This has been sitting around half-finished for years on my desktop. I have finally turned it into the story it was always meant to be, and I blame the people on Tracy Island Writers Forum and here for encouraging me. Thank you!
Massive thanks as always to mcj and freeflow for their beta-expertise. This would not make half as much sense without them. The mistakes that are left are mine.
Summary: A dangerous rescue has consequences for Virgil and Gordon that will take all of their courage to survive. In the end, though, surviving the rescue may have been the easy part.
"This room's clear too," Virgil reported.
Gordon hit the handheld scanner off a wall. "It still says there could be survivors here."
The room was definitely empty. It was one of the few they had come across that hadn't been damaged by the explosions. Desks and tables were still intact and experiments seemed to be in progress. The only sign that something had happened was the patina of dust that covered every surface. The same dust covered Virgil and Gordon's navy coveralls.
The chemicals in the factory were playing havoc with their scanning devices. Brains had reassured them that there was no sign of dangerous toxins, but the compounds were unstable. "It will make the scanners unreliable. And d...d...don't strike a match," he had recommended.
Virgil and Gordon had rescued fifteen scientists who had been trapped in the main laboratory after the explosion; a fairly simple matter of cutting through rubble to the huddled group. The scanner had then identified five areas as harbouring survivors. Each area had to be checked manually. It was tiring and dirty work without result. This was the last room to check, and it was as empty as the rest.
What made things worse was Scott behaving like a nervous parent. Normally he would let Virgil run the practical issues without too much interference. Today he called every three minutes for an update.
As if on cue, the radio burst into life. "Mobile Control to Thunderbird Two."
Virgil couldn't help sighing as he answered. "Go ahead."
"We've got a deteriorating weather situation here. You guys need to clear out asap."
"That's the last area confirmed clear, Scott. We're on our way. It should only take us 15 minutes to clear the structure."
"FAB." He sounded relieved. "I've picked up some seismic disturbance in your area."
"Great," Gordon muttered. "Earthquakes. All my favourite disasters rolled into one. Explosions in chemical factories, fires, malfunctioning equipment..." He emphasised the last point by hitting the scanner again.
"It seems to have settled for the moment," Scott said. He still sounded concerned.
"Scott," Virgil said seriously. "We're on our way. Stop worrying. We'll be out as soon as we can."
"We're always careful, aren't we Gordon," Virgil said in a deliberately light tone.
"That's what I'm afraid of. Mobile Control out."
They began to clamber over the rubble and equipment. Now that they didn't have to watch the scanner, they could make better time to the exit.
"Is there a reason he's being especially protective?" Gordon asked.
Virgil shrugged. "Alan would say it's his spidey-sense tingling. Let's just call it Scott's gut instinct and be extra careful."
"Sounds like a plan to me."
As they neared the exit they could hear the storm outside. What had been a threatening cloud-burst seemed closer to a hurricane now, so they put on an extra burst of speed. A flash of lightning lit the sky, followed closely by thunder. The ground rolled under their feet; one of Scott's seismic disturbances. Virgil and Gordon shared a look as the air crackled with static electricity.
They had only managed a few hundred yards before a rumbling echoed around them and through their feet.
"That's not thunder," Gordon said. He put his hand out to steady himself on the wall, but it was shaking as much as the floor.
Scott yelled over the radio, "Get out of there now! I'm getting seismic readings off the scale..."
The world vanished into chaos and dust. Then darkness.
Someone was shouting. He wished they wouldn't. He wanted to just have another five minutes before Scott got him up.
Actually, it didn't sound like Scott at all. Why would Gordon be waking him?
With an effort he cracked his eyes open, and met near darkness and dust filling the air. Reality and memory hit him. He began coughing, and hell, but it hurt! He felt rather than saw Gordon helping him. The steadying hands held him while the coughing settled. His head felt like explosion caught in freeze-frame.
He heard Scott in his ear, "Gordon, report!"
The dust was settling around them. Virgil could see flickering lights of small fires as his vision cleared. "You okay?" Gordon asked quietly.
"Yeah," Virgil said in a croaky whisper. "What happened?"
"Either Brain's unstable chemicals, or Scott's seismic disturbance. I don't know or care which."
Scott's voice was loud again. "Gordon, I'm coming down there."
Gordon's expression fell behind the mask of dust. "Scott," he said into the radio.
"Where the hell are you? What happened?"
"Hey, Scott, we're okay. We got a bit knocked about in that last explosion, but we're both back in the land of the living, aren't we, Virgil?"
"I'm fine now," Virgil answered. He touched his head gingerly to feel the lump beginning to develop.
"Are you hurt?" Scott demanded.
"Like Gordon said, just a bit knocked about. We're ready to go."
Gordon offered a hand and Virgil gladly took the assistance. His legs were steady enough and the fuzziness in his head was clearing. His shoulder started to hurt in earnest. It made him catch his breath, which caused Gordon to look even more panicked.
Virgil brushed him off. "It's okay. Let's go."
As they stumbled on, they could hear Scott reporting to their father. "I'm ready to go. There's a bit of damage to Thunderbird Two. She was closer to the explosion. I can't see much, but it looks like most of the damage on this side is superficial."
"Understood. What are the conditions?"
"Wind speed force 8 and rising. Visibility is about 5 metres. Thunderbird One won't be able to take-off if this gets any worse."
"Virgil?" Jeff asked.
Virgil and Gordon negotiated another obstacle. "Two will manage. She's heavier, and she can cope with the wind better than her little sister. No offence Scott."
"None taken. I'll wait until you're clear before I get under way."
"Don't be an idiot, Scott. We're almost there now. You should go."
"Virgil's right," Gordon agreed. "There is nothing here to wait for. You're the one always telling us not to take risks."
"I can wait."
Virgil had to shout to get his voice to carry over the building noise of the storm. "You need to get Thunderbird One out of here. We'll be after you in a minute."
"They're right," Jeff said. "There is no point putting Thunderbird One at risk. Thunderbird Two can manage the conditions better. Scott, get going now."
"Father, I don't like it," Scott protested.
"It's an order, Scott."
"Understood." He didn't sound pleased, but seconds later the sounds of take off were clear even with the storm.
Gordon was silent for a moment, then grinned and said, "I think we just told Scott what to do."
Virgil didn't have the energy to answer and walk. They still had at least ten minutes of climbing over rubble to get to the exit.
Somehow they managed to reach the doorway without any further mishap, although Virgil found himself relying on Gordon's assistance over the most awkward obstacles. His shoulder had settled into a sharp stabbing pain that took his breath away. It was with relief that he recognised the bulk of Thunderbird Two framed by the doorway.
"Home sweet home," Gordon said. "Or one step nearer in any case."
When they cleared the building, they could see the results of the explosion. All thoughts of pain were driven from Virgil's mind. He rounded on Gordon. "That is not a bit of damage."
Gordon didn't answer but stared at the green ship too. The ruined mess of Thunderbird Two's tail section loomed above them and pockmarks littered the ship's starboard side. The largest hole was the size of a laptop computer and there were so many that internal damage was inevitable. Steam came from one of the largest, and even in the rain the smell of jet fuel was heavy in the air.
They were in a lot of trouble, Virgil thought. The weather was getting worse, so they couldn't delay take-off. Seeing this much damage though, he wasn't even sure they would be able to get her off the ground. Their only alternative was to wait next to an industrial plant full of explosive chemicals that had already tried to rip the insides out of his 'bird. Added to that, his headache was nagging, and his fingers were numb. He tried not to think how much that could complicate piloting.
"I hate the rain," Gordon muttered as he pulled the collar of his navy raincoat up around his ears. "Although, now that she looks like a green colander we might not be any better inside."
Trust Gordon to come up with the jokes. It helped, though. Together, they stepped out of the wind and into the relative quiet of Thunderbird Two.
It was almost possible to imagine that there had not been any damage when they were inside. Despite Gordon's fear, no water was leaking into the ship. The pretence of relative harmony lasted until they reached the cockpit.
Every light on the control panel was lit either orange or red. A few weren't even on. Gordon swore. He may not have understood the intricacies of Thunderbird Two the way he did Thunderbird Four, but it was obvious that things were way past "a bit of damage".
Virgil took charge. "Patch me through to home and Scott," he instructed.
Gordon went to work. A relatively simple process was hampered by the shot out relays. Virgil had to ignore him. This was his baby, and he had to get her home. Working mostly with his right hand, he began coaxing power into the damaged system.
The communication panel flicked to life. "Base to Thunderbird Two." Jeff sounded undisturbed.
"We have..." Virgil paused, considering how to describe this, "a situation here."
"I need Brains to look at the data I'm sending you." Tersely, Virgil ran through the systems. "There's major structural damage to the hull and tail. Fuel cells are down to .25, I've lost auto-pilot and stabilisers, and the weather conditions are getting worse."
Gordon interrupted, "And tell Scott that this is not a bit of damage."
There was a pause on the radio, and Virgil filled it by diverting power down the least damaged wiring on the port side. Gordon began working on the take off protocol, flicking down those switches that could be discarded.
Finally, Jeff said. "Brains is working on the projections you've sent. Gordon, you'll have to tell Scott yourself when you get home. We can't contact him. We think the explosion must have shorted out his transmitter."
Virgil scowled even deeper. Any information in weather conditions like this would be helpful, especially as there was no chance that they could take her above the cloud cover, being unable to pressurise. He rubbed his shoulder absently, then rubbed his hands on the leg of his uniform. His fingers were sticky with blood that the dark jacket was hiding. That at least explained why it was hurting. He distracted himself by sending Gordon under the control to manually re-route one of the more stubborn systems. It was a two handed job that he didn't think he could manage himself. It gave Gordon something to do, too.
"I d...d...don't know if it can be d...d...done," Brains said eventually.
"I've made the repairs I can here and the lights are green. I think we can get her back," Virgil said. He ignored the orange and red lights that were still blinking. They weren't important systems anyway.
"Maybe you could just wait it out," Jeff suggested.
From under the controls, Gordon said, "Sure Dad. Let's wait beside the exploding industrial chemical factory in a ship that has more holes than a tennis net." As if to emphasise the point Thunderbird Two shifted under them as another explosion filled the air.
"It's your call, Virgil," Jeff said.
Gordon poked his head out. He shrugged.
"It's only going to get harder the longer we wait," Virgil said.
Gordon crawled out, and strapped himself in. Under his breath he muttered, "Thunderbirds are go..." as the engines gunned to life.