DISCLAIMER:

Some of the characters depicted below are components of the Thunderbirds Universe, I believe the rights to which are currently held by Carlton International Media Ltd. At present, no financial consideration is received in the publishing of this work.

AUTHOR'S NOTE:

This is the product of a conversation between MCJ and I, during which she challenged me to write something from the heart of one certain Mr Virgil Tracy. Many thanks to MCJ for the inspiration to write this and her editing skills to make it readable! This may not be everyone's cup of tea.

'The events of Terror In New York City, prompt Virgil in to a somewhat introspective mood.'

My Artistic Life

By

Virgil Tracy

Your life is your existence from the time you are born to the time you die. That's what my Grandma will tell you if you ask her what a life is. It's a gift from God, according to her, and she's told me many times over the years that I'm especially lucky. You see, in my Grandmother's opinion, I have two lives; Virgil the pilot and Virgil the artist. In my opinion that makes me sounds psychotic.

During my childhood, I think it's safe to say the artist was the most prominent. When my mother was alive, the artist in me would sit alongside her and attempt to copy what she was drawing. It would be the artist in me who would sit and play piano by her side, waiting for her to smile down at me and give me that special sign of approval that only the two of us shared. Sometimes I think of it like this; the artist is my mother's contribution to my personality and the pilot is my father's contribution to me.

So you see, when my mother died, she took a little bit of the artist inside me with her and with only my father's influence left, the pilot flourished. The day she died, Virgil the pilot was truly born. The artist lived on but he began to take a backseat to the part of me that was my father. I have to admit that my mother had the biggest influence on me as a child. But after she died, my father was all I had left. I guess it was inevitable that the pilot inside me would win.

Don't get me wrong, the artist didn't go down without a fight. Several fights, in fact. But my mother's death left me one apprehensive little boy and I only had the love of my father to keep my going. I'm constantly told how similar I am to my mother; I have her talents, her looks and even her mannerisms. But, you know, my Dad's contribution to me is equally strong. I've learned a lot from my father; he taught me how to ride a bike, how to play soccer, how to drive... the list is endless. But I guess one of the most important things I've inherited from my father is his fascination with engineering. And that's why the competition between the artist and the pilot in me is so fierce.

After Mom died, I guess I let the pilot in me over take the artist. Even now, that time in my life is still a bit of a blur to me but, somehow, somewhere along the way, the pilot got the upper hand and soon my life had a new purpose. My art became secondary to my education as an engineer and also, my training as a pilot. Don't get me wrong, I still painted and played and drew, but it wasn't the same. It wasn't a vocation any longer. It was a pastime, a sideline, something I'd do to relax.

I guess those early years were a crucial part of my life and my career. I sometimes wonder if my father had died and my mother had lived. Would the pilot still have gained the upper hand? And if not, would I be sat here reminiscing about his demise?

I don't very often think about what might have been. Experience has taught me that the process is a waste of time; I can't turn back the clock, I can't bring my mother back and I can't change the decisions I made in the past. Any other time, I wouldn't want to either. Until a few days ago that is, when the artist in me got exactly the opportunity he'd been waited for.

You see, I could have died.

I didn't, though. Obviously, because I'm here now telling you all this. But I'd be lying if I said it didn't scare the crap out of me.

Even now, saying it feels strange. To the point where there are times when I wonder if it was all just a sick dream. Then I remember the anxiety in my father's eyes and I realise that it was no dream. The others are just as bad; watching me as if I'm going to break down at any moment or collapse in agony.

Truth is I'm fine.

Well, I'll be fine. I don't remember a lot of what happened anyway; apparently, concussion does that to you. In fact, I don't remember much from the days following the crash either. To think that I was in control of over five hundred tons of equipment and can't remember a thing, I guess, is pretty concerning.

Brains says it's normal and not to worry. It's not as if it's a complete blank, I do remember some things. I remember explosions and the heat of the fire, I remember feeling terrified that I was going to crash but most of all I remember Scott's voice, coaxing me down.

The way my father and my brothers are going on, you'd think I was dying. I can see their eyes following me wherever I go. I know they're worried but the concussion's healing, it's nothing more than a bad headache now and the ribs will heal with time too.

To begin with, it wasn't me I was worried about. It was Thunderbird Two.

They knew that, though. Dad made it perfectly clear from the moment I woke up that I wasn't permitted to go anywhere near her until I was fully back on my feet. I knew he was trying to save me the hurt of seeing her so badly damaged and I was right too. I'm up and about now but he's still not allowed me to go down to the hangar. He says it's too soon and that I need to rest. I say she's my responsibility and that I need to be there.

Of course, I thought I knew best.

Maybe if I'd known how going down there would make me feel, I wouldn't have done it.

Then again, maybe I still would.

Either way, it gave the artist in me the chance he'd been waiting over fifteen years for; to question what I was doing with my life and cast doubt over all the important decisions I'd made to get me this far.

It was late at night when I made my way through the house in the direction of Two's hangar. I remember switching the hangar lights on and then taking a step backwards as they hummed and flickered into being.

The sight took my breath away and let me tell you, with three bruised ribs and one fractured, that's not a good thing.

Seeing the damage made me realise how lucky I was to get out alive and it drummed home the reason for my family's concern. It was hard to believe I had escaped with only a concussion, some damaged ribs and the inevitable cuts and bruises.

Standing there and staring at the damage, I could suddenly understand where my family were coming from.

It hit me like a sledgehammer that there was a real possibility that it could have been the end. Before they were just words, but seeing the damage made it real.

I could have died.

As I struggled to comprehend that reality, the artist in me was quick to point out that the risks of International Rescue were significantly more immense than I had ever truly considered.

A voice behind me startled me and I bit back a yelp as I jumped, pulling on my damaged ribs. It seems I'm a lot more predictable than I thought as my father stepped out from the shadows.

I began to think he was going to scold me for being down there but instead he let out a weary sigh and came to stand alongside me.

"I didn't want you to have to see this," his voice was low and sad. I felt like I'd somehow disappointed him by coming down here. "It's not as bad as it looks and Brains has already started on the repairs."

I realised I was nodding, agreeing with myself in silence but still expecting some kind of admonishment.

We just stood there for a few moments. The silence was almost eerie but I waited for him to speak. In some respects, I think I had the easy job being shot down like that. I didn't have time to think about dying or if this was the end. Or at least, if I did, I don't remember. It sure sparks those thoughts afterwards though. Seeing my lady so banged up certainly made me think about my life. What I do and why I do it, and how things could be different, too.

"It really makes you think, doesn't it?" it was almost as if he knew what I was thinking, and again, I was startled.

"Yeah," I managed to croak out, "yeah, it does."

When the subject of International Rescue had first been broached, we'd had a long chat about what it would mean. The decision to put your life on the line for the sake of others isn't one you take lightly but my brothers and I had all agreed that it was worth it. Looking at Thunderbird Two, I began to wonder if we'd been right. I know you might think that's selfish but I guess it's about self-preservation. I can't help it, that's just the way it is.

It's all very well standing in a room, talking about courage, ethics and your own mortality like it's something out of an action movie, but you don't realise the enormity of dying until it almost happens. And I don't mind telling you that it was kind of wake up call for me. All of a sudden, the artist was right; I had a hell of a lot to think about.

"Times like these make you re-evaluate things." I frowned, unsure what my father was saying at first. "It makes you think about where you're going and what you want from life."

I listened carefully, sensing that there was more to come.

"Virgil, all I want is for you to be happy, remember that."

I frowned harder but didn't look at him. My headache was getting worse and I wondered if that was the reason I couldn't figure out why my father was telling me that. I knew he wanted us to be happy; he's been telling all of us that since we were kids. I began to wonder how the accident had affected him. You see, my father doesn't deal with emotional situations very well and this was a prime example of him beating around the bush, instead of saying what he wanted to.

It's Mom all over again.

I know I scared him. Having seen the damage to Two now, I'm certain of it. But, instead of dealing with his fear and trepidation, he'll ignore it. It's how he works. It's how he's always worked. I guess it's hard for him. If it'd been Scott shot down, they'd share a scotch on the balcony and remise about the Air Force; suck it all up and move on. But me? I don't work like that. I can only grin and bear it like Scott to a certain extent before I have to get it out of my system.

I was pulled from my thoughts as I felt his arm creep round my shoulders.

"It isn't always easy doing the right thing," he sighed, "sometimes it means great sacrifices have to be made but only you can decide if the end justifies the means."

I found myself nodding but I still wasn't entirely sure what he was saying. My father is a very wise man and he has a tendency to assume that you're on his wavelength. Now, had he been talking to Scott or John, there wouldn't be a problem but I'm not Scott and I'm not John either. What's more, I was beginning to get confused.

My pounding head wasn't helping.

"I'll see you in the morning, Son," I frowned at the words as he squeezed my shoulder a little. "Good night."

I had no idea where he was going or why he was leaving me in the middle of Two's hangar without having reprimanded me for being there in the first place. I turned to reply but he was already gone.

With a shake of the head, I considered following him. I'd spent the last three days after the crash in bed and the late night excursion was beginning to take its toll. I felt tired, not just physically but mentally too. My father's words echoed in my head. I couldn't, for the life of me, understand what he was trying to tell me.

Despite my fatigue, my attention was drawn back to Two and, instead of following my father out the hangar, I found myself eyeing the temporary scaffolding around her nose. There was no way I could climb it, I wasn't fit enough but I desperately wanted to see the extent of the damage to the cockpit. I took small but determined steps towards the pod to investigate.

The artist in me was surveying the damage with glee and slowly convincing me this wasn't the life I wanted. The pilot in me was shrinking away with every smudge of soot and inch of warped bulkhead my eyes took in.

I spied the elevator and came to a decision; if Brains had left the power on then I'd venture up there, if not, then I'd head back to bed. I pressed the call button and was surprised to see the panel light up. The elevator began to rumble as the car made its way down to me and for the first time since seeing the outside damage, I felt incredibly overwhelmed.

What if I'd died?

My life, over. Finished. Kaput.

What then?

What about my plans?

All the things I wanted to do?

I began to feel like the pilot in me was as wounded as the craft I stood in.

The elevator deposited me in the cockpit and I was inundated by the powerful smell of burnt cables and plastic. The cockpit was littered with tools and bits of paper. I picked one draft up, surprised to find not just Tin-Tin's and Brain's scrawls but Scott's and Alan's too. It seems everyone's been working to get her back up and running. I felt I should've been doing my bit sooner; after all, she was my baby. Stumbling through blackened metal and melted wiring, I headed for the pilot's seat.

Deciding that a little soot was the least of my problems, I sat down. The seat wobbled and for a moment, I thought it might collapse but it held me. I began looking at the things around me, instrumentation that had been obliterated, centimetres from where I was sat. I had no idea I'd been that close. From what I could remember, it didn't feel as if I was that close to the fire.

There was a little voice inside my head that was telling me I'd been incredibly lucky to survive, let alone get out with the moderately minor injuries I'd received. Was this what I signed up for? Being blasted from the sky after the perceived danger was over? Was the artist winning the internal battle?

Deep down, I knew there had always been a silent competitiveness between my two 'existences' as my Grandma would undoubtedly say. Right now, it felt like they were waging a war inside me. I was at a crossroads in life and I had two choices; return to my life in Denver and enjoy my artistic life or stay here and be the heroic pilot for International Rescue. Reduced to crude basics it was a simple choice: the artist or the pilot. Who was I?

Good question.

What was I thinking?

I didn't want to leave here. I began convincing myself, this was my life now. There was nothing to think about, this crash was just a shock to the system, that's all.

That's all it was.

I loved my life here, didn't I?I got to spend time with the people I love most in the world, I lived in a tropical paradise and what's more, I could combine my passion for engineering with the biggest buzz of all; saving lives.

I wouldn't change it for the world and I certainly don't regret making the decision. The pilot in me returned with determination.

But living with the people you love isn't easy. We're just an ordinary family and we argue too. Despite the ridiculous size of the tropical island, there's never anywhere to truly be alone. And, though nothing beats the buzz of saving lives, there was one other thing that matched it; playing to a live audience.

I began to think about how much I missed my old life in Denver. The quiet life I'd enjoyed there was becoming appealing again in a funny, safe kind of way.

But saving lives was the greater good, my life in Denver was an insignificant price to pay even for the lives we'd already saved. Right?

Hmm, yeah. That would explain why I couldn't just get up and go to bed.

I sighed and looked around me.

Why the hell did I feel like this?

I had never doubted my commitment to International Rescue before and we'd been in some hairy situations. Right from the start when I ended up upside down in an Elevator Car, I knew it wouldn't be easy but I'd never felt like this, so ... so uneasy about everything.

Was this a case of the grass always looking greener from the other side? Did it make me selfish that I was even considering my future like this?

Future, now there was a word that got me thinking again.

Y'know, this time last year if you'd asked where I saw myself in ten years my answer would have been simple. I had the same aspirations that most of my brothers did; excelling in my career, a wife, a family. Now, it's not that simple. A family of my own is out of the question. At least, not whilst I'm still with International Rescue, it'd be unfair. The fact that my brothers have made the same sacrifices is no consolation for me, you see, I gave up something else when I flew back to this Island a year ago. I let the pilot in me win the battle to end all battles.

On reflection, I miss playing and painting as I used to.

It's become more of a coping mechanism now than a pastime.

I miss the buzz of playing in public and I miss the life I had, sometimes I would go as far as to say that I want it back. I know I still play, but it's not the same and the questions are still there in the back of my mind.

What if I'd stayed in Denver?

What if my mother had never died?

What if I'd let the artist have a little more freedom?

And yet, at the same time I love it here. I feel like I was born for this job and yes, it's hard and it's a challenge but it's where I want to be. It's not easy but I'm doing the right thing here. I suddenly stop myself and think back to my earlier conversation with my father. His words linger in my head – 'doing the right thing isn't always easy.'

I think he knew all along that the accident would cause me to question my devotion to International Rescue. I'm sure he was hoping to delay it for as long as possible, at least until I was physically recovered but he knew if I realised how serious it had been, then I'd start to think about just what I was putting on the line.

He was right too. I was beginning to realise just how easy it would've been to die. There are so many things in life that I wanted to do; get married, have children to mention but a few. If I'd died out there then none of those things would've been possible and I guess I have to ask myself if International Rescue is what I really want. I find myself smirking as I think back again to my father's advice tonight – 'only you can decide if the end justifies the means.'

As I said before, my father is a very wise man.

I chuckled and it soon tickles at my throat until I began to cough. Smoke inhalation has left me with a nasty cough but coughing through the damaged ribs is painful. I winced at the pain shooting across my chest and leant forward a little in an effort to ease it.

"That's why Dad told you to stay out of here; you're not fit enough," a voice from behind me spoke up from the shadows but, honestly, I wasn't startled. I smile, a little relieved that, as usual, Scott's here to guide me in the right direction. I don't need to turn round to hear him making his way through the remnants of the cockpit towards me. "You know I'm surprised," Scott scoffs, "I would've thought you'd have at least finished off the electronics."

I can't help but widen my grin but I don't reply. Scott doesn't need to look at me to know that I'm having a tough time of it tonight, fighting an inner turmoil, and my lack of a witty comeback is evidence enough. He finally reaches me and surveys what's left of the control panel.

"So…" he begins, reaching a hand forward to remove some debris. The piece of blackened foam, once the inside of a seat, just crumbled in his hand. He raised a comical eyebrow at me and then brushed the remains away, leaning against the spot on the control panel where the pod release lever should have been. "You going to tell me what this is all about?"

It was my turn to raise a comical eyebrow; as if he didn't already know.

"I guess it was a shock to the system, huh?" I don't need to answer so I remain mute. Scott's astute enough to make his own conclusions. And they're almost always correct too. "You're having doubts?"

That part didn't surprise me. I'd expected him to have guessed that much.

"I did too, you're not the only one."

Now that DID surprise me. I couldn't stop myself looking up at him either, and expressing my shock.

"I don't think any of us truly realised what we were putting on the line until this week," Scott continued, he didn't look at me and I didn't dare look at him. "Suddenly realised you're not invincible, huh?"

"Do you ever wonder what you'd be doing if it weren't for International Rescue?" I find my voice and answer his question with a question. Scott's military trained and the diversion tactic wouldn't normally work. But it seems tonight he's prepared to let it slide.

"Yep," he sighs and leans back on the burnt control panel. It creaks, drawing both of our attentions, but it holds his weight. For now. "Probably piloting fighter jets in Nevada, still in the Air Force. Maybe got a promotion," he pulled a face. "Maybe got a wife, kids." He pauses to look at me, "Is it about the crash? Is that why you're having doubts?"

I shrug, unable to avoid the question any longer. "Maybe. I miss my old life, Scott." I confide. "I'm not sure if I can do this."

Scott nodded his head and, somehow, I felt as if he understood.

"That's how I felt too. After that first mission with the Fireflash and you..." he trailed off and something unfathomable crossed his face.

Something miserable and wretched.

"I was used to command but this was different, it's... not just weighing up risks and taking the appropriate action. It isn't the same as the Air Force, you guys are my brothers and it's my instinct to protect you. All of you." Scott paused again, and I could see in his eyes that he really did understand.

He'd had a crisis of commitment too.

This was a revelation to me, but in a way, it reassured me that all was not lost.

"Being out on that mission and watching the Fireflash land on top of you was probably one of the hardest things I've ever done." Scott paused to wipe away an invisible particle of soot from his leg. "All I could think about was the 'what ifs'. And believe me," he scoffed, "there were a lot of 'what ifs'."

"It's what we signed up for, Scott." I felt the need to reassure him, even though it was stating the obvious and there was clearly more to come. "We all know the risks."

Scott nodded, just as I'd expected him to. "I know. And I came to realise that too. It was just kind of hard for me and I guess it took me a while to accept that out there, I'm a Commander first and a brother second. All through my life, being a brother to you guys has come before anything else." He paused and I watched him swallow, a sense of sadness tinting his angular features. "If I let that happen in the Dangerzone, there wouldn't be an International Rescue."

There was a long silence and I think about what he's just said. He's right, of course he's right, and I carry on the conversation a little hesitantly. Scott is a soldier at heart and I'm not sure whether he'll understand my apprehension about dying. It's not cowardice. At least I don't think it is. "I'm not sure I'm ready to die yet."

Scott begins to laugh and I find myself frowning at him, almost annoyed that he's laughing at my inner most feelings.

"You're acting like it's a suicide mission." His grin falters. "Look, what happened with the Sentinel was a one-off." He reaches a hand out to my shoulder. The very same shoulder that my father had squeezed, an hour or so earlier. They're so alike, it's uncanny. "I know it's shaken you up, truth is it's shaken us all up but … Virgil, you can't live in the past. The whole idea of International Rescue is looking to the future." He sighs and after a brief squeeze removes his hand to run it over his face.

"I know," I shake my head, beginning to feel guilty about having such thoughts. "I just… I guess you're right, the crash has shaken me up, that's all. I didn't realise how close it was until I got down here, it made me think about things."

"Well," Scott pushed himself off the control panel and to his feet. "I guess we all have days like that. That's the main reason Dad and I didn't want you coming down here until you were ready."

I can hear the admonishment in his tone even though I know he's not angry with me and I offer him a tired smile that was almost apologetic.

"You look like hell," Scott comments, "go to bed." At first, I'm surprised that we haven't reached a conclusion as to whether I can continue this life but then I realise it was never an issue. Scott knew all along that I could never leave my brothers behind to face danger alone. He knows that this is what I was born for. Does that mean the pilot has won again?

"Come on," Scott nags before I have time to think about it, "move!"

I get the distinct impression it's an order and rise to my feet without much thought. I begin to follow him towards the elevator but find myself turning back, staring at the blackened cockpit around me and thinking about what to do.

It might have been a foregone conclusion for Scott, but there's still the odd doubt that niggles at me; the artist that vies for freedom in the artificial skin of a pilot. I should know by now that the pilot always wins. I set that precedent myself when I allowed it to happen all those years ago.

"Don't worry," Scott smiles at me. "We'll fix it, Virg ... together."

And do you know what? I believe him. Want to know why? Because, sometimes, it might not be easy doing the right thing but I know the end justifies the means.