Brothers in Arms
One thing that I've been curious about is what did Scott do to be decorated for valour during his time in the Air Force? I haven't seen any official stories, so I guess that means that it is open to fans' interpretation. This is what I've decided it could have been. (Although I think I prefer an idea Quiller had).
This story is based on canon, fanon and a lot of imagination. It was originally conceived to be one chapter of a longer story to be written at a later date. But my muse would not let these events lie down and she forced me to put 'pen' to 'paper'. 46 pages later and this has evolved into a complete story in its own right. However, the rest of the original story is still floating about in the soup of my mind, so don't be surprised to read a variant of this tale sometime in the next 90 years.
Thanks to Quiller, D.C. and Calliope (even if she is impatient)
I do not own any members of the Tracy family (more's the pity) and I would like to acknowledge those who do.
The prequel to this story, A Quiet Beginning, has been uploaded.
Something that we've long suspected about Scott and Virgil is proven… or is it?
It was lunch break at the Denver School of Advanced Technology, and in the canteen, final year students were rushing to grab their traditional tables before ignorant freshmen took possession. Virgil Tracy claimed his usual seat next to friends Dylan and Mike.
"Did you catch the game last night?" Dylan enthused. "Carson was brilliant!"
"Hollows wasn't so hot," Mike replied. "How many times did he fumble? And that pass! The coach should have taken him off much earlier. Did you see it, Virgil?"
"Hello," Dylan interrupted, looking over to the canteen door. "The Air Force is in town."
Intent on removing the lid from his orange juice as he considered the game, Virgil didn't take much notice of Dylan's observation until someone yelling his name caused him to look around. "Scott!" Leaving his lunch he hurried over to his brother. "What are you doing here?"
"I'm pleased to see you too," Scott gave him a brotherly hug.
"Sorry," Virgil grinned. "You've surprised me, that's all. It's good to see you. What are you doing here?"
"Come to see my little brother and see where he spends his days. Why else?"
Virgil indicated the table he'd just vacated. "Come and meet my friends." Seemingly oblivious to the admiring looks he was receiving from the female students, Scott followed him to where Mike and Dylan were sitting. "Guys; this is my oldest brother Scott. Scott; this is Mike and that's Dylan."
"Pleased to meet you," Scott shook their hands. "So you're the guys who've been keeping an eye on my kid brother."
"And you're the famous Scott," Mike chuckled.
"Famous?" Scott raised an eyebrow in query.
"Yeah," Dylan teased. "Virgil raves about you. Once he starts we can't shut him up. You're the best pilot the Air Force has got."
Scott looked a little embarrassed by the compliment. "Hardly the best…"
"And you can throw a curve ball that a major leaguer wouldn't be able to hit," Mike added.
"Guys… Please…" Virgil was looking even more embarrassed than Scott.
"And you graduated top of your classes at Yale and Oxford," Dylan said.
Scott looked at his brother. "Virgil?"
Virgil gave a nonchalant shrug. "So, I've said one or two things about you."
"Must be nice to have such a close relationship with your brother," Mike commented. "I only ever seem to fight with mine."
"Yeah, well…" there was a devilish gleam in Scott's eyes. "You could say I've got that special bond with Virgil that two guys can only get when one of them's had to change the other's diapers."
Virgil turned scarlet.
"Recently?" Dylan had decided that he liked the eldest Tracy. If he wanted to tease Virgil then he was more than willing to play along.
"Ohh. Not recently. Not for a couple of years at least."
"Scott!" Virgil repeated. "I thought you wanted to look about the place?"
"I do. Grab your lunch and let's walk. Catch you later."
"Later, Scott," Dylan and Mike chorused.
Scott and Virgil escaped out into the sunshine. "They seem to be a great pair of guys," Scott commented.
"They are. They've been good friends."
"Been keeping up with your flying?"
"Every chance I get."
"How's the schoolwork?"
"I was top of my year in my last paper."
"So I heard. Been keeping up with the girls?" At Virgil's expression Scott laughed. "Want some tips?"
"No, thanks, I'm managing okay. Besides I wouldn't have any chance with anyone in there," Virgil jerked a thumb towards the canteen. "Not after they've seen you."
"Yeah. Didn't you see them all drooling over you? Must be the leather."
"Well, when you've got it, flaunt it," Scott brushed an imaginary spot of dirt off his Air Force flight jacket.
Virgil laughed. "So, I'll ask you a third time, what brings you here?"
"Aren't I allowed to visit my favourite brother on a whim?"
"Scott, you never do anything without planning every minute detail in advance."
"Well…" Scott hesitated. "Would you believe that for once in my life I just felt like doing something without 'planning every minute detail'? I hopped in my plane, pointed her nose at the sky, and let her take me where she wanted to go. And she decided that she wanted to see you."
Virgil regarded his brother. Scott was in a buoyant mood; almost too much so. "What's wrong?"
"Wrong? Nothing's wrong," Scott protested. "Why would you say that?"
Virgil stopped walking and turned to him. "I know you, and something's wrong. What?"
Scott lost his smile. "I never could keep anything from you, could I?"
"Only repaying the favour." Virgil waited as Scott thought about what he was going to say.
"It's nothing bad, really… I'm being shipped out next week."
"Shipped out? Where to?"
There was another pause as Scott considered his options. "I'm not supposed to tell anyone. Promise you won't say this to another soul!"
"You have my word."
Scott looked around to check they couldn't be overheard. He lent close so he could whisper in Virgil's ear. "Bereznick."
Virgil felt his blood run cold. In a world where most nations were finally beginning to learn to accept each other's differences and live in peace under the leadership of the World President, Bereznick was a rogue state which refused to bow down to anyone. Its ruling party seemed to be more intent of gaining power over its neighbours than quelling the civil war that had been raging within its borders. At least twice this year there had been reports in the news of peacekeepers and aid workers being killed. Many more had been injured. "Bereznick?"
"Shh," Scott hissed. "What was that old saying? Loose lips sink ships… Pulverise planes might be more apt in my case."
"What will you be doing?"
Scott shrugged. "I won't know until I get there. Could be almost anything."
"You realise that Grandma won't stop worrying for a minute while you're gone!" Virgil exclaimed. He paused. "And she's not the only one."
Scott patted him on the shoulder. "I know. That's why I didn't want to tell you, but I had to say goodbye before I left."
"You will be careful, won't you?"
All at once Scott's cocky veneer was recreated. "Of course! Do you think I'm going to miss out on the chance of being part of Father's great plan? The plane he's got planned for me is going to knock the socks off anything the Air Force has!" A sudden escalation of noise as students headed back to class announced the end of lunch. Scott grinned. "Sounds like your call to arms."
"Can you meet me here afterwards? We could go have dinner somewhere."
Scott shook his head. "Sorry, Virg. I've got to get going. We're all so scattered about the country at the moment that it's almost impossible to see everyone in one afternoon. Next stop is John; if he's got his head out of the clouds… Hey…" he looked at Virgil's downcast face. "I will come back. I promise."
There was a shout from one of the buildings. "Virgil!" Dylan beckoned. "Hurry! Bowie doesn't like being kept waiting!"
Virgil sighed. "I've got to go." He took a step backwards. "You make sure you keep that promise. You hear?"
"I hear," Scott agreed. "Come 'ere," he wrapped his brother in a bear hug. "And you take care too. Okay? I don't want to come back and find you've welded yourself into one of your projects or something."
"I'll be careful," Virgil promised. "See ya." He jogged over to the door, turning back to see his brother one more time before he entered. They exchanged waves.
That was the last time Virgil saw Scott Tracy.
Weeks later, Virgil, Mike and Dylan stepped off the school grounds. Dylan stretched. "Mmmn. Only one day to go and then it's the weekend. I can't wait."
"No reason why we can't relax now," Mike said. "Let's go for a drink."
"Sounds like a good idea, my friend," Dylan said. "How about you, Virgil? I'll even shout you an orange juice."
Virgil laughed. "Thanks for the offer, but I want to head out to the airport and check on the plane. If you guys want to go on that trip this weekend I'd better make sure she's shipshape. Then I plan to start work on the next paper so I've got nothing to worry about this weekend."
"How can you make a plane 'shipshape'?" Mike asked. "You're not planning on landing on the water are you? If you've got that on your mind and she's not amphibious then I'm not going."
Dylan hit him lightly on the shoulder. "Haven't you heard of airships?"
"I have, but I don't think they can float either."
"She's not amphibious and I have no plans to land on the water in her," Virgil replied, "which is why I want to give her a tune. I'll catch you guys tomorrow."
Virgil went to the airport where he spent a pleasant hour tinkering with his aeroplane and then returned home. He cooked himself a meal, had an hour's practise on the piano, did some schoolwork, and then retired to bed at 10.00pm. Mindful of his father's future plans, he spent the next half hour poring over aircraft crash reports to get some ideas on how to deal with them.
He awoke abruptly at 4.20 the following morning. He sat bolt upright with his heart pounding, sweat pouring out of every pore. He was aware of a sensation of falling, and one of fear. He knew he had to get help.
Clutching his pillow tight to his chest he crawled out of bed and staggered over to his videophone. He wasn't halfway there before he fell to his knees, tears streaming from his eyes. As he dragged himself to his feet again he became aware of a pain that was tearing through his right arm.
Virgil pushed the emergency button on his videophone.
Jeff Tracy was attempting to entertain his guests. He sat, resplendent in his dinner jacket, in one of the city's finest restaurants, talking in a staccato manner with the Japanese man on his right, and wishing he had John's grasp of foreign languages. His mobile phone rang. At once all eyes at the table, and several of those around about, were looking at him.
"Do excuse me," he apologised. "It must be an emergency. Only my family know this number." He stood. "I'll be back in a moment." With a glance at the caller ID he strode over to the Maitre D and asked for a phone booth.
Jeff was directed to a small cubicle at the back of the restaurant and stepped inside, pulling the door shut behind him. At once the sounds of the restaurant were dulled and he slipped the mobile phone into a slot in the cubicle's video console. His son's face appeared on screen. "What's wrong, Virgil?"
"Father! How is he? Is he hurt badly? Was he shot down? Is he safe?"
"What?" Jeff stared at his son. "What are you talking about?"
"Scott! He's crashed his plane!"
"He's what?" Jeff began a barrage of questions of his own. "When? How is he? Where is he? How did you find out?"
"I-I don't know. I just know he's crashed."
Jeff took a deep breath to get the concerned father inside him under control. As his head cleared he began to take in what had been and, more importantly, what hadn't been said. "How do you know he crashed?"
Virgil opened his mouth to speak. Then he closed it again, a confused expression on his face. "Haven't they told you yet?"
"No. No one's been in contact with me. Who have you been talking to?"
"Uh… No one."
"No one?" Jeff took the opportunity to examine his son more closely. Virgil looked terrible: his face was ashen and puffy, his eyes were red, his hair plastered down on his head, and as Jeff watched he wiped his nose on his sleeve. Then Virgil rubbed his forearm, which was pressed into the pillow. "Are you all right?"
"Am I all right?" Virgil parroted. "Ah… I don't know. Don't worry about me? What about Scott?!"
"Scott? Virgil, I haven't spoken to anyone about him, you're telling me that you haven't spoken to anyone about him, what makes you think that something's wrong with him?"
"I… I just know that something is."
"You 'just know'?"
"You've got to call someone…"
"Who? Who should I call?"
"Someone at the Air Force! What if they don't know his plane's crashed? He might be over enemy territory!"
"Enemy territory... Virgil! What enemy territory? Have you been drinking?"
"Bereznick? What has Bereznick got to do with anything?"
"Scott was shipped out there three weeks ago."
"He was what? How did you know this?"
"He told me when he came to see me before he left. He told me not to tell anyone. Father! We're wasting time. Call someone! You still know people at the Air Force! You've got to get Scott help!"
"They don't like Americans in Bereznick. Scott's American!"
"I'm aware of that…"
"You do know someone you can call, don't you? Someone high up who can order a rescue? You've got to…"
"Virgil!" Jeff interrupted. "Tell me! Why do you think Scott's crashed his plane?"
Virgil replied hesitantly. "I felt it."
"What do you mean, 'felt it'?"
"I felt the plane falling out of the sky. I felt it crash."
Jeff stared at his son's video image.
"Father! We're wasting time! What if the Air Force doesn't know he's in trouble? He could be badly hurt!"
"Have you been drinking?" Jeff asked again.
"Drinking? No… No, I haven't."
"What time is it there?"
"Time?" For a moment Virgil looked bewildered. Then he looked at his watch. "Uh… 4.25am."
Jeff relaxed. "You've had a bad dream, Virgil. Nothing more. Go back to bed."
"No!" Virgil exclaimed. "You don't understand. We've got to do something! Scott's hurt! He's crashed! He's…"
Having dealt with five sons for two decades, Jeff had learnt patience. But his patience was fast running out. "In Bereznick. You told me all that."
"Please, Father," Virgil begged. "I know he's in trouble. Help him. Call someone!"
Jeff's patience evaporated. "Virgil!" he snapped. "I've had enough. You've interrupted an important business dinner to tell me about a dream…!"
"I am NOT going to ring anyone in the Air Force…!"
"I'm disappointed in you, Virgil! I thought you had more sense than that. Go to bed and I'll call you tomorrow and we can discuss what's happened then!"
Good night, Virgil!" Jeff pulled his mobile phone out of its slot. Fuming, he stood in preparation to leave the booth. It looked as though he'd have to have a rethink about this whole scheme he was planning. If Scott couldn't keep his mouth shut and Virgil got into a flap over a dream…
Jeff stopped; his hand on the handle of the booth, and weighed his phone in his hand. It was out of character for Virgil to get into a flap over anything and he hadn't looked well. Maybe Jeff had been a little harsh. He slipped the phone back into the video console and dialled another number.
Virgil stared at the blank screen. His father hadn't believed him! He sank onto one of his chairs and hugged his pillow to his chest, rubbing at his sore arm. He didn't know why, and he didn't know how, but he did know that Scott was in trouble and if he couldn't get his father to believe him then who would? He felt a surge of despair rise up inside him. To ring again would mean courting his father's wrath; not an appealing prospect at the best of times, and Virgil wasn't feeling at his strongest at that moment.
Virgil knew that the only person who would have been willing to believe him was possibly lying in the mangled wreckage of an aeroplane, miles away in Bereznick.
The phone rang several times before a face topped with dishevelled blonde hair looked back at him. "Dad?"
"I'm sorry, John. Did I wake you?"
"Yeah. But that's okay. What's the problem?"
"I've just had a worrying phone call from Virgil. He used the emergency phone."
Instantly John was fully awake. "Emergency?! What's wrong?"
"That's the problem. What he was saying was… didn't make much sense. He was babbling."
John frowned. "Babbling?"
"I'm afraid that I snapped at him and told him to go back to bed; but now I'm not sure that I've done the right thing. He didn't look well."
"How did he look?"
"Pale. His eyes were red as if he'd been crying…"
"He admitted that he wasn't feeling well, but didn't elaborate. He kept on going on about… About something else. He wanted me to do something that was frankly impossible."
Jeff decided that he didn't want to worry his son any more than he already was. "Don't worry about that. Look, I know it's an imposition, and I know you've probably got work tomorrow…"
"I haven't. I've got a few days off and I've finished dealing with my publisher. Do you want me to drive over to check on him?"
Jeff looked at his watch. "It's pretty late where you are, isn't it?"
"Don't worry about that; you know I'm a night owl. If I leave now I should get there before he starts school."
"Would you mind, John? I'd go except that I'm in the middle of a business dinner and I've had a couple of drinks. If I thought it was urgent I could probably get a chauffeur to take me in my jet or catch an air taxi."
"It's okay, Dad. I don't mind. I'd quite like to catch up with him again now that I've got some free time." John frowned again. "Do you have any idea what's wrong with him?"
"No. I asked him if he'd been drinking and he denied it. If I didn't know better I might have been inclined to think that he'd been on something stronger."
"Drugs? Virgil? No way!"
"I know. It's a ridiculous idea. But from what I saw…"
"Dad! Virgil would NOT do drugs. None of us would. Apart from the fact that it's a stupid idea, we know that if you didn't kill us then Grandma would!"
"You're right, we would." Despite his concerns Jeff managed a smile. "I'd better get back to entertaining my guests. I'd prefer it if I had a magic wand and then you could come and talk in Japanese to Mr Horomiko and I could check up on Virgil."
John managed a grin in reply. "Remind me to teach you some basic phrases later."
"I'll hold you to that, Son. Then that'll be two things I'll owe you for."
"No charge. I'm the one paying you back for giving me a great start in life. I haven't begun to make a dent in the debt." John looked at his watch. "I'll throw some things into a bag and get moving."
"I appreciate this, John. Call me when you've seen Virgil."
"No worries. Enjoy your dinner." John disappeared from the screen.
Jeff Tracy removed his mobile phone and left the phone booth feeling much happier.
It was early morning by the time John drove into the car park at Denver School. He figured that Virgil had probably slept off his problem and would be waiting for the day's drudgery to begin. He got out of the car, looked about him and spied the sign that said 'office'. With long, easy strides he walked over to the building and went inside. He received a broad smile from the receptionist and responded in kind. "Good morning," he said. "I was wondering if I could have a word with one of your students, Virgil Tracy? I'm his brother."
"Virgil?" The receptionist self-consciously patted her hair into place as she picked up a piece of paper. "He called in sick this morning. He left a message on the voice mail."
"Sick?" John frowned. "Did he say in what way?"
The receptionist shook her head. "No."
"Okay. I'm sure it's nothing serious, but I'll go and check on him." John flashed her another broad smile. "Thanks. Bye."
"Bye," she simpered, patting her hair again. When he'd left she gave a sigh of appreciation and sank into her chair. "What a dreamboat. Tall, fair and handsome."
John was back in his car, finding his way through the city streets to Virgil's studio apartment. He'd been hoping that whatever was wrong with Virgil he'd slept it off and would be one hundred percent okay this morning, but obviously this wasn't the case. He tried to remember the last time that Virgil had been sick and decided that it had been the time that all five brothers had developed chicken pox and had run their father ragged. Since then, like all the Tracy boys, Virgil Tracy had been a study of good health.
"It was a good dinner, Mr Tracy?" Kyrano helped Jeff remove his overcoat.
"The food was overpriced, the lighting too dim, the music too loud, I don't think I understood a word Mr Horomiko said, and I doubt he understood me."
"Ah," said Kyrano, hanging up the coat.
"And to cap it off Virgil rings me halfway through dinner to order me to ring the Air Force."
Kyrano looked at his employer with a quizzical expression on his face. "Mister Virgil ordered you?"
"He's got some crazy idea into his head that Scott's plane has crashed."
Kyrano looked at Jeff in concern. "Mister Scott's aeroplane has crashed?"
Jeff gave a dismissive wave. "Virgil was trying to tell me that he 'felt' the crash. He must have dreamt it."
"Are you sure, Mr Tracy?"
"Sure? Sure about what, Kyrano?
"That it was only a dream."
"What are you on about?" Jeff growled.
"Mister Scott and Mister Virgil are very close…"
"Are you suggesting that Virgil's had some kind of paranormal episode?"
"Empathetic clairvoyance is not unheard of."
"It is where I come from." Jeff looked at his man-servant. "I've kept you up too long, my friend. You're not thinking straight. It's time we both went to bed."
John found Virgil's place and knocked on the door, prepared to tease his brother about playing truant. All thoughts of teasing went out of his mind when Virgil opened the door. "Hi, Vir…?"
Virgil grabbed at his brother as though he was grabbing at a lifeline and pulled him into the apartment. "You've got to ring, Father!"
"You've got to convince him to ring the Air Force and get them to find Scott!" Using the hand that wasn't hugging his pillow to his body, Virgil dragged John over to his phone.
"You want him to do what?"
"Ring the Air Force!"
"I can't do that without knowing why."
"He didn't believe me when I told him Scott's crashed."
"What!" Alarmed, John watched his brother pace.
"He told me I dreamt it."
"Huh?" John was starting to get a confused feeling. "You dreamt Scott crashed his plane?"
"No! I didn't dream it! I felt it!" Virgil was clearly distraught. "This isn't right! We're forming a rescue organisation and we can't rescue a member of our own family!"
"Whoa!" John grasped Virgil by the shoulders and pushed him gently over to his bed. "Sit down, calm down and take a deep breath. Now… explain everything to me."
"You won't believe me."
"If you don't tell me what's going on I won't get the chance to believe you. I haven't understood a word you've said so far." John removed his hands from Virgil's shoulders and ran his fingers across his palms. "Your top's wet." He looked closer at his brother. "Have you got a fever?" He felt a clammy forehead.
"I don't think so," Virgil admitted. "If anything I feel cold."
"With those damp clothes it's no wonder. Have you got a thermometer in your first aid kit?"
Virgil nodded. "In the bathroom."
"Wait here." John went into the indicated room. Mindful of his father's suspicions, once there he had a quick look around. The only signs of any drugs were the empty wrappers of a couple of painkillers. He found the thermometer and returned to the studio. "Let's see what this says."
Virgil sat on the edge of his bed, hugging his pillow tight and rocking back and forth gently as his temperature was measured.
John retrieved the thermometer and checked it. "Looks normal. What's wrong with you, Virgil?"
"I don't know. I just know that Scott's crashed his plane."
"You said that. You also said Dad didn't believe you. How come you believe that Scott's crashed, but Dad doesn't?"
"John," Virgil began slowly. "I know this sounds crazy. I know it sounds as if I'm going mad. But I felt the crash."
"You did what?"
"I felt Scott's plane crash. I woke up and I felt this falling sensation. Like… Like you know when you're skydiving and you step out of the plane and for a moment it's as if your body's going, 'hang on, something's not right here. I'm not meant to be falling towards the Earth'; before you start to relax and enjoy yourself?"
"Uh, yeah, I know," John said, trying to remember.
"It was like that." Virgil pulled his pillow closer. "Except that it went on and on. It must have lasted at least thirty seconds. And I could feel fear. You know how they say that someone tastes fear? Well I could taste it! I knew I had to get help, so I was trying to get to the phone so I could ring Father, when the plane crashed."
"The plane crashed," John echoed; trying to make sense of what was being said.
Virgil nodded and rubbed at his arm. "The force knocked me to the ground and my arm started hurting."
"You bumped it when you fell?"
"No. I haven't hit it on anything. Scott's hurt his arm in the crash. My arm's been hurting ever since. I tried a couple of painkillers but I couldn't keep them down. And now…" he put a hand to his temple, "I've got a headache. I know that's mine."
"You're probably dehydrated," John commented. "Let me get you something to drink." He did that, and then put the kettle on to make himself a coffee, all the while surreptitiously looking around for anything suspicious. By the time he got back to the bed his brother seemed calmer. "Feeling better?"
"My head is," Virgil admitted. "My arm still hurts."
"Do you want to try another couple of painkillers?"
"I probably won't keep them down either."
"The way you were stressing you've probably made yourself sick. Do you want to try again? I'll go get them."
Virgil shook his head. "No. I don't think they'll work."
"Look," John said, patting his brother reassuringly on the shoulder. "You've had a bad, ultra-realistic dream, that's all."
"No! No it wasn't! It woke me up!"
"I was sound asleep until he started falling!"
"Think about what you are saying."
"I was awake and out of bed when he crashed!"
"I felt the impact!"
"Virgil… Virgil…" John soothed. "Calm down. What makes you think that what you've 'experienced' is anything to do with Scott? Maybe you're sick."
"John, I know that Scott's crashed his plane as surely as if I'd been flying in it. I know he's hurt his arm."
"None of what you're saying makes any sense." John fixed his brother with an appraising stare. "You don't look well. Is there a bug going around at the school? Have you been doing anything you shouldn't?"
"What time did you go to bed?"
"Ten. And I was fine then. But I've been in a blind panic ever since I couldn't convince Father to ring the Air Force…"
"Why did you want him to do that?"
"I wanted him to tell them Scott was in trouble in case they didn't know."
John stared at Virgil. "No wonder he thought you were babbling. Imagine what they would have thought about him if he had rung."
"I know," Virgil whimpered. "I know this sounds crazy. I just know that something serious has happened. And I don't think it's happening to me: I know it's happened to Scott." He hugged the pillow tighter and rocked harder. He rubbed his arm.
"Here, let me have a look," John offered. He rolled up Virgil's right sleeve. "Where does it hurt?"
"There," Virgil ran his finger across the middle of his forearm.
"Does it hurt to touch?" John prodded gently and turned the arm over.
"No. I can touch it and use it okay. But it still hurts."
"No sign of bruising. It looks okay to me." John rolled the sleeve back down, once again noting how wet Virgil's pyjamas were. "You look like you could do with some sleep, but you can't go back to bed in that state. Why don't you have a shower and get into clean pyjamas and I'll… I'll give Dad a call."
"You'll do that?" Virgil asked hopefully. "You'll stay?"
John smiled. "I've got the next few days off and I don't have to be anywhere, so I don't mind. Where're your PJs?"
Virgil pointed with his good arm. "That drawer."
Virgil told him where the towels were and John got him a couple and a clean pillowcase. He placed the towels and pyjamas in the bathroom and then went back to his brother. "Can I do anything else?"
"No," Virgil shook his head. "I'll be okay."
John held up the pillowcase and indicated the pillow that Virgil hadn't put down since he'd arrived. "If you leave that here I'll put a clean 'case on it. That one must be wet as well."
Virgil looked at the pillow and then, with some reluctance, handed it over.
"Take your time," John suggested. "And if you need me, just yell."
Virgil managed a smile. "Thanks."
John waited until the bathroom door had shut. Then he scurried about, peering under beds and chairs, in cupboards and in any other hiding place he could think of; feeling disgusted with himself the entire time. He even slid the stops off the ends of the gym equipment's tubular frame and peered down to see if anything was hidden in the cavity. When he'd exhausted all options he collapsed into a chair and dialled his father's number on his mobile phone. He greeted Jeff with, "Thanks for making me feel lower than a rattlesnake down a hole."
"Like some sleazy detective I've searched his apartment and there's no sign of anything illicit."
"I'm sorry, John." Jeff was silent for a moment. "How is he now?"
"Calmed down a little, now that I've sat and listened to him and offered to give you a call. Why didn't you warn me that he'd got this crazy notion that Scott's been hurt!?"
"Because I didn't want you to worry unnecessarily. I'd hoped he'd be over it by the time you got there. What did he tell you?"
"That the sensation of Scott's plane falling woke him up and that he hurt his arm when it 'crashed'."
"He hurt his arm?" Jeff queried. "He didn't mention that to me."
"Virgil said that the force of the crash knocked him to the floor and that he knows that Scott's injured his arm because his own one is hurting. He reckoned that he hasn't hit it on anything and I couldn't see any sign of bruising or redness or swelling…" John paused. "Or needle marks," he added.
"Okay, I take the point," Jeff growled. "I'll admit that the idea of Virgil taking drugs was crazy and I should have never considered it. But that phone call was so out of character that I was trying to find a reason why he'd made it. And from the way he looked it was easy to think that he was under the influence of something. Maybe he was and he wasn't aware of it."
"You think someone slipped him something?"
"What did he do last night?"
"He said he was home for most of the evening and went to bed at ten. Then it looks as though he was doing some swatting for the organisation. There're accident reports all over his bedside table." John paused in thought for a moment. "Air accident reports."
"Ah," Jeff said. "That's probably what planted the idea in his mind."
"Maybe, but this whole situation worries me. It's so out of character. He's that insistent that something's happened to Scott that I'm almost inclined to believe him."
Jeff sighed. "Don't you start, John. I've got enough to worry about with Virgil."
"I don't understand what's going on, Dad. Virgil even admitted to me that he knows that this all sounds crazy but he swears that it's true."
"What is he doing now?"
"I've told him to have a shower and go back to bed. His clothes were soaking in sweat. He's already put his apologies in at school." John heard the sound of running water cut out. "Sounds like he's finished."
"Do you want me to fly out there?" Jeff asked. "I can catch an air taxi."
"No. Don't do that just yet. I'll see how he goes."
"Okay. Call me if you think…" There was a sound in the background. "Hold on. That's my videophone." Jeff looked at the caller ID and when he next spoke his voice was quiet. "It's Rex Munroe, John. He and I were stationed together… He's Scott's commanding officer."
John felt his blood run cold. He listened as his father answered the videophone.
"Jeff? It's Rex Munroe."
Jeff's voice was unemotional. "What can I do for you, Rex?"
"I, ah, I don't have good news I'm afraid, and I wanted to tell you myself. For these last three weeks Scott's been stationed in Bereznick. He's been ferrying relief workers and aid to refugee camps in the hill country."
"He's crashed, hasn't he?" Jeff asked in the same flat tone.
"We believe so. He radioed through that his plane had been hit by a ground to air missile and that was the last communication that we've received from him. If he did, somehow, manage to remain airborne he would have run out of fuel by now… I'm afraid that we've had list his flight as M.I.A."
Jeff was silent.
"Because of the unstable situation in Bereznick we can't send troops in, but we have asked friendly forces on the ground to keep a sharp lookout and to let us know if they find any evidence of what has happened to the plane or the crew. I know you'll want to be kept informed of the situation, so I'll ring through with hourly updates…"
"No," Jeff replied. "I'm flying out to where you are now. Do you have an incident room organised?"
"I will do by the time you get here… I'm sorry, Jeff. I know how close you and your boys are."
Jeff let the sentiment drift by. "How many others were on the flight?"
"Four in total. Scott was the pilot. His co-pilot was Brian Daniels. The two aid workers were Hemi Clarke from New Zealand and Ivan Korsakov from Russia."
"They have families?"
"Daniels' parents live in Chicago. I don't know about the aid workers."
"If they want to, can you arrange to fly them all to your base? I'll pay the bill."
"I'm not going to let others, who are as worried as I am, suffer just because they don't have the money that I do."
Munroe nodded. "All right, I'll see what I can do. I'll make some arrangements and then call you back."
"Thank you, Rex… Oh and one more thing. At what time was Scott's final communication received?"
"What time? Uh… 1420 hours: Bereznick time."
Jeff ended the videophone call and returned to John's. "Did you hear all that?"
"I heard enough to be worried."
"Scott's plane is missing in action." Jeff paused. "He disappeared five minutes before Virgil rang me."
In the studio apartment the bathroom door opened and Virgil exited towelling down his hair. "That feels…" He stopped when he saw John's white face. "What's wrong?"
John handed over the phone.
Virgil took it. "H-Hello?"
"Virgil… It's your father…"
"He's okay, Father," Virgil interrupted. "He's still alive. My arm's still hurting."
"How did you know?" Jeff whispered. "How did you know, Virgil?"
"I don't know. I just knew. They are looking for him, aren't they?"
"They are doing everything they can to find him. I'm flying out to his home base now. You and John can meet me there."
"Okay," Virgil agreed. "Don't worry. He's fine. You know Scott…"
"I know, Son. Take care on the flight."
"You too." Virgil handed the phone back to John. "I'll get dressed and throw some things into a bag."
"Dad," John said into the phone. "Give me the address." He made some notes.
"I'll let Alan and Gordon know, and pick up your grandmother," Jeff said. He hesitated. "John? What just happened here?"
"I don't understand either. But in a perverse kind of way I'm glad it has. If Virgil believes that Scott's still alive, then so can I… Keep strong, Dad." John hung up the phone.
Jeff stared at the blank videophone as he tried to make sense of everything that had happened. He barely moved when Kyrano bustled into the room. "I owe you an apology, My Friend."
"An apology, Mr Tracy?"
Jeff looked at him. "I just had a call from Scott's commander. Virgil was right. His plane was attacked by a missile. They presume he's crashed."
"Mister Virgil had a premonition?"
"More like that… what did you call it?"
"Rex Munroe told me that Scott's plane went M.I.A at almost the same moment that Virgil says he woke up."
"What does Mister Virgil say now?"
"That Scott's alive, but he's hurt his arm."
Kyrano bowed. "Then that is good news."
Jeff clenched his fist. "I hope you're right, Kyrano. I hope you are right."
John and Virgil were nearly at the airport when Virgil's mobile phone rang. "Hi, Mike."
"Virgil! I've just heard the news on the radio! Are you okay? It is your brother, isn't it?"
"What! It's on the radio? How did they find out?"
"The radio!" John glanced at Virgil. "Boy, Dad is going to be spitting tacks!"
"I don't know," Mike was responding to Virgil's question. I would assume that someone in the Air Force told them. There's a whole bunch of us who have been listening for updates. Is there anything we can do?"
"Thanks for the offer, but we're okay. John was at my place when we received the official report. We're flying out to the centre of operations now. I'm afraid this weekend's trip is off."
"Sure, I understand. Maybe some other time?"
"You can count on it." Virgil hoped that that would be the end of the conversation.
It wasn't. "Marcus said you'd reported in sick."
"I've… hurt my arm," Virgil grimaced at the half truth. "That's why John was at my place."
"Oh, man! You're having a real run of bad luck," Mike exclaimed. "How'd you do that? Was it when you were checking the plane?"
"Not exactly," Virgil prevaricated. "I'll, ah, I'll explain later."
"Can John fly the plane?"
"Yep." In the background Virgil heard someone say, "Mike! You'll be late!"
"I've got to go," Mike said. "We're all thinking of you. I hope everything works out okay and we see you Monday."
"Yeah," Virgil agreed. "Me too. Thanks, Mike." He disconnected the call and sighed.
"You handled that well," John commented as he signalled his turn into the airfield car park.
"It's a wonder," Virgil admitted. "I can't think straight at the moment."
John pulled into a parking space and braked. "Virgil?" he began as he undid his seatbelt. "I know she's your plane, but…"
"You want to fly her?"
"I think I'd feel happier. You've had a rough morning."
Virgil nodded. "Okay. I can live with that." He pocketed his phone. "Of course, if you had your own plane, you wouldn't have needed to ask."
"If I'm going to be stranded up in space for months at a time, I aim to enjoy the Earth from ground level for as long as I can. Besides, I get plenty of flying practise at work." John popped the boot and withdrew his bag. He watched as Virgil took out his own overnight bag and an artist's case. "What did you bring that for?"
Virgil looked at the flat, square bag. "I don't know really. I just couldn't bear to leave it behind. It'll give me something to do while I'm waiting."
"I wish I'd thought of bringing something."
"You didn't have a chance. Besides, you can brush up on your Russian with the aid worker's family." John's phone rang. "You answer that and I'll get the plane out."
"Hang on…" John looked at the caller ID. "Hi, Dad. Any news?"
Virgil waited until John had looked at him and shaken his head, then, not surprised at the lack of information, he went to get things ready for the flight.
"I've managed to contact Alan," Jeff was saying. "I've told him to drive carefully, but he'll probably be glued to the speed limit the entire way. Gordon's out on manoeuvres, testing some new boat or other. I've told his commanding officer what's happened and asked him to get Gordon to give me a call."
"Have you told Grandma?" John asked.
"Yes. She's demanding that I pick her up immediately… How's Virgil? Is he there?"
"He's calmed down since he found out the search is on, and is almost back to normal. He's getting his plane ready for the flight at the moment, but he has agreed to let me pilot her."
"That's a relief," Jeff sighed.
"Yeah. I'm glad it's Virgil who's the passenger. At least he relaxes when someone else is at the controls. If it was Scott he would be itching to take over…" John realised what he was saying. "Of course if it was Scott, we wouldn't be in this situation now."
"If he has hurt his arm he might have to get used to someone else piloting for a while."
"Dad?" John asked. "Have you told the others about… what happened?"
"I've told Kyrano and he took it in his stride as if it were the most natural thing in the world."
John smiled. "That doesn't surprise me."
"I'll tell your grandmother on the flight over. Your brothers…? I'll let Virgil decide if he thinks they should know."
"Okay. I'll tell him that… Ah…" John hesitated. "Virgil was just talking to one of his friends. They heard about Scott on the radio."
"They did what!" John could clearly hear the anger in his father's voice.
"If the media have got your mobile number you're going to be inundated with phone calls pretty soon. You might like to consider turning your phone off."
"I don't want to do that," Jeff growled, "in case any of you need to contact me."
"In that case, if we've got any brains, we'll use the emergency phone," John told him.
"Rex Munroe uses this number too. He might have news about Scott."
"Then give Mr Munroe a call and give him the emergency number. Turn this one off. It won't matter."
John managed a laugh. "Sorry."
"It's all right, Son. Sometimes even I need prompting, especially when I'm worried about you boys."
"Well, once you've picked Grandma up, she'll give you all the prompting you need and more. And you'd better get a move on or else she'll do more than prompt you. See you there, Dad."
"Bye, John. Have a safe flight."
John concentrated on flying the unfamiliar plane, leaving Virgil content to dwell on his own thoughts and occasionally rub his arm. They flew in silence through the blue skies for a good ten minutes.
Virgil was the first to speak. "Thanks."
John glanced at him in surprise. "What for?"
"For not calling out the men in white coats."
John chuckled. "Don't think I wasn't tempted."
"If I'd been in your shoes I would have been."
"You had me worried, Virg. I'll admit that. And if I hadn't been there when Dad got the call I'm not sure that I'd believe you now."
"You do believe me?"
"Yep. But until I was talking to Dad I could have believed that you'd been drinking… or something."
Virgil shook his head. "I don't drink alcohol on school nights."
John grinned. "Have you taken the pledge?"
Virgil chuckled. "No. But it's a tough course and I want to be on the top of my game. And once we're operational we're going to be on duty 24/7. I don't think drinking's going to be an option. I figured I may as well get used to it."
"Fair enough." John saw his brother rub his arm again. "How bad does it hurt?"
Virgil looked at his arm. "It's not bad; just a dull ache. It's painful enough to be annoying and not much more."
"Well, sorry to say this but, until Scott's safe, I'm more than happy for you to be annoyed."
Virgil rubbed his arm again. "So am I."
The grey ribbon of the runway stretched out before them as the plane came into land. Following instructions, John taxied into a hangar. From the neighbouring airfield an Air Force jet took to the skies.
When they alighted from the plane they were met by an airman in uniform. He saluted. "Good afternoon, Gentlemen."
"Any news?" John asked.
"No," the airman admitted.
"Not even any sign of wreckage?" John watched Virgil as he wandered over to a neighbouring plane. It was Scott's private jet.
"No. We have had no reports of wreckage. We are waiting on satellite photos…" The airman saw Virgil approached the plane's door. "Ah…"
"It's okay," John said. "It's our brother's."
Virgil opened the door and climbed inside the plane. He stood still for a moment before he moved up to the cabin and climbed into the pilot's seat.
John poked his head inside. "Are you okay?"
"Yeah," Virgil sighed. "I'm being silly, that's all." He exited the craft and locked the door.
"If you will both follow me, I will take you to the incident room," the airman offered.
"Is anyone else here yet?" John asked.
"Not as yet."
Virgil nudged John and pointed at a cloud of dust that was hovering over the car park. "Alan's here."
The airman led them on a detour to the youngest Tracy. "Have you heard anything?" Alan asked before they'd even had the chance to greet him.
"Nothing official," John told him.
"I hate not knowing anything," Alan grumbled, as they followed the airman. "Have they told Gordon yet?"
"I don't know," John admitted. "Dad said he was out on manoeuvres. They'll have to contact him, get him to shore and then he'd have to fly here. That's if he's not in a bathyscaphe or something. He might be ages yet."
The airman indicated a large empty room filled with a variety of tables and comfortable chairs. "This is the waiting room allocated to the families of those on the flight," he explained. "If you would wait in here, I'll see if there's any new information."
The three brothers were left alone. "I hate not knowing," Alan repeated. "What if Scott's seriously hurt? What if he's dead? What'll that do to the organisation…? What'll that do to US?"
"He's not dead," Virgil soothed. "This is Scott we're talking about remember. He's tough." John looked at his brother, wondering if more of an explanation was going to be forthcoming. When it became clear that Virgil wasn't prepared to elucidate on why he was confident of their brother's survival, he claimed a seat.
Alan flopped into a chair of his own. "I hate not knowing," he grumbled again.
"He's okay," Virgil reiterated, before he picked up his artist's satchel and retired to a chair in the corner of the room. Propping his feet up on a small stool so he could use his lap as an easel he began drawing.
Alan looked at him. "How come he's so calm, John? I would have thought that he'd be a nervous wreck. I know I am."
"He uses his art as an outlet," John explained. "And, honestly, can you imagine Virgil as a nervous wreck?"
"No," Alan admitted. "I can't."
And, John realised, until this morning he wouldn't have been able to either.
The door opened and Gordon entered looking very un-Gordonlike in his WASP uniform jacket and peaked cap. This was soon rectified when both items were discarded on the back of a seat. "I think I've just set the air speed record for flying from Marineville to here… Any news?" he asked as he fell into the chair and undid the top buttons of his shirt before ruffling his hair.
"Nope," Alan said. "I hate not knowing."
"How long have you guys been here?" Gordon asked.
"About twenty minutes," John told him.
"Any word from Dad?"
"He had to take a detour to pick up Grandma," Alan reminded him.
John looked at his watch. "He's probably a couple of hours away."
"On the phone for the latest news every two minutes," Gordon added. He looked over his shoulder. "Hey, Virg. How are you?"
Gordon turned back to his other two brothers. "How is he?" he asked quietly, jerking his thumb in Virgil's direction.
"I flew him here in his plane." John lent forward. "He had a rough morning, so go easy on him, okay?"
"What do you think we're going to do?" Alan asked. "Start teasing him?"
John looked at him levelly. "It has been known."
"Trust me; I'm not in the mood." Gordon lent back. "The bluebottle at the desk said the guy from Chicago's parents should be here any moment. The New Zealand aid worker's father's on a flight and the Russian's wife is being escorted through customs as we speak." He stopped in thought. "What do you mean rough morning?"
John was saved from thinking up an answer when the door opened and an officer marched in. The four Tracy brothers got to their feet. "Gentlemen, I'm Major General Rex Munroe, Scott's commanding officer. I'm sorry that we have to meet in such circumstance."
"How do you do, Sir," John greeted him. "I'm John. This is Alan, Gordon and…" he looked around and was almost surprised to see Virgil at his shoulder, "Virgil."
Munroe nodded an acknowledgement. "I'm afraid that I have nothing new to impart. We are waiting on satellite photos of the area where we think Scott's plane would have gone down. Once we have those in our possession we will be able to form a plan of attack."
"Attack?" Gordon asked. "How do you mean, 'attack'?"
"Obviously, because of the political situation in Bereznick, we can not intervene directly. But we can get word to friendly forces on the ground where to search. They are already looking on our behalf."
"So what do we do in the meantime?" Alan asked. "I hate not knowing how he is."
Munroe looked at him in sympathy. "I'm afraid all you can do is wait. There are refreshments available," he indicated a small kitchenette, "and you will be escorted to the canteen for any meals. The hotel over the road is preparing rooms for everyone. If we can help with anything else, please ask myself or First Sergeant Boyle." He indicated the uniformed man standing just inside the door. "I spoke to your father just before I came in and he hopes to be here in a little over an hour. I'm hopeful that we will have some news by then."
"How come it's taking so long to get the satellite photos?" John asked.
Rex Munroe looked slightly uncomfortable at the question. "We are having to, ah, deal with a heavy cloud layer…"
The door was opened from outside and an older couple were ushered into the room. "Mr and Mrs Daniels," the airman announced. The introductions were no sooner completed when the door opened again and a pale woman, identified as Svetlana Korsakov, the Russian aid worker's wife, was shown inside. Munroe greeted them and then excused himself.
John sat down again. "Heavy cloud layer, my foot," he grumbled. "If military satellites can't see through a 'heavy cloud layer' there's something wrong seriously wrong with them. He's trying to pull the wool over our eyes."
"So why would he lie?" Gordon asked.
John shrugged. "Who knows? Maybe he doesn't want to show the Air Force in a bad light for some reason? Maybe he doesn't want to admit that their technology's not up to scratch? Maybe they've been caught on the back foot with the plane crash? Maybe he doesn't want to show his own ignorance?"
Half an hour later and Tipene Clarke, the father of the New Zealand aid worker, was escorted in. He greeted everyone with a nervous smile.
Virgil returned to his drawings; pausing occasionally to rub his arm.
Alan had been watching him. "What's he done to himself?" he asked John.
John pretended to be absorbed in a magazine article on the ursine species of Arctic polar life.
"John?" Alan pressed. "What's wrong with Virgil?"
"Huh…. Oh, you mean his arm?" John prepared himself to bluff his way through an explanation, when the door opened again.
Jeff Tracy, followed by his mother, entered the room. He acknowledged his sons briefly before marching over to where Virgil, so engrossed in his drawing that he wasn't aware of the intrusion, was seated. Jeff laid a hand on his son's shoulder. "Virgil..."
Virgil started and then looked up at his father's troubled face. "Oh… Hi."
"I'm sorry I didn't believe you, Son."
"That's okay. I wouldn't have believed me either."
"Are you all right?"
Virgil nodded. "My arm's still sore."
Jeff nodded gravely. "I'm sorry, but I'm glad."
Virgil managed to smile at him. "Me too." Jeff squeezed his shoulder and then took a step back, allowing his mother to bustle in. Virgil stood and gave her a hug. "Hi, Grandma."
"Your father told me, Darling. Are you sure you're all right?"
"Don't worry about me," Virgil requested. "I'm fine."
"What are you sketching?"
"Just… things. Anything to keep my mind off what's going on."
Alan and Gordon looked at each other in confusion. "What's all this about?" Alan began, but John was introducing Jeff to the relatives of the other missing people.
Grandma opened her arms to her two youngest grandsons, allowing Virgil to return to his drawings. "Come here and give me a hug."
"Did you have a good flight?" Gordon asked.
"Not bad under the circumstances…" She noticed Gordon's jacket and hat. "That isn't your uniform you've dumped there, is it young man?"
"Uh, yeah." Gordon hung his jacket over the back of a chair and found somewhere to hang his hat. Then he wandered over to the window and stood watching a squadron got through their drills.
"Can you see anything?" Alan asked.
"Just Bluebottles buzzing about." Gordon turned back into the room and stopped short.
Jeff Tracy, a former Air Force man, was watching him. "We used to call the Navy 'Sprats', Gordon," he growled. "I don't know what they call the baby of the armed forces; WASP."
"Wet Ar…" First Sergeant Boyle began, then he looked at Mrs Tracy. "Weak As Sailor Patrol," he amended. Then he looked embarrassed. "Sorry, Sir."
Jeff saluted him. "Well said, Boyle."
Boyle returned the salute. "Thank you, Sir."
"Sorry," Gordon mumbled. "Ah… Let's call it a truce and discuss the merits of the army, shall we?"
"Let's call it a truce and not," his father suggested.
"Okay." Gordon gave an unconcerned shrug and took a seat next to his grandmother. "What is it with Virgil?" he asked.
"Um…" She paused. "Virgil…"
The door opened and Major General Rex Munroe entered. "We've got the satellite pictures." He laid them on a table, which was immediately surrounded by a group of concerned people. He pointed at one particular photo. "There's the plane. It looks relatively intact."
"Relatively?" Alan asked. "Does that mean they've made a normal landing?"
"I would doubt it," Munroe explained. "For one thing, they haven't landed on an airstrip. For another," he moved that photograph so a second was exposed, "this is a close up of the plane. As you can see, part of the, ah, nose of the craft has been shot away, and it appears that the starboard wing was torn off upon landing."
"Where is the pilot's cabin?" Mr Daniels asked.
Munroe hesitated a moment. "In the nose."
Mrs Daniels gave a little cry of concern and her husband put his arm about her in a gesture of comfort.
"I would assume, judging by the orientation of the plane and the fact that it is relatively intact, that an attempt was made to make an emergency landing," Munroe said hastily. "Which means that at least one of the pilots was able to maintain some sort of control over the plane after the attack."
Virgil rubbed his arm.
"Have you got any idea what has happened to the crew after the landing?" Mrs Tracy asked.
"Negative, Ma'am. They are off their flight path and are close to the border, so the assumption is that whoever was piloting was attempting to get the plane to safety. If they'd managed to stay airborne for another 20 kilometres they would have made it out of Bereznick."
"If they are so close to the border does that mean you've sent a rescue team in?" Mr Daniels asked.
"Ah…" Munroe hesitated again. "No."
"No? Why not?"
"If we were to send troops in they would have to be armed. If they are armed they would be seen as invaders. If they weren't armed they would be seen as spies. Either way it's too big a risk."
"If they survived the crash could they have been taken by Bereznick forces?" Mr Clarke asked.
"What would happen to them then?" John asked.
"It would depend," Munroe hedged.
"On what?" Virgil asked.
Munroe gave his answer with obvious reluctance. "The loyalty of the troops to the present Bereznick regime… If they thought the crew was a threat in any way… If they thought they could gain something by holding the crew hostage…"
"And it would depend on the nationality of the crew?" Jeff asked.
"Meaning that Americans might not be treated as well as other nationalities?" Mr Daniels asked.
"There is that possibility. New Zealanders are not generally considered a threat… unless they are in the company of those who are. Russians…? It depends on whether the captors support the government or the rebels."
"Please," Svetlana looked at the Major General. "I understand not well. My English…"
"Oh," Munroe looked taken aback. "I'm sorry, I thought you didn't need an interpreter. I'm afraid it will take a little time to find one."
"Looks like you're on, John," Gordon said.
John reeled something off in Russian and Svetlana looked at him with a mixture of gratitude and concern. From then on, anything that was said to the group in English, he translated.
"But surely the aid workers would be recognised as being neutral in the conflict?" Tipene Clarke suggested.
Munroe looked apologetic. "Not if they are found in the company of those who are not considered to be neutral."
"Such as members of the U.S. Air Force?"
"Yes. Unfortunately in some remote areas there are still people who distrust U.S. citizens. It's a hang over from the early part of the century."
Mr Clarke glanced at the Americans in the room but made no comment.
"All this is well and good," Jeff said. "But what is being done to rescue them?"
"Friendly forces on the ground are searching for them…"
"And if they find them?"
"They will do their best to get them to neutral territory."
"Can you get word to or from these so-called friendly forces?" Jeff asked.
"Ah… Not easily," Munroe admitted.
Jeff stared his friend in the eye. "So we wait until we hear from these people. And we have no way of knowing how the crew of that plane," he indicated the satellite photo, "are until we do. And that might not be until they are transported over the border, or until it is too late to help them."
"I'm sorry, Jeff. But that's it in a nutshell."
"So, we wait."
Jeff took a phone from out of his pocket and scrolled through the list of unanswered calls. "World News, London Standard, NTBS, BCC, CMM, New York Journal, New Zealand Chronicle, Reuters… As if I haven't got enough to worry about! Wait until I get my hands on Rex Munroe! He should have kept our names out of the press release…"
"Ah… Major General Munroe has nothing to do with public relations, Sir," First Sergeant Boyle offered.
Jeff glared at him. "Well someone's responsible!" he snapped. "Can you tell me who?"
"Is there a P.R. department on the base?"
"Then you can take me there!"
"Ah, sorry, Sir, but I'm not allowed to…" First Sergeant Boyle cowered back slightly at Jeff's scowl, "…Sir."
"You're not allowed…" Jeff growled.
"Jeff…" his mother rebuked him quietly. "It's not the poor boy's fault."
Jeff realised that he'd overreacted. "I'm sorry, Boyle," he apologised. "I didn't mean to bite your head off. It's been a trying day and I've never been a fan of publicity… especially now."
"I understand, Sir," Boyle sympathised.
Major General Rex Munroe chose that moment to enter the room and his expression told them that yet again he had nothing to tell them. First Sergeant Boyle cast a wary look between his superior officer and Jeff Tracy.
"Your First Sergeant and I have just been having a discussion on publicity," Jeff told Munroe. "I was complaining that I've got over 100 calls on my voice mail and each of them is from the press. What I want to know is how come they knew it was my son on that plane?"
Munroe looked contrite. "I'm sorry, Jeff. But I have no control over the publicity wing of the Force."
"You are a Major General and you have no control?"
"I wasn't even aware that the news was in the public domain until I received the latest edition of the paper." Jeff made an impatient sound and Munroe felt compelled to explain. "Like it or not, Jeff, you, and the disappearance of your eldest son, are considered newsworthy."
"Perhaps if your people put their efforts into finding my 'eldest son' and everyone else on that flight and less into P.R. they would have been found by now!"
"Jeff," Munroe held out his hands in a gesture of peace. "We're doing all we can. I know you're frustrated."
"Frustrated!? I'll tell you what frustrated is! Frustrated is being unable to get the top off a jar! This goes beyond frustrated!" Jeff indicated everyone in the room. "Ask anyone here!" He sat down and started deleting messages from his phone.
"I'm sorry," Munroe apologised. When he received no acknowledgement he left the room.
The hours dragged on. Being the only person able to communicate with her, John entertained Svetlana Korsakov. Alan, Gordon and Tipene Clarke discussed New Zealand and other topics of mutual interest. Jeff Tracy and his mother talked with Mr and Mrs Daniels about the joys and pains of parenting. Virgil kept to himself in his corner... Sketching non-stop…
He turned the page so a blank sheet was topmost…
The sounds of falling pencils, a sliding sketchbook and a sudden intake of breath had John and Jeff, closely followed by Grandma, out of their seats and by Virgil's side.
"Is he all right?"
Alarmed by his family's reactions, Gordon deserted his seat. "Will someone please explain what's going on?" He noticed that Virgil was holding his arm and appeared to be in a little pain. "Virgil?"
"What have you done to yourself?" Alan asked.
"I'm all right," Virgil gritted out.
Jeff crouched down so he was closer to Virgil's eye-line. "How bad is it, Virgil?"
"How much better?"
Virgil rubbed his arm. "About as painful as it was before."
"But it still hurts?"
Jeff breathed a sigh of relief.
"Okay! What's going on?" Gordon demanded. "What is wrong?!"
John looked at Jeff. Jeff looked at his mother. Grandma looked at John. They all looked at Virgil.
"Well?!" Alan asked.
"Virgil hurt his arm this morning," John volunteered. "Right, Virg?"
Virgil held his arm protectively against his body and said nothing.
"Something's not right here," Gordon stated. "What, Virgil?"
"Come on," Alan pleaded. "It's bad enough worrying about Scott. Don't make us worry about you too."
"It's nothing serious," Grandma reassured him.
"If it's not serious then tell us," Gordon begged.
"You won't believe me," Virgil mumbled, aware that it wasn't only his family who was listening with interest.
"Won't believe what?" Alan asked.
"I believe you, Virgil," John asserted.
"I do too," Jeff said. "Do you want me to tell them?"
In truth Virgil didn't want to discuss what was happening to him, but he knew he wouldn't get any peace until his younger brothers had the facts. He gave a reluctant nod.
"Virgil…" Jeff began, trying to think of the best way to explain everything, "felt Scott's plane crash this morning."
It was Gordon who asked the inevitable question. "What do you mean, 'felt'?"
"He felt the plane drop out of the sky and crash," John stated.
"How the heck did you do that?" Alan asked.
"Kyrano calls it Empathetic Clairvoyance," Jeff explained.
"Huh?" Gordon exclaimed. "Clairvoyance? You've got E.S.P? Minty!"
"I haven't got E.S.P." Virgil looked between his two brothers. Gordon's expression was of open curiosity, while Alan's was of closed scepticism. "This is just something weird, unexplained, it's never happened before and I hope it never happens again."
"I'll say it's weird," Alan said. "It's impossible. How'd you know it was 'Scott's plane'?"
"I just knew," Virgil said sullenly.
"You just knew? What were you doing last night?"
"Don't you start." Virgil indicated Jeff and John, "I've been interrogated by these two."
"Dad even had me searching his apartment…" John began. He stopped when he realised what he was saying and glanced at Virgil, seeing anger on his brother's face. John reddened. "Um… I mean… We didn't think that you would take… But…"
"You thought I was on some kind of drugs, didn't you?!"
"I'm sorry, Virgil," Jeff apologised. "Don't be mad at John; he did stick up for you. It was my idea."
Virgil's anger had dissipated as quickly as it had flared up, and he sighed. "Don't worry about it. I suppose that idea made as much sense as anything I was saying."
"I didn't want to believe it," Jeff admitted. "But if you'd seen yourself this morning, Son, you would have wondered too."
"Okay. So we've ascertained that you hadn't taken any drugs." Alan said. "But were you drinking?"
"No I wasn't! I finished work, tuned the plane, came home, had dinner, practised the piano, did some homework and went to bed…"
"At ten-o-clock," John added.
"…And that's it!" Virgil finished. "And then at 20 minutes past four this morning I was woken up by the sensation of falling!"
"You fell out of bed?" Gordon asked.
"No I didn't. I got up. It's only when the plane hit the ground that I fell. That's when Scott hurt his arm. That's when my arm started hurting."
"What does it feel like?" Gordon asked; his eyes alight with interest. "What's it like to read someone else's thoughts?"
"But do you experience anything else?"
"I don't know. That's why I'm asking you." Gordon grinned. "Don't tell Brains you've got E.S.P; he'll have you on the dissecting table."
"You must be sick," Alan reached out to feel Virgil's forehead. He'd barely made contact when his hand was knocked away.
"I'm not sick. I know Scott's crashed… I mean… I felt him crash. I felt the plane fall out of the sky and I felt it crash into the ground. I felt Scott injure his arm."
"Virgil?" Gordon asked. "Do know how crazy this sounds?"
Virgil was nearing the end of his tether. "I know exactly how crazy this sounds. But it's all true!"
Alan turned to the older members of his family. "You believe this?"
"Yes." John sounded defiant as he stared his youngest brother down. "I saw him this morning. He knew Scott was in trouble before anyone else. Right, Dad?"
Jeff nodded. "I didn't believe Virgil until I got the call from Rex Munroe, but I believe him now. Scott radioed that he was being attacked at the exact moment that Virgil was woken up."
"Coincidence!" Alan stated.
"No it's not!" Virgil stood. "I felt Scott crash! He's hurt his arm! He's…" He took a deep breath. "I need some fresh air." He pushed past his family and, ignoring the inquisitive looks from the room's other inhabitants, stalked out the door. Still holding his sore arm, he practically ran through the complex until he found himself on a patio. There he leant against the railing, breathing deeply and allowing the cool evening air to caress his face and the back of his neck. He hadn't realised that it was so late…
"Are you all right?"
"I don't know, John."
"Want to talk about it?"
"What is there to say?" Virgil turned back to face his brother. "I'm… I'm confused. I'm confused about so many things. If you'd asked me about E.S.P, or empathetic clairvoyance, or whatever you want to call it, yesterday, I would have said that it was a load of nonsense. But now… Now I'm experiencing it…! My arm's hurting and I wish it would stop. But I don't want it to stop, because I know that if it stops then something is seriously wrong with Scott… I wish this hadn't happened to me, it's a horrible sensation; but I'm glad it's happened to me because I'm able to reassure everyone...! My mind's saying 'this is impossible!' while my body's saying, 'that's what you think!' I'm… I'm a mass of confusion!"
"I wish I could help. Is there anything I can do?"
Virgil shook his head. "No… There's nothing."
John looked at him in sympathy. "Do you want me to stay and talk? Or I could stay and not talk? Or should I go and submit myself to endless questions from Gordon and Alan?"
Virgil managed a smile of gratitude. "I think I'd like to be alone for a while… And I'm sure Father would appreciate your help dealing with the terrible twosome."
"You're probably right. Have you got your mobile phone? Give me a call if you want me."
Virgil patted his pocket. "Okay."
"It seems a bit silly making phone calls over the national network when we're only metres away from each other," John mused. "I wonder if I can come up with a more personal communications device." He sighed. "It'll give me something to think about while I'm waiting." He turned to leave.
John turned back. "Yes?"
John smiled. "You've already thanked me once."
"This one's different. Thanks for being a good friend."
John's smile broadened. "Always." He gave Virgil an affectionate squeeze on the shoulder and returned inside.
Virgil looked around and found a nearby seat. He sat down to think.
"I still say it's impossible!" Alan stated. "It's a coincidence that Virgil had a funny turn before you found out about Scott, Dad. He dreamt that he felt the crash."
"Virgil said that it was the plane starting to fall that woke him up, Alan. He was awake while it was happening…" Jeff looked towards the door when it opened, expecting to see two sons entering. There was only one. "How is he, John?"
"If you want to describe Virgil in one word at the moment, I'd use 'confused'," John explained. "He's having some time out." He hit Alan lightly on the arm as he sat down beside him. "And you didn't help."
"Why is this my fault?"
"Because he doesn't understand what's happening any more than the rest of us understand. He needs our support; not you giving him the tenth degree."
"Tenth degree?! I'm not the one telling crazy stories when the rest of us are already worried sick."
"There's a lot of things in the universe that can't be explained, Alan," Gordon said. "You know how close Scott and Virgil are. Perhaps…"
"Perhaps nothing." Alan looked at him in disgust. "Don't tell me you believe that nonsense! Look! I'll bet Scott had a satellite phone and he rang Virgil. There are probably Air Force rules are against having phones on missions and Virgil's come up with this E.S.P nonsense so Scott doesn't get into trouble."
Gordon shook his head. "Coming up with a story like that is more my scene. Not Virgil's."
"Which explains why it's not a particularly believable story." Alan sat back and folded his arms in triumph. "I'll bet any of you anything you like that that's what's happened."
Gordon held out his hand. "You're on. What's the wager?"
John exchanged a bemused look with his father.
Virgil was still sitting outside in the darkening night, holding his head in his hands as he tried to make sense of everything that had happened during the day. He looked up.
A pilot, a few years older than Virgil, was standing there. "You're Scott's brother, right?"
Virgil nodded. "That's right."
"Have you heard anything?"
Virgil shook his head. "No. We're still waiting."
"I hope he's all right." The pilot extended his hand in greeting. "I'm Clint Hollis… and you're Virgil?" At Virgil's surprised expression he chuckled. "You couldn't be anyone else. Once Scott starts bragging about you we can't shut him up. You're an 'amazing artist', a 'fantastic pianist' and you're nearly as good a pilot as he is." Virgil felt his face burning in the dark. "A couple of times we've got so sick of hearing about you that we've had to lock him out of the barracks."
"He's said that about me?"
"Yep," Clint sounded embarrassed by his revelations. "You two must be pretty close."
Virgil rubbed his arm. "Yes… I guess we are."
"This must be hard for you."
"Look… Scott's a great guy and he's a good friend. He'd do anything to help anyone, even if it meant laying his life on the line. He's helped me out more than once. If there's anything I can do to help now, please ask."
"There's nothing at the moment," Virgil admitted. "But do you have a phone number? If I hear anything I'll let you know."
"I don't want to put you out…"
"It's not a problem," Virgil entered Clint's number into his phone. He looked back up at the airman. "He's said a few things about you too. It sounds like the pair of you have got up to some 'mischief' together."
"Oh… yes…" Clint chuckled. "You could say that." He stood awkwardly for a moment. "I'd better get back. Don't forget to call me if you need a hand with anything. Bureaucracy… Dealing with the top brass… Directions on how to get around the base… How to sweet talk the mess hands into cooking your steak just the way you like it. Anything!"
"Thanks, but I think we've already got an inside running with all that. Father knows Major General Munroe."
"Of course," Clint replied. "I'd forgotten that your father was an Air Force man." He took a step backwards. "I'd better go. I hope you get some news soon… Uh… Bye." He walked away.
"Bye…" Virgil said to the retreating back. He sighed, stood and stretched. He was feeling the need to return to his sketch pad.
Everyone in the waiting room studiously ignored him as he walked in and took possession of his corner again. Only John met his eyes, with firstly a worried frown, and then a wink.
Virgil went back to his drawing. He began by sketching a cross…
"I don't need to lie down, Jeff. Stop fussing!"
"But it's," Jeff glanced at his watch, "after five a.m. and you've been up all night." He looked back at his mother. "The hotel room's ready for you. I promise that you'll be told the moment that we hear anything."
Grandma Tracy planted her hands on her hips. "Are you planning on going to bed now?"
"No," Jeff said. "I'm staying here."
"If you're staying then I'm staying."
"Mother nothing! He's not only your son; he's my grandson too. And I'm not leaving this room until I hear that he is all right! None of you are going to your rooms yet, are you boys?"
"I'm staying put."
"There!" Her jaw was jutting out in defiance.
Jeff sighed. A lifetime of dealing with this woman had taught him that she was in a stubborn mood and that nothing would change her mind. He lifted his hands in an admission of surrender and sat down.
Virgil turned the page so the last white sheet in his sketch book was exposed. He lifted his pencil to draw and then…
"He's been rescued!"
Virgil didn't know why he'd said that out loud. He wasn't even sure if he had until he realised that ten pair of eyes were on him.
"Virgil?" Jeff asked. "What did you say?"
"I… Uh…" Virgil stammered. "I said he's been rescued."
"Who?" John asked; a look of eagerness on his face.
Virgil looked around his family and then at the other people in the room. Then he looked down at the white page. "Scott."
"Why do you say that?" Grandma asked.
"I… I had this… sensation of relief… and my arm's stopped hurting."
"That doesn't mean anything," Alan accused, but Jeff had turned to First Sergeant Boyle.
"Can you go and ask Major General Munroe if everyone's okay and when we can expect to see them?"
"Uh… Me, Sir?" The First Sergeant wasn't enamoured with the suggestion. "Do you want me to phrase it exactly like that?"
"If you don't, I will. Where is he?"
"In the incident room, but you're not allowed in there… Sir."
Jeff gave a sound of annoyance and pulled his mobile phone out of his pocket. Everyone looked on in with mixed emotions as he dialled a number. "Rex? It's Jeff. Are they all okay?"
"Jeff?" Rex Munroe sounded bemused.
"Scott and the others on his flight? How are they? When can we see them?"
"I don't know, Jeff. We haven't found them yet."
"Trust me. They have been found."
"I can assure you that…" Munroe paused as he listened to an indistinct voice. "What did you say?" he asked the unknown speaker. "When?" He returned to his phone conversation. "How did you know, Jeff? All four members of the flight have just crossed the border into friendly territory."
"All four?" Jeff gave a thumbs-up and there were exclamations of jubilation in the room. John translated for Svetlana and received a hug of joy as his father continued speaking. "How are they?"
"Give us a chance. We've only just learnt they're still alive. How did you know anyway?"
Jeff winked at Virgil. "I have my sources. I'll tell you some time when you're not on duty and I've bought you a double brandy."
"There!" John told Alan. "Try and explain that as a mere coincidence!"
Alan opened his mouth as if he were going to attempt an explanation, and then decided that he was in too good a mood to bother.
Virgil locked his sketchpad in his satchel and then dialled a number into his own mobile phone. "Clint! It's Virgil Tracy. Good news. We've just received word that they've reached safety."
"They have?! Hey, that's fantastic. Brian too?"
"All four from what I understand. We don't know if anyone is injured, but at least we know they're still alive."
"Thanks for letting me know, Virgil. It's a weight off my mind and yours too I'll bet." Virgil could hear cheering in the background. "There're some very happy guys here. Now we might be able to get some sleep… The only problem is we're due to get up in half an hour."
Virgil laughed. "I'd better let you get to bed then. Good night, Clint."
"You mean good morning, Virgil. Thanks for letting us know."
Virgil had no sooner hung up the phone when it rang again. He looked at the caller ID, not recognising the number. "Virgil Tracy speaking…"
"Don't tell anyone who it is. I need to hear your voice for a moment."
A shout of 'Scott' was bitten back. "Uh…" Virgil said, nonplussed by the statement. He tried to keep his voice unemotional. "Ah… Okay… But why? Are you okay?"
Scott gave a short laugh. "I've busted a wing so I won't be flying for a while. But apart from that I'm fine."
"Your right one?"
"Yeah… Look, I'm sorry, Virgil."
"For… For all the worry I've put you through. I promised to be careful."
"You…" Virgil bit his tongue. "Look… Everyone's here, waiting for news. We've been up all night. Wouldn't you like to talk to them?"
"Okay. Maybe when I get back stateside we'll go out to dinner and then we can talk."
"We'll have dinner at my place. I'll cook you something."
Scott laughed. "Please, Virg. I've just escaped death once. Don't ask me to do it again."
"Hey! I'm not bad. Grandma's a good teacher."
"I'll believe you – thousands wouldn't. Better put me on to the old man."
Virgil walked the few steps across to where Jeff Tracy was pacing. "Father. Someone wants a word with you."
Jeff took the mobile phone with a raised eyebrow. "Hello?"
"Scott!" Upon hearing the name everyone else crowded in close. "How are you, Son? Are you hurt? We've been worried sick!"
"I know and I'm sorry. I've broken my arm, but that's all."
"You've broken your arm?" Jeff looked at Virgil. "Your right one?"
"Yeah. But it's okay now."
John gave Alan a triumphant look.
"How is everyone else on your flight? We've got their families here too."
"Brian got knocked about pretty badly when the missile took out the nose of the plane. He's been unconscious for a large part of the time and the medics are checking him over now. Ivan's taken a blow to the head, but seems to be okay. Hemi's cracked a couple of ribs. We had to strap him up as best we could. We're all covered in scratches and bruises."
Jeff relayed the information to those waiting. The Daniels were silent for a moment and then Mr Daniels started demanding that First Sergeant Boyle find out more detailed information about his son. John informed Svetlana of her husband's condition and the frightened look reappeared on her face until he reminded her that Ivan was now safe. Tipene didn't know whether to look concerned or overjoyed.
"Where are you calling from?"
Alan gave John a triumphant look.
"…It belongs to one of the guys on this flight. How are you all?"
"All the better for hearing your voice. If it's a satellite phone don't you think we'd better cut this conversation short? It must be costing the owner a packet."
"Nah," Scott laughed. "I've charged it to your account. I figured you could afford it. Can I have a word with Grandma?"
"Of course. Here she is," Jeff handed the phone over to his mother.
"Scott!" she exclaimed. "How are you, Darling?"
Jeff looked around for Virgil. His middle son was sitting on one of the chairs and looked pale. Jeff hurried over. "Are you all right?"
Virgil fixed him with a tired smile. "All of a sudden I feel exhausted. I think that now that the excitement's over all the adrenaline must be wearing off."
"Come on," Jeff suggested. "Let's get you back to the hotel. I think we all could do with some sleep."
When Virgil awoke he was in a unfamiliar room and the face of a stranger was looking down on him. "Hello," the stranger said. "How do you feel?"
"Where am I?" Virgil asked, and was surprised at how rough his voice was sounding.
"Base hospital." The man's white coat and stethoscope, along with this bit of information, made Virgil think that he was probably a doctor. "You developed a fever so we admitted you to get your temperature under control. How do you feel?" he repeated.
Virgil's mouth and throat felt parched. "Thirsty."
"Good," the doctor turned to a woman behind him. "Nurse?"
She smiled and poured some liquid into a glass. After adding a straw she smiled again. "Perhaps you'd like to help him drink it, Mr Tracy?"
Virgil turned his head and realised that his father was sitting there, looking even more tired and careworn than he had when Scott was missing. "What happened?" he asked. "Last thing I remember we were going to go to the hotel."
Jeff accepted the glass and held it so that Virgil was able to suck on the straw. "John and I got you back to your room. You said you were okay so we left you to get ready for bed. I was talking to John when we heard a bang. When we rushed into your room we found that you'd passed out on the floor. I rang Rex and he arranged for the base medics to come and look at you."
"Just as well," the doctor said. "With the temperature you had you could have suffered brain damage. But I'm sure there'll be no permanent affects. Do you feel up to having more visitors? Your family are waiting outside."
Virgil nodded before turning back to his father. "How long have I been in here?" He had another drink.
Jeff looked at his watch. "Coming up to 48 hours."
Jeff looked over to the door and smiled. "Ah. Here's someone eager to see you."
Virgil turned his head to greet his family and immediately felt better. "Scott!" He struggled to sit up and was restrained by IV lines and his father.
"Hiya. How're you feeling?" Scott was dressed in civvies. Apart from his right arm being in a sling and a few scratches and sticking plasters on his face and hands, he hadn't changed. "What's all this? I get back to the States expecting to be greeted by a huge welcoming committee only to find out that everyone's at the hospital fretting over you." His tone was lightly teasing and his face was smothered in a huge grin. "You not only stole my thunder you had to copy my bandage too." He lifted his injured arm.
Virgil looked at his own arm. Until that moment he hadn't realised that his forearm was covered in a dressing. He looked back at his father with a questioning expression on his face.
"You had an infection," Jeff sounded almost apologetic as he got his mother a chair. "That's what caused the fever."
"We were worried about you, Darling." Grandma gave Virgil a kiss on the cheek before she sat down.
"So you were sick!" Alan was sounding triumphant. "I told you so."
"John's miffed because he thought you had E.S.P when in fact you were I-L-L," Gordon grinned.
"I'm not miffed!" John was sounding disgruntled. "I still believe that something we don't fully understand happened. It's too big a coincidence to be a coincidence. And he didn't have a temperature the other day, did you, Virgil?"
"No…" Virgil agreed.
"See! I took his temperature and it was fine. You didn't feel feverish, did you, Virgil?"
"You said yourself that his pyjamas were wet with sweat," Alan protested. "He must have had a temperature. You read the thermometer wrong."
"Those thermometers are pretty foolproof."
"Obviously this one wasn't."
John ignored Gordon's playful insult. "Did he feel feverish when you felt his forehead, Alan?"
"He didn't give me enough time to feel anything… And I've just remembered. You owe me, Gordon. I won the bet."
"No you didn't. You said they'd used a satellite phone, which they hadn't." Gordon replied. "You owe me."
"The bet was I'd owe you if it was E.S.P." Alan indicated the figure in the bed. "Virgil was sick not clairvoyant."
"I'm sure if he was sick while we were waiting we would have noticed," John insisted. "After he collapsed he was that hot you could have fried an egg on his forehead!" The mention of food made Virgil feel hungry. "And there was nothing wrong with his arm the other day either. There was no redness, or swelling, and it wasn't sore to touch, was it, Virgil?"
"And you could use it with no trouble, couldn't you?"
"And he knew Scott had crashed before anyone else. Right, Virgil?"
"You said yourself that he'd been reading air accident reports," Gordon noted. "He dreamt it. The reports coupled with the infection made him dream that Scott had crashed. It was a coincidence."
"Mighty big coincidence if you ask me," John grumbled.
Virgil looked at Scott for support, but his big brother appeared to be content to listen to his siblings bicker.
There was a knock on the door and Rex Munroe poked his head inside. "May I come in?"
Virgil nodded, allowing Jeff to say, "Come in, Rex."
The major general entered the room and Scott scrambled to his feet. He attempted a salute with his injured arm, causing his brothers to snicker. "At ease," Munroe smiled. "I don't want you knocking yourself out with that cast, Scott. Sit down."
"Thank you, Sir."
Munroe looked at Virgil. "The doctor said you'd woken up. How are you feeling, Virgil?"
"Better, I guess."
"Good. I thought I'd take the opportunity to return your satchel. You'd left it in the waiting room. Also…" he turned back to Scott, "Hemi Clarke asked for you to be given these," he handed Scott an envelope. "There's nothing confidential in there, we've checked."
"Thank you, Sir." Scott opened the envelope and took out some photos. "I'd nearly forgotten that he'd promised me a set of these. These are all ones he took while we were in Bereznick. Hemi was taking so many photos that we started calling him 'Shutterbug'."
"I've been looking at Clarke and Korsakov's reports," the Major General said. "They speak highly of you, Scott. Especially the way you attempted to land the plane. And the fact that you liberated some of the first aid and food parcels from under the enemy's noses. They say Daniels wouldn't have had a chance if you hadn't done that. They were also impressed the way you and sent some Bereznick soldiers packing."
Scott looked a trifle embarrassed. "I didn't do anything really."
"I think you've potentially got another commissioned officer in the family, Jeff," Munroe laid a hand on Scott's shoulder.
Virgil felt a pang of anxiety. What if Scott decided to forgo their dream of forming the rescue organisation and stay on in the Air Force? He looked at his father and saw pride on his face. By contrast Scott was looking even more embarrassed.
"And," Munroe was continuing on, "I think that there's every chance you'll be up for a medal, Scott."
"No way…! Sir," Scott protested. "Honestly, I didn't do anything special."
Munroe chuckled. "I know you don't want me hanging about," he said, "and I want to check on Daniels. He's making good progress… Don't get up," he ordered Scott. "I'll talk to you later, Jeff. You still owe me that explanation and the double brandy."
"Okay, Rex." Jeff looked at Virgil with an expression that could almost have been described as disappointed. To his surprise Virgil found that he shared the sentiment.
Scott was already showing his photos about. "That's the drop before everything went wrong. See those kids' faces? Guys, you're going to love it when we've helped someone. The smile you get is the best reward you could have, better than any medal."
Virgil felt instantly better.
Scott showed off another photo. "That's the inside of the plane. Those crates are filled with food supplies and first aid equipment…" He gave a low whistle. "That's after we crashed. The missile took the nose clean off." He passed the photo to Virgil and examined the next one. "There's the plane from another angle…"
Virgil frowned at the photo in his hand. There was something familiar about it…
"I hadn't realised he was taking photos then!" Scott exclaimed. "That's when the Bereznick forces were looking for us. I knocked a beehive out of a tree. It landed beside them and all these bees started buzzing about; looking for someone to blame." He chuckled. "You should have seen the soldiers run!" He handed over the photo. "I guess that's what Munroe meant when he said I sent them packing."
Virgil looked at the photo. He was starting to get a very creepy feeling…
"We got a bit of sheet metal from the plane's wing," Scott was explaining. "It was light enough that we could use it as a sled/stretcher type thing to pull Brian out." He chuckled again. "Because it wasn't very painful, I'd forgotten I'd broken my arm, so I tried to pull on the sled with it. Boy, did that hurt!" He passed the photo over. "That's me pulling. I found a bit of rope I could loop around my shoulders and across my back." He used his good hand to rub the back of his neck. "I did the pulling because Hemi couldn't 'cause of his ribs and we were worried about Ivan's head injury."
"Scott," Virgil interrupted. "Would you mind passing up my satchel?"
Scott gave him a strange look. "Sure." He picked it up and held it so Virgil could unlock it.
"Take out the sketch pad," Virgil instructed.
Scott did as he was told.
"Look at the pictures."
"This one's blank," Scott was looking at the last page. He flipped the pages over so he was starting at the beginning. "This one's Tracy Island… It's pretty good."
"No. Not the first few," Virgil insisted. "Keep going."
Scott shrugged and looked at his Grandma. "Okay." He flipped over a couple of pages and then stopped. He stared at the drawing. Then he flipped over to the next page. "Huh?" He looked equally bemused as the third and fourth pictures were examined. He looked back at Virgil. "How'd you…"
Virgil shrugged. "Don't ask me."
"Gordon… let me have those photos back," Scott turned back to the page that had first startled him. He held the photo beside the drawing. "I don't believe it."
John had been looking over his shoulder. "I do. I told you!"
"What?" Jeff asked. "What don't you believe?"
Scott turned the sketch pad around so his family could see it. Virgil had drawn a picture of a plane with its nose shot away.
"That's nothing," Alan scoffed. "We knew that had happened because we saw the satellite photos."
"Don't get too cocky," John warned him. "You haven't seen the rest yet."
Scott revealed the next picture. Four burly men were advancing past a tree. In the one after they were running away, a swarm of bees around their head. The next picture was the back view of a man pulling on some kind of stretcher. Scott placed a photo beside it and the similarity was obvious.
"Okay, this is too much!" Gordon threw his hands into the air and sat back in his chair. "We have just entered the 'Twilight Zone'."
"Now what do you say, Alan?" John smirked.
Scott went through the remaining photos, comparing them with Virgil's drawings. "This is uncanny… It's unbelievable…" He came to the last sketch in the book. Whereas the earlier ones had been line drawings with just enough detail to explain what was happening, this last one had been finished and coloured with care.…
Scott compared the final drawing with the last photo. Both pictures were of churches. Both buildings had the same structure. There was a hint of the same coloured stained glass windows. The same grave stones were in front of the building. A tree branch curved in the exact same way and the petals from its fallen flowers littered the ground. But the thing that made his blood run cold was the steeple. It stood at an angle and below it a part of the building had been blown away. "That's where we were found," he explained. "We were hiding in the church because we hadn't realised we'd escaped Bereznick territory. The damage to the building was cause by a Bereznick missile." He looked back at Virgil. "You must have seen Hemi's photos!"
"I've been unconscious the last couple of days," Virgil reminded him; and yawned.
Jeff saw the yawn. "Are you feeling tired, Virgil?"
"A little," Virgil admitted. He felt his eyelids growing heavy.
"I think that's our cue to leave." Jeff stood. "Come on, everyone. We'll come back later."
"Thanks," Virgil struggled to keep his eyes open as he watched his family leave. His younger brothers were bickering again.
"Prepare to pay up."
"No way, Gordon! There's got to be a logical explanation for this!"
"Ah…" The door closed behind them.
"Virgil?" Scott had remained seated by the bed.
"Do you believe you had some kind of telepathic link with me?"
"Mmm… maybe…" Virgil made an effort to stay alert, not wanting to miss out on a second with his brother. He was therefore awake when he heard Scott's final comment…
Or had he dreamt it?
"Because I felt it too."