Disclaimer: For the last time! The Thunderbirds don't belong to the author. They belong to the Andersons, et al.
Warnings: Adult themes, supernatural themes, light bad language.
Authors Reflections: Finished! This quickly got a lot bigger than I thought it would, but I was so satisfied at its end. I think, now that I reach the destination, if I were to do it again I would have made the chapters a wee bit shorter; but when all is said and done the story was so clear in my mind that leaving out details would have made me uncomfortable.
A hale and hearty and most kind thank you to all the loyal fans and reviewers of this very long story. You had to wait a long time a lot for me, and I appreciate that you did. Bows and love go out to you people.
I hope you like how it all goes. I wanted a sweet ending to what turned out to be a very tense and dark story.
Thank you so kindly for travelling with me this last eighteen plus months.
Epilogue – My Island Home
When Jeff had reached his first transit to Washington, DC, Alan had been placed in an isolation room to avoid self induced autism. When he was on the flight, Virgil had to have a haematoma removed from his head, and a drain put in. By the time he landed, John had split two knuckles punching a mirror in the hospital, his stirred brain chemicals suddenly hitting the depression end of the spectrum, hard. When his car was heading for the White House, Gordon had begun having seizures, his metabolism was all over the place. When he sat in the waiting room Scott had passed out entirely, his body going into shock from the still present concussion.
Every fifteen minute report seemed to bring a new horror. But even as Jeff's instincts screamed to go back, forward he went. This would never be allowed to happen again. When he got his second report received while sitting stiffly in the waiting room, his mother had shown up in New York, after having been shuttled down in the private jet. He allowed himself to relax a fraction.
When the head of the PRA came to sit down opposite him, they stared at each other. Then Jeff went inside.
Mr Fenill came up in a rumpled suit, and sat down next to his boss. He didn't salute.
"You let me down, Mr Fenill."
Mr Fenill appeared to think about that. Then he handed his superior the photo he'd taken from Mrs Tracy in Kansas. "Yes, sir," he replied. "It seems to be the policy of the company, sir," he hesitated, then added. "Contrary to what you taught me, sir." There was reproach in the words. Anger. Disappointment.
In the photo, a much younger Jeff Tracy smiled with his arm around another boy about his age, also grinning, holding up their latest catch from the river to the camera. The nameless face was familiar.
Jeff wasn't actually meeting the President in her Oval Office. He was meeting her in the wide conference room, fit to host the army of panicking aides, congressmen, officials and clerks who actually understood the paperwork.
They in turn were crowded by screens, machines and faxes, phones and computers, which spent most of their time measuring just how bad it was all getting. A dozen different news reporters chattered at cross purposes on a myriad of separate disasters. If Judgement Day were starting, the Horsemen would have been forced to take a number and wait.
In the centre of a crowd of paper laden aides the President sat. She was a dignified older lady, white at the temples and exquisitely manicured, and nothing of her presence was diminished by the thick bandages across her forehead and one eye, bruised jaw and hands.
The room quietened as Jeff stepped him, and his mind flashed to those saloon scenes in his favourite Westerns, and felt a dozen not hostile but not friendly gazes fix on him.
"You wanted to see me, Madame President?"
President McKay's jaw tightened. She shot a look at the other people, and most of them left. The Chief's of Staff that were already in the room stayed, and the bodyguards. Jeff ignored them, and focused on McKay.
"What I want, Mr Tracy, is to have you arrested," she spoke sharply. "Cities across the country are on high alert. Hospitals on the eastern seaboard are flooded with coma patients evacuated from Seredo. The PRA are dealing with protesters, hackers and internal audits. There are riots in all the major centres being spurred by pirate broadcasts. Already our neighbours overseas are withdrawing support from us and human rights activists are damning us in light of…certain footage. So far we've had more reports of death and violence than we get in war zones. Congratulations, Mr Tracy, you've managed to shut down an entire country. If it were in my power, I'd have you hung from the tallest building."
"Do you think that would help?" Jeff replied coldly. He sat down calmly. "Do you think my imprisonment would make everyone feel so much better? I haven't oppressed a minority for the sake of a shaky peace. I haven't pushed aside the problem, hoping it will remain hidden and everyone can nod to each other and be happy. You, and a line of others like you, have done that. Maybe you were just doing what you had to do, what seemed best at the time. We all know where best intentions lead, don't we?"
President McKay leaned back on her chair, weary. "What would you have me do, Mr Tracy? I cannot treat everyone the same, despite any Constitution. Even the first Presidents knew this and accepted it. The ideal within the reality."
"People shouldn't fear their government, Madame President."
"People shouldn't fear their own people either. But we deal in realities, not ideals. So, things being just as they are, what is it you want?"
"All I wanted," Jeff answered. "Was what I ever wanted – a safe home for my family, and the freedom for them to live a decent and fulfilled life. Succeed or fail is not the point. The point is that they should have the chance. I don't think that this country can provide even that." Jeff opened the box he had brought. Silver pendants with milky stone sat inside, slightly battered. "These are tracking tags my son's had to wear. Not just tracking but recording too," Jeff tapped on the pedants. "It's all very sophisticated and self charging. I am a realist too, Madame President. In a country of freedom and justice I shouldn't have needed them at all, but I was a realist. I was going to know where my sons were, and if they were taken and these left behind at least I would know why. For that alone this country deserves to burn."
They glared at each other.
"If you want to hear what's on them, go ahead. Hatred, ignorance, torture, anarchy or, perhaps worst, indifference. When the chips were down, Madame President, that's all they got. Not kindness, or compassion, or even the benefit of the doubt. Don't you understand? It doesn't matter who attacked you or why. If one simple event can turn a country into this," he waved a hand around the screens. "Then the blame can't settle on one person, one choice, one moment. Who was it that said it? All it takes for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing."
"Give us the device, Mr Tracy," McKay said flatly, staring at the pendants. "It may be a solution everyone can live with. We know that scientist has been smuggled out of the country. But the device he invented might be the answer."
"To what? For what? Is there any guarantee it won't be just another weapon to beat psychics over the head? You have more than enough of those." Jeff appeared to reflect for a moment. "How about we make a deal?" He grinned.
Things had settled down a bit, in the hospital. The nurses were actually allowing themselves to breathe for once. They had never suffered an inundation of Tracy's before, and it had come as quite a rude shock.
It wasn't just the medical problems, oh no. Tracy's did not take kindly to being sick. They did not take it kindly at all.
They tried to split them up. Exactly three minute and forty six seconds later, they had somehow managed to end up in the same long treatment room, and had done something which the interns were yet to ascertain to their beds, making it impossible to wheel them out again. When the head physician had protested Scott Tracy had stated flatly in a moment of lucidity between concussions that they were staying together and that was that. Something about the way he said it made the staff unenthusiastic about pushing it. It turned out to be the blessing in disguise – the five of them were so closely intertwined, had lived in each other's pockets for so long that the could tell what was wrong before all the expensive equipment even contemplated it.
So when Virgil passed out and needed an emergency drain, John was already shouting for staff before anything had registered. The staff wondered why Scott waited outside the bathroom for over twenty minutes while they all searched for the missing John, and only went after he heard the mirror smash. Alan was already dragging in glycogen from the supply cupboard (and goodness knows how he got in) a good five minutes before Gordon's insulin shock. Virgil woke up from his minor surgery just in time to yell for medical assistance as Alan slipped, entirely unnoticed, into an atypical seizure and was completely non responsive. Between all this there were nightmares, fights, bickering, bantering and betting on who would have the coolest scar.
Certain there was something behind the riotous behaviour, they had sent in the hospital psychiatrist like a secret weapon – right after Scott had taken out the TV screen with pinpoint accuracy using a hospital tray that had been rolled into a crushed cannonball. Apparently it was showing agents trying to shoot Alan in the back. The poor man had been turned in circles by the four boys awake at the time, diagnosing them with half a psychology textbook until he realised they had stolen a copy from the reference desk and were picking out the 'coolest sounding' disorders. It had some effect though. It was the first time they actually smiled.
Then Alan had come out of the seizure – and was still mostly unresponsive, even after a clean head scan. The neurologist said that his communication centres had shut down and he was virtually autistic, a defence against high emotions pounding him from all sides for the last few days. The psychiatrist had done nothing to endear himself to the Tracy boys by ordering Alan moved to an isolation room.
Honestly, the staff didn't know why he bothered. Not two minutes went by without one of them slipping away and breaking into the locked ward to sit with the youngest. And none of them would sleep – at least, they wouldn't all sleep at the same time. One of them was always watching, always awake.
And they ordered take out! Scott Tracy had been left with a credit card, and they were thoroughly abusing the internal phone system ordering deliveries from anywhere that would still deliver. It wasn't that they didn't appreciate the specially prepared, highly researched, triple nutritious hospital food. It was just as far as they were concerned, you could shove it. Anyone who helped them actually get it in got to share, and lots of the staff took them up on it, much to the head honcho's distress.
Twenty straight hours with the Tracy boys was worth a year of emergencies. Nurses were threatening to quit. And then a miracle appeared in the form of Grandma Tracy, who had been flown in special by Tracy Air. The matron was quite willing to live with the blistering dressing down she got over all the moronic treatment policy so far, because the spry old woman had her grandson sitting quietly and behaving like model patients in ten seconds flat. Alan had been moved back in. They had even helped tidy the room. Things settled down, adrenaline highs wore off, their wary watchfulness toned down, quiet rest became the order of the day. Everyone breathed in a sigh.
In the quiet, now dim ward, Scott sat up while the others dozed, and Grandma made her rounds. "I knew there was a reason I always went to play bridge during flu season," the old woman griped, stretched her back. "You boys could wear down a person's last nerve when you make yourselves sick. You get that from your father, you know. Except," she grimaced. "There was only one of him, thank goodness."
Scott grinned. "Sorry Grandma."
The old woman waved a hand. "If I'm not used to it now, lad, I've only got myself to blame." She yawned, covering her mouth genteelly. "I could use a coffee. You'll be alright here for a bit?"
Scott waved her out. Then he went back to wall staring. The nurses had had one thing right – there was something behind their raucous behaviour. They were all upset, stressed and scared. Something fundamental had been taken away from them in the last few days, and they were trying to fill the emptiness with noise. They all knew it, and no one said it. Scott buried his anger as deep as it would go. He would let it out later, when he was far away from Alan and John, where it couldn't hurt anyone. But he was so, so angry. And so, so depressed. The house was gone. Their old lives. Gone, just like that – no fanfare, no warning, no apology. It wasn't fair.
"Hey Scott," mumbled the bed to the right.
"What's up, Gordy?" Scott turned to the red head.
"Is there any food? I'm hungry."
Scott snorted. "Nothing new there." He looked around at the room. The take out cartons and boxes had been cleaned away. "I suppose we could call someone."
"They'll never come," Virgil grinned, his head bandages a stark white in the gloom. "I've heard at least two resignation speeches and half a dozen transfer requests."
"Damn. We should try harder," John muttered, turned over to face them.
"My bag…" Alan said softly, drawing his legs up to his chest.
still stuff in my bag. I didn't eat any of it, it should still be
Scott heaved himself up to get it from beside John. He sorted past various detritus – shopping bags had been stuffed in there after that thing at the mall, and found granola bars lurking in the bottom. He tossed them to Gordon.
Curious and eager to get away from the uneasy silence that had permeated the room, he poked through the bags. Virgil's stuff for his project, he sighed, and he'd probably never get to use them. His hand brushed thick envelopes, and he pulled them out.
Photos, he realised. From the museum. As he stared at them he realised – that had been a week ago. Only a week. It felt longer than that. It felt like a lifetime.
He flicked through them absently. Some were completely blurred, some had crazy colours and strange, half formed shapes of light in them. But that was a hazard of photographing psychics. School photos were always a nightmare. True to Alan's predictions, three were useable.
He stared at them for a while. They were so happy there. Grinning. Smirking. Behind Alan's head, a ghostly pair of fingers rose, even though Gordon's hands were both at his sides. Standing at Scott's shoulder, was a blurred figure, exactly their father's height. When they were together, they were happy. When they were apart, parts of them were always together.
Scott felt it well up on his insides. He was still him. They were still them. No one could take that away from them. The whole damn world and every evil in it had tried, and they always came back.
"Scott?" Alan looked up at him, concerned and confused. "What is it?"
Scott clutched the photos to his chest, and laughed, and laughed, and laughed, until tears ran down his face.
Jeff came out of the meeting, not happy, but at least satisfied. Mr Fenill was still sitting in his chair, though his superior was not.
"Mr Tracy," he stood up as the man passed, and held out a slip of paper. "Here. I borrowed it from Kansas. I thought your mother would like it back."
Jeff said nothing, but took the photo. He turned to go.
"I don't always feel good about what I do, Mr Tracy," Mr Fenill said to Jeff's back. "But I'm not in it for petty triumphs."
Jeff tilted his head back just a little way. "Intent does not trump action Mr Fenill. If you can't match what you do to what you believe, why do you believe it the first place?"
Mr Fenill gave him a wry salute and walked away. No life changes in a day.
Jeff made it up to the roof to get to his chopper, and without much hesitation, walked up to the man waiting for him and punched his lights out. "I warned you Henry," he told the broad shouldered head of the PRA. Henry Frome – native of Kansas. He was picking himself up off the tarmac. "I said I would bury you if you came near them."
"Yes well," the man said, rubbing his jaw. "I never was one to heed warnings of any kind. Neither were you."
It would have been better if he'd been smug, or angry, or vindictive, or arrogant. But Henry just stood there, smirking slightly like he used to when they were both sixteen and thought they knew everything.
"What happened to you, Henry? What was it about you and I that turned you into this? What did I do?"
"Oh, please, this wasn't about you, Jefferson. Sometimes it isn't, you know. But you never really understood that, did you? It was probably because you were an only child."
"The world changes," Henry shrugged. "Do you know how many psychic children were born in our day? I heard it was something like one to every forty thousand. Now it's closer to one in a thousand. One generation, and you're already getting a jump ahead in the statistics. Pretty soon they'll be more than the current system can handle."
"That's it, isn't it? One day we won't be a minority anymore," Jeff took a step back. "One day it'll be people you being left behind. For Christ's sake, Henry, what kind of idiot retaliates against the future? One that may not even happen?"
"A well prepared idiot," Henry shrugged. "Do you really think being psychic makes you more evolved? More enlightened? Do you think that when a psychic gets to lead the charge, that humanity will usher in a golden age? Don't be stupid. On my worst day I couldn't manage an atrocity that any ESPer could do with a thought. Psychic or not, people are still just people."
"What did attacking my family accomplish?" Jeff snarled. "All this death and destruction is on your head, you son of a bitch."
Henry Frome shrugged. "Collateral damage. Can't be helped. A family of psychics, Jeff. Good grief, you just can't do anything small, can you? A family of them. You have no idea how much that simple idea on it's own rallied and terrified the masses. You were a picture of future that no one wanted. After all – what use is someone who has no power in a world of powers like yours? Would you protect them? Shelter them?" The man shook his head. "I don't think humanity should rely on the pity of the powerful."
"You sorry, sad bastard," Jeff voice was steel. "You think driving them apart will help? If it's going to happen anyway, the only thing you can do – the only thing you should do – is teach your children that power is not the same as worth. It's teaching people things like that that festers hatred." Jeff shook his head. "Why am I wasting my breath on you? You don't listen, and you don't care. You think you're a noble human being. You're the lowest form of humanity, you know that? That's a trait psychics and normal people share."
"You are leaving forever, Jefferson," Henry shrugged. "That's good enough."
Jeff felt an unaccountable but thorough hatred as the man walked away. The edges of the photo cut into his hands. Maybe Frome had had the last laugh in the end.
He stood and waited for his chopper to descend. It was time leave.
Henry Frome got into his car, and flicked on the phone. "Kyle, get me a one-way to Malaysia. I think I'm going to spend some time with our other projects."
When Jeff got to New York, he was so exhausted he could barely see straight. He stumbled wearily through the wards in the hospital, and rubbed his stubble roughed chin, too tired to think.
Without asking for directions, he ended up in his son's room. The first person he saw was his mother, who was asleep, sitting up in a hospital bed, arms folded almost as if she were maintaining sternness in her sleep. He kissed her on the cheek. There weren't enough words in the world to express what she did for him some days.
Then he turned to look at the tangled pile of arms and legs that were his sons. They had lined up three beds and buttressed it with a fourth, so make one large platform where they all curled in various huddles around a pile of photographs.
Rubbing the back of his neck, Jeff kicked off his shoes, and gently disentangled his eldest from his youngest. He should just about fit if Alan was in his lap. Scott's exhausted eye flickered open slightly as he was gently inched aside, and he shifted to make room. Jeff tucked his youngest into his chest and pulled Scott onto his shoulder. His fingers brushed John's hair, who was next to him, and his calves suddenly took the weight of Virgil and Gordon, who were curled up at the end. It was warm. It was comfortable. Some knot of power sagged and released inside of him, like a turbine winding down.
"You're going to be all twisted up like a pretzel," his mother's voice came from across the room. She hadn't opened her eyes.
"Yes, mother," Jeff agreed amicably, letting himself sink back a little.
"You really shouldn't have gone running off like that. Family is a priority, you know."
"And you should be eating more. Those boys of yours are rakes, Jefferson."
"Don't you take that hen pecked tone with me, young man."
"Yes, mother. Sorry, mother."
"Did you get what you wanted?"
Jeff opened his eyes. "I got everything I needed."
"Hey, you're awake."
"Hey Scott. Where are we now?"
"Well, we re-fuelled in Brazil. Now it's just…"
"The Pacific perfect blue as far as the eyes can see."
"I thought you were an artist, not a poet, Virge. The others?"
"Still asleep. Are you sure we're going the right way?"
"Dad said stay on this heading. I wish he'd tell us what the surprise was."
"I know what this is. It's a murder suicide pact."
"You know, 'a family, on their last nerves, decides to end it all in the heat of the moment…'"
"Dad! You're up."
"Number one, you've got a morbid sense of humour. And number two, as a responsible father and engineer, and at the very least as a Kansas farmer, if this family if carrying out a murder suicide pact it's doing it with a shotgun and a hanging noose. There's no excuse for wasting a perfectly good jet. Right?"
"Geeez, Dad, you say Virgil is morbid?"
"Still not as bad as you, Gordo."
"Where the hell are we now?"
"You can't expect me to activate my eloquence centre without coffee. Pass the thermos."
"How long have we been flying?"
"Just over an hour, sir. We're not going to have enough fuel to get back if go much further."
"Hmm, we should be close enough now."
"Close to what, Dad? There's nothing here."
"There is something."
"There. Can't you see it? On the horizon."
"What is that?"
"Is that an island?"
"I bought it years ago."
"Relax, I didn't displace any natives. I thought it would make a good research and development site. Fitted it up with a lab and quarters for scientists, but the whole thing became too much of a logistical nightmare, so I left it as sort of a back up site. You know what the most interesting thing about this island is?"
"It's surrounded by at least three hundred miles of water on all sides. Completely and totally international."
"So? Gordon! It's not under any country's jurisdiction! It's a kingdom! No Government!"
"No hate groups."
"No laws. No regulations."
"No PRA! Wahoooo!!"
A month passed.
Things settled down as things do. What was hot news a day before seemed almost humdrum now, and psychics and the attack, while never quite out of the spotlight, had to share space with other things – conflicts, murders, accidents and disasters. The biggest one this week was a massive, multi-fatal train wreck in the Siberian foothills. The Device was becoming the latest science fad. It breathed new life into a very old problem. Brains was busy in London these days. Weren't they all?
The Tracy's just…recovered. Every day was a new step. Every new discovery seemed to change them, but at least they were always moving and not getting trapped. It was the best that could be expected. They leaned on each other. They always had.
"Okay, everyone ready?" Lady Penelope asked, raising the champagne bottle.
"I still don't see why we can't use my idea," Gordon muttered.
"Gordon, we are not calling the island the Tracy Fortress of Infinite Doom. No way am I scribbling that down on every letter home," Scott cuffed his brother on the head.
"Quiet please," Jeff raised his hands. "Alright, let's do this thing. Penny?"
"Right you are. I hereby christen this island…"
"And all who sail in her," Virgil added, grinning.
"…for all of time…"
"The most boring name ever," Alan groaned.
"After trudging all the way up to the summit, as if there not perfectly good rocks right next to the pool," John added with feeling.
"Boys, enough! Anyone who doesn't like it is free to live elsewhere!"
"We'll be good."
Lady Penelope laughed. "Tracy Island. Good luck and Godspeed." The bottle popped in a shower of glass shards against the boulder. There was a cheer.
"Hooray, now we can go back down."
"Tracy Island. How obvious is that? The Tracy's live on Tracy Island. Boring."
"Easy for a waterlogged brain to remember."
"You die now!"
"No running by the pool! John! Gordon! Virgil!"
"Relax, Scott. Wait until they're trying to drown themselves before you panic."
"That would be about…now. Okay, knock it off!"
Lady Penelope grinned as she took a seat by the pool. The sun was setting, and the evening was warm and perfect. Parker was lighting lamps around the pool.
There was one, tucked away, almost where it couldn't be seen. Six white armbands burned merrily in their tiny bonfire. For a moment, Lady Penelope wondered why it hadn't taken a centre point – a defiant place, where everyone could see it. Then she smiled. Why? Because those things had never meant a damn thing, not to the Tracy boys. They lived a hated life, and now died a fittingly invisible death.
"Like it?" Alan grinned.
"Very…appropriate," Lady Penelope turned to the youngest Tracy. "Do you like your home? I'll wager this was by far the most amazing surprise you ever had."
"It was amazing. It is amazing," Alan admitted. "But…this is going to sound weird….I saw this place a long time ago. I've sort of…always seen it, I think."
Lady Penelope watched him dive for the pool, eyebrows arched in surprise. "Well. Fancy that." More things on Heaven and Earth…she turned her face to Jeff who was chatting with Scott.
"I think I can take you on."
"I'm just saying, Scott, that you're just a young man. A lot of mental power comes with age, you know. And you're still well…" Jeff waved a hand, grinning.
"Ooooh, he's gone and done it now," John whispered loudly from the pool.
"Oh?" Scott raised an eyebrow. Jeff went flying back into the pool with a yell and a splash. "Really? You think you still got an edge on me? You can't show me anything new, old man."
Jeff sputtered while his sons all jumped him. He was laughing breathlessly, great guffaws choked out past water. He winked at the others. The metal plate that covered the filter, that Scott has stood on for footing, flipped up like a jack-in-the-box lid, neatly catapulting Scott into the pool. "You're so right, Scotty."
Lady Penelope burst out laughing. The Tracy's went in for a no holds barred water fight. Something warm that had been missing from the world seemed to trickle back in on the sounds of laughter and indignant yells.
"Mister Tracy?" Parker's neat voice came from entrance to the house. "There's a call for you from Mister Hackenbacker, sir."
"Okay, okay," Jeff prised Alan off his back and splashed out, lobbing a ball back from the poolside. "Here. I'll be out to referee in a minute. Try not to kill each other before then."
He left his sons divvying up sides with good natured barbs on varying abilities. Grinning, he shook his head, and accepted a towel in passing from Parker.
"Brains," he waved to the vid screen. "How's merry old England? Nearly done with the lecture tour?"
"C-c-c-close, Mr Tracy," Brains smiled. "It h-h-has been a month of di-di-discovery."
"Excellent. When you're done, you should come out here. Sunshine is portioned out by the ounces over there. You should get into an actual summer."
"I gr-gr-gratefully, uh, accept, Mr Tracy. Y-You wanted me for so-something, though? I h-h-h…assist in any way I c-can."
Jeff sat back on his chair and steepled his fingers. "Yes. I had an odd thought when I saw pictures of that train wreck last week. I though you might….appreciate it's size."
"Y-yes?" Brains looked expectant, grinning curiously.
"I thought I might try my hand at specialist machines rather than just engines. You know, that disaster was right in the middle of nowhere – it wasn't that they couldn't be helped, just that no one could reach them. So let me ask you," Jeff tilted his head, his eyes gleaming into the middle distance of inspiration. "If you were going to design a machine – or machines – to get to those people, to get into to anywhere, to save anyone that could be saved, what would it be like?"