute until it h-has been d-determined and cor-rected. Sc-cott's life could be at risk."
Virgil lugged the safety clamp he had in one hand over to the two men and dumped it on the table. "Mechanically it is sound. I even connected it up to our testing apparatus and checked its command reception. Performed perfectly."
He had rappelled down to the car and secured it with a heavy winch, and with help from John, disengaged the safety clamps that had worked, and lowered the disabled car to the bottom of the chute. He had spent the last hour disassembling the thing trying to find out what went wrong. "Everything mechanical appears to be in perfect working order. I have yet to get my teeth into the cable system, but my guess is this is electronic, not mechanical."
John was staring at him.
"Uh, you have grease on your nose."
Virgil blinked and rubbed a hand across his face.
"And now you have grease on both cheeks as well." John was smirking.
Virgil waved a dismissive hand. "Whatever. Not the first or last time." He gestured at the hologram. "You find anything?"
"Nothing clear. The power failed at 1.12pm. By rights, the safety mechanisms, which have their own power supply for that exact reason, should have deployed immediately. Six out of eight safety clamps failed to fire."
"That should not be p-possible." Brains pointed at the hologram. "See here, the c-command was sent. It should have b-been received."
"It was received, but only by two of the clamps." John screwed up his face in frustration. "And I can't work out why."
John is not happy. He gets crabby when he is not happy.
Do you get crabby too?
Impression of a glare. You tell me.
It wasn't often John and Brains were stumped like this. They were used to having all the answers from their genius brother and their genius engineer. Not knowing was obviously rankling.
Virgil understood. They couldn't use the chute until it was proven safe. "I'll start on the cable system after debrief."
John nodded distractedly.
Several minutes later they were all interrupted by Gordon, still complaining. "Then she pitches me into a snow drift! The nerve of the woman."
"So no date?" Scott was grinning.
Gordon didn't even blink. "I asked for you, but apparently your eyes are too blue." Back to Alan who followed him into the room. "And then her handbag. Who takes a handbag when climbing one of the highest mountains in the world? When I say its not a priority, she threatens to disengage her harness right there and then – hanging ten feet under TB2 over that same thousand foot drop. I swear. Never again. Next time, she can damn well freeze up there."
Gordon looked up to find everyone in the room staring at him. "What?"
"A handbag?" Scott frowned at his brother.
Both hands out in supplication, "Yes, exactly, why?!"
"Perhaps you should start from the top, Gordon."
Well, this was going to be a long one. And sure enough, the string of complaints started again. Virgil sat down on the lounge and stretched out.
Could you have a look at this for me?
Huh? And in his mind's eye, a stream of code appeared. He blinked, what? The image was clear and he could read it. His sight blurred a moment, so he shut his eyes.
I'm not sure, but do you think this code here has been altered? A segment lit up.
It appeared legitimate. Virgil frowned. This from the safety cascade?
How does it compare with the backup?
Exactly the same. But Virgil, something doesn't feel right.
What do you mean?
I'm not sure. The code does what it is supposed to do. I've tested it in simulation, but…
The emotion coming off the AI was extreme uncertainty.
Quarantine it. Quarantine all of it.
Quarantine it now.
He jumped at the hand that landed on his shoulder. Scott was crouching in front of him, that familiar frown of concern on his face. He could almost see those words 'Are you okay?' forming on his lips. Everyone else was staring at him.
"I'm sorry. Eos is worried." A closer description might have been 'freaked out'.
John turned around. "What?"
"She has some concerns about the programming in the safety cascade."
"We've tested that code multiple times now. It came up clear."
Virgil tilted his head to one side and shrugged a shoulder. "She's worried, John. she doesn't know why, but that code has her on edge. I trust her judgment. Told her to quarantine it all."
John's gaze flickered back to the hologram where some code had started flashing in red. "You know this means the chute is disabled."
"It's disabled anyway. There is no way I'm letting Scott down there until we've worked out exactly what's wrong." He turned to Scott. "Sorry, bro, looks like you are taking the long way for a while."
Scott sighed and unfolding from the floor, sat beside his brother on the lounge.
I think this may have been intentional.
Virgil froze. "What?!"
It feels wrong, Virgil. I don't have proof, but it feels wrong.
"I want you to run a self-diagnostic." He found himself on the edge of his seat. "Now, Eos."
Don't you trust me?
"This is not a matter of trust, Eos. It is a matter of health. Run the diagnostic. Now."
"Virgil, talk to me."
This time it was John in front of him sporting the worry lines. So close and so sudden, Virgil couldn't help but shift backwards in his seat. "Eos thinks this may have been intentional."
"What? We haven't even worked out what caused it yet." John frowned even more and Virgil had to force himself not react further.
"She says it feels wrong. I don't know, John, she has no proof, but trust me, she is unnerved and it's worrying me."
John stared at him, eyes a little wide for a frozen moment or two before swallowing and standing up. "But who? The Hood is dead."
Virgil looked up at him. "I have no idea."
"I do." It was quiet, but firm, and it came from his youngest brother.
"Who?" John got the word out before Virgil could open his mouth.
Still quiet, but determined. "Virgil could have done it."
"WHAT?!" Three voices. Scott, John and Gordon. Virgil appeared to have lost his.
"It wouldn't be the first time!"
"Alan!" Scott was on his feet. "What the hell?"
"Someone has to say it! If this was deliberate, Virgil could have easily have done it. In one of those funks he claims he had the first time."
Virgil stared at his brother, eyes wide. Something inside was tearing.
"Virgil would never-" Scott was on fire.
"But he has! I know it was not him, but it was! He still has that thing in his head, who knows what or who could tap into it. He may not even know what he was doing. Eos did exactly that to him just a second ago."
"I did not! It was a simple conversation!" The AI's tone was furious.
"How do we know that? How does Virgil know that? You could be influencing him and he wouldn't even know. That's what that thing is capable of." Alan drew a breath. "How can we trust him, if we don't even know he is Virgil?"
All these months and this is what his brother had been thinking. There was a shocked silence in the room. Virgil opened his mouth and a hoarse whisper came out. "How do I prove to you I am myself, Alan?"
His brother's blue eyes looked down at him. "You can't."
And with a glance at his other brothers, Alan turned his back and walked out.
Virgil's heart simply stopped.
End Part One