Chapter 1: Broken Marionettes

International Rescue had never failed before.

Oddly enough it was that thought, not feelings of fear or personal peril, that raced through Virgil Tracy's head as ten levels of underground parking and subflooring caved in on them. The fear—as well as pain—came later, after the horrible noise had subsided and things had stopped falling down on top of them.

He lay stunned for a time, reeling from the sensory onslaught, lights flashing behind his eyes from the noise and the impact. Finally his brain cleared enough to process the pain. There was so much of it he was surprised he hadn't felt it right away. Shock, he told himself. He had to get hold of himself. But everything hurt. His head hurt, his legs hurt, his left side particularly hurt, and it hurt to breathe. A lot. In fact, there was apparently something heavy lying across his chest. Probably the building that had stood above them until moments ago, he told himself giddily, struggling to breath.

Shock. Going into shock. With a supreme effort, he took a deep breath, whimpering at the end because it caused a tearing pain in his abdomen to do so. He forced his mind away from that and focused on the rest of his body. There was nothing on his face, so he could breathe. It was dark, so he had no idea how much space (and therefore air) he had. His left arm and shoulder were completely pinned. His right arm, though, had a little movement. He could wiggle his fingers. He could feel something with them, too. Felt soft…hair.

"Scott!" he gasped, then coughed and lay gasping as he waited for the pain to subside. "Scott," he said again, more softly. "Scott, can you hear me?" He moved his fingers through his brother's hair, noting damp places that were probably blood. He couldn't move enough to get his fingers to reach his brother's neck, but he could reach a temple, and was relieved to feel a pulse beating steadily there. So, his brother was alive. He was alive. That was good.

He wore his communicator on his left wrist, which was unfortunately attached to his left arm. That was bad. His left warm wasn't with him at the moment. It was trapped in the rubble. Judging from the pain it was still attached, but that was about all he could say for it. He thought about shouting for help, hoping that International Rescue could hear him though the rubble, but that wouldn't work without the device being activated first. Looked like it was up to Scott. And he was apparently unconscious.

"Scott," he tried again. "Please wake up." There was no response. He had been hoping for one. He wasn't used to this. Every rescue (every other rescue) he had been on, his brother was there coordinating it, telling him what he should be doing and where he should be going. He had never considered himself a particularly indecisive person, but it had been nice, especially in an emergency when time was of the essence, to have someone there to direct his activities. And, he admitted to himself, he had gotten accustomed to it.

He had also never considered himself a particularly claustrophobic person, but he was having a hard time fighting down the icy fingers of panic. He was buried under tons of rubble. Probably the whole building had collapsed on top of them, almost guaranteeing the people they were trying to rescue were dead. And the rest of his team was too far away (and unaware) to do anything. What a stupid way to carry out a rescue.

He felt horrible about the people they had been trying to save. Five people, one of them a child, trapped in a subterranean parking garage by an earthquake. Waiting for a rescue they knew would come, because International Rescue always came. They always saved the day. Well, not this time. They couldn't even save themselves. The aftershock had been tiny, but it had been enough to dislodge what was left of the unstable building.

He and Scott had been trying to reach the parking garage though old, old subway tunnels, after having deemed using the Mole too risky. The area was too unstable, and the Mole would have shaken it down on top of the very people they were trying to save. So they had maneuvered the Hover Jets down through the tunnels, hoping that they could clear enough debris that they could get the people out before the whole thing collapsed.

Clearly, that plan hadn't worked. Virgil wished they had gone with the Mole. Partly this was because it may have worked, saving the victims, but mostly it was because if they HAD used the Mole, it would have been just Virgil piloting, and Scott would have been safely up above, not trapped down here with who knew what brain injury. Unconscious or worse. Virgil pressed his hand against Scott's temple again to reassure himself of the pulse. It was still there.

Time passed. Virgil had no idea how much. He figured that eventually, probably in only ten or twenty minutes, International Rescue would call for a progress report. When they didn't hear anything they would get worried. But with Thunderbirds 1 and 2 already out, what would they use to get to the danger zone?

Thunderbird 3, obviously. Just because it was made for space didn't mean that it couldn't travel inside the atmosphere. He just hoped that they would come soon. "Scott, please wake up," he said, and realized that he was repeating himself. He had been saying that over and over while he waited. His voice was sounding increasingly desperate, though. And as before, Scott didn't wake up. Virgil squeezed his eyes shut. He had to hold it together and figure something out.

"Mobile Control from International Rescue." Virgil jumped at the sudden voice so close, causing agony to shoot across his chest, torso, and arm. He lay still with teeth gritted, listening to the sound of his brother John's voice in the space station. "Come in Mobile Control. Scott, are you there?"

Of course, the sound was coming from wherever Virgil's wrist was, buried in the rubble (but still attached; that was important). They were finally trying to make contact. "We're right here," he muttered uselessly.

"Virgil," John persisted. "Scott? Are either of you there?"

Virgil noticed that he could hear the voice from two places. Ah-ha. He had located his brother's wrist. It was too far away for him to reach. If only Scott would just wake up.

As if in response to Virgil's plea (but more likely in response to the hail from Thunderbird 5) Scott moaned. "J-John?"

"Scott!" Virgil exclaimed in relief. He groaned as the exclamation caused pain to stab through his chest. Definitely some broken ribs. He hoped it was only broken ribs. "Scott," he said more softly. "Can you reach your communicator?"

"Virgil?" Scott asked fuzzily. "What's…aahhh…" he finished, apparently trying to move and causing something to hurt.

"Scott, are you ok?" Virgil asked before he could stop himself. It was stupid, cliché, and obviously not true, but it was still the thing to ask your brother when you thought he was going to die.

"Virgil, I'm—my leg, I think," Scott said, sounding a little better.

"Come in, anybody," John said, sounding slightly desperate.

"Scott, can you reach your wrist communicator?" Virgil asked desperately.

"Oh," Scott said. The hair moved a little away from Virgil's fingers, then, "John, this is Scott."

Virgil felt enormously relieved. Maybe they wouldn't die after all. "Are you ok? Is Virgil ok?" John demanded, sounding as relieved as Virgil felt.

"We didn't make it," Scott reported. "We got…maybe halfway through the tunnels when an aftershock made the whole place come down."

"Oh my God, the people trapped—" John started to say.

"I can't imagine how they would have made it," Scott said, sounding sick. "They were directly under the high-rise. They would have been crushed. But, look—there might be a chance. You've got to get someone here to try to go in with the Mole."

"What about you and Virgil?"

"We're trapped. Virgil? You said something before, didn't you?" He added, sounding suddenly alarmed. "You there, Virgil?"

"I'm here, Scott," Virgil said softly, wiggling his fingers in his brother's hair.

"Are you two hurt?" John asked.

"I'm pretty sure my leg is broken," Scott said. "Otherwise—"

"You were unconscious," Virgil told him.

"What? Oh. John, Virgil said I was unconscious for—how long has it been since we last contacted you?"

"Twenty minutes," John said.

"Ok, for about fifteen minutes. What about you, Virg? You ok?"

Virgil didn't even know where to start. "No, Scott, I'm not," he said finally, punctuating it with a cough and a moan at the pain the cough caused.

"Virgil's hurt pretty badly," Scott told John, sounding worried. "John?" he asked when a reply wasn't immediately forthcoming.

"I was reporting to Father on another frequency," John said. "Alan and Gordon are on their way. Just hang in there."

"They need to see if the people are still alive," Virgil said.

"Ok, John," Scott said. "Better contact the people topside and make sure their medical personnel haven't given up and gone away. Have Alan and Gordon contact us when they get here and we can plan this thing after they see what it looks like up there. Oh, and send Brains. He may have some ideas."

Virgil was amazed at how calmly Scott was handling all this. Well, that ability was why he was the field commander. But still, here he was directing a rescue while trapped underneath a whole lot of rubble. "Do you think they still have a chance?" Virgil asked.

"Yeah, I do," Scott said. "We're still here, aren't we?"

That was true. "We were protected by the subway tunnel," he pointed out.

"And they're protected by the parking garage. When Alan and Gordon get here they should be able to see if anyone's still alive down there. Meanwhile, Virgil, how bad is it?"

"Well, we're trapped under—"

"I meant your injuries, Virgil!"

Virgil was a bit taken aback at the tone, before he realized Scott was much more worried than he was letting on. Virgil debated sparing his brother any more worry, but there was no way he was going to suffer in silence anymore. "It's bad," he said. "It feels like the whole thing's on top of my chest and arm."

"Can you breath ok?"

"It…it hurts, but yeah."

"Broken bones?" Scott asked gently.

"Tons," Virgil said, then thought about that for a bit. "Sorry, Scott. I'm in shock and I'm not thinking too clearly at the moment. I'm sure I have broken ribs. I can't tell about anything else. There's…" he broke off to cough again, convulsively tightening his hand into a fist.

Scott gasped as Virgil grabbed his hair and pulled. "Virg, just hang on," he said. "They'll be here soon."

"I know," Virgil said. "Just…hurts to breathe."

"I know," Scott said. Virgil felt a hand against his and realized that Scott really did have the roomier part of the rubble heap. He gratefully gripped his brothers fingers. "I'm glad you woke up," he said.

"I'm sorry," Scott said.

"For waking up, or are you apologizing for being unconscious?" Virgil demanded, triggering another agonizing coughing fit.

"You need to stop talking," Scott told him when it was over and he could breathe again. "And I was being sympathetic. It must have sucked to be alone down here."

"Yes," Virgil agreed, then fell silent. Scott was right. He shouldn't talk any more than necessary.

Scott, on the other hand, had no such talking-related injuries. To Virgil's relief he kept talking, outlining his idea for orchestrating a rescue, starting with using infrared to try and detect anyone living. If that failed, then they would send the Mole to where the people had been, on the assumption that if they were still alive, it was the only hope of getting them out now, even with the high risk of causing further collapse. Of course, that was dependent on the whole building having come down, but Scott assumed this was the case, and Virgil agreed. Then after saving the people—if there were people to be saved—the Mole would come and save the trapped Tracy brothers.

"We'll be crushed," Virgil put in at this point. "They don't know where exactly we are. We're likely to get the Mole right on top of us."

Scott sighed impatiently, although Virgil knew it wasn't directed at him. It was just the helplessness of the situation. "Do you have any other ideas?" he asked finally.

"No," Virgil said. "Brains might."

"Yeah," Scott agreed.

"International Rescue and Scott from Thunderbird 3," they heard Alan say. "We have reached the danger zone."

"How's it look?" both Scott and John asked immediately.

"Scott, how're you and Virgil doing?" Alan asked in lieu of a response. "Father wanted to ask that, but apparently he can't get through. Neither could we until we got this close."

It was lucky that Thunderbird 5 had such strong equipment, Virgil reflected.

"We're still here," Scott said. "How does it look up there?"

"The whole building has collapsed. The area's kind of…sunken," Alan reported.

"Where ex-exactly are you located?" Brains asked.

"We are almost halfway between where Thunderbird 2 is parked and the—where the building used to be," Scott told him. "A little closer to the building, I think." That reply was greeted with silence. "Hello?" he asked when no reply was forthcoming.

"That whole area's collapsed," Alan said, voice strained. "It's several stories lower than street level. "You're beneath that?"

"Get hold of yourself," Scott admonished. "We're o—we're alive," he corrected himself, giving Virgil's hand a little squeeze. "See about the people under the building."

"Ok, Scott," Alan said, sounding tense. "Stand by."

"How're you doing, Virg?" Scott asked as soon as Alan cut the connection.

"I'm…surviving," Virgil said. In truth he was starting to hurt less, which scared him. It could mean advanced shock. It could mean he was bleeding out. It could mean he was dying. He tried to focus on something else. "How're you?"

"My leg hurts like Hell," Scott said. "But I'm feeling ok otherwise."

"Your head is bleeding," Virgil said, patting a sticky place.

"Minor," Scott said dismissively, gently but firmly pulling Virgil's hand away from the blood and gripping it more firmly. "I'll have a headache for a while, is all. Virgil, we will get out of this."

"I know," Virgil said, and tried to sound as if he meant it. "How much air do you think we have?"

Scott let go of his hand, causing him to clutch reflexively at his brother's hair. The hand was returned momentarily, though. "Well," Scott said, ignoring Virgil's weakness and gripping his hand firmly again, "I can feel a beam of some sort above me, just about at arm's reach. My legs seem to have something on them, but not my torso. No clue how far up the ceiling is there, though. I can feel rubble at both sides. It's a fairly small pocket. But we don't know if there's a channel where fresh air can come in," he hastily added.

"Air's pretty still," Virgil said. "And I have a lot less room around me than you. There's a…beam or something on my chest, stomach, and shoulder. Nothing on my face. But I don't have an arm free to feel up above me like you do."

"We'll get out of this," Scott said again.

"Scott? B-Brains here." He didn't sound happy. Virgil's heart sank.

"Go ahead, Brains."

"W-well, we don't detect much heat from the garage. B-but there's an air pocket. Not a very big one, but...Gordon is taking the Mole in for a closer look."

"Let us know immediately if anything around you starts to shift," Alan put in.

"Will do," Scott said. He then related the information about clearance around them and beams on top of them. Virgil realized that would be useful information in the eventuality that the Mole could be brought in close. He would hate it if they parked right on the other end of the beam on his chest, for example. He gripped Scott's hand a little tighter, felt the grip returned.

They waited. They could hear distant digging noises from the Mole, but the rubble around them seemed pretty stable, and it didn't even shift enough to sift down dust. Virgil was starting to feel cold and disconnected. "Hey," he said, voice sounding far away. "Do you remember that time when Gordon was five…" he broke off to cough. "When he ran his float trike into the dishes?"

"Brought the whole thing crashing down," Scott said, laughing. "Broken dishes everywhere! What a mess! Father was furious."

"And now he's above us in the Mole," Virgil concluded with a chuckle. It was the closest he could come to a laugh.

Scott laughed too, then sobered. "Yeah, but he's come a long way."

"Since he was five? Yeah," Virgil said. It seemed to be getting harder to breathe. "I think we're running out of air."

"It's a little thin," Scott agreed reluctantly. "But we can make it."

"Mole to mobile control and Scott," Gordon's voice came, interrupting them.

"Mobile control," Alan returned immediately.

"Mission successful," Gordon said so matter-of-factly that it took a moment for it to sink in.

"They're ok?" Scott demanded.

"They're all alive," Gordon confirmed, a grin evident in his voice. "They're weak. There are some injuries, but—"

"But we're alive," came an unfamiliar voice, and Virgil had a mental image of five very relieved people stuffed into the Mole behind Gordon.

"As soon as I get these folks to the surface, I'm coming to get you and Virgil, Scott," Gordon said.

"That's fine, Gordon," Scott said. "Great job!"

"Thanks," Gordon said humbly.

"What, precisely, is your plan of attack?" Scott asked just as Virgil had a flash of the Mole coming to rescue them only to slice them into lunch meat.

"I'm going to tunnel beneath you," Gordon said. "Free up some space."

"The area's probably pretty unstable," Scott said. "That could bring us down, and it could shift the rubble above us into a…less pleasant configuration." He added the last delicately, probably thinking about the beam on Virgil's chest. Virgil knew he certainly was at the moment.

"I know," Gordon said grimly. "But if I come straight at you…I don't know exactly where you are."

"What if you came in beside us, maybe ran some supports above us to stabilize the rubble?" Scott asked.

"W-wait," Brains said. "We may be able to detect where you are using the infrared."

"Don't you need to be right next to us to do that?" Scott said.

"Y-yes, and we know the rubble's right on top of you," Brains said. "We can't drive over you. But we can fly it over in Thunderbird 2."

"Good, do it," Scott said. "If you can pinpoint our location, Gordon can take the Mole right up next to us."

"And then back out, leaving a tunnel!" Gordon said, catching on. "That should work."

"J-just be mindful of shifting rubble," Brains warned.

"I concur," Virgil muttered. Scott squeezed his hand again.

They waited tensely while the Mole was unloaded and Brains did his scans. Luck was with them (finally), because he was able to pinpoint where they were trapped. Virgil was glad, although he was caring less and less as breathing became harder and harder. He listened through the ringing in his ears as the distant (but intimately familiar) sound of Thunderbird 2 faded to be replaced with the sound of the Mole digging towards them. Now the rubble did begin to shift, slowly at first, from the vibrations of the machine. Suddenly the Mole's cutting blades hit the beam pinning Virgil's shoulder and chest. Agony like had never felt before lanced through his body, and he blacked out.

oOo

Author's note: I haven't yet watched the entire series, so I don't know if some of the issues addressed in this story are addressed there. If so, and my work contradicts this, then you can just consider this story AU.

Further Author's note: I am borrowing very little from the 2004 live-action movie version of Thunderbirds (basically, just the importance of the command center). For the most part, for the purposes of this story, that movie didn't exist.