‘Hey, that’s my chair!’
‘Yeh, well you weren’t sitting on it. So it’s mine now.’
‘Look, I had it first. Get up right now and let me have it back.’
‘Or you’ll do what, little brother?’
The two glared at each other, scowling angrily.
‘For heaven’s sake grow up boys. Anyone would think you were spotty teenagers squaring up to each other. Alan, stop fussing over who owns that recliner. There are plenty of others and you, Scott, did you chose that particular chair just to annoy your brother?’ Jeff Tracy put down his newspaper and stood up. ‘If you have enough energy left to argue with each other, then I suggest you both go down to the maintenance bay and help Virgil finish the checks on Two. Go on, both of you, you’re getting on my nerves.’
Jeff watched them both sulk off to the underground bay. ‘I hate to have to say it, but we really need some action here. It’s been so quiet this last month the boys are desperate,’ he complained to Kyrano, standing behind him. ‘I don’t want to wish harm on anyone, but with the weather so hot and the boys getting on each other’s nerves so much I wish John would get an emergency call for us.’ He grinned ruefully at his friend.
‘Scott is finding this hiatus particularly difficult to deal with, Mr Tracy,’ Kyrano agreed, ‘Virgil has his music and internet chess group to keep him busy and with Gordon and John both up in Five for the refits, Scott only has Alan to take his frustration out on. Some seriously hard work would probably do them both good. Perhaps you should get Scott and Alan to start renewing the paintwork on Two. She’s looked a bit shabby since that last rescue. I noticed several patches of scuffed metal on her when I last looked.’ He grinned slyly at Jeff and the two men laughed.
‘Good idea. I’ll get them on it as soon as they’ve finished the checks. That should stop them from annoying me anymore. I don’t know whether Virgil will approve though; you know how overprotective he is of Two. And if they splash any paint about he will definitely not be pleased.
Jeff Tracy sat down again by the poolside, sipping his iced tea. It had been a very hard few weeks, not because of the emergencies that International Rescue had been called out, but rather the lack of them. Everywhere was quiet; volcanoes were sleeping, fault lines were holding still, space programmes were behaving perfectly and everyone in the world was being careful. He had to admit it, he was bored. Utterly, utterly bored.
Even John, who was used to a quiet life, based as he was for the most part on Thunderbird 5, the space station in geosynchronous orbit, had been heard to mutter that he was getting just a little fed up of listening to radio stations.
There would be trouble on Tracy Island if something didn’t happen soon, Jeff realised. Scott and Alan were at each other’s throats all the time, and he hardly saw Virgil during the day as the TB2 pilot preferred to spend his time servicing his huge VTOL transporter craft rather than endure the petty bickering between his brothers.
Thankfully, Gordon was due to arrive back from Five in the afternoon. Gordon had always been the calming force in the family, the only one who could deal with his brothers when they were in this sort of mood. Please, Jeff thought, even rescuing a stranded sailor from capsized boat would be better than sitting around all day, watching dire daytime television and bickering with each other. Wouldn’t it?
The private jet, with its single passenger, headed across the South Pacific. The flight from French Polynesia had been uneventful, and the crew of three in the cockpit were relaxing as the autopilot controlled the craft. In the cabin, tired after an exhausting but ultimately successful business trip, the passenger reclined his seat, closed his eyes and drowsed, lulled by the smooth and steady noise of the engines.
‘Dad. Can you get down here right away?’ Virgil’s voice had an undercurrent of anger and urgency.
‘What’s the problem Virgil? Do you need TinTin as well?’
‘Not yet, but Scott and Alan will be in need of some serious medical attention if they don’t stop messing about in here. I swear I am going to do something thoroughly unpleasant to both of them in the next five minutes if they aren’t out of here by then.’ Virgil, by now almost speechless with rage, put the intercom down.
Jeff sighed. More problems to deal with. He headed for TB2’s hangar. Once inside he stopped, appalled at the sight. Puddles of thick, heavy duty green primer paint lay spattered and splashed on the once pristine floor. Scott and Alan were squared up to each other, armed with the metre long paintbrushes used to reach the slightly less accessible areas of Virgil’s beloved craft.
‘En guarde!’ Scott called out and lunged at his younger brother, who promptly responded with a swift parry, his loaded brush sloshing paint across Scott’s overalls and face.
Virgil turned to his father. ‘Dad,’ he said despairingly, ‘please. Stop them before I do something I might regret later.’ It was clear that he was at the end of his tether. Jeff stepped forward, with the intention of getting noticed by the two reprobates, but unfortunately he was not seen in time and Scott’s riposte, aimed at the youngest Tracy, caught Jeff squarely on the chest. Green primer daubed itself across Jeff’s shirt. He stood, stockstill for a long, long second, then exploded with barely contained rage.
‘Upstairs, both of you. Now.’
They stared at each other, at the paint on the floor, at the paint on his shirt and face.
‘Dad... ‘ Scott began.
‘Don’t ‘Dad’ me.’ Jeff answered. ‘Upstairs. You can both go to your rooms and stay there. If you behave like teenagers you can expect to be treated like teenagers. You are both grounded until I decide otherwise. Stay in your rooms. I don’t want to see your faces until I am ready to. Go on. Move.’
They hurried out, not daring to look at him. Jeff turned to Virgil. ‘I’m sorry son, I didn’t realise they would get so out of hand. I’ll help clear this up.’
‘Thanks Dad,’ Virgil was clearly upset by his brothers’ inconsiderate actions. ‘I am so angry. Neither of them would listen to me and I tried to stop them, I really did.’
‘I know Virgil, I know. They have been behaving like this for too long now. A day or two spent in their rooms might just cool them down. At the very least it will give us a break from their incessant squabbling.’
The small plane veered across the sky, losing height with a swiftness that indicated to any onlooker that something was not right. With a worried expression the passenger put his mobile away in the briefcase, strapped himself in and prepared for trouble.
Thunderbird 3 elegantly lowered herself through the centre of the round house to sit, snugly and securely, in her holding cradle. Gordon powered down all the electronics, checked all the systems and prepared the huge spacecraft for shutdown. Meticulously he tidied up after himself, ensuring that she was ready for action at a moment’s notice.
It had been a pleasant change being the sole astronaut on board. Usually he was accompanied by John or Alan, but John had insisted that Gordon, and Gordon alone, fly TB3 up to his space station to help with the re-supply. John, ever protective of TB5 had not wanted Alan aboard; from past experience he knew that a bored and frustrated Alan, and a tidy, organised TB5 were not a good combination.
John liked his space station to be like his life, orderly, structured and with everything in its correct place. Alan would have come on board like a tornado and disrupted John’s calm existence without a single thought for the effect it would have on his older brother.
Gordon was also glad to have a couple of days away from Alan and Scott. Brothers they might be, but that didn’t mean that you always had to get on with them.
He changed straight from his space flight suit into swimming trunks, extremely glad that he had the pool to himself. It had been a hectic but rewarding couple of days in TB5, and although the refits had gone well he was glad to get the opportunity to do some serious exercise in the pool. If Alan or Scott had been around they would no doubt have spent the time dive bombing him, or deliberately getting in his way.
He could hear Virgil, obviously recovered from his rage at the mess caused by his brothers, practising on the piano. The music, soothing and calm, drifted out from the lounge across the pool. Virgil was a more than competent pianist, and Gordon secretly enjoyed listening to the pure, pellucid notes of Bach, especially when he was swimming. He dived into the pool, and swam under the water for several strokes, relishing the coolness of the water, and the freedom of weightlessness.
Having done several fast lengths, he flipped over, floating on his back and gently moving his hands to glide slowly across the pool. The brilliantly blue sky was bisected by a small jet plane flying low. He watched it, intrigued by its rather erratic flight path. Perhaps the pilot was following a shoal of tuna or one of the pods of killer whales that occasionally passed close to the island. It seemed strange that such a small plane, a Gulfstream 150 or something similar, would be used for aerial reconnaissance. Still, the pilot must know ...............
Gordon jerked upright in the water and frantically swam to the edge of the pool shouting as he did so. ‘Dad, Dad, quick come here!’
‘What is it now Gordon? Not another one of your brothers.........’ Jeff was interrupted by Gordon’s reply.
‘Look, that plane, it’s coming down. One of the engines is on fire. It’s going to crash, Dad.’
‘Virgil!’ Jeff shouted at the pianist in the lounge, ‘launch Two now, with Gordon. He’ll direct you. It’s going to come down about 5 miles away. Quick’
Still dripping wet, Gordon ran for the passenger access route to TB2 while Virgil immediately headed for his personal chute direct into TB2’s main cabin. Jeff watched, knowing that within seconds Virgil would be at the controls of the huge craft, and selecting Pod 4. Gordon would need to have his wits about him if they were to be successful in reaching and rescuing anyone from the stricken aircraft.
The pilot was still desperately struggling to keep the plane airborne despite the thick black smoke trailing from one of her engines. He could see sections of one of the wings break off as broken fragments of the engine were ejected and slammed into the trailing wing structure.
It was hopeless to try to stay in the air; the only chance they had was if the pilot could manage to put her down on the surface of the sea in one piece, safely. Jeff knew how unlikely that was.
Sooner than he would have anticipated, Jeff heard a thunderous roar as Two’s mighty atomic engines lifted her up across the ocean. He had never seen her perform a rescue in such close proximity to the island. There were bound to be some logistical problems. If there were any survivors, and hopefully there would be, where would be the best place to take them? Anyone injured might not survive the long trip to the nearest hospital on the mainland.
That was why Jeff had built a fully equipped medical unit on Tracy Island; for use if any of his sons were ever hurt in a rescue attempt. TinTin had undergone intensive training as a paramedic and was able to cope with a wide range of injuries. With her support Jeff would be able to have Virgil bring survivors back to the island for triage, before deciding whether they were fit to be transported to the mainland for further treatment.
Decision made he went inside to supervise the rescue. Automatically he checked the interactive display of satellite activity, noting that a surveillance camera was due to pass directly over the crash site within a matter of minutes.
‘Virgil, you need to use the camera blocking system to prevent images being taken. There is a satellite almost overhead now.’ he warned the pilot of TB2.
‘Okay Dad, blocking system now operational.’ Virgil responded instantly as he waited for Gordon to contact him from inside TB4. The small yellow submersible was locked inside TB2’s number 4 Pod, which would be dropped onto the surface of the ocean as soon as TB2 got into position.
‘It’s down, Virgil, but it’s starting to break up. I can’t see anyone getting out. Drop the pod and I’ll get closer in Four.’ Gordon shouted instructions to his brother, while looking out at the scene below on the undercarriage CCTV setup. The plane had hit the surface of the water, hard, and had quickly started to break up.
An oily slick of aviation fuel gleamed on the surface of the water and debris floated around as the jet wallowed in the swell of the waves. The wash created by TB2’s number 4 pod dropping down, hit the body of the plane and the remains of the tail section broke off, leaving the open end of the cabin exposed.
‘Can you hold the fuselage with the grapples?’ Gordon asked, wondering if he would be better leaving his beloved yellow submersible and trying a direct hands-on rescue. TB4 moved closer, and the jet, her nose down under the surface, wallowed heavily in the water, the cockpit rolling into view.
‘Forget the crew, Virgil,’ he called over the radio. ‘I confirm they are all dead. The cockpit is flooded and they are still strapped in their seats. I’ll try to get into the cabin and see if here’s anyone in there still alive.’
He opened TB4’s hatch and dived into the water, having slipped on a loose shorter style wetsuit with a knife strapped to his thigh, while Virgil flew TB2 to the scene of the crash. Swimming with powerful strokes he headed towards the back of the plane where the tail section had left an opening.
He looked inside. There seemed to be only one passenger, strapped into one of the lounge style seats near the back of the plane, fortunately. Gordon knew that there would have been no chance of rescuing him alive if he had been at the front where the cabin was already filling up with water.
He clambered in, heedless of his own safety. Struggling against the rising water and the steep downward slope of the cabin floor he reached the sole occupant who was struggling weakly to free himself from the constraints of the seatbelt.
A deep wound had sliced open the seated man’s forehead and blood had covered his face, staining the top of his cream jacket and seeping into the now pink-hued water. The surface of the water was nearly up to Gordon’s chest and the passenger, gasping and choking in the rapidly rising water, was struggling unsuccessfully to breathe. The Thunderbird 4 pilot knew that he had to move quickly.
He pulled out his razor-sharp diver’s knife and slashed through the seatbelt with swift strokes. Dragging the man upwards and out he was stopped by a narrow bracelet on the passenger’s wrist that caught on the edge of the seat. There was no time to bother with trying to untangle it. Gordon yanked hard, breaking the chain and the bracelet dropped down through the water with a silver flash.
Frantically he backed out, weighed down his burden, until he fell out of the open end of the cabin into the swell of the sea. He was able to move freely here, and with swift confident strokes made his way back to TB4, supporting his precious cargo with one strong, muscular arm under the man’s chin, keeping his head above the water splashing against the nearly submerged fuselage.
Once inside TB4 he laid the survivor down on the floor and began to resuscitate him. After a few hard minutes, when he thought that perhaps it had all been a waste of time, he felt the man’s chest move independently. Gordon held him carefully as, barely conscious, the traveller began to retch, gasping for breath and coughing up inhaled seawater.
‘Okay Virgil, I have one survivor, male about 40, deep laceration to the head, just about responsive and breathing independently. Bringing him back now. Tell Dad to get sick bay ready. This guy will need some treatment. Just approaching TB2 now........... up the ramp. Okay. Locked down and secure. Pod door closed. Ready for pick-up. Quick as you like Virgil.’
The huge transport vehicle descended as rapidly as possible on its vertical jets, accurately positioning itself over the pod containing Gordon and his treasured submarine. Once the pod was secure Virgil banked TB2 in a sharp curve and heading back to Tracy Island, still visible on the horizon.
By the time Virgil had landed, parked and turned Two around in her concealed hangar, Gordon had got his now unconscious passenger ready to be moved out of the spacious TB4 pod. He looked down at the man. Tall and slender, he had short, very pale, blonde hair, discoloured by blood. Unpleasant bruising was beginning to mottle his forehead and his eyes were tightly closed.
Gordon checked him over for identification, looking for a wallet, phone, anything that would tell them his name. Nothing. Nothing in the pockets of the hand-made expensive suit, no phone, no jewellery, nothing that could give a clue to his identity. Except for a gun in a carefully concealed shoulder holster.
What kind of person carried a gun? And flew alone in an expensive private jet?
Gordon had some concerns about the wisdom of bringing this man into the secret base of International Rescue, but there was no other option open to them. They would simply have to be ultra careful and try to get him back to his home country as quickly as possible without him ever finding out exactly what went on behind the facade of the Tracy Island utopia.
As soon as they found out where he had come from they would be able to return him. His injuries were not so severe that he would have to remain on the island.
Jeff Tracy was waiting for them as Gordon and Virgil wheeled the stretcher up to the medical room.
‘Good work boys. TinTin will be here shortly to look this guy over. Let’s get him undressed and onto the bed.’
They set to work, carefully cutting off the sodden, ruined clothes and checking him over for further injuries.
‘Look at this Dad. This is an old bullet wound.’ Gordon was beginning to get a distinctly uncomfortable feeling about the whole episode. ‘Here, on his back. And there’s another on the right shoulder. Do you think this guy could be trouble?’
‘Let’s wait and find out when he wakes up Gordon. Don’t jump to conclusions.’ His dad admonished him. ‘I’m not happy about this bruising on his head. Tell TinTin she may need to do an x-ray, but don’t tell her about him having a gun. I don’t want to worry her unnecessarily. Have we found anything out about him yet?’
‘Nothing. He’s a complete mystery. We don’t even have a registration number for the plane he was in.’ Virgil answered, in an annoyed tone. ‘I’m sorry if we’ve caused problems by bringing him back here Dad, but we didn’t have any other choice did we?’
‘No Virgil we didn’t. You did the right thing. We can’t pick and choose who we save. He may well have perfectly good explanations. We will have to wait and see.’
TinTin, efficient and reliable as always, took control, ushering the Tracy men out of the sick bay. She steri-stripped the gash and dressed it after taking an x-ray, but had been unable to do much about his facial bruising. He was covered in residue from the rescue; sea water and a fine sheen of oil from the aircraft’s fuel gleamed in his platinum blonde hair and on his skin.
She looked down at him; age about forty, tall, muscular but slender, with short, very pale, blonde hair. Clean shaven, sparse blonde hair on his chest, blonde eyelashes crusted with blood and salt from the sea. He was an enigma and she had always been fascinated by mystery.
She brought a bowl of warm water and began carefully and gently to cleanse the blood from his face and hair, then to wash his hands and arms free of the salt residue and grease, gently lifting each hand, each finger, and sponging them with careful, meticulous precision, talking to him as she did so, even though he could not hear her.
He had strong fingers, she noticed, and no wedding ring or other jewellery. No old indentations from a wedding ring either. His hands had small calluses, not from hard labour, but from holding a pen, using a computer, and one, unusually, on his right index finger. Was that from a gun?
She could not be sure, but she had seen marks like that before when Virgil had been practising his shooting skills on the range. She was beginning to be more than a little intrigued by this tall unknowable man who lay so still on the bed.
She finished washing his hands and arms, and her hand moved across his chest, delicately, intimately, tracing the filigree of intricate scars on his shoulder with the tips of her fingers. Carefully she wiped the salt and scum away from his throat, exploring the hollow above his collarbone, letting her hand rest against his skin, aware of his heart beating steadily and his chest rising and falling with deep, even breaths. Her own heart began to race, and she turned quickly to ensure that she was alone in the room.
He became aware that someone was nearby; he could hear the sound of liquid gently splashing and dripping, and a hand touching his chest, fingers travelling lightly across his throat and shoulder and down his arm. He remained still, unwilling to admit that he was awake and reasonably alert. He didn’t know why this should be but it was almost as if the habit was ingrained into him.
There was the sound of a woman’s voice, soft and quiet, talking to him as if he was listening. He could feel the dampness of a warm cloth wash across his body, leaving his skin feeling soothed and refreshed.
She rinsed her cloth in the water and squeezed it out. He would be far more comfortable if he was properly clean, she convinced herself, and continued to wipe his body with long, smooth, sensitive strokes, wiping away the oil and drying saltwater and leaving him clean and unsoiled by his immersion in the polluted water of the crash zone.
Almost guiltily, she finished by gently stroking his head, as she would have done for a sleeping child. She pulled the covers up over his chest. There; he was dry and comfortable; there was little else she could do for him.
It was when she was tidying up the small litter of equipment that she had been using; that she felt convinced that she was being watched. She turned around, and stepped towards the bed. Blue eyes, partly open, were following her movements across the room. She bent over him so that he could see her face clearly.
‘Hello there, are you thirsty? Would you like a drink?’ Her voice was soft and calming and she smiled at him to reassure him that all was well, that he was safe.
He moved his head in assent and she poured a glass of iced water for him, before slipping her arm under his shoulders and raising his head so that he could reach the straw. He sipped thirstily for a few moments, then relaxed, his head leaning sideways into the hollow of her shoulder, her arm around him, supporting, comforting.
‘’nkyou.’ he muttered indistinctly and was asleep again.
She lowered him carefully, her arm still under his shoulders, reluctant to relinquish her hold on him. The memory of his clear blue eyes energized her and she imagined for one brief moment that he had reached up and pulled her down to him, had kissed her. She wondered what it would feel like.
When she and Alan kissed she felt his soft lips pressed firmly to hers, felt comforted by the contact, but there always seemed to be something missing. Surely one should feel more than just comfort from a kiss? Passion, desire, longing. She yearned to feel these emotions.
She shook her head. What was she doing, fantasising about a stranger? Especially one who was as mystifying and unfathomable as this man. Her life was mapped out for her already. Everyone knew that she and Alan were destined for each other. Jeff and the boys had even planned where she and Alan would live on the Island when they married. It was all settled, all sorted, all arranged.
Except that over the last months she had come to the realisation that she did not love Alan, had never truly loved Alan in fact. It had been more of an infatuation really. An immature girl’s desire to be the partner of a heroic and enigmatic Thunderbird pilot.
Now she was over that childish emotion. She had matured into a woman, no longer a child. Alan was fun to be around, sometimes, but that was all, and she was beginning to outgrow him. She could not see herself trapped on this island for the rest of her life, wedded to an International Rescue hero and with herself stagnating in the background, stifled by the lack of a worthwhile purpose in life.
She wanted her future to be full of romance and adventure, her days filled with fun and laughter, her nights filled with passion and intimacy.
And with a blinding flash of insight she realised that she would have to leave. Leave everything behind here on Tracy Island and move away to start a life of her own. She would have to look for a new career, a fresh start, a chance to be herself instead of just good old TinTin, always there, always reliable, always taken for granted. The thought terrified her, but at the same time thrilled her.
She had her engineering degree and her paramedic training. She could build on those. Perhaps she could train as a nurse, or get a job working in aircraft design, her speciality. She knew she was clever enough; but the demands of her work here on the island had always thwarted her attempts to develop her education. She had saved money from her mother’s trust fund; enough to pay for her training, maybe enough to put a deposit on a small place of her own where she could hang the pictures she liked, listen to the music that she enjoyed and cook her own meals.
Only now she was beginning to see Alan for what he was; an overbearing, spoilt, youngest brother who sulked if he didn’t get his own way.
And finally, her decision made, she left the medical room after looking back at the man whose presence had irrevocably changed her life. She would probably never get the chance here to thank him, but one day, she determined, when all this was behind her, she would find him and tell him what had happened today, now, here in this room.
He opened his eyes. Jeff, working his way through a recent status report from John, looked up. ’Oh good, you’re awake. How are you feeling?’
‘My head hurts,’ he admitted ruefully. ‘What happened and where am I?’ his voice was soft and hesitant, and Jeff was surprised by the Eastern American accent. They had assumed, erroneously due to the English tailoring of his suit, that he was British.
‘We rescued you from your plane this afternoon. You crashed about half a mile from the island that my family and I live on.’ Jeff was not about to let him know that International Rescue had been involved in saving him. ‘You’ve been out for about eight hours. It’s nearly ten in the evening now. I’m Jeff Tracy. What’s your name? We couldn’t find any identification on you so unfortunately we haven’t been able to contact anyone to tell them that you are alright.’
The man paused and tilted his head sideways as if considering. ‘Do you know,’ he said thoughtfully, ‘I haven’t the faintest idea.’
‘Do you think he is telling the truth Dad?’ Virgil asked as they sat around the table discussing their guest’s revelation. ‘He claims that he doesn’t recall anything prior to waking up here.’
‘It’s extremely difficult to fake amnesia to that level Virgil. This man is either a superb actor or else he really does have amnesia. I tend to believe the latter. After all he does have a head injury which would account for the loss of memory.’
‘The next question is what are we going to do with him?’ Gordon interjected. ‘He can’t stay here. We need to find out where he comes from and get him home.’
‘And how are we going to do that without a name?’ Virgil argued. ‘We don’t even know what nationality he is.’
‘We need to find that plane wreck and get the registration number so that we can trace the owner. Gordon, that’s your job. Take Four out there as soon as conditions allow and find the wreckage. Virgil, your role is to keep our guest entertained. I’ll move him into one of the guest rooms in the morning. As soon as he starts getting restless you can take him around the island, show him the sights and so on, but I don’t need to tell you to keep him away from sensitive areas do I? If we have a call out from John then you will need to get him back to the medical room and lock him in. You will have to spin him some tale about needing to have more treatment or something. I’m sure you will come up with a good reason. Okay. Any questions?’
They shook their heads.
‘I’ll go look for the plane in the morning at first light. With any luck it will be in relatively shallow water and it won’t be too difficult a job. I got some of John’s clothes out of his wardrobe for our guest. He and John are about the same build and John said he didn’t mind lending some of his stuff. I think our mystery man will be more comfortable wearing proper clothes rather than pyjamas when he is ready to get up.’ Gordon told them.
Virgil smiled. ‘You always were the considerate one Gordon. Do you want me to airlift you out to the crash location or are you going to use the direct access tunnel to get into the water?’
‘It seems a bit of a waste of your time, flying Two out there when it’s not an emergency. I’ll be fine going from here. Actually I’m looking forward to the opportunity to do a quick patrol of the island while I’m out there. I need to check up on a coral reef I’ve been monitoring for the past couple of years.’
They stood up and headed to their rooms for a rest before daybreak.
He was awake again, but this time he was alone in the room. The pyjamas he was wearing were unfamiliar and he didn’t recognise anything around him. He tried the door. Locked. For some reason it worried him. He didn’t like being locked in anywhere. He didn’t know why, but it made him feel extremely uncomfortable, as if he was trapped and couldn’t escape. He knew it was logical to be locked in here; it wasn’t even a small room, more a spacious hospital ward. After all he was a stranger, a stranger even to himself, and no one wanted an unknown person wandering around their home unaccompanied.
If he didn’t know who he was, how could he be sure he wasn’t dangerous? He didn’t think he was, at least he hoped so, but he had experienced some flashes of past experiences: an explosion that threw him across a small confined space; someone grabbing him and forcing him into a vehicle; leaning against a tree in the darkness of the night, waiting for someone to come by; hefting a gun and making sure it was loaded and ready for use. He was uncomfortable with all the memories.
He sat down on the bed, thinking. His head still ached abominably and he had the occasional bout of dizziness that threw him off balance, but apart from that he seemed fine. Except that he couldn’t remember anything. Anything at all. His mind was a white blank of noise, as if static was blocking out the transmissions. Intermittently he would get a flash of recalled images but it was like looking at disconnected snapshots of unknown events Meaningless and worthless.
He wondered what they would find when they discovered his past. What kind of past did he have? Was there a family out there waiting for him? A wife, children, friends, lovers, enemies? What kind of work did he do? Jeff Tracy had given him the impression that he was some sort of wealthy executive, but perhaps that was simply because he had been a passenger in a private jet and his clothes, as Jeff had explained, were hand-made and expensively tailored.
He tried the door again, although he knew it was futile. Resigned to being confined here, he finally lay down on the comfortable bed, tucked the blankets around his shoulders and allowed himself to fall asleep.
SHADO HQ was in turmoil. UFO incursions were a familiar, everyday occurrence and the organisation was resigned to the fact that SHADO personnel were on the front line of attack, and as a result the first to be targeted. But no UFO was involved in the latest incident that caused such dismay and consternation throughout the base.
The loss of a private plane through engine failure was not something that normally troubled the operatives in SHADO HQ; after all, planes were lost at sea on a regular basis, and this plane was only carrying one passenger. But the passenger mattered.
Ed Straker, Commander-in-Chief of SHADO had been flying back from inspecting the SHADO centre in French Polynesia. . And there was no sign of any survivors. Within one hour of the plane being forced to crash-land in the water Skydiver 3, on patrol in the South Pacific, had arrived on the scene and had completed a thorough search of the area. Radio contact had been lost straight after the pilot reported the damage to the engine and there had been nothing heard from the pilot, crew or sole passenger since.
There were no lifejackets, no swimmers, no bodies even. Just the debris from a crashed plane; oil slicks, broken fuselage sections, greasy rainbow-hued bubbles from the sunken wreck. Lew Waterman had seen inside the cockpit of the plane, the three dead crewmembers, strapped for ever in their flooded tomb, but he had been unable to get access to the main cabin area.
The wreck had twisted as she had sunk so that the rest of the plane was buried deep in the soft silt at the bottom of the water. The tail section had broken off, but there were no indications that Straker had made it alive out of the cabin. Waterman searched for a body in the water, but nothing. In all probability the SHADO Commander was also still in the cabin, drowned, as were the crew.
Alec Freeman, executive officer and now nominal Commander, sat in the main office; his office now, and thought. It was impossible that Ed would have died in the crash; Straker had survived far worse than a simple aircraft accident in the past months. He would have found a way out, surely. Surely.
Commander, no; Colonel Freeman; stood up and went into the Control room. He could feel the eyes watching him, waiting for him to say something profound, meaningful, appropriate for a moment such as this. He glared at them all, waiting like ghouls for him to openly admit that Ed Straker was dead.
Well, he would not. He would not say it, until he held his friend in his arms and closed his eyes for the last time. Straker was not dead, and Alec Freeman fully intended to prove it.
‘Ford, get me the satellite images for the time of the crash. I want to see the whole of the crash zone and the fifty miles around from the moment the Commander’s plane crashed, to when Skydiver found the wreckage.’
‘Yes Colonel.’ Keith Ford’s subdued voice replied.
‘I’ll be in Commander Straker’s office. Patch the images through to me there.’ Freeman closed the connection and leaned on the Perspex desk, his head in his hands, desperately praying that somehow Ed had escaped and been rescued. He knew the chances of that were infinitesimal though. The pilot had not even had chance to set off an emergency distress signal after contacting headquarters.
The office door, his office door opened and Rachel Philips stood there, face streaked with tears. He held out his arms and she clung to him, sobbing with utter distress.
‘He can’t be dead Alec, not after all that has happened these last months. He can’t be. I won’t let him be dead. Not from something as stupid as a plane crash.’
‘Shush, Rachel; I haven’t given up hope yet.’ Alec Freeman assured her, though he knew that some in HQ were already planning what they would wear to Ed Straker’s memorial service. ‘There’s still hope; I’m going call up the satellite images from when the plane went down. When they get here I could do with you help. Your visual imagery identification is better than mine and you might spot something I miss.’ And it would give you something to do, instead of worrying and waiting, he thought to himself.
The satellite film moved slowly forward, frame by frame. Alec and Rachel scrutinised very single shot, looking for any clues that would help them find out what had happened to their Commander. Gradually they began to piece together the overall picture; the plane had suffered catastrophic engine failure and, with the wing damaged by debris, it had gone down. Even Alec, superb pilot though he was, would not have been able to fly a plane as badly damaged as that.
They watched as the plane overflew a nearby small island then prepared to ditch in the ocean. They saw the plane impact with the surface of the ocean, raising a plume of water. The cockpit seemed to dip heavily into the water, then the whole craft shuddered with a dying tremor.
Colonel Freeman looked at Rachel in despair. It was obvious that there could be no survivors from the cockpit and probably none from the cabin. The plane had started to sink beneath the surface already and there was no indication of anyone managing to escape.
Then suddenly the picture was interrupted by the arrival of a huge green aircraft that blotted out the image of the small terminally crippled plane.
And then - nothing. The images were blank. No explanation, no reason. The satellite had been working perfectly up till then. Something had affected the pictures, had wiped the camera bare.
Gordon struggled into his full wetsuit and fastened the cowl around his head. He didn’t think he really needed to suit up for such a short trip out of TB4, but he had been brought up to respect the ocean and he knew from past experience just how fickle she could be. Besides, he had the time to suit up properly now, as opposed to the rescue. He wasn’t prepared to take chances today or any day for that matter if he could avoid it.
He could have simply taken TB4 down to the ocean floor to search for the plane, but it was a good chance to get out and do some diving. Besides, the tail piece could well be inaccessible to TB4, or so he tried to convince himself.
He slipped easily into the warm water, testing his scuba gear and checking yet again to make sure that his divers’ knife was in place on his thigh. It had saved his life on more than one occasion, and had certainly been a vital factor in rescuing the anonymous survivor.
He headed down through the still calm depths, watching his pressure gauge, keeping a wary eye out for sharks. There, below in the darkness, the lighter gleam of white metal, refracting light from the surface.
Closer and closer, until he could make out the registration letters; G-N34SH. He opened up the palmtop Brains had developed specifically for use under water and recorded the data. Job done. Now they would be able to find the registered owners of the plane and report that they had retrieved a survivor.
He headed back to base, wondering if the man had regained any more of his memory. It was unsettling having a stranger in staying on the island. TinTin had been in a very peculiar mood last night and he hadn’t managed to speak to her this morning. He worried about her; she often seemed to be miserable and unhappy.
The stranger was awake, sitting up, and reading a book from the small selection in the bookcase, when TinTin unlocked the door to the medical room and entered, carrying a breakfast tray.
‘Hope you are hungry,’ she commented dryly, ‘Grandma has made enough here to feed an army, let alone one person.’
‘Grandma?’ he asked quizzically, his soft American accent diffident and uncertain.
‘Jeff’s mother. She lives with us all here on the Island. She looks after us and as you can see does all the cooking. I hope you like waffles and maple syrup?’
‘I don’t know,’ he replied honestly, ‘I seem to recall having bagels for breakfast at sometime in the past, but where or when I don’t know. Waffles sound good though.’ He looked at the tray. ‘I see what you mean about feeding an army. Would you like to stay and share some of these with me?’ His question was innocent and devoid of any ulterior motive, but she blushed and stared at the floor unable to answer.
‘I would love to, but unfortunately I have work to do,’ she replied eventually. ‘Perhaps I could come by later and show you some of the island; that is if you are feeling up to it?’ she smiled at him and he responded with a quirky grin that transformed his face.
‘Well I think one is always taught that you should never talk to anyone to whom you have not been properly introduced. And although I seem to recall you giving me a drink of water, I don’t know your name or anything about you.............’ he broke off, laughter in his eyes.
‘Sorry. I should have said earlier. It’s TinTin. Stupid isn’t it. Why they couldn’t have called me something more sensible I don’t know. It made my life hell at school and college and even at university’
He looked curiously at her and she explained.
‘I’m a trained paramedic and I also have a masters degree in my first love, aircraft design and engineering, though I don’t get much chance to use that qualification much. I tend to be most useful as an unpaid servant, helping to run the household. ’ She smiled ruefully at him and continued, ‘My dad works here for Jeff Tracy the owner of this island. Jeff was an astronaut and now lives here with his sons. If they hadn’t risked their lives to save you, chances are you would be at the bottom of the ocean right now, feeding the crabs.’
‘Don’t think I don’t appreciate what they did for me, TinTin. I will be forever grateful that I was dragged out of that cabin. Death by drowning was never a favourite option of mine; I would have chosen a swift bullet through.....’ He halted in mid sentence, appalled at the memories that were flooding into his mind. He put his hands to his head as if in pain.
‘God, what did I do?’ he pleaded desperately, almost unaware of her presence beside him. ‘I remember....’ he paused, then continued almost in pain, ’I remember wanting to die, wanting to end it all. I remember....’ he stopped clasping his head in sudden stabbing agony. She moved quickly to hold him tightly so that he would not fall.
He relaxed as the pain subsided, but she continued to hold him, her arms around him, his head firmly against her breast. She felt a surge of unexpected emotion; looking down at his almost silver blonde hair she imagined what it would be like to be with him, instead of Alan.
He shook his head as if to clear the remnants of the memories and straightened up, gently and considerately lifting her arms clear of him, and looking at her with a quizzical expression.
‘I’m sorry,’ she said, quietly, ‘well no, actually I’m not.’ her voice became more defiant.
He looked at her with a warm and sympathetic understanding. ‘TinTin, I’m possibly old enough to be your father. Besides which I know nothing about my past; I know I don’t wear a ring, but that doesn’t mean much. You really shouldn’t stay in here you know.’
He edged away from her, allowing her the dignity of wiping her eyes clear of the sudden tears that had welled up. Her infinitely sad smile spoke of regret; regret at what could not be, at what was missing from her life, at the missed opportunities and the wasted years.
She looked at him, sadly, slowly moving towards the door. At the last moment she turned, and gazed at him, her eyes filled with despondency as she contemplated the grey senseless life that might stretch ahead of her, then she opened the door and went out.
He sighed. She was a beautiful, intelligent young woman, obviously unhappy and alone, but he would not allow himself to get involved with a girl who he had just met.
He had been told by Jeff that they had found him carrying a gun when he was rescued. Why would he have a weapon? What sort of man casually carried a gun with him on a business trip?
He began to dread what the Tracys would find out when they finally tracked his identity down. He picked at his breakfast, unable to eat much.
‘I can’t get any details at all about the plane. It’s almost as if the registration was faked, except that a fake ID would be picked up at any airport. No one is giving any information out and it doesn’t appear on any of the databases.’ Gordon paced the lounge, puzzled and concerned.
‘I agree it’s peculiar,’ Virgil said, ‘It’s a little too convenient isn’t it? A mystery man with no memory, a plane that doesn’t appear to exist and he ends up here on our island, the secret base of International Rescue. Something doesn’t add up.’
‘Don’t jump to conclusions boys,’ Jeff interjected. ‘It’s quite likely there are genuine reasons for the secrecy surrounding the plane. It could be a government department or a diplomatic mission. That would explain the weapon he was carrying. I’ve asked Penelope to look into it. She has contacts in England who might be able to tell us more. Look, our guest will be moving into the guest room in a while, that will give us chance to talk to him in a more relaxed environment and he may well open up and remember things about his past. Let’s see shall we?’
‘Sure thing Dad,’ Gordon agreed. ‘By the way, when are you going to let Alan and Scott out of solitary confinement?’ he joked.
‘Probably later this morning, after our John Doe has had a chance to get to meet you both. I don’t want to swamp him with four Tracy sons all at the same time. I’d like him to meet the ones who saved his life first, then we can introduce him Alan and Scott. What do you think?’ he grinned a little regretfully.
‘Okay by me.’ Virgil smiled. ‘It’s been rather pleasant not having the other two around for the past day, but I suppose they have to come out sometime.’
The guest room, with TV, ensuite and large windows overlooking the bay was decorated in a rather old-fashioned style, just as the clothes he had been loaned were dated. He supposed it was difficult keeping up with the latest fashions especially if you lived on an isolated island in the middle of the South Pacific. Not very easy to pop out to the shops, and he bet they didn’t get deliveries very often. Something about groceries and a piano flickered in the recesses his mind, but he could not pin it down.
The clothes fitted well enough, although the t shirt he was wearing was a little snug. He was puzzled by his scars; it looked like he had undergone some extensive reconstruction work on his shoulder and upper arm at some time in the past but like everything else the memory was locked away and inaccessible. He looked at his reflection, noting the disfiguring bruises that surrounded the cut on his head. He wondered when he would be able to put a name to the unfamiliar face he saw in the mirror.
Wandering out into the lounge area, dressed in the unfamiliar jeans and t shirt, he was surprised to find two young men, both aged in their twenties.
‘Hello,’ he said, diffidently,’ you must be Jeff’s sons. I seem to vaguely recall you,’ he nodded at Gordon, ‘pulling me out of the plane, for which you get my very grateful thanks. I was beginning to think I was about to drown.’
‘Hi, yes, that was me, I’m Gordon and this is my brother, Virgil. He got our boat out to where you had crashed. If we had been a few moments later then I don’t think you would have survived. It’s good to see you up and about. Do you need anything?’
‘Just my memories.’ he joked. ‘It’s quite frustrating not knowing anything about myself. I don’t even know if I can swim, so I shan’t be diving into your pool, attractive though it looks.’
‘Yes, well Gordon’s the swimmer in this house; I just play the piano and dabble at painting.’ Virgil explained in his rich deep voice. ‘Has Dad told you that we are still looking into finding out who you are? We should get something for you fairly soon. Perhaps I could interest you in a game of chess? That should be safe enough. I bet you may have played in the past, and it might bring back some recollections.’ Virgil was not about to tell this stranger that they had, so far, been thwarted at every attempt to discover his identity. Hopefully Penny would have more success.
The pair of them, stocky, dark-haired Virgil and the slender visitor settled down to fight it out over the chess board. Gordon watched with interest, not really able to follow the game at this level, but enjoying the spectacle. Virgil was an excellent player, calm, methodical, and patient, but he was eventually outclassed by his opponent and conceded the game after intense competition.
‘That was great,’ Virgil admitted with a sigh of pleasure after tipping over his King, ‘I don’t get much of a match against my brothers. It’s good to play someone who makes it a real challenge.’
‘I find it fascinating that I can remember how to play chess, but cannot remember my name. Perhaps another game? I won’t find it easy as you will doubtless have worked out my strategies.’ And the two men settled down for some serious match play.
All was quiet in the lounge when Jeff came in. Gordon reading a newspaper, Virgil and his chess partner playing with sustained concentration, Virgil clearly having the upper hand in the current match. There had still been no further news about their mysterious guest, and Jeff was getting concerned. They were well overdue for a call from John in TB5 and he knew that it would be nigh on impossible to launch One and Two during the day when the survivor was up and about.
Jeff paced the lounge, desperately hoping that nothing happened, and the day dragged slowly by, fortunately without recourse to International Rescue’s assistance.
The gloriously pink Rolls Royce swept into the Harlington Straker Studios with that peculiarly British confidence that comes from extreme wealth and a long and distinguished ancestry. The chauffeur opened the door for his passenger, aware that the car was the focus of attention. And well it might be, he thought proudly to himself. FAB1 was a unique and beautiful vehicle, and his passenger was just as unique and beautiful, if not more so.
Jeff Tracy’s London agent nodded her thanks to her indispensable man-servant and strolled elegantly up the steps to the main reception area, almost as if she owned the renowned studios instead of just merely visiting.
‘Good Morning,’ her voice was light and pleasant, and unaffected by fake accents. ‘I wonder if it would be possible to speak to Mr Straker. Unfortunately I don’t have an appointment but it is rather important.’ She smiled at Miss Ealand, the smile of an aristocrat who is used to having her own way.
Miss Ealand hesitated, unsure of what to say to this confident young woman. ‘I’m afraid that Mr Straker is on location at the moment and we are unable to say when he will be back. Perhaps I can help you? Miss............?’
‘Lady Penelope Creighton-Ward. It’s such a pity that Mr Straker isn’t available; I wanted to tell him that I have decided that he can use Creighton Manor as a location for one of his films. We’ve been discussing it over the phone for the last few weeks and I really can’t turn down his last offer. I need to have the East Wing re-roofed you see. Death Watch Beetle. Its such a nuisance in these old properties.’
Miss Ealand smiled and nodded in agreement at the same time that she was pressing the hidden switch that alerted Shado security to the fact that there was a suspicious visitor in Reception asking for Mr Straker.
‘Well, Lady Penelope, I can only say how sorry I am that you seem to have had a wasted journey. I can get Mr Straker to contact you as soon as he returns if you would like?’ his efficient secretary explained.
‘Oh no, that won’t be necessary,’ Penelope responded. ‘If I can just leave this letter for him in his office...’ she headed for the inner office, whose door was already open. ‘It explains my terms and has my solicitor’s details so that we can go ahead with a contract. I’ll leave it here on his desk shall I, so that he will be sure to find it.’ She placed a thick deckled envelope on the surface of the desk, and picked up the antique sculpture of the winged horse. ‘Oh how lovely. Is it genuine? Oh yes, silly me, of course it is.’ Carefully she replaced it on the table, looked around the room and then left, a faint fragrance of Chanel Chance following her.
Miss Ealand sighed, picked up the envelope and examined it for hidden devices, running a hand held scanner over it. Clear. It seemed innocuous enough and she replaced it on the desk.
Back in her candy pink Rolls, Penny sighed in imitation of Miss Ealand. ‘Home, Parker please, and get Mr Tracy on the phone for me.’
‘Hello Penny, any luck with our mystery plane yet?’ Jeff’s voice was a little distorted from being transmitted from the South Pacific via Thunderbird 5.
‘Oh definitely, Jeff. One of my contacts in MI5 came back to me with the news that the plane is owned by a very successful company here in England, Harlington Straker studios. However, it is virtually impossible to get any other details. It’s almost as if there is a security clampdown on anything to do with the company. Even at the highest levels I can’t get any more information for you Jeff. There is obviously something highly suspicious about the whole set up. My contact told me that the Chief Executive of Harlington Straker is a man called Ed Straker, whose description fits that of your mystery man. He was a Colonel in the United States Air Force and served in Military Intelligence until he resigned under rather suspicious circumstances to set up the studios. Most intriguing. I left a bugging device in his office just now, and I will let you know if anything interesting turns up.’
‘Excellent Penny, I’ll get the boys to keep a close eye on our guest from now on. I’m just thankful that we haven’t had a call-out for International Rescue. Let’s hope he is an innocent passenger, but I’m beginning to have my doubts. There have been several attempts to infiltrate our security since we went into business.’
Alec Freeman picked up the expensive cream envelope from the tray in Ed’s office. ‘So she left this for Ed?’ he asked Miss Ealand. ‘What did you tell her?’
‘I told her that Mr Straker was on location at the current time and I didn’t know when he would return. What else could I say Colonel? If the Commander is not coming back, then the Studios will have to deal with his disappearance as well. I simply can’t accept that he has died, not Commander Straker.’ She wiped a defiant tear from her eye.
‘None of us can accept it Miss Ealand. Let’s hope that he turns up alive and well. Stranger things have been known to happen and he does seem to lead a charmed life at times.’ Alec Freeman smiled sadly and headed for the inner office. He couldn’t bear to sit in Ed’s chair, but leaned on the desk as he picked up the anachronistic cigarette box, flipped up the lid and without his usual jovial comment spoke. ‘Alec Freeman.’
‘Voice Print Identification positive. Alec Freeman zero nine seven.’ And the room began to descend.
Penelope listened with intense concentration. The hidden microphone on the winged sculpture was working well. What was going on? Mention of Colonels and Commanders had made her think of military-style organisations and that had, in turn, made her realise that International Rescue was harbouring a man who was, perhaps, the head of some clandestine organisation, possibly even with terrorist connections.
There was no hint at what he was Commander of, but that didn’t matter. Jeff Tracy needed to know immediately, to ensure that the Thunderbird machines and their pilots were kept secret from the public. That was the main concern now. She contacted Jeff on the Priority line and explained what she had overheard.
‘Damn.’ he responded. ‘I’m going to have to confine this guy to one of the cells in the old Naval underground quarters if he is going to pose a security threat. Those rooms are secure and isolated and he wouldn’t be able to get out easily. We’ll work out how to deal with him later. Brains has developed a new drug which he says can eradicate a person’s memories from the last few days. But I’m not sure how far along he is with it and of course now that he is away on that conference of his we are stuck. Thanks Penny, you’ve been a great help as usual.’ He smiled at her, a smile that hid his deep apprehension.
Jeff was going to have to get the boys to help him with this next task. He had a feeling that his uninvited guest would not go quietly or easily for that matter. He hoped to find some opportunity to entrap the survivor in the underground quarters without anyone getting hurt. But it would not be straightforward. He went to warn them.
In the coolness of the lounge, avoiding the midday heat, Virgil was relaxing at his piano, his agile fingers rippling their way through his favourite Chopin etudes. A shadow fell over the sheet music as he finished playing, and he twisted on his piano stool to look up at their guest.
‘Do you mind if I have a go?’ the older man asked, diffidently. ‘I have a vague idea that I have played before somewhere.’
‘Sure.’ Virgil was only too glad to let someone else demonstrate their musical skills. No one else in the family played and he enjoyed listening to live performances. CD’s were simply not the same as actually being there when someone was playing.
He watched as the older man gently stroked the keys, pressing lightly to familiarise himself with their weighting; then he began to play. Virgil had never heard the piece before; there were similarities with Beethoven’s Moonlight, but in a different, minor key, and then the music developed into an intricate pattern of overlapping themes. His fingers moved with a surety and accuracy and the notes flowed effortlessly.
He sat calmly as he played, without dramatic movements or unnecessary gestures concentrating utterly on the music, to the exclusion of everything around him. His world was reduced, distilled even, to the piano, to his fingers moving quickly over the keys and to the music flowing into the stillness of the room.
The music ceased, and the last echoes died away into the silence. TinTin stepped forward and her reflection fell across the glossy surface of the piano’s woodwork. He saw it and, standing up he turned to face her. ‘Rachel........’ he said questioningly. He looked at her with a puzzled expression, as if he had been expecting someone else to be there behind him.
He put one hand to his head, feeling the bruises and the dressing, then, his expression one of sheer incomprehension as if he could not understand what had happened, he crumpled forward in a dead faint. Virgil leapt forward and managed to catch him before he hit his head on the tiled floor.
Jeff hurried forward. ‘What happened?’ he asked urgently. ‘Virgil, what did you do?’
‘Nothing Dad, he just seemed to collapse. Perhaps it was the heat.’
‘It doesn’t matter,’ Jeff said, ‘let’s get him down below. Quickly before he wakes.’
Colonel Virginia Lake sauntered into the outer office, every inch the successful film executive. Dressed in the very latest fashions, manicured and flawless in appearance it was no surprise when she took out a delicate mirror and checked her already perfect lipgloss. She frowned, and turned around to look around the room as if she had seen something behind her.
Picking up the phone on the desk she punched digits.
‘Miss Lake here. There seems to be a problem with the lighting in Mr Straker’s office. Can you come immediately and check it? Thankyou.’
She walked back out into the reception area, smiled knowingly at Miss Ealand and headed for Studio Lot 4.
Once inside the underground HQ she went to the Commander’s office where Alec Freeman was working at the conference table, unwilling to sit behind Straker’s desk.
‘Colonel,’ he acknowledged her with a nod, putting down his pen and straightening the papers he had been reading.
‘A bugging device in the inner office.’ she came straight to the point. ‘On one of the sculptures in the inner office. It must have been put there by that Creighton-Ward woman. Security are dealing with it now. What do you want me to do about it?’
He leaned back in the chair, and sighed. ‘You’d better do a G6 on her. Find out who she is working for. And warn the team they may need to detain her. This is the last thing we need right now. I wonder what she might have heard.’
The light was dim. A single low watt bulb hung from the ceiling, blackened, dusty and flickering with age; casting charcoal shadows in the corners of the room. Where was he? He had awoken to find himself lying on his side on a narrow metal-framed bed in a very small room; concrete walls and just large enough to take a three or four paces in each direction. There was no window, but an extractor fan was humming in the top corner of the room, circulating fresh air, and he could see a screened recess with a small sink and toilet. There was no light switch inside the room. The only other thing was the metal door.
He had a good idea that it would be locked. The clothes he was wearing were too casual; he would never wear clothes as dated and out of fashion as this, and the t- shirt was too tight. Not his clothes then. Bare feet as well. His medic bracelet was missing and he had a headache. A very bad headache.
Sitting there, on the hard, narrow bed he tried to remember what had happened and how he had got here.
There had been the business trip to French Polynesia, to inspect the base there, and then the flight home. And then...................... the catastrophic engine failure and the pilot’s warning to him to prepare for a crash landing on the water.
There had been someone there, in the cabin, when it was filling with water and he couldn’t get his seatbelt open or breathe properly; someone helping him to get out and then there had been a girl, a woman really, who had given him a drink when he was thirsty.
He remembered her face, her fingers lightly tracing the silvered scar tissue on his shoulder and her warm hand resting on his cool skin. He remembered that for some reason she was lonely and unhappy. But he didn’t recall how he had got here, in this room.
Shit, what the hell had happened? He stood up and nearly fell. Dizziness swept over him and he put his hand up, feeling a dressing on his forehead and pain as his hand encountered bruises and swollen, tender skin on his forehead.
Then it all flooded into his mind, as if all his memories had been trapped behind a floodgate and had suddenly been released. Swamped with the unexpected influx of chaotic thoughts, he slumped on the bed and waited until his mind had sorted them into some semblance of order, and he could recall the events of the past hours.
Dear God; Alec and Rachel. They didn’t know that he was still alive. He had to get a message to them, he had to contact SHADO. He had to get out of here. Now.
He staggered across to the door; yes, locked. He leaned against it, looking round the small room at the walls as they closed in on him. In his dazed and confused state, panic began to overwhelm him and he found it impossible to control the unmanageable emotion that threatened to engulf him. Hyperventilating, he hammered on the door till his hands were bruised and his knuckles scraped and bloody.
Eventually, completely exhausted and terrified, he sank to the floor, almost sobbing with unsuppressed fear, curled up tightly in a corner, hands over his head in a vain attempt to keep out the encroaching walls. Memories from the past overwhelmed him and he was lost in the nightmare of the past.
TinTin hurried down the little used passageway. She had watched as Jeff had supervised his sons as they transported the man down to the cells. Alan and Scott had been roped in to help carry him, and she had had to wait for some time to ensure that it was safe before stealthily making her way down to the old cell block.
As she approached the door, she could hear him thumping on the heavy metal, as if trying to call for help. It was useless though; there was no one near who would be able to help him apart from her.
She stood outside the cell, preoccupied with her thoughts. What would happen if she opened the door? Would he rush out and attack her? Jeff and the others were obviously concerned that he was dangerous, but she was not so sure. There was only one thing for it.
The door opened, cautiously and TinTin peered in, her face showing unease and apprehension. He remained unaware of her presence until she bent down beside him, her hand on his shoulder. He leaned towards her, desperately seeking human contact to enable him to deal with the terror that he was experiencing and she held him tightly, trying to still his frantic breathing, to calm him.
It was useless; he was too wrapped up in his own torment to be able to respond to her. But she continued to hold him, remembering the smooth touch of his skin under her fingers, his gentle, intelligent eyes watching her, his head leaning against her breast.
She heard his voice, hoarse and subdued, pleading to some unseen assailant to let him go, to set him free. He shook with the memories of the terror, and clung to her, his fingers digging into her. She knew that her arms would be marked with purple bruises from his fingers in the morning.
‘Sshhh,’ she whispered in his ear, ‘it’s alright, I’m here.’ She settled down against the rough concrete wall, still holding him.
The G6 on Penelope had revealed her links with both M15 and Jeff Tracy. It was too much of a coincidence; she turned up shortly after Straker had gone missing, presumed dead in the same area of the South Pacific that was home to Tracy Island.
Freeman, reading through the report, came to a decision. ‘Freeman to Security. You have a ‘go’ for operation ‘Lady P’. Apprehend suspect and return her to HQ.’
Al he could do now was wait.
Lady Penelope picked up the hatbox and handed it to Parker. ‘I think that’s enough shopping for today Parker. Back to the Rolls and then home in time for afternoon tea I think.’
‘Very good, m’Lady.’ He doffed his hat and picked up the large ostentatious hatbox with its pink bow to carry it back to FAB1, Penelope close behind him.
The four SHADO operatives, who had shadowed her, waiting for an opportune moment, boxed her in with a swiftness and expertise that left Parker standing shocked and isolated on the pavement. She was inside their car and being driven away at high speed before he could do anything.
A quiet voice spoke behind Parker. ‘Do not turn around. Lady Penelope will be returned to Creighton Manor, unharmed, in three hours if she co-operates with us. If you make any attempt to trace her, then you will not see her again. Do you understand?’
‘You...... yes I understand.’ Parker almost spat out his reply and listened, too petrified to turn around, as the speaker walked quickly away. Parker threw the hatbox onto the back seat of the Rolls with a carelessness that would have appalled his employer, then drove back to Creighton Manor at a speed that broke every restriction. Once back at the Manor, he paced the empty rooms, desperately hoping that she would be returned safe and unhurt.
Alec Freeman met the SHADO car at the main entrance to the studios. In silence he escorted the woman through the reception area and into the inner office. Miss Ealand watched impassively.
‘Yours I believe?’ he handed Lady Penelope a small electronic device. ‘We found it hidden in here. Not very professional really.’
She stared at him, with contempt and loathing. ‘What do you want?’
‘To show you something.’ His answer was curt. There was no response from her. What could she say?
He picked up the silver box on the desk. Opened it. ‘Alec Freeman’
‘Voice Print Identification Positive. Alec Freeman. Zero nine seven.’ And the room descended.
The door opened. She stepped out ahead of Freeman. The sign on the plain white wall said SHADO. She read it and everything became clear. She realised that both she and Jeff had made a terrible mistake.
‘Mr Freeman...’ she turned to him
‘Colonel Freeman,’ he corrected her.
‘Colonel Freeman. I understand now. Ed Straker, Commander Straker, as I understand his correct title to be, runs this SHADO organisation which is hidden beneath the studios. SHADO has been set up to fight against alien attacks, am I right?’
He nodded, impressed at the speed at which she had assimilated all the available information and come to the correct conclusion.
‘Very good Lady Penelope. Now I need to get some details from you. It would be better if you volunteered the information to us. I really don’t like torturing anyone, let alone an attractive woman, but be assured; I can, and will, resort to violence if necessary.’ He faced her, his eyes burning with a coldness that chilled her to the bone.
‘What do you want to know?’ There was no point in prevarication. If the information they needed was that important, then she might well have to tell them.
‘Is Commander Straker still alive and if so, where is he being held?’
The question stunned her. She was expecting questions about International Rescue, not this.
She looked at the blunt, heavy-set man standing before her and knew without a shadow of a doubt that he was more than capable of using extreme coercion if he felt it necessary.
‘Very well, I shall tell you what I know, on condition that it goes no further than this organisation.’ She wondered just how much information she needed to divulge. If she could avoid mentioning International Rescue so much the better.
‘I will make no promises,’ he warned her, ‘but I will do my best.’
He led her into a neat office with interactive screens of the Lunar surface and Earth on the walls and a large abstract mural of constantly shifting colours behind the modern Perspex desk.
‘Lady Penelope, please have a seat.’ He pulled out one of the chairs at a large conference table and she smiled at him, acknowledging his action and sat calmly, her hands folded in her lap.
‘As far as I know, your Commander Straker is a guest of the Tracy family on their island. He was taken there after being rescued from his jet which had crashed close to the island. Unfortunately none of the crew survived the impact. He was the only passenger?’ she queried.
‘Yes. So he is alive and well?’ Alec heaved a sigh of relief and thanked whatever gods were listening.
‘I believe he is suffering from amnesia and has been unable to tell his rescuers who he is. They, in turn were unable to get any information about his plane’s registration or point of origin, which is why I was called in. I have contacts in MI6 you see and Jeff Tracy thought I might be able to help him.’ She smiled. ‘So, now you know. Your Commander can be picked up from Tracy Island; I have the co-ordinates here, and you can bring him back to his underground headquarters. And I can go back home in time for afternoon tea. I do hope Parker managed to get my new hat home safely. I ordered it especially for Ladies’ Day at Ascot.’ She stood up as if to go, but Alec Freeman stopped her.
‘Not so fast Lady Penelope. I’m afraid we can’t just let you go as quickly as that. You know far too much now about us. We need to discuss security and the Official Secrets Act. Can I get you a cup of coffee? Or would you prefer tea?’ he asked.
‘Oh tea please, I never touch coffee, so American.’
The tea arrived, not in her preferred bone china cups, but it was hot and refreshing and she sipped it appreciatively while looking round the room at the various murals and maps. She picked up Straker’s glass globe and peered through it before replacing it carefully on its stand.
‘So, Colonel Freeman,’ she started to ask, but her eyes began to close and he reached forward and took the cup from her before she dropped it. He waited until he was sure that she was fully asleep and then opened the door. ‘She’s all yours.’ He said to the medical team outside the room. ‘Get her home safely won’t you.’
Carefully they carried her out. Freeman watched, knowing that she would wake up with no memory of the previous twenty four hours. Good. He could do without aristocratic ladies interfering in SHADO business.
Now to work. Now to rescue Ed.
TinTin cradled him in her arms, soothing him with soft words and gentle caresses. Gradually he responded, leaning against her as if to draw comfort from her presence. She stroked his head, feeling his fine short hair in her fingers.
‘TinTin?’ his voice was quiet and questioning. ‘Is that you?’
‘Yes, I’m here. You were having a bad time. Are you claustrophobic?’
‘Very much so. I’ve had some pretty rough experiences in the past and being in here....................’ his voice trailed away.
‘Look. Jeff put you in here because he’s afraid of you. He’s knows about you now. Do you remember anything about your past yet?’
‘Yes, it all came back when I was at the piano; I remembered playing that piece before and suddenly everything came back. So exactly why has Jeff locked me away? I run a film studio. Does he think I am going to do some unauthorised filming here?’ he smiled wanly at her.
‘No Commander Straker. He knows the truth. At least some of it.’
He was silent for a long moment. ‘What did you do to me? To make me talk? I don’t remember telling anyone anything.’ The bitterly acidic words dropped like broken shards of glass into the dark silence. He moved out of her reach, away from the warm embrace of her, away from her silken, seductive treachery.
She held his hand tightly, despite his attempts to pull away. ‘You didn’t tell us anything. We found out about you quite by accident, from one of our contacts in London, although we still don’t know what organisation you work for.’
He slumped back against the wall, breathing deeply with relief. He would never have forgiven himself if he had told them about SHADO. But what was going to happen to him now? And why did they think he could be dangerous? Or could it be that Jeff had something to be scared about? Something that he wanted kept hidden from outsiders? That would be more likely.
He considered the facts as he knew them; a millionaire ex-astronaut, from the Saturn 5 era, now living in isolation on a tropical island, hundreds of miles from anywhere. Five sons; Straker had seen the photos even if he had not met John and had only briefly encountered Alan and Scott. Five healthy, strong, and obviously intelligent, capable young men. Now what did they spend their days doing? Swimming, sunbathing, scuba diving? He thought not.
He remembered a conversation he had had a couple of years previously with Alec, when International Rescue had launched itself on the world in the blaze of publicity after its dramatic rescue of the Fireflash aircraft.
The secrecy surrounding the organisation created immense curiosity and he and the rest of SHADO had squandered a few inconsequential hours, in between alien incursions, working out the probable location of the Thunderbirds base.
It had been no more than an amusing afternoon’s diversion, although he seemed to recall that the general consensus of opinion was that the base would be sited somewhere very isolated and remote, unlike SHADO, probably in a deserted area in the southern hemisphere, judging from the available data on flight times.
An extinct volcanic island in the South Pacific. Of course. That’s what Jeff Tracy was hiding, was so afraid of Straker discovering. And that’s what his sons did with their time. Thunderbird pilots. Straker leaned back and laughed mockingly with the incongruity of it all.
‘TinTin, I need your help.’ He turned to her, his strong fingers clasping her hand tightly. ‘How can I convince you that I am not a danger to Jeff or to International Rescue?’
Shocked and scared she scrambled to her feet and stood looking down at him. ‘How did you find out? Who else knows?’ She put her fist in her mouth as she realised that she had confirmed his suspicions.
‘Listen TinTin. I don’t care about International Rescue, or the Thunderbirds. I just need to get out of here and back to where I belong. I need to get in touch with my people so that they can come for me. And the sooner I am away from here the sooner Jeff can relax and stop worrying about someone revealing his secret. I have absolutely no interest in revealing the whereabouts of International Rescue to anyone. You have to believe me when I tell you that the Thunderbirds and all their technology is child’s play compared to the organisation that I command.’ He stared at her intently, willing her to trust him.
‘Mr Straker, Commander,’ she hesitated, ‘what do you need me to do?’
He sighed with relief. ‘All I need is a phone. Let me call my people and I can be off Tracy Island in a matter of hours. Please.’ He looked at her intently, and she could see the sincerity in his eyes. She took a deep breath.
‘Okay. It will be simpler if I bring a mobile here to you rather than try to get to the lounge area. Will you be alright here while I go? If Jeff or the boys find you outside this room then I won’t be able to help you at all.’
He nodded, although he hated the thought of being alone in the room again, even with the door unlocked.
‘I’ll be as quick as I can.’ she assured him and then she was gone, hurrying through the deserted tunnels past the open doorway to the silo where TB1 waited quiescent, streamlined, silver lights glinting off the polished metallic frame of her hull.
He sat on the bed, thinking, flexing his bruised and scuffed knuckles. He needed his gun; and he could do with his own clothes. The t-shirt and jeans were alright, but he would find it easier to defend himself if need be, in his own clothes, designed to be far more practical than the constrictive t-shirt and jeans.
Then the door slammed shut and he heard it lock. The light went out.
Damn. He had been betrayed after all. He was trapped and alone.
Sitting on the bed, in the dark, hands clenched with tension and suppressed fear, he tried to relax, but it was difficult. He concentrated on controlling his breathing. They knew he was here; they would come back for him soon, surely.
There was nothing he could do now but wait; wait until they decided what to do with him. He was certain of one thing though. He would not go down without a fight, and he would take as many as possible down with him. Come hell or high water.
He lay down to conserve energy, to prepare himself. And then, with growing trepidation, realised that the fan had stopped.
TinTin hurried along the dark underground tunnel, her thought focussed on getting her mobile and helping him to contact his friends. She was not aware that someone had been listening to her conversation and was, even now locking the door and trapping Straker inside.
Once the door was secured that person paused, then deliberately switched off the light inside the room, the overhead lights in the corridor illuminating his thick blonde hair as he hurried away, after TinTin. Alan grinned to himself. That would show the guy. Alan had seen the secret smile on TinTin’s face when she had been talking about their unknown visitor and he didn’t like it.
Still angry over his own enforced confinement in his room, he was not in a mood to listen or act rationally. As far as he was concerned, TinTin had sided with the enemy and he had to prevent her from doing any further damage. He caught up with her just as she reached the lounge area. Jeff and Scott were both there, reading, and Alan grabbed her by the arm.
‘Dad, Scott,’ he shouted angrily, ‘TinTin is trying to help that Straker guy to escape. I heard them talking and he knows about International Rescue. I locked him back in the room.’
Jeff stared at her in dismay, folding his paper and putting it down. ‘TinTin is that true?’ he asked, utterly bewildered at her actions.
‘Yes Mr Tracy, he knows about you and the Thunderbirds; I didn’t tell him anything, he worked it out for himself. He just wants to get off the island and back to his own people. That’s all. I thought it would be the best thing to do.’
‘Think? You’re not here to think, TinTin,’ Alan said cuttingly, ‘that’s Dad’s job. You should have kept out of it.’
‘Enough, Alan,’ Jeff remonstrated with him, ‘TinTin was doing what she felt was best. We just have to deal with this situation now. Any ideas, boys?’
Scott looked at his father. ‘What choice do we have Dad? We will have to try that new drug that Brains has worked on. The only problem is that he isn’t here to show us how to use it.’
‘No, but he’ll be back in twenty-four hours and we can try it then. We will just need to keep our guest confined where he is until then. And let’s hope the drug works, otherwise we will have to think of some other way of dealing with him.’ Jeff scowled as he realised that there was only one other way. Jeff was a practical, hard minded man, but he would never have the ruthlessness needed to eliminate another human being.
‘Scott, go and find Gordon and Virgil and get them in here. We need to talk about what options we have now.’ Jeff ordered his eldest son.
TinTin stood, head down, unhappy and frightened. She did not know what was going to happen to her now, and she was desperately concerned that Straker was alone again in his cell. She hoped he would be able to deal with his fears and would also realise that she had not betrayed him.
‘I think it would be best if you stay in your room for a while TinTin,’ Jeff said gently. ‘I know you were trying to do your best, but we are in a difficult situation here. Go along now.’
She left, knowing that she would be monitored and watched to ensure that she did not try to cause any more problems. If Virgil or Gordon had been there, she felt sure that they would have supported her, and would have understood the reasons for her actions. In fact they would probably have done the same as her, given the chance.
She would start packing her stuff as soon as possible. Even if she could only take one small bag with her that would be enough to start with. She was quite content to leave everything behind and start again, somewhere else. If she could get away.
Skydiver 3, at the utmost limits of its capability, sliced through the deep clear waters of the South Pacific Ocean. Its destination, after exploring the area to the north, was a small, insignificant island, now just miles away. Lew Waterman, in command, contacted HQ.
‘Skydiver to Control Approaching rendezvous point in ten minutes. Will surface and await further instructions.’
‘SHADO Control to Skydiver. Message received and acknowledged. Colonel Freeman en route to the rendezvous point now and will be directing operations from Shadair 6.’
In the luxurious cabin of the Shadair jet, Alec Freeman, in full combat gear, went over the details of the forthcoming offensive on Tracy Island. He had committed a considerable number of SHADO’s resources to the assault and he needed to be sure that all the forces were ready to attack simultaneously.
The helijets with their cargoes of armed troops would be in place shortly and Skydiver should be circling the island within the next thirty minutes. Good.
He leaned back and drank his coffee. Mr Tracy, he thought cynically, you sure picked on the wrong people this time.
The small room was getting stuffier by the minute as the carbon dioxide built up. It had been two hours now. There was nothing he could do about it. He’d been in this situation before in the subsmash in Skydiver. He knew that panicking would do more harm than good.
It helped to keep still, to relax and not to expand energy and so use up what little oxygen was left. It was getting stiflingly hot though and he stripped off the constricting t-shirt. That helped somewhat, but he had to keep still. And calm. He would not lose control again.
He decided to employ some of the relaxation techniques to which Rachel had introduced him recently. The discipline and order of Tai Chi had fascinated him and he practised the exercises every day, although he would never let Alec know, but in the small cell, he focussed on slowing his breathing and lowering his heart rate by means of meditation.
Surely they would come and check on him soon? He remained immobile, controlling his thoughts and thinking about Rachel and their future together.
Virgil wandered randomly along the beach, scuffing his bare toes in the warm vanilla-coloured sand. It was a textbook South Pacific day, glorious sunshine, gentle waves and the sound of birdsong from the forest; a day for relaxing, swimming, beachcombing, but he was bored with the lack of action and also concerned about the recent unsettling events on the island.
He and Gordon had argued that their unwanted visitor should simply be allowed to leave the island as soon as possible. Straker had told TinTin that he was no threat to the Thunderbirds organisation, and Virgil had no reason to doubt him.
Besides, Virgil admired the man. Yes, he had the air of being a merciless killer, but Virgil had competed against him at chess and had listened to him play the piano. A man who had those talents could not be as evil as Scott and Alan made out, could he?
Virgil was sometimes considered an artistic daydreamer by his brothers, but he knew that he was rarely mistaken whenever it came to judging people. Straker was honest and trustworthy. Virgil was convinced of that, but he was overruled as usual by his more vociferous youngest brother, Alan. Sometimes, Virgil thought to himself, Alan was a real pain.
He gazed out over the ocean, at distant clouds that were appearing to mar the perfect blueness. He frowned. No. Not clouds. Jet planes, or something similar. And several of them, heading this way.
He began to run back to the house, his feet slipping in the soft slurring sand.
It was too late. They were overhead with a speed that put TB1 to shame. One hand shading his eyes he stared up, squinting in the brilliant light at their streamlined, ultramodern styling. He had never seen any craft like these before. He could do nothing but stand and watch as they hovered on their powerful thrusters, sand swirling around him like miniature tornados.
Long lines untangled like tentacles from the craft, reaching down to the pristine tidewashed sand, and with a suddenness that scared him he saw armed troops slide with incredible speed down the rappelling lines onto the beach.
He was too close to run away, to close to do anything other than stand, arms raised as they approached him with their weapons at the ready. His heart sank. It was hopeless.
Alec Freeman watched from his circling plane as the helijets disgorged their cargoes and hovered stationary over the beach. They had captured one unfriendly already, and the man was being held prisoner by the rearguard team. The rest of the assault force moved silently across the ground, heading for the large curved residence on the hill above, where they could see other unfriendlies moving inside. Keeping to the cover of the lush tropical plants bordering the beach, they worked their way nearer to their target.
Virgil, gagged and tied hand and foot, was dragged into the cover of the undergrowth. Terrified and helpless he lay there, unable to warn his family, unable to do more than watch as the soldiers moved silently through the undergrowth towards the main house. He prayed that someone in the house would be alert, would see the approaching pack of men, but deep down he knew that the island was taken.
International Rescue was finished. He hoped that they would spare the lives of his younger brothers and TinTin. He feared that they wouldn’t. Dear God, had he been that mistaken about Straker?
‘All clear Colonel.’ The message relayed from the assault leader now standing in the lounge area of the house. He moved his rifle slightly in the direction of Alan, who had shifted in his seat, his hands and feet bound together. ‘I told you. Keep still. I won’t warn you again. I will shoot you if necessary.’ His voice was cold and devoid of any emotion.
Sky 3 overflew the runway, her engines roaring in the silence. ‘Sky3 to Colonel Freeman. Runway clear for landing Colonel. I’ll keep watch until you are down’
‘Thankyou Sky 3. Going in for landing now.’ and the Shadair jet moved in for a smooth, faultless landing, braking smoothly, the jet pivoting at the end under the steep cliff so that she was positioned ready for take-off.
Alec Freeman walked assertively down the steps to be greeted by the Captain of the assault team. ‘Colonel Freeman, this way sir.’
‘Any news of the Commander?’ There was only one thing that Freeman was interested in.
‘Not yet sir. We have secured the buildings and are undertaking a thorough search of the island. There are some very interesting places you might want to inspect later.’ He grinned at Freeman, ‘International Rescue have developed some remarkable machinery but I think ours tends to be a little more, shall we say, aggressive in design.’
Alec Freeman looked at him in amazement. ‘International Rescue? What do they have to do with this?’
‘It seems that Tracy Island is the base for International Rescue, Colonel. We have discovered four of the Thunderbird craft hidden in secret silos underground and numerous additional vehicles used in rescues. We speculate that the sons of the owner, Mr Tracy, are the pilots for the aircraft.’
‘I see. I wonder what Commander Straker will say when he finds out.’ Freeman pondered.
They entered the house and the waiting troops immediately stood to attention. Freeman was not a person who insisted or even enjoyed such recognition, but it helped to reinforce the fact that he was in command and had the power here. For now, at any rate. He hoped that he would be able to hand over control to SHADO’s real leader very soon.
‘Mr Tracy. We have been informed that you are holding Commander Straker here on your island. Return him to us, unharmed, and we will leave without any further trouble. If you do not co-operate fully with us then I will personally ensure that the entire world knows the whereabouts of your organisation, and the Thunderbird machines will either be destroyed or will be confiscated for use by our own organisation. Do you understand?’ His face was impassive and emotionless, but his words were spoken with such force that Jeff knew he had no choice.
Jeff looked around the room, at Alan, Scott and Gordon, bound and tied to chairs, surrounded by masked and armed men. Grandma and Kyrano were on the sofa. Grandma shaking with anger and fear, Kyrano stoic and calm despite his obvious distress and concern for Mr Tracy. The troops dragged Virgil in and lifted him onto the sofa, where he looked around at his family in relief. So they were all still alive then.
‘It seems I have no choice do I?’ Jeff finally admitted, his head in his hands.
‘No Mr Tracy, you have no choice at all, if that is, you want your family to be alive at the end of the day.’ Colonel Freeman informed him coldly. ‘Now if you will be so good as to take me to where you are holding the Commander?’
Jeff stood up, desperately trying not to show fear in front of his family. ‘This way.’ His voice was that of a broken man.
He knew what was going to happen. They would make him pay for what he had done. He and his sons had learned about the presence of Colonel Freeman’s highly classified organisation and had imprisoned its commanding officer.
And more than that; Jeff’s worst fears had come true. International Rescue’s location was no longer a secret. Would these armed troops really destroy the Thunderbirds? Or even take them away to be used for their own nefarious purposes? What would happen to his sons, to Grandma, Kyrano and TinTin? It was possible, in fact highly likely, that the assault team would eliminate all of them when they had retrieved their leader.
Jeff’s blood ran cold at the prospect of watching everything he owned, his family, his organisation, his world, being systematically destroyed in front of his eyes.
He imagined John, trapped in Thunderbird 5 with no hope of rescue if TB3 was taken. John would eventually die of slow agonising starvation when his food supplies ran out. TB5 had water and air recycling systems, but its food stocks needed to be resupplied every two months.
Alec Freeman gestured to several of the assault team to follow him as Jeff led the way out of the lounge through the rarely used corridors down to the basement section, the original quarters built when the Island was still a naval base, before Jeff acquired it as his base of operations.
The tunnel to the underground cells was in darkness. Jeff fumbled, his fingers numb, for the switch. Lights flickered along the ceiling in sequence, illuminating the drab, dusty passageway with harsh circular pools of light on the floor.
‘He’s down there; third door on the left.’ He was pushed harshly and unceremoniously against the wall, his hands on the whitewashed concrete as the Colonel moved past him, focussing on only one thing.
Alec hurried down the passageway, his footsteps loud on the hard floor, backed up by two of the assault team. The door, once he had unlocked it, grated on its old unused hinges revealing a dark space. Heavy, stale air floated out. ‘Ed, are you alright?’ he called anxiously, searching fruitlessly for the light.
‘And about time too.’ A desperately breathless but nonetheless familiar voice penetrated the gloom. ‘Where have you been? I was expecting you thirty minutes ago.’ The tone was humorous, but Alec could hear an undercurrent of extreme fatigue and worry behind the relief.
‘Look, I was busy dealing with work. Don’t blame me if you can’t keep in contact. I have better things to do than chase after you every time you get yourself into another mess.’ He finally found the light switch further down on the outer wall and flicked it.
Straker, sitting on the bed, winced as the light came on. ‘I have to get out of here,’ he said, and stood up, swaying and holding onto the metal frame of the bed for support. He tried to step forward, but, exhausted with the lack of oxygen, rocked unsteadily on his feet, cyanosis turning his usually pale skin grey.
Freeman hurried forward and almost carried him out into the passageway, into the slightly fresher air. Straker leaned, eyes closed, against the flaking paintwork of the rough walls, gasping for breath and shaking with exhaustion from the mere effort of trying to walk.
‘Get the medic here quickly,’ Alec instructed one of the guards. ‘Ed, sit down, now, and take it easy for a few minutes. Let’s get you checked over.’ He watched, anxious, as his friend, without any argument, eased himself onto the floor, sitting with knees bent and head back against the wall. Freeman hunkered beside him, one hand on his shoulder.
‘How are you feeling?’ the worried Colonel asked.
‘I just need some air,’ Straker answered, breathing deeply and rapidly in an attempt to get rid of the carbon dioxide in his bloodstream. ‘I was getting more than a little concerned about the oxygen levels in that room. You have a tendency to arrive at just the right time, Alec.’ He grinned deprecatingly at the tall Australian as the medic arrived and started checking him over. ‘Who else have you brought with you?’
‘Oh just about everyone.’ Alec grinned back, watching with concern as the medic worked on his patient. ‘Foster’s in charge of any incoming back at base. I thought it best not to bring Rachel. She got a little too emotional when she thought you hadn’t made it out of the plane. When we were told that you probably had survived I didn’t want to risk bringing her out here and then finding out that you really were dead after all.’
His look told Straker volumes and the commander, now breathing oxygen from an emergency cylinder provided by the medic, grasped his Executive Officer’s hand in a firm grip. Alec and he sat in companionable silence until Straker began to breathe more easily and his normal colour returned.
‘Okay, so will I live?’ he removed the mask and wryly asked the medic who had finished monitoring his oxygen levels and redressed the wound on his head.
‘Just take it easy for a while sir, if,’ the word heavily emphasised, ‘that’s at all possible.’ The sardonic reply was not lost on Alec Freeman, who raised an eyebrow at the man sitting on the floor.
‘Thanks. I knew you’d find me, Alec, eventually. Now I need to deal with the Tracy family; and International Rescue.’ He looked at Alec.
‘How the hell did you know about International Rescue, Ed? We only just discovered that this was their base when we landed here?’ Freeman asked.
‘I worked it out Alec.’ Straker would say no more, but grinned smugly. ‘Now to business. Have you got a gun I can borrow? They took mine.’
He clambered to his feet, still pale but able to stand unaided, his colour gradually returning to normal.
One of the armed guards stepped forward. ‘Sir, the search team found your weapon and holster in Mr Tracy’s office. Should I bring it here for you?’
‘No, I’ll pick it up in the lounge.’ In silence he headed over to where Jeff Tracy was standing, surrounded by guards. They nodded a respectful acknowledgement to their Commanding officer as he approached despite his unconventional, and most definitely non-uniform, attire of jeans, bare torso and feet. ‘Get all the family together will you,’ he instructed them.
Alec Freeman watched, waiting, wondering what Straker was about to do. He followed the orderly little procession as they made their way back through the tunnels.
Inside the lounge Straker paused, looking round the room at the heavily armed guards lining the edges of the spacious room and at the Tracy family, sitting, hands tied on the various chairs and sofas.
Nodding his approval to the Captain of the guards he collected his Glock, checking it for any signs of damage and readied it for firing.
He stood in front of Alan Tracy.
‘Where is TinTin?’ he asked. Despite to his casual appearance to which he seemed totally indifferent, it was clear to all in the room that he was the one person in absolute command of the well-armed and disciplined group of men who had assaulted the island and taken control in such a swift and decisive manner.
Alan snarled at him. ‘None of your business Straker,’
Alec Freeman, calmly and silently, stepped across and backhanded him, hard, across the face. ‘That’s Commander Straker to you, boy,’ he said, almost spitting out the last word with disdain. ‘The man who can command the entire world’s armed forces when necessary and who gives orders to presidents and prime ministers. You will answer him with respect. Understand?’
Alan remained sullen and silent, his mouth bloody from the sudden blow. He looked apprehensively at Straker but did not speak.
‘One more chance. Where is she?’ Straker raised his gun and brought it close to Alan’s head. There was an aura of such utter cold-blooded ruthlessness about the Commander that Alan finally realised he was dealing with someone who would stop at nothing to get his own way.
‘Dad locked her in her room when I told him she was trying to help you escape,’ he muttered fearfully.
Straker stared at Jeff, a penetrating gaze that made the older man flinch.
‘I had no intention of causing you or your family any harm,’ he told Jeff. ‘I simply wanted to get home, but you decided that I was dangerous and you nearly killed me. If Colonel Freeman had not found me, I doubt if I would have survived much longer.’
Jeff looked at him puzzled. ‘I don’t understand,’ he finally said.
‘The light. When it was switched off, the fan went off as well. There was no air circulating. You must have been aware of that. I calculate that I would have probably had another thirty minutes at the most before I suffocated.’
‘You utter fool Alan.’ Gordon said harshly with contempt in his voice. ‘Did you not think?’
Straker turned to Alan. ‘So it was you who turned off the light. I should have realised that TinTin would never had done that. Your idea of vengeance I suppose. What did you hope to achieve by my death? Did you not think that my friends would seek retribution? But as you can see I have survived and I now propose bringing this episode to a conclusion.
Jeff, horrified, stepped forward. ‘And because of Alan you are willing to kill all of us. What kind of monster are you anyway?’
Straker smiled thinly. ‘I am a man that does whatever is necessary to ensure that the job gets done. If that involves killing people then let me assure you, I am perfectly capable of doing that. I have killed in the past and I will, no doubt, do so again in the future, but I do not want to kill today. I have no intention of harming anyone here, unless you force me to do so. I just need you to know that I am deadly serious about my work. It is much, much more important than anything you or International Rescue will ever do. Now, TinTin; where is she?’
Virgil stood up, hands still tied. ‘I’ll go and get her. If you can untie us, all of us, please?’
Straker nodded at the guards and they moved to free all the prisoners, still keeping them under close scrutiny. Virgil, having first checked that his Grandmother was alright, led the way to TinTin’s room. Straker following, wanting to be sure that she was safe and unharmed, and handing his Glock to Freeman on the way.
Virgil turned to him. ‘I’m sorry that you got caught up in this. We have treated you quite badly all things considered and I must apologise. I enjoyed our chess games and given the opportunity I’d quite like a rematch or two, but I suppose that’s out of the question now.’ he paused. ‘This is TinTin’s room.’
Straker unlocked the door and opened it. She was sitting on the bed, clothes piled around her and suitcases open on the floor. A small weekend bag was next to her. She looked up and smiled sadly.
‘Commander. I understand your friends have arrived and no doubt you will be leaving soon. I am so sorry that I didn’t get that phone to you, but as you can see Alan stopped me. I have a favour to ask you, please?’
He looked at her, a look of understanding and sympathy. ‘TinTin,’ he began, but she interrupted him.
‘All I want is a lift away from here. To anywhere. I can’t stay here now.’ Her eyes were brimming with tears and she turned away so that he would not see them fall.
He moved closer, and put his arms around her, holding her head to his chest with his hand, comforting her as she had comforted him, her tears damp on his bare shoulder. His dominant presence filled the room as she clung to him, seeking consolation in the touch of his warm skin against her face.
She traced his scars again with her fingertips. ‘Please,’ she whispered, ‘will you kiss me? So that I know what a real kiss, your kiss, would feel like? So that I know I am doing the right thing? Please. Just once.’
He paused, as if considering the implications, then remembered her loneliness and her empty life. It would cost him nothing to do as she asked and might mean more to her than he could ever imagine.
Reaching down he gently placed his hands on either side of her head, his fingers caressing her cheeks, turning her face up to his as he reached down to her. His lips met hers gently, a first kiss, not a kiss that two lovers would share. The touch was tender but impassioned, and she could sense the hidden emotion within him that he kept under such tight control. That guarded, intense devotion, that burned so fiercely beneath his cool exterior was not for her, that was obvious, but she felt immensely privileged to have been allowed to share him for even such a fraction of time.
As for himself, he could not kiss her as he kissed Rachel; that would have been a betrayal of both of them, but his kiss for her was full of gentle love and immeasurable gratitude for all that she had done for him, and he underpinned it with the merest hint of the passion that he held locked within him for his lover, his Rachel. He hoped it would enable TinTin to clarify in her mind what she wanted from her life.
She knew he could never belong to her, knew from the way that he kissed her that there was someone else waiting for him, his Rachel probably, but that glorious and sensuous touch of his mouth against hers, of his hands against her face, his bare skin against her body was wonderful and exciting and confirmed what she had suspected all along.
She could have stayed there for eternity, but he ended the kiss, almost reluctantly, it seemed; his arms moving from caressing her face to hugging her tightly against his body. His embrace was that of a true loyal friend though, not a lover, and never would be.
‘Alan will be so cross,’ she whispered to him and he grinned down at her, before releasing her from his hold.
‘Alan won’t remember anything about this.’ he told her and her eyes opened wide with bewilderment. ‘In fact no one here will remember the last two days. That goes for you as well TinTin, if you want. Or you can come back to England with us and get to use your master’s degree working for me in the film studio. At first anyway.’
At first she did not understand what he was implying, then she realised that he was offering her the chance to join his organisation. The prospect was thrilling, even though she still had no idea what it would entail.
‘Oh yes please.’ She could hardly contain her excitement. A life away from here, with the promise of being useful, being valued. And maybe working near him.
‘Good. Colonel Freeman will take you out to the plane. I’ll see you there shortly. Don’t worry, it will be fine.’ He smiled at her, then shivered as he realised that he was getting cold, standing there without shirt or coat as the evening grew dark. Alec took off his combat jacket and handed it to his boss. It was too large, but Straker smiled appreciatively and slipped it on, relishing the warmth that the jacket retained, before Alec took TinTin out of the room to discuss her new life.
He watched her go, and headed back for the lounge, where he pulled out the piano stool and sat down, facing the detainees. He stared down at his interlaced fingers for a few moments, before looking up and around the room, taking in the whole scene.
The guards stood to attention when he spoke.
‘Gentlemen, and Mrs Tracy,’ he nodded towards Grandma, ‘We will be leaving you shortly. I must thank you for saving my life in the accident, but we have to deal with the fact that you know things about me that I would rather remained a secret. So, I have now decided what to do with you all. TinTin has asked to come with us when we leave and I have agreed to her request. We will make sure she is safe and well-cared for, as well as having the opportunity to use her qualifications in a vitally important area.’ he paused, waiting for the storm of protest from the Tracy family.
But he was surprised. Only Alan remonstrated with him, before being warned to be silent by Alec Freeman; the rest of the group looked at each other and then nodded as if suddenly realising what had been missing from TinTin’s life for so long.
‘You will make sure she’s alright won’t you?’ Virgil asked.
‘You have my word on it.’ Straker assured him. ‘I will even arrange for her to travel back here on a regular basis. She will help us keep a close eye on all of you in International Rescue and the work you are doing. We may even be able to help you with some new technological developments. She will be part of our research team whose work is crucial to the security of the world and she will be a valued member of our organisation. Yes, she will be alright, Virgil. Trust me.’ and he looked at Virgil with the gaze of a man who demanded obedience and trust.
‘I do trust you. Just look after her please. Now what are you intending to do about us?’
‘That is the easy part. Who would like a coffee?’
Once on the plane he was finally able to relax. The amnesia drug had erased all memories of the last thirty-six hours from the minds of the family remaining behind on the island.
TinTin was talking enthusiastically to Alec about SHADO and the intensive training she would be undergoing and he had managed to have a most welcome shower on board the plane and change into some of his own clothes that Alec, with his usual forethought, had brought along.
He had spoken to Rachel at length, an emotional conversation, and she would be waiting for him at the apartment when he got home.
He was very tired. It had been a long, difficult episode and he would be glad to get back where he belonged, back to his own world and to Rachel. Closing his eyes, he slept, reassured by the steady drone of the engines, surrounded by his friends, secure and safe.
Jeff Tracy woke up in the lounge, on the sofa. Puzzled, he sat up and realised that he was not alone. The rest of the family were also sleeping, in fact Alan was even on the floor; he looked most uncomfortable, and he had somehow split his lip and bruised his face, quite severely it seemed. What had happened? He couldn’t for the life of him remember.
He did recall sending Alan and Scott to their rooms as a punishment for their puerile behaviour, and there was something about a plane in the sky, but ......... he shook his head as if to clear it then.............
‘Thunderbird 5 to Tracy Island. Are you receiving me?’ John’s picture flashed and converted into its videoscreen mode. ‘Hello Dad, there’s a call for help from the American government. They have a submarine in trouble in the North Atlantic. Its power plant has gone critical and they need to evacuate all the crew before they get radiation poisoning.’
At last. Jeff breathed a sigh of relief. He had had dream while he was asleep that had seemed terribly, almost prophetically real. He had dreamed of an organisation that made International Rescue seem positively stone-age in its technology, an organisation that would stop at nothing to achieve its aims, led by a ruthless ice-cold tyrant. Jeff shuddered as he remembered the man’s blue eyes. He was extraordinarily glad that it had been a dream.
‘Boys, wake up. John has a mission for us.’ He called to his sleeping family. He would miss TinTin that was for sure, but he was glad that she had been able to continue her studies in England. He remembered waving goodbye to her as she set sail on the cruise ship that had called in at the island yesterday.
He would write to her as soon as she let him know her address.
Some days later, Virgil received a special delivery package sent anonymously from London, England; the score for a short piano sonata. He had never heard of the composer before, and had certainly never ordered the sheet music.
Intrigued, he attempted to trace where it had come from but he was unsuccessful. Sitting at the piano, patiently and laboriously working out the intricate and elaborate phrases, he had a feeling that he had heard it played recently, but where or by whom, he had no recollection. It was an inspired piece though, full of emotion and feeling.
However, the delivery of a piece of sheet music was not the only thing to have happened to Virgil. He had been contacted shortly after the rescue of the submarines crew by a new member to his internet chess group; a player who called himself ‘Survivor’ and who had ferociously good matchplay skills. Virgil was currently engrossed in his second long, involved game against ‘Survivor’ and it looked like Virgil might just win this time, if he was lucky.
Later that week, on a whim, Jeff decided to get the boys to inspect the old, disused underground quarters. They never worked out how one of John’s favourite t-shirts had ended up crumpled in a corner of one of the cells.
continued in ‘Separated’