All's well that ends well. Thanks! )
Cindy Taylor sat slumped against a crate, a stenciled wool blanket drawn tight about her slender shoulders. She, too, had been given pain killers, for the wound in her shoulder, and she was finding it difficult to concentrate. Something she'd once heard about not falling asleep in the snow made her force herself to stay awake, though.
As she huddled, bleary and miserable, awaiting airlift to the nearest military hospital, someone came plowing through the snow toward her, breath misting gustily in the frigid air. She looked up, doing her best to focus, and saw a muscular, auburn-haired teenage boy with a tentative smile.
"Miss Taylor?" he asked, in a soft voice utterly at odds with his varsity football squad appearance.
"I'm with International Rescue. I've been sent t' bring you along t' Thunderbird 2. You're coming with us."
"Oh...!" She brightened right up, even smiling some. "Scott sent you?"
Gordon stopped breathing for a moment, then tried to cover his surprise with brusqueness.
"Orders, Ma'am. I dunno where they originate from. Just doin' what I'm told. Ready?" And he offered her a hand up. Cindy attempted to stand, staggered a bit, and sat back down suddenly.
"Sorry...!" She said, about to try again.
"No panic. Up you get," and with that, the boy scooped her up off the cot and lifted her as easily as if she'd been cut from paper. "You'll be home before y' know it."
She smiled at him, then closed her eyes and drifted off, safe again.
When his passenger was safely stowed in one of Thunderbird 2's drop-down bunks, Gordon rejoined the others out front. John had returned from a quiet conference with the military types, and was handing out flying orders. Spotting Gordon, he signaled him to hurry over. Gordon picked up his pace, trying not to yawn, or scratch at his blistering forearms.
"Delayed at triage," he explained himself. "Sorry."
"No problem," John replied, "so long as all the victims have been seen to?"
"Yeah. Field medic's got the situation in hand, now. We're good t' go."
"Right, then. Brains, you'll be flying Thunderbird 1."
"F.A.B., John. I'll s- see you back at, ah... at the island."
They shook hands, and Hackenbacker stomped energetically off through the snow, uttering a jaunty, tuneless little whistle as he went.
"Gordon, you and TinTin will be in Thunderbird 2 with me. TinTin will look after our wounded. Gordon, you'll co-pilot. If you can, that is...?" By now he'd noticed Gordon's worsening condition, and preferred to keep his younger brother under supervision till they reached the island.
"I'll manage, John. Just prod me awake if we've anymore excitement."
Muttering, "I don't know how much more excitement this family can take...," John turned to Alan. Everyone grew quiet. "Alan, you're in 3. Try to bring her back intact, will you?"
"Uh... yeah. Yeah, okay, John. Will do!" The youngest Tracy positively glowed with pride; happy, finally, to be given his chance. Gordon clapped his brother on the shoulder as the little group broke up, headed for their separate assignments.
"See you back home, Alan. Fly safe."
"Thanks, Man. You, too."
When Cindy was dropped off at a San Francisco trauma center, and the Thunderbird craft were safely berthed for repairs, the wounded were rushed to treatment. Scott received micro-surgery from a handful of swift, tiny nano-bots (another of Brains' inventions), Virgil had his broken bones recast and laser welded, and Gordon went into a medicated healing tank, heavily sedated.
A day or two later they were well enough to gather in the infirmary and 'conference'.
The main topic on everyone's mind was how each had managed to survive the Hood's savage attack. Sitting up a bit in bed, Scott explained how he and Cindy had hidden out (Truthfully, he edited just a little, to preserve his aura of control). Next, Virgil shared a rather laconic account of his treatment that left out the worst bits. He'd never been much of a story-teller anyway, and most of what had happened, he preferred to forget. Gordon followed his brothers' lead, making light of his long swim and subsequent capture, and entirely leaving out what the Hood had done to him afterward. AsJeff would have put it, 'a Tracy never whines'.
Now it was John's turn. There was a bit of good-natured teasing first, for his sudden appearance had turned the tables, and everyone wanted to hear what had finally lured him off of Thunderbird 5.
"I got the idea after I alerted the Seals and Marines. Oh, that..., well, I've helped them out a time or two with some useful recon information, and they owed me. Still do, as far as I'm concerned, but they seem to think it's the other way around, now. Anyway, I decided that just sending the boys, plus TinTin and Brains, was too dangerous. And since...( Yes, TinTin, I know you could have rescued them by yourself. It was Gordon and Alan I was worried about.)" This statement met with general laughter which died down when a beaming Kyrano brought in two high-piled lunch trays. They fell to with gusto, as Virgil prodded,
"So, there you were on the scaffold...,"
"Right," John continued, around a bite of ham sandwich, "Well, the skylight seemed like a good idea at the time. It got me in unseen, partly thanks to a lot of diversions, but once I fired, and lost the element of surprise, that damn metal catwalk also left me magnificently exposed. I spent most of the next fifteen minutes jumping from one level to another, trying not to get shot in the a... the upper thigh." (At the last minute, he'd recalled the presence of TinTin, and amended his choice of words.)
After the kidding stopped, Scott said, "Well, we all made it, anyway. Kind of seems a shame about the money, though. Dad's not gonna be too happy about that, but..."
"Money?" John snorted, looking slightly injured. "You think I sent him real money? I made a bogus deposit, uploaded a couple of nasty viruses and then hit him where I figured it would really hurt." Shaking his head, John added sarcastically, "Go ahead, Jack-ass, give me your account number. I'll clean you out. The Macedonian Children's Relief Fund is now several billion dollars richer."
"Good!" Scott growled. "So, if he is alive, wherever he's got to, the Hood is dead broke, out of thugs, and he's lost all his computer files. Hopefully he'll know better than to mess with us again."
Something unprecedented happened, then. Scott and Virgil had had their say, as had Gordon and John, and even TinTin. A general silence fell, as everyone turned to look at Alan. At first, he was confused, thinking he had lettuce in his teeth, or something, but then he realized that his half-brothers... no, his brothers... were waiting to hear his part of the story.
"Uh...," he began, a little uncertainly, "I thought it was cool..., when we were all fighting in the office..., when Gordon did that jump thing, and slammed Virgil out of the line of fire. He was cussing the whole time, I mean it, twenty minutes, at least. I just about learned a whole new language."
"I did not!"
"The whole time, Man! It was hysterical! I could hardly shoot!"
Then, in the midst of all this, the doors opened. Brains walked in, nervously trailing Jeff Tracy. Immediately, all of his sons who were able, stood. Scott sat up as well as he could, and even Virgil tried to straighten out some.
Tall and craggily handsome, with iron-grey hair and a serious, deeply-lined face, the former astronaut and billionaire executive was a force to be reckoned with. He accepted neither nonsense nor excuses from his sons, viewing anything other than his own brand of steely resolve as a form of weakness.
"Good afternoon, Sir." Scott greeted him, all trace of merriment gone. "Welcome home."
Jeff nodded briefly in response, going first to Virgil's bedside, then Scott's. Over his shoulder to Brains, he asked,
"What's their prognosis?"
"R-recovering, Mr. Tracy. Both b-boys are, ah... are doing well. Up and a-about I should say, b-by next week."
"Good." Now he spared a glance for the others, taking in his fourth son's reddened skin. "And Gordon?"
"Ah... s-still on chelating medication, M-Mr. Tracy. On strict ah,... strict or- orders to avoid s-sunlight and chlorine f-for at least two w-weeks."
"I see." Now Jeff Tracy turned his attention to John, who'd gone rather still. "How did you reach the danger zone?"
Very quietly, his second son replied, "I ejected in the emergency escape pod, Sir."
"I see. And, then did... what? Left it lying around to be photographed?"
"Lady Penelope picked me up in the forest after my landing. Parker and I hid the pod, and then we arranged to have another operative collect it, Father. No one... it wasn't seen."
"And Thunderbird 5?"
"On computer stand-by, Sir. All calls are being re-routed here."
Jeff still seemed unsatisfied, though. Turning back to Scott, he snapped, "Whose idea was it to involve the United States military?"
A short silence ensued. Then, once more John spoke.
"It was mine, Father. I... didn't feel that we had enough personnel to deal effectively with the... situation. So, I did it."
"Good thing he did, too," Virgil broke in, anxious to defend his brother. "I don't know what would have happened, Father, if we hadn't gotten the extra help."
"Yeah," Scott added, picking up Virgil's thread, "And John showing up in the nick of time like that saved the rest of our butts. I don't know about Gordon, but I wasn't accomplishing anything."
Gordon shook his head. "Needed all the help I could get, Father, and lucky t' get out alive, at that."
Jeff considered their words, then looked John in the eye, frowned a little, and said, "Not the way I would have chosen to handle it. Too much risk of exposure. Still," he continued grudgingly, "You're all alive, and the organization is secure... Not bad, I suppose." And he unbent enough to give John a bone-rattling clap on one shoulder, then headed over to Scott's bedside for a more thorough debriefing. Moments later, John left the room and started packing.
San Francisco: It was nearly three weeks later when the package arrived. Cindy Taylor was at her desk, viewing rough cut clips of a story on the rising water level in San Francisco Bay. It was nice, finally, to be doing something different.
She'd been interviewed on the topic of her ordeal in Macedonia until she was ready to scream. Everyone had questions, but they all seemed aimed at getting her to admit two things; that she knew the identity of a Thunderbird pilot, and that more had passed between them than a freezing, wounded, scramble for survival. And it was 'no' to both. All she knew of Scott was his first name, and she'd heard nothing more from him since arriving at San Francisco Regional Medical Center. That hurt. A lot. And the constant pestering, insinuating questions made it all worse, somehow. The station manager had decided to keep her close to home for a few months, to make certain she'd recovered from the strain, and she had... mostly . Still missed Abe dreadfully, though... and Scott.
Pushing some take-out Chinese food around its cardboard box with a pair of plastic chopsticks, Cindy grumpily forced herself to eat a bite, then got back to work.
"Hey, Cin!" Melinda Charles' frizzy-haired, friendly face popped up over the cubicle wall that separated their work spaces. "You got a package, Hon!"
"A package! You know, comes in the mail, wrapped in paper? People send them, Sweetie. People with lives, who don't work 24/7. Danny's bringing it up. Said your phone's turned off, again."
Cindy leaned back in her swiveling chair. "Yours would be, too, if every second some jerk wanted to give you the third degree about...Hello! What's this?"
Danny, a cute high school intern with a buzz cut and a taste for loud shirts had appeared at the entry to her cubicle, a long, thin parcel in his arms. It was wrapped in red paper, and tied with a wired gold bow.
"Oooh, Girl!" Melinda teased in a sing-song voice, "Somebody likes you! Open it, hurry! Hey everybody, Cindy's got an actual fan! Somebody spent money on her!" Then, as Cindy started to reach for the bow, "NO! Wait! What if it's a crazed fan! A stalker, even! Hon, don't you touch that! This world is... full... of... weirdos!"
"Mel, make up your mind! What d'you want me to do now..., throw it out?" Cindy was becoming exasperated.
"Wait. I'm calling security. In a matter of seconds," Melinda pressed a wall button with a wildly dramatic flourish, "Our crack team of highly trained security personnel will... never mind."
A large, comfortable looking individual had plodded over to Cindy's cubicle from a nearby surveillance office. He was eating a sub, and getting sauce all over his rent-a-cop uniform. "What's up, Ladies?" He asked genially, attempting to straighten his rumpled tie.
"Hey, Lennie," Cindy greeted him, fighting the urge to laugh. Thinking, 'office mates; gotta love em', she continued, "I got a package from downstairs. Danny brought it up. Mel thinks it might be the work of a twisted weirdo. Could you, like, check and see that it's not ticking, or something?"
"Gotcha, Cindy. Okay... alright... let's have a look, here." And he stumped over to examine the mysterious package, still eating. Then, "Nope. No ticking. In my professional opinion, Ms. Taylor, you should open it and see what's inside. If anything jumps at you, I'll move in."
Cindy shook her head, grinning for the first time in a long time. "Thanks, Lennie. You're a real pal. Well, goodby, cruel world. Here goes nuthin'." Reaching out, a little nervously, Cindy undid the bow, pulled off the red paper (it was embossed, Cindy noticed; expensive!), and opened the box.
"Oh. Wow...," There were a dozen roses inside, their petals such a deep, velvety red they were almost obscene. No card came with them, just a folded piece of paper. Torn from a memo pad, it looked like. Picking up the note, Cindy saw something fall, glittering, and fielded it in mid-air. Lifting it for a closer look, she saw that the item was a golden charm, an exact duplicate of Thunderbird 1, with laser engraving and a little switch on one side. Unfolding the note, she read silently,
"Here's an addition to your collection. It's a laser pointer, too, if you press the switch. Now you have a gadget. Thanks for everything, Love, Scott Tracy."