Near miss

Inspiration for a story can come from many sources. The ingredients for this one were a) the recent disaster in Hertfordshire, b) a Christmas card and c) a wacky comment from Purupuss. Thank you, my friend!

Thanks too to Gerry Anderson and his team for creating the characters that have now kept us entertained for over 40 years, and to Granada as the copyright owners.


Virgil sighed and rubbed his hand across his face, staring out through the windshield of Thunderbird 2 at the dark skies. This was not how he had planned to spend Christmas Eve. By now he should be on his way to bed, having spent the evening playing Christmas carols on the piano with his family joining in, with varying degrees of skill.

Instead he was flying home through the night, bone-achingly tired but so filthy that he knew he was going to need a long hot soak in the tub before he could even think of climbing into bed. He was glad his craft was fitted with an autopilot; at least he only had to concentrate on the take-off and landing.

Disasters have no consideration, he thought to himself. On the other hand it was probably lucky that it had been Christmas Eve when a storage tank at an oil terminal on the Gulf of Mexico had ignited. This in turn had set off several others in a chain reaction, with an explosion that had been heard fifty miles away.. At least it meant there had been the minimum number of personnel on the site at the time.

As it was, it had taken nearly six hours and his entire stock of dicetyline to extinguish the flames and ensure that the remaining tanks did not ignite. The next four hours had been spent helping the local rescue crews to search the neighbouring industrial estate for anyone that might have been trapped in the collapsed buildings. The area now looked like something out of a war zone, with not just windows shattered but whole sections of buildings torn away by the blast. A few security guards were found, some with injuries, but most of them more shaken than anything else. Virgil shuddered to think what the loss of life might have been on a normal working day when all those factories would have been full of workers.

Virgil glanced behind him to where Gordon and Alan, both equally filthy, were dozing on the bench seat at the back of the cockpit, leaning against each other for support and snoring gently. Alan had had a lucky escape when one of the tanks they had been trying to cool had suddenly bulged and ignited. He and the fire officer standing next to him must have been thrown twenty feet by the blast. The fireman had suffered a broken leg, but Alan had escaped with only bruises.

Virgil turned to face the control panel again, his eyes automatically flicking over it to check that everything in the great craft was running smoothly. Glancing at the chronometer, he calculated that Scott must be home by now and was probably already getting rid of his share of the grime. Proud as he was of his own Thunderbird, it was on occasions like these, when every part of him ached with fatigue, that he felt a twinge of envy for his older brother and his faster machine. He rubbed his face once more, disgusted at the gritty, greasy feel that the smoke had left on his skin.

His musing was interrupted by a strident noise from the control panel. The proximity alarm! Virgil peered out into the darkness. Something was coming towards him head-on, moving very fast but illuminated only by a fuzzy red light.

"What theā€¦?" exclaimed Virgil. He threw his craft into a steep banking turn, briefly hoping that the contents of the pod had been well locked down. Hasn't this pilot ever heard of navigation lights? Struggling to control the giant plane, he had only a brief glimpse out of the corner of his eye as something shot past the window.

There were muttered curses from the back as his brothers were thrown against their straps.

"Sorry, guys," Virgil called over his shoulder. "Bit of turbulence back there."

After a few moments the mutterings were once more replaced by snores, leaving Virgil staring out into the darkness. He had to have been asleep too, he told himself. That was the only explanation. He must have dozed off for a minute. They were flying at fifty thousand feet, for Pete's sake! He couldn't possibly have seen a sleigh, pulled by reindeer, driven by a large man dressed in red who had given him a cheerful wave as he sped past.

Could he?