Quickly hitting a switch, Virgil continued with his original purpose and patched himself through to his missing brother, although any thought of a pleasant conversation with John had been dashed from his mind. Immediately, the Space Monitor’s portrait morphed into the real thing and John glanced up from where he was scanning through various readings, obviously trying to gauge the scenario from what he had been told. Briefly catching Virgil’s eye, he smiled a small smile, one that was only seen when a rescue came in, almost as if John was apologising for what he was about to say. He said nothing, however, knowing that he needed the rest of the team to be present before he could report.
Sliding smoothly out of the way, Virgil felt as if he was standing to attention as his father came sprinting into the room, throwing himself down at his desk before turning to face his second-born, quickly taking control of the situation. Glancing at Jeff as he straightened in his chair, his posture strictly business, Virgil found himself watching the man turn from father into Commander. There would be no petty squabbles here, no payback for unwanted wake-up calls. As Scott’s footfalls came thundering through, arriving only seconds after their father, Virgil could hear the signs of Gordon and Alan also heading their way. Now that the Commander and Field Commander were present, however, John began his report, knowing that the others would be briefed on the way if necessary. He himself had briefed his brothers via the comms in the past, lack of time meaning the ‘birds needed to be launched as quickly as possible.
Considering the location of this potential rescue – it was still up to Jeff to say the words that made it official – the blond was confident that they had plenty of time to carry it out, so he was able to deliver the report whilst the boys were still at home. Besides, it made deciding who was to go and who to stay a lot easier when they had the full picture, not to mention deciding which pod was needed.
“Go ahead, John,” Jeff ordered. To outsiders – despite the fact that they would never see him in this role – his voice sounded stern, but his sons knew him better than that. It was his way of putting on a front, of showing that it wasn’t affecting him having to make a decision that could not only spell out the consequences for any victims of the rescue, but also for his own family. As Gordon and Alan came sprinting into the room, Gordon clutching onto the edge of the couch as he attempted to get his breath back, John launched into his report.
“Major fires springing up almost in a line along the banks of the Mackenzie River. The local rescue services are managing to control a few of them, but their resources simply don’t stretch far enough to tackle them all, so they have called for help. What do you think, Father?”
For a long moment, silence fell across the lounge, all the boys waiting with baited breath as they watched for the signs that meant their father had made a decision about what their next course of action was going to be. Everything they did in the rescue business came down to Jeff making his decision, and with a nod of his head, the Tracy patriarch made up his mind.
“Boys, you’re off to Canada. Scott, leave now, scout ahead and brief your brothers on where the machines are needed most. We might not be able to tackle them all either, we’ll have to work closely with the local services.”
“Yes, sir.” Without wasting another moment, Scott strode across to his lamps, and in a blink of an eye, had vanished from sight.
“Virgil, take the Firefly in Pod three.”
“Yes, sir.” Echoing his brother’s words and movements, Virgil also moved across the room, heading for his own hidden entrance. Before he could vanish, however, his father called him back.
“And take Gordon with you.” Nodding in acknowledgement, Virgil also vanished from view, Gordon shortly following suit. Despite their differences, the pair of them knew that they would work together without the slightest issue on the rescue. After all, it wasn’t just their father who changed from family member to member of International Rescue when a call came in; all of the boys did.
Pausing for a moment as he waited to clear Scott for take-off, Jeff turned his attention back to John.
“John, I need you to set up clear communications with the local authorities, Scott will need to know where to land. We are also going to need their full co-operation if this rescue is to be carried out in the shortest time possible.”
“Already on it, Dad.” Catching Jeff’s eye, John smiled, a reassuring look that made his father almost seem to deflate where he sat. Now the boys were on the way, there was nothing else their commander could do but sit there and worry about them. Just at the right moment, Kyrano appeared in the doorway, a tray of coffee balanced in his hands and Tin-Tin directly behind him. Father and daughter slipped almost silently into the room, Kyrano immediately handing his boss one of the steaming mugs and trying not to grin at the look of appreciation that shot over Jeff’s face. Tin-Tin navigated herself onto the couch, shooting Alan a reassuring smile at the put-out expression that she immediately knew meant he was not needed on this rescue. Sighing, he managed to return the smile, albeit it not with his usual enthusiasm, and slipped onto the couch next to her.
“Thunderbird One approaching danger zone.” Immediately sitting up from his somewhat slouched position, Jeff opened up the communications between Base and his eldest son, causing Scott’s portrait to be activated.
“How’s it looking, son?”
“I can see why they needed help, that’s for sure. I’ve made contact with the team on the ground and patched the co-ordinates through to Virgil of where he can leave Two and where the Firefly is needed the most.”
“F.A.B. Stay in contact, Scott. Base out.”
Watching as his father disconnected, Scott masterfully brought his baby down to land in the designated area. Quickly running through the basic post-flight checks to make sure the engines were safe, the pilot unstrapped himself from his harness, jogging through the ‘bird even as Mobile Control started to unload itself. By the time the rescue services received the all-clear to join the Field Commander, Scott had everything ready to go.
Ten minutes later, a call came crackling through his radio, informing him of his brothers’ arrival. Thanking whoever it was out there under his breath for a good time in their approach, Scott had enough time to warn the rescue workers of their arrival before the great hulk of Thunderbird Two was lowered gracefully from the sky. Despite claiming that his own ‘bird was better, Scott had to admit that whilst One had the elegance that Two was lacking, the green machine dwarfed her sister. Sending the rescue teams off to their designated areas, Scott turned with a tight smile to see Gordon jogging over, the rumble of the Pod door indicating that Virgil was getting the Firefly ready for action.
“What’s the plan then?” the redhead asked the moment he was in earshot of his brother, the dismissal of the local services meaning that they had slightly more privacy than the Tracys were used to on most rescues.
“Virgil should take the Firefly over to sector seven,” Scott ordered, making sure that the comms were up and running in the Firefly so that Virgil would be able to hear as well and so save him having to disembark only to get back in again. Sure enough, no sooner had Scott finished speaking than the Firefly changed direction. The flashing map on Mobile Control’s screen had been doubled up in the command area of the Firefly, meaning Virgil was seeing the same thing as his brothers and knew exactly where he had been told to go.
“F.A.B.” The reply sounded slightly tinny over the comms, but Scott was still pleased with the signal in the area. Rescues were never harder than when there was a communication problem, and with a safe frequency established that he could use to address the local fire services, Scott was certain that the rescue wouldn’t cause them a problem. It did make things a lot easier that people weren’t in direct danger, meaning it wasn’t left to the Field Commander to decide who they should try and rescue first.
“And us?” Gordon asked, leaning causally against Mobile Control as he waited for his brother to tell him what was needed. Glancing over at him, Scott couldn’t help but smile in amusement, reaching out a gloved hand and ruffling Gordon’s hair, pleased to see his younger brother looking so relaxed, despite the fact they were on a rescue. He knew full well that Gordon was completely focused on the job; there could be no denying that. But it seemed that the redhead too was feeling the benefits of not having to literally be pulling people from the flames. It certainly made their job a lot more pleasant.
“We, kiddo, are going to get suited up and tackle the smaller ones along this stretch by hand whilst Virg tackles the big ones.”
“F.A.B,” Gordon acknowledged, pushing himself into a standing position and setting off at a jog back towards Thunderbird Two to collect the equipment they would need in order to carry out Scott’s plan. Gordon could only hope that it was as quick and straight forward as the initial briefing had made it sound. Of course, it wasn’t that straight forward, the fact that the local rescue services couldn’t handle the situation was evidence enough of that. But of all the rescues the redhead had been on, this was certainly making it into the top ten easiest. Assuming, of course, it went that smoothly.
Just before he disappeared up the ramp into Two, he paused, twisting back around to face Scott. His older brother was still facing him, but talking in a quiet tone into his watch, and Gordon knew immediately that he was talking to John. Scott didn’t often report back into Base during a rescue, not unless there was something that needed reporting, instead keeping his nerves steady by talking to his immediate younger brother, whether John was in space or down on Earth.
“Hey, Scott!” Calling over, Gordon waited until he knew he had his brother’s attention before shooting the older man his trademark grin. “Less of the kiddo, old man!”
As Scott stepped forward slightly threateningly, Gordon disappeared up the ramp, laughing as he did so.
Nearly two hours later, and Gordon stepped away from his final smouldering heap, glancing around automatically to see where the next fire was. For a moment, his eyes didn’t register what he was seeing, but eventually, a grin split over his face. Scott was just finishing next to him, and Virgil had extinguished all along his patch plus more, doubling back around to help his brothers in their section. Tapping his watch, Gordon raised it to his mouth.
“Scott?” For a moment, his brother didn’t answer; too busy adamantly beating back a fire that simply refused to go out. Eventually though, the oldest Tracy was victorious, and answering Gordon’s call, he glanced back along the track as he did so.
“Have the locals reported in?”
“Yeah,” Scott sounded as exhausted as Gordon felt. Despite the rescue not being as emotionally difficult as some of the ones the brothers had been sent on, there was no denying that it was still hard work. “They’re all done; they’ve headed back towards the towns to make sure there is nothing that we’ve missed.”
“So we’re all done?” Glancing around him, Scott came to the same conclusion as his little brother, and, un-strapping his helmet, he tore it away in a flourish, running a hand through his hair to stop it sticking to his forehead.
“We’re done,” he confirmed, causing Gordon to also remove some of his own safety gear. He knew the benefits of it, neither he nor Scott would have been able to tackle more than about two fires each without it before the heat and smoke got too much. But Gordon couldn’t deny that he hated it, hated the feeling of restriction it left him with.
“What’s that?” Walking over to his brother, Gordon tipped his head in the direction of something behind Scott. Turning around, the Field Commander groaned out loud when he realised what had drawn Gordon’s attention. Reporting in to Virgil, John and Base that the fires were extinguished but that something needed to be checked, he led the way over to the tall structure that had just made itself visible through the smoke. As soon as it became clearer, Gordon echoed Scott’s earlier actions and groaned.
The crane, whilst certainly not one of the largest that Gordon had seen, still loomed somewhat impressively over the two Tracys as they stared up at it. It wasn’t the metal structure that was giving them cause for concern, however, but the half a dozen crates swinging freely from it, tied on with what looked like some strong rope. Rope, however, didn’t normally last long against fire, and as Scott gave his brother a pointed look, Gordon sighed dramatically before placing his helmet back on.
“I’m on it,” he muttered, before jogging towards the crane. A quick visual scan over the structure caused Gordon to be satisfied that it would be secure enough, and before Scott could say anything, Gordon had begun to swing himself through the metal, quickly gaining height as he made his way towards the crates. The boys couldn’t leave until they knew that the boxes were secure, it could just be an accident waiting to happen otherwise.
Hearing a rumble of engines come closer before stopping completely, Scott glanced over his shoulder in time to see Virgil jump down from the Firefly, running a hand through his hair as he did so and grimacing at the mess that came away. Even in the machine, Virgil had still managed to get himself dirty. Scott had no idea how his little brother always seemed to manage to get himself covered in dirt, no matter what role he played in a rescue. None of the others – himself excluded – managed to do so. In fact, John was the complete opposite, you could stick the guy in a mudslide and he still walked away with barely a mark on his uniform. It was a mystery to his older brother how he managed it, that was for sure.
“Where’s Gords?” Wandering casually over, Virgil glanced around for his younger brother, but quickly followed Scott’s pointed look and turned his eyes towards the sky. Sure enough, Gordon could be seen on the top of the crane, handling himself with ease as he quite clearly checked the crates in order to make sure they were secure. Shaking his head with a fond smile, Virgil was not in the slightest bit surprised that Scott had sent their brother up there rather than going himself. The Field Commander would have already run his eyes over the structure to make sure it was secure, and knowing no harm could come to Gordon unless he was an idiot, had leapt on the opportunity to get the prankster to burn off some more of his energy. There was nothing worse than travelling home with an adrenaline-high Gordon. Considering who the redhead would have been travelling with, Virgil shot Scott a grateful smile, receiving a smirk in response that quite clearly showed that his brother knew exactly what was going through his head.
“I’ll get this lot packed up,” Virgil eventually said after watching Gordon for a few more moments. There could be no denying it, Gordon handled himself with ease, even given the somewhat precarious position he was letting himself dangle at.
“F.A.B.” Scott responded, his eyes once more back on Gordon. “We won’t be long here.”
Nodding in acknowledgement, Virgil set off once again towards the Firefly. Now that he knew the fires were extinguished, the artist wanted nothing more than to be able to go home and hit the shower. Now that he thought about it, Virgil couldn’t help but groan as he remembered the state of his bed. Whilst probably being dry by now, Virgil knew he was still going to have to change it. Grinning as he shook his head at Gordon’s antics, he swung himself with ease back into the driver’s seat and restarted the engines, slowly making his way back to his ‘bird.
Watching him go, Scott didn’t notice Gordon drop to the ground from a short distance up the crane, immediately bending into a crouch to absorb the impact and rolling slightly, only to grimace afterwards as he caught sight of the mud stains smeared over his uniform. The crane was situated right on the river bank, and Gordon could only assume whatever was being suspended in the boxes had something to do with the rushing water underneath.
“We’re all secure and good to go,” Gordon reported, strolling casually over to Scott and making the older man jump somewhat violently, causing Gordon to smirk. Virgil wasn’t the only one who had the ability to move with stealth when required.
“The boxes are secure?”
“Yeah, they aren’t going anywhere.”
“Good, that means we can get home. I, for one, am starving.”
“Starving? After the amount….”
Breaking off mid sentence, Gordon frowned at something behind Scott’s back. As if sensing his gaze, Scott made to turn around, only to be stopped by Gordon’s shout.
“Scott! Duck!” Immediately following his brother’s command, Scott tensed, dropping into a controlled crouch even as his eyes roamed the surrounding area for anything that could have proven a threat. After seeing nothing, his eyes fell on his copper-haired sibling. Gordon looked nothing short of astonished, his eyebrows disappearing into his hair line as he stared at his brother, the corners of his mouth twitching. As Scott frowned quizzically at him, Gordon completely cracked, finding himself bent over double as he quickly became breathless with laughter.
“What?” Scott cried, beginning to feel a little self-conscious as he stood back up again, deciding that nothing was about to take his head off. Unable to form a response, Gordon merely pointed. Turning on the spot, Scott could see nothing. Eventually though, his eyes were drawn towards the ground, and sure enough, three ducks were making their way out of the river, clearly satisfied that fires had been extinguished and the threat had passed. Feeling a blush begin to work its way up his neck, Scott turned back to Gordon, rubbing a hand through his hair as his brother continued to laugh. Glancing upwards, Scott suddenly frowned.
“Oh how original, Scott.”
“No, DUCK!!” Catching onto the tone in his brother’s voice, Gordon followed Scott’s eye line. The crates that had been suspended by the crane above his head had looked stable enough when Gordon had checked them for any fire damage, but even as he watched, one broke free, swinging wildly as it plummeted towards the earth. Or more specifically, plummeted towards him. Gordon was vaguely aware of Scott moving forward, yelling at his brother to get down, but Gordon found himself frozen to the spot, watching with wide eyes as a certain death came rushing towards him. Scrunching his eyes shut, finding that his body was unable to react in time, Gordon was certainly not prepared for a rushing figure to suddenly catch him around the waist, pulling him down and out of the way.
Shutting his eyes and mouth tightly as he held onto his brother, Virgil let the momentum carry them through the mud, the dampness of the soil below causing them to slide with ease out of the way of the falling crate. Not a moment too soon, either, for as soon as he had Gordon clear, Virgil felt the edge of the crate miss his leg by a fraction of a millimetre. Unable to stop their slide through the mud, Virgil instead just tightened his grip on his little brother, adamant that he was not letting go until he was sure that Gordon was completely out of harm’s way. Something brushed past his face, causing Virgil to grimace at the sensation of something feathery, until their movement was suddenly and abruptly stopped as the pair of them crashed into something solid. Not hearing a surprised cry, Virgil finally let out the breath he was holding, pushing himself into a kneeling position and glancing down at Gordon.
“You okay, kid?” he asked gently, only receiving a wide-eyed stare in response. “Gordon! Answer me, are you okay?”
“Duck,” Gordon responded hoarsely, pushing himself upright and staring back at the smashed crate which rested precisely where he had been standing. Letting out a shaky breath, Gordon turned back to Virgil, only to frown when he suddenly realised that he appeared to be missing a smother hen.
“Where’d Scott go?”
Glancing around, Virgil felt his breath catch in his throat when he too noticed that their older brother seemed to have vanished. Glancing back into the mud, he quickly was able to pick out Scott’s footprints. Immediately wincing, Virgil shut one eye as he stared at the prints. The footprints vanished exactly where their skid mark came to a stop, but another skid mark led the way straight down to the river.
“Gords…” Virgil said slowly, drawing his brother’s attention to the marks and knowing by the look that shot over the prankster’s face that he was thinking the same as his older sibling.
“Oh gees…” Gordon muttered. As one, the two Tracys slowly raised their eyes to the river, just in time to see a head break the surface, spluttering indignantly.
“Nice swim, Scotty?” Gordon called down, trying to hide the fact his hands were letting out involuntary tremors.
“Scott?” Virgil found that he was moving again, grasping his brother by the forearm as Scott made his way over to the bank and helping his brother haul himself free of the water. “God, Scott, you’re soaked.”
“Really?” Scott responded drily, his voice dripping with sarcasm. “I hadn’t noticed. You okay, Gords?” His eyes flickering over to his little brother, Scott had to admit the only reason why he wasn’t letting the pair of them have it with everything he had was because if Virgil hadn’t been there, Gordon would never have moved in time.
“We scared the ducks,” Gordon muttered, letting out a shaky laugh as he glanced back towards the crane, his eyes refusing to look at the smashed crate any more. Within a few seconds however, his laughter got the better of him, and bending over with his hands on his knees, Gordon found that he was struggling to draw a breath in even as tears built up in his eyes. He just couldn’t stop the laughter from exploding out of him, and yet Gordon knew the situation was far from funny. Feeling Virgil’s hand rub soothingly over his back, Gordon attempted to force himself to listen to his brother’s reassuring words.
“Come on, Gordy, that’s enough. Deep breath, buddy, deep breaths. You’re okay.”
Finally Gordon managed to regain control of himself, smiling in appreciation at Virgil even as he wiped a shaky hand over his eyes. He had been in near-death situations before, but they didn’t normally happen after the rescue was finished.
“They were secure,” he practically gasped, eyes fixed on the end of the rope that now had nothing swinging from it.
“Maybe you just missed one,” Scott began, trying to sound reassuring, but not realising that he was simply fuelling Gordon’s rarely-seen temper.
“I do not miss things on rescues, Scott. They were secure.”
“I’m sure they were,” Virgil broke in, shooting Scott a glare. Whilst he felt for his brother – the guy had just been dumped in a river, after all – Gordon’s quick burst of hysteria showed the medic the accident had rattled him more than he was going to say, and Scott questioning his judgement was not going to help matters.
“Come on, guys, let’s go home. Gordon?”
“What?” Gordon muttered, his eyes still fixed on the top of the crane. But no longer was it the ropes that had drawn his attention, but something else entirely. Convinced he was seeing things, Gordon kept his eyes locked on the spot that had caught his attention in the first place. As Scott and Virgil began to walk away, Gordon knew full well they had not seen anything. The redhead wasn’t even sure whether he himself had or whether it was merely his eyes playing tricks on him, but the aquanaut could have sworn he had seen something move up there. The crane had been deserted when Gordon had scaled it, that was for sure, but he had never once glanced down the other side. Someone could have easily been standing there the entire time and he would have never noticed.
“Gordon? Are you coming?”
“I’ll just be a moment.”
“Are you okay?”
“Yeah. You two go ahead, I just want to check something.” Scott looked like he wanted to say something to his brother, but Virgil quickly caught him around the arm and began to pull him away, knowing that if Scott attempted to pull rank now, Gordon would simply explode. He had a very good idea of what Gordon was about to do, and if his brother wanted to double-check the rest of the crates for his own peace of mind, Virgil was not going to stop him. Not if it meant that he would have a calm passenger on the way home.
“Come on, Scott, we need to get you into something dry,” Virgil muttered, receiving a glare from his older brother as he spoke. If there was anything that Scott hated more than having to sit still for any length of time, it was Virgil fussing around him.
Waiting until his brothers were practically out of sight, Gordon set off at a run back towards the crane, immediately swinging himself up through the structure once more. For one horrible moment, he thought he was going to slip as his mud-splattered hands refused to grip, but with an added push of his legs, he quickly brought himself into a secure position at the top. Glancing down on the far side, Gordon let his eyes scan the area, but there was no one in sight. Even so, there was something about how smooth the mud on that side was that caused the prankster to frown. It was almost unnatural, as if someone had smoothed it over in order to hide their footprints. Biting his lip, Gordon turned back to the crates. Edging his way along the metal bars, he carefully balanced himself once more as he leant out to where they were swinging almost wildly in the non-existent breeze, simply adding to Gordon’s belief that he had not been the only one up there lately.
Picking his way along the wooden planks leading out to the crates, Gordon found his eyes once more drawn to the planks. He could just about make out his own muddy footprints from before, but there was something wrong with them. Crouching down the best he could, Gordon frowned quizzically, trying to work out what it was that was playing on his mind so much. Eventually though, he figured it out, and with a pounding heart, Gordon stood back up again.
Some of his prints were clear and defined, obviously indicating where Gordon had stood in order to check that the crates were secure. But some of them were not so obvious, the edges smudged and blurred somewhat. Following the smudged prints, Gordon found himself standing next to where the empty rope was swinging freely. Any doubts he may have had instantly vanished as he looked at the rope. Someone else had been up here, attempting to use Gordon’s footprints as a way of masking their own, but they clearly had slightly bigger feet, meaning someone with Gordon’s keen eye had been able to pick out their route. What the redhead was finding more disturbing, however, was the intention they had come up here with.
For the rope was now level with his eye line, and with just a quick glance, Gordon knew that something was very wrong. The ends of the rope were not frayed in the slightest as would have been expected if the rope had been subjected to damage from either the fire or the intense smoke.
Instead it was clean cut.