Chapter Three: And Then There Were Four
Another deafening BOOM! and Thunderbird 2 rocked and shook with the force of the increasing wind. Virgil had managed to set her down on an empty patch of grass but it was more of a collision than an actual landing and he knew he’d damaged more than enough to prevent her from flying any time soon. The news of his eldest brother’s demise had shaken him to his core and Alan and Gordon were in a pretty bad state, hell he was in a pretty bad state. He was pretty sure he was in some kind of shock but there was no time for grief as he watched the tiny light on the display screen that represented the hurricane grow nearer and nearer with every passing minute. They needed to get out of the ‘bird, out of the area, immediately, preferably to somewhere with cover.
Slowly, so as not to startle his little brothers because they looked like they were currently made of glass, he knelt down beside Alan and Gordon who had stopped crying and were just sitting silently holding one another’s hand. Virgil added his own paw on top of them and spoke quietly but with enough urgency to let them know it was important.
“We need to get out of the open.” Alan’s bloodshot eyes drifted to him slowly as he continued,
“I’m going to try and raise Thunderbird two so we can get a pod, okay?”
Blue eyes that looked paler than they ever had looked away just as slowly as they had before, like he was moving underwater, but Gordon nodded. The squid looked exhausted; his eyes were puffy and red and he seemed almost folded in on himself, his usual bounce and vigour drained completely.
Forcing himself to his feet, Virgil put on his ‘big brother’ hat and flicked the switch on the dashboard for his craft to raise up on its stilts to allow the cargo bay to be emptied. Nothing happened. He flicked it again but only a low, angry whirring noise drifted up from the belly of the ‘bird. No movement whatsoever.
Fists slammed down on the console and the noise echoed through the space like a gunshot, startling the younger Tracys to their feet.
“What’s wrong?” Gordon was still holding his little brother’s good hand and they looked just as they had when they were small, when the rest of the household gave them their nickname ‘The Terrible Twins’.
“The cargo bay’s stuck. Nothing will deploy.”
That simple sentence seemed to give the aquanaut a new lease of life and he suddenly dropped Alan’s hand, much to Virgil’s dismay as he thought his youngest sibling might topple over from the loss of contact. How could one person go through so much in so little time and still be able to function normally? He was jostled from his thoughts as Gordon began smashing buttons and pulling levers to his side, desperately trying to find a way to get Thunderbird 2 on her feet. After almost a minute of swiping his hand over anything and everything, including the shower controls and coffee machine, Gordon slumped in the pilot’s chair, defeated. He looked up at Virgil, eyes wide with grief, sorrow and dejection.
“Thunderbird 4’s stuck in there. I’ll never get her back.”
A lightbulb clicked on in Virgil’s head, finally understanding his brother’s panic moments before. He put his large hand on Gordon’s shoulder and tried a smile. It felt like a Halloween mask on his face, hollow and void of any real emotion, but he wore in nonetheless in the hopes that it would somehow soothe his squid of a brother.
“We’ll get her out after the storm.”
Virgil nodded and a chuckle escaped his lips, “Promise.”
Something heavy clanged against the side of Thunderbird 2, sending them rocking and sliding about the cockpit and Virgil knew they had to leave now. He grabbed Alan’s good arm and whipped the sling off with his free hand in one swift motion. His little brother didn’t even flinch but when the medic began to tug on his injured arm the patient’s face contorted into one of pain and he tried to slap Virgil away.
“Keep still, Alan. I was going to do this when we got home but that’s not happening any time
Virgil grabbed Alan’s elbow and wrist and told him to take a deep breath. The blond did so and his brother yanked the arm as hard as he could until a loud crunch and pop let him know that the shoulder was back in its correct place. He quickly looped the sling back on as Alan blinked away the sweat that had dripped into his eyes, something that didn’t go unnoticed by his brothers. He was most likely running a fever; being out in the cold rain for so long would definitely not be good for anyone, especially someone who seemed so out of it in the first place.
With brown eyes that seemed almost back to their usual awareness, Gordon turned from where he’d been pressing buttons on the display screens and pointed to a holographic map of their location.
“Here,” a long finger poked into the shimmering image of the beach and towards a reasonably sized town about half a mile from where Thunderbird 2 was sitting, “We should be able to make it to the town before the worst of the hurricane hits.”
Without any other options, Virgil nodded and ruffled Gordon’s hair, the same thing Scott would do whenever he had the chance. The thought knocked the breath from Virgil as he realised his big brother would never do it again but he bit down on his lip, hard enough to draw blood and continued the task at hand. He opened the large steel exterior door. It seemed like night had fallen outside; the sky was dark and foreboding, the only light source the lightning that lit up the world like a giant camera flash every few minutes. Trees had been uprooted and branches were floating through the air like feathers on a gentle breeze. It didn’t seem like the best idea International Rescue had ever had and Virgil wished that their comms were working so that he could ask John whether they should risk it or not. Their communications had gone out hours ago, however, and so the only thing they could do was take their chances. They certainly didn’t want to be stuck in Thunderbird 2 when the hurricane was in full swing, all that metal and electrics would be a terrible combination and certainly not a safe place to use as a shelter.
“Okay,” Virgil’s voice seemed to be carried away in the gusts of wind as he turned to his brothers, “Let’s do this quickly.”
Hands above their heads and bodies leaning into the encroaching gale, the three brothers made their way towards the only salvation they thought possible and just hoped that they would make it in time.
~ o O o ~
Okay, thought John as Thunderbird S tilted and shuddered madly through the air, Maybe this wasn’t such a brilliant plan after all. The craft had made it to the mainland but the redhead was having an extremely difficult time keeping her in the air; he needed to set her down somewhere remote but the beach was littered with debris from something huge and metal and the spare patches of grass were becoming more and more cluttered with pieces of flying metal and fallen trees. He remembered Brains saying something about Thunderbird S’s ability to land vertical, ‘like a woodpecker’ is how Alan had described it, but he wasn’t exactly sure how or where he could even try that.
From the viewing window, John saw the rooftops and steeples of a town. It looked quite small, maybe three miles square, but it was better than nothing. The ‘bird bucked and sashayed, caught on currents of wind that it was never meant to have to cope with, but John held firm and guided her towards an open stretch of road on what looked like the main street of the small town. White knuckled hands gripped the controls and lowered the craft downwards, knocking over a streetlight in the process. She was almost completely down when a powerful blast of wind sent her flying sideways. The right wing pierced a shop window, sending its contents spilling outwards like intestines full of glass and cuddly toys. It may have been rough, and John was pretty sure Kayo would murder him when he got home, but he had landed safely.
The town seemed to have been evacuated; bikes and cars lay abandoned in the streets, streetlights flickered and some lay completely on their sides like huge pens that had rolled out of a giant’s pencil case. The few shops that still had their windows were dark inside and the only sound John could hear over the wind was the faint whooping of a car alarm a few blocks away. Taking all of this in only took a matter of seconds, enough time for the astronaut’s brain to realise that he was no better off standing in this empty town than he was hundreds of miles away on Thunderbird 5. He still had no way to communicate with his brothers and now he didn’t even have all of the tracking equipment to see where they were.
He could have punched himself for being so reckless. Not only was he no closer to helping his brothers but now he probably needed rescuing too. What an utter failure.
“Idiot,” he mumbled to himself as he fumbled for a torch in his sash.
“I’ve always thought so.”
The familiar voice jerked John from his task and the torch went skidding across the tarmac until it was stopped abruptly by one large blue boot. Virgil picked it up and tossed it back to John, who caught it without taking his slack-jawed stare from his brother.
“What’re you doing here, Spaceboy?”
Virgil seemed smaller to John somehow, like a balloon that had started to deflate.
“I came to rescue…”
His words faded into the wind as Gordon and a very pale Alan joined them, the latter of which stumbled into John’s embrace, wrapping his good arm as tightly as he could around his new oldest brother. Teal eyes frowned quizzically at Virgil over Alan’s head and when the only response he received was a strangled sob from Alan, John spoke.
Alan’s grip tightened on his brother and Virgil just shook his head, eyes to the floor. The single tear that trickled down John’s face was plucked from his cheek by the wind and he buried the rest in Alan’s hair as he held him closer. Somehow he knew the day would come when his big brother would do something that meant the utmost sacrifice. He didn’t even need Virgil or the others to tell him how or why Scott had done it, he simply knew their big brother had saved one or more of their lives by sacrificing his own. Their leader wouldn’t even have thought twice about it, John thought, he would have simply accepted it and chosen whatever option he could to save someone else.
With a sudden realisation that he was the eldest now, John felt the responsibility like a lead weight on his shoulders. How could he ever take Scott’s place? What was he supposed to do now? He’d always had his big brother to ask for advice, anything from girls to quantum physics, but now it was his duty to take charge and lead the team. He wasn’t ready, wasn’t nearly ready.
Thankfully, Virgil seemed to have already made the decision to act now and grieve later as he guided his family into a tall, ornate building that looked like it could possibly be the town hall.
They forced the heavy wooden doors shut and stepped into the large empty hall. Chairs were scattered around; it seemed that the townsfolk had been having a meeting when the hurricane warning had been called and loose flyers carpeted the wooden floor, strangers’ 2D faces staring up at them like death masks. There was a small kitchenette just off the main hall and Gordon took Alan to get some water whilst the eldest brothers checked out the structural integrity of the building. As they looked, John asked what Virgil was hoping he wouldn’t.
“Alan said he cut his grapple to save him.”
John nodded and his voice came out as a whisper, “Always the hero.”
Terrified eyes that didn’t suit the brawny brother’s otherwise strong persona pleaded at John,
“What do we do now, Johnny?”
“First we keep ourselves alive, then… Then I don’t know.”
After checking the main walls of the town hall they realised that it would be the strongest building in the town. Whether or not it would hold against a category five hurricane was another question altogether, though, and both John and Virgil felt helpless as they waited for the worst of it to hit. All they could do was block the windows with chairs and tables, sit with their backs against one of the supporting walls and wait.
They could hear the sound of cars being picked up and slammed against walls and Virgil knew the worst was about to reach them. An almighty roar filled the air and Gordon felt like he could almost reach out and touch the sound, like it would be palpable because of the intensity of the noise as it surrounded them. Glass shattered inwards as the windows gave way to the winds, showering the brothers in shards. John felt like tiny knives were digging into his cheek as he shielded Alan from the blast and winced as he tasted blood. The flyers that had covered the floor spiralled around the room like tiny paper tornadoes, spinning and slicing into skin as they passed. The brothers huddled together as the chairs and tables against the windows tumbled down and splintered on the floor beside them. That was when all hell broke loose.
Plaster began to peel from the walls as the force of the hurricane rose and shook the building, revealing the snakes of electrical wires beneath the surface. The wires were torn from their clips and flailed wildly in the air as the winds picked up. Blue, red and brown wires fractured, their exposed metal whipping at the floor and walls like reeds in the ocean, causing sparks to fly. Something was leaking from a pipe running along the bottom of the wall and whatever it was was flammable. The spark bit into the liquid and flames whooshed into the room, huge and angry. The fire spread upwards and outwards, a wall that would certainly encase the room and the brothers if they stayed where they were. John pulled Alan to his feet and all four of them kept close to the opposite wall as they headed for the staircase. Perhaps getting higher would keep them from the fire and debris.
No such luck.
As they climbed the staircase an earth-shaking BOOM! took out the side of the stairwell, exposing the brothers to the street outside and the barrage of flying cars and glass and god knows what else that was being whipped around by the winds. Virgil pulled Gordon to his feet and started to shove him firmly up the stairs; the upper floors were untouched and looked safer than their current location in the open wound of the building and so he guessed that being up there would be better than nothing. Before he could push on any further, a fireball so huge and loud that it sent tremors down their bodies exploded from a gas station down the street. Fire burped into the air and caught in the funnel of a smaller twister that had formed in the wind. It wound upwards until the entire tornado was on fire, setting trees alight as it flopped and turned along the street. A nearby car was pulled into it and exploded as it hurtled into a flower shop, sending petals and leaves floating around like colourful snow.
John felt his hair tug in the direction of the tornado and knew it was soon going to be upon them. If they were caught anywhere near it then they would surely be pulled into it with no way out.
“We need to get further into the building!”
It was too late when John saw the car hurtling towards them. Before he could react it hit the stairwell a couple of steps beneath them and took out the entire bottom portion of the staircase. The handrail disintegrated beneath their hands, making them stumble and bump into each other, and Gordon and Virgil clambered to the next floor on their hands and knees. Alan had fallen behind a little when the wall had imploded and now, with nothing to hold onto with his good hand, he slipped. His legs dangled over the edge of the remaining stairs and John grabbed him firmly by the wrist. Months on end in space wasn’t exactly a workout for the muscles, however, and soon the youngest Tracy was slipping from his grasp.
“Virgil! Grab him!”
Perhaps ten seconds passed and suddenly John, Virgil and Alan were lying in a heap at the top of the stairs. Virgil had lived up to his reputation of being the strongest brother and yanked his siblings up the stairs, one in each arm like some kind of weird wrestler. He lay out of breath under them, arms still tightly wrapped around their waists until Gordon spoke up from the end of the hall.
He was looking out of the window, towards the fire-tornado that had just been born before their very eyes.
“Err, guys? That twister is coming this way.”