A/N: It's sometimes surprising what can trigger a plot bunny. Dawn posed a question a while ago. She asked how Gordon got home at the end of the episode, Terror In New York. It started the ol' creative juices flowing. This story is the result.Heading Home
Scott Tracy eyed his younger brother. "Gordon, come with me."
With a resigned nod, Gordon Tracy fell in step with his older brother. He kept quiet knowing anything he said would just start the lecture quicker. When they reached Thunderbird One, Scott gestured for Gordon to precede him up the ladder. Knowing his brother's intention, but not able to think of a way to evade the issue, Gordon reached up to grab an upper rung, hissing in discomfort as his bruised shoulder protested. Scott didn't say a word, but stood waiting patiently as Gordon laboriously climbed, relying on his strong legs to get him aboard.
Scott had no problems boarding, springing up the ladder and landing on the deck with a bounce. Gordon kept his face impassive, not showing the tickle of resentment he felt. It had been a tough rescue, with Gordon taking the brunt of it.
In a hare-brained scheme, an attempt had been made to physically move the Empire State Building. The move itself was just barely within the scope of the technology being used. Gordon knew it could be done, because it had been done the previous year when an old building in London, One Canada Square, had been moved over a mile by the same outfit doing this move. Granted that building was only half the size of the Empire State, but still, the principles were the same.
Unfortunately, in the arrogance of their previous success, the architects of this move had either failed to do their homework, or criminally ignored the facts. And the fact was that the island of Manhattan was riddled with underground streams and rivers. Within a few minutes of the attempted move, this fact had made itself known when the ground shifted and crumbled suddenly. Millions of people the world over stared at their TVs in horror as the building slowly tumbled to the ground.
It was a miracle that no lives were lost in the debacle. In fact, the only casualties were an aggressive newshound named Ned Cook and his cameraman. That's where Gordon and Scott had come in. As members of International Rescue, this should have been a walk in the park. It had become a marathon slog because IR's cargo lifter, Thunderbird Two, had been put out of action by an unwarranted missile attack the week before. The same ship that had blown Thunderbird Two out of the sky was pressed into service to ferry IR's submarine, Thunderbird Four, to the disaster scene.
It was a poor solution, taking hours longer than it should have. It left Gordon, TB4's pilot, with only minutes to locate the victims and extricate them. Because of the long delay, TB4 had been caught in a surge in the underground river when a second building collapsed. A tough little ship, the sub had survived the pummeling, but had been stuck when its engines became clogged with debris.
At that point, Gordon and Scott had a minor disagreement about what should be done next. Scott advocated the conservative course of simply waiting for the debris to settle. Once settled, it would be an easy matter for Gordon to don scuba gear and leave the ship to clear the engine manifolds. As much as Gordon would have preferred that solution, he felt that one of the victims needed medical care beyond his own EMT training, and therefore he advised Scott he couldn't wait.
Anytime a situation put one of his brothers in danger, Scott went into a kind of overdrive trying desperately to come up with less dangerous alternatives. With growing impatience, Gordon had rejected each alternative. Eventually, Gordon called in his father, Jeff, to mediate. Scott hadn't exactly backed down, but when Jeff pointed out that Gordon was in the better position to decide, Scott had simply told Gordon to be careful, and let it go.
It had been the right decision, and Gordon would stand by it, but by the time he had taken several trips to clear and re-clear the engines, he was bruised and battered. The next to last trip out had almost killed him when a particularly jagged rock had severed his air line. He barely made it back to the airlock in time.
In Thunderbird One facing his older brother, Gordon had no intention of letting Scott know about that. The two brothers stared at each other for a few moments, Gordon determined not to speak first. Scott relented eventually and said softly, "Is it just your shoulder, or is there more damage?"
Still wary, Gordon replied, "No, just the shoulder. It's not too bad, just a bruise."
"What about that cut on your head? Let me take a look."
Gordon tilted his head so his brother could see. "It's nothing, Scott, just a scrape."
"Well, let's clean it up anyway. Come on." Scott led the way to the equipment bay where he pulled a first aid kit from a locker. "Sit down."
Gordon settled himself on a bulkhead and quietly let Scott work, wincing when the cold alcohol swab touched the cut. After cleaning up the wound, Scott paused, then said "You're right. It's nothing. Can you take off the top of the wetsuit? I want to see that shoulder."
"Actually, I'd rather not."
"Yeah, that's what I thought. Listen, Dad's arranged to have Thunderbird Four flown down to Fua'amotu."
"Why not Christchurch?"
"At a guess, I'd say because he doesn't want you followed home. Last I heard, Tonga doesn't have a navy, unless you count the dugout canoes they cart the tourists around in."
"Oh please. Thunderbird Four can outrun anything the Kiwis have. Their biggest boat is a frigate, for God's sake!"
Scott smiled at his younger brother's indignation. He raised his hands in mock surrender. "Hey, you're preaching to the choir here. But you know Dad. He errs on the side of caution. Besides, it was bad enough having the Sentinel pick you up within 300 miles of home. We don't need people nosing around in our backyard. Dropping you off at Tonga just makes good sense logistically."
"Yeah, but it's 1900 miles away."
"Well, if Thunderbird Four isn't up to it…"
"Oh, don't even go there, Scott. It's just that it'll take me at least two, maybe three days to get home."
"What? I thought your toy submarine was faster than that! Weren't you the one who said you didn't need the Sentinel? That you could make it to New York just as fast on your own?"
"Oh, she's fast enough for you, old man. She made the Kessel run in twelve parsecs."
Scott shook his head at the old movie quote. "There are so many things wrong with that statement that I'm not even going to respond. Look, we both know Thunderbird Four can make 70 knots. By my calculations, it wouldn't even take 24 hours to make it home."
Gordon cocked his head to the side. "So speaks the flyboy. The ocean isn't like the sky, Scott. I can't just put her on autopilot and take a nap. There are things in the ocean. Things I'd rather not hit. And for that matter, I don't really want to run her at top speed if I don't have to. Do your calculations at 50 knots, 18 hours a day, and it's going to take two days. That's if I do a straight run. But I'm thinking of heading for the Tonga-Kermedec Trench. It's deep enough to throw off any pursuit, it will lead anybody following me in the wrong direction, and…" Gordon paused with a grin, "I've never been there before."
"My brother, the tourist," was Scott's only reply.
Gordon changed the topic. "So, you said Dad's going to have me flown down to Tonga? How?"
"Air Force. One of those new C-24 Globemaster Fives." At Gordon's blank look, Scott clarified. "It's a really, really big transport plane."
"Oh." Gordon replied, clearly uninterested.
Scott cocked his head. "Virgil is going to turn about as green as Thunderbird Two when he hears. He's been wanting a close look at one of those babies since they started production."
That brought a smile to Gordon's face. "Hmm. Thanks for the info. So how do I get to this plane?"
"The World Navy Base at Long Branch."
"Okay. I'll head on over now."
"Are you sure? It's been a tough forty-eight hours…"
"Not really. I slept on the Sentinel. How about you? You've actually been up for the whole forty-eight hours. Are you safe to fly?'
"Actually, I'm going to crash here. By the time you've sailed over to Long Branch and gotten loaded up, I'll be ready to fly escort."
"Escort? Are you kidding? How fast does this C-whatever go? Seventy, eighty knots? Thunderbird One will spit in your face if you make her go that slow!"
"No, these new babies can do mach speed. That's about 660 knots to you, fishbrain."
"I know how to convert, Scott. But still, that's practically stall speed for Thunderbird One. You don't need to escort me. Just go on home. I'll show up eventually."
"Why do I keep getting this picture of you coercing the flight crew into bar hopping across the United States?"
Gordon's only response was his patented look of wide-eyed innocence. Scott shook his head in disgust. "At any rate, Dad says I fly escort, so I fly escort."
"Well, it's going to be a long trip. You need to crash for more than a few minutes."
"A few minutes?" Scott snorted. "You've obviously forgotten what it's like to deal with the military. Even if you get there in under ten, it'll take them at least half a day to get you loaded up. I intend to get a full eight hours and still beat you into the air."
"Oh yeah. It's the Air Force, not WASP. I forgot."
Scott's smile was predatory. "Or I could just beat you right here?"
"You could try, Grandpa."
The two brothers stared at each other with identical smirks on their faces. Gordon backed down first with a chuckle. "Okay, okay. I give. The Air Force is just as good as WASP."
"Better, actually, but I'll accept your abject apology in light of family harmony. Now get going. Oh, uh, they want you to dock at slip twenty-four, dock five. Got it?"
"Got it. You sure you don't want me to tuck you in? Maybe read you a story before I leave?"
Grinning, Scott took a step toward his brother. Gordon for his part laughed, side-stepping away. As his brother disappeared up the passageway headed for the hatch, Scott called after him, "I'll call you once I'm airborne."
With a muffled FAB, Gordon was gone. Scott stood for a moment just looking around the equipment bay, then with a sigh, headed for the cockpit to report to his father.
Much to Gordon's disgust, Scott's prediction proved accurate. Despite his barbed comments to the big plane's loadmaster, it took almost eight hours to get Thunderbird Four on board. A good fifteen minutes before the plane's takeoff, Gordon heard the familiar whine of TB1's engines. The Globemaster's two pilots put in an appearance from the cockpit to stare in admiration at International Rescue's sleek flagship.
Scott contacted Gordon by wristcomm. "You about ready to go there, Gordon?"
Conscious of the listening ears, Gordon kept his reply professional. "Yes, we're ready to go here."
"All right. I've advised the Air Force that I will be flying escort. You can tell the pilot I'll wait until he is airborne to lift off."
"FAB." Gordon cut the circuit and turned to the nearby pilots. "You guys get that?"
The senior pilot, a silver-haired Colonel, nodded. "Why don't you come up to the flight deck with us? I've always wanted to meet one of you Thunderbirds. We could have a talk."
"Uh, I'd like that, but first I have some work to do on my ship. Maybe later?"
The pilot nodded, and followed by his co-pilot, headed to the cockpit, talking softly to each other. The loadmaster, a sergeant barely older than Gordon, said with deference, "Sir, if you'd like to be seated over here, we'll be taking off shortly."
"No thanks. I'll just get onboard my ship and strap in there."
"I'm sorry, sir, but that's against regulations. I'm going to have to ask you to sit over here, at least until we're airborne."
Gordon crossed his arms and cocked an eyebrow. "Let me get this straight. You actually have regulations that deal with transporting Thunderbirds?"
The sergeant blinked, nonplussed. "Well, no, not Thunderbirds specifically, but we transport vehicles all the time, and the regulations are very clear. It's for your own safety, sir."
"My safety? What? You don't think you have her secured well enough?"
"Oh no, she's secure, sir."
"Then what? The plane is unsafe?"
The sergeant paused, his eyes narrowing. "Sir, forget safety. Sit down over there. Because I said so."
Gordon broke into a big grin. "So how many younger brothers and sisters do you have?"
The sergeant relaxed, returning the grin. "One brother, two sisters. Man, you had me going there for a minute."
Gordon sat, buckled in, then extended his hand. "Sorry. Force of habit. My name's Gordon."
"Mine is Sherman. Sherman Atwood. My friends call me Buzz."
"Okay, Buzz. So how long have you been doing this loading thing?"
"Not that long. I'm young for the job, but I've always had a knack for organizing things."
"I think that's a big brother trait. My oldest brother is good at organizing too."
"You've got brothers? Huh, I always wondered about you guys. Does your brother know you're a Thunderbird?"
Gordon smiled. "Sorry, Buzz, I'm not supposed to talk about myself."
The two men were quiet as the engines of the big jet suddenly roared. Gordon sat holding on as the plane gathered speed, bouncing down the runway. It seemed to him that it took a long time for the jet to get up in the air, but finally he and Buzz were pressed back into their seats as the big transport climbed.
Once they reached cruising altitude, the tremendous noise abated, and Gordon released his seat belt. "It's been nice talking to you, Buzz, but I have some work I've got to do." Gordon smiled apologetically at the disappointment on the young sergeant's face. With a brief wave, he headed for the airlock on Thunderbird Four.
Entering the compact sub, he could see Buzz watching his every move as he sat in his pilot's seat. He reached forward and touched a control. The windshield of the sub immediately darkened. He could see out, but no one could see in. Satisfied, he kicked off his boots, loosened his belt, and leaned back. Within minutes he was sound asleep.
"Thunderbird One to Thunderbird Four." Gordon startled awake, looking around wildly for a moment before he remembered where he was.
"Uh, yeah… Yeah, Scott, I'm here."
There was a soft chuckle. "Are you sure?'
"Sorry, I was just taking a catnap."
"Some cat. You've been out for nine hours."
"Uh, no I haven't. I, uh, was um, cleaning up from the rescue."
"Uh-huh. Listen, before you dig yourself any deeper, let me tell you John's been listening in on your frequency. He says you've been making those little happy sounds."
Gordon felt his cheeks flush. His brothers had teased him since childhood about the sounds he made when he slept. Unable to come up with a suitable reply, he growled. "Fine. If you knew I was asleep, why did you wake me?"
Scott ignored the growl, replying, "We're an hour out of Fua'amotu. I talked to Dad, and he agrees they're unlikely to Shanghai you, so I'm going to head on home."
"Dad wants you alert and watching, though. If you can get up on the flight deck, go ahead and do it. If it looks like they're landing anywhere other than Fua'amotu, get on the comm, and I'll be back before the wheels touch the ground. Got it?"
"Wasn't there a song once about how paranoia strikes deep?"
"Just because you're paranoid, doesn't mean they aren't out to get you."
"Yeah, okay. I'll see you in a couple of days."
Gordon spent some time stretching out the muscles in his back, then left Thunderbird Four to see what was happening in the hold. He found Buzz slumped over in his seat, snoring away. Smiling, Gordon walked quietly past the sergeant, and headed forward. He came to a closed metal hatch, and after a brief hesitation, knocked hard on it.
The hatch opened after a few moments, and the co-pilot stood there a question on his face. Gordon put on his most ingratiating smile and threw a sloppy salute, saying, "I'm reporting as ordered for interrogation."
The man barked a laugh, and stood aside, inviting Gordon in with a wave of his hand. The silver-haired colonel turned in his seat, and with a warm smile extended his hand. "I was beginning to think you weren't going to take me up on my offer. Colonel Tom Kronberg, at your service."
"Sorry about that, Colonel. I had a tough day yesterday. I fell asleep."
The colonel smiled at the honesty. "Call me Tom. This is Lieutenant Jerry Foster. You can call him Jerry."
"Nice to meet you, Jerry. My name's Gordon, by the way. Sorry I can't give you my last name, but you know how it is."
"What, you could tell me, but then you'd have to kill me?"
"Actually, I'm not much of one for killing, so I'd rather just not give you my name."
"Well, good, I'd rather not be killed, so we're even. So tell me, how long have you been a Thunderbird?"
"Technically, I'm not a Thunderbird. Thunderbirds are the machines. I'm an International Rescue operative."
"Okay, then, how long have you been an International Rescue operative?"
"Sometimes it seems like I've been one all my life."
Jerry jumped in with a question of his own. "Say, do you ever get to fly Thunderbird Two? From everything I've heard it's a great ship, a lot like this baby."
Gordon forbore to point out the differences. "Yeah, it's like this plane. Both are too big for my tastes."
"So how much load can she carry?"
Gordon looked blankly. "A lot? Honest fellas, I never really thought about it."
"Well, how do you get to be a Thund… an International Rescue operative, anyway?"
"Oh, there are all sorts of ways, I suppose."
"Well, how did you do it?"
"Do you remember that TV special on the Thunderbirds last year? I'm actually an actor. They cast me as Gordon in the reenactment of one of the rescues," Gordon said casually. "The head of International Rescue saw the show and realized I was way better looking than the Gordon they had, so they fired him and hired me. I'd hook you up because you'd make a really great Virgil, but the guy in that slot now has some dirt on the head of the operation. Barnyard pictures."
Jerry listened with a frown, but Tom snickered. "You get a lot of practice making up those stories?"
"A lot of people ask. If I told the truth, I'd be out on my butt, so I make up stories."
"I can understand that. So you pilot that little DSV?"
"Did you really find an underground river in Manhattan? The news reports all say you rescued Ned Cook by going up a river that nobody knew was there."
"So what's he like in person?"
"Ned Cook. My parents watch his show every week."
"Oh. He's…" Gordon thought for a moment. "He's nosy."
Both men chuckled. Jerry looked at Gordon with sudden speculation. "My mom says Ned Cook could get a confession out of a head of cabbage. You didn't tell him anything?"
With a mock sigh, Gordon replied. "No. But then again, some of the guys at my base say I don't have the brains of a cabbage."
Tom snorted shaking his head, then with a nod of his head to the instrument panel asked, "You qualified? Care to take second seat for a while?"
"Only if you have a sudden death wish. Virgil, the guy who pilots Thunderbird Two, says I fly aircraft like a drunken orangutan… with cataracts in both eyes."
Both pilots suddenly shifted their attention. Gordon could hear a soft sound coming from their headphones. The silver-haired pilot acknowledged the broadcast then turned to Gordon saying, "Okay, then. We're on approach to Fua'amotu. It's been nice talking to you, but I'm going to have to ask you to go and strap in. We'll be landing in about ten minutes."
Under the guise of shaking hands with the pilots, Gordon checked out the front windshield. In the distance, he saw distinctive slipper shape of the island of Tongatapu, the main island of the Kingdom of Tonga. Satisfied, he returned to the cargo hold, and slipped into his seat next to Buzz. Now awake, Buzz looked at him in mild surprise. Gordon just shrugged with a grin and buckled his seatbelt as the huge plane gradually lost altitude.
Buzz looked at him with some speculation. "Say, Gordon, would you mind giving me your autograph? My kid brother is gonna freak when I tell him I met you, and if I could give him something with your autograph, it'd really make me a hero in his eyes."
"Wish I could, Buzz, but my boss says no. Tell you what. Why don't you give your brother this?" Gordon reached up and removed his hat. "He'll be the only one on his block with an official International Rescue hat complete with official International Rescue sweat."
"Are you serious? Damn! Thanks, man!"
Gordon grinned, heartened that his impulsive gesture was so well received. "No problem, Buzz. You tell your brother that I said I'm glad I could give it to him."
Further conversation was stopped by the sudden roar of jets as the big transport touched down and the engines reversed to act as brakes. As with the take-off, it seemed to Gordon to take an inordinate amount of runway to bring the plane to a stop. A glance at his seatmate assured him that the long run was normal.
As the plane began to taxi away from the runway, Gordon unbuckled his seatbelt and said, "Say Buzz, can you have Colonel Kronberg taxi back to the edge of the runway? I want to be as close to the water as possible."
Buzz nodded, pulled down his helmet mike and murmured something to his commander as Gordon headed to the hatch of Thunderbird Four. He barely reached the hatch before Buzz called out. "Uh, sir? There's a problem. There's some kind of delegation waiting for you at the terminal. We're requested to stop there."
Gordon was immediately wary. "What kind of delegation?"
"Not sure, sir. The Colonel says our orders are to protect you, but also to co-operate with the local authorities. Colonel says you're welcome on the flight deck if you want."
Worried, Gordon mumbled, "Yeah." He headed up to the front of the plane, tapping on the door to the cockpit.
The co-pilot opened it with an apologetic smile. "Come on up."
"What's going on?" Gordon moved forward to look out the front window. The plane was taxiing slowly to a small pre-fab building that served as the main terminal. He saw several black limousines pulled up in front, flags flying from the fenders. Standing by the cars were several beefy men in black suits and shades, and oddly, a young girl in a colorful native dress. Seeing the scene, Gordon said quietly, "Oh."
"Oh? I'm glad you know what this is about, because I haven't a clue." Col. Kronberg was clearly agitated at what was obviously something he hadn't planned for.
Gordon grinned, "Don't worry about it. I'll handle it."
Shaking his head in exasperation, Kronberg said, "Fine. What do you want us to do in the meantime?"
"Uh, I guess you better make sure you look your best. I'm probably going to have to introduce you, and you don't want to make the wrong impression." Without any further explanation, Gordon left the cockpit in search of Buzz.
"Hey, Buzz, I'm sorry, but I'm going to have to borrow back that hat. I've gotta go meet some people."
"Oh. Sure." The sergeant reluctantly handed the hat back to Gordon.
Gordon grinned, "Hey, don't worry. You'll have it back in no time. Oh, you'll want to make sure you're in full uniform. You may have to give a tour."
Both men suddenly braced as the giant transport came to a stop. Buzz looked like he wanted to ask a question, but Gordon moved away to the back of the plane. Before he reached the tail, the entire back half of the plane suddenly started to lower itself to become a ramp.
Gordon started trotting out before the ramp had hit the ground. The party from the limousines had moved forward, and he met them at the base of the ramp. Ignoring the men, Gordon turned to the girl who was no more than twelve. Bowing, he addressed her, "Malo e lakoifua."
The girl burst into a glowing smile. "Malo e lelei. I am Salote."
Gordon grinned and shook the proffered hand. "Yes, your majesty. I am very pleased to meet you."
"And I, you. You are Gordon, are you not?" The girl's formal speech did not hide her strong Australian accent. Gordon knew that she attended a private school in Sydney.
"Yes, Ma'am, at your service."
"I understand that you recently performed a most heroic rescue."
"Well, actually, with good equipment and proper training, it isn't any more heroic than your willingness to assume the throne."
"Ah. Then you are heroic indeed." The girl's joke tickled Gordon, and he laughed merrily. The child queen grinned at his appreciation, then grew more formal. "Tonga extends its protection to you and all of your kin."
"Thank you, your highness. On behalf of International Rescue, I accept your gracious offer; however, I must be leaving as soon as my Thunderbird can be unloaded. I have to be ready for the next rescue."
Queen Salote's face fell, but she covered it with a nod of her head. "I had hoped you would dine at the palace, but I understand your need to return to your base."
As they were speaking, the crew of the C-24 came up, all three wearing bemused expressions at the conversation they had overheard. Gordon glanced at the men, then bowed again to the child. "Your majesty, may I present Colonel Tom Kronberg, Lieutenant Jerry Foster, and Sergeant Sherman Atwood of the United States Air Force. Gentlemen, her serene highness, Queen Salote the Second."
The two younger men stood nonplussed, but the Colonel smoothly stepped forward and executed a sharp bow. "Your majesty, on behalf of the United States Air Force, I want to thank you for your hospitality in allowing us to land."
Gordon stopped listening as a distant familiar sound caught his attention. He slowly turned toward the horizon and searched until he spotted a silvery dot that expanded rapidly to become Thunderbird One. Surprised that his brother would check up on him, Gordon self-consciously checked his appearance in the shine of the closest limousine.
"Gordon! Gordon! Is that Thunderbird One?"
A sly look crossed his face, but as he turned back to the young queen, the look turned to an angelic smile. "Yes, Ma'am. That's exactly who it is. The pilot, Scott, is the field commander of the Thunderbirds. Now, I have to head straight on back to the base, but Thunderbird One is so fast, that I'm sure Scott would have the time to attend a meal at the palace. And I know for a fact that he doesn't get out very often, so I'm sure he'll appreciate the opportunity. Don't let him tell you otherwise, either. He's a shy kind of guy, but if you push, he'll do it and be glad he did."
Queen Salote's face was wreathed in joy. It was all Gordon could do not to chuckle. He'd teach Scott not to check up on him!
Turning his attention back to the approaching rocket plane, he watched as Scott did his usual pinpoint landing thirty feet from the rear of the big C-24. As the plane shut down, Gordon strode confidently to the lower hatch. As he arrived, the hatch popped open, and a pair of blue-clad legs appeared.
Almost before it could register that the person disembarking was moving far slower than he should be, a telltale yellow sash appeared, and Gordon practically whooped with joy. "Hey! You're out of bed! How are you feeling? What are you doing here?"
Seeing his younger brother's exuberance, Virgil Tracy held up his hands in mock surrender. "Easy there. Scott said he was bringing you some stuff for the trip, and I figured I'd come along and keep him company."
Gordon noticed that Virgil's eye kept straying to the C-24 looming nearby. "Of course you did. The fact that there was a nice big plane to look at had nothing to do with it."
Virgil spared a dry glance for his younger brother. "Step aside, junior."
Gordon turned his attention to Scott who had lightly jumped down from the hatch. "So, what did you bring me?"
Scott arched an eyebrow. "If I had my way, I wouldn't have brought you anything. It's Grandma who insists on babying you."
"Grandma? Ah, cool! What is it, food?"
"What do you think? She packed enough food for you, me, and half the World Navy."
"Excellent." Gordon's grin turned serious. "Does Dad know Virg hitched a ride?"
"No, and you aren't going to tell him, right?" Scott turned back to a cargo hatch and produced a large cooler. When he didn't get a reply, he turned back, "Right, Gordon?"
Gordon, who had been watching as Virgil limped toward the big cargo plane, glanced at his brother. Instead of responding, he looked up at a group of people approaching and said, "Your majesty, I'd like to present Scott, the field commander of the Thunderbirds. Scott, this is Queen Salote."
Throwing Gordon a look, Scott shoved the cooler into his brother's hands and performed a small bow. "Malo e lakoifua."
The young queen nodded graciously. "Malo e lelei. I am very impressed that both you and Gordon know the proper greeting."
Scott threw the smile that had melted hearts around the world. "Your majesty, it is just courtesy to know how to greet people in their own land."
"And who is this?" Salote gestured toward Virgil who was standing gazing up into the bay of the C-24.
Gordon jumped in before Scott could answer. "I'm sorry, your majesty, this is Virgil. He flies Thunderbird Two. He likes big things."
Virgil's shoulders slumped as he turned back to the party. "Forgive me, your majesty. Malo e lakoifua."
The twelve-year-old monarch grinned. "There is nothing to forgive. I like big things too. Colonel Kronberg has offered a tour. Perhaps you would be so kind as to escort me?"
Virgil was charmed by the young queen's grace. Extending his uninjured arm, he smiled. "I would like nothing better, your majesty."
Queen Salote slipped her hand onto Virgil's elbow and with a gracious nod toward her attendants, allowed him to lead her to the base of the plane's ramp. Satisfied that the demands of courtesy had been met, Scott rounded on Gordon. "You can run, but you can't hide."
"If Dad finds out that Virgil came with me, I'll know it was you that told him."
"Aw, come on, Scott. You know I'd never tell. I'm just glad he's well enough to play hooky."
"Yeah, me too."
Grinning, Gordon turned his back on his older brother, calling out to Sergeant Atwood. "Hey, Buzz? How quick can we get Thunderbird Four unloaded? I need to get going."
Buzz looked at the retreating backs of the royal party, being led by his commanding officer. "I think we need to wait until the tour is over."
"Naw. What for? Let's give her queenness a real show. Let her see how the Air Force does things."
Buzz narrowed his eyes for a moment, then nodded. "Okay. I guess it is pretty impressive. Let's get it done."
Scott stood bemused as his brother walked off with the young loadmaster. He looked down at the cooler that Gordon had set down. He considered leaving the cooler where it was, but then heaved it up and carried toward the cargo bay, where the sound of electric motors had started to whine.
He stopped short of the ramp, and watched as Thunderbird Four was slowly backed out of the cargo bay on a large plastine pallet. The sergeant was at the front of the Thunderbird with a large controller in his hand. Gordon was visible in the pilot seat of the small sub, a look of worried concentration on his face.
At the distant front of the bay, the royal party stood watching the proceedings as Colonel Kronberg gestured and explained what was happening. Scott saw that Virgil was off to the side with the other officer, a young lieutenant, no doubt discussing specs of the plane.
He sighed. Scott had initially been against letting Virgil come along. His injuries were more serious than he would ever let on. But it was obvious the outing was doing him some good. There was more color in Virgil's cheeks than Scott had seen since before the crash that had nearly taken his life. He decided he would face down their father if necessary.
In a shorter time than Scott would have thought possible, Thunderbird Four was out of the hold of the big cargo plane. Scott headed for the small hatch near the back of the sub, lugging the cooler with him. The hatch swung open as he approached and Gordon reached out for the cooler. "Thanks, Scott. I'm going to get going now."
Immediately suspicious, Scott replied, "What's your hurry?"
Gordon batted his eyes innocently, "No hurry. I just want to be on my way."
Not fooled by the look, Scott crossed his arms, "Uh-huh."
Gordon looked over Scott's shoulder, and a grin crossed his face. Scott turned around to find Virgil approaching, his face lit up like a little kid's at Christmas. Scott grinned. "Enjoy the tour?"
"Oh, hell, yes."
Scott's eyebrows climbed. His brother seemed far happier than a simple tour should make him. "Gordon here seems to be in a hurry to get out of here. Seems suspicious, don't you think?"
"Anything Gordon does is suspicious."
"Hey! You guys are just jealous because I'm responsible enough to want to get home in time for the next rescue."
Both older men broke into a laugh at the righteous declaration.
Virgil snickered, "Yeah, and Alan is a Nobel winning chemist in his spare time."
Scott glanced at Virgil and said, "Don't worry, Virg, I've got it covered." Looking at the indignant red head before him, Scott said, "A full tray of triple chocolate brownies."
"What? You don't have a full tray of brownies." Gordon scoffed, but Scott could see the doubt in his eyes.
"Oh, but I do. Grandma was in a particularly generous mood. Baked up a storm, didn't she, Virg?"
"She was like a whirlwind in the kitchen."
"But I haven't done anything!"
Scott just smiled. Gordon frowned. "Hand over my brownies."
"You're sure you haven't done something?"
"No, Scott, I didn't. But I'll tell you what, if you don't fork them over now, I'll tell Dad just who you let hitch a ride!"
Scott's eyes narrowed with sudden irritation. He never reacted well to threats. He took a step forward when Virgil laid a gentle hand on his arm. Scott's anger drained immediately and he grinned a particularly evil smile. Virgil had that cat-who-ate-the-canary look to him. Whatever he had, was bound to be good.
Virgil said gently, "Calm yourself, little brother. You're not getting those brownies. In fact, I think you're going to be putting in a few extra hours cleaning up around the base when you get home."
Scott grinned in expectation. "What've you got, Virg?"
Virgil never shifted his attention from his now uncertain younger brother. "Your ass is so mine!"
"Oh, give it your best shot." Gordon sneered.
With a beatific smile, Virgil looked heavenward. "I've got two words for you… Barnyard pictures."
Scott watched as Gordon started in surprise, then slowly colored bright red. "I have no idea what you're talking about."
"Ah, then you won't mind if I tell Dad all about it."
"Half the brownies."
"Did I say this was a negotiation?"
"Dad won't care, you know."
"You think? Let's ask Scott."
"Yeah, I think I want to hear this."
"All right! All right. Geez, you know, you've got absolutely no sense of humor."
"On the contrary, I have a great sense of humor. Scott, I have a great sense of humor, don't I?"
"Heck, yeah. I can hardly keep you from laughing." Both Scott and Virgil stood staring sternly, arms crossed.
Realizing he wasn't going to win, Gordon made a face. "Fine. I hope you two choke on them. Now, can I get out of here?"
Generous in victory, Virgil cocked an eyebrow at Scott. "Half?"
Scott considered for a moment, frowning at the sudden hope on Gordon's face. "Oh, all right. But you whisper a word of this to Dad, and you won't live long enough to regret it."
"I swear on my favorite brother's grave, I won't say a word."
Scott blinked at that one, then shaking his head, went over to Thunderbird One's cargo bay, reached in and pulled out a plastic wrapped rectangle. Holding it in both hands, he broke it roughly in half. Holding up the two halves, Scott weighed and judged which was larger, and held out the smaller half to Gordon.
Gordon looked like he'd say something, but seeing the anticipation on his brothers' faces, he shook his head, snatched his half, and stepped back up into Thunderbird Four. "I'll see you guys in a few days."
"All right. You be careful, and keep in touch."
"Aw, you DO care!" Gordon made a sappy face.
"Get the hell out of here, idiot." The fond smile on Scott's face belied the harsh words.
With a grin, Gordon shut the hatch just as Queen Salote approached.
Ten minutes later, Thunderbird Four was in the water, and Gordon was licking the last crumbs of a large brownie from his fingers. Kicked back in his seat, one hand on the steering column, Gordon gazed at a holographic chart of the region. He had done some snorkeling on the coral reefs in the area, but had never had an opportunity like this, to deep dive the Tonga-Kermedec Trench.
Less well known than the Marianas Trench, the Tonga Trench was nearly as deep, and just as fascinating to Gordon's mind. As he passed the outer reaches of the harbor, Gordon sent his beloved sub into a dive to take him below the surface. Almost immediately, an alarm sounded, indicating the presence of a ship nearby.
Frowning, Gordon checked his instruments. Despite the alarm, there was no indication of any ship in proximity. With raised eyebrows, Gordon re-set the alarm only to have it go off a second time. With a frown, he called out, "Thunderbird Four to Thunderbird Five."
"Thunderbird Five. What's up, Gordon?"
"John, I have a proximity alarm here. Do you show any traffic in the area?"
"Uh, you've got a cruise ship about ten miles out. Other than that, about forty sailboats in the area, but nothing that should give you any grief."
"No, this would be something nearby, and underwater."
"Well, nothing is supposed to be there. Let me bounce a few signals, see if I can come up with anything."
"FAB." Gordon spent the next few moments running a quick diagnostic on his systems, but other than the one alarm, he could find nothing amiss.
"Thunderbird Five to Thunderbird Four."
"Go ahead, John."
"I've run a sensor sweep of the entire area. It looks clear."
"Okay, I guess it was…whoa!"
"Gordon? Gordon, what's happening?"
Gordon had no time to answer. He had been gradually increasing his speed as he had spoken, and the little submarine was moving very quickly when a huge wall loomed suddenly in its path. At least that is how it seemed to the beleaguered aquanaut.
Unable to slow his craft in time, Gordon had done the only thing he could. He hauled on the control wheel of the sub desperately trying to skate along the curved surface of a full-sized naval submarine. He was only partially successful, and he gritted his teeth as Thunderbird Four scraped her bottom along the hull of the larger boat.
The collision only lasted for a few seconds, but to Gordon it seemed an eternity of screeching metal. Finally Thunderbird Four bounced away from its nemesis. Cutting the engines, Gordon let his sub coast away. Only after his heart stopped pounding so loudly in his ears did he realize that John had been joined by both his father and his brother Scott, all demanding explanations at the same time.
"Thunderbird Four. Give me a moment, folks." Gordon took the time to assure himself that his instruments showed no significant damage. With a gusty sigh, he complained. "John, you need to get your eyes checked. I almost splattered myself all over a boomer."
"A nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine. American."
"Son, are you all right?"
"I'm going to need to go out to check the hull, but I think so."
John's next comment was tinged with exasperation. "He meant you, Gordon."
Gordon chuckled, "Love me, love my sub, Johnny. I'm fine Dad. Took a couple of years off my life, but I got plenty to spare."
Gordon was already pulling on his wetsuit as he made the comment. He peered out the front windshield of Thunderbird Four looking for any sign of the submarine, but even with the crystal south seas waters, it was impossible to see beyond a few hundred feet. Gordon figured he had coasted for at least a mile before he brought his small boat to a stop.
Hanging in neutral buoyancy about one hundred feet above the gradually sloping seafloor, Thunderbird Four was probably an inviting target. Gordon considered the wisdom of leaving the sub. If its bigger cousin had any hostile intent, being caught outside could be the last mistake he ever made.
"Thunderbird One to Thunderbird Four, come in, Gordon." Gordon's eyebrows lifted in mild surprise at Scott's return to the formality of protocol.
"Go ahead, Scott."
"Listen, if your instruments don't indicate any problems, I don't want you going out to check that hull. You don't know what that other sub has in mind."
Gordon had been thinking the same thing, but he couldn't help turning a bit stubborn. "It's an American sub, Scott. It's not like it's going to fire on me. I'll be fine. Besides, I'm going to have to dive the trench to lose her, so I have to be absolutely sure there's no damage."
Virgil's response was pointed. "It was a World Navy ship that fired on me."
Gordon winced at his father's startled "Virgil?"
Silence reigned on the airwaves for almost a minute before Scott responded, clearing his throat. "Virgil's with me, Dad. I thought the short trip would do him good."
Again a long silence, before Jeff responded sternly, "We'll discuss it when you get home. What's your ETA?"
"Uh, well… Dad, Queen Salote has invited us to dinner at the palace. I tried to get out of it, but she insisted, and well, I told her okay."
Gordon could practically hear the shrug as Scott spoke. He was glad that he didn't have the video linked up. It wouldn't bode well for his future if Scott got a look at the smirk on his face.
John brought the discussion back to what he thought was the salient point. "Gordon, you don't have to dive that trench. Thunderbird Four can outrun that sub."
Silently damning his brother's one-track mind, Gordon responded. "I wouldn't be so sure of that. It's one of those new Long Beach class subs. I've heard rumors about her speed. And bringing Thunderbird Four up to full speed with a damaged hull is a quick way to commit suicide."
"Fine. Bring her back to Fua'amotu. You can do a full inspection. And join Virgil and me in dinner with the queen."
Gordon flinched at Scott's tone. Apparently he suspected Gordon's part in the queen's insistence that he stay for a meal. Thinking fast, he said, "No. You guys aren't getting it. If the hull is damaged, I need to know now. I'm a good forty miles from shore, and if there's a problem, I may not make it back if I don't do something about it."
It was a bald exaggeration. If there were any problem that serious, Gordon's instruments would have been flashing warnings long before this. But Gordon had no intention of backtracking, and not just to avoid his older brother's wrath. He wanted to get home, pure and simple. His shoulder ached and he was dirty and tired.
"Son, hold on."
Something in his father's voice made Gordon meekly reply, "Yes, sir."
While waiting for his father, Gordon took the time to finish double checking his diving gear. That done, he sat for a moment, then on impulse, started easing the little sub to the surface. There was no point in diving at five hundred feet if he could do it at fifty. It was safer, and easier on the equipment.
"Base to Thunderbird Four. Gordon, are you sure that sub is American?"
Surprised, Gordon confirmed. "Absolutely. I practically sheared off the Laser sighting mast."
Gordon had good reason to be familiar with the equipment aboard American submarines, having served on one during his stint in the Navy. The few countries in the world that still maintained submarine fleets each had different designs, as obvious to Gordon as different makes of racecars were to his brother Alan.
"They're denying having any ships in the area. I want you to be very careful, son. They may just be acting cagey, or this sub commander may be out to make a name for himself."
"Knowing how they think, I'd be willing to bet they're just denying everything on general principle." John's sarcasm brought a smile to Gordon's face.
"Yeah, probably. Dad, I'm on the surface. If he wants me, he's going to have to come up top to get me. I'll just take a quick look-see, just to make sure it's nothing more than scratched paintwork."
Gordon could sense the trepidation coming from his father and brothers, but Jeff's voice was firm when he said, "Just be careful, son."
"FAB." Gordon moved quickly to the rear hatch, before anyone could raise any more objections. Flooding the airlock, he made one last check of his gear, and exited the sub. As soon as he was below the surface, he scanned the area for any sign of the submarine. Not finding it did not ease his mind. He knew only too well what weapon options the commander had at his fingertips.
Gordon turned his attention to a close scrutiny of the underside of his ship. As he expected, there were long gouges in the paint of the lower hull. He moved in and ran his hand along one of them. The structure underneath the paint seemed thankfully undamaged. Still, Gordon felt his heart thump heavily at the beating his ship had taken.
Sure that his beloved Thunderbird had no serious damage, Gordon returned to the cockpit. As he pulled off his mask and re-breather, his eyes scanned the instrument panel. Still no sign of the sub, but he really didn't expect to see anything. The stealth package on the thing had almost caused the collision. As soon as he sat down, he called out, "Thunderbird Four to Base. I've completed my inspection. The damage is all cosmetic."
"Well, thank God for that. Any sign of that other sub?"
"No, Dad, but they can lay off a couple thousand yards and still keep me on their scope."
"Uh, Gordon, I want you to uh, try that inverse phase generator. It sh-should keep them from uh, tracking you easily."
"I thought you said you didn't have the bugs worked out yet."
"Well, uh, no. No, it isn't uh, perfect, but it should uh, confuse their sensors long enough for you to uh, get away."
"I dunno, Brains. The last time we field tested it, I puked for days."
"That, uh, was a simple matter of adjustment, uh, Gordon."
"Easy for you to say." Gordon muttered.
Alan's voice could be heard challenging, "Wimp."
"Dad, are either Tin-Tin or Grandma in the room?"
"Uh, no, Gordon. Why?"
Gordon remarked casually, "Go screw yourself, Alan."
"That's enough of that! Gordon, if you don't want to use the generator, how do you plan to keep from being followed home?"
"The Tonga trench. This new class of sub has HY150 hulls. They can operate at down to about 750 fathoms. I'll just drop into the DSL and they'll never know I'm there."
John drawled, "Gee, I love it when you talk Navy at me. Can you put that in English for us mere mortals?"
Gordon spoke slowly and distinctly. "I can go deeper than they can."
"You can also go faster. Why don't you just outrun them?"
Leave it to Scott to point it out the speed option. Gordon sighed. "Guys, I know what I'm doing, okay? If it comes to it, I'll outrun her, but I'd rather do it my way."
"All right, son, but I want you to stay in contact. I don't like the fact that that submarine is there. I don't trust this situation at all."
"I understand, Dad. I'll be careful." Gordon waited a moment for any additional comments. "Okay, then, I'm diving now. I'll see you all in a couple of days."
His family signed off, but mindful of his promise, Gordon left his comm system active. He dropped the responsive little submarine straight down to four hundred feet, then took a few moments to verify that his instruments showed no stress from the near collision.
Satisfied, Gordon reached for his controls. The same alarm that had blared before went off with a startling loud sound. Jumping in his seat, Gordon shot out his hand to slap it off. Again none of his other systems registered any sign of the sub that Gordon knew was out there.
Suddenly, Gordon felt Thunderbird Four lift and move forward as if it were caught in a swift current. The hairs rose on the back of his neck as he tried to see what was behind him. "I gotta get me rearview mirrors," he muttered.
When the pressure wave passed, he pivoted the small craft. He looked up. And up… at the giant shadow that loomed over him. The sub was back. No more than twenty feet away, it was like looking at Thunderbird Two. It just filled Gordon's entire field of vision.
He sat considering. On the one hand, he was glad that the new propulsion systems gave the sub the ability to 'stop on a dime.' Otherwise he would be a little more than a grease smear on the its bulbous nose. On the other hand, it was damned irritating to have the thing in his back pocket.
Gordon laughed as he realized the sub commander had made a grave error. The stealth technology of the submarine was very advanced. The commander had every right to have tremendous confidence that his submarine couldn't be seen by any conventional sensing equipment. But he seemed to have forgotten one minor detail. Gordon had windows.
Shaking his head, he wondered if the commander just expected to follow him home like the proverbial puppy. Deciding enough was enough, Gordon called out, "Thunderbird Four to Thunderbird Five. Hey, Johnny, it's ba-ack."
"That sub? Are you okay? What's it doing?"
"Relax, big guy. It's just sitting there. I think it wants to follow me home. Do you think Dad'll let me keep it?"
"No. You don't know where it's been."
Gordon laughed. "Listen, it's about twenty feet off my bow. See if you can image it."
"Give me a moment."
Gordon floated, facing off with the huge sub. The fact that Thunderbird Four was the size of a go-cart facing off against a Mack truck never entered his mind. He was convinced the bigger sub was at a distinct disadvantage. Mainly because he intended to fight dirty.
John's voice was admiring when he came back online. "Thunderbird Five to Thunderbird Four. Boy, even knowing exactly where that thing is, I can't get a hit off of it. It's amazing."
"Okay, hold on. I want to try an experiment."
"What? Hey, don't be stupid, Gordon. Stay away from that thing!"
Gordon smiled, but didn't respond. He had been letting Thunderbird Four drift upward. With any luck, the sub commander would think he just wasn't watching his trim. When he was slightly above the deck of the larger sub, he hit a switch that extended a gun-like barrel out the front of his boat. He knew the quiet electric motor would be discernable to any listening ears, but he also knew it didn't sound like anything the trained sailors would have heard before.
Taking a deep breath, he kicked his boat into gear, and dove in a strafing run across the bow of the sub. He hit a control and a fast-drying cement, intended for quick patches of damaged hulls, squirted under pressure to splatter onto the hull of the bigger craft.
Darting away, Gordon smirked. "Look again, John."
There was silence, then John asked warily, "What did you do? I've got something down there. It doesn't look like any kind of ship I've ever seen. What is it?"
"I spoiled their nice stealth coating with DCS. I just shot it out. They didn't stand a chance, matey." This last was said with Gordon's best pirate voice.
"Ah. Kind of like skunk spray."
"Arrrrh, you be saying I stink, boyo?"
"Have you bathed recently?"
"Ar, no… that be why me parrot jumped ship."
"Uh-huh. Well, I can track her now."
"Great. Okay, I'm going to head on over to the trench now. See what she's made of."
"Swell. Have fun. Play nice."
Feeling rather smug, Gordon keyed in the co-ordinates of the trench, he reached for his controls when a sound so loud it vibrated through his body shook the small ship. Curled over with his eyes squeezed shut, he pressed his hands hard over his ears, swearing, "Sonofa… Damn it!"
Eyes streaming from the pain, Gordon rocked in his chair getting his breathing under control. For the second time in as many hours, he became aware of his father and brothers' demands for explanation. Rotating his head and yawning to clear his ears, he finally responded, "Thunderbird Four. I'm okay. Bastard pinged me."
"Well, what did you expect? You started it."
"What? What did he do? Gordon, what did you do?" Jeff's voice was steely.
"I sprayed him with DCS so John could track him."
It sounded entirely reasonable to Gordon, but he could hear Scott's explosive curse before his father cut in. "All right. I want you to put distance between you and that submarine, now."
He opened his mouth to argue, but hearing the tone of his father's voice, thought the better of it. Heaving a sigh, he dutifully replied, "Yes, Father. I'm leaving the area now."
Gordon kicked his sub into gear. With the engines on full thrust, he was pushed back into his seat as Thunderbird Four went from zero to forty knots in less than a minute. With a grim smile, he muttered, "Eat plankton, asshole."
The odd pattern of the cement on the hull of the larger submarine showed up clearly on his sensors. He watched closely as the ship got under way. Its increase in speed was painfully slow compared to Thunderbird Four, but the boat's commander was nothing if not persistent. It followed Thunderbird Four's course and gradually matched her speed.
Confident that the sub meant only to follow him, Gordon kept his boat's speed down to match the larger ship. He knew to a centimeter just how far the Navy sub's sensors could reach, and he carefully stayed within the parameters. There was plenty of time to lose the guy, but for now, he wanted to play.
Gordon thought it over for a moment, then with a sly grin, abruptly changed his course. He was still going forward, but moving now to the right. Watching the sensors, he waited until the larger boat matched his move, then he swung abruptly back to the left.
Sure enough, the Navy boat followed him move for move. Soon he had the two subs racing along swaying back and forth like a couple of drunken buddies singing in a hofbrau house. Silently chuckling at the thought, he considered his next move.
He mentally reviewed the protocol for following an adversary. His face lit up as he remembered the hydraphones. A relic of the last century, modern hydraphones were highly attuned listening devices. Gordon could remember one of his shipmates, a petty officer, bragging that he could hear a used condom hit the deck of a cruise liner five miles away.
With unholy glee, he cranked up the megaphone speaker to high. Normally it was only used while on the surface, but he knew the Navy's hydraphones would pick up the sound and scrub it so that it would sound as if he were in the same room. In time to his swaying progress, he began to sing.
"Everyone loves the king of the sea,
Ever so strong and powerful is he,
Thrusts he will do when submarines appear,
How they swoon when he's near
"They call him Gordon, Gordon, faster than lightening,
No sub you see, is smarter than he,
And we know Gordon kicks ass in a bird made of Thunder,
Flying there under, under the sea."
Gordon continued in that vein, gradually introducing raunchier lyrics as he thought of them. He was into his fifth rendition when he was interrupted by a call from his brother. He shut down the loudspeaker then opened the link.
"Thunderbird Five to Thunderbird Four. Gordon, what the hell are you doing down there?"
"What do you mean, John?"
"You know what I mean. At first I thought it was my instruments, but it's not. It's you and that idiot submarine. What are you doing?"
"Oh, you mean the course changes? I'm just swinging along with the song I'm singing for my good friends in the Navy. I call it "The Gordon Song." Wanna hear?"
"NO! God, you have a mean streak."
"Yes, you. You know as well as I do that your singing is consider toxic waste by most governments. And a violation of the Geneva Conventions on torture."
"I'm hurt, nay, crushed, that you would say that, Johnny."
"Yeah, right. Listen, I thought Dad told you to lose that sucker."
"No, what he said was to put some distance between us. Don't fret your little head, big brother, I'll lose him. I'm out over the trench now, and I'm going to start a deep dive pretty soon."
"Actually, you're going to start it right now." John's voice took on a touch of steel.
"I will. I just want to lead him on a bit further."
"Maybe you didn't hear me. I said, now, Gordon."
Gordon felt a twinge of irritation come over him. Despite the fact that John had no training in aquanautics, he, like Virgil and especially Scott, felt they could bully him in his own element. He wasn't some flatfish to hide in the sand fearful of anything with fins and teeth. He was a shark, albeit a small one. He knew what he was doing, and how far he could push things. He only wished his overprotective older brothers could see that.
"Well, I did hear you, John. I just don't agree with your assessment. Or lack of one. I'll tell you just once, I know how to handle this situation and I don't need you second guessing my tactics."
"Tactics? Waving a red flag in front of a bull is not 'tactics', it's suicide. Damn it, Gordon, you're taking stupid chances and…"
"At least I'm willing to take a chance now and then."
"You heard me. Listen, John, whether you like to believe it or not, I am an adult. I may not have the Harvard degree, but I'm actually pretty well regarded in my field. You just let me handle the water, and I'll let you handle outer space. Fair enough?
John's voice came back deadly calm. "What did you mean when you said you're willing to take a chance?
"Crap." Gordon was suddenly tired and no longer interested in a fight. Especially not with John, who could outthink him with both hands tied behind his back. "I didn't mean anything, Johnny. Let's just forget it, okay?"
"Start your dive, Gordon." John was giving no quarter.
"Fine. Diving now. Thunderbird Four, out." With that Gordon slammed his hand on the comm panel shutting off communication. Taking a deep breath and exhaling gave Gordon a sense of releasing the tension that the conversation with his brother had caused to build.
Feeling perverse, Gordon started to dive, but in an very shallow plane, dropping only a foot or so for every ten yards he traveled. He gave up his forward progress in favor of a wide sweeping turn. Checking to make sure the submarine was still following, he began a mile wide spiral down into the depths.
Humming to himself, he gradually tightened the spiral, and increased the plane of the dive so that soon he was heading almost straight down. He watched as he passed the crush depth of most conventional subs. The Navy boat still followed. He tightened the spiral still further, daring the bigger ship to keep up. Had the water not turned pitch black long ago, Gordon was sure he would have seen the other ship on the other side of the tight spiral he was spinning.
When he reached what he knew had to be the safety limits of the other ship, he flicked a switch turning on Brains' inverse phase generator. The ingenious device was intended to act as a cloaking shield for the Thunderbirds. Gordon held his breath against the onset of the nausea that had gripped him the last time he had field-tested the device, but he felt nothing except a slight buzzing sensation around his ears.
He pulled himself to a halt in the center of the spiral and watched as the bigger sub continued down for a few moments, then slowed. Suddenly realizing what would happen next, Gordon sent Thunderbird Four shooting forward. He had only made a short distance, when the Navy sub let out with another sonar ping.
Gordon gritted his teeth. It wasn't as bad as the first time… modern sonar was highly directional, and the sound was directed downward, but still, it wasn't comfortable. Turning on the loudspeaker system, Gordon forced cheer in his voice as he said, "Love to stay and play, boys, but time's a wasting. See you later!"
Setting a course that continued his dive but at a much shallower rate, Gordon set his speed at twenty-five knots. Not really fast enough to get him home quickly, it was the safest speed considering his depth. He had no real concern about hitting anything. His sensors could easily detect the walls of the gradually narrowing canyon he was travelling, and most of the wildlife at this depth was small enough not to damage his ship even if it couldn't get out of the way.
With his forward floodlights on full, Gordon could see about twenty feet ahead. He wished he could take the time to explore some of the interesting nooks and crannies of the canyon walls that his sensors told him were out there, but he knew if he stayed too long there would be hell to pay at home.
He had to content himself with moving quickly along for the moment. He promised himself when he got to the point that he would have to leave the trench he would find a ledge, take a nap then do some serious exploration before cutting across the ocean to his island home.
It didn't take long for Gordon to leave the Navy sub far behind. Without that distraction, he found he was becoming very sleepy. Determined to hold to his plan, he booted the little sub's speed up almost to the point of recklessness. Taking to the middle of the canyon he was traveling, the trip took on a dreamlike quality. There was nothing to see to keep his mind occupied, just an eternal night flecked with tiny bits of suspended organic matter.
Gordon wasn't even aware he had drifted off until his proximity alarms started to screech. Startled, he tightened his grip on the controls and veered away from a prominence that had appeared like magic in his limited view. Heart beating hard, he brought Thunderbird Four to a halt, and scanned his sensor readings. To his disgust, he found that he had drifted from his central course and come near to colliding with the wall of the canyon.
Realizing he was too tired to continue safely, he scrutinized the area his sensors revealed and found a ledge. More like a small plateau, the area was plenty large enough to accommodate Thunderbird Four. Gordon guided his sub over. The floodlights revealed a barren landscape of rock and debris. Convinced it was safe, he gently settled the craft down. Once on the seabed, his hands hovered for a moment over the controls as he waited to see if there would be any shifting. After a moment, he let out a breath he hadn't known he was holding, and started shutting down the ship's systems.
He sat for a moment listening to the creaks and groans of Thunderbird Four settling in, then contacted his brother. "Thunderbird Four to Thunderbird Five. John, I'm shutting it down for the night."
"All right. Everything okay down there?"
"Yeah. It's fine."
"Listen, I'm sorry I snapped at you."
"It's okay. If you don't hear from me by 8 a.m. will you call me?"
"Sure. Sleep well. Good night."
Content, Gordon settled back in his seat. Within minutes, he was deep asleep.
After several hours, but well before his scheduled wake up call, Gordon felt himself pulled from sleep. The pilot's chair of Thunderbird Four wasn't really designed for sleeping and he had become increasingly restless, trying to find a comfortable position. Sighing, he finally opened his weary eyes.
At first, he just gazed out into the dark ocean, waiting for the spots to clear from his eyes. After a few minutes, he frowned. He was wide awake, yet the dreamlike vision of bright glowing blue-white and yellow-green spots continued a mesmerizing dance in front of his eyes. Shaking his head and rubbing his eyes did not cause the phenomenon to stop.
Realizing what he was seeing was something outside Thunderbird Four, he leaned forward to get a better look. The spots ranged in size from slightly larger than a fist to as big as a dinner plate. They seemed to stretch dozens of feet in either direction but were limited to a band about four feet in width.
Just when he thought he had a handle on what he was seeing, the band split into two bands. Each band was still four feet wide, but the blue-white and yellow-green spots segregated themselves onto the separate bands.
Gordon didn't move, hardly willing to breathe. He wanted the dance to continue and after a few moments it did. The two bands gently came together again, sinuously twining and twisting together. He laughed in delight at the wonder of it, his eyes darting back and forth to follow all of the ballet of dancing spots.
An endless time later, but too soon for his taste, the dance ended, the two bands once again separating.
This time the yellow-green spots darted away as the blue-white band hung before him, gently waving as if in a spring zephyr.
Gordon started from his half-hypnotized state and reached to flick on the floodlights. He gasped at the sight before him. The lights drowned out the phosphorescent spots but revealed in its place a huge sinuous body as big around as a concrete sewer pipe, silvery gray with darker gray spots that corresponded with the phosphorescent ones that had danced moments before.
Gordon immediately started his recording cameras. He'd never seen anything quite like this. It was a huge fish. There was a red-tinged dorsal fin running along the body as far as the light permitted him to see. He assumed he was at about the mid-point of the long body, as no other fins were readily apparent.
Gordon swung his head to the left. From the shape of the dorsal fin, he knew the head of the beast had to be to his left, but he feared if he made any attempt to move Thunderbird Four, the fish would be gone in a heartbeat. He wanted to see the head to identify the animal. He was pretty sure it was an eel of some sort but he needed to know if it was Muraenidae or Anguillidae.
Frowning, but excited, he put in a call. "Thunderbird Four to Tracy Island. Dad, you there?"
After a moment, he got a response. "Your father has not yet awakened. Can I assist you?"
"Kyrano! You're not going to believe what I'm seeing! Can you get Brains for me?"
"Sir, it is but five thirty in the morning. Brains worked late into the night. I feel he would not benefit from being wakened at this hour." Kyrano's words were no less firm for being softly spoken.
"Aw, but this is important. I think I've discovered a new form of eel. I need him to help me figure out how to get a shot of its head."
"At the moment, only your grandmother and I are awake. Perhaps we can be of help?"
Deflated, Gordon shook his head. "No, that's okay, Kyrano. I'll figure something out. Thanks anyway."
He reached to shut down the connection, but paused at a call, "Gordon? What's the matter, honey? Can't you sleep?"
Ruth Tracy came into his view on the screen. He smiled at her concerned face, "No, Grandma, I'm fine. I just have a technical problem here."
"Technical? Is there something wrong with Thunderbird Four?"
He was quick to reassure the elderly woman. "No, nothing like that. Here, look… See? It's a really big fish. I think it might be something entirely new to science. I want to get a look at its head, but if I start up Thunderbird Four, it'll swim off, and I'll never find it again."
Ruth frowned thoughtfully. "What about bait? Can't you use something to make it come around?"
"I'm pretty sure it's an eel. Most eels hunt by smell, or lie in wait for their prey. I don't have anything that would smell particularly tasty to an eel." With a wry grin he added, "Unless you packed fish chunks in that cooler?"
"Oh, sweetie, I'm sorry. We were fresh out of fish chunks yesterday." Ruth smiled at her grandson's chuckle. Still thinking she asked, "What about sound? Maybe you could appeal to its curiosity?"
"You know, Grandma, it's worth a try. I wonder if it likes trash rock."
"Surely not! I was thinking more along the lines of that tape of whale song you played for me."
"I don't have that with me. Maybe I could just fake some kind of fish sounds."
Ruth's voice took on a suspicious quality. "Honey, how big is that fish?"
"At a guess, I'd say about a hundred feet."
"Oh my! Gordon, maybe you should just let it alone."
Gordon looked at his grandmother's suddenly worried countenance. "What do you mean?"
"Well, what if it takes a bite out of Thunderbird Four?"
Laughing, Gordon replied, "Grandma, it's not going to take a bite out of Thunderbird Four. It's big, but that doesn't mean it's stupid. I'll tell you what, if it shows any sign of aggression, I'll blast it with my engines, okay? I don't think it will, though. And I still want to see its head. And the tail, too, if I can."
"Honey? What is that beyond it?"
Gordon peered out. "Where? Oh my gosh! It's the other one coming back! Oh man, this is so cool!"
"What? What's going on?"
Gordon's eyes didn't leave the water as he replied, "Dad! Check your monitor. I've got a new species of eel out here. It's amazing!"
Gordon held his breath as the other fish, visible as a barely discernable line of yellow-green phosphorescent dots approached from the gloom beyond Thunderbird Four's floodlights. "Come on, come to papa."
"Son, how big is that thing?"
Mesmerized by the slow approach of the second fish, Gordon did not respond, instead shushing his father as he sat rock still, as if afraid any movement on his part would scare the animal away. His heart started to beat faster. If it continued on its present path, the head would be visible any moment.
Gordon's whole world seemed to pause for a moment, then suddenly, it was there. Bright red spikes shot up from its head, the longest disappearing into the gloom. Two long feeler-like appendages swept back from under its jaw extending for almost twenty feet along its body. The head itself was blunt, with a surprisingly small mouth.
Gordon laughed with joy. "Regalecus! It's regalecus!"
"Okay, I'll take your word for it." Jeff's dry tone penetrated his son's euphoria.
"Dad, this is so great! It's not an eel at all! It's an oarfish! My God, do you know how rare it is to see an oarfish? And at this depth? This is wonderful!"
"Did you say 'oarfish'?"
In his happiness, Gordon grabbed handfuls of hair in both hands. "Yeah. It's in the ribbonfish family. Dad, this is the bad boy that oldtimers used to mistake for sea serpents. God, and I can see why! These two are at least twice as long as any oarfish I've heard of. Hey! I discovered a new species! I can have it named after me! Regalecus glesne gordonii! Cool!"
"Gordon!" Jeff's stern voice was a splash of cold water on his son's ardor. "Son…"
Deliberately misunderstanding, Gordon cut in to delay the inevitable. "Okay, okay, we'll call it regalecus glesne tracii."
With a sigh, Jeff lowered the boom. "Son, you know you can't report this."
"I'm sorry. You know I am, but any report you would make could be fatal to our operation." Jeff eyes were filled with sympathy. "Take your pictures, but you're just going to have to keep this to yourself."
His father's words were like a knife in his soul. He knew the truth of them, knew there was no way, but still he felt an ache. His family never really understood his fascination with the deep. In a moment of resentment, he wondered if his father would tell John he couldn't report a new star. The thought was quickly quashed. He'd get his chance some day. Just not today.
"Yeah, I understand. I'm, uh, just going to watch for a while, then I'll head on out. I'll see you all later today." Gordon cut the connection as he father took a breath to say something else. He wasn't in the mood for pity.
He stared for a few moments as the second fish took up the mating dance. In the cold light, it had lost its magic, so he shut down the floodlights then settled back to in his chair to immerse himself in the spellbinding ballet. He sighed knowing the sea serpents danced for him alone.
"Thunderbird Five to Thunderbird Four. You're on the move." John's voice had an accusatory tone.
When the oarfish had finally finished their dance and darted away, Gordon had decided he had had enough of exploration. All he wanted was to get home, take a shower and fall into his bed. He had raised Thunderbird Four out of the deep dark canyons of the Tonga Trench, and in the sunny clear tropical waters of the near surface, brought her up to full speed.
The presence of light in the water seemed to bring a responding presence of lightness in is heart. "Good morning, Johnny! And how are you on this fine day?"
"Oh Lord. Now what are you up to?"
"Oh, about 70 knots."
"Ha-ha. I thought you were going to do some exploring."
"Yeah, I was, but getting home is sounding better and better. I can explore some other day."
John grunted. "Well, call me if you need anything."
"I will. Oh wait… do you have anything on that Navy sub?"
"Yeah, I just checked on him. He's about a five hundred miles north of you. Looks like he's headed for Samoa."
"Told ya I'd lose him. Any other bogeymen in the vicinity?"
"No, the boards are clear."
"Great. I'll talk to you later."
"FAB." With that, John was gone and Gordon settled down to try and beat his own speed record getting home.
Some hours later, Gordon had finally reached Tracy Island. Using his skids, he skated across the tarmac and pulled his beloved sub into the hangar, and at last into its berth aboard pod four. As he shut the systems down, he waved to his brother Alan who had come to meet him.
Alan grinned when the hatch finally opened. "Welcome home."
Happy to see a friendly face, Gordon smiled. "Thanks. You won't believe what I saw, Al."
"Dad told me. An honest-to-God sea serpent. Only you would find an honest-to-God sea serpent." Alan shook his head, then frowned. 'What's that crap on the lightbar?"
Gordon swung around to stare at the glue-like substance covering the front of his ship. He started to laugh. "Not just a sea serpent, kiddo. Two sea serpents. Two humping sea serpents. That's milt."
"Sea serpent semen? Gross! Oh, what are you doing now?" Alan cried in dismay as his brother pulled out a plastic container from the cooler.
"I'm collecting a sample. I wanna save this stuff."
Face screwed up with disdain, Alan nonetheless stood by ready to help if needed. "You are truly weird, you know that?"
Gordon's merry laughter filled the pod. It was good to be home.
Virgil Tracy limped through the hangar in search of his brother, Scott. At breakfast they, along with Alan, had listened in amazement as their father had told them of Gordon's discovery at the bottom of the sea. Scott had wanted to be there when Gordon arrived home. The oldest Tracy could be tough as nails when necessary, but he was also incredibly supportive when any of his brothers needed him.
Unfortunately, Gordon had exceeded all their expectations, arriving at Tracy Island a good three hours before he was expected. When he landed, Scott was deep in design discussions with Brains, and Virgil was in the middle of a nap demanded by his healing body. By the time they realized he was home, Gordon had already gone to bed.
Knowing it would bother Scott to have missed meeting Gordon, Virgil was searching for his elder brother. He finally found him in pod four, paint can in hand. "What are you doing?"
Scott jumped, startled. "Oh, hi. I'm uh, painting his score."
"His score. In the Air Force, you paint a little jet on your ride for every kill you make."
Virgil moved over to peer at Scott's artwork. "He killed a guppy?"
"Smart ass." Scott growled, shoving the paint can and brush into Virgil's hands. "Paint me a sea serpent, Virg. Right there."
Staring bemusedly at his brother for a moment, Virgil sighed and turned to where Scott was pointing. Rolling his eyes, he painted a straight line, then three humps above the line, and at the end, a worm like head sticking up.
Virgil glanced at Scott, eyebrow cocked. Scott grinned, nodding. The two brothers shook hands and went their separate ways.