"Gordon! Gordon, what's happening? What? Missile! What the f- Gordon, get out of there! You hear me? Get the hell out of there!"
Jeff's voice echoed through the still, recycled air of Thunderbird 5, the words bouncing off the walls and seeming to double in intensity as they returned to the lone pilot at the comm. station.
Alan couldn't breathe.
It wasn't happening. It couldn't be happening.
But the terror in Gordon's transmitted reply was all too believable.
Alan stared at the console with unseeing eyes, the monitors before him vague and unreadable through the fog of his tears. A few of them now tumbled down his cheeks, allowing a brief moment of focus before more gathered.
And there she was. The green signal transponder that was Thunderbird 2 nestled inside the hangar. And three of the four harriers now facing her and ready to deliver their inescapable payload.
"Move …" Alan urged in a whisper, his voice caught in his tight throat.
The signal remained. Still and stunned. Like a rabbit in the bright headlights of inevitability.
"Oh god … move …" Alan brought his hands up to his face and covered his eyes, no longer able to watch the scene unfold.
"Lin dzeh dibeh-yazzie bi-sodih mosai ne-ahs-jah na-as-tso-si tkin nesh-chee klizzie."
Alan parted his fingers and blinked a clearer view of the comm. It was a transmission on the police band again and his heart sank.
How could they have been so stupid? After everything that had happened, they could not trust anyone. Surely Scott knew better than that? Or if not Scott, then at least the cynical, wiser mind of the second eldest should have known that something was wrong. They could be sure of no one. Not the Air Force. Not the Secret Service. Not the police. No matter how much you thought you knew them.
And now they were trapped. Lured into an ambush.
Just like before.
Alan shuddered. But his Dad had said The Hood was dead. Very dead. Not that anything would satisfy Alan except perhaps seeing for himself the cold, blue body of that bastard.
More tears welled and Alan brushed them away angrily, suddenly furious at being stuck in the confines of the station, a million miles away from his family.
It was a complete role reversal. The Hood had trapped his family up here and seemingly condemned them to the delights of a suffocating plunge towards a fiery end.
He had thought then that there could be nothing worse. But then maybe he should never have contemplated that. Maybe somebody somewhere had heard his thoughts and decided to show him that things could indeed be a hell of a lot worse.
At least during the island siege he could do something. He had almost enjoyed the cat and mouse chase through the jungle and had revelled in the pursuit to London. Full of adrenaline fuelled-confidence and the bravado of youth, he had thought of nothing except catching The Hood and making him pay. And it had distracted him from the awful image of his family slowly spinning towards their doom.
Only when he had confronted The Hood in the Bank of London and been almost strangled to death had he understood the danger. And he had never been so suddenly and overwhelmingly terrified.
Alan watched the unmoving signals on the monitors before him and then saw the approaching transmission. The blue transponder ID gave a brief glimmer of hope.
"Dad!" His voice cracked and he tried to swallow back the heavy lump in his throat.
"Alan." Jeff's gentle tone was calm and even. Or was that shocked and resigned?
Alan choked on a sob and hugged his arms around himself, trying to stop his body from trembling.
"Alan, we're powering up Thunderbird 1. We'll be in London in 8 minutes."
Alan smiled thinly. 8 minutes was about 7 minutes and 58 seconds too long.
Unable to find the words to reply, Alan watched the blue signal beginning to move and then glanced back at the radar images of RAF Northolt. The ominous yellow crosshairs still covered Thunderbird 2 and she still silent and motionless. And now so were the Harriers.
Why hadn't they fired yet?
Alan frowned in concern and felt his heart racing. Oh god. Maybe they wanted Jeff. Maybe they wanted the commander and chief to put an end to International Rescue for good.
And he was now heading right for them.
Alan reached over to re-open the channel to Thunderbird 1 and was about to call in a warning when it then suddenly occurred to him that the RAF personnel were no longer transmitting.
Alan studied the monitor that was recording the chatter between the Harriers and the base and his frown grew. Nothing. Sergeant Wellington was quiet and there was no longer any confirmation broadcasting between the Harriers.
And then a new signal entered the fray.
Alan held his breath and his wide eyes tracked the approach of the unidentified craft. With clumsy slowness, he called up a satellite image of the area and leaned forward to peer at the snowy black and white picture. John had neglected to mention in his tutorials that Five could link up with other orbiting satellites and Alan had been sure that this was due to the probably very illegal nature of the move. Stumbling across the programme while he had been meddling with areas of the computer network that he had been told to stay clear of, he had been most delighted and he now mumbled to himself as he tried to recall how he had made it function.
The picture was finally emerging and Alan held back from the RAF complex to see the whole situation. The three Harriers facing the immense hangar and the seemingly abandoned runway behind. And the black helicopter that was now looming into view from the west.
"Wol-la-chee gah dzeh wol-la-chee dibeh wol-la-chee ma-e dzeh."
Alan gasped in horror and the police band suddenly burst into life.
"Winter, this is Pryce. Are you receiving? Over?"
"Hanover? Shaw here. We're almost on you. ETA 2 minutes."
Alan listened to the continued volley of calls and could not make out what on earth was going on. And who the hell was in the helicopter.
"Thunderbird 2, this is Black Hawk Two-Niner. What is your status? Please advise."
Alan listened to the silence and closed his eyes.
"Thunderbird 2, we are on approach and stand ready to assist you. Over?"
Yeah, right, Alan scoffed. That's what the RAF said.
Still nothing from Thunderbird 2 and Alan glanced at the approach of Thunderbird 1.
With a sigh, he flicked open a channel and cleared his throat.
"Thunderbird 1 from Thunderbird 5. We have a new player in London. Dad, I think you should stay away."
Despite his terror, Alan couldn't help but smile; so that was where his stubborn streak came from.
"Dad, I don't know who these guys are and I really think they want to trap you somehow. I don't - "
"Thunderbird 2 this is Black Hawk Two-Niner. Please be advised we have Agent Miller aboard."
Alan stared at the comm. and frowned in intrigue. Why did he know that name?
"Alan? What's happening?" Jeff demanded worriedly.
"I …" Alan shook his head, "God, Dad, I really don't know. I - "
Alan froze. Scott. That was Scott's voice.
The comm. went quiet again for a moment.
"Affirmative, International Rescue. And it looks like I'm just in time to save your asses!"
"Woo-hoo!" Scott yelled over the comm.
Alan smiled and opened the channel to feed the transmissions through to Thunderbird 1. "Dad." He quickly offered by way of explanation. "I think the cavalry just arrived."
"Go Eva! Yeah!" Scott shouted excitedly, "Oh honey, am I glad to hear your voice!"
Eva laughed gently. "Ditto, International Rescue. Thought we might be too late. Please advise on your status."
"Um. We're okay. Could use some new underwear, though."
"Thanks for that. I meant your craft."
"Oh. She's good."
"Thank goodness. It worked."
"The EM weapon."
Alan's smile pulled at his flushed cheeks and he let out a heavy sigh.
"The EM weapon?" Scott urged.
"You betcha. Thought it might come in handy. Not sure the Brits will be too pleased that we broke their planes, though."
"Thunderbird 1 to Thunderbird 2 and Blackbird Two-Niner. We are on approach and glad to hear all is well." Jeff suddenly called over the comm. "ETA 2 minutes."
"Roger that, Thunderbird 1." Scott acknowledged merrily.
"Oh. And Agent Miller?" Jeff added quickly, "Thank you."
Scott ran back through to the cargo bay, grinning in delight. His merriment was then ripped from his face as he beheld the continued standoff between the two women.
"Alex!" Scott called out carefully, aware that only the slightest flinch would end the life of the RAF pilot. And probably Alex too. Never mind the obvious danger of hull-piercing rounds in their giant plane.
John had sunk back onto the stretcher and now craned his head round to peer hopefully at his brother. He got a slight nod in return and fell back against the pillows.
"Alex, it's okay. Help is here. The missiles have been neutralised."
Alex chanced a quick glance at the approaching Scott. "Really?"
"Really." Scott urged softly.
"How?" Wellington demanded.
"Listen, just trust me. Ok?" Scott had ventured daringly close and raised his hands in a gesture of calm. "It's over."
Wellington let out a loud sigh and nodded in agreement, uncocking her gun and letting her arm drop slowly to her side.
"Alex." Scott prompted carefully.
Alex shook her head in defiance. "She's part of this."
"Al" Came the weary caution from John.
Scott turned to Wellington, noting in admiration that she had not risen to defend the challenge but had in fact holstered her weapon. He looked back to Alex, saw her raised arm trembling slightly and her face wrinkled with confusion.
"Alex." Scott stepped closer to her, now able to see the tears welling in her dark eyes. "Please."
"I … " Alex's frown grew. "But - "
Scott saw her hesitancy and took his chance. In one swift move, he had closed the distance and reached out to lower her gun to the floor. She countered instinctively, giving his ribs a sharp jab with her elbow and then recoiling to throw a punch at his face. But Scott grabbed her free arm tightly at the wrist and secured her firmly, groaning slightly as she strained against him.
"Alex!" John called out worriedly.
Alex paused for a moment and then suddenly seemed to recognise her assailant. She nodded a mixture of regret and understanding and relaxed her stance.
Scott watched Alex warily, releasing his grip with measured caution and ready to hold fast if she attempted to struggle.
"Sorry." Alex offered grimly, stepping back from him and shaking off his hands.
Scott nodded slowly. "S'okay."
Alex turned towards Wellington and managed something of a smile as she apologised.
Wellington shrugged briefly. "Hey, no worries. That was a tight spot there."
"No shit!" Scott laughed suddenly, dragging his hands through his hair and letting out a low grumble of a sigh. He saw her smile in response and she then turned and headed back down the ramp.
Scott turned and saw his brothers looking on in concern.
"The chopper just landed." Virgil offered, his wary eyes resting squarely on Alex. "And Da- Thunderbird 1 is making her approach."
"Okay." Scott nodded, "Get ready to leave." He nodded towards the open cargo bay and the hangar beyond. "I'd best go get someone to open the door for us." He glanced at Alex and seemed about to say something more but instead jogged off towards the ramp and after Wellington's departing figure.
Alex closed her eyes and tried to ignore the exhaustion in his quiet voice. She took a moment to somehow collect her thoughts and then glanced behind her. The other boys had retreated back to the flight deck and she sighed in relief.
"They didn't mean anything before …" John began softly, watching her in concern. "We've been through hell and - "
"They don't know me." Alex countered evenly, "What possible reason do they have to trust me?"
John laughed slightly, "Well, me."
"And what exactly does that mean?" Alex frowned, turning to face him. "What exactly do I mean to you?"
John made no reply but held her gaze firmly.
"Why don't they know about me?"
"Because it's none of their business."
Alex smiled suddenly and nodded. "Right …"
"Look, it's tough, okay. I'm a private person and it's hard to keep things sacred and special when you live in your brother's pockets." John looked down at his hands and sighed heavily. "I wanted to keep you just for me … not to be fuel for their teasing or the source of constant questioning …"
Alex watched him for a moment and suddenly wondered how she could be so cruel as to load more worries onto his already broken form. He was so pale and in such a mess. And suddenly so very vulnerable.
No. She had to be angry. She needed her anger to stay strong.
"I'm sorry." Alex offered eventually, crossing the distance between them and leaning down to place a kiss on his forehead. "I love you." She stated evenly and avoided the heart-rending confusion in his tired eyes as she turned and walked away.
And John watched her go. Knowing she had made up her mind and too weary to put up a fight, he watched her head down the ramp and out of view.
John spun at the voice, wincing a little at the pain running down his torso.
"Dude." Gordon repeated quietly, his gaze turning from the now almost empty cargo bay to his brother. "I had no idea, John. I'm … oh man, I'm so sorry."
John shrugged a response.
"You want me to go get her?"
"More than you know." John whispered in reply and then smiled thinly. "Which is precisely why you can't."
Gordon frowned and opened his mouth to question this logic further when they both then heard the grinding and scraping of an enormous metal door and then the delighted whoops of joy from the hangar.
Thunderbird 1 made gentle contact with the tarmac of the runway at the same time that a convoy of marked and unmarked police cars sped across the airfield.
Jeff was out of the jet before the engines had fully shut down and fled across to the open doors of the hangar. He smiled in delight as he saw the hidden craft within and shook his head in wonder.
"Dad!" Scott called out merrily, turning from the group of personnel and hurrying outside to meet his father.
"How'd he get her in there!" Jeff chuckled, reaching out to grasp Scott's arm and his fingers gripping tightly.
"Hell knows." Scott grinned, "We're about ready to pull her back out though."
Jeff nodded and then turned his attention to the group inside the hangar.
"Come." Scott edged back a little. "Let me introduce you."
Jeff firmly shook the hand of Squadron Leader Hanover and Flight Sergeant Wellington and then smiled in delight as he turned to Eva.
"Miss Miller, I believe that's two we owe you." Jeff laughed.
Eva shrugged modestly, "Oh, who's counting!"
"Thank you." Jeff urged sincerely and leaned forward to place a kiss on her cheek.
"And you remember Alex?" Scott prompted.
Jeff turned to the policewoman and smiled warmly, "Of course. Hello again."
Alex shook his hand and then nodded towards the various officers that were climbing from the row of police vehicles behind them. "Excuse me." She smiled and headed out of the hangar.
Jeff watched her depart and frowned in interest as he watched her greet her colleagues.
"Henry!" Eva called out suddenly and bolted from the hangar.
Jeff glanced at Scott.
"Henry Shaw, MI5. He got us out of the hospital and brought us here." Scott explained quickly.
Jeff's frown grew.
"It seems Henry was playing both sides and gave Hanover the heads up." Scott continued. "Eva called him in."
Jeff watched the amicable exchange between the two agents and shook his head slowly. "Spooks …"
"Oh, believe me, I've found a whole new respect for them." Scott chuckled. "Come on."
Henry Shaw turned and saw the two men approaching, smiling in delight as he recognised Jeff's uniform.
"I believe I owe you a debt of gratitude, sir." Jeff offered merrily, offering his hand.
"On the contrary," Henry countered, shaking Jeff's hand excitedly, "I'm delighted to have the opportunity to repay you in kind."
Jeff frowned in intrigue.
"My grand daughter was on the monorail." Henry shook his head slowly, "If it wasn't for you …"
Jeff smiled and was sure that Henry meant 'you' as a collective term but he would nevertheless pass the thanks onto his youngest at some stage. Not that Alan usually needed help for his head to grow but in this instance a little positivity would perhaps go a long way.
"Well, thank you." Jeff concluded warmly, pulling back his hand. "Thank you all." He addressed to the group. "Now, we should really get underway."
"Of course." Eva stepped forward and nodded in enthusiasm. "I'll help you load the device?"
"Load? What? Who?" Jeff stumbled.
Eva shrugged, "Well, it's either destroy it like we did the rest of the stuff or put it to good use."
Jeff frowned and glanced back towards his waiting craft. He touched his earpiece and took a deep breath. "Thunderbird 1, you think you could make anything of an EM generator." He winced as an instant reply of stammered excitement tore through his ear and he laughed as he turned back to Eva. "I believe we will indeed take it off your hands, Ms Miller."
The stripped down device was surprisingly compact but also very heavy. Eva, Scott and Jeff groaned at the strain as they heaved the EM generator up the ramp and into the cargo bay of Thunderbird 2.
"Dudes!" Virgil gasped in horror. "Why didn't you call me? I could've brought out the firefly or something."
The EM generator settled on the deck with a thud and Jeff winced as he arched his back. "Ah … I didn't think of that."
Virgil sighed in dismay and then stepped closer to examine the torpedo-like structure. "So … this is it?"
"Yup." Jeff nodded, "And the answer to a whole heap of problems, according to Brains."
"I sure hope so." Eva smiled, dusting her hands on her trousers. She then glanced around the immense cargo bay and whistled in awe. "This is amazing …" Turning back to Jeff, she saw him fidgeting impatiently and she smiled in understanding. "I should let you guys get out of here."
"Thanks," Jeff nodded, "I'd love to talk but we need to get John home."
Eva frowned suddenly. "John? How is he?"
Scott hurried over to her and took her arm, nodding towards the far end of the cargo bay. He turned to Jeff and asked for just a few moments.
Jeff nodded and then headed back out of the ship, muttering something about ensuring all the loose ends were tied up.
John seemed to be asleep. Scott and Eva paused for a moment inside the small medical bay and Eva looked on in horror.
"Oh man …" Eva groaned, "I knew it was bad but …"
John stirred and lifted his head slowly.
"Hey …" Eva hurried over to him and crouched down beside the stretcher.
"Eva?" John smiled warmly, "It seems you saved the day."
Eva shrugged slightly, "It was the least I could do."
John's smile faded.
"Listen," Eva dropped her voice to but a whisper but was then aware of Scott making a polite exit from the room. "I never got a chance to say thank you"
John closed his eyes and let his head fall back against the pillow. "Don't …"
"Please. If it wasn't for you, I'd … thank you, John. I mean it."
John swallowed hard and managed a brief nod. "Sure … but … I just want to forget it all …"
Eva nodded slowly. "I understand." She reached out and placed a hand on his arm. "Listen … if you ever need to talk - "
"I know." John's smile returned and he lifted his head again to turn to her. "I guess I'll need to brush up on my Navajo."
Eva chuckled gently, "Oh, that's so last year – everyone's doing it now." She squeezed his arm gently and shrugged her shoulders again. "Maybe we need to invent our own code."
"Oh, that's so seventh grade!" John laughed and then slowly became serious once more. "I'll find a secure bandwidth and scramble the signal."
"Do." Eva nodded and stood slowly. "Goodbye." She turned and saw Jeff approaching. They again shook hands and Jeff earnestly nodded his thanks before then watching her leave.
Jeff stepped cautiously into the medical bay and a heavy frown sank over his tired eyes. He managed a brief smile of greeting as he edged closer and took in the painful sight of his battered son.
"Please, Dad …" John sighed, "Don't …"
Jeff took a deep breath and crouched down beside the stretcher. "I'll have to look up some old friends and get some advice. See when is safe for you to go back up there. Or if …"
"Don't even think it, Dad." John urged softly, "I'll be fine."
Jeff managed a thin smile and his frown faded slightly.
John watched him for a moment, his chest aching as he watched the pain and sadness that filled his father's eyes. "God, I'm so sorry." He husked after a moment. "If I hadn't - "
"Don't!" Jeff urged quickly, "Don't you even think of blaming yourself!"
John looked away, fighting back tears.
"Oh John …" Jeff sighed, "I wish there was something I could do to …" he glanced back into the cargo bay behind him and watched Virgil securing the EM device for transport. He then met the confused gaze of their passenger and smiled in reassurance.
Alex smiled back.
Jeff wanted to tell John what he had done, wanted to show him that he had called her back, forced her aboard. Something had told him that his son was going to need her in the hard days ahead.
But first, he needed a moment alone with his son. And he knew he'd made the right decision about Alex when she had instantly understood.
"Dad …?" John turned back to his father, tears brimming and his face crumbling.
"Oh God, John." And suddenly Jeff was standing and leaning over the narrow bed, slipping his arms around John's shoulders and pulling him close.
John groaned as the firm embrace pulled at aching muscles and broken ribs. This sort of affection rarely occurred between them and it felt wrong. He resisted for a moment, needing to move back from the pressure of his father's chest against the deep wound in his own. But then suddenly he remembered the many times when he had somehow yearned for a moment like this and he relaxed, melting into the hold, tears flowing freely down his face.
Neither of them said a word. They simply held each other close and cried . Long after Virgil had quietly informed them that Scott had climbed into Thunderbird 1 and would be leading them home. And all through the engine fire up and Thunderbird 2's powerful ascent. Only when they were cruising at high altitude over the Pacific and fast approaching home did Jeff gently conclude the embrace and lean back from John. He offered a firm smile and nodded in understanding. There was nothing more to say.
John rested back against the pillows. Tired and sore but suddenly feeling so completely safe. And very, very loved.