Gentle waves washed the silver sand clear of footprints, and in the house on the cliff above only one light remained as Jeff Tracy finished his work. He put his empty mug down on the desk, heedless of the coffee ring on the once polished surface, and went over to the piano, stroking one hand over the dull and sticky surface. The keys were dusty and he pressed a few of them, just to hear the sound once more.
It was a mistake. The notes jarred, off key and grating. There was no point in getting the piano tuned, nobody had played it for years. Nobody painted or swam in the pool or played basketball. He could not remember the last time he’d seen any of the boys relaxing or laughing.
But tonight, if he could pull off this next rescue – the most difficult one ever attempted – they might have a future. All of them.
He looked at his watch. Three hours to lift-off. It would be sensible to get some rest but instead of going to his bedroom and hiding behind a locked door, he went outside to lean on the railings and watch the moon as she travelled over the ocean.
It would never be the same again. But perhaps that was for the best.
Silence fell, and behind him in the dark quiet of the house, the island’s inhabitants slept.
The hours slipped by, nothing disturbing the peace as Jeff stood there, running though the plans in his mind and wondering if he had miscalculated. It was going to be dangerous. They might lose everything, but it was the only option now.
His watch buzzed. Time. He stayed where he was – no need to rush, the boys would be here soon enough. And then they would begin their greatest challenge.
Throughout the complex, sleeping men woke in dark bedrooms, pushing back covers and easing themselves up, sitting on the edges of beds, fumbling for clothes laid out in preparation for this moment. No sounds, nothing to disturb the deep quiet of the house. Doors opened, and with infinite care they made their way along unlit passages; heading for the heart of the building. Still no words spoken, no noise apart from the soft pad of footsteps, the rustle of material in the darkness. They entered the lounge in silence and, one by one they moved to their appointed places, each knowing what was needed.
Success. The first part of the mission accomplished.
‘Okay.’ Jeff’s murmur broke the silence. ‘Final instructions. Ready boys?’
There was no answer, and indeed he did not expect any reply. There had not been much opportunity to discuss the mission or plan each man’s role. Secrecy was paramount. The slightest whisper of what they were attempting to do would have meant disaster. But they were here, together, and it was time for action.
‘Right. Scott?’ Jeff nodded towards his eldest son, standing behind the sofa, moonlight casting shadows on the once handsome face now drawn with exhaustion and stress. ‘You take punctuation and paragraphing. You’ve proved yourself enough times out in the field. We have to get this right, or the consequences are too terrible to contemplate. Virgil?’
Virgil twisted round on the piano stool where his fingers had been stroking the dusty keys. A last caress. ‘Yes Father.’
‘Verb tenses, spellings and typos. Yes. I know.’ Jeff held his hand up as Virgil began to speak. ‘It’s a lot to handle. Maybe too much, but I also know how well you cope under pressure. And Alan isn’t…’ Jeff’s voice trailed away and he waved a hand in resignation.
‘Very good, father.’ Virgil grinned across at Alan. ‘Looks like I’m doing my little brother’s work for him again.’
There was no response from Alan slouched in the corner of the sofa, eyes half-closed, almost uncaring. Gordon reached out, a gentle touch on one shoulder and Alan jerked away, stifling a cry of fear.
‘Alan. It’s okay. It’s me. Gordon.’ The young aquanaut pulled his brother closer, wrapping strong arms around Alan. ‘You’re safe. We won’t let them hurt you anymore.’ There was a muffled sob as Alan buried his head against Gordon’s shoulder. ‘What do you want me to do, Father?’
‘Looking after Alan is your real mission tonight. But I’d like you to watch out for adverbs and pleonasms if possible. That’s all.’
‘I’ll do my best, but….’
‘It’s not that important. Just keep an eye out until this is over. One or two won’t matter but I don’t want a flood of them. We need to do this carefully, or we won’t succeed.’
‘Adverb there…. carefully.’
‘Thanks. I‘ll try to be more careful. John?’
‘You take unaccredited speech.’
‘Like the last nine lines?’
‘Yes.’ Jeff said. ‘Exactly.’
‘Is that an adverb?’ Gordon turned to Virgil.
‘Yes, Virgil replied, ‘but it’s a sentence substitute – I think – so it doesn’t count.’
Jeff ignored the interruption and continued. ‘Okay boys, are we ready?’
There was a movement on the sofa as Alan sat up, blowing his nose furtively. (Adverb! Gordon called out in a quiet voice.) ‘What do eye do Farther?’
Virgil opened his mouth two speak, but pawsed four a moment, frowning. ‘Hang on a minute, Dad. Eye’ve noticed an increase in the number of homophones inn the last few minutes. They seam to bee increasing as wee torc.’
‘Dam.’ Geoff looked at his watch. ‘Scott. Cheque the doors. One must have bean left open. We knead too cloze it, quickly.’
They weighted, there hearts thumping, knot daring to say a word. Their was a soft thump from Alan’s room and Scott returned, nodding. ‘Alan’s door. Not your fault, bro. It was always difficult to keep shut.’ He straightened up. ‘I made sure it wouldn’t open again so easily.’ He grinned and held out a small, squashed tube. ‘Superglued it.’
‘Shh.’ Virgil held up a hand. ‘Can you hear that? They’re gone. All of them. Not a homophone in sight.’ He sighed. ‘Thanks, Scott.’
Jeff turned back to look at his youngest son. The once thick blonde hair was now lank and thin, flakes of dandruff speckling Alan’s shoulders. His blue eyes were dulled with fear and remembered pain and his body language that of a man who had been through too much. Torture, multiple kidnappings, amnesia. Every disease imaginable. The worst that writers could invent and all of it focused on Alan. It was a wonder that he could still breathe, let alone go out on missions.
‘Alan.’ It was tempting to leave Alan out of it, to give him no responsibility, but that would have been cruel. ‘Are you up to eliminating Mary Sues?’ Not that there was much chance of anyone getting rid of the dreaded Mary Sues for ever. They had a tendency to lurk in dark corners until they found a suitable story to infect. But it would give Alan some sense of being needed.
There was a soft and exhausted chuckle. ‘Sure Dad. Bring them on. More the merrier.’
‘That’s it then.’ Jeff stood up and looked at his sons. ‘Whatever happens in the next few paragraphs, boys, I’m proud of you.’
‘Just a moment, Scott. John?’
‘Sir?’ John said. He leaned closer to the monitor as if that could decrease the distance between Thunderbird Five and Tracy Island.
‘Just to let you know, one or two lines of unaccredited dialogue are fine.’ Jeff winked at his son who had been about to interject. ‘It’s going to be tough on you most of all, John. If this fails, then we stand to lose everything, including our freedom and there’ll be nothing you can do.’
John nodded. ‘I’ll be monitoring you though. I might be able to warn you if things start going wrong. If the latest arrivals wake up for example.’
‘The Computer Generated Imposters?’ Jeff shuddered. ‘That’s the last thing we need right now; a bunch of adolescent, hormonal teenagers running riot without a father to guide things. But don’t worry about them, they’re in a different dimension. Not really much to do with us apart from their names and so on.’
‘Father?’ Scott said, folding his arms, a touch of irritation in his voice.
‘Go on Scott. You were about to ask me something?’
The pilot of Thunderbird One shrugged his shoulders. ‘Just wondered whether you’re going to allocate abbreviations to anyone? You know…’ He blushed.
‘Ickle Scotty doesn’t like them?’ Virgil stifled a snort of laughter.
‘Don’t even go there Virg.’ Scott frowned at the other man. ‘It’s bad enough for me, but…’ He waved a hand at Gordon.
‘Gordy? Oh yes.’ Gordon pretended to vomit. ‘When was I ever Gordy? It makes me sound like some spotty love-struck teenager, all acne and raging hormones’
‘Hang on a second,’ Scott leaned forward. ‘Missing a full stop there.’
‘Thanks, Scotty,’ Gordon said, avoiding the playful punch aimed at his head and waving a hand at Alan. ‘At least Alan doesn’t get abbreviated.’
‘No.’ Alan slumped down on the sofa again. ‘I just get whumped.’ He groaned. ‘I don’t know which is worse, whumping or….’ he shuddered, ‘…them.’
The silence said it all. Them. The ones who had infiltrated Tracy Island over the past years. The sisters, daughters, cousins, wives, nieces, long lost twins. God, how many twins. At least there hadn’t been any sextuplets. Yet. And what was even worse than the twins and sisters and wives were the hordes of mis-placed Mary Sues whose presence on the island had reduced the family to a mediocre pastiche of their former selves. A parody of a once powerful force, scorned and derided by many and yet still respected by those who had known and loved them for over half a century.
Now the Tracy family were fighting back. No more Alan whumping, no more self-insert Mary Sues.
No more. Enough. (‘Err… isn’t that a pleonasm?’ Gordon muttered under his breath.)
‘Alan?’ Virgil leaned over his brother. ‘Sure you’re up to this? It’s going to be pretty stressful you know.’
‘Stressful? It’s just another rescue isn’t it?’ Alan managed a thin smile. ‘I can cope with a mission, especially one as important as this.’ He pushed himself up to stand on shaking legs.
‘Good lad. A true Tracy.’ Scott helped Alan over to the other sofa that led down to the Thunderbird Three hangar. ‘Now, you and Gordy here –‘
‘Scott.’ Jeff gave a warning look.
‘Sorry Father. Force of habit I suppose.’
‘Well break it. We have enough problems as it is.’ Jeff looked around the lounge. ‘Time to say goodbye boys. Don’t want to keep Brains and everyone else waiting and we need to be out of here before any of ‘them’ wake up.’
There was a long moment of silence. Each man looked around the room, seeing it as if for the very first time. Signs of the invaders everywhere: floral wallpaper, frilled chintz covers and embroidered cushions on the sofas, the Saturn Five rocket replaced by a cheap print of huge-eyed kittens playing with a ball of pink wool, air fresheners dispensing puffs of delicate ladylike perfumes in all corners, even the portraits behind Jeff’s desk supplanted by tasteful photographs of ‘them’. All of them. Rows and rows of women, children, babies. All intruders in this once male-dominated world.
‘Ready?’ Jeff gave a sad sigh. ‘I’m going to miss this place, but we can build a new one. We have to. Which reminds me. Virgil? You have the video? The one from Blue Peter? How to build a Tracy Island?’
‘Safe and sound father.’ Virgil patted his pocket. ‘Wouldn’t do to forget that would it? But, I shall miss this place as well. It was good growing up here.’ He rubbed his eyes for a moment. ‘Dust in my eyes.’ No one said anything, but Scott and Gordon blinked several times and Alan wiped one hand across his face, swallowing and saying nothing; unspoken words too painful.
‘Off with you all. Virgil? I’ll be along in a minute.’ Jeff watched as the sofa with Gordon and Alan descended to Thunderbird Three. Virgil leaned back against the unspeakable print of kittens and disappeared. Scott gripped the lights on the far wall and spun out of sight.
One last task. Jeff set in motion the countdown that would wipe all the data from the systems and reduce the computers to mere adding machines. Within a few hours Tracy Island would be nothing more than a dormant volcanic island, populated by hordes of women. Angry women.
International Rescue would survive though. Somewhere new, somewhere safe. The most important rescue mission he had ever planned was about to get underway. The rescue of his family.
‘Goodbye. And, thanks for everything.’ Jeff gave a final salute to the now defunct control centre behind his desk before he headed for the passenger lift, and freedom.
Thunderbirds (and Lightcudder) were……
(creeps away to hide)
‘Serious’ Author Note:
I thought long and hard whether to post this story. It’s a nonsensical piece of fluff which I intended posting earlier, but then it seemed appropriate to have it as my final TB fanfic. Looking back at my very first story I cringe with embarrassment, and to be honest, the later ones weren’t much better! But I had fun writing them, which is the main thing.
Maybe one day I will be able to revisit Tracy Island. I hope so. Thank you for all your kind words and reviews. Cheers, Ltcdr.