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Don't be a hero

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Those first few seconds of silence were bone chilling.  The reassuring thrum of Thunderbird Two’s engines ceased.  Her panels died. The night sky swallowed her up as she started to lose altitude.  

A brief flash of light as those responsible, the Chaos Crew, surged off into the blackness.

Virgil tried valiantly to get his bird going again.  Penny searched her memory for anything she could do to assist.

They hit the water.

Nothing.

~*~

Thunderbird One and Shadow scrambled.  Up in orbit John tasked all of Thunderbird Five’s scanners to the last known location of their missing cargo ship.  Her tracking beacon was scarily silent.

Gordon launched from the island to join the search, despite Scott’s orders to stand by.  To hell with that. Gordon didn’t care if he had to search the entire ocean. He would find them.

His beloved older brother, and precious Lady Penelope.

~*~

“Virgil?”

The Thunderbird Two pilot groaned, wincing as he felt an ache in his neck and far sharper pain in his head.  What the hell?

“Virgil, you need to wake up.  We’re in a bit of a mess down here and I really need your help.”

A woman’s voice.  Not Kayo or Grandma.  Virgil forced his eyes open and looked around the dull cockpit.  The first thing he noticed was the murky blue beyond the windscreen where normally there was sky.  The second was the strange green light to his left.

He turned his head slowly, blinked a few times, and finally noticed Lady Penelope in the copilot’s seat.  She had a glow stick in one of her hands, the only source of light, and he suddenly remembered what had happened.

“We went down…”

“I’m afraid so.  The Chaos Crew got away.”

Virgil growled and removed his seat belt.  The anger he felt burned deep inside him, but it would have to wait until later to be dealt with.  Right now he had to focus.

“No power?”

Penelope shook her head.  “No. Everything is still dead from that EMP grenade they fired at us.”

“Okay.”  Virgil pushed his seat back and moved to stand, only to stop when he felt the world spin sickeningly around him.  The next thing he knew he was back in his seat and Penelope was standing at his side. Damn, his head was killing him.  “What the hell?”

“Easy, you’ve banged your head.”  She had the first aid kit in her hands and placed it on the console.  “Let me clean that up a bit, then we’ll both go and assess the damage.”

Virgil knew better than to argue.  What she was saying made sense. He was just used to being the one doing the rescuing and medical treatment - not the one needing it.

Speaking of which…

“Are you okay?”  His head must have been bad.  He should have known to ask that a lot sooner.

Penelope smiled at him.  “A few bruises, that’s all.”

Virgil nodded and went quiet again to let her tend to him, vaguely noticing all the blood she was cleaning off his face with an antiseptic wipe.  He could only hope his bird was in a better state than his head, though he seriously doubted it.

~*~

Gordon arrived at the location John had given him and started a sweep of the immediate area, aware that Thunderbird One was hovering directly above him.  Scott’s hologram appeared on his dashboard.

“I thought I told you to stay on the island.”  He didn’t look pleased but Gordon didn’t give a damn.

“If they went down I’ve got the best chance of finding them,” the aquanaut snapped back, though the words left a bad taste in his mouth.  Considering how long it had been since Thunderbird Two had disappeared from scanners, ‘if’ was definitely wishful thinking.

Scott scowled.   “Fine.  John is picking up an unidentified object near the sea floor.  We need you to go down and identify it.”

With a single nod Gordon pointed Four’s nose downwards and descended into the murk.  There were strong underwater currents in this area which threw up the sand and obscured his visuals, so he was forced to rely on his instruments.

He dreaded to think what he might find.

“Kayo has found more debris a couple of miles south.”  Scott’s voice was low and carefully guarded.  Gordon had heard that tone before, after they’d lost their dad.

“Hey!” the younger snapped at the tiny Scott in front of him.   “Don’t you dare give up this early!  We’re going to find them.”

“I’m not giving up, Gordon.”

“Well you sure sound like it,” the younger grumbled, then blinked as he saw something appear up ahead.  “Hold up, I’ve got your unidentified object. I think it's--” His throat closed right there.

No…  No, no no!

“Gordon, what?”

Thunderbird Four’s arms unfolded from her underbelly and Gordon latched onto his find.  He brought it to the surface in silence, so many thoughts and scenarios running through his head.  He heard Scott curse under his breath, then a murmur of disbelief from John.

There, gleaming under the morning sun in Four’s grasping arms, was a sight that made them all sick with dread.  Green cahelium with white decal paint.

Thunderbird Two’s port wing.

~*~

Thunderbird Two was literally dead in the water and Virgil was at a loss.  It had been hours since he and Lady Penelope had regained consciousness, and their assessment of Thunderbird Two had not gone well.

The damage was extensive.  The ship’s main hull was intact, but hairline cracks were appearing all over and the module had flooded.  Virgil had been forced to swim down and weld a patch where the damage was letting in water, leaving Penelope in the cockpit.

After that he’d battled with the emergency power system, and finally coaxed the pump into life to drain the module.  It was exhausting and his pounding head hindered his progress, enough so that Penny tried to make him take a ten minute break and rest.

He refused.  

There was too much to do and a limited amount of time.  The life support system had been compromised by the water leaking in, so it was only a matter of time before they ran out of air.  Virgil had to make every breath count.

He was a skilled engineer who knew his way around a toolbox and normally liked a challenge, but he was no miracle worker, and Thunderbird Two was fighting against him every step of the way.

There was no hope of starting her engines - none of the preparations had been made to close her intakes or prevent water from getting in.  Two of the inflator bags had failed to deploy, which had caused the ship to rise precariously on one side and almost flip over. When she’d started taking on more water Virgil had been forced to deflate the bags and seal the leaks as best he could.  Her emergency beacon was fried. Even their communicators had been waterlogged.

Virgil had tried everything he could think of.  Their only option was the module now. If Virgil could get all the water out and release the clamps then hopefully it would carry him and Penelope back to the surface, where they could then await rescue.

Until then all he could do was buy them time, and give his brothers the best chance they had to find them.  That meant more repairs and more checks, battling against the effects of a suspected concussion as he went.

He refused to give up.

~*~

Penny stood in the module with a blanket wrapped around her, shivering.  Virgil had instructed her to remain there now that all the water was out and he was confident his repairs were holding, deeming it a lot safer now than the cockpit had been.

The man was still soldiering on in his efforts to save both their lives, coming and going between the module and the outer corridors of Thunderbird Two.  He spoke to her as he worked, having managed to repair his communicator and link it to the internal speaker system within the module, jury rigging and cannibalising whatever systems he could afford to sacrifice.  

Virgil was now preparing the module for release from Thunderbird Two.  All being well they would be on their way to the surface within minutes.

She watched as he walked back inside and sealed the door shut behind him.  “How is it looking, Virgil?”

“About as good as we’re gonna get,” the man replied, his face tight with pain and eyes dull with fatigue.  Penny felt guilty that she couldn’t do more to help, but this situation was far from her usual area of expertise, so it was all up to Virgil.

She watched him take a breath and then pull the emergency release.

---

Nothing happened.

“No!”  Virgil smacked his fist off the wall with a metallic boom.

“Please tell me there’s a plan B,” Lady Penelope said from behind.

Virgil sighed.  “That was plan B.  If the module can’t detach then we’ve got no way of getting out of here.”

He racked his brain for another solution.

“What about just staying put for now?  Is that an option?”

Virgil turned and leaned back against the door of the module.  His fatigue had sunk right into his bones now and it took a real conscious effort to get his brain to work.  “It’s not,” he told her quietly. “I did the math. With the failing life support I’d estimate we’ve got an hour of air left - less if any of my repairs fail or more cracks appear.”

He ran a hand down his face.  What more could he possibly do?  Thunderbird Two was dead. He’d tried every trick in the book and nothing had worked.  His head injury wasn’t helping, but he still felt like he’d failed.

“Don’t give up hope, Virgil.”  Penny’s words were touching but not of much use to him.  He watched her gaze drop to the floor. “I’m sorry. I’ve not been of any help in this situation.”

He sighed.  “Don’t be. You didn’t jam the module clamps.”  He went to say more, then stopped.

The clamps…  The only option left on the table.  The emergency release had failed, but each clamp had a manual fail-safe.

Virgil looked at Penny, cold and shivering, and made his decision.  He refused to let her die down here.

He stood up straight again.  “There’s one more thing I can try,” he told her, and before she could ask him to elaborate he exited the module once again and this time locked it from the outside.  He didn’t want to see her face when she realised what he was about to do.

The Chaos Crew hadn’t managed to kill him, but now his own chivalry might just finish the job.

---

“Virgil?”  Penny’s voice was shaky.  She moved to the speaker panel and turned it on.  “What are you doing?”

“I’ve got one last trick up my sleeve,” Virgil’s voice came back, calm and collected.  “I can release each clamp manually from out here. That should allow the module to separate and rise to the surface.”

Penny froze.  “And how are you going to get back in?”  

When he didn’t answer she felt her heart drop.

“Virgil, no.  You can’t do this.”

“I can and I’m going to.  If I can save you then it’ll be worth it.”

Penny was aghast.  Of all the self righteous, inconsiderate, chivalrous idiocy!

“But most of the oxygen is in here with me.  You’ll barely have enough to--” She couldn’t bring herself to say it, so she clenched her fists and leaned her head against the wall.  “Virgil, please don’t do this.”

She heard the first clunk of a clamp releasing and closed her eyes.  There was no way to stop him. She was completely helpless and that was one thing she could not tolerate.  In a moment of anger she banged the wall with her fist.

“Virgil Grissom Tracy, get back in here this instant.”  It was a pathetic attempt considering she knew he’d never follow her instructions, but she had to try anyway.  “You can’t just give up like this. Think of your brothers and Grandma. If we wait a little longer I’m sure they’ll find us.”

A sigh.  “There isn’t enough air for us both.  This way you have a chance.” A gentle chuckle.  “Besides, you realise what Gordon would do to me if I let anything happen to you?”

Penny knew what he was doing and she hated him for it.  He was trying to distract her by bringing up Gordon, while using humour to mask his own fears.  Fears of being stuck in his downed bird, of never seeing his family again.

Fear of dying alone.

She bit her lip.  “What’s your point?”

She thought she could hear his footsteps passing in the corridor outside, and followed the sound.  A second clunk.

“He loves you, Penny.  Losing you would absolutely destroy him.”

Anger rose up in her chest, mixing painfully with the desperation to stop him.  “Losing you would do the same thing,” she insisted. “Why should you be the one to decide which one of us gets out of here?”

“My ship, my rules.”  A pause. “If we both get out of this you’ll have the rest of our lives to yell at me for it.”

His tone, so light and casual, couldn’t have been more out of place.  Another clunk as the third clamp came free. Just one more to go…

“Virgil, please!  I’m begging you. Don’t put me through this!”

She heard his footsteps reach the final corner.  His voice, when it came back, was suddenly a lot more vulnerable.  She could only imagine what he must be going through.

“If I don’t make it out of this...promise me you’ll look after Gordon, Penny?  Make sure he’s okay?”

“You know he won’t be,” Penny whispered.  “He needs you, Virgil. We all do.”

“Promise me.”

There was no talking him out of this.  She knew that. As soon as she uttered the word he would release the clamp and lose his only chance of escape.  Sacrificing his life for the sake of her own. Penny refused to bend to his will and clamped her hand over her mouth.  She wouldn’t say it. She wouldn’t.

A sigh over the link.  “You’re so stubborn.”

Clunk.

The whole module shifted.  Metal groaned against metal, slow and agonising.

“Virgil, no!”

He didn’t respond.  Penny fell to her knees against the wall as the module began its steady ascent towards the surface, leaving Thunderbird Two and Virgil behind in the cold, dark water.  

Reduced to nothing more than a passenger, a soul in need of rescuing, Lady Penelope Creighton-Ward sat on the wet floor and wept.

~*~

When Gordon finally located the wreckage of his brother’s ‘bird his heart leapt into his throat.  Thunderbird Two lay crippled on the seafloor in a mound of silt, her module gone and her hull crumpled.  

“I’ve found them!”

John appeared.   “The module has just surfaced.  Lady Penelope is inside. Hurry, Gordon, she said Virgil’s still down there and almost out of air.  He gave up his chance of escape so she could get to safety.”

Gordon was in the water in a heartbeat.  He swam into the downed ship through the cargo bay door and headed straight for the cockpit.

An air pocket was trapping what little oxygen was left inside Thunderbird Two where her pilot had come to rest, sat in his seat up to his waist in water.  Gordon waded inside and grabbed his brother.

Virgil was unconscious, but he’d had the presence of mind to secure his helmet in the hopes of prolonging his life as long as possible.  To give Gorden every chance to rescue him.

“I’ve got you, Virg,” the younger Tracy murmured, and he eased his brother out of the seat and into the water.  It cradled his body as Gordon towed him back to Thunderbird Four.

Thunderbird Two would have to wait a little longer for her own rescue.

Gordon got Virgil aboard and heaved the unconscious weight of his brother into the middle of the floor.  With quick hands he removed both of their helmets and checked Virgil’s breathing. Slow but steady. Gordon reached for an oxygen mask and placed it on, supporting Virgil’s head.

“Come on, Virg.  Open your eyes.” He checked the wound in his hairline, noting that it wasn’t too deep.  One less thing to worry about, but the blow could have caused a concussion and Gordon wouldn’t be able to assess it until his brother regained consciousness.

“Come on, big guy.  You held on and saved Penny - the least you could do is wake up and let me thank you.”

Finally a deeper breath.  Virgil’s eyes flew open and Gordon was right there, supporting him.  “Easy, you’re okay. Deep breaths. I’ve got you.”

Virgil’s hand reached up and caught Gordon’s wrist.  “Gordon?”

The younger let out a wet chuckle.  “You’re not kicking the bucket on my watch, big brother.  No way I’m letting you go.” He could barely contain his emotions.  He’d made it. What a close call it had been, but he’d made it in time.  Virgil was alive and safe.

“Penny?”  The question came tired and weak.

Gordon smiled.  “She’s safe. Can’t imagine she’s too happy with you for that stunt you pulled, but we can deal with that later.”

Virgil’s breathing began to ease and he let Gordon’s hand take the full weight of his head.  Gordon adjusted his hold and then hugged him tightly.

“Don’t ever scare me like that again, you hear me?”  His lashes turned wet, the what ifs making him tremble.  “You’re already a hero in my book. No more heroic sacrifices.”

Virgil’s hand squeezed his arm.  Weakened but reassuring. “Promise.  Thanks for saving me...  I owe you one.”

Gordon sniffed and smiled.  “No, you don't.” And he sat there with Virgil in his arms and counted his blessings.