This is a short prequel companion piece to my two other crossover stories in this section, based around the following line from Disaster in the South Pacific - this is Scott explaining how he knows Mark:
"Met him, at a couple of air shows. He's an ISO test pilot. Or I thought he was. The military test pilots talk to him about as much as they talk to me, so we ended up talking to each other."
For anyone from the WA challenge: Scott and John are from Thunderbirds, a show with the premise that nobody outside the organisation knows who the members of International Rescue really are. Mark and Tiny are from Battle of the Planets, a show with the premise that nobody outside the organisation knows who the members of G-Force really are.
For anyone else: the challenge was to write a story starting with the line "All right, maybe it wasn't the best way to start off a conversation." exactly as-is.
"All right, maybe it wasn't the best way to start off a conversation."
Tiny blinked. He'd thought he'd asked a casual, friendly question about how Mark's first day at the airshow had gone. One pilot to another. A way to get closer to the man whose orders he'd be following for the conceivable future.
He hadn't expected awkward phrasing and a borderline admission of having made a serious mistake.
"Conversation?" A nasty thought struck him. "Mark, nobody figured out who you are, did they?"
"No, nothing like that." Mark stood up, paced across the ready room, paced back. "I could tell the military pilots I was the Eagle right out and they wouldn't believe me. I mean, everyone knows I only got this job because of who my foster-father is, right? Team Seven, here... I thought an airshow would be different. I thought I'd get judged on how I fly. I was wrong."
"Telling them that probably wasn't a great idea," Tiny suggested, with no real idea of where this conversation was going.
Mark actually smiled. "I'd figured that one out. Avoided it through ten solid minutes of sniggers and turned backs and pointed comments which weren't quite explicitly about me, and this guy walks into the lounge. Perfect suit and tie, formal shoes, looks like he should be in a board meeting. So I told him this room's for pilots only and asked if he was looking for the hospitality suite."
"And he pulls out a pilot's ID badge. Tracy Aerospace's lead test pilot."
Tiny tried and failed to keep a straight face. "You tried to throw a senior pilot out of a pilot's lounge?"
"Yeah. And now one more person thinks I'm a spoiled brat with a job I didn't earn. And the worst of it is, I have to walk back into that room tomorrow and ignore that nobody thinks I should be there. I get enough of that here."
Maybe it wasn't much of a smile. Tiny was still figuring out what to say next, and to pretend he hadn't thought it was funny, when Mark carried on.
"I shouldn't have said that. Sorry, Tiny. You're someone I don't get it from."
That was probably all the opening he was going to get. "Jason's never subtle about how he feels. For what it's worth, which isn't much, I don't think it's personal. He'd just like his command back."
"And how do you feel about it?"
For the first time, Tiny suspected he wasn't the only one trying to manipulate the conversation and build a relationship here. Maybe that wasn't a bad thing. He considered his words carefully before answering.
"I think the change in command could have been handled a whole lot better, but for what we're facing now? You've been trained for that and we need you in command. I think even Jason recognises it, though good luck getting him to admit it. And no, I won't be saying that to his face." He met Mark's eyes. "I don't think you're a spoiled brat with a job you didn't earn. I think you're the best option for commander of G-Force. But you have to look like the spoiled brat to the outside world, and... you do realise who that was, right?"
Mark frowned. "Tracy Aerospace's lead test pilot. It said 'Tracy' right on his badge. No name."
"That is his name. Tracy Aerospace's lead test pilot is Daddy's eldest. Now there's someone who got his job because of who his father is."
"Oh. That's... interesting. Thanks, Tiny. Thanks a lot. I think maybe I should try to talk to him again. Tomorrow. What's the worst that can happen?"
"Do you want me to answer that?"
That was a genuine smile, and relaxation, and the air was definitely a lot clearer between them. Tomorrow, Tiny suspected, Mark would be rather happier. He was, too.
"Okay, so maybe I should have reacted better. And I definitely should have been wearing the ID badge. But dammit, John, how was I supposed to know that the kid in the flight suit who turns round and asks if I'm looking for the hospitality suite is ISO's new test pilot? What would you have done?"
John laughed, the reaction only slightly delayed by the lag to Thunderbird Five. "I'd probably have been looking for the hospitality suite in the first place. But yeah, I can imagine that stung. What did you say to him?"
"I told him I was exactly where I wanted to be, thank you, while putting the badge on. At least he had the grace to look embarrassed. But..."
"But you were supposed to be having a nice friendly pilot-to-pilot chat about that new plane ISO's unveiling at the airshow."
"Trying to find out at least some of what they've left out of the advertising material."
"Rub it in, why don't you?"
"I'm more thinking that it's a two day airshow and you're back there tomorrow. Will he be?"
"No idea. Someone from ISO will, though. Maybe I'll get lucky and they'll see beyond the suit." Scott caught himself and stopped right there, before he told his brother exactly how he felt about displaying a plane whose target customers would be impressed by having the test pilot show up in hospitality wearing Armani grey. He'd been in hospitality doing just that right before the incident in question. Half an hour straight of being Scott Tracy, heir to Tracy Industries, 'mingling' with super-rich potential customers and making them feel good about their chances of being able to fly themselves to meetings in Tracy Aerospace's new easy-to-fly corporate jet, and he'd excused himself and headed to the pilots' lounge for a few minutes of real plane talk.
The ex military pilots had to a man pretended he didn't exist, and the ISO guy, who barely looked old enough to shave, had assumed he was a businessman. He'd known his days of flying fighters were over, but he hadn't realised that his days of talking about them were, too. John was right. It stung.
"I'll try again tomorrow," he said. "We could use the information, if I can get any. Look, John, I'm sorry I vented at you. It's just..."
"I'm here to be vented on. Not a problem."
And then John glanced sideways, as a minor alarm went off. "I need to deal with that," he said, and the screen went blank.
Scott took a deep breath. Tomorrow. He'd try again tomorrow.
Mark opened the door to the pilots' lounge the next morning still unsure what to do. Keep his eyes open for Tracy coming in, watch how he interacted with the military guys, maybe ask a casual question, find an opportunity to apologise...
There was only one person inside, and of course it was the man himself. Still in the suit, or an identical one, pouring himself coffee which Mark couldn't drink, and turning to look at him, and it was entirely obvious that he'd seen him and registered exactly who he was.
Waiting for a good opportunity wasn't an option any more. Mark put on his best rueful smile and took three rapid strides across the room, hand extended.
"Hi, I'm Mark Jarrald. I'm a test pilot with ISO, and I'd really like it if we could pretend yesterday never happened."
The other's hand met his. "Scott Tracy, Tracy Aerospace. It's forgotten. So, that Z-17 looks like a nice plane. That was what, three inverted loops?"
Four, and I suspect you know it. Mark smiled. Talking with people you couldn't afford to annoy without giving up useful information was something he'd been trained for. "She'd go round forever, if I asked her to. Flies like a dream. And... I'm sorry, I didn't see what you were flying?"
"Corporate jet with so much automation even an idiot in a suit can manage it, or that's the impression I'm supposed to give."
From there, it all went rather better.