“Mole to Thunderbird Two. I am returning to the surface,” Gordon called to Virgil. His voice was weary; this had been a long and labor intensive rescue. Saboteurs had tried to blow up an experimental biosphere that the World Space Agency was using to simulate conditions on Mars prior to establishing a scientific station there. The explosion failed to damage the outer containment dome, and the surface structures were still intact, but the web of tunnels beneath the surface had suffered. Several had collapsed, trapping scientists in small pockets of air in different locations.
Scott used the thermal imager in Thunderbird One to pinpoint those small pockets, while Virgil and John in the Excavator, and Gordon and Alan in the Mole, dug out the scientists. Gordon was surprised that there weren’t more fatalities.
He removed his hard hat and scratched his scalp again. An early morning call to Brains in Thunderbird Five had been fruitful; the scientist told him where a supply of the dye counteragent was hidden in the lab. Gordon winced a bit when he realized that, because of his pranks, the engineer felt he had to keep some on hand… just in case.
Another shower with the counteragent faded the puce down to a walnut brown, and he managed to get his eyebrows to match. He remembered vividly the bright orange that his little prank with the dye had left Alan’s hair, an orange that took weeks to fade.
At least my hair looks a natural color this way, he mused, as he scratched his itchy scalp. Some freckles and Alan would have looked like that old puppet, Howdy Doody!
The dye incident might have put some strain on his work with Alan in the Mole, but Gordon was as serious in his work for IR as he was striving to be outside of it, and the strain never materialized. He did notice the sideways glances that Alan had favored him with as they flew to the Danger Zone, but he had ignored them.
He finished securing the Mole in the pod, and headed up to the flight deck.
“Ready to go?” Virgil asked his passengers.
“F-A-B,” replied John, settling into his seat. He had been upbeat all day as he worked on the rescue with his brothers.
“Sure was strange to hear Brains up in Thunderbird Five,” Alan commented. “I know he tried to keep his stutter to a minimum, but the more excited he got…”
“Makes you appreciate John’s talents up there, doesn’t it?” Gordon remarked as he settled back and closed his eyes.
“Hey!” Alan exclaimed. “John’s talents? What about mine?”
“What about yours?” Gordon riposted, happy to take at least a verbal potshot at his pestiferous brother.
When they arrived back at base, and had been debriefed by their father, Gordon went off to take a late swim. Scott watched from the balcony as his younger brother dove into the lighted waters of the pool, then turned back to the lounge.
“Well, Alan. Looks like your lack of faith in Gordon has paid off,” Jeff said with a slight smile. “Paid off for the rest of us, that is.”
“Who could have known that he’d take this resolution thing so seriously?” Alan groused.
“Don’t worry, Alan,” Virgil said with a smile. “He won’t last. He’s bound to cave soon.”
“Yes, but will he cave tomorrow?” John asked. “After all, that’s when you’ve bet he’ll drop his resolution.”
“He will. You’ll see,” Virgil said, confidently.
“Just don’t try to sabotage it,” Scott warned. “That’s not fair to the rest of us.”
“I’m not that desperate,” Virgil retorted. He rose and stretched. “Good night, all.”
The others murmured their goodnights as the group broke up. Virgil sauntered down to his room, looking as nonchalant as he could. But once the door was closed, he rubbed his hands together with satisfaction. Pulling out a covered bucket, he gazed down at the fruits of a morning’s labor.
“How are you little guys?” he cooed, picking one of the wriggling creatures from the bucket. “Ready to go to work for old Uncle Virgil? Hmm?”
The creature’s lack of response didn’t concern Virgil. He placed it gently back in the bucket among its fellows, covered the bucket once more, then, checking to see that the coast was clear, tiptoed down to Gordon’s room.
The late swim relaxed Gordon to the point that he was ready to hit the sheets as soon as he reached his room. He went straight to his bathroom, not bothering to turn on the light in his bedroom. Slinging off his Speedos and slinging on the same shorts he had worn the night before, he brushed his teeth, pulled a comb through his hair, then turned out the bathroom light and crawled into bed. He lay on his stomach, thrusting his arms beneath the pillow. The sheets seemed to be a bit sandy to him, and he made a mental note to change them in the morning.
He was just beginning to doze when he became aware of a tickling sensation on his leg, then another on his bare back. He wriggled a bit to get rid of the feeling, and felt something slide off his back and onto the bed. As his mind was processing this information, a similar ticklish feeling moved slowly across his scalp, and he came to a full wakefulness. Reaching up cautiously, he smacked his hand against the side of his head, and got a strong, sharp pinch in the web of flesh between forefinger and thumb as a result. He fumbled with his other hand to tap his touch lamp and as it came on, he looked with a stupefied gaze at something small but solid hanging onto his hand for dear life.
“Auuuggghh!” he shouted and shook his hand violently. The small creature went flying across the room to crash into the wall with a resounding crack!
Gordon flung back his covers and found more of the wee beasties crawling over his sheets, his legs, his shorts. A sharp pinch in a particularly sensitive spot made him screech again, and he reached down to yank the offending creature from inside his shorts. He jumped out of bed, nearly stepping on one of the little things that had fallen from his mattress to the floor.
Stooped over, he stumbled back into his bathroom, pulling down his shorts to assess the extent of the damage. A small cut was spreading blood all over his garment, and Gordon didn’t quite know how to treat the wound.
Can’t exactly put a Band-Aid on it! he realized. In the end, he daubed the site with an alcohol swab, eliciting a sensation that nearly made him jump out of his skin! Then he held a clean, wet washcloth to the wound until the bleeding ceased. He smeared it with a bit of anti-bacterial ointment. Cleaning and dressing the hand wound took another few minutes, then finally Gordon took the time to see exactly what kind of creature had inflicted such pain.
A hermit crab? He held the little crustacean on his hand, watching it crawl across the length of his fingers and try to continue its way down his arm. He picked it up again, and put it in the stainless steel basin. It tried hard to climb out of the sink, but couldn’t make any purchase on the smooth sides.
“I bet there’s more than one of you little fellas out there,” Gordon said to the crab. “I guess I’d better go round you all up.”
He entered his bedroom and turned on the light. Glancing at his bed, he could see at least a half dozen of the feisty creatures crawling around, spreading sand and dampness all over his sheets. He stepped on another as he crossed the room to his dresser, and ended up hopping the rest of the way as the critter gave his foot a good pinch.
Dressing quickly, he grabbed his damp towel, and began to collect the crabs, putting them in it as if it were a bag. “Seven, eight, nine, ten…” he counted under his breath as he scooped them up. Dumping them into his tub, he went back and stripped his mattress, examining the sheets carefully for any strays. Then he got down on his stomach and peered under the bed. One hermit crab came out after him, tiny pincers ready to do battle with his nose. He grabbed the fighter up and added him to the group in the tub. Then he rummaged around in his desk for a flashlight and dove back under the bed.
“Seventeen, eighteen… and the little guy from the sink is nineteen,” he muttered. “I hope there isn’t a number twenty roaming around somewhere. I’d better get a bucket and carry these guys back to the beach.”
He found a damp, sandy bucket conveniently sitting on the balcony at the head of the stairs to the pool and confiscated it to transport his battalion of bed invaders back to their natural habitat. The walk to the beach from the Villa was a long one, and could be treacherous at night, even using the packed path of ground pumice that his father had laid down for beach access. But at last he reached the white sands of the beach and selected a convenient spot in the receding tide to dump his former bed mates.
“Goodbye, little guys. It wasn’t very nice knowing you,” he said as he turned back to make the climb up to the house on the bluff. On his way up, he tried to decide which of his brothers had done this to him.
Got to be Virge. Probably a payback for the spider. But what can I do to upstage…
Gordon stopped short in thought and motion as he remembered his resolution. He slapped his thigh in frustration.
“Damn! I can’t get back at him! I just can’t break this resolution! I bet he did this knowing I wouldn’t retaliate! Just like Alan!” He huffed out a breath and his face took on a mulish expression. “Well, I’ll show him. I’ll show them all! When Gordon Tracy resolves to do something, he sticks to it!” Then he calmed a bit. “Besides, I want to show Dad that I can be serious about life.”
His decision reaffirmed, he resumed his climb, hastening back to his bedroom to finish cleaning up in the aftermath of the night’s invasion.
In the morning, Gordon came down late, yawning and scratching his still-itchy scalp. The rest of the family was already at the table and greeted him with varying degrees of enthusiasm.
He had given himself another dye solvent treatment and his hair was now a light brown, but it was getting brittle. He knew now that he had to wait for the rest of the color to either fade away or for his hair to grow the color out. Looking at his grandmother, he contemplated asking her to buzz his hair off to short stubs so the color would grow back as his natural ginger. Maybe later. We’ll see how fast it fades after today.
“Good morning, everyone. Good morning, Grandma,” he said, kissing her on the cheek.
“Why, good morning, Gordon. My, but that purple color is fading right away. But I think I like you better with your natural color and not this mousey brown,” she said as she put a plate heaped with pancakes in front of him.
“Good morning, son,” Jeff said from the head of the table where he was reading the stock reports he’d printed out from the Internet that morning. “Did you sleep well?”
“Well enough, Father,” he replied around a mouthful of pancake.
Virgil, who sat across the table from him, took a bite of his breakfast, then sipped his coffee and said smoothly, “I hear you have crabs, Gordon.”
Gordon nearly choked on his orange juice. Jeff put down his papers to frown at his aquanaut son. Eleanor looked up from where she had just sat down with her own plate of flapjacks and frowned at Virgil. Scott and John had puzzled expressions on their faces, but Alan kept his head down and continued to shovel food into his mouth.
Gordon recovered his breath. He glanced over at his father, then turned his gaze to Virgil with what could only be called a deadly expression.
“I did, but they’re gone now,” he replied.
Jeff’s eyes flicked back and forth between his sons before resting on Gordon. “Gordon, is there something I should know? Perhaps a medical issue that needs treatment?”
“Oh, no, Dad. It’s not what you think,” Gordon stammered.
“Are you sure?” Jeff asked, putting down his coffee cup and turning his full attention to the matter.
“Yes, Dad. I’m sure. There’s no problem,” Gordon assured him. At least, not any more.
“Okay, son. But if you need anything…”
“Don’t worry. I won’t.”
Virgil sat back with a slight smile. “I’m glad to hear you got rid of the problem, Gordon,” he said magnanimously.
Once breakfast was done, Alan confronted Virgil. “What the hell did you do?”
“Nothing more than you did, Alan. Just securing my bet. After what I put him through last night, there’s no way he won’t try to get back at me.”
But though Virgil looked over his shoulder all day long, the expected retribution never came. He spent much of his time checking what he was working on and with, examining his food for strange additives, even taking apart his shower head and stripping the sheets from his bed before he hit the hay. At one point during the day, Grandma grabbed him and hauled him down to help her in the laundry. His eyes grew wide at the sandy sheets and the pair of blood smeared shorts that he stuffed into the washing machine. His own groin felt very uncomfortable when he realized just where one of the crabs must have wounded his brother.
I got him but good with that crab business and that crack this morning. He had plenty of opportunity to really plaster me, but he left me alone. Maybe he’s serious about this resolution business. Nah! He can’t be. But I have a feeling that Scott’s going to win this bet. Just three more days, and Gordon’ll cave. He has to!