The Fireflash evened out, then rose in the air once again, just seconds from destruction on the deceptively calm sea below. Scott let out a held breath; Gordon had done it! He didn’t care how, but he was infinitely grateful to his ingenious little brother.
The plane rose to a good cruising height, not one that it would usually use on its flight between London and San Francisco, but one that would be easy for the air traffic controllers between their position and the London Airport to clear of all other aircraft. Scott had Alan relay a request for such a clearance and London Airport relayed back that they would comply.
“How’re we doing, Virgil?” Scott asked his brother, shadowing them in Thunderbird Two.
“I don’t know how he did it, but Gordon’s got Fireflash right on course. Steady as a rock.” Virgil’s admiring comment came back.
“God, I’m glad he’s the one who went up into the wing. He’s got nerves of steel.” Scott replied. “Do you realize that if we went down, he probably would have fried as the water entered the wing compartment? That is, if he didn’t drown first. He wasn’t set up in his frogman gear.”
“I’m sure that added some impetus for him to find a solution, Scott,” Virgil said. Scott nodded, unseen by his brother. He looked over at his co- pilot.
“What’s our ETA to London airport, Hansen?” he asked.
Captain Hansen replied, “ETA, ten minutes. Hope your man is doing okay back there. I’ve tried to close the door to the wing interior, but it seems to be jammed.”
“Yeah. I’d better check on him,” Scott said. He turned his headset back to the IR frequency. “Hey, Gordon. How’re you doing back there?”
There was no reply at first, but Scott became aware of a heavy, distressed breathing in his ear. The hair on the back of his neck rose as he realized something was wrong, very wrong.
“Gordon? Gordon! Report! What is your status?” Scott’s speech went suddenly from jocular and familiar to terse and formal, hoping to shock a response from his little brother in the wing.
In the wing’s interior, Gordon fought to hold on to consciousness as the electricity from the EPU conduit coursed through his form, as the creeping heat from the burning wires began to blister and sear the bare hands holding the conduit together. He was glad that he wasn’t grounded, but still, it hurt! It took a good deal of energy to reply to his brother’s command.
The heavy breathing continued in Scott’s headphones, but a pain-filled response was squeezed out, “N-Not good, S-Scott. Don’t kn-know how m-much longer I can…. h-hold out. P-Please hurry.”
Damn! Scott thought as he pushed open the throttle a bit more. What is he doing back there?
Captain Hansen looked at Scott, puzzled. “What’s going on? Why the increase in speed?”
“My man back there is in bad shape. I’ve got to get us to London Airport as quickly as possible,” Scott explained. “I don’t know what he’s done to keep us airborne, but it’s costing him.”
Virgil’s voice broke in. “Scott, you’re slowly losing altitude. It’s not a constant loss; you’ll lose a bit, and then come back up again. What’s going on?”
“Gordon’s in trouble, that’s what!” Scott nearly snarled back at Virgil. “Whatever he’s doing, it seems to be wearing him out.” He turned again to Hansen. “ETA?”
“Four minutes to London Airport. I’ll get us prepped for landing.” Hansen replied, his face set in a determined mask. I’ll do whatever I can to help that poor guy in the wing.
“Alan? What news from London air control?” Scott asked.
Alan replied from his perch in Thunderbird Five, “They’re ready for you. Make your approach on twenty-nine left.”
“FAB,” Scott responded. He motioned to Hansen. “It’s all yours, Captain.”
“Acknowledged. Tell your man to be ready on the EPU, to let go so I can lower the flaps. On my command.” Hansen’s concentration increased as the airport became visible.
“FAB. Gordon? Do you read me?” Scott asked, his anxiety rising into his throat like bile. “Be ready to let loose the EPU on my command.” There was no immediate answer. “Gordon! Acknowledge!”
“FAB,” came a faint response. Gordon was losing his battle with the conduit; he had grayed out several times, allowing the burning conduit to separate just a bit. Long enough and far enough to cause the loss in altitude that Virgil had reported.
Each time, however, Gordon had rallied and come around. The pain from his burns helped him focus, and the fact that his ordeal was nearly over made him determined to see the job through to the very end.
Captain Hansen made his final approach to the indicated runway. He didn’t see the trickle of smoke that streamed out from the underside of his right wing. He couldn’t hear the air traffic controllers giving him instructions; those came from Scott beside him, relayed by Alan in orbit above the Earth. He narrowed his focus, watched his altimeter, and prepared the landing gear.
“Cut EPU power… NOW!” Hansen shouted.
“Gordon, cut EPU now!” Scott relayed.
Gordon gave a final shudder and released the ends of the severed cable, pushing them away. Then he crumpled to the floor and let the darkness take him.
Fireflash made a less than perfect landing at London Airport. Less than perfect, but still one that kept the aircraft and its crew in one piece. Fire equipment raced across the tarmac to converge on the huge plane. Almost forgotten in the hullabaloo, Thunderbird Two landed next to the damaged craft.
“Gordon! You still with me?” Scott radioed. Nothing but silence greeted him this time and his blood ran cold as the worst case scenario presented itself to his mind’s eye; his copper-haired brother lying, dead or dying, on the floor of the wing. Or worse yet, nowhere to be found, having fallen from the wing through the open hatch to his death along their approach. He shivered and began to hurriedly extricate himself from the safety straps.
“Scott! How are we going to get Gordon out of there?” Virgil demanded to know as he shut down the systems on his ‘Bird, pulling on his heat resistant suit, preparing to help his younger brother.
“Virge, you be ready to move in and pull him out. I’ll get you some help.” Scott replied, pushing his fears back. He realized that Virgil would be able to get to Gordon faster than he could. “Alan, have London Control’s fire equipment back off a bit. All but one ladder truck. Virgil, you meet up with that ladder truck and use it to climb in and help Gordon out of the wing. I’ll join you as soon as I can get there. And hurry; I’m getting no response to my calls.”
“FAB!” Virgil shouted as he made his way out of the cockpit, and over to the lift that would take him to the pod. He grabbed an oxygen mask for himself, fitting it to his face, remembering that Gordon had a similar mask with him that he could use. Then Virgil raised the body of his beloved machine out of the way, and, opening the pod’s small access door, sprinted across the runway towards the smoking Fireflash wing. The fire trucks were backing up, pulling away from the wing, making room for the one ladder truck. As he ran, he watched the ladder rise into the air and extend into the compartment’s opening. Too slow! Virgil thought, though it really wasn’t, because by the time he had reached the truck, the ladder was in place.
With a cursory nod to the fire chief, he climbed, followed by two firemen wearing similar fire-resistant gear and carrying a stretcher basket. The smoke filling the interior was light, mainly coming from the still burning wiring, which called to Virgil like a beacon. He made his way over to it, not caring what he kicked, not caring where he stumbled and tripped, his focus on only one thing: finding Gordon.
The blue clad figure was sprawled across the tiny bit of flooring behind the EPU conduit. Virgil’s heart was in his throat as he reached out to find a pulse, and it settled back down into his chest when it was evident that Gordon’s heart still beat and that his chest still rose and fell, even shuddering with a cough now and again. Virgil moved the oxygen mask back over his brother’s nose and mouth, making sure that it was functioning properly, and then he made room for the stretcher.
“Scott, Alan, I have him. He’s unconscious, he’s got a pulse, thin but steady, and he’s breathing shallowly. I figure he’s gotten a lung full of smoke back here.” It was then that Virgil got a look at Gordon’s hands. He drew in a hissing breath.
“What’s wrong, Virge?” asked Alan, his relieved voice sounding almost cheerful.
“Alan? It’s his hands. Have base get onto a burn specialist here in London. I don’t think that our medic will be able to treat the burns he’s sustained.” Virgil reported.
Alan’s usually fair face went pale, but no one saw it. “FAB, Virgil. I’ll get… base to make arrangements.”
Back at the island that International Rescue called home and base, Jeff got regular updates from Alan in Thunderbird Five on the progress of the rescue. He was angered that the damage to the Fireflash was due to a saboteur and thrilled that this fourth son had found a way to reverse some of the sabotage and help the Fireflash limp home. He was proud of the way Scott and Captain Hansen brought the huge plane in for a safe landing. But now he was waiting for news about Gordon, news on his well-being. How long will this take? How long until Virgil pulls him out? he asked himself as he paced the floor.
“Base from Thunderbird Five,” Alan’s face was paler than normal and Jeff picked up on it right away. He stopped his pacing and made his way over to the desk. John, his other astronaut son, joined him there. They both stared at Alan’s picture.
“Thunderbird Five from base. Go ahead, Alan.” Nowhere in the Tracy patriarch’s voice could indecision or wavering be heard. He was counting on his sons to bring this whole matter to a successful conclusion and to come home in one piece.
“I have an update on Gordon.” Alan began. He took a deep breath, and Jeff’s chest constricted. It could not be good news.
“He’s unconscious, his pulse is steady though weak, and he’s gotten a lung full of smoke. But, Dad…. his hands…. they’re badly burned. Virgil doesn’t think Brains can treat them properly and is asking you to set up a burn specialist here in London.”
Jeff sat down heavily and closed his eyes. His thoughts whirled around in his head. Burned? His hands, burned? How bad was it? What would this mean for him? Would he be crippled? Jeff forced his spinning mind to a standstill. He opened his eyes.
“I’ll get on it right away, son. Charing Cross Hospital will do, I think. I’ll have a floor cleared and get Penny to contact the best burn specialist in the city. John?” He turned to his third son, who had gone as pale as his youngest brother. “John. Contact Penelope right away. I’ll speak with her as soon as I’m finished with Alan.”
John nodded, and flicked a switch to open communications with their beautiful London agent, Lady Penelope Creighton-Ward. He went over to stand in front of her portrait and greeted her as her own, live face replaced the picture that didn’t do her justice.
“Alan. Tell Virgil to ride with Gordon to the hospital. The security at the airport is tight and we might as well keep the Thunderbirds there for now. Scott is to pull the radio equipment from Fireflash and stay with the Thunderbirds until I give him other instructions. I’m on the hospital right now. Update me on the situation if anything new occurs, Alan.”
“FAB, Father.” Alan’s color had improved, buoyed by the decisive nature of his father’s orders. “Thunderbird Five, out.”
Jeff moved over to Penelope’s picture. The aristocrat looked Jeff with affection and compassion
“John has given me all of the particulars, Jeff. I will find Dr. Terrence Abernathy. He is the premier burns specialist in London and he has practicing privileges at Charing Cross. I have already informed the hospital of the nature of this emergency and they vow to do everything they can to keep Gordon’s hospitalization very hush-hush.” Penelope explained.
“Thank you, Penny. Excellent work. I knew I could count on you.” Jeff gave her a small smile. “I’ll follow up with the hospital, and then John and I will be flying out your way.” John looked over at his father, a pleased look on his face. “Scott and Virgil will join us once they get the Thunderbirds back home.”
“I will have the guest rooms waiting for you.” Penelope promised. “I pray that Gordon’s hands will be repairable.”
“Me, too, Penny. Me, too,” wished Jeff softly. “International Rescue base, out.” Jeff turned to John. “Prep Tracy One, son. I’ll collect your grandmother. We’re going to England.”
Virgil sat on the edge of his seat in the ambulance, just watching as the paramedics worked on his younger brother. Since the hands were the part affected, an IV had to be put elsewhere and the emergency medics opted for Gordon’s elbow, cutting away the flight suit to expose the arm. They slathered each hand with a burn gel to ease the pain and keep the skin moist. They had replaced Gordon’s flight mask with a medical oxygen mask, and were pumping his brother’s lungs full of life-giving air.
“His pulse has stabilized, it’s now strong and steady,” one medic said to Virgil. “His breathing isn’t what I’d like to see quite yet, but that is most likely due to the smoke inhalation. The doctors may want to put him in a hyperbaric chamber to treat it.”
Virgil nodded. He knew that Gordon and hyperbaric chambers were old friends, at least until Brains had developed that anti-bends pill for Gordon’s use.
A low moan sounding from behind the oxygen mask captured everyone’s attention. Gordon’s eyelids slid up a fraction, exposing his light, amber- brown eyes. He looked around wildly for a moment at his unfamiliar surroundings until he found the familiar; Virgil’s worried face. His tensed body relaxed.
“D-Did we make it?” he asked, his voice harsh and nearly as soft as a whisper.
“You’re here, aren’t you?” Virgil responded with a jocular tone, smiling. “Of course you made it. What were you doing back there, anyway?”
“Held the EPU wires together manually,” Gordon replied, his voice steadier.
“Whew! No wonder you’ve got such burns!” Virgil exclaimed.
Gordon raised his hands to where he could see them and frowned. Oh no, open mouth, insert foot! Virgil realised in a hurry.
“Don’t worry, Gords. Base has the best burn specialist in the city waiting for us at the hospital. Your hands will be back to normal in no time,” Virgil assured him. Gordon gave him a long, piercing look. Virgil gazed back, hope and resolution in his face. Finally, Gordon nodded and closed his eyes again.
“Hey, Gordon! What was it like, getting that EPU working again?” Virgil asked, his curiosity piqued. Gordon, eyes still closed, smiled a small smile.
“Just like fixing a fuse, Virge. Just like fixing a fuse.”