What happens when your past comes back to haunt you?
In my last multi-chapter story 'Celebration Challenge', I hinted and teased with references to the original TV series episodes. This time I am deliberately including, and following on a few weeks after, the events in "Terror in New York City", which was written by Alan Fennell. The prologue was written for those who haven't had the opportunity to see that episode. The rest of the story is mine, but I do not own any members of International Rescue, or any bit of equipment belonging to International Rescue. Nor can I claim Ned Cook, Joe, National Television Broadcasting System, the USN Sentinel (or any of the idiots on board). They all belong to Granada.
As always I would like to thank Quiller for her proof reading, help and pestering to get this finished. I would also like to thank Mike from NIWA – Taihoro Nukuangi (the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research in New Zealand), for providing me with some much needed facts. Proof that you should never be afraid to ask the professionals for advice.
A note: This story is not based on any particular event, but has been roaming around in my mind for months. As Quiller said to me, it's a case of fact following fan fiction.2nd note: Cook's Tour: the name of Thomas Cook (1808-92), travel agent. A tour, esp. one in which many places are viewed; any journey of wide extent.
No Tracys were harmed in the writing of this story (seriously). Alan Fennell had already done that for me.
Prologue: Terror on Tracy Island
There was a knock on the door. She jumped, startled out of her reverie, and stared at the figure in the doorway with an expression that was one-half defiance, one-half fear.
"They will be home soon, Mrs Tracy."
"Thank you, Kyrano." Grandma returned her attention to the montage of photographs in her hand. "He will be all right, won't he?" The question was directed to whatever power controlled man's destinies, rather than Kyrano, and her fingers lightly touched the middle photo as she spoke. "Does Brains say what his chances are?" She looked back at the Malaysian manservant.
"No," Kyrano shook his head. "But every inch they draw closer will mean his chance of success will improve."
Grandma nodded. Then she curled her hands into fists of frustration. "Why did the navy shoot at him? Didn't they realise that they were firing on a Thunderbird?"
"Mister John said that they may have mistaken him for a missile."
"A missile? That's ridiculous! That boy wouldn't hurt a fly. Didn't they even think to check who it was?"
"I do not know, Mrs Tracy."
"I'd like to give the Captain of the 'Sentinel' a piece of my mind!" Grandma replaced the photo on her dressing table before she stood and smoothed down her apron. "Guess I'm not doing any good sitting 'round here."
Together they left her bedroom, silently traversing the house until they reached the lounge.
Grandma looked at the desk. "Where's Jeff?"
"He has gone to Landing Control with my Tin-Tin. Mister Alan and Mister Gordon are already there. All is prepared."
A solitary figure was standing on the patio looking down over the runway. "Any news, Brains?" Grandma asked as she came to stand beside International Rescue's engineer.
"N-No, Mrs T-Tracy. B-But he is st-still airborne."
Grandma gripped the patio rail tightly and looked out over the Pacific's waters. "Which way will they be coming from?"
Brains pointed out into the nothingness of their immediate environs. "Th-That way."
The three of them stood in silence, straining their eyes for that first glimpse.
Grandma rubbed her eyes and looked away, down to a strip of grey that seemed to disappear into the landscape. Suddenly the island's runway seemed too short for a conventional landing, let alone an emergency one. Butterflies launched into action in her stomach and she couldn't keep a panicked edge out of her voice. "What if he doesn't stop?" she asked the little scientist at her shoulder. "What if he crashes into the cliff? I've always thought that was a silly place to build Landing Control…"
"Be calm, Mrs Tracy" Kyrano instructed in his soothing voice. "All will be well."
"But what if he crashes into it? Jeff, Tin-Tin and the boys are in there!"
"Th-That's why I'm up h-here," Brains said sombrely. Stress was exacerbating his stutter. "R-Really, t-t-to be t-totally s-safe, w-w-we sh-should be d-down in the b-b-bunkers, in case there's a n-n-n-nuclear exp-plosion."
No one retreated from their vantage-point looking down towards the runway.
Brains looked at his watch. "I'll r-radio J-John to s-see if he h-h-has any news."
John skipped the traditional greetings. "Nothing new to report, Brains. I'm keeping the airwaves clear so they can concentrate on what they are doing."
"You are s-still r-receiving i-information?"
"Only audio. As he said earlier, he's lost all instrumentation. I can't tell you his altitude, bearing, whether the reactor's still intact…"
Grandma felt the butterflies in her stomach leap into life again.
"C-Can you t-t-transmit their c-c-communications through t-to us, p-please?"
"Sure, Brains… Here we go…"
They could hear Scott's voice. Trying to maintain his professional, calm, composed manner despite his obvious concerns, he was issuing instructions and trying to coax the stricken craft and her pilot home.
Now Virgil was talking and once again Mrs Tracy's butterflies took flight. Her middle grandson's normally soft voice was sounding weak and under strain. Every now and then he'd break his staccato flow of speech with a fit of coughing that clearly racked his body.
Grandma turned away from the blue of the endless sky and Pacific Ocean that told her nothing, and looked back into the lounge. Scott's portrait had come to life, but her grandson's attention was not on the occupants of the Tracy Villa. It was torn between Thunderbird One's controls and instruments, and his brother's plane. Virgil's portrait remained motionless. As John had said, the only information Thunderbird Five was receiving from Thunderbird Two was Virgil's side of the radio conversation.
Grandma turned back to the ocean.
"Can I see something?" Kyrano asked. He pointed. "There?"
Brains squinted into the distance. "Y-Yes. I can s-see something too!"
As if to confirm that the vision was not an illusion they heard Scott's voice. "We're nearly home, Virgil. I can see Tracy Island!"
"I can't… see anything…" Virgil coughed, "for smoke."
"Trust me, Virg. We're nearly there. Hang in there. Not far now."
Thunderbird Two was steadily growing bigger on the horizon, a tail of thick, black smoke dragging behind her. Now they could see, escorting the stricken craft, the smaller dot that was Thunderbird One.
"Why did they not have Mister Gordon stand by in Thunderbird Four?" Kyrano asked. "In case Mister Virgil lands in the water."
"I guess they…" John began. He stopped. Virgil was systematically preparing his craft for landing, dictating each procedure as if he were afraid that he was going to make a mistake and needed Scott's reassurance that he was doing everything correctly.
"Can you see the island now, Virg?" Scott asked.
"You're doing fine. I know you'll make it, Virgil."
Virgil coughed again
"Reduce speed," Scott instructed.
"Reducing... Is it enough?"
"A bit more…"
Mrs Tracy grabbed the handrail and clung to it tightly.
"Remember, all you have to do is land on the runway. Don't worry about turning her round. Keep her straight… Lose height…"
Grandma glanced at Kyrano. He had closed his eyes and appeared to be praying.
"You're nearly there, Virgil…"
Grandma couldn't watch the point of impact. She closed her eyes tightly and tried to shut out the series of explosive thuds that appeared to rock the house as Thunderbird Two punched into the earth again and again. The concussive noises stopped, only to be replaced by the screech of metal against concrete as the great plane scudded along the runway. It was almost as if Thunderbird Two herself were screaming with pain at the injuries she'd received and the torture she was enduring.
Somewhere in the melee, those on the patio could hear Virgil frantically yelling something about the wheels collapsing and then the radio link went dead…
Only when Thunderbird Two's last agonising scream had dissipated did Grandma open her eyes again.
Smoke was rising from beyond the headland that masked the runway.
There was a cheer from the radio. "You've made it, Virgil! You've landed… Virgil…?"
There was no reply.
An icy chill seemed to grip Grandma's heart.
"Virgil? It's Scott. Answer me… please…" When she heard her grandson's desperate pleas go unanswered, Grandma's already frozen heart felt as if it dropped to the pit of her stomach.
"I'd b-better get d-down th-there." Brains pushed himself away from the handrail. Before he turned to go he patted the elderly lady on her shoulder. "D-D-Don't worry. I'm sure it's only a r-radio malf-function." Before she could reply, he hurried away.
"I'm coming, Virgil. We'll get you out. Hang in there…" already Thunderbird One was touching down. The roar from her engines had barely died away before Scott was out of his craft and running for her sister ship. The foam had made the runway slippery and he fell twice before reaching his objective.
Grandma became aware that she had a death grip on something. "Oh! I'm sorry, Kyrano." She released his hand.
"It is all right, Mrs Tracy" he replied in his precise pedantic manner. "There is no need to apologise."
They returned to the lounge. Gordon's portrait had disappeared. In its place, shot from above Landing Control, a video image of Thunderbird Two, Thunderbird One, and the airstrip was visible. The transporter was lying deathly still; a pale ghost of herself, whitened by the flame-retardant foam that had been sprayed by the extinguishers that had risen from the edges of the runway.
Mrs Tracy leant on the baby grand piano to steady herself.
"I can't get in!" Frustration could clearly be heard in Scott's voice. "The hatch has jammed!"
"Don't worry, Scott. We'll use the cabin's emergency hatch." Grandma marvelled at how calm and in control her son was sounding. She had no doubts that he was just as worried as she was.
"Wait for me," Scott instructed. "I want to help."
"No, Son. Brains is already here. We can't waste any more time. Move clear and meet us up at the house. Go and look after your grandmother."
Normally such a comment would have had Mrs Tracy seething in indignation, but this time she watched in concern as her eldest grandson moved a safe distance away from the wreck to observe the rescue that he desperately wanted to be part of. Then he turned and ran towards the house.
Now a new object appeared in the vista displayed in Gordon's frame. Landing Control had slipped from its socket in the cliff face and was trundling forward towards Thunderbird Two; stopping just above the great 'plane's damaged nose. Then, something similar to a lift shaft, descended until it was level the with flight deck windows.
"The cabin's full of smoke," Alan said.
If Grandma's heart had been dropped into liquid Nitrogen, it couldn't have felt colder. Somewhere, on the edge of consciousness, she heard voices. Men talking.
"I'm going to have to break through somehow without letting in more oxygen and fanning the fire," Alan was saying.
"John, give me a visual on Landing Control's vid…"
"Sure, Scott. But you can't see anything yet…"
"Mister Scott? Your grandmother…"
She was only able to drag her concentration away from what was going on down on the runway when she felt an arm slip around her shoulders. "Grandma? Are you okay?"
She gave a minute nod. "How's Virgil?"
Scott looked back towards Thunderbird Two's video image. "I don't know… Come and sit down. We'll be able to hear over the radio as soon as they find him."
Grandma allowed her oldest grandchild to lead her away from the piano and over to one of the more comfortable chairs. He sat beside her and took her hand.
In front of them, projected onto what had formerly been another painting, was the view from a camera lowered below Landing Control. It was panning over the windows of Thunderbird Two's flight deck. The interior of the pilot's cabin was hidden behind a screen of thick back smoke.
"I've broken through," Alan exclaimed.
"Where's the seat of the fire?" Jeff asked.
"I don't know. I can't see for smoke."
"Any sign of…"
Scott leant forward, forgetting his grandmother. His elbows were digging into his knees, chin resting on his hands, and his heels tapped an impatient tattoo on the floor. "If it hadn't been for those idiots…" he muttered.
The camera continued to track along those impenetrable windows…
Scott was still muttering under his breath. "If I ever meet Cook again, I swear I'll…"
"Hold it! Back the camera up, I saw something!"
At Gordon's exclamation, Grandma Tracy sat forward, resting her arm on Scott's back. He didn't acknowledge her presence; his gaze was riveted on the video playing before them.
"There!" Gordon practically shouted. "I can see him! There! He's to the left of the pilot's seat."
"I need your help, Gordon," Alan said. "There's at least five different hot spots. Two of them are likely to blow. I can't get to him and handle these as well. You know where he is, I'll concentrate on putting the fires out."
"Okay, Alan. I'm on my way."
"Come on, Gordon," Scott muttered.
The camera had stopped panning and had remained trained on the one spot. Slowly the smoke thinned as Alan managed to get Thunderbird Two's various fires under control.
All except those that continued to lick around her unconscious pilot.
"Scott…" Grandma articulated. "Is he…"
Scott appeared to suddenly remember that his grandmother was seated beside him. He straightened so that he was able to comfort her. "He'll be all right, Grandma. He'll be all right…"
Three figures swam into view. One of them sprayed a fire extinguisher at the base of the nearby flames while the other two bent over the prone figure.
"Father and Brains," Scott confirmed.
What they were doing wasn't clear and the pair watching the video had to sit in frustrated silence for what seemed to be hours but must have been seconds.
At last Jeff spoke. "He's alive." The words were uttered as a sigh of relief.
Grandma felt Scott relax slightly.
Gordon moved into shot and, crouching down beside his father, blocked any view of the injured man.
Scott held up his left arm, touched his watch, and then lowered it again without initiating the radio contact. "Come on," he muttered again. "Move, someone."
When they did next move it was to get a stretcher. As the four men picked it up again, Scott stood. "I'm going down to help them."
"Scott…" Grandma rose to her feet quickly. As she did so the stresses of the last hour took its toll and she felt the room sway about her. She grasped his arm.
"Grandma? Sit down," Scott assisted her back into her seat. "Are you okay?"
She looked into his worried face and managed a weak smile. "I'm okay, Darling. I just realised that I'm going to have to miss that reunion with the girls. I've got more important things to worry about now."
"That's not for a few days yet," Scott reminded her. "Virgil'll be fine and you'll be free to go. He'd hate the idea of you missing out on something you've been looking forward to for so long, just because of someone else's stupidity."
"But I can't leave him."
"You can do some shopping while you're away. Get him something special. You always knew what would make us feel better when we were ill."
Grandma considered this proposal. "True. I can never trust the shops to pack the best pieces. I'll see. If he's well enough then I'll go."
Scott smiled. "Good…" There was a noise from the lift and he stood again.
The doors slid open and four men stepped into the room, manoeuvring the stretcher around the corner.
"Here, give me that," Scott took the stretcher handle from Brains and allowed the island's resident medical expert, mumbling things about smoke inhalation and concussion, to hurry on to the infirmary. Tin-Tin followed close at his heels.
Virgil was lying ominously still. A hastily applied pressure bandage over his forehead and an oxygen mask hid much of his face. That which wasn't hidden looked deathly pale.
Grandma Tracy reached out for her grandson, needing to touch him to reassure herself that he was still warm with life, but before her fingers made contact he was carried away from her and into the sick bay…
To be continued...