And it's done! A very different story to the one I expected to write but that's what happens when you write as you post. If all goes according to plan, next up will be some shorter pre-Thunderbirds stories I've had in mind for some time now. I've got another longer TB story idea but I want to get that one completely written before I publish it.
Thank you so much to everyone who's supported me throughout this story, whether by reviewing, alerting, favouriting or just continuing to read. Whirlgirl, as always you've been a fantastic reviewer, thanks for all the advice and comments (and I do need to work on my descriptions!). Rachel, thanks for your reviews, I've really appreciated them. I'm glad you liked the Brains bit - I'd been looking forward to writing that part for a long time!
Hope you enjoy the ending.
Alan had lost count of the number of times he'd wished he'd kept his mouth shut when Virgil was looking for volunteers to take over his position piloting Two. Truth be told, he'd regretted it as soon as he'd said he'd do it, and only the knowledge that it would help Scott if he got to be reunited with his closest brother sooner rather than later kept him from backing out. But the wait for news had been sheer torture and he'd have given anything to be down there in the thick of things despite the danger, rather than hovering aimlessly waiting for news.
It wasn't as if he didn't have anything to occupy his thoughts beyond wild imaginings of what was going on with his brothers. A hundred yards to the east was one of Sir Reuben's attack helicopters, more than likely one of those which had given Scott so much trouble. But this one wasn't doing anything - like Two it was just waiting for something to happen on the island.
Alan had begged his father to let him take it on. Okay, Two might not have the manoeuvrability of One, or the speed, but her sheer bulk made her a tougher proposition when it came to withstanding a missile attack. She could probably take a couple of hits as long as they weren't anywhere vital. Virgil would just have to suck it up - after all, Alan reasoned, he should have learned by now that lending his toys to younger brothers was just asking for trouble. But when he'd suggested it to his father, Jeff had immediately negated the idea. Not out of concern for Two, or Virgil, or even for Alan himself, but in fear of the consequences should Scott be deprived of immediate aid when he needed it.
So Alan had been forced to abandon all thoughts of attack, instead resigning himself to sitting there waiting for the call to come in to pick up his brothers. But, he promised himself, when that call came, if the helicopter showed the slightest inclination to stop him going to the rescue, he'd give her crew something to remember him by. Two carried missiles - usually used for blasting through thick seams of rock on rescues - and Alan already had them primed and ready, just in case.
But the call hadn't come, and the longer he waited, the more edgy he became. His father was tense too - Alan could see his eyebrows knitting more closely together as the minutes ticked by. He knew that, like him, his father was itching to put out a call to find out why things were taking so long, but the prospect of activating the explosives which they knew were all over the lower levels stopped them both.
Alan had been monitoring John's bug in Sir Reuben's office, so when he heard the door opening he alerted his father. The pair expected to hear Sir Reuben himself or one of his team and sure enough they weren't disappointed. But when it became apparent that their enemies were on the attack, Sir Reuben sending someone - incompetent as he appeared to be - down to the lower levels, both father and son stared at each other in panic.
"They're on to them," Alan said. "Dad, I need to go in."
"Stay where you are, Alan!" his father said, though his reluctance at giving the order was clear. "There's nothing you can do. With any luck the boys will already be on their way out."
"Luck?" Alan actually laughed. "What's that?"
Jeff said nothing.
When, five minutes later, they heard the familiar voices of John and Penny, Jeff's rage was frightening. Alan said nothing, having the sensitivity to realise that now wasn't the time to be point-scoring over reckless elder brothers. Jeff was livid, threatening his second-born with the direst of punishments for disobeying orders. Only John's hurried message giving the good news that Scott was alive and doing well under Brains' care shut his father up. His rant lost its edge, though he still promised John some heavy punishment once he got back to the island. Alan thought it was just as well that the bug was only a transmitter - if John could have heard his father right now he'd have had second thoughts about ever going home.
When Sir Reuben made his entrance and quickly gained the upper hand, Jeff and Alan had just stared at each other, clearly wondering whether it was time to move in to the island. But what could Alan do? Two couldn't land, there was nowhere big enough, and any incursion into the airspace around the enemy helicopter might be seen as an act of aggression. As much as they wanted to do something to help, they knew it was hopeless.
The gunshot shocked them both and Alan turned pale, remembering Virgil's injury and his own desperate efforts to save his brother from bleeding to death. When they realised the victim was Freddy Alan couldn't help the quick shout of "Yes!" that escaped. His father's sharp rebuke cut short his celebrations and he tried to explain that he wasn't rejoicing in Freddy's injury so much as John's lack of hurt. But when it became clear that Freddy was mortally wounded and that Sir Reuben and the others had escaped, Jeff sat back and ran a hand over his eyes, relief that John and Penny were safe conflicting with his anger that the situation had been allowed to get out of hand in the first place.
"This is a disaster," he said softly. "Why didn't they get out of there right away?"
"At least they'll be on their way out now," Alan said, smiling as Virgil and Gordon arrived, too late for a rescue but with the good news that the man Sir Reuben had sent to the lower levels had been captured and that Parker was okay. "Hear that, Dad? It won't be long now. I'll just- Oh, wait a minute, there's another helicopter approaching. Must be Sir Reuben. Can I shoot it down, Dad? Please?"
Jeff hesitated. He wanted to say yes, really he did. But there was the other helicopter to consider. Alan reported that it was moving into position to give cover to the other craft. Two couldn't take them both on.
Before he could say anything, Alan sighed and gave the answer himself. "Okay, I know. Hold position. MI5 are here, by the way. I'm monitoring their transmissions. One helicopter's heading this way." He broke off for a quick discussion with MI5. "They're on the case Dad. I'll track Sir Reuben just in case they lose him, but-"
Gordon's voice broke unexpectedly through the speakers, sounding breathless and anxious. "They've started the countdown! This place is going up any minute. Alan, get over here now! We're coming out through the cave - it's the only way, but the shockwave's likely to be more than the inflatables can handle. Be ready to pick us up."
"Forget Sir Reuben," Jeff said, even as Alan yelled "FAB!" and hit the thrusters. "Go get your brothers."
They'd just made it out of the elevator, John and Gordon dragging Marcus between them, when a high-pitched beep caught their attention. As one, they looked up at the nearest bundle of explosives, just in time to see the blue light turn green.
"Freddy said one minute!" Virgil said, picking up speed and urging the others on.
"Unless they modified it," John reminded him, ever the pessimist.
They charged through the door, which Gordon had had the foresight to wedge open in order to facilitate a quick getaway, hoping to see just one remaining boat. At least if Brains had managed to get Scott and Parker away the mission wouldn't have been a complete failure. But both boats were still there, Brains oblivious to their arrival and the imminent explosion as he supported Parker, who was leaning over the side of the boat clearly the worse for wear after the tranquiliser he'd been given.
The engineer looked up sharply at Virgil's shout. Parker didn't even register it, slumping forward as Brains loosened his hold for a moment.
"Get moving!" Virgil reached the boat, glancing back to see that the others were all there. Throwing himself in, narrowly missing Scott who was fast asleep - sedated, Brains told him, since he'd insisted on trying to follow his brothers up to Sir Reuben's office - he got the engine started, sending the boat hurtling towards the entrance to the tunnel. Brains settled Parker next to Scott - the man had a life-jacket on so he'd at least have a chance at survival, being in no condition for a swim - before turning his attention to Scott, pulling out the IV and ripping off the leads of the monitors in case the boat capsized and the equipment got in the way or dragged Scott down. Then he pulled a life-jacket over his head. Virgil tried to keep his focus on getting them into the tunnel before the complex blew, though he couldn't help continually looking back to the dock. The second boat had only just left and he yelled at his brothers to hurry up before he lost sight of them as he steered the boat into the tunnel. Any second now, he thought, wondering if their luck would hold and they'd make it out to open sea before the complex blew.
They very nearly did. Virgil could just make out the entrance to the cave when there was a deafening roar from behind him followed by a tidal wave that sent the boat shooting forward, tossed violently from side to side. He threw himself over Scott, praying he didn't injure his brother any more but needing to keep him from being thrown out of the boat. His ears ringing from the explosion, he knew he was yelling into his wrist-comm but he couldn't hear the words. All he could do was hold on and hope the boat could make it out to open water. Then suddenly they were out, the wild movements of the boat slowly settling. Virgil carefully raised himself up, checking on Scott, Brains and Parker first before looking around for the other boat.
It wasn't there.
Gordon and John threw Marcus into the second boat, John helping Penny in before jumping in himself. Looking around for Gordon he saw his brother gazing sadly across at what was left of Four. His lips moved soundlessly as he said goodbye and John found himself turning away so as not to embarrass his brother. He sent his own silent apology across to Four, knowing full well that if he hadn't gone along with Penny's plan, the submarine might have survived. Freddy certainly would have... A sudden wave of guilt hit him and he wondered if Penny felt the same way. She'd been very quiet since the young man had died.
When something heavy hit him in the back, John's first thought was that the explosives had finally detonated. It took a moment for him to realise that it wasn't a rock or part of the complex - in fact, everything remained intact, the light on the nearest bundle of explosives still green. Shoving whatever it was off him, he pulled himself upright and helped Gordon start the engine and steer the boat towards the tunnel. Only then did he realise that what had hit him was the pilot's seat of Thunderbird Four.
"Glad you could save part of her, Gords," he said softly, grabbing the life-jackets and handing them out, quickly getting the still-unconscious Marcus sorted before pulling one on himself.
"Not safe yet," Gordon muttered, busily busy tying his life-jacket to the arm of the chair before inflating it, much to Penny's bewilderment.
Just as they reached the entrance to the tunnel, the complex blew.
As Gordon had predicted, the shockwave sent a tidal wave through the tunnel. The boat was thrown against the jagged rocks which lined the sides, those inside forced to hang on tightly as they lost all control and found themselves at the mercy of the wave. How they got out without the boat being ripped apart, they never knew, but after a terrifying thirty seconds or so, the little boat shot out of the tunnel, only to smash against a rock and be thrown into the air. This time there was no avoiding an upset and they were all hurled into the churning water.
Virgil's shout of relief at the sight of the second boat was quickly followed by a panicked intake of breath as four figures disappeared into the water. He instantly threw himself over the side and struck out for the other boat, which floated upside down. As he drew near, a dark head bobbed up and he had to take a moment to recognise Penny.
"You okay?" he yelled.
She nodded and he pulled her across to the boat, instructing her to hold on until Two arrived.
Penny's cry made Virgil turn around and he reached out to help his brother steer Marcus over to the boat. The man was conscious again, the cold water having revived him, and he coughed and spluttered but seemed none the worse for his experience.
"Where's Gordon?" John looked around frantically.
"Haven't seen him." Virgil took a deep breath and dived beneath the surface, reappearing a moment later. "No sign of him."
"Here's Two," John said as the familiar sound of the engines was heard and a searchlight began to sweep back and forth between the two boats.
Virgil gave his 'bird a grateful glance before turning his attention back to his missing brother. "Tell Al to drop the diving gear. He might be-"
"Wait a minute!" John started to laugh. "Look, over there!"
Virgil turned to follow his brother's gaze and couldn't help laughing himself. There, on top of the rocky outcrop the boat had hit, was Gordon, sitting on what Virgil knew had to be Four's pilot's seat, feet up on a convenient rock, waving cheerfully in their direction.
They'd all made it.
Alan had been surprised when Virgil didn't kick him out of the pilot's chair straight away, but the middle brother had been worried about any damage he might have done to Scott as he tried to keep him securely in the boat, so had spent the first twenty minutes of the flight in sick bay, helping Brains give his brother the attention he needed and doing his best to take care of Parker. The man had moved seamlessly from seasick to airsick, pleading with Virgil to just throw him out of Two and have done with it. Penny had wanted to stay with him, but Parker had begged her to leave. Out of consideration for him she'd done so, but not without a longing look across at Scott before she'd gone.
Finally, with Scott stable and Parker asleep, Virgil had left Brains to it, hastily changing back into his uniform and making his way up to the cockpit. As he neared his destination he heard hurried footsteps and was nearly knocked out of the way by a red-faced John who barely acknowledged him as he pushed past. Knowing from experience that when John was in that kind of mood it was better to steer clear and give him time to calm down, Virgil continued on his way, pausing for a moment at the entrance to the cockpit to assess Alan's attempt to fly his 'bird before ordering his brother to hand her over to someone who knew what they were doing.
"What's up with John?" he asked.
The debriefing wasn't going to be pleasant, Virgil thought.
He was right, but in the end he didn't get to witness it. Jeff had said little when they'd arrived, his first concern being for Scott. Only when his eldest was safely settled in the infirmary under the care of Brains - ably assisted by Grandma - did he go to call everyone together. But Penny, who had been hovering around the infirmary ostensibly to check on Parker, took him aside for a word. After a few moments, Jeff nodded before calling for John then taking his son and his London agent into his office. It was over an hour before they emerged, both John and Penny white-faced and grim, whilst Jeff stayed where he was, apparently preparing himself for a difficult conversation with MI5.
"How bad was it?" Alan asked his brother.
"Bad enough," John said. "Not that I needed Dad to tell me that if we'd done what he ordered, Freddy and Sir Reuben would probably be alive right now."
Neither Alan nor Virgil knew what to say to that. They could hardly disagree and John wasn't the type to respond to well-meaning platitudes.
"Is he banishing you to Five?" Alan asked.
"No. I'm grounded."
"What? Oh great, I'm going to be stuck up there for Tin-Tin's birthday, now."
"No, actually Brains wants to go up once Scott's better. He told Dad he wants some time alone to get his head round it all."
"So you're staying here with us? And that's punishment?"
John managed a smile. "Where's Gordon?"
"Where'd you think?"
"Not still down in New Four?"
"Yep, sitting in his old seat getting to know his new 'bird," Virgil told him. "He says she feels more like old Four now. We'll be ready for a test run in a couple of days - he's quite enthusiastic."
"He took Four's loss better than I thought he would," John said. That was something else he felt bad about.
"She was already gone," Virgil told him. "Even if we'd saved what was left, she'd have needed so many new parts it might as well have been a new machine. He knew that, John; he said so while we were carrying Marcus along to the elevator."
"At least he got to hand Marcus over to MI5," Alan said. "I think he enjoyed that."
"Not as much as he enjoyed watching Brains punch the guy," Virgil said. "Honestly, you should have seen it. Funniest thing I've ever seen in my life. John, did you know Marcus still had the data from Four in his pocket, so we've got that back? Whatever those people got away with, at least they're not going to be able to build another Four."
"That's good. There's no news of them yet, is there?"
"Nothing. MI5 couldn't pick up any trace of them and I was too busy worrying about you guys to track them," Alan told him. "The other guy they caught won't talk so Penny's going to look for them. As soon as Parker's up to flying she's heading back to England."
"She's taken it hard," Virgil said.
"Well, she was the one who wanted to go after Sir Reuben in the first place," Alan said. "No wonder she wanted to do the debrief in private. Where is she, anyway?"
"In the infirmary, where else?"
Brains' analysis of Parker's blood had shown that the tranquiliser had contained some fairly nasty chemicals - one of Marcus's special concoctions, apparently. It took a good forty-eight hours before he was up and about again and feeling fit enough to fly. Penny said a final farewell to the Tracys and Brains before heading down to the infirmary to see Scott one last time. Full of painkillers and with the benefit of plenty of rest, he was much more himself now, and Brains was pleased with his progress.
He smiled as she came in and sat down beside him.
"Hey, Penny. You're leaving us then?"
"Yes. There's a lot to do if I'm to track down Sahara and Eric Younger."
"Still no trace?"
"Not yet. But something will come up. I will find them, Scott. I promise."
"Sure you will." He smiled and indicated a newspaper which lay on the bed beside him. Kyrano had picked it up on that morning's supply run. "Looks like I made the front page."
"Indeed," Penny said, taking the paper and smoothing it out. The main story was still the dramatic demise of Sir Reuben McAllister, but there was a fair bit of space given to the news that Scott Tracy and Hiram Hackenbacker, chief engineer of Tracy Industries, had miraculously survived their helicopter crash. "The story of your fight for survival with nothing more than an inflatable dinghy and a bottle of water seems to have convinced everyone. So convenient that International Rescue should have been in the area to find you after you'd been adrift all that time."
"Yeah. Dad told me Tracy Industries' share prices have gone up again now that Brains is back, so he's happy. It's a shame Lola didn't make it, though. Guess I'm going to have to play the part of the grieving widower for a while."
"Well, I suppose it does save you the trouble of getting a divorce."
"It feels good to be a single man again, I can tell you," Scott said. "And you can dye your hair blonde again and go back to being plain old Penny."
Penny swallowed, the smile fading just a little.
"Something wrong?" Scott asked.
Penny hesitated before shaking her head. Why couldn't he see it? And why couldn't she just tell him? Instead she moved the conversation back to safer ground. "I feel so guilty, Scott. If I hadn't been set on getting my revenge on Sir Reuben, Freddy would be alive now and John wouldn't be in so much trouble with your father."
"Why were you so keen on getting back at him?" Scott asked. "He didn't hurt you, did he?"
"No, Scott. He didn't hurt me. But he hurt you. Look at you, lying here in the infirmary. Your poor face..."
Scott took her hand awkwardly. "Penny, come on. I'm fine. A couple of days' rest and some more of Grandma's chicken soup and I'll be back to normal."
"I believe Brains said it would take at least two weeks."
"Well, we'll see. But anyway, it won't be long before everything's back the way it was."
"Isn't there anything you'd like to be different?"
"No. Why would I want to change anything? My life's perfect just the way it is."
"Well, as long as you're happy." Penny pulled her hand away as Tin-Tin came in, aware of the girl's curious gaze.
"Lady Penelope, Mr Tracy asked me to tell you that the jet is ready to leave."
"Thank you, Tin-Tin." Penny turned back to Scott. "Well, I suppose I should be on my way."
"Good luck with the search, Penny," Scott said. "I'll call you."
"That would be nice. Goodbye Scott."
"Goodbye Lady Penelope." Tin-Tin watched the other woman closely, wondering if she was picking up the right signals and if she was, why Scott seemed so oblivious to them.
Penny paused at the door, wondering whether to abandon all her dignity and just tell Scott how she felt, even with Tin-Tin there to witness it all. Then he looked up and smiled at her.
"Yes, Scott?" Penny couldn't help hoping...
"If you see Virg on your way out ask him to come down, will you? There's a baseball game on soon, I could use some company to watch it."
Penny forced a smile. "Of course, Scott."
Then she was gone.
Scott looked up to see Tin-Tin glaring at him.
Tin-Tin shook her head. "Nothing." She moved to follow Penny out of the door.
Scott watched her go wondering if he'd heard her final muttered comment right. Sinking back down into his pillows he decided he'd been mistaken.
After all, how could he ever be as hopeless as Alan?