Virgil was leaning casually against the railings overlooking his ‘bird, drinking in the sight of the powerful machine with appreciative eyes. It gave him something of the chills when he looked down on her like this, taking in the full scale of the giant green Thunderbird, knowing that he had complete control of her whenever she was in the air. When he was flying, there certainly was no way he felt her size; she handled like a dream, something he knew was only possible thanks to the island’s resident genius.
Visibly jumping as Alan came charging through, taking shelter behind his brother, Virgil found himself snapped out of his musings, slowly turning to face the younger man with an expression that clearly said that he wanted an explanation. Luckily, Alan took the hint.
“Dad’s in a business meeting with Scott.”
“So?” Virgil prompted, still at a complete loss as to why Alan would be seeking safety down in the silos. After all, normally when Scott was tied up in Tracy Industry business – something that all of his brothers knew he hated, although the Field Commander still had not plucked up the courage to tell their father – Alan and Gordon took the advantage of the lack of older brother breathing down their necks. The look on Alan’s face, however, told Virgil that he was somehow missing the point.
“Come on, Virg,” Alan moaned, peering around his brother guiltily before ducking back again. “You know what Scott’s been like lately; he keeps wanting me to take over.”
“I thought you wanted to be more involved in the business side of things?” Virgil said, sounding more than perplexed. Only a few months ago, Alan had been bouncing at the opportunity to sit in on the meetings. Despite him not admitting it, it was just as obvious now as when he was a small child that he idolised the oldest Tracy brother. Even now, Alan looked up to Scott in a way none of the rest of them did, and all the brothers knew how much the youngest wanted to be like the oldest. If Scott couldn’t make it onto a rescue – something that had not yet happened, despite their father threatening it more than once – then it would be up to Alan to fly One, if he was on Earth. Personally, Virgil believed that was why Scott was adamant about not sitting out any rescues – he himself knew that he hated the idea of handing Two over to Gordon. And their father had agreed that it wasn’t fair on his eldest to supposedly be in charge of the boys’ training and be expected to sit in on the meetings, meaning that once again, Alan had jumped at the chance of taking on a role his big brother normally undertook.
“Not this one.”
“Virgil, they are already having to run the meeting past John to translate it, I don’t want to have to sit and listen to that. Besides, I know why Scott wants out; he wants to talk to Brains about his latest update ideas for One.”
“Let me get this straight,” Virgil sounded incredulous as he turned to properly face his little brother, hands resting lightly on his hips in an uncanny impression of his father. “You don’t want to take over simply because you don’t want Scott to be able to tinker with his ‘bird whilst you’re in the meeting?”
“Maybe,” Alan said sheepishly, as he glanced away, rubbing his hand across the back of his neck as it burnt slightly, knowing that he had been caught out.
“I should tell Scott where you are for that,” Virgil continued, beginning to sound slightly threatening. Before he could say anything else, however, Scott’s loud voice came bouncing through the silos.
“Alan Tracy! Get your ass up here, little brother; I need to kick it into next week!”
“Looks like they are done.”
“Please, Virg,” Alan begged slightly, as if realising for the first time that heading to this particular part of the silos meant he was cornered unless his artistic brother decided to help him out.
“I don’t know…” Virgil pondered, smirking at the look of panic that went shooting across Alan’s face. What he honestly expected Scott to do other than give him a dunking in the pool, Virgil had no idea, but he decided that just this once, he could help the kid out.
“Oh go on then, in you go.”
A look of relief darted across Alan’s face as he sped forward, swinging off the railings and dropping lightly through the service hatch on top of his brother’s ‘bird, crouching lightly inside Thunderbird Two, hidden from sight unless Virgil decided to give his presence away. Shaking his head at his brother’s antics, Virgil smirked. Why did it not surprise him that Alan could drop that easily? It did, however, make him wonder how many times his little brother – both of them, in fact – had used the service hatch as access to a hiding place. It was an easy way into Two without having to open the pod, something that would make enough noise for the whole villa to hear.
No sooner had Alan dropped out of sight than Scott came strolling onto the platform, eyes darting around before he came to a stop, glancing at his younger brother.
“You looking for Alan, by any chance?” Virgil asked lightly, a hint of a smile playing across his mouth as he took in Scott’s annoyed stance.
“How did you guess?” Scott muttered darkly, before sighing and running a hand through his hair. Little did he realise that the object of his search was practically directly under his feet.
“What’d he do this time?” Virgil asked with a small laugh, accidentally glancing towards the service hatch before catching himself and casually lifting his eyes again. Luckily, Scott was now mirroring his earlier position of leaning on the railings, fingers linked as he stared with unseeing eyes across the silos, almost as if he didn’t notice that he was looking at a collection of the world’s most advanced machinery.
“The tyke dumped me with the meeting. He must have known it would be in a different language! it’s enough to make anyone’s head spin.”
“How did he get out of it?”
“He said something about needing to ask Gords something and gave Dad that look which normally means he wants to talk about the ‘birds,” Scott groaned, moving his arms so that his elbows were resting on the edge of the railing and letting his head drop into his hands. “And Dad fell for it. I thought it just meant that the Terrible Two were up to something. He’s used the ‘birds as an excuse before. Do you remember? It was the time you got covered in paint?”
“As if I could forget that. Were they planning something then?” Virgil asked quietly, wondering if Alan had just taken him for a fool. Involuntary, his eyes once more darted towards the service hatch, almost as if his mind was sending out a warning that it wouldn’t only be Scott who Alan had to hide from if he had tricked the artistic brother as well.
“Nope, Gordon was asleep.”
“Asleep?” Virgil repeated, sounding incredulous as he turned to face Scott. “What the heck is Gordon doing asleep?”
“Search me. I swear it’s as if the kid has run out of energy ever since the accident.”
“Scott, that was two days ago.”
“I know, Virg.” Scott sighed heavily, the idea of something troubling his little brother and him not being able to help clearly getting to him, even if he hadn’t told any of the others. Virgil too knew how he felt, he had been keeping a close eye on the water-loving Tracy ever since his latest brush with death, especially considering how quiet Gordon had been on the way home from the rescue. It simply wasn’t like Gordon to let things affect him so deeply, and Virgil knew he was not the only brother worrying.
“Have you spoken to John about it?” Virgil asked, his fingers already beginning to drift absentmindedly towards his watch in order to contact his brother. As Scott shook his head, clearly indicating that he hadn’t yet had the time –something Virgil was not at all surprised about considering it had taken them the best part of those two days trying to clean the mud off the machinery – Virgil patched them through to their brother, momentarily forgetting that Alan was hidden below and so could hear every word. Without giving John a chance to say anything, Virgil got in there first.
“John, we need your help.”
“¿Que?” John shot back, immediately smirking at the groan coming from his oldest brother, just visible in the corner of the screen from where he was peering over Virgil’s shoulder.
“English, dude, English.”
“No entiendo Ingles,” John continued, his grin growing wider at the scowl on Scott’s face. He had seen the way his big brother’s entire posture had tensed up when the meeting had started, knowing that his normally calm Field Commander didn’t understand a word of what was being said. Whilst the boys knew a vast range of languages between them – their job dictated it, since communications could be difficult at the best of times – Scott didn’t know Spanish.
“John,” Scott growled warningly, but found himself falling silent again as Virgil’s pointy elbow collided with his ribs.
“It’s Gordon, John.”
“What’s wrong?” Immediately, John was sitting further forward, concern jumping into his eyes as all traces of humour vanished. Shaking his head fondly at John’s reaction, Virgil glanced over at Scott. The younger two said that the team medic and oldest brother were the worst when it came to smothering reactions, but there could be no denying John was just as bad. And when it came to the youngest member of their family, even Gordon had a side to him that Alan hated.
“He’s asleep,” Scott said bluntly, causing John to let a low whistle of disbelief slide through his teeth, immediately knowing why his brothers had called him.
“Is he okay?”
“We were hoping that you could tell us,” Virgil said quietly, sharing another look with Scott, concern reflected in their eyes. “What did he say to you after debriefing the other day? He seemed alright when he got to the pool.”
“I thought he was okay. He told me he was going to let it go.”
“Let what go, John?” Scott pressed. He had received something of a talking to from his space-bound brother after the debriefing, John pushing him not to say anything to Gordon about potentially messing up on a rescue. But apart from that, the two brothers had said nothing regarding that conversation. In Scott’s mind, if there was something that John felt they needed to know, he would tell them. Otherwise, his conversation with Gordon was just between them. With their little brother acting out of sorts, though, even two days after the event, the three older ones felt that it could no longer stay a secret, not if they were to be able to help their brother.
“He didn’t think the accident was an accident, John reported, biting his lip in contemplation as he thought back on the conversation.
“He hinted towards something like that at the accident zone,” Virgil said softly. He too was frowning in an attempt to remember precisely what had been said. “Don’t you remember, Scott? He almost flipped out when you suggested it might just have been a mistake.”
“He had just been hysterical, though, Virg,” Scott commented, suddenly feeling guilty. What if Gordon had been voicing what was troubling him and his biggest brother had simply not been listening?
“I think he thought that someone had been attempting to kill him – or any of you, – and that he had just been in the wrong place. He wanted me to check the sensors to see if I could see anything.”
“And could you?” Virgil asked quickly, finding that his heart was suddenly beating very fast. Despite Gordon’s suspicions, Virgil could honestly say that he had thought the accident was nothing more than that, only not wanting his brother to explode on him, had kept quiet, trying to keep the redhead calm. People said the craziest of things after near-death experiences, and just because Gordon experienced them more often than most, why should he be any exception?
“Come on, Virgil, you know what the sensors do around fires. Even at ground level they send the readings mad. Then move away by a few thousand miles… What do you think I got?”
“Sorry, John,” Virgil apologised, knowing that the distance between them and whoever was space-bound could often be an issue in the event of a stressful rescue.
“But that doesn’t mean that I’ve stopped looking,” John responded smugly, grinning at the look on Scott’s face. If they thought the blond gave up that easily, then they really didn’t know their brother very well.
“Not yet, but if I can continue to improve the focus and pinpoint your exact positions, I should be able to tell one way or another if someone was there or not. Hopefully that will put Gordon’s mind at rest.”
“Or prove that someone is out to kill us,” Scott said quietly, immediately wiping the grin off John’s face and causing Virgil to sigh deeply.
“We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it,” Virgil muttered. “Thanks, John. We should talk to Dad, Scott.”
“Keep me posted, guys?”
“Will do. See ya later, Johnny.” And so saying, Virgil disconnected them. Standing in silence for a few moments, an unspoken weight seemed to have settled over the brothers, both of them thinking about the repercussions John’s findings could have for the family.
“Come on, let’s go and find Dad,” Scott eventually muttered, slinging a comforting arm around his brother and leading Virgil from the silos.
They had almost made it to their father’s office when Virgil suddenly stopped, feeling like an icy cold bucket of water had just been thrown over him. Shutting his eyes with a groan, he felt more than saw Scott’s piercing gaze.
“Virg, what is it?”
“Alan,” Virgil mumbled, unable to believe he could have been that stupid. “He heard the entire conversation.”
“You mean he was there?”
“Yep,” Virgil winced, wondering what the news would have done to Alan. Never mind the potential thought of someone being out to hurt his brothers, they had kept from their youngest member just how close it had been for Gordon, not to mention how he had lost control slightly on the rescue. It wasn’t as if they were deliberately trying to keep him in the dark, but with the responsibility of being an older brother came the natural instinct to protect the younger ones. Even if it meant protecting them from the reality that things weren’t always as safe as the older ones let on. Alan wasn’t naive; he knew that all rescues were dangerous, he had been on enough himself. His brothers had simply not felt the need to let him know about the accident considering it wasn’t the rescue as such that had caused Gordon’s latest brush with death.
“What are we going to do?”
“We’re going to talk to Dad first. We need to know what he thinks, that will tell us how to deal with Al.” And so saying, Scott grabbed Virgil by the upper arm and pulled his unresisting brother down the hallway, only pausing long enough to rap on his father’s door before entering without waiting for a response anyway.
“Dad, I think we may have a problem.”
As the door shut with a snap behind Virgil, the two brothers began to lay all their concerns on their father, wondering if – just like when they were younger – Jeff would be able to make all their troubles disappear with a simple word.
Crouched where he was, Alan found his breath was catching in his throat as he struggled to process what he had just heard. To begin with, he had been hard pushed not to laugh considering Scott hadn’t believed his reason to get out of the meeting – and with good reason as well, since Gordon hadn’t even been in the house when the boys had entered their father’s study nearly an hour before. But then the conversation had moved on, and Alan had found himself frozen with a racing heart as his brothers discussed precisely what had happened on the rescue. Despite still not knowing any of the details, Alan had heard enough to know that Gordon could have been killed. And that at least one of the elder Tracys thought it had been a deliberate act rather than one of the accidents that could easily happen on a rescue. But none of them, not even Gordon himself, had thought that the final member of their team might like to have been informed about what had befallen his brothers.
Finally gaining movement back in his limbs, Alan unfolded himself from where he had been crouched. Almost absentmindedly bouncing on his toes, he sprang lightly upwards, grasping the edge of the hatch with his fingertips before pulling himself out of the hole. For a moment, he rested lightly on top of his brother’s most prized possession, a mixture of anger and hurt running through him before repeating the action and landing lightly on his feet back on the platform. After what he had heard, he knew that Scott and Virgil had gone to see their father, clearly hoping that Jeff would have some answers. Wondering if his usual partner in crime would be any more forthcoming about the event, Alan sped silently from the silos, taking the stairs two at a time and creeping into Gordon’s room.
His brother was still asleep, spread out across the bed and taking up the whole thing. Staring at him from the doorway, Alan bit his lip. He wasn’t surprised that their older brothers were worried about the prankster. Gordon was normally one of the first up, the last to go to bed, and the one who spent the whole day bouncing. For him to crash out like this was a clear sign that something was troubling the usually happy-go-lucky man.
“What are you hiding from me, Gordo?” Alan whispered softly, moving further into the room as he continued to watch his brother. Finally letting his eyes sweep the room, Alan felt his frown deepen at a half-obscured object on the floor. Crossing the room and crouching down, Alan glanced over his shoulder at Gordon before tugging the end of the rope towards him. His mouth going dry, the youngest brother suddenly had a very good idea of what he was holding, especially considering the clean cut of the end.
“What are you doing, Allie?” Hearing a sleep-heavy voice from behind him, Alan spun on the spot guilty, turning back towards the bed as he did so, only to see Gordon sitting up. Leaning on his elbows, the aquanaut was watching his little brother in bewilderment.
“Oh nothing,” Alan responded drily, allowing the annoyance to make itself known in his voice. “After all, it’s not like any of you tell me what you are doing!”
“Okay… One,” Gordon began, sitting up properly and swinging his legs off the bed, wondering where this accusing tone had suddenly come from, “What the hell is that supposed to mean? And two, what are you doing in my room?”
“You know what it means!” Alan responded heatedly, refusing to let his mind acknowledge that his brother had only just woken up, meaning that at this given moment in time, Gordon probably didn’t have a clue what his brother was on about.
“Alan, what the hell?” Gordon exclaimed, coming around the bed to stand over his brother. As soon as he saw the rope in Alan’s hand, however, he swallowed hard, the younger man’s previous comment suddenly making sense.
“Don’t give me that, Gordon!” Alan yelled back. Before anything more could be said, however, the other members of the family materialised in the doorway, having been drawn to Gordon’s room by the raised voices. As soon as they saw what was happening within, Scott and Virgil exchanged concerned looks, knowing immediately what was going on as their father stepped through the doorway.
“What’s going on, boys?” he asked in a tone that his sons knew meant he was expecting an answer.
“Ask them,” Alan snarled, turning his annoyance on the two older brothers standing in the doorway, throwing the rope away from himself as he did so. Gordon not telling him he could partly understand, the redhead hadn’t voiced his suspicions to anyone other than John. But for Scott and Virgil to deliberately keep him in the dark, well, that hurt.
“Come on, Sprout, don’t be like that,” Scott began reassuringly, stepping through the door himself and taking a few steps towards his brothers, though knowing to keep his distance from Alan’s fiery temper.
“Like what, Scott? Worried about what happens to my brothers when they are out on rescues? That’s rich coming from you. But then again, I guess no one forgets to tell you when one of us nearly dies!”
“It wasn’t like that,” Gordon interrupted, finally having made his brain wake up enough to catch up with the row now blazing in front of him. He had hoped having a lie down would have made things easier for him to understand, not make the problems even worse.
“No?” Alan demanded, rounding on Gordon as he spoke. “Then why did no one tell me?”
“For the same reason you want to know! Scott snapped, sitting down on the edge of Gordon’s bed and letting his head rest in his hands. It was times like this that he hated the very existence of International Rescue. Not only could it threaten his family physically, it also had the capability of driving up barriers in a way nothing else could.
“What do you mean?” Suddenly, the heat had disappeared from Alan’s voice as he stared at his biggest brother, no longer certain of where the argument was going. He was sure that his brothers had just been trying to leave him out of things – it wasn’t like it would have been the first time.
“Come on, Al, why did you want to know so badly? And don’t say it was because we should have told you as members of the same team.”
For a long moment, the silence stretched on between the brothers, settling over them heavily and causing the smallest of noises to be amplified.
“Okay, awkward,” Gordon eventually muttered, his eyes darting back and forth between his youngest and oldest brother, wondering who was going to be the first out of the pair of them to break the eye contact. It almost looked as if they were locked in the same sort of staring competitions the boys had participated in when they were children, only this time, winning or losing had bigger consequences than an hour of teasing from the victor.
Watching Alan bite his lip as he stared at Scott, clearly beginning to sense exactly where this was heading, Jeff was suddenly reminded of just how young his son was, how young they all were considering the pressures he placed on them on a day-to-day basis. Excusing himself, he quickly strode from the room, barely aware of the look that shot between Gordon and Virgil over his exit.
“Answer the question, Alan,” Scott pushed, knowing that unless Alan said it for himself, he wouldn’t accept the point his big brother was trying to make.
“I was worried about him,” Alan eventually whispered, glancing over at Gordon as he spoke and so breaking the eye contact with Scott. Moving across the gap between them, Gordon squeezed the younger man’s shoulder reassuringly, an unspoken message being shot between the two brothers.
“Exactly. You want to protect him. And that works both ways, Alan. We didn’t tell you because it had nothing to do with the debriefing. Gordon is fine. There was no need for you to worry.”
“The way you, Virgil and John are?” Alan asked, an ironic smile ghosting his lips as he sank into his brother’s chair, running a hand distractedly through his hair as he did so, letting out an explosion of breath at the same time.
“Hang on,” Gordon suddenly interrupted, glancing between his older and younger brothers in apparent confusion. “Why the heck are you guys worried?”
“You were asleep, Gords,” Virgil finally spoke, leaning against the doorframe as he took in the tired complexion of his little brother in concern.
“I was tired,” Gordon exclaimed, gesturing wildly with his hands at the same time, although it didn’t escape Virgil’s notice that the redhead’s eyes were darting around the room, refusing to hold the medic’s gaze for any length of time. Folding his arms across his chest, Virgil merely raised his eyebrows. As soon as Gordon caught his gaze again, the redhead seemed to deflate slightly, knowing that his older brothers wouldn’t have been convinced for a moment.
“Smother hen,” Gordon muttered darkly, under his breath, sitting back on the edge of his bed now that he knew keeping up pretences was just a waste of time.
“Look at us,” Scott eventually said, a forced laugh escaping him as he moved across the room until he was standing behind Alan. Letting his hands rest lightly on his little brother’s shoulders, Scott found himself smiling gently as Alan allowed the contact, a clear sign that he had calmed down. Hoping that he wasn’t pushing it too far, the oldest Tracy son opened his mouth again.
“You okay, Allie?” he asked gently, giving the younger man’s shoulders a squeeze at the same time. “You get why we didn’t tell you, don’t you?”
“I get it. Doesn’t mean I have to like it,” Alan mumbled, causing Scott and Virgil to trade relieved smiles. Alan was never going to completely back down; it went too far against his nature. But for him to say that he at least understood, well, his brothers’ could ask for no more than that.
“And you…” Virgil took over now, turning his attention to his water-loving brother and fixing Gordon with a look that had the redhead groaning, almost sure he knew what was coming before Virgil opened his mouth again. “You are undertaking a full physical as soon as you are awake enough to do it.”
“What?” Gordon yelped, springing to his feet and glaring at his brother indignantly. He had expected Virgil to make some sort of comment about his health, but not that. As Virgil held his gaze steadily, Gordon knew that he wouldn’t be able to get out of this.
“You’ll have to catch me first!” With a sudden spring, Gordon was across his room, charging past Virgil and sprinting for the stairs. With a smirk, Virgil casually stuck out a hand as Gordon sped past; latching onto the back of his brother’s top, almost being pulled off his feet as he did so.
Hearing a thud, Alan and Scott traded amused grins before heading for the door themselves, wondering who was going to be victorious this time. One glance into the hallway told them that it was Virgil who had managed to get his way, practically sitting on top of his brother as he pinned the wriggling Gordon down.
“Gotcha,” he commented lightly, leaning back to avoid Gordon’s attempts to swing at him. “Ooh yeah, definitely need a physical. I mean, did you see that attempt at a punch? Even Tin-Tin could hit better than that.”
“Virgil, you’re a complete-” Whatever Gordon was going to say to insult his brother, however, was cut off as a loud siren signalled the arrival of a rescue. Climbing to his feet, Virgil pulled Gordon up with him, and all else forgotten, the four brothers took off for the lounge.
Jeff had already connected through to John by the time the rest of his sons made it into the lounge, nodding at them as they came thundering in. Scott instantly moved across the room, standing by his lamps, ready – as always – to be whisked into action once his father gave the command. As John filled the rest of the family in on the situation they were flying out to, Virgil found himself watching Gordon. His brother looked pale almost to the extent of exhaustion, even though his eyes were bright and alert at the idea of a rescue. There certainly had been something about the accident a few days before that had thrown the young man, especially if – as Virgil suspected – it had been stopping him from sleeping.
Floods had crippled a small, local area in Canada, the authorities not having the man power to evacuate everyone. A dam had broken in the river, and Virgil knew immediately it was because of the fires that had started all of this trouble. One glance at Scott and the artist knew they were going to the rescue, whether Jeff said the words or not. The Field Commander was clearly feeling responsible for the disaster, probably believing they should have checked the danger zone more thoroughly when they had left the last time. Virgil couldn’t help but think they perhaps had more pressing issues at hand, considering Gordon’s brush with death.
“Virg?” Hearing Scott calling him, a sense of impatience underlying the concern in his voice, Virgil snapped himself back into reality, his eyes resting on his big brother. Scott looked like he was just about to disappear from sight, both hands resting lightly on the handles of the lamps, but his head was turned towards his younger sibling, clearly having picked up that his brother had not been as focused as normal.
“I’m with you, Scott.” Offering Scott a tight smile, Virgil sighed in relief as his brother nodded sharply before disappearing from view. The last thing he wanted was for the Field Commander to think that his mind was not focused fully on the job.
“Virgil, I want you to take…”
“Do we need Four, Dad?” Virgil interrupted, cutting his father off mid-flow. He didn’t mean to interrupt the man but he knew that on this occasion he needed to get his opinion in first. An order was a lot easier to overthrow when it had not yet been given. And given the nature of the rescue, Virgil knew his father well enough to predict what the man had been about to say.
“John?” Handing the question over to his second-born, Jeff found that he was watching the more artistic of his sons closely. Something seemed to be distracting Virgil, and as his eyes flickered between his immediate older and younger siblings; the father had a very good idea of what. He too had been concerned about Gordon’s behaviour, but he knew the prankster would get enough smothering from his brothers without being subjected to it by his father as well. If the young man had something that he wanted to say, Jeff knew his son well enough to know that Gordon wouldn’t be able to keep it hidden for long. He was definitely the most vocal out of his sons, even when something was troubling him.
“Nope, the water isn’t deep enough,” John reported, after letting his eyes scan momentarily over the information he had managed to obtain from the rescue zone. Judging by the lack of co-ordination on the ground, the main problem seemed to be that no one knew what they were doing. The flood had spread, but was slowing down. It was just a matter of getting the people to safety, something that Two and the hover slides would be able to handle. Once his brothers were there, however, the blond was sure that it would be a relatively straightforward rescue. With a wry smile, John knew that lack of organisation wouldn’t stand a chance against Scott, and knowing what his brother was like, he would probably have everything ordered and ready to go before Virgil got there. If there was one thing Scott hated more than people being in danger on a rescue, it was the ground teams not working effectively together. In the Field Commander’s mind, disorganisation cost lives, potentially his brothers’.
“In that case, I’m taking Alan,” Virgil said shortly, nodding at his youngest brother and causing a smile to leap onto Alan’s face even as he ran for the entrance. Stepping up to the hidden access for his slide, Virgil paused, glancing back over his shoulder at Gordon.
“Don’t you dare, Virgil,” Gordon said quietly, his voice sounding almost desperate as he locked eyes with his big brother.
“What’s going on?” Jeff barked, his own eyes swivelling between his sons. Whilst he wanted Virgil to get a move on, experience had taught him that anything that was affecting his sons to such a degree that Virgil wouldn’t take Gordon on a rescue was better cleared up before he left. The last thing his father wanted was for Virgil to have his mind distracted whilst on the job.
“Until you clear that physical, I can’t risk you on a rescue,” Virgil responded, his voice equally as soft, whilst inside he was wincing. He sounded more like Scott when he spoke like that, but there was no way he was about to let his little brother out into a potential deadly situation whilst he was looking this run-down. Especially since it was clear Gordon hadn’t let the accident go, despite promising John he would do so. All in all, Gordon was not acting like Gordon, and there was no way Virgil was going to let him risk his life until he was back to his old self.
“Please, Virg…” Gordon pressed. It wasn’t so much that he minded Alan going on a rescue; they took it in turns if the situation didn’t need them both and Gordon had been the one to tackle the fires, after all. But he had expected that since the situation this time involved a flood, he would be the one to go. When it came to dealing with water, there was no doubt who was the strongest member of the team. No, what had him feeling more than let down was the fact that Virgil didn’t trust him enough to know his own condition in order to make a judgement as to whether he could handle a rescue or not. Yes, the redhead might have been a little tired, but he knew full well Scott and Virgil had both attended rescues feeling worse.
“Sorry, Gordon,” Virgil replied shortly, activating the entrance and disappearing from view, not giving his brother a chance to say anything else. Seeing Alan hesitate at the note in Gordon’s voice, the water-lover sighed.
“Don’t keep him waiting, Al.” As Alan also disappeared, Gordon sat down heavily, only to glance up on feeling the weighty stares of his father and remaining brother.
“What was that, Gordon?” Jeff asked, knowing by the defeated look of his fourth-born that taking a more aggressive approach definitely wouldn’t get any answers out of his son.
“Virgil doesn’t think I am fit for duty,” Gordon muttered dully, looking down at the floor as he spoke.
“And are you?” Jeff asked, his tone kind and gentle. He had the utmost trust in the boys to know whether they could handle a rescue or not. He knew that they would never admit to being hurt or in any sort of pain, but was also well aware that they would not risk other people’s lives on that decision. If Gordon said he could handle a rescue, then his father believed him.
“Yes!” Gordon responded heatedly, looking up and meeting Jeff’s eye. “I’m just a bit tired, nothing I can’t handle.”
“Then I’ll talk to your brother when he gets home,” Jeff promised, before turning his attention back to John. “Do we have any further information coming in from the accident zone?”
“Not yet, Father,” John reported, only to break off when a coughing fit interrupted him. Raising his eyebrows, Jeff found himself subjecting John to the same look that he had just given the astronaut’s younger brother.
“You told me that it had gone.”
“It has, for the most part,” John protested, grinning sheepishly at his father and causing Jeff to sigh with a fond smile.
“I’m going to find Kyrano and the coffee pot. Contact me immediately if your brothers reach the danger zone before I’m back.” And so saying, Jeff strode from the room, muttering something under his breath about troublesome sons as he went.
“You alright, Johnny-boy?” Gordon asked, not realising that he was sounding more like himself than he had done for days.
“Are you?” John shot back, although his words were somewhat softened by the gentle smile on his face, in order to reassure his brother that he was not doing the same as Virgil and not trusting him.
“Stupid medic,” Gordon muttered darkly under his breath, making his feelings about Virgil’s behaviour more than obvious. John, however, didn’t quite know what to say. On one side, he hated seeing Gordon like this, and had it been for any other reason, would be joining his brother in insulting Virgil. But having spoken to his brothers already regarding their copper-haired sibling, he knew that this time Virgil had cause to be worried. John knew that it wasn’t Gordon’s physical state that the team medic was worried about, but his mental one. After all, if Gordon was so determined to think that the accident had been caused by someone trying to kill him, where was the line going to be drawn? Was every accident from now on going to mean something more to the aquanaut?
“He’s only watching out for you, squirt,” John murmured, suddenly glad that he had the distance of space between him and his younger brother. At least that way, if Gordon took it the wrong way, he could simply disconnect. Luckily for him, the redhead seemed to know what John was getting at.
“I know. It just would have been nice if he decided to tell me that before he was heading out on a rescue.” Running a hand through his hair, Gordon found himself glancing at his brother’s portrait, wondering when it was going to morph into the real thing to signal that he was approaching the danger zone. Whilst he hadn’t said anything, Gordon hadn’t been able to stop his heart from beating slightly faster when he’d heard the location of the rescue. It was not far from the river, not far from where his accident had been. Wondering if a nice easy rescue was what was needed to put his mind at ease, Gordon exhaled sharply, shooting his brother an apologetic grin.
“That’s better,” John commented with a smile of his own, more grateful than he could express to see understanding reflected in Gordon’s eyes. Wondering if he could make the grin more genuine, the blond decided to push it slightly. “You know how spontaneous Virg likes to be.”
As the younger man chuckled, John let out a gentle sigh, glad to see the old Gordon returning. If that hadn’t done the trick, however, John would have had no idea what else to try. Whilst his artistic brother had many talents and characteristics that defined him, spontaneity was certainly not one of them.
He couldn’t help but echo his brother’s previous thoughts, however. If they could carry off a nice, simple rescue without any mishaps, the turmoil of thoughts in Gordon’s mind would hopefully be put to rest. What concerned John more, however, was that ‘nice’ and ‘easy’ didn’t seem to focus in the Tracy vocabulary when it came to rescues.
“Alan, I want you to gear up and work with the teams responsible for the gas leak that has sprung up on the far side.” Scott’s voice was low and professional as he gave his instructions, glancing at the information in front of him. The majority of the buildings had been evacuated by the time they had arrived, only a large shopping mall on the far side contained potential victims. Scott was sure the gas leak was just the pipes not being able to take the influx of water, but he still wanted everything under control. If this was their fault it had happened, he was going to make sure it didn’t happen again.
“F.A.B.” Alan replied, turning on his heel and almost bounding away, causing his older brothers to exchange amused looks. Despite turning from their little brother into a mature member of the International Rescue team when out on a rescue, there could be no denying that Alan’s enthusiasm for the job outstripped nearly the rest of the family’s put together.
“Virgil, you’re with me. We need to get the people who are still trapped in the store.”
“How?” Virgil couldn’t help but question, wincing as he took in the sight of the swirling water. John had been right when he said that it was not deep enough for Four to be needed, but it couldn’t be far off. He was just thankful the local rescue teams had got themselves sorted during their flight over and had managed to clear the vast majority of the buildings, it would certainly make their job a lot easier. Scott was just glad that Gordon wasn’t around. This close to the river, he was not sure his brother would have been able to handle it. Not having heard the last few comments that passed between his brothers, Scott had no idea that it was Virgil’s request to have Alan on the rescue. The Field Commander just assumed that base had decided that the youngest member of their team could do with some experience in different situations; Gordon was normally the one to be sent out on floods.
“We’ll use the hover slides. Get the most vulnerable out first, then work out some sort of order. The water’s not bad enough to cause a real threat, but we need to move.”
“F.A.B.” Virgil acknowledged, making his way back towards his ‘bird as he spoke. One quick glance over his shoulder revealed Scott securing Mobile Control before turning to follow him, Alan just visible in the distance where he was clearly organising the ground teams. Waiting for Scott to catch up with him, Virgil found himself smiling gently as he watched Alan. The kid sure knew how to handle himself on a rescue, that was certain.
“You coming, Virg?” Scott asked as he finally caught up with his brother, only to realise that Virgil had stopped. Following Virgil’s eye line, Scott had to mirror the artist’s grin as he watched Alan. Despite his doubts when IR had been set up as to whether his youngest brother would be able to handle the strain of the rescues – especially considering that he had still been at the stage of disagreeing with everything his father said – the Field Commander was the first to admit that he had been wrong about the youngest Tracy.
“Do you think I did the right thing, Scott?”
“What’d you do?” Scott asked, surprise lining his voice. Suddenly realising that his eldest brother had already made his way down to the silos when Virgil had all but forbidden Gordon from coming on the rescue, the younger man quickly outlined the situation. With one hand resting on the doorway to the Pod, Scott stopped, eyebrows raised.
“You’d make a good commander, Virg,” he commented quietly, before making his way into the green machine and pulling out some of the equipment they would need to rescue the trapped victims. Virgil paused for a moment before following his brother in. He wasn’t sure whether he should feel insulted by that comment or not.
“And by the way,” Scott called out, shifting the slides forward one at a time so Virgil could lift them down.
“I would have done the same thing. If he is not up to it, he can’t come, end of story.”
Realising that Scott was firmly in his rescue mode and so would have done more than forbidden his brother from coming if it meant keeping him safe, Virgil pushed the matter from his mind, knowing that he would be forced to face the consequences when they got back to base. There was no way that Gordon would simply let Virgil’s refusal go. One thing Virgil didn’t want to do however was dwell on it now, not when there was a rescue – and victims – needing his attention.
“Please, Sir, do not push, you will be out of here in no time!” Finding himself yelling over the noise, Virgil was more than glad that this appeared to be the last run they would have to do to get the victims out. He was cold, soaking wet, and thanks to the water levels continuing to rise despite Alan’s attempts to keep them level, the rescue had turned out to be slightly trickier than the team medic had first anticipated. Matters were not helped by the fact that whilst the gas leak had been contained, the manager of the store was conspicuous by his absence if nothing else. With a slight grin as he aided a woman to her feet and began to guide her over to the waiting transportation, Virgil knew precisely how his biggest brother was feeling about that. If there was one value that Scott had picked up both through his time in the military and – unless Virgil was much mistaken – helping raise his younger siblings, it was that the captain stayed with the ship, no matter the circumstances. The fact that anyone with the slightest bit of seniority had vanished by the time the boys arrived on the scene had obviously grated on the Field Commander; Virgil could see it reflected in his eyes.
Hearing a shrill whistle, Virgil’s head instantly shot up, his gaze scanning the room until it rested on his oldest brother. With so many people around, the boys couldn’t risk using names – especially not Virgil’s due to its rarity – instead being forced to find other ways of communicating with one another. Each Tracy had their own signal so the others would know who was after their attention, and as his eyes finally locked on Scott’s, Virgil dipped his head to acknowledge that he was listening.
“Start the move out.” Scott’s voice seemed to carry across the room despite the fact he had barely lifted his tone, causing Virgil to roll his eyes somewhat irritably. He had to admit, whilst he had always looked up to the older man, there had never been anything he was really envious about, apart from one thing. No matter what the situation was, Scott always managed to make himself heard. Virgil felt like he was beginning to lose his voice after trying to keep the trapped shoppers calm, one man in particular grating on his nerves due to his loud protestations that he should be one of the first out. Normally, the boys listened to the reasons when someone declared something like that, and then took appropriate action. But when pushed, the man had simply boasted that his car was the most expensive in the parking lot and that he wanted to get it away from the destruction. Little did he realise that his announcement had just moved him straight to the back of the queue. Despite their own wealth, if there was one thing the Tracys hated more than a bad rescue, it was the arrogance of those more fortunate than others.
Beginning to lead the people who were closest to the door through the swirling mass of debris, Virgil found all other thoughts pushed from his mind as a woman directly behind him stumbled. Spinning around faster than most could contemplate, he caught her by the forearm, gently drawing her back to her feet and smiling reassuringly at the look of gratitude she shot him.
Watching his brother’s actions, Scott found a fond smile crossing his face. Leaning against the wall with his arms folded across his chest, the Field Commander found that there wasn’t a lot for him to do as Virgil led the last victims to safety. Watching his younger brothers on a rescue always gave him something of a thrill, although the feeling was constantly dampened by the worry that something would happen to them. Thinking about their last rescue, Scott sighed deeply, lifting his watch as he did so.
“Come in, Thunderbird Five.”
“Reading you.” John’s cheerful reply instantly came bouncing through the space between the brothers, causing Scott’s smile to return. John always managed to sound cheerful when he was monitoring their progress, despite the fact Scott knew it drove him mad being so far away.
“We got any more life signs?” Scott asked, suddenly sounding weary as Alan splashed his way through the store towards him now that the victims had all been safely extracted. If Scott thought he was wet, it was nothing compared to his little brother.
“Al, what have you been doing?” he couldn’t help but ask, sounding incredulous even as he cut off John’s reply to his previous question.
“Trying to see if I can find some way of stopping the water,” Alan reported, shooting his brother a look that clearly said Scott should have figured that one out for himself. Curious as to whether Alan had managed anything – Gordon was normally the one for those sort of ideas – Scott frowned quizzically.
Dropping his gaze, Alan shook his head.
“No idea. We need Gordon for that.” Once more meeting his brother’s gaze head on, Alan frowned. “Talking about Gordon…”
“Not here,” Scott muttered, glancing around him as he did so. The last place he wanted to discuss what was going on in the prankster’s head was in the middle of a danger zone. “So, Johnny, any more life signs?”
“Yeah, one,” John began hesitantly, surprise lining his voice as he had to change his original answer to his only older brother. There had been no more signals indicating that anyone was out of place when he had checked a few moments ago, but suddenly one had appeared, seemingly out of nowhere.
“Furthest point of the building, at the back,” John reported, frowning in turn as Scott and Alan glanced at each other.
“I’ll go,” Scott eventually muttered, noticing the slight shivers Alan was trying to hide. “Go and get dried off and tell Virg to pack up Mobile Control for me, I want to get a move on when this is sorted. We apparently have a brother to sort out.”
“He’s okay, you know,” John protested, knowing that they were talking about Gordon. Scott, however, didn’t answer, and the older of the two blonds knew that his brother wouldn’t believe it until he could say the same words himself, with a clear conscience that they had done everything possible for Gordon. Wondering whether he should give his younger brother a heads-up on the smothering that was coming his way, the astronaut disconnected, knowing that Scott was just about to cut the link anyway.
Forcing his way through the water, Scott rolled his eyes as Alan refused to move. Knowing precisely what was going through his younger brother’s head, the pilot twisted his own back to look at Alan, a gentle smile on his face.
“I’ve got this, Allie. You go back to Virg, and if I’m longer than twenty minutes you can fly One back to base.”
“I never believe you when you say that,” Alan muttered, but turned all the same. For Scott to say that, it meant he was confident that the rescue was over and once he had found whoever it was that John had suddenly picked up, they would be free to go home. Just because he was the youngest didn’t mean that Alan didn’t worry about his older brothers in the same way he knew they worried about him.
Waiting until Alan had disappeared from sight – for Scott knew that he had a habit of following despite being ordered the other way – the older man then set off towards the back of the building, hoping that he was going in the right direction to where John had picked up the heat signal. Why anyone would be this far back the pilot had no idea, but people’s minds didn’t necessarily work rationally in the face of potential danger, something Scott had discovered the hard way on one of his first rescues.
“Hello? This is International Rescue, can anyone hear me?” For a moment no sound met Scott’s ears apart from his own footsteps splashing noisily across the floor. The water level was lower here, making movement far easier and causing Scott’s spirits to lift slightly. He had thought it would have been worse further back, meaning it was definitely a relief to find that was not the case. He hated it when the boys thought that a rescue was over and then an added complication made things ten times worse. He moved past the various shops and found himself following the signal through what looked like a restaurant. Past the slightly floating tables he went before he had reached the kitchens. Still the signal was leading him through, and before long, Scott found himself in the store room.
“Hello?” Calling out once more, Scott came to a stop, spinning slowly on the spot as he searched for whomever it was that was back there. Wondering if John had perhaps been mistaken – for Scott certainly couldn’t see anyone – the Field Commander had just made up his mind to turn back around again when the smallest of movements in his peripheral vision made him stop. Turning sharply, he splashed his way across to where he had seen the movement and, peering over a large crate, found himself gazing into a pair of wide, frightened eyes.
“Hey, there.” Instantly, Scott’s tone softened as he shifted the crate out of the way before crouching down in front of the child. The girl could have been no older than five, the blue eyes and blonde hair instantly capturing Scott’s heart. Even though the child was a girl, the pilot saw Alan, coming to his brother in the middle of the night because there was a monster under his bed. Despite Scott making the show of checking, the five-year-old had been adamant that he was going to be eaten, refusing to go back to sleep until Scott offered his own room as sanctuary.
“How about we get you out of here then, missy?” Offering her his hand, Scott found that his eyes were automatically searching the area around them in order to see if he could see anything else. He knew that John had only reported one reading, but Scott was worried about the fact that she seemed to be out here on her own. His eyes resting on what appeared to be large cabinets lining the back wall, the pilot frowned even as the little girl finally grasped the offered hand and pulled herself to her feet. Pushing the matter from his mind, Scott began to lead her back the way he had come, wondering if carrying her would make things easier when the water got slightly deeper; she was only a tiny thing. To his surprise, the girl resisted the movement, instead beginning to tug him back towards the cabinets.
“Mommy!” she stated somewhat frantically, tugging on Scott’s hand until he gave in and allowed her to pull him over. The last of the cabinets was partly open and, as a rush of cold air hit him, Scott suddenly realised what they were. As with any large store, especially those serving food, they needed somewhere to keep the chilled goods. It appeared that the Field Commander of International Rescue had just found the freezers. Wondering if that explained why John had only picked up the girl’s life sign at the last moment, Scott felt his frown deepen. Desperately hoping that her comment didn’t mean what he thought it might, Scott slipped his hand from the girl’s, crouching down in front of her once more.
“Where’s your mommy, sweetie?”
Instead of answering verbally, the girl instead grabbed onto Scott’s hand once more, tugging him frantically towards the open door. Biting back a groan, Scott waited until they were level with the door before drawing them to a halt again.
“Is she in there?” As the girl nodded frantically, Scott bit his lip, worried about what state the woman was going to be in when he got to her. Those freezers were cold for a reason, and if she was wet from the flood as well, Scott knew that he didn’t have much time – if she was even still alive. Raising his watch for backup, the pilot frowned at the static he received back, only to realise that the components of the freezer had managed to scramble the signal. It was the same back on the island, meaning that every time his two youngest brothers couldn’t be traced, Scott still knew where they were.
“Honey, I need you to listen to me very closely.” Bending down to her level once more, Scott knew that he needed to get her out of here quickly, even if it was to shield her from the truth of what could be waiting in the freezer. “You see this path? I need you to follow it really carefully. Can you do that for me?”
“I know, honey, I know. But if you can get outside, you can find my buddies for me and they can come and help me help your mommy.”
And just like that, the girl slipped her hand from Scott’s, running back through the water and heading out towards the main part of the store. Hoping he had done the right thing in sending her away, Scott took a deep breath, squaring his shoulders and wrapping his jacket around him as he made his way to the open door.
“It’s just a bit of cold, Scotty,” he muttered to himself, forcing himself to take a step closer and receiving another buffeting of cold air for his troubles. Pushing all other thoughts from his mind – there was a victim in there who needed his help – Scott strode forward, only pausing momentarily as he entered the large container, shivers immediately beginning to rack his form.
“Is anyone there?” Despite not actually expecting an answer, Scott still found his heart sinking as nothing could be heard. Taking a shuddering breath, he began to search, wondering if the woman had tried to pull herself into a corner in a vain attempt to keep some of her warmth.
A few moments later, however, Scott came to the conclusion that there was no one there. The girl must have been mistaken, for the shivering pilot could find no evidence of anyone. The thick ice lining the place had been broken only by his movements, a clear sign that no one else had been in here in the first place. Knowing that he needed to get out of there or risk hypothermia himself, Scott turned.
Only to find himself looking at a solid wall. The door had been shut.
Virgil found himself leaning against the Pod door watching Alan absentmindedly out of the corner of his eye as the young man tried to pack up Mobile Control, but most of his attention was fixed on the police leading the victims away. The local authorities had finally managed to get close enough to the store, saying the water levels further down had prevented them from getting close enough until now. Despite Scott having told Alan to get Virgil to clean up Mobile Control, the older brother had merely subjected Alan to one of his looks which soon had the younger man doing it himself. Hiding his smirk, Virgil found that he had stopped watching the victims and now had his focus fully on Alan. Whilst all the boys knew how to shut down Mobile Control, it was usually Scott who did it, Virgil occasionally taking his turn when the rescue dictated it. The others, however, always struggled. John now flatly refused after Gordon had almost stopped breathing from laughing so much at the elder blond’s struggles, only to then fail when he’d tried to do it himself.
“You do know that if you’d hit the green button first it wouldn’t be whirring at you, don’t you?”
“Fine, just helping.” Folding his arms across his chest, Virgil let his smirk be seen as Alan turned to glare at him. If he wasn’t going to accept help then Virgil felt like he had every right to laugh at his brother. Eventually though, Alan managed to store the machinery away properly, although Virgil felt the sudden need to check it himself, despite Alan’s grumblings. Finally, however, they were done. And there was still no sign of Scott.
“Where is he?” Virgil murmured, gazing back towards the mall as he did so as if hoping that his brother was suddenly going to materialise just because Virgil wanted him to. It wouldn’t have been completely out of the ordinary if the oldest Tracy brother had done just that; it had happened in the past.
“He said after twenty minutes, I could fly home,” Alan responded, his voice equally as soft. Despite the words, Virgil knew that was not what Alan meant. Whilst the younger man may have jumped at the opportunity to fly his brother’s ‘bird home, they both knew that in reality, Scott would have never have let him. If the oldest brother said that after twenty minutes, Alan could fly home, it meant that he was going to be back in about fifteen. And yet at least half an hour had passed since Alan had emerged dripping wet from the store with instructions from their Field Commander to pack up and be ready to move.
“We’ll give him another five,” Virgil muttered, unable to deny the feeling in the pit of his stomach. It was a feeling that he was more than used to; having his brothers, especially the younger ones, out on a rescue constantly left him worrying. One thing he wasn’t as used to, however, was having the feeling emerge because of his older brother. He was sure that everything was fine – this was Scott, after all – but even so, something didn’t feel right. Shaking his head, Virgil pushed the thought firmly from his mind. They had enough to worry about with Gordon being convinced that someone was out to kill them; Virgil didn’t want to start thinking along the same lines. Even so, he had tried to reach his brother when Alan had emerged alone, wondering what the pilot had been playing at. Only static had come back, but Virgil had just assumed it was because Scott was busy.
Five minutes passed, however, and there was still no sign of Scott. Sharing concerned looks, Virgil lifted his watch even as Alan began walking back towards the mall, clearly with the intention of going in to find his brother.
“Alan, stop!” Yelling after the impulsive young man, Virgil was not in the slightest bit surprised when Alan refused to heed his words. Stumbling along after him, he quickly pressed a button on the gadget, lifting it to his ear as he did so.
“Scott? Scott, are you reading me? Come in, Scott!” There was no response to his calls, however, and speeding up, Virgil drew level with Alan just in time to hear his brother curse in a way that would have made their grandmother blush if she had heard it. Virgil didn’t have the heart to say anything though, not when he caught sight of what it was that had Alan cursing. The water had continued to flood into the store, wedging the doors shut with the pressure. It had to be at least up to Virgil’s shoulders by now, and was still rising. And his older brother was in there somewhere.
“Alan, back to Two, now. I want Brains’ lasers and breathing equipment.”
“F.A.B.” Alan responded immediately, spinning on his heel and sprinting towards the Thunderbird, not thinking to question his brother for a second. They were all used to Scott giving orders on a rescue, but when their older brother wasn’t around, the rest of the family could still work effectively together, it was what made International Rescue such a success.
“Come in, John.”
Hearing the note in Virgil’s voice, John’s previously happy tone vanished, a strictly professional one taking its place. Having spent so long listening to his brothers without being able to read their body language, John had become very adept at being able to tell what sort of thing they were calling him for just by the way they connected.
“Johnny, I need you to pinpoint Scott’s location for me.”
“F.A.B. Stand by, Virg.”
Bouncing on his toes, Virgil spared a glance over his shoulder back towards his ‘bird, just about able to see Alan emerge with the equipment they needed in order to force their way through the doors. Virgil was just glad they had been able to keep the water in check whilst civilians had been present, it would have made the rescue a lot harder, otherwise.
“Virgil, I can’t find him.”
Shutting his eyes, Virgil took a deep breath in through his nose.
“What do you mean, you can’t find him?”
“Exactly that!” John snapped, not meaning to lose his cool with his little brother, especially as Scott clearly wasn’t around to help keep Virgil calm. He couldn’t help it though, he had still been trying to figure out where that one signal had suddenly appeared from and now Scott’s had vanished on him. “I can pick up the signals from you and Alan no problem, but I can’t locate Scott’s.”
“Okay, okay,” Virgil muttered, beginning to pace back and forth as he waited for Alan to catch up with him again. “Is there anyone else in there?”
“No,” John reported instantly, his eyes scanning the flashing signals he had in front of him. The vast majority were just the everyday heat signals that the average person gave out, enabling him to direct his brothers to any victims. Virgil’s and Alan’s, however, were made far more distinctive by flashing the colour of their sashes. What was missing, however, was a flashing blue signal. It was as if Scott had just vanished.
“But I did have someone appear out of nowhere earlier.”
Thinking over his brother’s words, Virgil suddenly felt his breath catch in his throat as he let out a long groan. As Alan came skidding to a stop next to him, dropping the equipment in an untidy pile at their feet and flexing his arms out again to get the blood flowing, Virgil glanced at him.
“I bet I know where he is. A mall like this must have places to eat, right? John, have you got any cold patches showing?”
“Yeah, at the back of the…ooh… Freezers?”
“Yep,” Virgil confirmed, bending down and handing Alan an oxygen mask, picking one up for himself at the same time. Beginning to suit up, he voiced his thoughts. “You know how it drives Brains mad that he can’t get it to work around the freezers at home. And a store like this is bound to have them. If heat signals are appearing and disappearing randomly and there is no other way in or out, it must be the only explanation.”
“It has to be Scott though, doesn’t it?” Alan said with a grin as he checked Virgil’s suit for him, having just been subjected to the same thing himself.
“What do you mean?”
“Well, if anyone was going to get shut in a freezer, it would be Scott. The guy is always hungry!”
“Oh very funny!” Virgil snapped, hefting the laser into his arms at the same time.
Flicking a switch so that it would only be his artistic brother that heard him – not their younger sibling – John spoke softly in his brother’s ear.
“Don’t snap at him, Virg. You know how he can take after Gordon when he is stressed, making inappropriate comments. You’re gonna need the kid to help you here, don’t piss him off.”
Scott may have been best known for being able to control all four of his younger siblings with just one word, but John was a big brother too. And right now, Virgil needed him. There was a note in his voice that only seemed to appear whenever Scott wasn’t around. John knew by the way Virgil suddenly exhaled sharply that his brother was making an effort to calm down. The last thing anyone needed – especially if Scott was in trouble – was Alan in a temper; the kid’s had been known to be somewhat legendary.
“That’s better. Come on, Virg, go and find Scotty.”
“F.A.B. Oh, John?”
“Keep the line open?”
“Sure, kiddo. I’m with you, Virg.” Smiling gently at the pleading tone in Virgil’s voice, John did just that, going back to seeing if he could boost the signal from Scott’s watch and therefore pinpoint his older brother’s exact location. There were not many occasions where Virgil turned to him just because he needed a big brother to help him out, but whenever he did, John always made sure that he was there.
“Alan, stand back.” Unaware of John thinking about his role as a big brother, Virgil found that he was doing exactly the same thing. As Alan made to protest, the artist sighed irritably, trying to keep his temper. Once he started cutting through the door, it would be left to the water to determine the next course of action. And if the force of it rushed outwards, Virgil knew the dangers involved, especially if the laser was still activated. He needed Alan out of the way just to make sure that there was someone left standing to go in and get Scott.
“Al, please. Just make sure that everyone is out of the way, I don’t know where the water is going to go.” Trying to make Alan feel like he was doing something useful, Virgil could only hope that his little brother hadn’t seen through the obvious flaw in that plan. Virgil really didn’t know where the water was going to go, meaning that both brothers were more than aware he could be directly in its path. The look Alan gave the older man told him precisely what he thought of the idea, but much to Virgil’s relief, he moved to the side. Luckily, some of the people crowding around were beginning to get too close, and, as Alan moved to take control of the situation, Virgil was just glad that his brother would be out of harm’s way. Lifting the laser once more, Virgil took a deep breath before turning it on.
The glass of the door didn’t stand much chance. As soon as the heat from the laser began to melt through the door, Virgil attempting to guide it in a circular motion, the water took over for him. Feeling the pressure begin to increase as trickles began to make their way out of the crack, Virgil sprang backwards, just as the rest of the door gave away. Virgil was vaguely aware that Alan had materialised behind him, steadying his brother as Virgil tried to regain his footing. The pair of them could only watch for a few moments as the water gushed from the shattered door, swirling around their feet before beginning to trickle away. The level was still much higher than Virgil was happy with – he knew that they were going to have to swim it – but at least they were in. Making to stride forward, the medic visibly jumped as his watch suddenly vibrated again.
“Virgil, I’ve got him!” John’s excited voice barely registered in Virgil’s mind until Alan had taken over, voicing the one question that the medic had managed to form.
“How? If it is freezers, even Brains hasn’t worked out what blocks the signal.”
“I just have to re-route the polarity of the signal…”
“John, shut up,” Virgil interrupted, not unkindly. Having solved a problem that their usual genius had been baffled by, Virgil was not in the slightest bit surprised at how ecstatic his brother was sounding. Virgil, however, had other things on his mind.
“Where is he? Where’s Scott?”
“Right at the back of the mall. Past all the normal shops. Just keeping going through, it’s the furthest point, straight ahead of you. He’s about five foot in from the left hand wall.”
“F.A.B. We’re on our way. John, does the signal work both ways? Can he hear me?”
“Should be able to,” John responded, his brow furrowed as his hands danced frantically over the machinery in front of him. If he was honest, he wasn’t completely sure what he had done in order to retrieve the signal from his brother’s watch, but he knew that they would have to work fast. The technology embedded in the devices strapped around each brothers’ wrist gave a readout of vital signs, and John knew that Scott’s temperature was getting worrying low. Not wanting to worry Virgil further – for he could hear in the medic’s voice how frantic the younger man was getting – John instead opted for trying to force the signal into a reliable reading. He had to admit, he was terrified that it was suddenly going to vanish again, and that this time he would not be able to get it back again.
“Scott? Scott, can you hear me? Come in, Scott!” Repeating his frantic calls, Virgil could feel Alan’s gaze on him, knowing that the youngest Tracy was just as worried as he was. After trying for a few more moments, Virgil connected back through to John.
“It’s no good, John, I still can’t get through.”
“Virg,” John began hesitantly, worry clawing away at him to the same degree as his younger brothers. One thing he was glad about, however, was that the connection to the island had been cut. The last thing Gordon needed right now was to be hearing this. “Virgil, the connection is open. He’s just not answering.”
“Alan, we need to move!” With authority back in his voice once more as John’s words sank in, Virgil approached the door cautiously, forcing his legs forward despite the water’s constant attempt to hold him back. Stepping gingerly over the broken glass, Virgil allowed the water to take his weight, flipping forwards and beginning to kick strongly through the water. It might have been a challenge to stop his knees from constantly bashing on the floor, but he knew that he was making faster progress than had he been trying to walk it.
For a few moments, the two brothers ploughed their way strongly through the water, Alan wishing for the second time that it had been Gordon who was here rather than him. Each of the boys could hold their own in the water, their island lifestyle meaning that they were stronger in the water than most. But there could be no denying that whilst they were good in the water, Gordon was at home in it. Alan was sure that his immediate older brother would have been able to find the source of the flood and so prevent it from getting to this stage in the first place. And if he hadn’t, he certainly would have reached Scott in quicker time than Alan and Virgil were managing.
Finally, after what seemed like a life-time to the sodden artist, Virgil swung his feet under him, planting them firmly on the ground, hearing Alan mimic his actions from behind. The water was shallower back here, only coming up to about Virgil’s waist as he glanced around him, but it was still pouring in. Letting his eyes flicker over to the back walls, Virgil knew he had found the freezers. Thinking about John’s last comment regarding Scott’s location, he knew immediately it had to be the one on the end which held his brother it was the only location that matched the astronaut’s words. Trying not to groan out loud at the firmly shut door, Virgil spared Alan a glance over his shoulder.
“You okay, Sprout?” he asked gently, any previous annoyance vanishing as he took in Alan’s slightly pale complexion. The younger brother nodded tentatively, but it didn’t escape Virgil’s notice that his eyes hadn’t moved from the door of the freezer, he too having worked out where Scott was.
“Come on, let’s go get him.” Keeping his voice reassuring, Virgil splashed his way across the room, lifting the laser into a more secure position in his arms as he did so. He had brought it with him for some reason, and, sparing the door another glance, he now knew precisely why. Just as he made to activate it, however, a hand on his arm stopped him.
“You can’t use the laser, Virg,” Alan muttered, swallowing hard as he moved past his brother, getting closer and closer to his oldest sibling’s temporary prison.
“Why?” Virgil demanded, chewing on his lip as he watched Alan. They were running out of time here, that was for sure. Who knew how long Scott had been stuck in there?
“You don’t know where he is,” Alan responded, turning back to face Virgil, the anxiety the medic was feeling echoed within his little brother’s eyes. “What if he is right behind the door?”
“Guys, you’re running out of time!” John’s voice cut like ice through the air, causing Virgil to throw the laser down, striding forward until he was level with Alan. If John had regained the signal, it would mean that he was able to monitor Scott’s condition to a certain extent, and if the usually calm brother was sounding anxious – and letting it be shown in his voice – then there was something to worry about. Seizing hold of the handle, Virgil put all his weight behind it and pushed as hard as he could, willing the wheel to turn.
When nothing happened, Alan rushed forward, joining his brother in attempting to force the door open.
“Come on!!” Virgil yelled, his frustration and worry lending him strength, but still it refused to move. He knew, even without John’s comments, that Scott had been in there for too long. It killed him to barely have a foot in between him and his brother and yet still be unable to help his older sibling.
Without warning, however, the handle suddenly gave, and, moving out of the way, the artist was just in time to help Alan stay on his feet as the younger man stumbled with the sudden movement.
“Scott!” Running into the freezer as soon as Alan was steady, Virgil felt his breath catch in his throat when he caught sight of the slumped figure of his oldest brother. He was still conscious, but only just, vicious shudders racking his frame as he shivered uncontrollably.
“Scott, come on, look at me!” His voice was almost a shout as he dropped to his knees and crawled the last part. Virgil barely noticed the cold himself, adrenaline rushing through him as he reached out a hand, grabbing onto one of Scott’s cold ones as he did so. Fumbling slightly, Virgil attempted to feel for his brother’s pulse – desperate for a sign that his brother was going to be okay – but found himself slipping forward himself. Forced to let go in order to use his hand to steady himself, the medic had never been as grateful for John’s calming voice as he was at that moment.
“Deep breath, Virgil. You aren’t going to help him by losing control. Get Alan to help you if you need it, just regain control.”
Following his brother’s advice, Virgil breathed in deeply, shutting his eyes as he did so. Hearing Alan enter the freezer behind him, he opened them again, allowing the medic in him to take control. Reaching out his hand again, he latched onto his brother’s wrist, feeling a rush of relief hit him at the unsteady pulse he could feel under his hand.
“Scotty, c’mon, you need to wake up.”
“Don’t wanna…five m’ntes…” His voice slurring, Scott shifted slightly, looking as if he was trying to force his eyes open before deciding that it was too much effort.
“Gordon’s going to eat all the pancakes unless you wake up,” Virgil continued, trying to shift Scott’s weight. Sending Alan a pleading look over his shoulder, the elder of the pair smiled in gratitude as Alan joined him in an attempt to drag Scott to his feet. Once up, it was more of a challenge to get the man to take his own weight; instead Scott kept slumping forward, clearly not paying the slightest bit of attention to their pleas for him to help them.
“Just wanna sleep…”
“No time for that, big brother.”
“That’s right, Scotty, it’s too cold here. You need to get up and then you can go somewhere warmer to sleep.”
“Warmer? Warm good….”
As the two conscious Tracys attempted to drag the third from the freezer, Virgil found himself biting his lip. Scott always remained strong; it was what kept the rest of the family going in a rescue. With Scott around, nothing could go wrong, no matter what the situation. Hearing him so weak and with no apparent idea what was going on around him was crushing his younger brother, and, taking one look at Alan, Virgil knew that he wasn’t the only one thinking the same thing.
Finally free of the freezer, Virgil found that his hands were finally beginning to respond to him again and, resting Scott on the ground, he quickly strapped one of the spare masks across his brother’s face. Alan seemed to know exactly what Virgil was planning, and reaching past his brother, he hefted the laser into his arms, striding forward. Within only a few seconds, he had disappeared back into the water, clearly making sure their route out was clear. Once the water could be used to take Scott’s weight, Virgil knew that the pair of them would just get in each other’s way. At least this way, the youngest could go ahead and prep Two for when Virgil managed to get Scott out.
“You have to play the hero, don’t you, Scotty?” Virgil found himself mumbling as he got himself ready for the journey through the water. He may have had his hands full on the way in with the cutting equipment, but he knew without having to think about it that he would be a lot more conscious of where he was going on the journey back since his brother was depending on him. Hoping that the cool water – compared to the freezer, the water suddenly felt warm – would help to bring Scott back to his senses a little more, Virgil spared one last glance over his shoulder before turning his back on the freezers.
Hooking his hands under his brother’s shoulders, Virgil allowed the shallow water to take Scott’s weight as he began the slow task of towing the older man back through the water. When the level began to rise again as he made it back through to the main part of the store, Virgil let go of Scott momentarily before crossing one arm over his brother’s chest. Kicking off, he slowly but surely pulled his brother through the water, finding his mind drifting over the various things he hoped that Alan would have ready by the time they got there. One thing was certain, however, and that was they had to get Scott’s temperature up – and fast.
Despite it feeling like a lifetime, only a matter of moments passed before Virgil found himself regaining his footing, stumbling through the shattered door and emerging, blinking, into the setting sun, the afternoon clearly having begun to draw to a close. Whether it was Alan, or the local services finally doing their job, someone had cleared any stragglers from the area, meaning that the Tracys were left to themselves as Virgil shot Alan a grateful grin at the hover stretcher his brother had had time to fetch.
Between them, they managed to shift Scott over onto it and, before he did anything else, Virgil pulled off his brother’s sodden boots and jacket, knowing that they were doing him more harm than good. As Alan began to pick up their fallen equipment without a word, knowing that Virgil would want to make a move back to base as soon as he could, the elder brother set off at a jog back to his ‘bird, only one destination firmly in mind as he casually controlled the stretcher with just one hand. Scott had fallen still, and although him being unconscious worried the hell out of his brother, Virgil was not as concerned as he would have been had they actually found him that way. With Scott still being partly alert when they had got there, Virgil had a very good idea of how far the hypothermia had spread, meaning that he knew they still had time. Whilst the pilot wasn’t completely out of danger, Virgil was fully aware that it could have been a lot worse.
Realising just how many times he had been forced to bring one of his brothers into the sickbay, Virgil had Scott on one of the beds within a matter of seconds, it being a procedure he was familiar with, but never happy about. Stripping off the wet layers from his brother, Virgil set the thermal blanket to a temperature he was certain wouldn’t give Scott any more complications, before reaching into one of the lockers overhead.
He had just finished taking his brother’s temperature and checking him over for any other injuries when Alan came stumbling in. Before the youngest brother could say a word, however, Virgil shot him a look that had him groaning. Having experienced it too many times in his lifetime, Alan knew that he wouldn’t stand a chance.
“What?” he demanded somewhat haughtily as he waited for his brother to explain what the look was for this time.
“Get into something dry, Al.”
Blinking in surprise at the gentleness in his more artistic brother’s voice, Alan complied for once. Within record time, however, he was back in the sick bay, grateful for the warmth the dry uniform was offering.
“How’s he doing?”
“Temperature’s beginning to rise,” Virgil reported, glancing at the machine he had wired up to his brother. He knew bringing Scott’s temperature up too fast would be just as problematic as not raising it at all.
“What can we do?” Alan asked quietly, sitting down on the opposite bed and staring at Scott’s still form. If the force of the look alone could have brought their brother back to them, Virgil knew Scott would immediately have been up and bouncing around. There certainly was some sort of intensity in Alan’s gaze.
“Nothing for now, we just have to let the blanket do it.”
“Good,” Alan responded, suddenly shooting Virgil a grin. “So you can go and get changed.”
“Alan, I don’t think…”
“You just said there was nothing we could do, I’ll call you if anything does something it shouldn’t – including Scott – and you’ll actually get feeling back in your fingers.”
Opening his mouth to protest, Virgil shut it again with a grin, ruffling Alan’s hair as he moved past. He had to give it to the kid, he could make a good point when he needed to. That didn’t mean, however, that Virgil wasn’t about to get changed in the quickest time possible – even beating Alan’s speed – before he was back in the sick bay. Whilst being subjected to an amused glance from his younger brother, Virgil was grateful when Alan didn’t say anything. He wasn’t sure how much more he could take.
Both of them watched Scott’s form in silence. Virgil found that his eyes were bouncing between the monitor clutched lightly in his hand, onto his biggest brother, and then flickering across to his youngest. Alan had done well out there; he had managed to keep his cool, something Virgil was not sure he had done. He hadn’t exactly left the island on good terms, not with everything that had happened with Gordon, and now this? Luckily, before his thoughts could take a darker route, Scott shifted.
Out of his chair like a shot, Virgil crouched next to his brother’s bed.
“Scott? Scotty, are you with us now, man? Scott?”
“Virg?” Sucking in a sharp breath, Scott opened his eyes, looking around him in confusion before his gaze finally focused on the concerned face of his brother, Alan hovering uncertainly in the background. He too had stood up when he’d seen Scott’s movement, but now he didn’t quite know what to do that wouldn’t get him in Virgil’s way.
Reaching out with a smile, Virgil let his fingers comb through his brother’s hair in a way he had done more times than he could remember with his younger siblings.
“Welcome back, Scott.”