Riding the Tiger
The latest challenge for the members of the Tracy Island writers' Forum was to describe a point from one of the episodes or feature films using three different points of view, of roughly equal length, in less than 3,000 words. 'Riding the Tiger' was my response, three separate accounts of the climax of the Thunderbird 6 film.
I acknowledge ITC Entertainment Ltd as the copyright holders of the Thunderbird 6 film, and thank Gerry Anderson and his team for creating it and Purupuss for proofreading my work.
The wind is whipping past me and I can hardly feel my hands where they grasp the wing-strut. When I put all those hours into restoring the Tiger Moth I never imagined that one day I would be hanging on to her wing as she tipped off the roof of Skyship One.
The engine doesn't sound good; I think it must have been hit during our gun battle. I've no regrets about shooting any of the crew - it was them or us, and I now realise that they must have killed the original airship crew before this voyage started.
I glance across at Tin Tin, and she gives me a brave smile in return. For a fleeting moment I wish Foster had selected her for his hostage instead of Penny. She wouldn't have been in any more danger at his hands than if he'd left her behind on the Skyship and we would have ended up with someone in the cockpit who knew how to fly.
I edge my way inwards across the wing, hanging onto the guide-wires with numb fingers until a final lunge brings me to the relative safety of the cockpit rim. I shout instructions to Penny but the wind snatches my words away and I don't know if she can hear me. If you'd asked me before I would have said that nothing could faze this unflappable aristocrat but up close now I can see the fear in her eyes.
She's managed to line the Tiger up over a stretch of freeway that seems to be under construction below us and is bringing her lower but we need to lose some speed before we can land. The throttle lever is on the other side of the cockpit from me - it's so frustrating to be able to see it but not reach it.
Our wheels hit the deck but we're still too fast and we skip across the tarmac. I try to get Penny to throttle back but she doesn't seem to understand my instructions and even increases power. A bridge looms ahead and before I can say anything we flash beneath it. Talk about beginner's luck - that's a stunt that I don't think even my eldest brother would dare to attempt. There's another bridge coming up but I don't want to tempt Fate again so shout at Penny to pull back on the stick and we clear it with inches to spare.
We're veering away from the road now; I'm still trying to work out how I can get into the rear cockpit when a shout from Brains makes me look round and see that we're heading straight for a factory chimney.
Penny yanks the stick back; we climb and a blast of heat from the mouth of the smoking vent helps boost us over the top.
We've now got enough height for me to get Penny to do a barrel roll. It's a risky manoeuvre, but it has the desired effect as Foster's body goes tumbling to the ground and at last I can climb into the rear cockpit and take control.
Not a moment too soon. Now I can see that oil has been leaking from a bullet hole in the port side of the engine, and with a final apologetic cough the engine dies.
Immediately my pilot's training clicks into action; I've done dead-stick landings in the Tiger before but the extra weight of the passengers on the wings is going to make this much more of a challenge. We're over some woods at the moment but I calculate we've got enough height to clear them and glide down on the far side. The first field has a string of cables across it, so that's out. Damn these pocket-handkerchief sized English fields! The next one looks possible so I line us up for final approach. I miscalculate slightly as we come over the boundary hedge and the undercarriage hits the top of a tree, dislodging a few branches, but from then on the empty field stretches ahead and I start to think we might make it.
I feel the wheels touch down and I'm just breathing a sigh of relief when the right wheel hits something in the long grass. The plane skews round and tips forwards with a sickening crunch, pointing her tail to the sky. Penny and I are jolted forward in our seats and Tin Tin and Brains are thrown clear, but at least they land on soft grass.
What's the old pilots' saying? A good landing is one you can walk away from.
Hallo, is that the police? I want to report a shooting. Yes, that's right, I've just seen somebody shot. In the sky, over my head.
What's that? My name? It's Paxton, Mike Paxton. I'm calling from the top of Sutton Hill. I came up here to do some birdwatching.
I'd been up here a few hours and was just getting ready to leave when this old plane came overhead. It was one of those early biplanes that look like they're held together with string. It caught my attention because of the way it was being thrown all over the sky - one minute up high, the next skimming over the tree tops. At first I thought it was one of those stunt flyers, especially when I looked through my binoculars and could see people hanging on to the wings. I thought they must be doing some sort of wing-walking stunt, the crazy idiots!
Then I heard shots and one of the people hanging onto the wing struts fell off. He'll have landed in the fields on the other side of the new motorway that they're building down in the valley. You'd better get an ambulance over there, quick - he might still be alive.
I'm watching them at the moment; there's still a battle going on up there. I can hear more gunfire and see flashes of light across the wings. Another guy's been hit - he's slipping - now he's fallen.
The plane is turning now; I think it's going to try to land on the motorway. Yes, it's lining up on the road. You're going too fast! Slow down you crazy idiot, you've got too much power!
Sorry, sergeant, I didn't mean to shout in your ear.
They've touched down, but the pilot doesn't seem to be in control - they're bouncing all over the road and there's a bridge coming up. I daren't look. Good God - the plane's flown right underneath. I can't believe it managed to do that; there can't have been more than a few feet of clearance on either side.
There's another bridge ahead; pull up, you fool, get some height!
Phew, they just made it. But now they're heading straight for the chimney stack of the old mill - does this pilot have some sort of death wish?
It's OK, they missed it by a whisker.
The plane is climbing again; now it's doing a barrel roll - and someone else has fallen out! What the hell is going on up there? They're heading west now, towards Pelham Woods, but the engine doesn't sound too good.
I was right, the engine has just cut; they're going to crash now for sure.
No, it looks like the pilot has finally come to his senses; the flying isn't so erratic. Either that or someone else is in control.
They're over the far side of the woods now; it looks like they're trying to land in the meadow beyond.
I can't see them any more. I don't know if they crashed or got down safely. You'd better get over there, and if you find them, I hope you throw the book at them.
What the devil?
Something else has just come over; it's silver, looks like a rocket, moving incredibly fast. It's heading in the same direction as the biplane.
My god - here's another one; it's huge! How does that thing stay airborne? That's heading the same way.
What the hell is going on here?
H'I tell you, Perce, H'I've been in some tight corners with 'er Ladyship before, h'especially when she was doing some of 'er 'special duties' for the government, but H'I've never been so scared in all me born days as H'I was h'in that plane.
H'I knew there was something fishy about that crew. H'I've been on cruises on some of the big ocean liners before now, which is probably the nearest h'equivalent to that there h'airship, and H'I know the sort of crew that works them. These geezers didn't fit the bill at all.
But that Foster was the lowest of the low - ready to leave 'is men in the lurch just to save 'is own miserable skin. When we heard 'im say that, we all just piled aboard that little plane, though H'I think H'I got the short straw, 'anging on to the h'undercarriage. Mind you, h'it was probably the best place to be when there was a shoot-out going on above me and bodies falling orf the wings.
Though after the shooting stopped I still had plenty to worry abaht. You know I've always been a martyr to vertigo, and zooming over woods with me boots brushing the treetops didn't 'elp one bit.
Then we turned over the motorway but even H'I knew we're coming in too fast to land. We're bouncing all over the tarmac, with me hanging on for grim death. I knew if I fell orf at that speed I'd be cashing in me chips.
We played 'opscotch along the carriageway, straight under one bridge then over the next - nearly leaving me smeared across the parapet. Then we gained some height and H'I'm just breathing a sigh of relief when I realise we're 'eading straight for a chimney. Would you Adam and Eve it? The only ruddy chimney in the 'ole county and we're making a bee-line for it! This time H'I thought H'I was a gonner for sure.
Somehow we manage to miss it and H'I'm just coughing the smoke out of me lungs when the plane rolls right over. Then, just when I think things can't get much worse, the flamin' engine stops.
We're gliding over the tree-tops at this point, and H'I'm considering whether to jump for it and take my chances, and wonderin' why I didn't stick to a nice, secure profession like safe-crackin'.
At that point we 'it the top of one of the trees and H'I'm knocked clean orf me perch and left dangling h'upside dahn in the top branches. From there H'I watch the plane come in to land; at the last moment it tips up and H'I see everyone fall aht; but no-one seems to be 'urt and they're all just getting to their feet as the Thunderbirds come in to land.
H'I start yelling then and eventually they 'ear me, just as H'I lose me grip and fall aht the tree. H'I suppose H'I'm lucky just to get away with a broken h'arm. H'it could 'ave been a lot worse.
Mr Scott organises Mr Brains and Miss Tin Tin to look h'after me while the others load Mr Alan's plane into Thunderbird Two, and we manage to scarper just before the local bobbies show up.
There was a bit of fuss abaht that but Mr Scott didn't want the plane traced back to the Tracy family - the registration was in Mr Alan's name. Of course, once the h'authorities discovered that the bodies that had fallen from the plane were all wanted men, not the original h'airship crew, the fuss died down a bit.
H'I'm only sorry that the Rolls was destroyed when the h'airship crashed. That was quite a car. But 'er ladyship 'as already ordered a new one, and she's asked me what 'modifications' we want Mr Brains to h'incorporate. So 'opefully by the time this h'arm is aht of plaster, 'er ladyship will be needing my services h'as chauffeur again.
H'another pint? Thanks, old pal, don't mind if H'I do. Cheers!
Author's note; Perce, the Creighton-Ward gardener, appeared in the 'Perils of Parker' strip in the Lady Penelope comics and annuals