The deciding factor

Author's note; when I wrote Gordon's chapter of my 'First flight' series I made a reference to the china plate that is hanging on the wall of Thunderbird One. (If you haven't spotted it, look past Scott whenever he says 'changing to horizontal flight' at the wall behind him. It's a plate.) Some readers said the plate needed a story of its own, so here it is. For those who follow my stories, this is a slightly different version of the events leading up to the formation of IR than the one I gave in 'The birthday gift'

My thanks to Purupuss, Boomercat and mcj for their input, and to Gerry Anderson and his team for creating a series that has given us so much pleasure. I acknowledge Granada as the copyright holders of the Thunderbird characters.

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The road stretched out ahead of him, empty, open and inviting. Scott Tracy sat at the wheel of his black convertible, enjoying the sound of the engine as it ate up the miles. The car had been a twenty-first birthday present from his father, and one of the few outward symbols of affluence that Scott allowed himself while working as a test pilot at Edwards Air Base. When he had first arrived at Edwards the high desert terrain around the base had seemed very bleak, its low scrub vegetation, dotted with the occasional outcrop of rock a stark contrast to the rolling green plains of his Kansas childhood. But he had grown to enjoy its barren aspect and often took himself out for a drive, especially in the early morning before the heat became too fierce. He always found driving helped him to think and right now he had a lot to think about.

A few days before, Jeff Tracy had summoned all his sons home for a 'family conference'. There he had announced that he was thinking of using his wealth to found a world-wide rescue service, and had asked his sons whether they wished to join him in this enterprise. Scott's first reaction was to wonder if the Old Man had finally flipped, but he seemed serious enough. Their father had talked about the island in the south Pacific that he was hoping to make into their base, and the young scientist who would design the equipment needed for such a scheme.

Jeff had told his sons to go away and think about the idea, and get back to him with their decisions, hence Scott's need to hit the open road. The scheme sounded breath-taking in its concept, as were so many of his father's business schemes. However, Scott had several misgivings, and being a methodical man, was listing the pros and cons in order of priority.

Firstly, the job itself sounded exciting, challenging, even dangerous, though that in itself was no drawback – Scott thrived on adrenaline. His father had indicated that Scott would be running operations as Field Commander and the machines he had talked about sounded the stuff of dreams. But Scott already had a pretty good career mapped out for himself in the Air Force. He was flying the best the military had to offer and there was talk of him becoming one of the youngest in the service to reach the rank of captain. His father had indicated that this rescue service would be a clandestine operation, as too many people, and even some governments, would want to get their hands on the technology. So, not exactly something you could put in your résumé. Scott had a sudden image of himself in a few years time sitting in a bar with a couple of his ex-Air Force friends (and how often would that happen?) and maybe a couple of girls as well. 'So what do you do?' one of them would ask. 'Oh,' he heard himself reply, 'I work for my father.' Yeah, like he minded the store, or, worse still, his Dad had found him a sinecure job with the family firm because he couldn't get a decent job of his own. Great.

Secondly, he tried to consider his brothers dispassionately, as potential work colleagues. Virgil would be no problem, the two of them got on well and Scott would trust his brother as a wing-man any day. John was a different story. Always a loner even as a child, though loyal and trustworthy, his head seemed to be permanently in the clouds and Scott had reservations about him as a team player. And as for the younger two - well Gordon was so laid back he was practically falling over. The only things that motivated him were the joint dreams of winning an Olympic swimming medal and getting into WASP. And Alan? Scott seriously wondered if the boy would ever mature. Though extremely bright, he seemed to have no concept of responsibility. His recent experiments to produce an 'improved' rocket fuel had resulted in the destruction of a large portion of the school chemistry lab, and Scott had a suspicion that he might have been expelled had their father not stepped in with a sizeable cheque to repair the damage.

Which brought him on to the third point. As a family, the Tracys were close, but they all had strong personalities and he had doubts as to how long they could all survive, cooped up together on a small island without getting on each other's nerves. Already it was becoming hard when they all got together for holidays or family matters. It only needed for Gordon to pull one of his pranks, or Alan to pick a fight with one of his older brothers and the whole house seemed to be in uproar.

Scott's musings were interrupted by the sight of another vehicle on the road ahead of him. Traffic was infrequent on these country roads, but this vehicle was heading in the same direction as he was, though at a much slower speed. As Scott approached he saw it was a small and battered-looking motorhome, one that had obviously clocked up a few miles in its time. On the back door he could make out the words 'Seeing America – slowly!' Trucks like this were a common sight in these parts. They were frequently bought by visiting tourists, often British or Australian, and driven across the continent, only to be sold to another family of travellers to do the same trip in reverse. Judging by the appearance of this particular vehicle it had probably made several trips by now.

Just as Scott was preparing to overtake, there came a loud bang and the truck swerved across the road. The driver was obviously struggling to control the vehicle, but it left the road, ran down a slight embankment, picking up speed as it did so, and crashed into a pile of boulders.

Scott found himself reacting without thinking. He slammed on his brakes and was vaulting from the car by the time it came to a stop. Running down the slope, he wrenched open the door nearest to him, on the passenger side of the vehicle. The first thing he noticed was an acrid smell coming from beneath the dashboard. The second was the moans of pain from the woman in the passenger seat, a lady in her thirties, mingled with screams of panic coming from the rear of the vehicle, where two young faces were visible through a small hatch.

"Are you hurt? Can you move?" Scott questioned the woman as he reached to unbuckle her seatbelt.

'My shoulder," the woman put her free hand to the shoulder that had been nearest to the seatbelt mount. Scott guessed that the joint had been damaged by the impact. From the basic first aid that he had learnt in the Air Force, he suspected that a paramedic would have wanted her putting in a neck brace at the very least. However, another glance at the dashboard, which was now emitting puffs of grey smoke, showed that there was no time for such niceties.

Scott helped the woman down from the cab, supporting her on the uninjured side, and took her what he judged was a safe distance from the smouldering wreck.

"Alex…. the children…. please help them," she pleaded as he lay her down on the ground on the lee side of another outcrop of rock.

Scott gave her what he hoped was a reassuring smile before turning and running back to his car. Once there he retrieved the small fire extinguisher that he carried in his toolkit and hurried back to the wrecked vehicle. By the time he pulled open the driver's door his worst fears were confirmed. Small tongues of flame were now spurting out from below the dashboard. Scott aimed his extinguisher at the flames and pressed the trigger. He knew its contents would not be enough to tackle the real seat of the fire in the engine compartment, but if he gained a few minutes more working time then that would be enough.

Once he had emptied the container he turned his attention to the driver. The man seemed dazed and had not even attempted to remove his seat belt. However when Scott tried to pull him from his seat, he realised that one of the man's feet seemed to be caught under the pedals. Reaching down, he twisted the foot to free it, provoking a cry of pain from the trapped driver. Scott guessed that the man's ankle might be broken, but flames were beginning to lick round the dashboard again and this was no time for finesse. Pulling the man over his shoulder in a fireman's carry, Scott looked up to see two terrified faces watching him from the hatch. "Don't be scared, I'll be right back!" he said, trying to sound confident, then headed back towards where he had left the woman, staggering slightly under his burden..

A minute later he was back at the motorhome. The cries from inside were frantic by now, but to his horror he found that the back doors would not open – the impact seemed to have twisted the door frame out of shape. Scott glanced around in desperation for something to use as a battering ram and his eye fell on the discarded fire extinguisher.

"Stand back!" he called to the two small figures he could see through the glass. "I'm going to break the window."

It took two blows to shatter the glass, then a few more to remove the rest of the glass from the panel. Standing on the back step, he put his head and arms into the smoke-filled interior.

He heard a young voice say, "Go on, Allie, you first." and felt a pair of small hands grasp his own. He pulled the figure towards him, manoeuvring carefully to avoid the glass on the edge of the window frame. As he pulled her out into the light he saw he was holding a young girl, probably no more than eight years old. Putting her on the ground he pointed to where her parents were lying. "See your Mom and Dad? Run to them, as fast as you can!" then turned and put his head back inside. The smoke was thicker now and he wasted no time in grabbing the hand of the second child, a boy a few years older than his sister, and helping him out.

Just as the pair of them reached the rest of the family there was a loud explosion which nearly knocked Scott off his feet. Debris hurtled in all directions and a column of fire shot twenty feet into the air.

"Oh no, all our things are in there!" exclaimed the woman.

"Don't worry about them, Marcie" said her husband, who was now looking much more awake, though obviously in some pain, "things can always be replaced. People can't. If it wasn't for this young man, we'd all still be in there too."

He reached up to Scott from where he was lying resting against the rock, and held out his hand. "I'm Alex Munro, and this is my wife, Marcia, and my children, Bobby and Alison. Who do I have to thank for saving my family?"

Scott took the offered hand. "Scott Tracy. But it was nothing. Anyone would have done the same."

Alex shook his head. "No, not anyone. I'm a policeman, back in Melbourne, Australia, and I've seen the aftermath of plenty of accidents. Some people wouldn't even stop. Some would just phone the police and consider they had done their duty." He glanced across at the burning wreck that had been their vehicle and shuddered. "Some might have stopped, might have wanted to help but not known what to do. You did."

Scott felt himself reddening. "I didn't really stop to think – I just did what seemed right.'

"Well, we can never thank you enough."

Marcia shook her head. "'Thank you' hardly seems enough. 'Thank you' is what you say when someone holds a door open for you. How can I say 'thank you' for my family?" Reaching up with her good arm, she pulled Scott into an embrace.

Mention of the police reminded Scott that he had better go and report this incident, so excusing himself, he retreated to his car where he used his cell-phone to contact the emergency services. It took nearly an hour for a police patrol car and accompanying ambulances to reach such an isolated spot, but soon Alex and Marcia were being treated by paramedics while Scott gave his account of the incident to a police officer.

As he was being lifted into the ambulance, Alex reached out and grasped Scott's hand again. "Thanks again, mate. You're a special kind of bloke, y'know?"

As he watched the ambulance pull away, Scott thought back over his actions. What he had told Alex was true. He had seen what needed to be done and had done it. And with the right training and equipment he was sure he could do it even better. Forget the Air Force - this was the life for him, all right! The buzz he had got from pulling those people out of that wreck was a greater thrill than flying the most advanced jet the military had to offer. It was terrific! He could just imagine the way his brothers would react. This would get John's head out of the clouds, wake up Gordon, give Alan a taste of responsibility. What a team they would make!

He turned back to his car, already planning the carefully worded message to tell his father of his decision. He realised he was walking over debris that had been scattered by the explosion: scraps of clothing, books with singed pages, other items less recognisable. A round white object lay in front of him and, curious, he bent to pick it up. Turning it over he saw it was a plate with a blue and white pattern, presumably part of the motorhome's kitchen equipment. By some miracle it seemed to have survived unscathed. He ran his fingers over the pattern, then, on impulse, tucked it under his arm. He'd keep this as a souvenir, to remind him of his first rescue, and the way it had made him feel.

He was sure he could find somewhere to display it.