"...That, Ladies and Gentlemen, was an example of what the US Air Force calls 'tactical surprise'," Scott announced aloud, just as if he were narrating an air show. "Very effective method for establishing the upper hand in combat situations."
Skillfully manipulating the Bird's horizontal flight controls, Scott cut his air speed, banked into a wide, sweeping turn over the ocean, and came back around for a second pass. On the way, he armed Thunderbird 1's enormous gun. He thought he'd got them all, but it never hurt to be careful...
No need, as it turned out. The only thing moving on the beach was Gordon, who'd just shot down Thunderbird 2's boarding ladder... in his underwear. Shaking his head, Scott found a big enough stretch of sand, lined her up, and set her screaming down.
Fifteen minutes later, he'd joined his under-dressed brother at the crash site. Then, after quickly checking on Virgil, he turned to face Gordon.
"Everything okay?" Scott inquired, giving the confused kid a quick back slap and hair tousle.
"Um..." Gordon began uncertainly, looking around at the heaped enemies, the beached cargo lifter, and his unconscious comrades. "We've had a bit of excitement... but... um, things seem t' be under control now, thanks. Yourself?"
Scott smiled fondly at his red-headed younger brother, the very polite family clown. Letting out a long, deep sigh, he said,
"Got a little hectic there, for awhile; couple of unexpected visitors, but..."
His wrist comm's sudden sharp crackle interrupted the rest of Scott's speech.
"Scott! What was all that noise?" It was Father, looking at once relieved and suspicious. "Where are Virgil and Gordon!"
"Right, uh... right here, Dad, and Parker, too. All in one piece." Scott replied, diplomatically leaving out a few key facts. Such as their condition. "They've subdued the opposition, and retaken Thunderbird 2. So... if you want to start down, we can secure the area and go home."
"I told them not to... never mind. F.A.B., Son. I'll gather up the family and head them over. Tracy, out."
Scott lowered his arm, giving his brother a stern look.
"Couldn't wait, huh?"
Gordon, interested to finally meet Scott (and still wondering what it was he'd left behind), said simply,
"Seemed like th' thing to do at th' time."
Scott, black-haired and blued eyed, upright in bearning as a military officer, looked like a by-the-book sort. All rules, all the time.
"Uh-huh," he snapped. "Hot heads, both of you, and one of these days it's gonna bite you on the ass. Now come on; let's get this mess straightened up before father gets here."
The two brothers got down to business, moving Virgil and Parker into the shade, then binding the Hood hand and foot, not that it really seemed necessary. The villain appeared to be comatose, breathing about once every five minutes, his heartbeat so slow as to be nearly undetectable. Still, he'd cheated death once before, and neither of the boys felt like taking any chances.
His battered henchmen gave no trouble at all upon waking. They seemed more than content to sit in the sand under Scott's watchful eye, hands on top of their heads. Prison might not be much of a future, but at least there was hope of betterment. With the Hood, there had been nothing at all ahead but a bleak, painful death.
Jeff and the others were halfway down the mountain when Virgil came to, at last. Wobbling to his feet like a new colt, he stood swaying for a moment, struggling to recover his equilibrium.
Still breathing, he noted... body parts all in pretty good working order, what he could see and feel of them... and Gordon and Scott were... Scott!
"Hey, Virge," his older brother greeted him, a big, relieved smile on his face. "You gonna live?"
"Sure... why not?" Virgil decided woozily. Squinting over at Gordon, he said, as Parker began to mutter and stir, "Mister, you're out of uniform. Considering there 're ladies on this flight... you might want to put on something a little more formal."
Gordon glanced down at himself, then nodded. Halfway up the boarding ladder, he paused.
"I, um... I've got a change of clothes up here, have I?"
Virgil started to frown, then recalled the situation. Fortunately, Scott's attention was back on Parker. He didn't feel up to much in the way of explanation, at the moment.
"Rear crew cabin. Third locker from the left, on the aft bulkhead; covered in PADI stickers, and a big number 4. Can't miss it."
The promised locker was there, and in it, a neatly pressed and folded uniform; blue, with some kind of orange sash, a belt, and a holstered pistol. Boots, too, and a couple of handy bulk packages of socks and shorts.
The owner of the locker, he decided, must be a regular mess after every mission. Bits flying off in every direction, most likely. Gordon felt a little odd donning the fellow's uniform, and odder still when it fit. Perfectly. Well... no... something was missing. His hand went to the pullover shirt's left side, where a pair of fish... no, dolphins... gold ones, should have been.
A very strange, fuzzy memory came to him, then; incomplete, but powerful. There was a great deal of noise, a crowd of men yelling raucous encouragement... And an extremely large, very odd container filled with liquor. Everyone's drinks, he recalled suddenly, wincing a little. The entire audience had poured what was left of their drinks into the container, at the bottom of which lay the dolphins. And (he'd been solemnly informed) there was only one way to get to them. He'd have to drink his way clear to the bottom.
Gordon shook his head, remembering the party (and resultant hangover). He'd got thrown in the water, too, by... Davy. Davy Alvarez, and Murphy, and Peete, and a lot of other uniformed wildmen very nearly as sloshed as he'd been.
"First career goal," Alvarez had told Gordon, just before hurling him off the deck, "is to surface as many times as you dive!"
He smiled suddenly, remembering the cold, dark waters of San Francisco Bay... and then it was gone. He couldn't recall what had happened next, nor where they were now, his US Navy friends.
The thing he'd been avoiding till now, with TinTin's help, and Virgil's, came rising up all at once to stare him full in the face; the great, hollow burned spot where his life should have been. Gordon began to shake, wondering how he'd gotten here. How he'd acquired a uniform and a sudden, vast and sprawling family. Best, maybe, not to ask many questions, or let anyone else know what was wrong with him. The woman... Tania's... jeering comment flashed through his mind.
'You put a great deal of faith in them, all things considered.'
Deeply troubled, Gordon examined his reflection in the locker's mirror, automatically straightening his centerline and sash. What if she'd been right? What if they didn't intend, ever, to let him return to Europe, to his teammates, his home?
The family reunited in the shadow of thunderbird 2, with a great deal of back slapping and rudely affectionate insults (between the brothers), handshakes (father to sons), and swift, embarrassed kisses (for the ladies). Fuel would need to be transferred from Thunderbird 1 to her bulkier sister, but Shadowbot was back online to cover their trail, and Brains had already called WASP to collect the unconscious Hood, and his cowed minions.
At first, Jeff had wanted to transport the lethal criminal to IR's London headquarters for questioning, thinking to make a brief stop at the Island for refueling, then push on in Thunderbird 2. But Virgil quickly put a screeching halt to that notion. Lifting a hand, the big, brown-eyed pilot said,
"Dad, with all due respect: no. I don't care if he's dead, locked in chains, and stuffed in a sack full of kryptonite. That sonuvabitch sets not one foot on my Bird." Then, muttering under his breath, half seriously, "anyone wants my advice, they should bury him up to his neck in sand, and wait for the tide to come in."
Jeff didn't argue, realizing that Virgil, who'd twice been made prisoner by the sadistic Hood, had probably more reason to hate the man than anyone else present. Of course, he'd no notion what was going through TinTin's thoughts at the time, nor would she have told the truth if he'd asked.
"I understand, Son." Then, looking over at his oldest boy, "Scott?"
But Scott, too, declined.
"No place to put him but the hold, Dad, and I wouldn't be comfortable leaving him back there alone, with all that equipment. According to Virgil and Parker, he's got some kind of mental control over physical things, as well as people's minds. I don't trust him to stay tied up and knocked out, if no one's watching. And I wouldn't set Alan, or John, or anyone else to guard him, either, knowing what he's capable of. Too dangerous."
Jeff folded his arms upon his chest and stared at the ground, nodding quietly.
"Good arguments against the idea, all of them," he sighed. "Damn shame we can't find out who set him on our trail, though. Obviously, he's working for 'The General', but who that is, and how he learned Gordon's identity from the Tower Fire rescue..."
Everyone turned then, for the young man in question had just deplaned, now properly uniformed. He stood there a moment with one hand on the steel boarding ladder, an odd look on his face.
"Clayton Reynolds...," Gordon whispered softly, clutching the silvery ladder rail white-knuckle tight.
Then, as though he only half-understood his own words, "When you get to hell..., tell them Clayton Reynolds sends his regards..."
The others looked terribly confused. All but Virgil, on whose bluntly handsome face a look of dawning comprehension had taken hold.
"Dammit!" he snarled. "Damn that little psycho! Dad, he's right!" Virgil pivoted to face his father, nearly losing his balance in the unstable black sand. "Reynolds saw both of us, real clearly. He tried to kill Gordon right there by the elevators! Only the damn ladder saved his life. If Reynolds isn'tthe General, then he damn sure knows how to get hold of him!"
Jeff nodded once, scowling bleakly.
"Right. Good thinking, boys. John," the elder Tracy turned to his second born,
"...follow up. Wherever he is, if he's the General, this Clayton Reynolds has to have accounts. He has to communicate, pay his men and purchase equipment. Find him! Get his picture out to every Interpol and WorldGov security office on Earth. I don't care how you do it, but I want him stopped. Seek and destroy, understood?"
The tall blond nodded assent, a hard little half-smile touching his scratched and bandaged face.
"Yes, Sir. My pleasure."
Everyone was aboard and getting settled, aided to their places by Gordon and John. When Penelope was safely strapped in, John did the same for his wounded youngest brother, seeing to it that Alan (still in a great deal of pain) was made as secure as possible. Then he headed for the back of the cabin, meaning to spread out his hand-made comm gear and set to work. He paused for a moment, though, beside Gennine's chair. She'd begun fussing over Alan, trying to get a pillow between the boy's seat straps and injured shoulder. Sensing John's presence, she became suddenly very still.
In all the years of her marriage to Jeff Tracy, John had never once spoken to her directly, nor, beside a single, wide-eyed glance when she'd first walked through the door, baby in arms, had he ever really looked at her. It was as though he'd tried to deny his step-mother's existence by refusing in any way to acknowledge her. Finally, Jeff 'd had to send him away to his grandparents, causing Scott and Virgil to resent her more deeply than ever. In Gennine's bitter experience, John Tracy could be very cold, and very, very stubborn.
She had no idea what to think, then, when he stopped beside her seat. A moment or two passed in silence, then he turned his head slightly, gave her a brief, sideways glance and a nod, saying,
She essayed a weak smile and, though he didn't return it, he didn't look away, either.
"You're welcome, John," Gennine replied, a bit unsteadily. Fourteen years late, and all of six words, but they'd finally had their first conversation. And all because of a little aspirin, and a sewing kit. She felt like crying.
Silently raising Alan's shoulder strap a bit, John helped her get the pillow in place, then left them. Alan gave her a bleary, exhausted grin and said,
"Hey, Mom... welcome to the family!"
Gordon, meanwhile, had got TinTin secured in a seat closer to the cockpit. She seemed weak and shaken, he noticed worriedly, her dark eyes full of something deeply private, and utterly devastating. He hadn't been quite fast enough, it seemed. Feeling utterly inadequate, Gordon gave the girl's cold little hand a quick squeeze. Unconsciously, he echoed Virgil's words, saying,
"Don't worry, Angel. We'll figure somethin' out." TinTin looked up at her friend and nodded, very much needing to believe.
Patting her shoulder, Gordon headed over to check on Alan and Gennine. Alan had fallen into a fretful doze, twitching awake with a pained grunt every time a shift in position, or overly deep breath brought another fiery stab. He needed a real doctor, with genuine medicine, before that collar bone froze in the approximate shape of a hairpin.
Wishing there was more he could do, Gordon turned his attention to the boy's mother. Already tightly strapped in, Gennine put her arms out and reached him down for a hug, rubbing his back and saying,
"I love you, Sweetie. Fly safely."
Then Virgil poked his head through the hatch and called Gordon back to the cockpit, all but stamping with impatience. They were still perilously light on rocket fuel, the bit of Brains' special mix they'd borrowed from Thunderbird 1 being enough to fire the steering rockets four, maybe five times altogether, with no room for minor course corrections. Without the reactors and impeller field, they'd never have made it off the beach, much less all the way to Tracy Island. As it was, they'd be coming in hot; low, slow and wobbly.
Closing the hatch, Gordon went up front to the co-pilot's seat and strapped in.
"Ready?" Virgil asked, glancing up from his instrument panel. The Hood's jets and landing craft had been blasted to splinters, and WASP informed of the marooned mens' location, ( and warned that the Hood must be heavily sedated for safe transport) so there was nothing more to hold them. Scott was already airborne, holding position at fifteen thousand feet to provide escort.
Full of mixed emotions, Gordon nodded.
"All set," he lied stoutly.
The pilot seemed to read his mood, something Gordon suspected he did a lot. Flipping a final set of switches, Virgil keyed up the launch sequence and took hold of yoke and throttle, saying,
"Listen, Kiddo, I was thinking... What d' you say, next time dad sends me out to Wyoming to check on the spread, you tag along, again? When we're done at the ranch, we could go camping and fishing in the mountains. I could call up the twins, and..."
"Twins?" Gordon repeated, thinking with a touch of panic, 'More brothers?'
But Virgil cleared his throat, smiling a little sheepishly.
"Yeah, the twins; Shari and Teena. My girlfriends. Part Mexican, part Cheyenne, mostly wildcat. They're a lot of fun, and they can handle themselves in the wilderness. What d' you think? Sound like a plan?"
With a wild and fearsome roar, Thunderbird 2 tore free of her sandy prison, vaulting into the sky like something out of myth or legend; some huge, ungainly monster that didn't quite belong in the real world. And all the more beautiful because of it.
Glancing covertly at his older brother's profile, Gordon saw quiet pride there, and integrity, and a genuine love for the big girl now shaking off her wounds to take to the air.
'Do you remember me?' He'd asked, back in the jungle. Maybe not, but Gordon was coming to know him, and the rest of his family, and what he'd learned so far gave him reason for hope.
"Well," he said, adjusting the trim on the steering rockets for the first crucial turn that would see them safely home. "I'll have t' check my schedule. There 're swim meets... an' the lasses 're forever pesterin'. Never a moment's peace."
Virgil snorted. "Take a break from the social whirl for a month this fall, Romeo. Do you good."
"Twins, you said?"
"Yup. Two of them. Although, uh... I didn't realize that, at first."
He was about to ask whether they were pretty, but figured Virgil would likely throw something hard and heavy (like a fist), so instead Gordon inquired innocently,
"Do they like me?"
"They like me." Virgil told him, looking at once amused and irritated.
"Right," Gordon joked quietly. "...F'r now."
It was quite an interesting flight home.