I started this story in January – before I got sidetracked by sequels and high school musicals – and finally it's finished! It's different to what I've done before, so I really hope it works.
Scott brought Thunderbird One to land on the dockside, Thunderbird Two still half an hour behind him. The howling wind and rain cut him to the quick as he opened the hatch and prepared to move out Mobile Control. Great, he thought, third time this week I'm going to be wet through. A spate of unusually violent storms in Northern Europe had ensured a busy time for International Rescue. Scott felt exhausted and he knew that he wasn't the only one. Whilst Gordon and Alan had done their share, he and Virgil had borne the brunt of each rescue. It didn't help that the two of them had only just returned from a tricky rescue in Bolivia when the first of the calls from Europe came in. When the klaxon had sounded a couple of hours ago indicating yet another callout, this time in Scotland, he'd caught an uncharacteristic look of irritation on his middle brother's face. Truth be told, he'd felt the same way . We can't go on like this, he thought, fighting the wind to drag the equipment into the dockyard office.
In Thunderbird Two, Virgil gazed wearily through the cockpit window, only half listening to Gordon and Alan's chatter. His younger brothers were in a much brighter mood than he was, having managed at least twelve hours sleep over the past few days. He couldn't remember the last time he'd felt this tired. Really Gordon should be flying whilst he took a short nap, but conditions were bad and whilst his head told him his brother was more than capable, his heart refused to allow him to trust his precious 'bird to anyone else in weather like this. Although the temperature inside the cabin was warm, the heavy rain slashing against the windows and the angry buffeting of the wind made him shiver in sympathy with the green craft.
"Mobile Control to Thunderbird Two."
"I read you, Scott. How's it looking down there?"
"Wet. Cold. Windy. The usual. Bet you can't wait to join me." Scott wasn't his usual smooth professional self.
"ETA twenty minutes. What's the situation?" Virgil hoped his brother was alone. It wouldn't do International Rescue's public image any good to have people thinking that they weren't exactly enthusiastic about the callout.
Virgil could hear the sigh as Scott pulled himself together. "Tell Gordon to get Thunderbird Four ready. The tourist sub is stuck at the bottom of the sea about a mile offshore. I don't know what they were thinking, going out in conditions like this. That thing is just a toy, it's not designed for extreme weather conditions. They've reported that oxygen is running low so we've got about thirty minutes to get them out. Can you get any more speed out of Two?"
"Not when this wind's trying to push me back home. I'll do what I can. Thunderbird Two out."
Gordon was already heading out of the cockpit towards the pod where Four lay waiting. Alan moved to join Virgil at the helm.
"Scott didn't sound his usual super-efficient self."
"He's okay, he's just tired. It's been a tough few weeks." Virgil automatically defended his brother.
"How are you doing?" Alan asked, aware that Virgil had had just as hard a time as Scott.
"Okay. Just wake me up if I fall asleep before we get there."
The hum of Thunderbird Two's engines changed to a whine as Virgil pushed them as far as they would go. He felt the ship shudder slightly under the strain and felt a momentary burst of anger at the idiots who had called him away from his comfortable bed and inflicted this punishment on his craft. Two's engines were going to need some maintenance, after this, he thought. He pushed his hair out of his eyes. It was getting long – he hadn't even had the chance to go to the mainland for a haircut recently and he'd tactfully rejected Grandma's offer to trim it herself. Like Scott, he wasn't exactly upholding International Rescue's code of efficiency, professionalism and good grooming at the moment. I really need a break, he thought, gripping the helm tighter as another strong gust buffeted the ship.
Virgil managed to make up a few minutes on his original ETA, dropping Pod 4 above the site of the stricken sub. He'd descended as low as he could, but the wind had caught the pod as it dropped and for one heart-stopping moment he'd thought that the pod might be blown over. Fortunately it had righted itself, but Gordon's colourful language suggested that it had been close. He didn't envy his brother fighting the stormy seas. Rising up to a safer height he prepared to hover ready for the pick-up, when a call came from Scott.
"Mobile Control to Thunderbird Two. Virgil, get yourself to the dock now. We've got a problem here. One of the cranes has started to topple. I'm sending the co-ordinates. You need to get a couple of clamps on it and keep it upright until we can move the ship next to it."
"FAB, Scott." Virgil was already turning Two around to head to shore.
Stabilising the crane was a fairly routine operation, but it was only the first of many. The manager of the dockyard was conspicuous by his absence, but Scott gathered from the men he spoke to that budget cuts and general poor management had led to a number of safety concerns. Now those concerns were being realised. It was the start of a busy few hours as cranes toppled, containers fell and ships broke free of their moorings. Normal emergency crews were overwhelmed, so Scott, Virgil and Alan worked at full stretch and once Gordon had completed the rescue from the sub he'd been pressed into service as well. The wind and rain refused to let up and all four brothers were cold, tired, wet and hungry. By the time everything seemed to be coming under control, Virgil and Scott in particular were almost asleep on their feet.
"Those crates look like they might be a problem, Virg. I'll go this way, you check the other side," Scott suggested. This was the last area to be checked and he thought that they might actually be finished in a short while. The prospect of a change of clothes and a warm dry Thunderbird was all that kept him going.
Gritting his teeth as the wind whipped icy rain into his face, Scott made for the pile of crates stacked precariously some twenty feet high. The chains which held them rattled ominouslyas the top row of crates shifted. Barely able to see through the driving rain, it was the sound which warned him that the stack was about to fall. He turned to get out of the way and enjoyed a moment's relief as he faced away from the rain. He had just begun to inform Alan of the situation when there was a sudden loud creaking and clanking. He barely had time to register the crates swaying wildly above him as a chain suddenly jerked loose and came spiralling towards him, followed by a few ropes and a couple of crates. There was no time to escape. One crate smashed just a few feet away from him as the other disappeared beneath the waves, but the chain hit him in the chest, throwing him into the churning water.
Winded by the blow, he had little breath in him as he plunged deep into the icy sea. Desperately he kicked towards the surface but something first held him back then began dragging him down. He looked down and felt a shock of sheer terror, realising that one of the ropes had wrapped itself around his leg. As the crate to which it was still attached plummeted to the seabed, Scott was dragged down with it. There was nothing he could do. What little strength he had ebbed away in the cold water. His lungs burned, desperate for air and his head throbbed painfully. The sound of the raging water and his own frantic heartbeat echoed in his ears. Everything was going black and he knew this was the end. Finally, unable to hold his breath any longer, he had to breathe in. The shock of the icy water revived him for a minute, cruelly awakening him to a desperate panic as he realised he was drowning.
Virgil had witnessed everything as he turned the corner of the stack of crates. He forced his tired limbs to move, racing down to the place where Scott had hit the water, calling his brothers as he did so, only pausing to remove his boots before diving in. The cold water took his breath away and for a few terrible seconds he thought his heart would stop. Then his body grudgingly accepted the cold and he could move again. Taking a massive breath he dived beneath the surface.
He saw his brother floating limply several feet below him and kicked towards him. Desperately he tried to pull Scott up, but something was holding him down. Despite his desperation to save his brother he had no option but to return to the surface for another breath. Diving down again, he swam around his brother's still body and spotted the rope. Drawing out his knife he slashed at it viciously then gripped Scott under his arms and made for the surface.
As he broke the surface he heard shouts above the roaring wind. Turning to face the dockside, all the while trying to keep his brother's head above water, he saw Alan waving anxiously at him. With the last of his strength he pulled Scott through the surging water towards his youngest brother. Alan dragged him onto the dockside, turning back to drag Virgil up too before beginning to work on Scott.
The cold water had actually saved Scott's life, slowing his vital functions down enough to ensure that the lack of oxygen and the water in his lungs didn't kill him. It was closer than Alan would have liked, though, and he had to breathe for his brother for a couple of minutes before Scott finally responded to the treatment. Virgil could do nothing to help, barely having the strength to sit upright.
Gordon came rushing to the scene, blankets and oxygen at the ready. He was relieved to see his eldest brother gasp in a great breath of air just as he reached his side. Grinning at Alan, he wrapped a blanket around his soaking, shivering brother before handing one to Virgil.
Scott rolled over onto his side, coughing weakly, trying to get the last of the salt water out of his lungs. He didn't have the strength to speak, but managed a weak smile for his brothers before closing his eyes again. Gordon patted his shoulder reassuringly.
"Come on, Scotty, take it easy. We need to get you into Two. There's a nice warm bed waiting for you in sickbay."
Scott didn't protest, a sure sign that he'd reached his breaking point, but he managed to get to his feet with help from Alan and shakily began moving back towards the big green 'bird.
Virgil collapsed back against the dockside, overwhelmed with relief at his brother's recovery. He was utterly spent. Freezing cold, soaking wet and, he thought, probably suffering from hypothermia, he couldn't do anything to help himself as Gordon hauled him to his feet and wrapped the blanket around him .
"Come on, Virg. Let's get you warm and dry too. We're done here. I'll fly Two back, you get some rest."
It was testimony to just how exhausted he was that the idea had a lot of appeal.
"You're sure they're okay?" Jeff Tracy was anxious. Injuries to his boys always alarmed him and whilst he maintained an aura of calm, inside he was frantic. News of Scott's narrow escape and Virgil's subsequent exhaustion worried him. He was aware of how much pressure his sons had been under recently. Thoughts of previous rescues flashed through his head as he considered just how much all his sons had endured in the years since he'd started International Rescue.
"Dad, they're fine, just exhausted. They can sleep it off on the way home." Gordon prepared Thunderbird Two for take-off, waiting for Alan to lift off in One.
"Okay, Gordon. Have a safe flight."
"Thanks, Dad. See you soon. Thunderbird Two out."
Scott and Virgil were feeling a lot better after sleeping all the way home and – as usual in these circumstances - were ready to play down their experiences, declaring emphatically that they were fine. Jeff was unconvinced however and sent them down to the infirmary where Brains was subjected to the usual indignant protests and lack of co-operation as he checked them out. Jeff came in as he was finishing up and was pleased to hear that neither were any the worse for their experiences.
"So can we go?" asked Scott.
"I-I've finished," said Brains. "You c-can go if you promise to t-take it easy."
"No arguments there, I just want to sleep," admitted Virgil.
The brothers hopped down from their respective beds and moved towards the door only to be stopped by their father.
"Not so fast, boys. Brains, can you get me a print-out of Scott and Virgil's medical records, please."
"Of c-course, Mr Tracy," Brains replied, disappearing into the office and returning in a few minutes with two files. Jeff's expression became grim as he flicked through the largest of them.
"Scott, how many times have you been hurt since we started International Rescue?" he asked.
"Uh, I don't know. A few," Scott said evasively.
"A few?" Jeff raised an eyebrow. "According to this file you've needed treatment on twenty seven different occasions."
"Well, you know, " Scott said lightly, "Some cuts and bruises are a bit of an occupational hazard."
"Hardly cuts and bruises, Scott. And as for you, Virgil..." he turned his attention to the other file.
"Well, at least mine isn't as thick as Scott's," the younger man said, casting a triumphant - if somewhat surprised - glance at his brother.
"Uh, a-actually, Virgil," said Brains, re-emerging from the office with another file. "That's just y-your record for the past t-two years. Th- this is your other file." He indicated the new file which was full to capacity and almost overflowing.
"Ah, right." Virgil frowned as Scott smirked across at him. Okay, so he sometimes got a bit scratched out on rescues, but then he was the one who did all the dirty work. He didn't see any point making a fuss, but since his father insisted that even the most minor cuts and bruises be documented, his file was bound to look a little bulky.
Jeff was flicking through the new file.
"Virgil, is there a single bone you haven't broken?" he finally asked, eyeing his son with a mixture of concern and incredulity.
Virgil thought for a while. "Uh... "
Brains tried to help him out. "W-well, Mr T-Tracy, I don't think Virgil has ever b-broken h-his nose."
"He has, actually," Scott laughed. "When he was fifteen."
"Hey, I didn't break it," Virgil protested. "Gordon did."
Jeff continued to peruse the file, his frown deepening as he relived memories of Virgil and Scott's many narrow escapes from death. He knew that the levity with which they dismissed their many injuries was just their way of coping with the stresses of their work. He also knew that they couldn't be allowed to carry on like this.
"Boys, laugh as much as you like. The fact remains that in the last few years both of your bodies have suffered more punishment than they were ever meant to take. I expected a few injuries when I started International Rescue, but nothing like this. You've been trapped under falling debris, poisoned, gassed, fallen off cliffs, blown up, beaten up ..." he ran out of ideas for a moment.
"D-drowned," Brains suggested helpfully, earning himself glares from both Scott and Virgil.
"Drowned," Jeff agreed. "Boys, if medical science hadn't advanced so much over the last twenty years you'd be dead ten times over. Enough is enough. You need a rest. As of now you're both grounded."
He sat back and waited for the protests. Sure enough, although just a few hours earlier both brothers had been thinking that they needed a break from International Rescue, they didn't like the sound of an enforced rest and their objections came thick and fast.
"Dad, we're far too busy at the moment. We can't both go on leave, the others wouldn't cope," Scott protested.
"Don't underestimate your brothers, Scott," Jeff warned him. "They've got you two out of plenty of dangerous situations in the past. We can always automate Five and bring John down if we need to. Brains and Tin-Tin could do with some more frontline experience and I can help out too if need be. I'm not past it yet!"
"No, boys. I'm tired of seeing you hurt. I worry that one day your luck's going to run out and you're going to end up hurt so badly that you won't bounce back. That's all the more likely to happen if you go out on rescues when you're exhausted. No more arguments. You're out for the next two weeks. I want you rested and at peak fitness when you come back on duty."
"So what are we going to do? Sit around here watching whilst everyone else has all the fun?" Virgil asked.
"No, I think you should get away from the island. Take a holiday."
"You know we won't relax, we'll just worry about everyone," Scott pointed out.
"Well, it's your choice," Jeff said. "Two weeks R and R or two weeks moping about the house. I know which I'd choose." And with that he left them to it.
Back in his office, Jeff settled down to some Tracy Industries business. It was the sound of the vid-phone which roused him.
"Hello Bill," Jeff smiled at his old friend from his Air Force days. William Brand was now one of the most senior military advisors to the President. He was also one of International Rescue's most useful agents.
"Jeff." Brand didn't smile. In fact, Jeff couldn't recall a time he'd seen him look more stressed.
"I need to talk to you – privately. Can I come out to the island?"
"Of course. I'll expect you sometime tomorrow."
"Actually I'm only a couple of hours away. I'm just refuelling."
"So you knew I wouldn't turn you down," Jeff laughed.
Once again Brand failed to return the smile. "No, I knew I couldn't give myself a chance to back out of this. See you soon, Jeff." He cut the phone link leaving a mystified Jeff to instruct Kyrano to make the necessary preparations for his guest. The more Jeff thought about it, the more anxious he became. Something was very wrong.