Weathering The Storm
Synopsis: When an unexpected storm shipwrecks a holidaying Jeff Tracy and three of his young sons, they're thrown into a situation far more dangerous and complex than anyone initially realises.
This story is a work of fan fiction based on the 1960s television series Thunderbirds, created by Gerry Anderson for ITC Entertainment. Characters and scenarios are used without permission and for the pleasure they provide, without any attempt to profit.
This is the Young Tracys story I always told myself I wouldn't write. Capturing the boys as children was an interesting challenge, certainly. For those who like to know such things before they start, and given the complexities of what might be considered 'canon' in Thunderbirds: I'm writing this in a TV-verse context, with nine years between thirteen-year-old Scott and four-year-old Alan, Virgil as second eldest and in one of the timelines where Lucille Tracy survives at least some of her youngest son's childhood. Apologies if any of those choices are not to my readers' tastes!
Many thanks to quiller for her helpful and thorough beta, and for pointing out why the geography of San Fernando didn't make sense. Any remaining mistakes are, of course, entirely my own. As always, I would very much welcome feedback – both positive and negative – it not only helps improve my skills as a writer, but might also inspire me to finish one of my other Thunderbirds stories. Please, anything, even a two word thumbs up or thumbs down, would be very gratefully received.
The rain tasted of salt, mingling with the icy spray that was freezing Scott's cheeks. The air and sky and sea seemed to have become one roaring, hungry beast. The whole world was made up of water, and Scott blinked hard, trying to see through the torrent bombarding his eyes and face.
"Swing it out, Scott!" His father's voice was a distant murmur of the wind, but even so he could hear the strain in it. Fear threatened to freeze Scott's limbs. For the sake of his brothers, he forced the emotion down deep inside and hauled on his rope. The emergency dinghy swung out over the turbulent water, waves striking it even before it was lowered from the deck.
"Hold it there!" The words were almost indistinguishable above the flap of torn sails and the creak of the rigging. Again, Scott reacted to his Dad's command instinctively, straining to tighten his grip on the rope and looping it around the anchor point on the deck rail. His hands remembered the knots before his brain did, the last two weeks on the Santa Anna, the lessons and drills from his father, paying off in this thundering, lightning-lit nightmare.
A movement caught his eye, picked out by the flickering light of the storm. He looked upwards along a deck that should have been horizontal and was anything but. The door to the cabin had opened, swinging wide as gravity caught it. Silhouetted against the light, Virgil wedged himself in the doorway, a white-faced Gordon held tight in his arms as they tried to remain steady on the tilting and tossing deck. Virgil had managed to get a life-jacket onto the younger child, Scott noted with relief, and had pulled one over his own head, although the straps meant to secure it hung loose from his waist.
Scott squinted through the pouring rain, barely able to make out the blurred form of his father at the other end of the deck. A dimly-seen arm waved. The gesture could have meant anything, and Jeff Tracy's words were swept away by the gusting wind, but Scott was pretty sure of his father's intention. He was a lot closer to his brothers than their Dad was. Leaving the dinghy hanging behind him, he fought his way toward the cabin, clinging to the rail and to the ropes his father had hastily rigged. There hadn't been much time for elaborate preparations when this squall blew in out of the clear evening sky.
Virgil lost his grip on the doorframe while Scott was still over a yard away, tossed by the rolling vessel. Scott held onto the deck rail one-handed, clinging for dear life – not his own, but two more precious to him. His other arm reached out blindly, and, as his brother had known he would, Virgil found it. Scott let out a sound halfway between a groan and a scream as he took the weight on aching muscles, hauling Virgil in, not resting until his younger brother was able to take his own one-handed grip on the rail next to Scott, Gordon held firmly between them.
All three were already soaked to the skin, and Gordon was shuddering violently as they worked their way down towards the half-deployed dinghy. Dad met them beside it, his own rope now firmly tied off. He swept the three of them into his arms, pulling them down into a tight huddle against the deck. He was shouting to be heard, and even with their heads together, their father's broad shoulders protecting them from the worst of the wind, they could barely hear him.
"The boat's sinking, boys!" he shouted, as if the pronounced list and the waves now lapping over the deck plates wasn't evidence enough. "This shouldn't be happening, but it is. I can tell you, your Uncle Jim is going to get a punch to the jaw when I see him next! He promised us fine weather all the way." Jeff Tracy's humour was forced: an attempt to reassure his sons that didn't fool the elder two and passed straight by the terrified youngest. Their father's voice turned deadly serious. "We're going to have to abandon ship! Gordon, Virgil, do what your brother and I tell you! Scott, I need you to get up into the dinghy and help your brothers aboard!"
There was no time for argument, and the remorseless pounding of the rain had driven any thought of it out of Scott's head. He broke the huddle. Clinging to the rope securing the prow of the dinghy, he stepped up onto the deck rail. He was dimly aware of his father holding tight to his ankles, his younger brothers clinging in turn to their only solid rock in this terrifying world. He shook off the hold on one foot, extending that leg and leaning forward until his weight tipped him into the shallow well of the lifeboat. Ropes were slung around the perimeter of the tiny craft, looping through reinforced anchor points in its thick plastic hull. He twisted one around his wrist, and held tight to the swaying boat. Running his other hand over his face, he swept his limp hair and the water streaming down it back from his face and cautiously poked his head above the walls of the dinghy. His father's terrified eyes met his immediately and softened into relief.
Conversation was impossible and words unnecessary. One arm still looped under the anchor ropes and spreading his feet wide to steady himself, Scott reached out. His father handed Gordon up to him as if the six-year-old was a mere baby. The small boy was rigid with terror, passive as he was handed from one protective embrace to another. Scott held him tight, pressing his brother's face against his soaking shirt and trying to still his shivers. There was no time for comfort now though. Dropping Gordon into the bottom of the boat, Scott stood astride him, holding his frightened little brother firmly between his calves. He reached out with his arms to pull Virgil aboard, the larger child stepping up onto the rail as Scott had, but needing both a boost from his father and the steadying hands of his eldest brother to make the leap up into the lifeboat. Virgil squeezed Scott's hand before dropping into the boat, both seeking comfort and giving it.
A wave, larger than any that had gone before, rocked yacht and lifeboat both. Virgil and Gordon both screamed. Scott dropped back into the boat, unbalanced and landing hard on his rear. Suddenly fully exposed to the wind and rain, Gordon scrambled up Scott's legs, throwing himself into his brother's arms. He clung to the little boy automatically, his eyes following Virgil instead as the eleven-year-old grabbed for the dinghy walls and managed to take a firm grasp on one of the ropes there.
They could hear Dad shouting, and there was a lurch as the front rope loosened. The deck of the lifeboat tilted at a newly crazy angle, its prow now angled sharply down towards the tossing waves. Gordon screamed again, and Scott scrambled for a hold, concentrating on keeping them in the boat. Another lurch and the stern dropped back through level and past it, throwing them forward before their father arrested the motion. He tied the stern line off once more, moving back to the first rope, having to let them down by stages, unable to manage the weight of dinghy and all three boys on one rope alone.
They were riding the turbulent waves now. The sailing yacht Santa Anna was sitting low in the draft, heavy with water flooding her lower decks. Virgil stood in the dinghy, his chest level with the yacht's deck rail, reaching out one hand to his father and calling for Jeff to jump. Scott scrambled to the port side of the lifeboat and towards the rear. One arm still held Gordon tight against him, the other hand fiddled with the rope securing the stern of the dinghy to the Santa Anna's deck, as he yelled at his father to take Virgil's hand and jump into the boat. His words were swept away by the wind and drowned by the rain and waves. Even so, Jeff Tracy moved to the front rope, taking the strain of it with a loop around his wrist and offering his other hand to Virgil.
Their father was nearly aboard when the yacht, the proud Santa Anna that had gleamed in the morning light and danced across the waves like a seabird, abruptly tilted, lurched, and broke up in a cloud of flying splinters and debris. Her boom, breaking free of its ropes, swung one final time across the yacht's breadth and past it, not far above the splintering deck. Kneeling in the stern of the lifeboat, Gordon held tightly to him, Scott could only watch in horror as it caught Virgil at chest-height, sweeping him out into thin air, and carrying him away with it as it tore free and vanished into the dark night. His father had vanished too, tumbling backwards into the wreckage. Terrified, shocked beyond coherence, Scott screamed for Virgil, for his Dad, for anyone. The rope securing the dinghy to the ship's rail was torn from his hand, dragged at speed down into the dark water. For a few seconds he thought the dinghy would follow it, and he closed his eyes, wrapping himself around Gordon, waiting for the pounding pressure, the darkness and pain, to surround them.
He counted to ten, twenty, before opening his eyes, confused and dazed to find the dinghy still bobbing on the surface, carrying Gordon and him further from the wreckage of the Santa Anna with each wave. He shouted again for his father and brother, unable to hear the words himself as the wind tore them from his throat. Scanning the dark water desperately, he squinted in the brief, jagged bursts of lightning, effectively blind between them. He shouted until his throat was raw, and then until he felt himself hyperventilating. He had no idea how much time passed before he blinked, realising that he could no longer see even the shards of the sunken vessel, only the walls of water that surrounded them and tossed them like a floating cork.
Waves were crashing around the dinghy and over it, drenching the two frightened children. Gordon was still clinging to his brother's chest. The boy's wracking sobs shook his body and sent a tremor into Scott's tear-tightened ribcage. Numbly, Scott held Gordon against him, whispering false reassurances that his little brother certainly couldn't hear but might just feel. Shifting so the small boy was secure in the narrow gap between Scott's body and the dinghy wall he was clinging to, Scott held on through the long, cold night.
The storm blew out with the dawn. Exhausted, cold and hurting, Virgil could scarcely believe it when he realised that the gusts were growing weaker, the waves less violent. He knew he was drifting in and out, but even so it seemed strange just how abruptly the sky went from angry darkness to a few wispy clouds in the grey dawn light.
His legs hung limp in the cold water, long since numb from the chill of it. His chest was an aching pit of misery, and he knew it didn't help that all his weight was thrown across it. He shifted without thinking and the ache exploded into a sharp pain that left him breathless. His grip on the wooden spar supporting him weakened and he slipped backwards, lower in the water. Desperation and terror overrode the pain and he pulled himself back up, leaning forwards once again across the boom that had knocked him into the water and was now all that kept him above it.
He remembered a glimpse of Scott's horrified expression, seeing the spar sweeping through the night towards him, and then the pain exploding in his chest as it struck. After that the night was confusing turbulence, broken into a series of scenes burnt crystal clear into his memory by the lightning flashes that illuminated them. He remembered not being able to breathe, his chest tightening in shock. He remembered the moment the water closed over his head, the instinctive breath he'd drawn past the pain and the sheer chance that meant he'd bobbed to the surface at that moment rather than sucked the choking water into his burning lungs. He didn't know how he'd found himself clinging to the same boom for dear life, his unsecured life-jacket floating in the water under his chin and behind him, threatening to slip over his head. He remembered fiddling with the ties one-handed, and then forgetting about them entirely as his fingers brushed a limp form in the water.
His father must have dived after him, there was no other explanation for how he'd ended up drifting so close, but the flashing light was enough to show Virgil red streaks and dark bruises on Jeff Tracy's pale face. He wasn't sure how he'd got the tall man up and across the boom, hauling the unconscious figure towards him, and ending up rolling with the boom, water closing over his head as his motion carried him beneath it. A raw determination to survive had driven him back to the surface and he'd found himself thrown against the now-laden boom, floating in the water beside it, clinging to it and to his father, trying to keep the taller man's head out of the water. He cried with his desperate hope that the slight rise and fall of his father's chest that he glimpsed in the flashes of light was real rather than merely a child's fantasy. That hope had carried him through the night.
A moment of panic assailed him now and he glanced to his right, not breathing until he saw his father still slumped across the twelve-inch thick wooden log. He'd been worried that his movement might have rolled the boom, slipping his father back into the deep water, or just plunging his face below its surface. He'd been lucky, and he reached out cautiously, stroking a few strands of hair back from Dad's bruised forehead, able for the first time to see the blood seeping sluggishly from a wound above his hairline. Virgil winced, swallowing past the salt-dry ache in his throat. Dad hadn't moved through the long hours of the storm and that wasn't good. Virgil needed to find him help. He looked around him in the ever-growing light, trying to make out any shapes on the horizon that might offer help and comfort. Somewhere out there, Scott and Gordon had the dinghy; surely they couldn't be too far away? Virgil scanned in every direction, twisting painfully to see behind him. Featureless water surrounded him, flat and empty as far as the eye could see. He slumped against the boom, disappointment and desperation making him shake. Inching cautiously along it, he rested first a hand and then a tear-stained cheek on Dad's back. For the first time, with the fury of the storm expended and the silence of the open water ringing in his ears, he could hear the slow, steady thud of his father's heartbeat.
Relieved tears mingled with the sea-water soaking Jeff's back. The boom bobbed through the now-gentle surface waves and Virgil clung to it, frightened and feeling very alone with only his Dad's unconscious body for company.
Auguste Villacana was a tall man. He exuded an air of confidence and a pleasant façade that almost hid the cold steel beneath. He considered outward displays of strong emotion a failing on his part, keeping his voice calm and his expression no more than slightly interested regardless of whether he was commenting on a picture in the local art gallery, or orchestrating a straying servant's excruciatingly slow torture.
He stood on the gunwale of his hundred-foot motor yacht, his dark-blonde hair rippled by the slipstream. Behind him, in the wheelhouse, he could hear his captain ordering a new course, following Villacana's instruction to take him into the heart of the target zone. They'd left the sheltered harbour on San Fernando at noon, the streamlined hull of the motorboat cutting through the last few choppy waves drifting in from the storm. A storm that had raged on the horizon through the long night, its outer fringes pelting the plate-glass windows of his home with near-horizontal rain. A storm whose beginning and end, whose centre and size, Villacana himself had dictated.
His feet firmly planted on the deck, Villacana raised his face to the wind, breathing in the ozone-tainted breeze and with it the intoxicating scent of power. A mass of seaweed drifted past, the thick, heavy strands torn from the ocean bed by the storm's fury. Already Villacana had seen the limp forms of drowned seabirds, and the thick muddy colour of the water, mute testimony of the power that was his at the flick of a switch. His four-man crew had looked at the debris with frightened eyes and crossed themselves, clinging to their superstitions and offering a sacrifice of weak lager to the turbulent water as soon as San Fernando faded from view behind them. His captain thought him mad for wanting to set to sea mere hours after witnessing the force of the sea god's anger. Islander peasants, one and all. Fools. They didn't suspect that the deity they feared was standing on the deck, watching their petty ritual with contempt. Villacana played with the thought of calling the storm again, sending these men to the watery grave they feared. He dismissed the thought with no more than a flash of irritation across his face. Such a paltry pleasure was not worth the cost of the yacht, and certainly inconsequential beside his own presence on the water.
Coming out here was an indulgence, he knew, but hardly a dangerous one. His watching crewmen didn't suspect that he'd ventured out to inspect the results of his own test. No one, not even the controllers he had usurped, could trace this back to him or suspect what was yet to come. Standing in the afternoon sun, eyes scanning the now-tranquil surface of the water, Villacana revelled in his unique knowledge, the memory of the storm that had gone, and the thought of those yet to come.
A man shouted, shattering his quiet reverie, and Villacana turned towards the sailor standing lookout in the prow. The captain had set him there to watch for large debris, a precaution rather typical of the over-cautious man. Stepping from the port side of the boat to the starboard, Villacana followed the man's pointing arm. His forehead creased in a slight frown as his eyes scanned towards the horizon, the only manifestation of his inward cursing.
Villacana raised an imperious hand, summoning his yacht's captain to his side. "Sail on," he ordered briskly.
He half-expected the man's frown, and the shake of his head. Even the flash of anger in Villacana's eyes didn't sway the man, although the rest of his crew shied away.
"Sir, I'm sorry," he said apologetically. "It's a shipwreck, sir. Recent. We're obliged to stop. I have no choice."
Villacana considered forcing the point, and let it go with a slight inclination of his head and no sign of the fury he buried deep inside. Now wasn't the time to teach the newest of his employees obedience. There would be time for that back on San Fernando, and besides, a wrecked boat out here was not a feature of Villacana's plan. Any such deviation needed investigation more urgently than he needed to assert his authority.
The motorboat slowed as she approached, settling to wallow more lugubriously through the waves. Debris bounced off her hull with sharp pings. Only shards of fibreglass and splintered wooden-decking littered the water, but the few remains were enough to indicate the size and shape of the vessel they had come from. She had hardly been a big ship, but she was no dinghy either. A pleasure boat, like Villacana's own? Some rich man's folly, or perhaps a family's pride and joy. Whatever it was, she was gone now, torn to shreds by the storm's fury. The bulk of her had vanished beneath the waves, leaving only this trail of litter to mar the smooth ocean.
Villacana's internal stream of profanity crescendoed. This was no local fishing rig. The sunken vessel came from a world of affluence and power far from the quiet island state where she had met her fate. He felt no grief, no pang of compunction about the lives he'd sacrificed to his ambition. He only felt anger and frustration. A vessel like this would be missed. It would draw in search planes like hornets, and petty officials would swarm across the islands in a futile hunt. That could ruin everything, and Villacana couldn't risk that, not now.
"Man in the water!"
The relief he felt when another crewman cried out, pointing to a floating, huddled shape bobbing on the waves, had nothing to do with the life of the pale-skinned man they pulled aboard, or even the shivering, semi-conscious child that seemed to be tangled around him and the wooden spar that had saved them. He watched with cold eyes as one of his crewmen wrapped the boy in a blanket, cutting through the cords tying his life-jacket to the sunken ship's boom. He turned away before finding out whether the adult was alive or dead; it made little difference.
"Full speed to Dominga," he snapped at his captain,
The man blinked at him, still lost in the tragedy of the sunken ship. It took him several seconds to protest. The state capital on the island of Dominga was well over two hundred miles away, far from the closest port.
Villacana forced a serpent's smile onto his lips. "They need help. Dominga has the best medical facilities. Set course, captain."
The fool finally responded, more to the shiver of anger in Villacana's voice than to his words. He started shouting orders to the men, and Villacana was satisfied to feel the engine throb to life below his feet, and the boat begin to turn across the wind. He strode past the wheelhouse, following the two sailors carrying the shipwrecked man and his young companion – a son perhaps? – below decks. The boy had long-since passed out, deeply unconscious. The man, tall, dark-haired and well-muscled, stirred when they laid him on one of the crew's beds, his head tossing as he began to mutter meaningless names. He was still alive, Villacana realised with a certain irritation. Still, no need for that to be a problem, provided he could be kept quiet.
Villacana ordered his crew out of the room before calmly loosening the clamp that held a desk-lamp to the bed-frame. Hefting the heavy base in his hands, he swung it calmly and with precision, feeling no shame or guilt as he brought it crashing down on the man's left temple. To his satisfaction, the tension drained from the dripping man's body, and it slumped limply back against the thin mattress.
Nodding to himself, Villacana left the cabin and headed towards the engine room. Already the programmes and hardware he needed were running through his mind. He'd have to get the timing right, giving his yacht 'engine trouble' as soon as they came across one of the fishing vessels that littered these waters. The boat would be 'forced' to turn to home, leaving the fishermen to carry their passengers into Dominga, together with a healthy bribe and a story that placed their rescue a hundred miles to the east rather than twice that southwards of the capital island. Unconscious, neither man nor boy would remember the large motor-yacht that had pulled them from the water, or the time it took them to reach shore. With luck, their miraculous survival would be enough to call off any search. Even if it wasn't, the fishermen's story would send the helicopters and coastguard vessels far afield, leaving San Fernando and its secrets unmolested.
Villacana slipped into the engine room, easily evading the one bored crewman who would rather be joining the excitement on deck than stuck down here. Finding a corner, he fell back on the skills that had made him rich, and ultimately given him the power of a god. No one and nothing, least of all a waterlogged tourist and his brat, were going to stand in the way of his apotheosis.