Disclaimer: I do not own Thunderbirds or Supernatural – they belong to their associates creators and studios. This is a non-profit literary effort.
Warnings: Mild coarse language, intense situations and, of course, supernatural themes.
Authors Notes: Okay, this one's a little strange. Don't worry, I'm still working on my other fic 'Psychics', and should have the next part of it out this week or next. But this one got in the way and took up my attention for a few days. I thought I'd post it as proof I'm still tapping away (grin).
You might notice this story bears some resemblance to Superpower37's story 'Disaster' and indeed, it grew out of the seed that story planted. I did send this to Superpower37 before I posted it, and I post this with her blessing.
Of course, Supernatural's timeline will be set in the same future as the Thunderbirds, but not much will actually change. I'm writing in the movie-verse of Thunderbirds, of course, just cause it worked.
It started with a bad feeling.
No, that wasn't quite true. It had actually started with days of weird nightmares and the odd feeling that he was being glared at from behind wherever he went; a pressured, icy feeling. But it was so vague and the dreams so insubstantial that he only ever realised it afterwards.
But it started that night with a bad feeling.
Alan was asleep. And then he was awake. He blinked a few times at the wall, disorientated, and then rolled on his back to look at the ceiling. He was puzzled – he had no idea why he was awake; he was a light sleeper but not a restless one. The only time he was truly insomniac was that first week back at school, where a combination of jet lag, frustration and deeply buried separation anxiety stole sleep from him.
He glanced at the clock – geez, it was two freakin' fifteen. The wind howled and rattled the windows, and outside there was a rhythmic snap snap snap sound – the plastic sheets stretched over wood frames in the half built extension of the dormitory Alan lived in were being beaten like drums in the storm. Maybe that was what woke him. They had been building onto the dormitories for the last month or so. All through the day and on most weekends there was a constant roar of earthmovers, drills, hammers, welders and trucks. The teachers were complaining – the noise was making classes hell. Even the students complained.
They even made noise at night, it seemed. Annoyed, Alan rose out of his heavily blanketed bed. Jostling for attention it his tired and cranky mind was the thought that Wharton charged an arm, a leg and most of the rest of the body in fees and still had horrendously starched sheets.
Alan felt weary and headachy. For the last few days he'd had an annoying tickle in his throat, and scratchy feeling in his chest – ominous signs of an oncoming winter cold. Alan ran his hands through his hair. He couldn't afford to get sick. He'd been working so hard to stay in the Advanced Course Program; any slacking off, any obstacles meant he would fall behind – they wouldn't let you stay in if you didn't keep your performance up to a certain stringent standard.
He wanted to surprise his family.
Oh alright. Rub their faces in it. A little.
Alan looked over at his stuttering but erstwhile roomie, Fermat. The other boy was sprawled out, totally at ease. Clearly whatever had woken him wasn't bothering Fermat.
Alan looked and the clock again. Two seventeen. Alan felt wide awake - the eerie, headachy, tense feeling was back. Sighing, Alan heaved himself out of bed and padded out of the room. He couldn't study or play games without waking Fermat, and he wasn't in the mood to read. Maybe a walk would tire him out.
It was cold as a morgue in the corridor; Alan's breath actually frosted in front of his face. That was another irritation that Alan mulled over as he paced the chilly halls. It was an old building, centuries old and full of draught holes. It never got this cold at home. Alan felt a cold shiver pass along his spine, his headache growing worse. He should get back in bed, this wasn't helping his cold.
Padding back past the stairs that lead to the second floor right near the main entrance, he turned down the small hall that led to his room, right at the front of the ground floor. He rubbed at his forehead. He had no idea why he suddenly felt so keyed up.
Alan jumped at a roar from outside – the roar of a machine that even outdid the howl of the wind. It was familiar. The blonde teenager frowned. What? They couldn't be doing construction at two in the morning on a blustery night like this.
Alan went back to the main doors and levered one of them open. Frigid air and flecks of snow drifted in and Alan peered out into the white, frosty night. The extensions were being built on a rounded hillock the students had been sorry to lose. The green had been ripped up, the hill slowly disked down, and it was now a patchwork of wood and metal frames, weighted down with concrete. Squinting past the light snowfall, Alan could just make out the darker-than-dark piles of girders and wood, the temporary sheds and portable toilets ringing the site, the slight rippling haze of plastic sheets on the frames, and behind, the hulking angles of various movers and shakers parked out the back. There was a constant rumbling growl, and suddenly the headlights on one of the machines lit up. They were pointed straight at the doors, straight at Alan, like super-intense luminous predator eyes. Alan stared back, almost dazed.
The thing – the bulldozer, it turned out - began to roll forwards and down the hill. The crash of the frames being demolished woke Alan up out of his startled trance. He thought maybe some of the kids had gotten in and started the thing, in which case it should stop soon when they shut it off. But the bulldozer barrelled down the slight slope with deceptive speed and unstoppable momentum, beams of light outlined in flakes of snow.
It was heading for the dormitory, Alan realised. And it wasn't going to stop.
Alan dove back through the door and slammed it shut. Outside the crashing reached a crescendo as the main structure was, well, bulldozered and the growling got louder.
He darted into his room, and went for Fermat's bed, reaching over to roughly shake the boys shoulder. Fermat came awake blearily and automatically reached for his glasses.
"Alan, wh-wh-wh…" Fermat protested, mumbling slightly.
"Come on, we gotta go!" Alan dragged him out of bed just as the lights flashed in the window above Fermat's bed. Too, too close.
They were at the doorway when the great thumping crash came from the wall. The window shattered and the wall bulged and the multi-tonne machine simply burst through the solid stone.
"Wh-wh-wh…what was that?" Fermat stuttered breathlessly, staring wide eyed at the bulldozer that had just rolled over the wreckage of his bed.
Alan was still backing up. So was the machine, like it was getting ready to turn. He looked at Fermat. Fermat looked at him. "Run!"
Alan ran down the corridors, pounding on doors as he went. In ones and twos boys emerged from their rooms.
"Tracy, what the hell…?" one of them demanded. Roberts, Alan remembered. There was a clamour of voices and a few of them began to move down the hall, curious about the growling roar.
"One of the machines is loose," Alan explained tersely, pounding on the last few doors.
Not just loose, but rolling through the door and out into the hall. There were startled yells as several of the more curious ones retreated from the metal monolith. It ripped it's way through the door and frame and wall of Alan's room and drove into the entrance area. Its headlights illuminated the gaggle of boys in the hallway ominously as it slowly turned, it's growl almost like a spoken threat.
"We have to get out," one guy, Li, quavered, shocked.
"Uh…isn't that the way out," another one, Colsan replied, pointing to the heavy wooden doors that were now blocked by the bulldozer.
The machine revved and buzzed angrily as it positioned itself it the hallway. Clearly it was intent on one thing.
Alan rose to the occasion. "Upstairs! Everyone, quick!"
There was a stampede up the wide wooden steps, slightly hampered by meeting another stampede coming down. Everyone in the dorm was awake now, and there was a clamour of confused voices as everyone tried to figure out what was going on. There was a thump at the foot of the stairs, which at least got everyone moving in the same direction.
They grouped at the second floor and milled there as the thing roared beneath them.
"What the hell…who the hell's driving the damn thing?" Roberts yelled over the noise.
"Who cares? We're safe up here, right?" Li shrugged. "It can't climb stairs."
Fermat's soft interruption was barely audible, but Alan knew where
it was coming from.
There were times when he hated being the son of an engineer. It meant at time like these a hateful but unfortunately knowledgeable little voice was going something like this: rolling tread; there's a good reason why we use it on all the earth bound rescue equipment. It was first used for tanks - vehicles designed to take on just about every terrain except empty air and so damn effective that the actual design had changed very little in the last century and a half. Built to roll over walls, swim and climb.
There was a horrid grinding as the machine sanded down the wood of the stairs. The slope slowed it down, but it continued up. The eerie lights shone up the stairwell.
"The r-r-r-roof!" Fermat yelled over the frozen boys on the next floor. "It-it-it'll never f-f-fit up those st-st-st…that way!"
There were only really two storeys to the dorm, plus the basement and the gap in the upper eaves. There was a small stairway up onto the sloping roof technically there for maintenance. Technically every boy in the dorm knew about it, and used it. The crowd of boys headed for it now, lights of the bulldozer on their backs. There was a panicked bottle neck at the far end as boys pushed and shoved to get up the one-way rickety stair. Behind them, the banisters cracked and splintered and the floor groaned painfully as the bulldozer rolled onto it. Alan looked back as the thing came down the hall, a metal fortress silhouetted by the high beams. He couldn't even see inside the cab. It blocked the whole hall, and scraped the walls as it passed.
"Come on, lets go!" Alan hustled furiously and the last of the dorm mates filed up. Alan leapt onto the stairs last, and fled up as the stairs rattled under his feet. The thing pounded against the bottom, held back by the walls and sheer physics. It backed up and charged again, cracking the doorframe and shaking the rickety stairs, sending Alan and everyone else on the stairs to their knees. The stampede became more desperate, yells and shouts and swears filled the air.
At last, Alan was able to haul himself the short ladder at the end up into the open sky, snow drifting through the air like a Christmas snow globe. The cold was biting up here, the wind blew right through the thin material of Alan's sleep gear. About two dozen white, wide eyed faces were ranged across the ridge point and slope of the tiled roof as Alan clambered up and shouldered a space for himself next to Fermat.
There was a bewildered silence filled with harsh breathing.
Suddenly Roberts piped up "What. The hell. Was that?"
They all looked at each other. Finally Alan spoke up. "It's one of the bulldozers from the extension. It just started coming at us. I don't know who's driving it."
"What are we supposed to do now?" another boy asked from up near the top.
Alan looked around hopefully. Around them, squares of light were opening up in the darkness, there was the sound of footsteps against flagstones, faint voices echoes up through the cloisters and courtyards. Wharton Academy was waking up.
Alan wiped the snow from him face, and tried to organise his thoughts into a plan. He was interrupted by the thump.
It was a whole-building thump. You could feel it through skin and bone. Alan reckoned he could even hear the windows vibrate over the wind. There was a rending, tearing crash from the bowels of the dorm, followed by plinks of falling bricks and clinks of plaster chunks and clacks of wood slats falling like matchsticks. It was followed by another and another and another – each thump more ominous as it went, like the footsteps of a monster stalking closer.
And then there was another sound. It was only subtle at first, inaudible over the pounding destruction, but it got louder. It was a grinding, insistent groan.
"A-A-Alan, the d-d-d-do….the structure is we-weakening," Fermat whispered in a strained voice. The snow dotted his hair and clouded his glasses. He was huddled in the corner angle of a gable. Alan couldn't see his expression in the dark, but he could make an educated guess.
"Okay," he whispered back. "Okay," he repeated louder, looking around. There, at the other side of the long house roof, there was a dark, angular mass. The old school gym – every boy in the dorm knew it, had climbed across it and down onto the academy wall, a short cut around the crowded courtyards and a foolproof way to break curfew. It would do. "We have to get off the roof. We'll climb up onto the old gym roof."
"You're freakin' nuts Tracy," Whaldorf snapped. "Climb across there in the dark through the snow? Let's just stay here! They'll get us down."
"The bulldozers taking out the support pillars," Alan explained desperately. "The roof will eventually collapse on itself," there was another thump, punctuated by a deadly shake. "If you wanna stay here, fine, but you'll be sitting on air! Follow me," Alan climbed carefully up the slope near the point and startled to sidle along it. Fermat followed, gripping the back of Alan' night shirt to keep himself steady. Another adrenaline spiking crash drove the others to follow.
"Form a chain!" Alan yelled over his shoulder as he made his slow way across the dorm. It was slow going across the roof. The slope was steep and difficult to walk across, the tiles were smooth and snow was slippery. Alan slipped and scraped his way along it as quickly as he could, focusing on the dark shape of the square gym, and tried not to think about the shaking beneath his numb hands and feet. The groaning was insistent and loud now. The thumping was following them across the building, underneath.
There was a shout and a scream behind him, and Alan twisted around to see one boy (Ivanonik?) fall loose from the chain and tumble down the powdered slope. He hit a gable and clung to it, trying to gain a footing on the icy snow. He was panicking and beginning to slip.
"Fermat, keep going," Alan gasped, and then dove down and across the slope, cold snow cutting at his feet. He slid down to Ivanonik and grabbed the boy before he could take a terminal fall over the gutters and hauled him back, bracing himself on the point of the gable. Ivanonik's vice like grip hurt Alan's half frozen hands, but he didn't let go of the white faced boy. He steadied them on the top of the gable, where they huddled breathing hard.
"Th-th-thanks Alan," Ivanonik quavered, breathing hard.
"Yeah, no sweat," Alan got out between pants.
A mini avalanche of snow slid off the roof and over the side. The thumping was right beneath the two of them, and the building now sounded like a dying animal - howling and screaming. Alan looked across the ridge of the roof, and his heart leapt as he saw the sagging line. Roofs shouldn't do that!
"Tracy! Lets go!" Shouted a voice from the direction of the gym, completely in the dark.
He pushed Ivanonik ahead of him, hustling him back up the slope and along. The thumps were distinctive as they followed – the tiles rattled, their shifting lines pinched at Alan's bare feet. He could feel them dropping away under his feet, less a solid mass than a pit of balls – solid objects that you just sink through. The cracking sound wasn't the bulldozer anymore – it was as loud as thunder, almost an explosion, and the groaning was like nails on a board.
Alan's heart lurched as the ground beneath him seemed to drop by feet at a time. Ivanonik yelped and tried to scramble forwards. Ahead of them the roof was more stable – like most structures it sagged in middle while the ends were held up by the outer walls. Grunting, Alan half lifted the Ivanonik, and yelled "Keep going!" as he used pure adrenaline to fling the boy ahead of the collapse. Alan himself made it two more steps before the sinking floor tripped him up. His chin hit the tiles, and with one last explosive crack the roof was gone and Alan was going with it.
Ivanonik slid and clawed on the snow, panting as he scrambled the last few feet to the wall of the old gym. It was flush up against the dorm, but about five feet higher. Faces lined the edge of the thankfully flat roofed building, Hands grabbed him and hauled him up. Someone kept repeating 'oh my God, oh my God'.
"A-A-Alan!" Fermat was shaking him. "Where's A-Alan?"
"He…I…" Ivanonik was shell-shocked.
The boys looked back at the ragged edged hollow where a clean lined roof point used to be. It stretched almost from one side of the dorm to the other, a gaping, sagging wound.
On the ground in front of both buildings lights were bobbing along the ground, torches were being swung this way and that, voices were yelling. It looked surreal in the silvery darkness. Several beams conglomerated on the on the shivering group on the old gym roof. A voice - the PE coach's, Fermat thought – bellowed up to them "Are you kids okay?"
Fermat ran to the edge and leaned over the parapet. "C-c-call for h-h-h-help!"
Alan groaned as he landed on the second floor in a shower of plasterboard and roof tiles. On the way down he'd been slammed across the midriff by a wood support beam in the roof and pivoted around it as the roof tiles all slid in. His ribs throbbed agonisingly and his hands and feet were red and raw from climbing through the snow. And he was wet.
Crawling out from under the debris, Alan used what was left of the bedroom wall he'd landed in to hold himself upright. He looked around – the dorm was a mess of smashed furniture and walls, personal items and clothes were tossed in with bricks, slabs and beams. The building had been gutted – Alan could see all the way through the line of rooms, wreckage crisscrossing the view. Rubbing his chin with one hand, Alan stumbled out of a doorway that was twisted and distorted. In the hall, chunks of snow tumbled down, making wet splats in the dark. At the other end, there was a rattle of movement.
A few boys emerged from the other end of the hall on other side of the dorm - they had retreated to the outer edges of the building as the insane machine had approached, and had missed escaping up to the roof.
"He-hello?" one called.
There was an explosion of noise, the hated howl of the earth mover as it burst through one of the dorm walls that was miraculously intact, coming in at an angle. The cheap plasterboard dividing walls that had been used to allocate the rooms were no obstacle to the thing. It came through closer to the boys at the other end, and stopped.
Alan staggered forward down the hall. "Back up! Back up! Run!" he shouted to the frozen group. The bulldozer backed up slightly, readying itself for a turn.
But it was Alan it swung towards; it's yellow, menacing headlights slowly swung around to pin him. It roared as its engine revved and then the terrible grinding noise started again and it shot forwards toward the lone Tracy.
Alan backed up. The building groaned again.
And then the bulldozer defeated itself. The structure, weakening by every minute, warping as it collapsed, could no longer hold the machine's weight. It dropped down through the bending floor like a seventy tonne stone.
Unfortunately for Alan it took a massive chunk of the floor with them. Alan desperately flung himself flat as the floor bucked up, cracked loose, and then tumbled down as it bent inwards and dropped. Alan lost all sense of direction as he was banged and dropped down past the ground floor and into the basement. He tried desperately to get his body into an upright, feet first position as he was thrown about the debris, and was rewarded by a stabbing sear in his ankle when he landed on the flat metal roof of the cab of the bulldozer. He yelped at the sharp pain, and rolled off the cab on reflex as the rest of the debris rained in through the hole.
Disorientated and covered in contusions and plaster dust, Alan shakily tried to get his bearings in the basement. The weak, clouded moonlight shining in through the twisted hole barely illuminated a few feet around. The high beam headlights sparkled across metal shelves loaded with large sacks and deep plastic tubs.
Dry goods, Alan thought muzzily as he stiffly got to his knees, ignoring the hot throbbing in his foot. That's right, they packed them all down here after the construction workers cut a water valve and flooded the kitchen storeroom. They had packed all the equipment and food into every available space. The students had protested losing their workshop and lounge which was basically what the basement was used for, but had gone unheeded.
Since this was a school for growing adolescent boys, there were pyramids of massive cans. Row after row of flour sacks. Bin after bin of bread mix. Three shelves of ten pound bags of table salt, the same of pepper. There was a dusty, spicy musk on everything.
The cans were now tumbling and rolling on the floor in between the debris. A shelf of flour sacks and been tipped over and the dust filled the air. Bread mix tubs were crushed underneath the tread.
The machine backed up, taking out more dry goods as it tried to turn in the cluttered space. Alan scrambled up and limped desperately away, trying to remember where the exit was. The bulldozer adjusted its angle and roared towards him, its shovel gleaming in the weak light. Trestles had been set up to hold the stores, and Alan leapt desperately only to one as the machine hit, sending it skidding back into more shelves. The lights were right in Alan's face, the unforgiving metal of the shovel inches away. From the higher ground and this close, Alan could see inside the cab. He froze and stared.
The shovel came up, tipping the table and sending Alan back against the metal shelves. A thin sharp edge was driven into the length of Alan's upper arm, biting deep and his shoulder cricked slightly as it took his weight. Alan let out a cry at the unexpected pain as the bulldozer reversed again, dropping the split trestle back. The boy stumbled to the ground, cornered in a horseshoe of shelves. The pieces of the trestle had been pushed into the side shelves which were wobbling and swinging, threatening an avalanche.
The bulldozer stopped backing up, and charged again, shovel raised. If that thing hit him, Alan would be quartered by the sharp edges. Desperate, heart racing, he climbed the shelves to get over it. He reached the top as the thing slammed it, crumpling the shelves like a soda can. Alan desperately maintained his grip on the wrenching, swinging metal.
The thing was raising its shovel, trying to crush him like a bug against the wall. There was something terrifying about these machines in action. They could drag tanks, they could lift blocks of steel. They were unstoppable.
In one last ditch move, Alan leapt – he went over the shovel and into the gap between it and the rest of the machine. Squirming into the small space, Alan just found the floor as the shovel came down again.
Alan was blocked in by debris and spent precious seconds shoving it aside. Belly crawling, he pushed forward trying to get out of the contracting gap. He felt his gut tighten as he tried to squeeze out, and felt a rush of panic as the thing squeezed around his chest like a vice.
You're going to die here, Alan Tracy. Just like that. No heroism, no bravery, no brilliant escapes. No getting your opponent weak. No last minute rescue.
I want my Dad, Alan thought as the thing squeezed tighter. Tears crept out from beneath his eyelids. I want my family. I want to go home. I love you guys…
The wobbling shelves toppled over the machine, the bags and sacks ripping open. Salt cascaded down like rough snow, and everything stopped.
The engine died. The headlights winked out. The noise switched off. Alan, pinned, panted out past the tight weight on his chest, waiting tensely for it to start again. The pure terror started to fade as the machine stayed cold and dead, and empty.
Alan closed his eyes, his head lolling painfully onto the floor, trying to think of what to do next.
"Calling International Rescue. Calling International Rescue."
John stumbled out of his bedroom of the space station and made it to his chair on the second go. Damn, it was too early for this.
Suddenly switching to business mode, John opened the communications system up and prepared a trace with a few efficient keystrokes.
"This is International Rescue, go ahead please," John spoke calmly into the mike.
"Oh thank God, I didn't think this would work!"
John sighed. If he'd had a dollar for every time he's heard that…
"My name is Joseph Harperton, I am the administrator of a school in Massachusetts," the man, Mr Harperton began. "We've had an incident, and we need assistance."
"What's the situation Mr Harperton?" John replied briskly. "Be as detailed as you can – situation, casualties, terrain, everything." Something was tugging at John, some little detail. He pushed it aside.
"Well, I'm not clear on the details, but one of our dormitories has collapsed. A good many of our students escaped across the roof, but there are a few boys trapped inside the building. I think the structure is unstable, the fire fighters say it's too unstable to just walk in, and the wind is preventing any air rescue. They suggested I call you."
John was getting a bad feeling. "How did the collapse happen?"
"Well, as I said, we're unclear on the details. It seems some of the construction equipment rolled loose into the building. We've been doing extensions of our buildings recently." Mr Harperton sounded puzzled by it.
Whatever it was that was getting to John was really nagging at him now. "What is your exact location, Mr Harperton? Can you tell me how many students are missing?"
Mr Harperton told him.
The alarm shrilled out across Tracy Island, loud and clear. Jeff barely had time to activate the communications panel before his boys all filed in, dripping wet from being called in from the pool.
John?" Jeff put him on screen and stopped to stare. John was dead
"Dad, we've got an emergency call," John said quickly. "From Wharton's."
Jeff blinked. Then he scowled. "Wharton Academy?"
Scott sucked in a breath. "Alan?"
"I don't know. The principal made the call on the recommendation of emergency services. One of the dormitories has collapsed."
"Casualties?" Gordon demanded.
"They haven't found any bodies. Apparently most of the boys climbed onto the roof and onto the next building to escape."
"The roof?" Virgil repeated, confused. "They escaped the collapse by going up, not out?"
John nodded on the screen. "According to the caller one of the earth movers from the construction site next door rolled right through the front door."
Jeff shook his head. "Alright, save the exposition for when we're airborne. Boys, suit up and prepare the Mole and the rescue platform. Go, now!" he barked.
Jeff turned to the door as the boys dove for their silos, and faced a grim Brains watching from the door.
"I-I-I would like t-t-t-to g-g-g…accompany the mission this time, sir," Brains said quietly.
Jeff sighed. There were plenty of good reasons why he shouldn't go – recognition risk being among the top ten – but unfortunately all the same reasons applied to Jeff, and there was no way he was being left behind.
"Head for the elevator, Brains. And stay in Thunderbird Two."
"FAB Mr T-Tracy."
Alan tried to drift for a while, and it wasn't easy. He was pinned like a flower pressed into a book, his ribs hurt and it was hard to breathe. His ankle still throbbed unhappily but the worst bit was the gash running down his arm. Not an ignorable wound to begin with, Alan had been trapped lying on his left side and the wound was on his right arm – and had been showered in salt. He was getting an in depth demonstration of the old adage 'rub salt in to a wound'. It burned. What was worse was that unlike antiseptic it burn didn't fade – it just kept burning and burning.
In added insult to injury, it was snowing; right on Alan's head, and nowhere else. It drifted and tumbled through various chutes and holes, and ended up right there. It was almost ironic.
Alan had, painfully, managed to free his left arm – his right was completely pinned. He couldn't move any further, however. Something was digging relentlessly into his back, and no matter how he tried to move it was still in there.
Stuck here in pain and cold, Alan tried to think how this could have happened. In the space of about ten minutes he'd gone from being asleep to being pinned beneath a multi tonne machine after falling from the roof to the basement of his own dormitory. It had all happened so fast it had left Alan disorientated and bewildered.
He wished his Dad was here. He knew that made him sound about four years old, but he really, really wished they were here. Somewhere in his hazy, cold-induced trance he'd come awake at a roar from overhead. He thought he'd heard Thunderbird One, but after listening hopefully for an hour he hadn't heard anything else, and had drifted again.
The rest of the time he just tried to figure the number one mystery in this whole disaster.
That, and tried not to think about how angry Dad was going to be this time.
He tiredly poked and the wreckage around him, looking for a way out. Something cracked into his head.
Grunting, he reached up to rub his temple as whatever it was clattered to the ground over his head. He felt around, and his hand closed around a cell phone.
Or a part of one, anyway. The front piece had been popped off and the screen was cracked. The back piece was gone too, but lucky for Alan he found the battery feeling around above his head.
It was hard work doing it in the dark and one handed, but Alan managed to get the battery into the rest of it and hold it in. The battery fell out several times as he tried to hit the tiny nodes that were the buttons stripped of the front piece of the phone. Frustrated but determined, Alan kept trying. Eventually he was rewarded why a weak, broken light from the messed up screen. He worked mostly by feel and memory to dial the number – he didn't have any actual reference than the weak points of light under the small nodes. It took him almost fifteen minutes just to dial a number he could have done in two seconds under better circumstances. He nearly cried when he heard it ringing – it was so faint and the signal crackled, but it was there like a prayer.
It kept ringing, and eventually the tone of the ringing changed as the lines switched. Alan closed his eyes. They couldn't be out…
"Hello, Tracy residence," a pleasant, familiar voice asked.
"John!" God, was that his voice? It was cracked and quavery and rough from misuse. "Can you hear me? John?" he croaked out.
"Alan? Is that you?" John sounded shocked and worried. "Are you okay? Where are you? We heard about the collapse and the others are on their way. Were you in the building that fell?"
"Yeah," Alan choked out. "I still am. I…fell from the roof through the basement. I…can't climb out, John. I'm stuck."
"Okay, okay. Just stay calm for me, Sprout, we'll get you out. It's okay," John's voice had taken on a crooning quality Alan hadn't heard in years. "Can you tell me where exactly you are? Are you hurt?"
"I'm near where the bulldozer went through. It's snowing," Alan tried to orientate his position in the building. His room was on the north side, and old gym was on the west side so that would put him…"I think I'm on the south west…John? John, can you hear me?" Alan was nearly shouting into the phone, white static drowned the line.
The phone died. Alan stared at it angrily, and nearly flung at away. He closed his eyes and tried to focus on breathing through his tight chest.
At least he'd gotten through.
As per SOP, Thunderbird One was the first on the scene.
Scott was frustrated and worried, which was a dangerous combination in the eldest Tracy son. It made him unforgivingly efficient. Already he'd offended two fire chiefs and the head of the construction company in charge of the extensions. In this state Scott Tracy didn't suffer fools.
He'd helped get the kids on the roof down, though; and had been in the glad position to see for himself that Fermat was unhurt and safe. He'd tried to tell Scott something but Scott had shook his head surreptitiously before he'd opened his mouth. While he was here in uniform, Fermat couldn't know him.
He'd gotten a terrifying story from the kids as they were processed in triage in the main school building. According to various shell-shocked victims some insane individual had driven an industrial earthmover straight through the wall of the dorm and had chased the students up to the roof. Once unable to reach them, it had proceeded to demolish the second floor, taking out all the support structures. The dorm had collapsed under the weight of its own roof.
Scott looked everywhere for Alan, every face was scanned, the crowd invisibly searched from Thunderbird One. Nothing. Scott's most terrible fear seemed to be justified. Alan was still in the building, somewhere.
Scott looked at the building. Even from the distance you could see there was something wrong with the structure. The walls bulged and leaned, the whole shape was distorted. The fire fighters had set up floodlights around the accident zone, and they shone through windows, glinting across the snow drifting in through the massive wound in the roof. The air was frigid – ah, Massachusetts winter at midnight, how he'd never missed it. If Alan was really in there, he'd be very cold by now. Cold, maybe hurt. Scott forced himself to stop grinding his teeth.
He was so wound up that when his cell phone rang he jumped in a very undignified way. He snapped it open. "Yes?"
"Hang on I'm just…Scott?"
Scott looked around carefully before replying. "John? Any news?"
"Very good question Scotty," his fathers voice came over the line too.
Scott wasn't even going to ask how John had finagled a conference call between a space station, a cell phone and a Thunderbird. "What's your ETA?"
"We'll be another twenty two minutes," Virgil confirmed with accuracy.
That was a fast journey for the heavy tanker. They must be burning out the engines. Jeff continued. "Scott, what's the situation? Have they found Alan or Fermat?"
"I took Fermat of the roof myself. He's fine, just a little shaken up. I haven't found Alan yet. It's really bad."
"I found Alan," John cut in. "He called me."
"What?" both Scott's and Jeff's response was perfectly timed.
"He called me on a cell phone – I traced the number, it's not his. He must have dug it out of the wreckage."
"Put him on, John," Jeff ordered crisply.
"I can't Dad – the line cut. I tried calling it back but I'm not getting through. I'm trying other numbers now just in case there's another. Most of them are switched off, some are just ringing. I did get through to a phone – there's a group of students trapped in the north west corner of the building, in one of the rooms."
"What about Alan?" Jeff demanded. Scott pressed the phone to his ear, unwilling to miss any details.
"He said he was in the basement," John reported. "All I got out of him was that he was in there and he was stuck – he's either blocked from the exit or he can't move."
"What else?" Scott asked as Jeff took a breath. "Is he hurt?"
"I don't know Scott," John sounded frustrated. "The line went dead before I could get more than that. He seemed lucid. Scared and lucid."
Jeff broke in, his voice hard. "Prepare for our arrival Scott. Clear a space on any large field nearby and make sure there's a path to the dorms wide enough for the Mole."
"FAB," Scott said and signed off. He waved the attention of a fire chief, and he came forward warily. There was something about standing in the shadow of the sleek Thunderbird that put men off.
"What now?" was the brusque greeting. This fire chief had not been impressed by International Rescue's customer service skills so far.
"Get your trucks moving," Scott ordered. "Get everyone off the football field and clear a line to the accident zone. My buddies are coming and they need space for their gear."
"Look fella, it just ain't gonna happen like that. The roads to and from the school are clogged, the parking lots are full and the access paths weren't designed for this. We've having enough trouble shuffling equipment as it is, no way can the area take any more. I reckon you're gonna wanna think up another way, and maybe consider an attitude adjustment in the process. I been doin' this for nearly twenty years, I know my job," the fire chief glared out from his heavy brows.
Scott didn't flinch, and fixed the man with a steely stare. "Fine. Excellent argument. Now here's something for you to consider," he replied coldly. "I know you know your job. It's clear to me that you know what you're doing. And because you know what you're doing, you knew the minute you were in over your head. You called us in. You wanted our help, and we came. You can't just turn around now and say we've got to do it your way – if you could pull this off on your own we wouldn't be here. There are kids in that building, sir, and I don't need to be an engineer to know that one stiff breeze will turn what's left of it into a pile of rubble. The longer we stand out here having a pissing match, the longer those kids are trapped in there, cold and in the dark, maybe injured, maybe dying. We're already on our way – you can't send us away now. You won't, because then it's on your head if that building goes over with those kids inside. The bottom line? Move your trucks and personnel, or we'll simply land on top of them. Don't think we won't – a few fire engines aren't worth a single human life. Your choice mister. You got fifteen minutes."
Scott turned away and stalked back into his machine, furious and frustrated. If you keep us out of there the few seconds it would take to save my brothers life, so help me it'll be the last mistake you ever make.
As it turned out, everything ran smoothly for the Thunderbirds. The trucks were moved into the construction site, or what was left of it. Thunderbird Two swung in for a smooth landing on the cheers of students who were lining the cloisters and balconies, and peering out of windows and grouping at the barriers. They were getting to see modern day heroes up close – it was not to be missed.
Usually an adoring public would bring out many amused cracks and wry comments from Gordon, who was eternally amused by normal people's obsession with the Thunderbirds, but tonight he fidgeted in his chair, trying not to give in to his tension. When he was on the ground and in action he knew he'd be riding the adrenaline curve like a pro, all business and control, but waiting helplessly was never something he did very well.
Actually, no Tracy did it well. Jeff's hands were white knuckled on the steering column, and Virgil, who if he couldn't pilot then he would only suffer to be co-pilot of the heavy 'bird, was moving back and forth between the cockpit and the open bays at the back, where he was filling his time helping Brains stock the Mole with any equipment they might need. Gordon would wager his trust fund that Scott was handling the pressure as only Scott knew – giving orders, planning out details to the nth degree, and generally taking control wherever he could.
Virgil came back for the landing and they bumped gently on the ground. Jeff prised his hands loose from the controls and switched on the intercom. "Brains, did you look into the structure for me?"
"Yes Mr T-Tracy," Brains voice came from the bays. "I have s-s-studied the uh…building p-p-p-p…blueprints. It's very old, Mr Tracy. The inner a-a-allotments are more r-r-re-re...new, but the first f-f-floor and the basement were solidly built. The n-n-n-northern wall of the basement was cut r-r-right out of the r-r-r-rock of the hillock. There should be enough support there to, uh, drill through w-w-without disturbing the r-r-rest of the structure."
"FAB. You heard the man, boys," Jeff turned to Gordon and Virgil. "Take the Mole down and around to the northern face. Do infrared scans before you get close, the last thing we need is for you to run into a trapped student." Jeff quickly thought of his youngest son hanging like a bauble over the spinning Mole in the vault of the Bank of London, then just as quickly tried not to think of it. "Brains and I will do a sound sweep of the building, see if we can't pinpoint the position of the trapped students on the second floor. Get going. And boys?" Jeff stopped them as they began to rise. "I know you're worried about Alan, I know this isn't a normal mission; but I need you to remember that there are other people in danger here. We need to get them all out. Understand?"
"What's going on Scott?" John didn't even greet him as Scott picked up the phone.
Scott watched as the Mole rolled out of Thunderbird Two, and slowly began a complicated trek around the stricken former dorm. "Virgil and Gordon are going in through the basement with the Mole. Hopefully they'll be able to get Alan out and climb up to the other kids as well. Any luck with the phones?"
"I tried every number in that dorm at least half a dozen times," John sighed, frustrated. "Most of them ring out or go to voicemail, the rest are switched off. I got two answers, one from a student who already escaped the dorm, and one from the students trapped on the second floor." Scott could almost see the annoyed, tense shrug that John gave a couple of thousand miles above. "I can't reach Alan again, not like before. Tell the others that he said that he was near where the bulldozer went through. He should be next to the machine, wherever it is."
"FAB. Thanks for the tip," Scott replied, watching tensely through the cockpit window of Thunderbird One as the Mole started it's impressive tilt-and-spin movement, throwing up a spray of dirt and gravel. The mission had begun.
"Relax Scott," John voice came quietly over the line. "We'll get him out. It'll be fine."
Scott felt like a vice had been clamped around his torso and stomach. He wanted to believe it, desperately. He watched the snow tumble and cling down the nose cone of his 'bird, and tried not to let the feeling overwhelm him.
The Mole vanished into the dark, cold earth.
The industrial diamond tipped augers cut through the mildly hard sediment and packed earth easily enough. Driving by sonar and infrared alone, Virgil piloted it in a careful swoop under the construction hillock and facing the northern wall. Carefully adjusting the depth, Virgil moved the heavy digger close into the basement wall, and stopped.
"Did you do a sweep?" Virgil asked as he primed the spinners for the final drilling.
"Yeah," Gordon replied impatiently. "All clear past the final wall, we should be able to dig in safely."
Virgil hesitated. "Are you sure?"
Gordon's head whipped around to glare at him. "Are you nuts? You think I wanna clean my little brother off the tread? I'm freakin' sure, okay? I did it three times."
"Okay, okay," Virgil raised a placating hand. "FAB." He thumbed his mike. "Thunderbird Two, this is the Mole. We're going into the Accident Zone."
"FAB," Jeff's voice came through.
The Mole ground through the last of the rock and out into empty space. The noise became less a muffled grind than a loud rumble as the augers ran out of earth to dig. Virgil edged it in just far enough to get clearance for the side door, but left it there.
Alan was having a nightmare. He remembered toddling into his father's workshop in their old house when he was about three. He often ended up in there, past various child locks and barriers (much to his fathers and brothers dismay), simply because the gleaming tools and strange, half built machines had fascinated him at that age. When he couldn't sleep or had nightmares he would find his way down there where his father would work into the wee hours of the morning, trying to exhaust himself, distract himself, anything to keep away the grief and pain of losing his wife – two years after the event and it was still a raw wound, though Alan had been too young to see it back then. He remembered his Dad gently setting him on a clear space on the bench next to the vice still wrapped in a bunny blanket, and gently chatter to him as he worked about any old thing. It was a rare quiet time shared between Jeff and Alan, a difficult thing to accomplish in between running a multinational corporation and large household.
Alan dreaming his father was putting him into the vice, saying something about how this would help him grow. It seemed so much bigger than he remembered. It squeezed and squeezed until Alan was gasping for air…
And he woke up breathing past a tight vice around his chest and an annoying pain in his back and arm. And the roar of a machine….
It's happening again! Alan's whole, aching body tensed, his breath became choked as he waited for the sound of his bones cracking to shards.
But suddenly the sound stopped again, leaving behind only the rustle of falling dust. Alan's eyes squeezed shut and his head lolled wearily on the ground. His heart was pounding so loud it whited out all other sound.
Gordon popped open the hatch and pulled himself out, giving a random shelf a shove to make way into the pitch black basement. From inside, Virgil switched on the headlights, illuminating row after row of shelving shot through with trestle tables at odd corners. Through the shelving Gordon could see odd shapes and jagged edges at the far end of the large basement. Looked like a likely place to start.
"I'll get the gear ready," Virgil said, sticking his head out after Gordon and passing him a medic pack. "Go and find him, and call back."
It was tougher going than it looked. The darkness and cluttered storage made for a difficult, obstacle ridden journey with just a flashlight and a few glow sticks to dropped on the path behind him. When he got closer to the cave in several rows of shelves had been tipped over, and various chunks of ceiling and support beams stuck up at all angles. Gordon clambered over it all, yelling Alan's name.
"Alan? Alan! Come on Sprout, I'm not in the mood for hide and seek! Alan!" Gordon spotted the bulky earth mover under a dusting of debris and salt. He worked his way toward it. "Alan…." Please answer me hovered at the tip of his tongue and ran through his increasingly frantic mind.
The roaring in Alan's ears faded slightly as his foggy, cold dulled mind became aware that he wasn't being crushed and the engine roar had stopped again. Gasping and wheezing, he only noticed the beloved familiar voice when it was almost on top of him, thumping around somewhere behind the metal monolith.
Alan tried to speak, but his voice was half frozen and it came out a croak. Swallowing painfully, he tried again. "'m 'ere. Here!"
"Alan!" Gordon hauled himself up on the roof of the bulldozer, slipping slightly in the salt as he crawled over it. "Hell, Sprout, you picked a fine time to play tonka trucks." Gordon's relief burst like a bubble as he looked over and spotted his brother. "Oh shit. Shit!" he gasped.
"What!" Virgil yelled from where he was following.
"Gordon, what is it?" Jeff's voice came over the mike.
"Virgil, bring the cutting gear! He's not next to it! He's underneath the damn thing!"
There were a tense few minutes in Thunderbird One, Two and Five as their respective pilots froze in dread at Gordon's pronouncement. They relaxed slightly when Gordon reported back that it wasn't as bad as his approach angle had made it appear.
"He's squished in between the shovel and the cabin, Dad, a tight squeeze. We're going to have to cut the whole shovel away to get him out." Gordon voice abruptly took on a yelling tone as he carried on a second conversation with his brother. "Virgil! Bring a pallet of blankets with you when you come! It's freakin' cold down here!"
Jeff heard some low mumbling from Virgil's mike along the lines of 'sure Gordon, I'll just carry it in my two extra hands' as Gordon switched back to talking to Jeff. "This might take a while, Dad, it's a heavy industry machine – not easy to just take apart."
"Is Alan okay? How badly is he hurt?" Scott's anxious voice broke through the line before Jeff could reply.
"I'm just giving him a check now, I'll call back in a minute." Gordon reported.
"FAB. One minute," Jeff said, and signed off.
"Mr T-T-Tracy?" Brains appeared from the back and a quick pace. "O-o-o-one of the sc-scanners has picked up an emergency c-c-call from the s-s-south side of the building. An el-electrical, uh, fire has started on the o-o-other side of the zone. The fire trucks ca-ca-ca…are unable to, uh, manoeuvre around through the con-con-con…extensions."
Jeff cursed. It wasn't like the needed any more problems. He opened up a channel. "Thunderbird One, come in."
"Thunderbird One here. Go ahead Thunderbird Two."
"Come round to Thunderbird Two Scotty, I need you to command the Firefly. There's a fire on the south side," Jeff ordered.
"Damn. FAB Thunderbird Two. On my way." Scott replied dutifully. Maybe it was for the best. Sitting and waiting was becoming unbearable.
"Brains, prep the Firefly," Jeff turned back to the scientist.
"FAB," Brains nodded, and exited again, heading back to the pod.
Jeff let out a frustrated breath, and re-opened communication. "Gordon, it's been a minute. How is he?"
Not good, Gordon thought to himself as he gently brushed the snow and salt off Alan's pallid face. "Okay kiddo, where does it hurt?"
"mmhm," Alan was having trouble focusing. Gordon patted his face and rubbed his cold bare arm.
"Come on, kid. Up and at 'em."
There was a clattering sound as Virgil hauled the equipment up over the cab. He sidled across the tread and over to the pool of light where Gordon bent over Alan. "How is he?" he asked Gordon anxiously.
"Gord'n?" Alan mumbled as he became more aware. "V'gil?"
"In the flesh," Gordon grinned reassuringly, stroking the blonde hair. "Come on Alan, you've gotta concentrate for me now. You gotta tell me where it hurts."
"Alan," Virgil asked in a tone of someone expecting something bad. "Is any part of you…under the tread?"
"Wha…? No, uh-uh," Alan shook his head, trying to clear the fog. "'m just stuck."
Gordon and Virgil share a look of double relief. It was something.
"Where are you hurt, kid?" Gordon repeated gently, brushing the hair out of his eyes.
"My arm…my ribs hurt, it's hard to breathe," Alan gasped. "I think my foot broke when I fell through."
down at an angle and ferreted his hand in as far as he could through
a small gap between the shovel and Alan near where Alan's stomach
was and prodded the chilled skin as best he could. Virgil swung a
light over the other side, checking Alan's foot through the hole at
the other end. He hissed. "Oh yeah, definitely twisted the wrong
way," he called to Gordon. "Pass me a blanket, will you? A
thermal. His toes are blue."
Gordon chucked the blanket over as he thumbed his mike, moving to grip Alan's hand. "Thunderbird Two, come in."
"Well?" His father demanded impatiently.
"It's not bad, considering the situation. One fractured or broken ankle, maybe some cracked or broken ribs," Gordon peered in to the tiny gap where Alan's other arm was pinned. "One, whoa, mighty impressive gash on his arm, but it's not gushing." The light caught some glittering white particles that looked too dry to be snow crusted over everything. Gordon drew a finger across the shovel edge and sniffed the stuff. He tasted it. Damn, salt? Ouch. "I checked his abdomen as best I could," he continued, back on to business. "No distension. He's not coughing up blood, so if he's bleeding inside he's doing it slow." Gordon bit his lip. "Alan? Does you're head hurt? Is your vision okay?"
"Yeah, 's fine. Didn't hit m'head," Alan replied tiredly.
"No head wounds," Gordon reported back, rubbing a gloved thumb over the back of Alan's hand. "And it's colder than the North Sea down here, right kid?"
"Okay," Jeff didn't sound happy at all. "Bundle him up. Virgil, do you have everything you need? Can you cut the shovel away with what you have?"
"Affirmative. But it'll take time, even with the circular saw just cutting though the hydraulic connectors," Virgil answered.
"Start quickly," Jeff ordered. "Gordon, get the climbing gear out. I need you to go to the second floor and get the other students down to the Mole, if you can."
"But…" Gordon protested breathlessly. He couldn't just leave Alan…
"Gordon, that's an order," Jeff cut in firmly. And that was it, really. Dad had made it very clear when International Rescue started that they either followed orders in the field, or they were out of the family business. "Virgil will stay with Alan. He's rated to use the cutting gear, he's used it more than you. I need you to get up there – A fire has started." Jeff added in consolation.
Gordon cursed. He could feel Virgil giving him a look through the cabin window where he was disabling the machine for safety. Now was not the time. "FAB," he replied eventually.
"Okay Sprout, I gotta go to work," Gordon tried to smile at his trapped, watchful sibling. "Give Virgil hell. It's your duty."
Virgil snorted as Alan wheezed out a chuckle. "Watch that f-first step," he recommended as Gordon wrapped him in a blanket and stuffed some more into the gaps he could reach. Virgil was out of the cab and unfolding a rustling heavy tarp and uncovering the nasty looking silver blades of the industrial cutters. "It's a doozy."
Gordon laughed as he rubbed Alan's hair. "FAB."
As Scott drove the compact fire fighting machine an a trundling circle around the dorm to the smoking, glowing fire on the south side, carefully piloting it through the courtyard, Gordon clambered up the twisted basement stairs and crept along the weakened ground floor, and Virgil padded Alan with as many blankets as possible before covering him with heavy, fireproof pieces of tarp designed to protect him from the sparks, keeping up a string of chatter to the exhausted boy as he did.
Jeff sat tensely in Thunderbird Two, the reluctant leader of his empire, running the three operations at once.
"Thunderbird Two, this is Firefly," Scott called in.
"Go ahead Scott," Jeff replied, tapping impatient beats on the steering column.
"I'm here and we're trying to douse it, but it's slow going. I can't use too much pressure or I'll damage the structure more. It's moving along the wiring Dad. It's old."
"Keep at it Scott. Once the kids are out, we won't have to worry so much about the structure."
"Thunderbird Two, come in," Virgil's voice came over next. "I am preparing to cut. I won't be in communication with the welding mask on and the saw going."
"Report in every ten minutes," Jeff ordered. "Watch your fingers. Thunderbird Two out." It was an old joke.
"Thunderbird Two, do you read me?" Gordon's timing was nearly perfect.
"Go ahead Gordon," Jeff sighed.
"I found the kids. They're okay, just a little cold. I had to climb up with crampons and grapnels through the hole – the stairs were shot. I don't recommend taking them back down through the basement, Thunderbird Two. It was hard going for me, and I've done this before. The floor is…barely that, actually," Gordon elucidated. "It'll be too risky going down."
"What options do we have?" Jeff asked.
"Well," Gordon sent back, sounding speculative. "The hole in the roof it pretty big, and the holes through to the basement don't line up exactly with the one in the roof. I reckon if you go high enough you could safely drop the rescue platform right in through the hole without the exhaust rattling the building much."
"FAB. We'll lift off right now, get them into a safe rendezvous position," Jeff replied decisively. He could be forgiven, perhaps, for the eagerness which he jumped at the opportunity for action. He may have seemed more patient than his sons, but that was just the attrition of age. He was just as bad as them underneath.
He prepared the massive green machine for take off, trying not to think of his youngest trapped below.
Virgil had decided to start at the end of the shovel where Alan's feet were. There was more space to cut and Alan could curl his legs just enough to leave the two hydraulic spokes that lifted and stretched the shovel completely clear. Cutting the other two would be more problematic – especially the bottom one. It crossed flush across Alan's arm and shoulder. There were a few little gaps that he could use to cut right through the metal without cutting Alan, but the clearance would be tiny – down to quarters of inches. When he made that cut, he would be a tiny slip away from turning Alan into an amputee. Or a corpse.
He had to build up to that one.
As he'd covered Alan with the protective tarp, he'd put in a call to John, up in the station. He wouldn't be able to hear Alan with the saw going, and he didn't want his little brother to think he was alone. Dad was busy with Gordon and Scott, so John was it.
"Just keep him calm, John, keep him talking. It's cold and he's injured – I don't want him to pass out while I'm working. I've got the walkie-talkie nearby if you need to talk to me."
He'd unhooked his headset and gently hooked it over Alan's head. He'd balled up a blanket so Alan could pillow his head on it. He'd stuffed blankets into every gap he could find, and had immobilised the injured foot. He'd done everything possible to make his little brother as comfortable as possible, which wasn't much.
"Here, get bored by John for a while," Virgil said as he settled him and grabbed the tarp that had been draped over his torso. Then he stopped, and put a hand on either side of Alan's face. "Alan, I'll be as quick as I can, but I need you to stay awake, okay? Just stay awake. We'll have you out and annoying Scott in no time. Promise."
Alan let out a breath and nodded against Virgil's hands. "Okay. But y-y-y-you're not making it…easy. John's….pretty boring."
Virgil chuckled as he heard an indignant 'I heard that,' from the walkie-talkie, and covered Alan completely with the tarp. Like putting a sheet over a body, an irritatingly morbid little voice insisted on commenting. Virgil stepped on it, and ground his heels in for good measure.
In the dark, slightly stuffy cave under the tarp, Alan turned his head trying to find a comfortable spot. He wasn't sure if he was happy for the warmth slowly being drawn out by the blankets or not – yes, the cold was fierce and deadly but the blissful numbness from his injuries was a blessing. Now his circulation was returning and his body was stiff and cramped. Relieved from one discomfort and shoved into another. Alan was thoroughly miserable.
"I am not boring," a mildly insulted John said through the headset.
Miserable, and yet he felt so much better than he ever had before, now that the gang was all here. "Y'stare at stars all day. Night. Y'are," he replied, slurring.
"Try it. It's fun," John defended. He continued. "So, here we are again, Sprout. I get a call from a school in Massachusetts, and I think to myself 'what are the chances Alan dead smack in the middle of this?' I calculated it to be the same likelihood as the sun rising. Seriously, I got the calculations right here."
"Shut up, John," Alan muttered. Then he sighed. Something that had been weighing on him, other than the bulldozer, loomed to the front of his attention. You could always talk to John. "John….is Dad…mad?"
"What?" John sounded startled. "What kind of question is that? Dad's worried about you, we all are, Sprout."
Alan tried to get his sluggish thoughts to speed up. "W-W-Well as c-c-complete destruction goes th-th-this is school number two…"
He felt a breath of laughter in his ear. "Yeah, there is that."
Alan kept going back to his fear. Now that his family was here and he was safe, he had the luxury of being embarrassed and worried. "But….but…Dad's not mad? I…I didn't have a-a-anything to d-d-do with this, I swear," for some reason it seemed so important that they know this. "I…I think I messed up ag-ag-again, but I didn't mean to." Alan would have been shocked to realise how small his voice sounded.
John was. "Alan what…Alan, no one's mad at you. Geez, no one was mad at you the last time, either. I mean, we tease you about it all the time, but we all know it was an accident. This isn't your fault, we never thought that it was! You know I didn't mean anything with that crack earlier, I never thought you were making trouble."
Alan blinked. He was so tired. "I-I-It's just that it k-k-keeps happening. I k-k-keep doing the wrong things. You g-g-guys wouldn't have ended up like th-this," Alan miserably pulled the tarp closer around him, shivering. "You g-guys wouldn't h've gotten r-r-run around the island b-b-by the Hood."
"Alan, we were captured by the Hood, remember? You took him out. You foiled him. I don't think that comes under the heading of 'wrong'," John said gently, trying to figure out where this sudden bout of self flagellation had come from. "Alan, are you okay?"
"I'm c'ld. I'm s-so sorry, John. Tell D-D-Dad I'm so so-so-sorry."
It was a delicate task, getting the rescue platform into the hole in the roof. Like those amusement park games, it was much harder than it looked at first.
But Jeff Tracy wasn't a decorated ex-Air Force pilot for nothing. After a few tense bumps and rattles the pod dropped neatly through the hole. It took time to lead the five boys onto the platform – Gordon lead them one at a time out of the corner they huddled in, carefully choosing each footstep on the shaky floor, through the debris, and latterly the smoke, getting them all aboard by the safest possible means.
Gordon couldn't honestly say he hadn't been tempted to cut corners, though.
Coughing, covered in dust and soot, pulled the last boy onto the platform and settled him safely on the floor.
"Gordon? Are you done in there?" John's anxious voice came over the headset.
Gordon coughed and choked in the smoke. He could feel the heat of the fire under his feet – not potent or burning, but definitely there. "Yeah, we're good. We're about to blow this joint." He grinned at the boys through his visor.
"I think you need to get back downstairs," John's tone was tense. "I think Alan's going into shock. Virgil's busy cutting and I don't think we should stop him. I really think he needs to talk to someone face to face."
"FAB," Gordon replied tersely. "Thunderbird Two, take 'em up. I'm going back down."
"FAB. Watch yourself," his father warned.
As the pod was winched up through the hole to the expertly hovering Thunderbird Two, and Gordon headed back down the hole at a reckless speed, disregarding any of the usual safety measures and clambering free hand down the line.
He landed in water.
The fire fighters had been pumping water into the building, and it streamed ankle deep down through the halls and rooms. Sloshing through it, Gordon fought his way through floating debris and down the waterfall that were the narrow basement steps.
At least they were easier to find this time. The sparks thrown up by the saw were a bright disco light in the dank cellar, and there was sound of water dripping. It was literally raining indoors as the runoff from the fire trucks found their way down the hole.
Virgil was on the third of the four hydraulic spokes that connected the shovel to the main machine. The shovel was already askew, pushed out as far as it would go. Virgil balanced on the edge of the shovel and the lip on the front of the cab, bending down and cutting the upper spoke relentlessly. He broke through as Gordon reached them, pulling off his headgear, kneeling down and uncovering the welt covered tarp which protected his baby brother. He was there, still awake but just barely, mumbling into the headset to John. "Hey kid. You been havin' all the fun here without me?"
"G'rd'n?" the voice was just a whisper.
"That's me kiddo," Gordon wrap some cheer around his worry. He hunkered down next to Alan, letting the boy use his midriff as a pillow and wrapping an arm around him. "Ready to get the hell out of Dodge?"
"Maestro," Gordon flourished to Virgil who was getting soaking wet from the rain pouring through the roof. "If you will."
"One more to go, Alan," Virgil called down to them. Gordon saw the tense set of his shoulders as he stuffed a few tough rags into the gap between Alan and the last spoke – padding for the blades. He shot a dark look at Gordon.
Gordon nodded. He pulled the tarp over Alan, saying with strained enthusiasm. "Hey, we can build a fort!"
Virgil wanted to take his time. He tried to. But he was soaking wet, Alan was soaking wet and injured, and Gordon looked like he's just come back from the wars. He was beginning to hate this basement.
He was nearly halfway through when the flood of water sluiced down, forcing him to stop to keep the cutter from getting flooded. He shook his plastered down hair irritably.
Gordon emerged from the tarp looking highly incensed. "I am getting fed up with this!" he yelled. "What the hell are they doing up there!"
The engine roared to life, in a wash of salt water. Gordon and Virgil both stared at it.
"What the…" Gordon started, but was interrupted by a strangled croak from Alan. With it's last remaining spoke, the things was squeezing at Alan….
"Shit! Cut it! Cut it!" Gordon cried grabbing one side on the shovel and hauling back with every muscle in his athlete's body, straining and yanking.
Virgil started the saw again and drove it into the cut, throwing up a shower of sparks.
There was a tense, heart stopping moment when no one was sure who would win. But then the whine of tortured metal stopped and the shovel toppled forwards, leaving Alan gasping a full breath for the first time in three hours. It hurt, but in the best possible way. Gordon grabbed him, to lay him down flat and, somehow, cradle him at the same time.
There was a babble of voices in his ear – everyone wanted to know what just happened, what caused the panicked yelling and loud crashes.
"Field to the Thunderbirds," Gordon said, holding onto Alan. Virgil had dropped the cutter, and was on the other side. "We got him. We got him."
We got him……..
It was the first time Jeff felt liked he'd really breathed since they'd landed. He put his head in his hands, trying not to let the dizzy, overwhelming relief overtake his senses. He nearly jumped when Brains patted him on the shoulder.
He watched for every second as the Mole emerged backwards, reloading neatly onto it's rack. Scott waited like a sentry, technically too close, and hovered by the door, jumping at it as it opened and helping them haul out the stretcher.
His sons had emerged from the earth, alive. And they were going home.
Fourteen hours later, two men stopped at a greasy spoon a thousand miles away. They kept to themselves, mostly quiet, nondescript, not causing any trouble.
Well okay. The older, stockier one leered at some of the bustier waitresses, but there was something about the way he did it that said this was just par for the course. They ignored it. Also par for the course.
"What did they teach you in that college, Duboir?" Dean Winchester sneered at his ganglier companion. "Who in the hell drinks wheatgrass? I'm mean, I've seen some gross things but that is just…depraved."
'Duboir', aka Sam Winchester, aka long suffering 'maybe-psychic-if-we-really-ever-actually-talk-about-that-stuff-oh-my-god-we're-not-having-a-chic-flick-moment' little brother of aforementioned Dean, ignored the crack. He circled something in the paper. "I think I may've found something."
"A job?" Dean's ears perked up.
"Maybe," Sam looked over the paper at him. "Listen to this; Wharton Academy, Massachusetts, an exclusive private all-boy school, had one of their dormitories collapse in the middle of the night. A group of students were trapped for hours – they actually had to call International Rescue to get them out. And get this – they said it collapsed because a bulldozer from some construction work nearby drove straight into the dorm and gutted it."
"So?" Dean was still waiting for the punch line. "Sounds like an industrial accident to me – not really our shtick there, Sammy."
"It's Sam," Sam corrected without thinking. "This happened in the middle of the night, Dean, the site was shut down; so were the machines. And," he held up a finger as Dean moved to retort. "Several witnesses are saying that the bulldozer was quote 'driving itself'. It tore through the first and the second floor before it fell into the basement."
Dean' eyebrows rose. "Okay. That does sound like our shtick. Where is this school, Massachusetts?" Dean looked up as he calculated. After so many years on the road, he never needed a map any more. "We could probably get there by the day after tomorrow."
"I wonder what kind of entity would have it in for a school?" Sam commented idly as he paid the check.
Dean snorted and snarked. "A school? I'd say the entire student population for a start."