John sat back on the couch, watching his only older brother critically. Scott was all but standing to attention in front of their father’s desk, hands clasped behind him as he outlined his plan. Virgil was in the chair on John’s left, but was sitting so upright that if John didn’t know better, he would have said that his immediate younger brother had been through the same military training as his older. In contrast, Gordon was sitting next to John, leaning back comfortably with one leg crossed over the other as he watched events unfold. John normally prided himself on being able to read their father, it was something he’d had to pick up whilst he was up on Five. The eldest blond Tracy could pick up more from what was not said than what was.
This time however, he didn’t have a clue what was going through Jeff’s mind. He could partially blame it on Scott for blocking his view, but he knew that was not the case. Emotions had flickered in quick succession across Jeff’s face when he had first realised what Scott was getting at, but then he had closed down. It was impossible to say what he was thinking, and John knew that was part of the reason why Scott was so tense. The Field Commander was used to having his plans followed without question on a rescue, there not being the time to run them past Base first. But this time, it was as if he was a child again, waiting for his father’s approval.
“No.” Jeff spoke quietly, but it was clear to all of his sons that he was not happy. Alan’s portrait had been activated at the beginning of the meeting after Virgil had made it quite clear nothing was to be said until everyone was present. As their eldest brother had begun speaking, John had watched the youngest member of the family’s face light up with excitement as he contemplated what they were doing, but at Jeff’s word, his face fell even as Scott stiffened even more, something John didn’t think was possible.
“No, Scott. He has almost killed four of you. Both you and Gordon have ended up in the infirmary unconscious, Alan nearly got shot. And now you want to simply go after him, taking your brothers with you? It’s suicide and I won’t have it.”
“Dad, we have to do something. How long until he succeeds in managing to kill us? If we can catch him in the act, we can take him down!”
“After he takes how many of you down?” As Scott’s hands unclasped themselves from behind his back, John sighed. He didn’t agree with the plan, he really didn’t. But whilst Jeff was echoing what was going through his own mind, John couldn’t watch Scott being shot down like that. The pilot’s hands were by his side now, bunched in tight fists as he alternated between relaxing and tensing them. Glancing over at Virgil, John met his little brother’s eye and knew by the eye roll that accompanied the act that he too had seen Scott’s actions. It was only a matter of time before their brother exploded. As one, the two of them stood up.
Virgil grabbed onto the back of Scott’s shirt, tugging his brother over to one side as he did so, thus preventing Scott from being the only one in Jeff’s eye line. Ever the negotiator, John stepped up.
“Dad, think it through. Scott’s plan will work.” If John had noticed Scott stiffen in surprise, he ignored it. He still didn’t like the plan, but Scott’s words had finally driven something home. They had survived on luck so far, he knew that. It was only chance and their technology that had meant they were all here to even have this debate. But John knew luck ran out; that harsh reality was not something they could ignore. How long until the Hood did succeed in taking one of them down? And no matter who he managed to destroy, it would be the whole family that went. But it wouldn’t stop there. John knew they wouldn’t be able to continue operations if they lost someone, especially not if it was because of IR that it happened in the first place. Meaning it could potentially be the whole world that was affected if the Hood succeeded. This was bigger than just them.
“Don’t you start as well, John. I thought you would be the one with the rational head in all of this.”
For some reason, John found his father’s words annoyed him. He was the one with the rational head, and now was using it to realise they had to do something – and fast.
“C’mon, Dad, think about it.” Gordon was on his feet now, and despite the severity of the situation, the prankster still managed to keep his tone light. Somehow, John wondered whether that would be what changed Jeff’s mind, someone with the confidence that they could actually pull this off, rather than the desperation the rest of them were feeling. “It must be the cameras he is using to follow us, there is no other way, although doesn’t explain why he was in place for the last two rescues. But if Brains can hack in and show that it is possible, we know what we are dealing with. We find him, lead him out, Penny and Parker then go in. Bye-bye, baldy.”
“Gordon,” Virgil interrupted quietly. Unlike John, he wasn’t so sure Gordon’s flippant attitude wasn’t just going to succeed in turning their father against the plan even more.
“Penny? Can you talk some sense into my sons?” Spinning in his chair to face her, Jeff eyes were almost pleading with the aristocrat to say something that would calm the boys down. John followed his father’s gaze. Whether Jeff noticed it or not, John knew immediately that Penny was going to do nothing of the sort. She was clearly thinking over the plan, and catching Virgil’s eye again, John winked. Immediately, his brother looked skyward in relief, his shoulders sagging slightly as he subtly loosened his grip on Scott. If Penny had sided with their father, John knew they were in for a repeat performance of what had happened on the beach if they weren’t careful.
“John’s right, Jeff. It will work! The boys will have safety in numbers, and Brains can track how the Hood is hacking into the technology in order to trace it back.”
“How do we know he is using the cameras and technology? How do we know that Gordon didn’t just make that reason up off the top of his head?” Jeff argued, but John knew that even Gordon could see how his shoulders were dropping. Jeff knew he had been beaten, but he wasn’t going to go down without a fight, not when it was his sons who would be the ones to pay the price.
“How else would he be doing it?” It was Virgil that spoke this time, and as Jeff spun his chair back around, John saw him close his eyes briefly. Jeff knew he had lost. All of them were prepared to carry out this plan, even Penny and Brains, although Jeff couldn’t help but suspect that in Brains’ case, it was more a matter of proving he couldn’t be out-done when it came to hijacking technology.
Scott caught Jeff’s eye again. John couldn’t help but subconsciously hold his breath as his brother stepped forward. Something unspoken seemed to shoot between father and son before Jeff eventually sighed heavily, lowering his eyes as he did so and nodding. Out of the corner of his eye, John saw Virgil and Gordon exchange relieved looks. Their father had given in.
“So give me a full run down of this plan then, Scott. And if there is anything I don’t like, you change it, you hear me?”
“Yes, Sir,” Scott responded, unable to stop the relief from showing in his face. For the first time since the crate had dropped on Gordon, he was doing something to fight back, something to show this creep he was messing with the wrong man by going after Scott Tracy’s little brothers.
“Gordon, Virgil and I will make sure it is known that we are in the city. Brains can monitor all the surveillance and see if anything is being controlled externally. He has to be using the cameras if he knows where we are. Or phones… but Brains has assured me he can track any mention of us, IR, or anything that sounds like a code-name. Once we have a location, Penny goes in. She can wait in the city, in a specific place that allows her access to all areas quickly…”
“What about traffic? If she gets caught, we would have no way in,” Virgil cut in, the frown on his face showing he was thinking as hard about what they were about to try as John was. But there was something the star-loving brother had noticed that he was sure the rest of them were conveniently overlooking.
“I c…can h..handle that,” Brains cut in. Behind his glasses, John could see the genius’s eyes were sparkling with the idea of a challenge. If the situation hadn’t included their lives being put on the line, John would have been pleased for his friend; it took a lot to challenge someone with a mind like Brains’.
“Brains, you sly dog,” Gordon said, shooting the man a grin and causing Brains to flush in embarrassment even as Virgil dug his elbow into Gordon’s side to make him shut up. Nodding his appreciation, Scott turned back to his father.
“So Penny tracks the place down and makes the first assault. We take out whoever is after us, double back and gather all the evidence we need to take this guy down whilst destroying any evidence of IR.”
“You’ve thought this through, haven’t you, Scott?” Jeff said quietly, clear reluctance in his voice. He had been hoping there would have been a major flaw in the plan, something that would force his headstrong sons to listen to him. But he knew he should have given his eldest boy more credit than that. Scott was used to planning, especially when it came to trying to save lives.
“What about John?” Alan cut in, making said brother jump as his own question died on his lips. He had forgotten his littlest brother was still listening in, but in a way was glad Alan had said it, not him. He was sure he would have sounded like some sort of demanding child, but he couldn’t help it. He knew Scott had left him out on purpose.
“I know you don’t like the plan, John,” Scott said quietly as he turned to face his younger brother. “So I can’t risk you out there, especially considering you are still ill. Not to mention you failed that physical yesterday. I need to know you are going to be okay.” Adding the last part in an undertone, Scott flinched slightly at the sparks flying from John’s eyes as he stared at his brother in exasperation.
“But I do have a better idea.”
“What?” John asked cautiously, not being sure whether he was going to like this idea or not. If Scott dared suggest he stayed here and made sure the communications were kept clear, John was certain Virgil wouldn’t be able to move quickly enough to stop the blond from smacking his brother. He was fine. In fact, he was sure he hadn’t coughed once since being home, and if Scott thought that was a good enough reason to keep him out of things, then his younger brother would be telling him precisely what he thought of that particular plan.
“Dad, Gordon, am I right in thinking that the new parts for Thunderbird Four have come in at the New York offices?” As Jeff nodded, John thought he knew where this was going. Any parts they needed to order in got delivered to a variety of addresses and agents around the world to stop anyone being able to track them.
“If this guy is after IR,” Scott continued, turning away from John rather than facing the burning stare his brother was shooting him, accusations flying out of his eyes, “Then he’ll be watching for deliveries. We can’t let him get his hands on anything, it’s too dangerous what he can do with that technology, no matter how minor. So whilst we distract him in Malaysia, John can get to New York, pick it up and get back here.”
Despite his annoyance, even John had to admit that would work. If he was really honest, the idea of not having to trail around Malaysia waiting for a fight was something that strongly appealed. One thing was still niggling away at him though.
“How do you know his base is there?” he asked his brother, causing Scott to turn back to face him. There was relief in the oldest brother’s eyes, causing John to smile gently at him. No doubt Scott had been expecting to have a fight on his hands regarding his latest plan, but John couldn’t fault him. It made sense to have a distraction, and out of all of them, he hadn’t exactly been positive when he first heard of the plan. No wonder Scott wanted him heading in the other direction.
It wasn’t Scott who answered, however. A quiet voice from the corner made John jump and he turned at the same time as his siblings, only to see Kyrano standing there. The shadows cloaked him; it was no wonder they hadn’t seen him before. But as he stepped forward, there was a burning look of concentration on his face, and as John watched, he seemed to wince slightly before shaking his head. Lifting his eyes to face the brothers, he smiled in the gentle, reassuring way only Kyrano could manage.
“Kyrano?” Jeff was also on his feet now, palms resting against the desk as he leant forward, watching his old friend closely. For a moment, Kyrano shut his eyes, before nodding again and opening them once more.
“He’s in Malaysia. I don’t know where, but that is where he is.”
“Dad?” Scott turned back to their father, causing John to take a step to the side so that he could see his big brother’s face. There was an almost hungry expression on Scott’s face, part of him clearly longing for the chance to take down the man who was so determined to destroy them. Jeff sighed, looking around at his sons. Meeting each of their gazes and holding them for a long moment, he glanced over his shoulder at Penny – who nodded gently – before dropping his eyes to the desk.
“Very well. Start making the preparations.”
As Scott sagged in relief, John and Virgil exchanged relieved smiles as Gordon whooped. As they began to file out of the room, Jeff spoke again.
“Scott, there is something you have forgotten though. A key detail that may be the undoing of this great master plan of yours.”
As Scott turned back, a frown on his face, John could see his father’s eyes twinkling, and knew that no matter what was about to come out of the man’s mouth, it was not going to undermine Scott’s plan at all. Not that his older brother could see that however, immediately tensing where he stood.
“What?” His voice was almost a bark, urgent and somewhat frantic.
“You’ll have to tell your grandmother, I’m not doing it for you.”
“We are so dead,” Gordon moaned from somewhere behind John, making the astronaut roll his eyes in amusement. Regardless of his warm welcome back the day before, even John was taking a step back from that one.
“I vote Gordo,” John supplied cheerfully, slapping his brother on the back as he did so and receiving a wounded look in response.
“Virgil’s always been better,” the red-head shot back without missing a beat, shooting Virgil a slightly disarming grin as he did so.
“Nah, it’s John she made the cake for.”
“Scott?” John said, causing both Virgil and Gordon to nod.
“Scott,” they agreed simultaneously, smiles on their faces. For a moment, Scott just looked at them with raised eyebrows, clearly wondering whether they had lost their minds before smiling himself, shaking his head fondly as he did so.
“Thanks, Dad,” he said softly, catching his father’s eye and causing Jeff to dip his head in acknowledgement. Virgil grabbed his oldest brother’s arm once again and began pulling him from the room. John gave Gordon a slight shove in the back to send him scurrying after his brothers as the four Earth-bound Tracys left the room, leaving Jeff to disconnect with Alan. They would all speak to their youngest brother later, especially considering how this could all go wrong, but now was not the time.
As Jeff turned back to Alan and Penny almost floated gracefully out of the room, none of them noticed Kyrano wince in sudden pain. For a split second, his eyes flashed yellow, before he sat down hesitantly on the edge of the couch.
“Kyrano?” Whilst he hadn’t noticed the movement, Jeff had indeed seen Kyrano move, and knowing what the man’s track record was like with sudden collapses, found himself concerned.
“It is nothing, Mr Tracy. I am quite well.” Kyrano only spoke the truth. There had been a brief moment of pain, that was for sure. But it had gone as quickly as it had come, and the manservant thought nothing of it.
Hundreds of miles away, deep in a temple, a man paced. He was more than fuming. But as he paced, he suddenly began to smirk, an evil look that had those closest to him stumbling back a pace or so. So they thought they could come after him, did they? They were arrogant enough in their own abilities to think they could take him on in his own territory? Beginning to plan, the Hood knew he was about to give them the surprise of their lives. He thought he had made it clear they were not going to survive an encounter with him again, even if luck had been on their side so far. But their luck was about to run out.
“Commander.” His voice was a silky whisper, barely audible if it wasn’t for the damp stonework echoing and magnifying his voice.
“Sir.” The man snapped to attention as he sprang forward from the shadows, always eager to please his master. As soon as he stepped into the light, he dropped to his knees. Personally, he hated having to kneel before anyone; he was his own master and nothing less. But the Hood had promised him revenge on the Tracys, and nothing gave him greater pleasure. Why should people like Jeff Tracy and his precious sons live in comfort when he had nothing? He had been making a name for himself as a hit-man when the Hood had approached him, and whilst he had seen nothing yet of the promised reward, the Commander was a patient man. He knew it would come, it just took time. But if he could be the one to bring the Hood one of the Tracys and therefore deliver the man’s greatest dreams, he knew that a little patience now would more than pay off in the long run. He had watched everyone else fail at the task in hand, making the Tracys seem even more untouchable than ever. If there was one thing this Commander loved, it was a challenge. They weren’t going to know what had hit them, that was for sure.
“You know your orders, Commander. Take your men and surround the city. We will not fail this time. Go personally, I want one alive. Jeff Tracy will regret the day he started International Rescue. If he doesn’t give up its secrets, he will pay the price.”
“Sir,” the man acknowledged, climbing to his feet and snapping his heels together before beckoning to more men in the shadows. Turning on his heel, he strode purposefully from the room, three or four of the men trailing after him after bowing deeply to the Hood.
As they left the room, the Hood felt his smile widen as he pulled back a curtain with a flourish. The wall behind couldn’t have looked more out of place in the dark temple if it had tried. Rather than the stones that lined the rest of the building, a row of screens covered this wall. Images from all of the city’s cameras flickered across them, as well as a few screens that were showing images and data from areas the Hood quite clearly should not have access to.
Watching as his men took off in different directions, the Hood smiled, a twisted leer that made him look nothing more than sinister.
His time had come.
The Tracys were going to pay.
“Everyone in position?” Scott’s voice was low and anxious, despite reassuring his father before they set off that he was more than confident the plan was going to work. Despite everything, he knew he was risking his brothers’ lives over this, something he was far from happy about. Whilst he knew that he would have never been able to carry it off on his own – even he couldn’t be in two places at once – he just wished he wasn’t effectively using the younger two as bait whilst relying on Penny and Brains to keep them safe. He liked to be in control, and yet was offering himself up just as much as the other two. The sooner this was over and the Hood was behind bars, the better he would sleep at night.
“Set.” Gordon’s voice came back first, clipped and sharp. It was not a tone Scott was used to hearing from his second-youngest brother, but there were occasions when the redhead could show just how deadly he could be. His reaction to seeing the Hood try to shoot Alan was evidence enough of that. How many of them would have been able to just throw themselves off the platform without their body refusing to make the jump, knowing the chances of surviving the impact were slim? But then again, Gordon had always defied the odds. The fact that he was alive was a testimony to that.
“Set.” Virgil followed suit almost immediately, his voice also carefully controlled. Despite Virgil not having gone through the same military regime as Gordon and himself, Scott wasn’t worried. Their own training practically matched it. No one would be a threat to Virgil who wasn’t also a threat to his older and younger brothers. Even so, when Scott had gone wandering at midnight due to being fed up of tossing and turning, he wasn’t the only one up. Virgil, despite not protesting to the plan, clearly was no happier about it than John was. There had been a look in his brother’s eye that made Scott seriously consider whether he was making a big mistake.
“In position, Scott.” Penny’s response came next, and Scott had to smile. She sounded so calm, so casual. It was as if she was doing nothing more than having Parker take her for a spin through the crowded city. He wished he had her confidence. Or more importantly, her ability to sound confident and in control of a situation that even Scott would admit was way out of their hands. They had no idea what they were about to walk into, and he would be responsible if anything happened to any of them. Vaguely listening to Brains’ stuttered confirmation, Scott instead prepared himself for patching through to John.
He couldn’t help but feel guilty about the way he had treated his brother in all of this. He knew John had only been speaking sense when he had voiced his concerns about the plan, especially considering that he had literally only just arrived back on the planet at the time. Scott had been grateful for the way John had managed to get him to calm down – and what had he done but thrown it back in the blond’s face?
“Everyone set then?” Ever the professional, John sounded cheerful enough. Scott knew his brother had already arrived in New York; they had sent him off the night before to make sure everyone would be ready to act at the same time. It would be no good if John was caught up somewhere when the rest of the team put their plan into action.
“We’re all ready. How about you?” Swearing under his breath with the hope that John wouldn’t hear him, Scott hated how uncertain he suddenly sounded. What was he doing?
“It will work, Scotty.” Ever the mind-reader, John was immediately back on his case. It was the same in all the rescues. Virgil might be the one there physically with him, but when things fell apart, it was John keeping him grounded.
“I know.” Flicking a switch on his communicator, Scott connected all of the lines together, including the link back to Base. “Everyone knows their role. Don’t take unnecessary risks, especially you, Gordon. We do this fast, but pull out on the first sign that things are going against us. John, send the signal when you are back in the jet. Brains, make sure we know the second you have traced the signal. Same for you, Penny. As soon as you get there, let me know.”
“F.A.B.” Virgil and Gordon’s voices chimed together, Penny’s more English response being lost.
“Be careful. All of you.” Jeff knew he couldn’t let them go without having the final word. He wished he could be out there with his boys, his team, fighting for the very survival of his family and International Rescue. But someone still had to man the Base, and Jeff knew Scott would be able to handle the situation. He was thrown into similar positions every time there was a rescue, but on this occasion he had the time to plan it out.
Everyone split up and spread out, but kept in constant touch as per Scott’s instructions. With Virgil heading south and Gordon west, Scott himself took the road leading north, making sure he passed every camera that he could see. For once, he was not the faceless rescuer. Instead, he was making sure the Hood saw his face. He was making sure the maniac came after him and him alone. Slipping his hand under his shirt, his face was grim as he closed his fingers around the comforting weight of the gun. He had strictly forbidden the younger two from carrying arms, but this man had threatened his brothers. No one got away with that. And if Scott had his way, the man would never again see the light of day.
The Hood watched with detached interest at three of the screens, trying his utmost to mask his expression into one of neutrality. It was hard though, even for him. Everything he had ever wanted was just about to be delivered to him on a plate, and it would be Tracy’s own sons that did it. They were playing right into his hands. Watching the oldest pass the camera deliberately, the Hood leered. That one would be so easy to destroy, despite how tough everyone else seemed to believe him to be. It was the younger ones who worried him more – although of course he would never admit to such a thing. Especially the redhead, he was reckless. The Hood couldn’t plan for recklessness, and whilst he would take great delight in taking that one – for breaking him would certainly be an interesting challenge – it was another of the brothers the Hood wanted.
His eyes fixed on the screen and he leered unpleasantly. Virgil was only just in camera shot now, clearly attempting to stroll along as if he hadn’t a care in the world. Even through the poor camera visibility, the Hood could make out his eyes bouncing around anxiously, though. That was a man on the lookout for anything slightly out of the ordinary. A man on the edge. Especially if the way his hand kept drifting to his watch was anything to go by. The Hood knew enough about their technology to know that was how they contacted each other. He would be making good use of that technology very soon, of that he was in sure.
“Commander, are your men in position?”
The response came immediately as the Hood flicked a switch with nothing more than a thought, nodding in satisfaction. The man certainly would get his just reward, albeit not the one he was expecting. The Hood would have no use for servants once he had the secrets of International Rescue, and would take great delight in relieving them of their service.
First however, he had to gain those secrets.
“Carry out your orders then. Do not fail me.”
As the man confirmed his understanding, the Hood smiled. He knew International Rescue would be attempting to track the signal, but he was one step ahead of them. They would track it alright. Though it wouldn’t be him they stumbled across, but a rather unwelcome surprise. Smirking in satisfaction at a job well done, the Hood strode purposefully from the room, pressing a button on a panel on his way out. He knew he couldn’t completely outwit the mind behind the Thunderbirds – the signal really did lead here. But as the automatic timer flicked on the second he shut the door behind him, he knew that he was still the one calling the shots. The first person to open that door would take the full blast of the charges laying within. It wouldn’t be enough to kill them, but the Hood’s men were on standby in the area. As soon as the explosives detonated, they would move in. Five sons, five Thunderbirds. It was just a shame that he wouldn’t be able to reach the fifth member of their pathetic team, but the Hood knew he would be victorious in the end. Jeff Tracy wouldn’t be able to stand a chance if his enemy had all four of his Earthbound sons.
John had the package firmly tucked under his arm as he strode back down the street, trying to look as normal as possible. There was nothing wrong with him picking up a package at his father’s head offices. No one should have any cause to be the slightest bit suspicious. There was no sign at all that he was holding some of the secrets to the most advanced machinery that anyone had ever seen. Even so, John couldn’t help but wish it was Gordon making the collection as it was supposed to have been. His younger brother was far more used to this than John was, for it was not often a collection coincided with his time on Earth. John just supposed that if anyone was watching, it would work well for the pretence, for no one would be expecting him to be the one taking on the delivery.
He had almost made it back to the hotel to collect his things and escape to the safety of the Island when a squeal of tyres made him look up sharply. The car was cannoning towards him, clearly out of control. For a moment, John could only stay frozen to the spot as it came rushing, his brain not being able to form a reaction. Out of all the things the family were up against, he was the one that got stuck with the idiot driver!
Suddenly realising the car was literally heading towards him, John cursed, throwing himself to the side as he did so. He was in luck; there was a small alleyway to one side. It was only short, leading to nothing but a high brick wall, but it was enough to allow him to escape the wild car. The driver must have been drunk, John couldn’t help but think. The car still didn’t slow or even swerve to try and avoid the buildings on either side of the alleyway. Watching it open-mouthed, John felt a rush of fear when he momentarily locked eyes with the driver. Seeing him looking, the man leered, a deliberate action as he bought the car smashing into the brickwork. Immediately, he slumped forward, clearly unconscious if not worse.
But John had other things on his mind. The man had known he was there. And yet he hadn’t made any attempt to turn away. It was only then John realised precisely what the car had done by hitting the buildings. The only way he now had out of the alleyway was to scramble over the car. Glancing at the package in his hand, the blond knew he had to act fast.
“Base, we’ve got a problem!” Speaking frantically into his watch, John swallowed hard when he heard a car door open. He hadn’t even noticed that there had been passengers in the vehicle, but three men soon got out. Two were on his side, the third vaulting casually over the car. All three were armed.
“Come nice and quiet now, kid, and you won’t get hurt.”
His eyebrows rising in disbelief, John dropped the package with the intention of freeing up his hands. He knew there was no way this could be a random attack, not with what was going on with his brothers in Malaysia. The men were advancing on him now, and despite every training scenario Scott had put them through over the years, John knew he was in big trouble.
“Don’t fight us, boy.” The first man was speaking again now, brandishing his gun in John’s face as he backed the blond up against the wall. His eyes darting towards the package and then back up to the men, John locked eyes with the man coldly.
“Go to hell.”
That was when all three closed in on him.
“What do you mean; you’ve lost contact with John?” Keeping his voice low, Scott ducked down a side street, making sure there were no cameras following him here. He couldn’t believe what his father was telling him. John should have been safe; it was the reason why Scott had sent him to the other side of the world. He was not about to let his brother walk into something that could get him killed when he didn’t even agree with the plan. This certainly shouldn’t be happening.
“He reported in there was a problem, and now I can’t get anything,” Jeff repeated as calmly as he could. He was feeling exactly the same way as Scott, but with the boys still out in Malaysia, he knew the panic couldn’t be heard in his voice. If Scott was distracted, they could all be killed. He had contemplated not telling the Field Commander that the signal had been cut from John’s watch, but knew that if Scott tried to get through to his brother and received no response, it would be a lot worse.
“So what… hang on, Dad, Penny’s calling me. Go ahead, Penny.”
“Brains has traced the signal.” Ever the calm one, Penny gave no indication of the danger she could potentially be in. Scott knew that she and Parker would be hidden outside the building Brains had directed them to, making sure that no one left without their say-so, but not going anywhere near until the brothers arrived. It wasn’t her fight, and Scott knew that both Virgil and Gordon felt the same way as he did when it came to wanting to bring this creep down.
“Okay…” Trying to get his head around the turn of events, Scott took a deep breath. “Dad, Penny’s in position. Do I call this off?”
“It’s up to you, Scott,” Jeff said gently, knowing that at the end of the day, Scott was going to do what he thought was best, regardless of what Jeff said. “But just think of how far you have come. The signal has been traced, meaning the Hood knows you are there. This could be our only chance.”
“Right. Penny, hold your position. Virgil, Gordon, come in.”
Waiting for his brothers’ responses, Scott stole back onto the street, running swiftly as he headed towards the co-ordinates Penny had just sent him. “We’ve got a lead on the creep, move into position.”
Disconnecting the line from everyone, Scott focused on his running, putting his worry not only for those present into his strides, but for John as well. If the Hood was involved in this in any way, Scott was going to make sure he was personally the one to snap the handcuffs on. No one came after his brothers, not on his watch.
He reached the scene at the same time as the other two, all having made good time from their various reactions. He hadn’t told them about John, wanting to make sure their minds were focused on the task at hand. They had no reason to need to contact their brother; Scott was the one everything was being run through. He knew that hiding things from them was part of the reason why they were in so much trouble to start with, but this time he had a good reason. It wasn’t an argument he was worried about should they be the slightest bit distracted from what they were doing, but their lives. Any slip-up now could be fatal.
One glance at his watch, and Scott knew Penny and Parker were holding their position on the other side of the building. The pair would wait for the three Tracys to go in before taking up the rear, covering their backs, so to speak.
“We ready to do this?” Virgil whispered, beginning to creep forward. Gordon and Scott immediately fell into step with him, and silently, the trio advanced on the building.
“Brains, confirm this is the right place?”
“C..confirmed, uh, Scott. He g…gave the c..c…commands from here.”
“F.A.B.” Shooting his brothers a very grim smile, Scott nodded. “Ready when you are.”
They used the building as cover, keeping their backs pressed to it as they crept around. Nothing was said, for none of them had anything to say that wouldn’t sound completely false. They had no idea what would be waiting for them when they opened the door. All three were aware it was naive to hope that they would find the Hood just sitting there unaware of what was about to be sprung on him, but they still held onto that hope, for it was all they had left.
After creeping around what felt like three sides of the building, Scott finally felt his fingers reach a door. Stepping away, he nodded at Virgil, causing the younger man to move into position. Whilst Scott and Gordon flanked the door, Virgil took a deep breath, stretching out his hand. For a second, it hesitated over the handle, but finally, Virgil let the cold metal become enveloped in his hand and gave the door a sharp tug.
Only to be blasted off his feet with a cry, landing on his back ten paces away from where he had started, all of the breath driven out of him.
“Virgil!” Scott’s shout almost sounded muted to the artist, a ringing in his ears blocking everything else out. For a long moment, he didn’t move, trying to work out if anything hurt. It was then he decided that everything hurt, and tentatively pushed himself into a more upright position.
“I’m okay,” he called back, only to realise his brother was crouched next to him. When had Scott moved? Virgil certainly hadn’t seen or heard anything that indicated movement.
It was Gordon shouting now, and, twisting his head around at the same time as Scott, Virgil echoed his brother’s curse. At least a dozen men were pouring from the trees behind them.
“Penny, we’re under attack!” Scott had no time to say anything more than that before he suddenly found himself locked in the fight for not only his life, but his brothers’ as well. He certainly didn’t hear Penny’s response as he ducked a fist aiming for his head and floored the man instead.
But that was when the gun shots started.
John winced as he felt the cold steel of the blade pressing against his wrist, but with one powerful flick, his watch went flying off, snagging his skin slightly in the process and causing yet another hot trickle of blood to trail down his arm. He was lying on his side, his wrists tied behind him and a gag around his mouth to stop him from crying out.
He was now more than sure it was a planned attack. The men had access to the garages lining the alleyways, and John had been dragged through one and pushed to the floor, out of sight, before he had time to even think about what was happening. There was no way a careless driver would happen to have armed men in the car that had successfully blocked him in, men who in turn were able to access the only entrance that could be reached. They had been after him all along, no doubt waiting until he was right where they wanted him. John knew he had been played all along, and he was fuming.
“Take that ahead to the boss and tell him we’ve got him.”
John could only grimace as the tip of a boot connected with his side, then felt his heart sink as he witnessed his watch being tossed over and one of the men disappearing from view, a satisfied smile on his face.
“Ought to thank you, kid, you gave us an easy target. But don’t try and go anywhere now, we’ve got a van to catch,” the man continued, pulling John into an upright position and leaning him back against the wall. Laughing at the indignant expression on his prisoner’s face, he stood up again, striding to the entrance of the garage to converse with the remaining man without John overhearing. Tugging against his bonds, John froze, glancing over towards the men once again.
There had been a slight give in the rope. Now all he needed was time.
“Virgil! Drop!” Scott wasn’t sure whether his shout had carried over the noise, but his brother did indeed drop to the floor as bullets seemed to be whizzing over their heads. Grabbing Gordon by the scruff of the neck, Scott threw them both to the floor, his hand flying to his belt. Within seconds, he had pulled out his own gun, ignoring Gordon’s whistle of disbelief. Scott took aim and the man standing over Virgil didn’t stand a chance as his leg suddenly gave way, blood pouring from the wound in his thigh.
“Are you mad?” Gordon bellowed as another man turned towards the pair. Scott didn’t even have time to raise the gun before the man stumbled away again, blood pouring from his shoulder. Glancing around in bewilderment at the sudden silence, Scott realised they were alone again, apart from a handful of men moaning on the ground.
“Nice shooting, Mi’lady.”
“Thank you, Parker.”
His jaw hitting the floor in astonishment, Scott’s eyes fell on Lady Penelope. She had an advantageous position on the crest of the small mound next to the brothers, and even as Scott watched, she handed Parker a slightly smoking pistol, brushing her hands off and climbing to her feet.
“Everything under control, boys?”
Scott heard Gordon gasp slightly and one look at his brother showed that Gordon’s eyes were also on Penny. Climbing to his feet, Scott took a good look around him. All of their attackers had either fled or were clutching some sort of bloody limb, although Scott could tell at just a glance that no one was that seriously hurt. Virgil was shakily climbing to his feet again, and as he turned, Scott winced. His brother was covered in small burns, ash streaked through his hair and across his face from the explosion. None of the burns looked serious, but he knew it would be enough to give their grandmother a field day.
“He knew we were coming,” Virgil said quietly, locking eyes with the only older brother present and causing Scott to nod heavily.
“I’m sorry,” he said, his voice barely audible. “I made you do this, and look what happened.”
“Don’t even go there!” Gordon snapped, also getting to his feet. “We knew what might happen when we said we were coming along. But hey, we’re all still in one piece. Well, Virg might have lost a bit of an eyebrow there…”
Even Gordon’s change of tone didn’t make Scott feel any better. Not when he knew what he still had to tell them.
“Let’s go home,” he said heavily, but Virgil saw straight through him.
“What aren’t you telling us, Scott? You’ve been hiding something ever since we met up, I can see it in your eyes. I let it go earlier, but I’m not boarding that plane until you tell us what is going on.”
“Dad can’t get through to John.”
Scott refused to meet their eyes as he muttered the words. Instead, he moved past them, checking Penny was ready to go with just a look.
“You heard me, Gordon.”
It was Virgil, sounding annoyed now, and Scott found that he did stop, slowly turning to face his brothers. They were right behind him, clearly having raced to catch up with him when he had started walking.
“What’s going on?”
“John said there was a problem, and we haven’t been to get in touch since.”
“Scott, get us home.” It was unusual to hear Gordon speak with such authority, but no one dared to disobey him. The five of them set off in silence, Scott knowing Penny had already been in touch with the local authorities to get the men taken in for questioning. Needless to say, the police didn’t really know what they were questioning them about, and Scott knew they wouldn’t crack – fear of the Hood ran deeper than that from all he had been able to discover.
It was a silent flight home for most of the way. Scott’s usually steady hands only just managed to keep the plane under control, but no one dared say anything, even if Virgil and Gordon exchanged concerned glances from time to time. When the radio crackled into life, it was harder to say who jumped the most when their father’s voice came floating over, tense and anxious.
“Virgil?” he practically barked, worry lining his tone. “Penny told me what happened. How badly hurt are you, son? I’ll have Brains on stand-by when you touch down.”
“Dad, I’m fine.” Virgil was quick to reassure his father, but his brothers knew it was more to do with the fact that he didn’t want to end up being banished to the infirmary for a few burns. “Couple of bruises, nothing more.”
“That had better be the truth.”
Gordon couldn’t help it, he had to laugh. Jeff never listened to them when they were assessing their own injuries. Knowing that Virgil would hate it if he was forced to sit out of whatever was coming next, Scott sighed.
“He really is okay, Dad,” he muttered quietly, receiving a grateful smile in response. For a moment, there was silence, but finally, Jeff sighed.
“Exploding door indeed… Keep in contact until you land, I want to know precisely what happened out there and we don’t have time to wait.”
The rest of the journey was filled with quiet voices as the boys all gave their accounts of what had happened. As much as they knew, anyway, for none of them were precisely sure what had happened, apart from the fact they had clearly walked straight into a trap. But why had the men come after them? As much as it gave him the shudders even to think about it, Scott knew the Hood could have rigged that door to kill Virgil. Surely that was what he had been after all along? So why let them go? Finally though, the plane landed.
Knowing Brains would handle the checks, the three boys sprinted up to the office, leaving Penny and Parker to follow at a more leisurely pace. Gordon was the first through the door, immediately being crushed in a somewhat fierce and unusual embrace from his father. Scott grabbed Virgil by the back of his shirt just in time to save him from the same treatment, but Jeff still seized his son by the shoulders, his eyes running anxiously over the burns. Virgil couldn’t believe his luck when his father let go again. The fact that he hadn’t immediately been sent to the infirmary – as was the norm for any kind of injury, no matter how much they protested – just went to show how bad the situation was.
“Jeff!” Their grandmother’s frantic call quickly had them all scurrying through to her. Virgil had been thankful for the way she had managed to break through the awkward tension that had fallen over the room, but when he saw what was waiting for him, he wasn’t so sure.
The vid-screen was flickering. No one was touching it, yet someone was trying to reach them. Shakily reaching out a hand, Jeff twisted a knob, only to leap back in surprise as an image gradually came into view. Gordon gasped and Scott swore, but Virgil stayed silent, his heart racing.
They were looking at a watch. And not just any watch, but one they knew belonged to their brother. It was splattered with blood, yet the owner was nowhere in sight.
“I hear you’ve been looking for me.” A somewhat icy voice came floating over, although the figure it belonged to stayed firmly out of sight of the camera. “Let me tell you that was a bad idea. I’m sure you can see I have your son, Tracy.”
“Liar!” Gordon yelled, making to stride forward, only to have Virgil grab him by the arms, holding his little brother back.
“I do not lie. How else would I have come by his precious watch, one I know you are all so fond of, if he wasn’t in my possession?”
“John’s not a possession,” Scott growled, only to find that he was mirroring Gordon’s position as Kyrano held him back. Jeff shook his head slightly, a clear sign that he didn’t want any of the boys in shot of the screen. He still couldn’t get the image of Gordon dropping to the floor in agony out of his head. They didn’t know how powerful this man was, and Jeff wasn’t going to risk him hurting the boys from afar.
“No. You’re right. He’s not. He’s a bargaining chip. I want the designs of the Thunderbirds, Tracy. Or your son will pay.” A fist entered the camera now, and before anyone could say anything, it smashed down on the watch, shattering it into hundreds of pieces.
“Don’t make me wait. I’ll be in touch.” And with that, the camera went dead.
“Dad…” Virgil’s voice was barely more than a whisper, but Jeff merely stared stonily ahead, his face closed. “Dad? John…”
“We’re getting him back!” Jeff declared furiously, a strange light dancing in his eyes that his sons had never seen before.
The fury died as fast as it had been awakened and Jeff sat down heavily, running a hand over his eyes.
“I have no idea.”
They were running out of time. Scott knew it, and he knew the rest of the family knew it just as well. They had called in every contact they knew, starting in New York, but throwing the net wider when they realised within the first hour that they still had no idea what had happened to their now missing brother. The hours drew on, and still the Hood hadn’t been in touch. Virgil finally succumbed to sleep at the desk, his father draping a blanket over him. For a brief moment, Jeff let his hand ghost over his son’s head, wincing at the burns still evident. He could have lost them all today… The only thing that stopped him completely panicking about John was that the three remaining Earth-bound brothers had already managed to pull together to defeat the odds once today; surely they could do it again?
Gordon was sitting off to one side, talking to Alan as he was guided by Five’s technology through some of the back internet passageways. A member of International Rescue and a billionaire’s son had just gone missing, surely someone somewhere knew something. Jeff could almost feel Alan’s tension as he approached the younger ones, and hated the fact his youngest son was stuck in space. But there was no way he could send anyone to get him. Not with their astronaut missing and Brains doing all he could to try and locate the smashed signal of John’s watch. Jeff knew that it was hopeless – the look on the genius’s face had given that much away – but he wasn’t going to stop the young man. He knew the feeling, the need to be doing something.
Scott was standing outside, talking urgently on the phone. His father had no idea which of their many contacts he was communicating with this time, but could tell by the frantic gestures that there was no news on that front either. John had always been the quiet one of his sons, but to disappear without a trace? That was certainly something new.
“He’ll be fine,” a soft voice said behind him, and he turned to see Penny watching him closely. If she would ever look ruffled, it should be now, but there was still a perfect precision about her. Certainly there was nothing to suggest she had almost single-handedly saved the rest of the family. Gordon had filled him in when they started pulling their resources, trying to figure out exactly what it was that had happened out there.
“How do you know? You saw what happened today. The Hood wants the boys dead, and if he has John…” Jeff’s voice trailed off for a moment and he glanced skywards. The stars were just beginning to come out, and without thinking what he was doing, Jeff found his gaze was drawn by one in particular. “I can’t lose him, Penny. I can’t lose any of them.”
“Do you really think the rest of your boys are going to let that happen? Even Alan is pushing Thunderbird Five to her full capabilities to find his brother. Look at Scott, Jeff. Look at your son and tell me that is someone who is about to let his brother be lost.”
“But we don’t even know where to start. Everything has just pulled up a dead end…”
“Jefferson Tracy, don’t you dare talk like that! Your sons are exhausting themselves doing what they can; they need their father to be strong. Let me go over to the mainland, Jeff. Let me pull out all my resources.”
“We’ve spoken about this, Penny,” Jeff sighed. In all reality, there had been a blazing row over it, but considering how worked up Scott had been, Jeff wasn’t surprised. His oldest son had wanted to head over to where John had last been seen as soon as they had landed and was not happy when his father had immediately forbidden it. Jeff was not letting any of them off the island, not until they knew what they were dealing with. It was one thing for the three of them to have walked into a trap; they had tried taking the fight to the Hood, after all. But for him to have managed to locate and take John in a crowded New York street? Who knew where he had eyes, and Jeff certainly wasn’t about to let the maniac hurt any more of the family.
Penny had offered to go instead, but still Jeff had refused. He couldn’t spare the craft – or a pilot – to take her. For once, they were just going to have to rely on their agents to search the scene, and it was killing Jeff letting it happen. He felt like he was hiding away when he should have been out looking for his son, but the rational part of him knew he had to keep the rest of the family safe. Agents had flocked to the scene – discreetly, of course – but apart from finding a crashed car, there was nothing. Whoever had done this knew precisely what they were doing, for all traces of whoever had been in the area – including John – had vanished. It was only because of his last communication signal that they knew he had even been there at all.
Gordon’s soft call drew Jeff’s attention and he received a nod from Penny before he hurried across, wondering if his fourth-born had been able to find something. Resting his hand on Gordon’s back, he made to lean over his son’s shoulder. But before he could do so, Gordon spoke again, his eye-line making it quite clear that he wasn’t thinking of John at that moment in time.
“I’m worried about Scott,” he muttered quietly. Jeff followed his gaze and sighed heavily. Gordon wasn’t the only one. The eldest brother was quite clearly pacing, and if his arm movements were anything to go by, he was getting more and more agitated as further negative results came back.
“How did you think he would react?” Jeff asked softly, knowing it was up to him to try and stop Gordon from heading the same way. It was more commonly known that the older Tracy brothers were a force to be reckoned with, but Jeff knew the younger ones were just as dangerous, if not more so. When the Terrible Two emerged, nothing could mess with them.
“It’s not just that…” Gordon glanced back at the desk and his folded hands on his lap, clearly trying to steel himself to say what was playing on his mind. “Dad, John didn’t like this plan, and Scott knew that. Yet he basically ordered John to go to pick up the stuff. They almost came to blows over it on the beach, and now this? If…if John doesn’t come back, Scott will never forgive himself.”
“John will come back,” Jeff said firmly, his voice clearly leaving no room for arguments. Gordon glanced up at his father, his brow crumpling when he took in the determined glint in the man’s eye.
“Dad, we still don’t know where to start looking.” Unlike his usual care-free voice, Gordon’s was lined with worry and concern over his missing brother. He had spoken to the Hood, watched the delight spring into the maniac’s eyes as he had threatened them, even making good on those threats. What chance would John have on his own?
“Then we redouble our efforts,” Jeff responded shortly, giving Gordon’s shoulder a squeeze almost automatically before moving away. Gordon simply sighed as he watched the man move. It seemed it wasn’t only Scott he had to worry about now. He should have known though. He may have been the one to yell at the screen, claiming the Hood was lying, but it was his father who was in a strange sort of denial. The Hood had only shown them John’s watch, meaning they had no idea what sort of state their brother was in.
Cursing out loud, Gordon let his head flop onto the desk in front of him. He was so tired, aching from the fight and almost driven mad with worry. Why did he have to worry about his oldest brother and father at the same time? He didn’t see Virgil sleepily look up before the older man’s big brother instincts took over and he was next to Gordon like a shot, his hand resting reassuringly on the base of his neck.
“We’ll get him back, Gords.”
“How?” Gordon muttered quietly, glancing out to where Scott was still pacing. He didn’t want to sound like he had given up, he was supposed to be the optimistic one of the family. Yet they had walked straight into the trap the Hood had left for them, almost costing Virgil his life. His eyes lingered on his brother’s burns, then Gordon glared back down at the table again. “We have no idea where he is, if he is even alive.”
“Don’t you dare say that!” Virgil snapped, his hand tightening in warning.
Gordon didn’t know what to say in response, so he merely looked up at his big brother, the pain lingering in his eyes.
“We know the harsh realities of the world, Virg. We know how much this creep wants us dead. John should never have gone to the offices alone. He doesn’t know the procedure for pickups that well. Someone should have been with him.”
“He knew what he was doing.” Virgil couldn’t help but think the same way as his brother, but he knew that if they were to have any chance of pulling the entire family through this, they needed Gordon back to his old self. “Come on, Gords, you know that if it wasn’t for Penny, we wouldn’t have stood a chance either.”
Subconsciously, his hand rubbed at one of the burns on his exposed arms. Wearing a loose fitting, short sleeved shirt made things so much more comfortable but certainly revealed more of the burns.
“Whoever went would have got caught. Whether it was you, John, Scott, whoever. This guy knew. He knew where we were and what we were doing.” Suddenly, the reality of his own words crashed over Virgil and he sat down on the edge of the desk, swearing.
“He knew. He knows everything. That bastard! If he has so much as laid a finger on our brother, I’m gonna personally tear said finger off myself.”
Gordon couldn’t help but grin. Now they were getting somewhere. With the fire burning in Virgil, he knew that the artist was going to stop at nothing. When Virgil’s temper had been awoken, nothing and no one could stand in his way. Standing up again, Virgil gently pushed Gordon’s chair aside, taking up the younger man’s position on the computer, Gordon watching him as his talented fingers flew.
“Still nothing.” The voice was almost harsh, lacking in emotion as Scott stepped through the door, running his hand over his eyes. The rest of the family knew it was just the way he dealt with things. When you could hear no emotion in Scott’s voice, it was because the feelings were too overwhelming for him to control. It was something he had always done, ever since their mother had died. He had been forced to hide his own grief, and ever since then, had refused to let any raw emotion be heard in his voice. The Air Force training had just reinforced that.
“Nor here.” Jeff’s quiet voice was almost identical to Scott’s. The desperation Gordon had heard was still present, but it was as if it had been pushed aside. Their father walked over at the same time as their oldest brother. Scott perched on the edge of the desk as Gordon dragged his chair over, his father resting a hand on his shoulder. For a long moment, nothing was said. What was there that could be said?
“Where the hell are you, Johnny?” Scott whispered under his breath, staring at the ceiling in order to avoid the gaze of the rest of the family. He wasn’t sure he could take in the same pain in their eyes that he was feeling himself. How the hell had it gotten to this? Before anyone could answer, another voice cut through their foreboding thoughts.
“Jeff! In here, quickly!”
“What is it, Mother?” Jeff had covered half of the distance even before he had finished speaking, his sons on his heels.
“He’s…” Whether she was incapable of finishing her sentence or whether her son cut her off, the rest of the family could not say. But Jeff seemed to realise what was coming, for his wrist immediately snapped up to his mouth as he activated his watch.
“Alan, come in.”
“Here, Dad.” Jeff glanced up at his son. In his worry, he couldn’t believe it had taken him this long to think of it.
“John has set up all those tracking and tracing devices up on Five, hasn’t he? I want you to activate anything and everything you can get your hands on; we’re taking down this Hood.”
“He hasn’t tested them, Dad, I have no idea…”
“Alan, that was an order.”
“F.A.B.” Alan signed off, but not before Virgil gave his father a reproachful look.
“He’s just as worried as you are.”
“I don’t need-”
“Jeff!” Once again, his mother’s shout – albeit mingled with disapproval this time – stopped Jeff’s words.
“Dad, please, this could be our only chance. If he makes the contact, we can track it.”
It was Gordon’s quiet tone that finally got through to Jeff, and with a nod, he led the way into the lounge. Immediately, he knew what had drawn his mother’s attention, for the video-screen was flickering occasionally. Almost as soon as the family had entered the room, it flared into life. Scott couldn’t help but wonder whether the Hood had timed it for maximum impact, whether he knew precisely when they had all made it into the room.
“Tracy, I hope you have the deeds and plans ready.” The Hood’s face flickered onto the screen almost instantly and Gordon found that he was forced to grab onto the back of Scott’s shirt as his eldest brother took a threatening step forward. For a moment, he didn’t think he would be able to hold back the practically shaking man, but he managed to catch Virgil’s eye, and the artist realised what was happening. Grabbing onto Scott’s arm, the two younger brothers managed to pull the older one back. Sitting Scott down in between them, Gordon managed to just about see Virgil’s warning look around their brother and knew not to let go again.
Jeff shot a sideways glance out of the corner of his eye, and Scott nodded, his fingers playing with his watch. Most onlookers would have no idea what the man had just done. But the family knew he had just received the go-ahead from Alan. If there was a way to trace this man, they would find it.
“Something like that takes time, I can’t just do it,” Jeff responded tersely, and his sons had to give him credit. It did really sound like he was giving in – and hating every moment of it. They would have believed him, it was just a matter of whether the Hood would. Gordon thought his heart would stop when he heard the next words.
“I don’t believe you.”
The three boys held their breath, and Gordon could have sworn he heard Alan’s hands falter over the keyboard. Jeff didn’t so much as blink.
“Your loss then. If you think I’ll risk my son on it…”
For a long moment, there was silence. Jeff found himself locked almost in a staring match with the man, but didn’t do anything to break it. The longer they could hold him on, the more chance Alan had of being able to get a proper trace on him. And a proper trace on the Hood meant a proper lead on John. He refused to think about the fact that their last attempt to seek out the madman was what had caused all of this trouble in the first place.
“Very well. I will contact you again in an hour, then every hour until I have what I desire. If I don’t see the evidence that you are carrying out my instructions by the next contact, Tracy, I’ll show my…displeasure. And your precious son will be the one to bear the consequences.”
“Wait!” Seeing the man was clearly intending to disconnect the line, Jeff shot Scott another almost invisible glance. His son glanced at his watch, before shaking his head, grateful he was out of the eye-line of the monitor. Alan still hadn’t been able to find anything.
“Let me see him! Let me see John!”
“No,” The Hood responded bluntly, and everyone in the room held their breath. If the Hood was not even going to let them see John, they would have no idea what state their brother was in. Scott refused to think about how much harder that was going to make a rescue attempt.
Suddenly, the Hood snarled, “Nice try, Tracy.” And with that, the line went completely dead.
“What did he me-?” Virgil’s question didn’t even finish getting out of his mouth before Alan suddenly swore violently, connecting back through to the lounge via his portrait at the same time. The kid looked more strained than Scott had ever seen him. Alan glanced up, caught Jeff’s eyes and immediately looked away again.
“Dear?” It was Grandma who spoke, perching shakily on Jeff’s desk chair, her face unnaturally pale after hearing a madman threatening her grandson. Alan shook his head slowly for a moment, before lifting pain-filled eyes to meet those of his father.
“I lost him. He knew we were tracing him. I thought I was getting his signal. He had scrambled it well, but I thought I was getting somewhere…” Alan broke off, but Gordon stood up, relinquishing the control of Scott to Virgil. If anyone could keep him under control, it was his artistic brother.
“It’s not your fault, Al. You tried.”
“John would have been able to do it,” Alan muttered glumly, and not for the first time did Gordon curse the physical distance between the island and whoever was on duty on board the Space Station. He didn’t realise he often echoed Scott’s thoughts about wishing they could all just stay together. Although rather than it being out of some paranoid protection, Gordon just didn’t see the point of why one of them had to be in space.
“You don’t know that.”
“If anything happens to Johnny, it’s because I wasn’t quick enough.”
“Don’t you dare, Alan Tracy!”
Jeff had made to open his mouth, knowing that he couldn’t allow his son to think like that or the Hood really would have won, but once again, his mother beat him to it. “No one is to blame apart from that nasty man. And just because technology may have failed us doesn’t mean we have failed your brother. We still have people working for us. Scott, any news from the agents?”
“Nothing, Grandma. No one knows a damn thing. It’s like John has just disappeared without a trace. How could the Hood have done this? How could he have known where John was?”
“Questioning everything isn’t going to help, son.” Jeff’s voice was tired and drained as he looked at his sons. Scott was pale, his eyes overly bright with anger. Virgil looked nothing short of exhausted, the burns showing up even in the dim light of the lounge. Gordon too looked exhausted, his fists clenching and relaxing as he tried to regain control of his emotions. As Jeff watched, he twisted his back slightly, a clear sign it was beginning to tense up. Alan looked close to tears.
“We have to question something!”
The explosion Jeff had been waiting for finally struck as Scott leapt to his feet, tearing his arm out of Virgil’s slackening grasp as he began to pace the lounge. “If we don’t, how will we ever figure out how the hell he has done this?”
“No, Dad. You’re acting like you are just in another business meeting, bargaining for some idiot’s company. This is John we are talking about. This complete creep has my brother, the same one I swore I would protect, and you are saying we shouldn’t be questioning things?”
“Scott, that’s enough!”
If Scott had wanted to take the argument further – again, Jeff couldn’t help but drily think – then his father’s tone had certainly stopped him. The eldest son dropped his eyes, allowing Virgil to pull him back onto the sofa.
“Keep breathing, Scott. Dad’s gonna flip otherwise, and that won’t help John.”
“I am breathing,” Scott snapped, but his tone was slightly lighter than before, and when his younger brother nudged him in the ribs, he smiled a little, nudging Virgil back.
“Do you want…” Gordon broke off, swallowing as he glanced towards his only younger brother’s still-active portrait. The look of loss on Alan’s face seemed to steel his nerves, and he turned back to his father. His voice was soft and low, and if anyone had shut their eyes, they would have never said that it was Gordon talking. “Do you want me to get Brains up here to start getting plans and stuff together?”
“Dad’s right with what he said, Scott.” Despite his words being addressed to his oldest brother, Gordon couldn’t bring himself to meet said brother’s eyes. “We can’t risk John on this. Brains can just build us something bigger, something better, right?”
There was an almost childish note to Gordon’s voice, a silent plea for someone to tell him that they were going to find a way out of this. For a split second, he met Scott’s eyes across the room, and something in the older man melted. He wriggled out of Virgil’s grip once again, but this time crossed the room to stand behind his second-youngest brother. Resting his hand on Gordon’s shoulder, he squeezed it gently.
“We’re going to get him back, Gords.”
“By not giving up.” Jeff’s quiet tones filled the air, a solid determination reflected within. He nodded at Scott, who returned the gesture, clearing the air between father and son. They needed to work together in order for anything to be done, and undermining each other was certainly going to do nothing to reunite them with the missing member of their family.
The Tracys set to work once again. Scott was back on the phone, putting in calls to anyone and everyone he could think of. John had been taken in New York, but unless the Hood had a base there – which Scott doubted – he would have had to provide some sort of transport. So surely someone would know something?
Virgil went back to what he had been doing on the computer, trying to search for anything that might give a hint towards his missing sibling. Gordon and Alan were talking quietly, but the rest of the family left them to it. No one knew what they were talking about, but as Alan suddenly smiled, a flicker of his normal expression leaking through the haunted one, they knew the two youngest would be alright. No one could comfort them in the strange way they had of comforting each other.
Jeff didn’t seem to know what to do with himself. For a long moment, he just stared out into nothing, his mind partly going blank as he tried to let the events catch up with him. The madman who wanted all of his boys dead had one of them, and judging by the ease with which he had smashed John’s watch, had no qualms about hurting the star-loving Tracy.
“He’s strong, Jeff.” Penny’s soft but clipped tones sounded directly in his ear, making Jeff jump. The Lady had come out to join him, looking up towards the stars as the night drew in.
“So is the Hood.”
“You think John is going to let him do anything? You know your boy better than me, and I have every confidence that John will talk his way out of trouble. You know what he is like, nothing stops him. No challenge is too great for that young man.”
“But Penny….” Jeff broke off, glancing over his shoulder to his two youngest sons. Alan’s eyes had regained a hint of their usual sparkle, and although Gordon’s hands were resting on his lower back, his face was reasonably pain-free. “What if he doesn’t? This is killing them.”
“And it’s not you? Come on, Jeff, get a grip on yourself; this isn’t helping John.”
Jeff bristled slightly in anger, wondering how the aristocrat could even think of telling him to “get a grip” on himself when a complete maniac had his son, but before he could do so, Virgil was suddenly yelling for him. Scott went running in at the same time, and Gordon turned slightly. Jeff shot Penny a look before he too disappeared back into the lounge. The look had clearly invited her to join them should she so wish, but was also a warning. It was one thing for her to tell the father to pull himself together, but Jeff was not having her address the boys like that. Scott’s temper was only hanging by a thread as it was.
“What is it, Virg?”
“The hour is nearly up.” He glanced up briefly, meeting his father’s eyes. “We have nothing to show for it, and no lead.”
Jeff shut his eyes for a moment, brief resignation crossing his face.
“Gordon, call Brains and get him to come up here.”
His second-youngest son turned to do so, and Jeff perched on the edge of the desk, resting his face in his hands and hiding from the view of his sons. He knew he had to be the one to tell them it was all going to be okay, that they would find a way through it, but he just didn’t know how. He had no idea if this was going to be okay.
“Dad, how are we going to play this?” Ever-wanting to have control of the situation, especially considering it involved his younger brothers, Scott was still standing, his hands clasped behind his back. His father was just glad he hadn’t started pacing again.
“We’re going to make him think that we are giving into his demands, but that we need more time. Although that isn’t exactly a lie, the plans aren’t just lying around to be taken at will.”
“What about John?” Gordon had turned back again, taking a few steps closer to the family he had remaining. “You saw what he did to the watch.”
“What did that bastard do to my watch?”
“You were there, you…” Scott’s voice suddenly trailed off when he realised who he was answering. Very slowly – vaguely aware of the rest of the family doing the same thing – he turned. He didn’t know whether he wanted to hug or hit the figure standing in the doorway.
A trickle of blood was running down his forehead and he looked horrible. But, there, looking slightly confused as to what the family was talking about, stood the missing brother.