A tight spot
This story was written for the TIWF 'Clue' Challenge. The challenge was to write a story using one character and one piece of equipment from the series, and a setting chosen from a pre-set list.
My response comes from a conversation I had recently with Sam, so you can blame her for stimulating the muse into action. Thanks to Purupuss and Cathrl for proofreading and encouragement.
None of the characters are mine.
Virgil hummed to himself as Thunderbird Two droned through the skies. Much as he loved his craft, he had to admit that he didn't often get the chance to enjoy her. Either he was trying to coax every ounce of speed from his lady on the way to the danger zone (and even then Scott would still be trying to get him to arrive sooner) or he was flying home too tired to really appreciate her.
But today he had only been halfway to the rescue of some miners trapped in a South African diamond mine when Scott had called; the trapped men had managed to make their way out through another shaft, and so International Rescue's services were not needed. Virgil had turned his craft around and was heading for home. The tune that had come to him during the flight would be ideal for Grandma's birthday celebration next month, and he was looking forward to trying it out on the keyboard in his quarters.
A gust of wind rocked the plane and Virgil corrected without thinking, but another one from a different direction was accompanied by a flash in the skies to his left. Virgil frowned. The sun had not yet risen in this part of the world, but up till now he had been flying through clear skies and was not expecting any turbulence that could disturb a craft of his size. Now the cloud was thickening ahead and he saw more flashes, which seemed to have a blue tinge to the light.
He steadied the craft with one hand, while thumbing the switch on the radio with the other.
"Thunderbird Two to Thunderbird Five, come in please."
John's face appeared on the monitor. "Thunderbird Five, what can I do for you, Virgil?"
"I'm experiencing a lot of turbulence here. Can you see what's causing it and find me some clear air?"
John's face frowned from the screen. "That's odd; the weather patterns over the Indian Ocean were stable last time I looked."
The giant aeroplane bucked again and Virgil found he needed both hands to steady it. "Well, they're anything but stable now, and I'm seeing odd flashes of light."
"Lightning?" John's voice was becoming distorted by interference.
Virgil shook his head. "No, wrong colour for that. These were blue – and there's an orange one just now. Could it be an auroral display?"
"….ong tim of ye…". Virgil could hardly hear his brother's words now. A crackling sound made him look out of Thunderbird Two's side window, and what he saw alarmed him.
"John!" he yelled. "I don't know if you can hear me now. I've got St Elmo's Fire on the wings; it's playing havoc with the instruments. I've going to try losing some height to see if I can get underneath whatever's causing it."
He pushed the control yoke forward but even as the nose of his plane began to point down, the clouds ahead seemed to be forming into a tunnel, as if trying to suck him in.
A giant hand slammed his machine sideways, knocking him into the vortex as a searing flash filled the cockpit, then….
Virgil shook his head, disorientated by the sudden change in scene. He relaxed his death grip on the control yoke, taking deep breaths to steady his pounding heart as he looked around him in the half glow of the cockpit lights. Outside was total blackness. His machine, as far as he could tell, was at rest; the engines powered down. If he listened carefully he could hear the faint clicks and creaks that his craft always made after he had returned from a flight and shut down in the hangar; sounds that he always likened to a great bird settling down to roost for the night. (Not that he would ever mention such a fanciful notion to any of his brothers). Had he managed to land his 'bird and then blacked out? But how – and more important – where? Last time he checked he had been flying over the open sea.
He reached for the radio. "Thunderbird Two calling Thunderbird Five; can you read me, John?"
"Thunderbird Two to Base, come in please."
The only response was a hiss of static from the speakers.
Virgil raised his arm and spoke into his wristcomm. "Calling International Rescue; can anyone hear me?"
The watch face remained grey, indicating that it was not in contact with the IR network.
"Hi there! Can you hear me?" The voice made him jump. It wasn't coming from the radio, but seemed to come out of nowhere. "Are you OK down there?" The speaker was male, with an American accent and spoke in a friendly tone.
"Who are you?" Virgil had to make a conscious effort to keep the note of panic out of his voice. "What happened? Where am I?"
There was a pause and Virgil could hear a muted discussion at the other end, then the voice spoke again. "It's probably easier if you come up here and we can explain things to you. Hang on, let me get you some light."
There was a pause, then Virgil heard the sound of water pattering against the windshield of his plane.
"Er no, that was the sprinkler system. Ah, I think this is the one."
A pale grey light filled the cockpit, and Virgil found himself staring at a wall only a few feet from the nose of his craft.
The voice came again. "You'll find a door about halfway down the side wall, just under your port wing. We'll see you in a few minutes."
The young pilot pondered his options. If Thunderbird Two had been seized by some hostile force, then he was safe as long as he remained inside his craft, and could even withstand a siege for quite some time with the supplies he had on board. However, if he was to escape he needed to know more about where he was, and could only find out by venturing outside.
There were a few precautions he could take first. He used Two's scanners to make a careful sweep of the area around his ship, but could see no heat sources that would indicate any signs of life, hostile or otherwise. Next he made sure all the controls were locked down and password-protected, then as a final precaution he fished in his pocket and unwrapped his edible transmitter. As he popped it into his mouth and began to chew he pulled a face; why on Earth had he asked Brains for banana flavour?
Virgil left his craft, locking the exit and sealing it with his palm print. Curiosity drew him to the wall in front of his craft. The wall was made of large, cut blocks of stone, and his footsteps echoed across a floor paved in a similar manner. The whole place made him think of one of the great mediaeval cathedrals he had seen in Europe. He reached out and touched the wall, running his hand across the rough surface. He expected it to feel cold but to his surprise the blocks felt slightly warm. Looking up, he could see less than a yard between Thunderbird Two's nose and the stone surface. He tipped his head further back, but if there was any ceiling above him it was lost in the grey haze. He turned and walked down the side of his craft. The port wing was only a few feet from the wall, and looking past it he could see the tail of the great ship was close against another barrier of stone blocks. However his 'bird had got in here, it would take more than his flying skills to get it out.
His mind a whirl of questions, Virgil found himself looking at an ordinary wooden door, painted a garish shade of yellow. He turned the brass knob and the door opened to reveal a flight of stone steps leading upwards.
After about fifty steps he was nearing the top, and could hear the hum of machinery through the walls. The stairs ended in a short landing, with another door at the far end. Virgil paused to slip his gun from its holster and attach the yellow barrel containing the gas pellets. If the people on the other side of that door were hostile he might only get one shot.
He opened the door a crack and peered through. The room on the other side was hemispherical in shape, with circular lights dotting the walls. Three figures were clustered in a hive of activity round a central console. From the middle of the console a lighted column rose and fell, accompanied by a throbbing, droning noise. To Virgil, as an engineer and a musician, it sounded like some major bearing was about to give way.
His attention was drawn to a set of double doors, a short distance round the room from his current position. Could this be the way out? He looked again at the figures. They were all intent on what they were doing; there was a good chance he could reach the doors before he was noticed and make his escape. Maybe once he was outside he would be able to contact base and return for his ship later.
Virgil had almost reached the door when a man's voice called out, "Hold on a minute!" He froze at the unfamiliar voice, glancing back over his shoulder to a man in a black leather jacket who had turned to face him. There was a final groan and shudder from the machinery then the man waved him forward. "It's OK now. But be careful – there wasn't much room and we're pretty near the edge."
Confused as to why his captors seemed so willing to let him go, Virgil took two steps through the door then stopped, his hands grasping the metal railing in front of him as he fought down a wave of dizziness. As a pilot, he wasn't prone to vertigo, but to suddenly find yourself several hundred feet up overlooking a city would take anyone's breath away. The wind whipped through his hair as he took a series of deep breaths.
Once he had recovered from the initial shock some familiar landmarks stated to register in his brain: a broad avenue leading to an imposing looking building, a wide river crossed by bridges, a series of roads all meeting at a triumphal arch.
Wasn't this….. Paris? In that case he was – he leant back to see the upper half of the Eiffel Tower above his head. But ….. how? He had to be dreaming. Or mad. Or maybe both.
He turned and looked behind him, and his jaw dropped. Of all the things he might have expected to see, a narrow blue wooden box with the words 'Police Box' at the top would not have been one of them. Yet this box contained a room holding three people, a flight of stairs and a large chamber occupied by a craft 250 feet long and 100 feet wide. He shook his head, trying to make some sense of it all. He walked two paces up the side of the box; across the back, two paces; two more steps brought him back to the front. Shaking his head, he pushed open the doors again and looked inside.
A young woman with long blond hair was standing there. She held out a steaming mug. "I thought you might like a coffee. I put extra sugar in it."
Virgil took the mug from her. It was decorated with a Union Jack and had a slight chip on the rim. The utter banality of the object was somehow comforting.
The girl gave him a warm smile. "My name's Rose. Don't worry, the TARDIS gets everyone like that the first time they see it." Her accent reminded him of Parker's.
"TARDIS?" he echoed, latching on to one more unfamiliar item in a sea of confusion.
"The TARDIS. Time and Relative Dimensions in Space. My ship," said the man who had spoken to Virgil just before the pilot had gone through the doors. The stranger was moving towards them, his expression friendly and his arms spread wide to indicate the interior of the chamber. He was wiry in build with a weather-beaten face and Virgil found it hard to guess his age. "I'm the Doctor, by the way. Sorry about all this. You got hit by some temporal lightning. We managed to catch you before you fell too far. The TARDIS popped your machine in the cloisters – the old girl can be very accommodating when she wants to be." Here he patted one of the room's pillars in a gesture that reminded Virgil of the way he treated his own 'bird. "But you threw us off balance a bit, so we had to stop here to readjust."
"Where are we, Doctor?" asked Rose.
He grinned at her. "Paris, 1928; a lovely year." He paused, considering, "mind you, October was a bit of a washout."
Rose gave a big smile. "Can I go take a look? I love Paris!"
He nodded. "Just a few minutes. We don't want to have to recalibrate the controls again." He grinned at Virgil. "I'd hate to drop this young man in the wrong date line."
"You make it sound like we always know where we're going." The third figure in the room came forwards, grinning as he approached. Virgil recognised the voice as the one he had heard in Thunderbird Two's cockpit, while the speaker's clothes looked like he had stepped out of a war film of the mid-twentieth century.
"Captain Jack Harkness at your service, sir." The man snapped off a salute then stepped forward and held out his hand. Vigil shook it, warming towards this handsome young man.
"Watch it," growled the Doctor in a warning tone.
Jack rolled his eyes, but made no response other than to drop Virgil's hand. "As soon as I saw your craft I knew who you were. I used to love reading stories about your organisation when I was a boy, but I never thought I'd get to meet one of the famous Tracys."
Virgil gave a worried frown.
Jack smiled. "Don't worry, I'm from your future. The adventures of International Rescue are all history to me."
"Hey, no spoilers, remember!" cut in the Doctor. The sound of the door closing made him turn.
Rose entered, holding up a small paper bag. "I managed to find a souvenir shop that was open and get a postcard for Mum."
"Rose, can you take our guest back to his ship, please? I think it's time we took him home."
Home. Back to the world where things made sense. The idea sounded a welcoming prospect. Though he wasn't sure how this would happen. Virgil turned towards his host. "What do I have to do?"
"Nothing. Just get back to your ship – we'll take care of everything from here."
"I never said thank you for saving me." It seemed odd to be the one saying those words; Virgil was more accustomed to hearing them from the people he rescued.
The Doctor grinned. "No problem. You could say we're in the same business."
Rose linked arms with Virgil, smiling up at him. "I'd love to see your ship. Jack's told me all about it. I'm from your past, you see. We didn't have International Rescue in my time."
As they opened to door at the bottom of the stairs she looked up at the vast bulk of Thunderbird Two looming over their heads. "Wow, stunning!"
Virgil was secretly pleased that a girl who spent her time travelling through time and space could still be impressed by his craft.
They reached the entry hatch and she dug her hand in the paper bag she had been carrying and brought out a key ring attached to a replica of the Eiffel Tower. "Here – a souvenir of your visit to Paris." Then with a wave she disappeared back through the door in the wall.
Virgil strapped himself into his seat in the cockpit, unsure what to expect. He started to count off the seconds on the dashboard chronometer. He got as far as twelve when the lights went out, then just as he reached twenty he was dazzled by a brilliant light.
He blinked, and as his eyes adjusted to the brightness he realised he was looking at the runaway on Tracy Island, fringed by waving palm trees with the blue sea in the distance.
The radio crackled into life and he heard his father's voice tinged with astonishment. "Virgil? My sensors are showing you back on the island. How on Earth did you get there? John lost contact with you five minutes ago, over the Indian Ocean. He's been going frantic trying to reach you. What happened?"
Virgil fingered the key ring in his pocket and smiled. "Trust me, Dad, you wouldn't believe me if I told you."