Reflections

Prologue

He’d changed his routine in the last couple of weeks since returning. It used to be that he would wake, and immediately check the controls, the systems, and only then would he think about getting  showered and dressed. But no longer. Breakfast was his first priority now. The griping,  clenching hunger pangs that wracked his body could not be staved off until later.
There was no one around, no one to notice or care that he walked naked from his bed to the small functional kitchen where he grabbed a pack out of the freezer, and shoved it almost carelessly into the microwave. It was just a moment’s work to set the controls to first defrost and then warm the contents. He didn’t bother sitting down, didn’t bother with the niceties of mugs or bowls or other assorted  items. Staring out of the huge window he calmed his growling stomach as quickly as possible, then, satiated, at least for the time being, headed, with some reluctance, for the small bathroom.

Another change. The  shower first now, instead of shaving or cleaning his teeth.  He turned on the water, and stepped under immediately. Powerful  and hot, the jets washed away the dried sweat of his nightmares, his  dreams, his desperate  need. He stood there, under the stinging spray, thankful that there was no need to conserve water and thoughtfully, reluctantly, soaped his hair, his face, his body, aware of the differences, the …….alterations.
And as he stood there, feet splayed to stop him slipping, streams of water pouring  down his muscular, firm torso and briefly pooling in the base of the shower before draining away to be recycled, re-used, he thought back to when it all happened, reflecting on the events that………… he shuddered, before tilting his head back to let water cascade over his closed eyes, his face, his bare skin.
Chapter 1
The call had come in early that particular evening. It was the first time he had been home for some months now. He had spent so many hours staring down at Earth from his control room that it still seemed a dream to actually  be here, to be  sitting beside the pool in the sunshine, feeling the warmth soak deeply  into his body, the sunlight tanning his skin to a healthier glow than its usual pallid whiteness.  And it was good, so good to hear voices, real voices, not merely radio and satellite transmissions with their echoing background and hiss of static.
He sat there quietly, not joining in, but not being apart either. Revelling in being home,  being part of the family, sharing a meal, the simple pleasure of a touch, a hand on his shoulder, a hug, his father’s fingers  ruffling his hair. He had not wanted to admit it, but he had been desperately lonely  and unhappy for a few weeks now.
He had felt ashamed of his weakness, of his seeming  inability to cope with the  isolation of the post. But there was no-one else to do the job, was there? At least no-one who was willing to do the long duties that he seemed to end up doing. So, he was determined to enjoy every last moment of this all-too- short furlough, every last drop of companionship, of laughter, of love. He closed his eyes and enjoyed the sensations, the cool breeze on his hot skin, the sound of the distant waves, laughter, the faintest tantalising smell of a warm chocolate cake. His favourite. Made specially for him, he suspected, by Grandma. Hopefully with fudge icing.
His mouth began to water in anticipation. If he was lucky, he might be able to persuade her to let him have a slice, thick and warm and moist, before the meal tonight, well, the barbeque tonight. The annual Tracy  Hallowe’en barbeque. All Hallow’s Eve on Tracy Island. Well, they didn’t get any Trick or Treat pranksters knocking on the door,  but  the family still made an effort to celebrate, and it was  a long time, too long, since he had been home for the holiday. The usual barbeque, followed by  one of Grandma’s cakes, chocolate fudge cake this year, and he grinned to himself. Then there would be the usual  silly childish games, and finally the  ghost stories, told around a campfire on the beach. The formula hadn’t changed for years. And he smiled contentedly,  anticipating the simple pleasure of sharing a meal with his brothers, of long inconsequential conversations about irrelevant topics, of stripping off and swimming in the warm sea, diving through the foaming waves. All the down-to-earth pleasures he had been denied for so long.
Then the call came in from Alan in Thunderbird Five. A caver. Trapped in an underground system. Not in danger, but trapped and needing rescue. So, that meant  Thunderbird Two  and the Mole. And he was needed as well. It was so good to be needed, to be involved, to be part of the team.
What a fool he had been, he laughed mirthlessly to himself, thinking back as the water drenched his blond hair. Such an utter fool. So confident, so sure of himself, so eager.
‘No problem, Dad,’ he replied enthusiastically when Jeff asked if he would help Virgil. ‘I don’t get enough opportunities to get  involved. It’ll be a good chance  to refresh my skills. You never know,  I might even get a chance to fly Two … on the way back…!’ he clarified quickly as Virgil looked over at him with a look of horror that was only partly feigned.
Jeff grinned before carrying on, ‘So, Virgil. You okay with John as your only back-up? It doesn’t seem to be a difficult  job, just awkward. With Scott and Gordon involved in that tanker rescue, we’re going to be short-handed here for a few hours. It shouldn’t take you long to get there and from all accounts it will just be a case of drilling through to the trapped caver.’
He looked over at his two sons, not smiling now, deadly serious, needing to be reassured that they would be able to cope. Hell, he knew they were capable and more than competent, they had proved themselves enough times in the past, but Jeff Tracy hated sending his sons out without proper support.
He paused for a moment. ‘The only concern I have is that one of you will have to remain with Two to monitor the operation. It’s going to take some time to drill through the substrata and whoever goes down in the Mole  will need guidance to the quickest  path to take.’
‘That’s not a problem, Dad.’ Virgil responded with assurance and confidence. ‘John knows how to operate the Mole just as well as I do. I’ll monitor him. I’m usually the one at the thin end of the wedge so it will be a change for me. Right. Anything else we need to know?’
Jeff shook his head, knowing that, despite there being no danger of the trapped potholer drowning, the two men were keen to get started. Virgil  nodded at his brother and then headed for the chute to the immense transporter plane that was his pride and joy. John, eyes bright with enthusiasm, with pleasure at being involved at last in the action, grinned at his father.
‘Wish me luck,’ he joked as he too left the lounge. Jeff Tracy stared after them, a feeling of uncertainty, of unease in the pit of his stomach.  There had been something a little too simple about this rescue, something a little too ‘pat’, too unremarkable. Almost as if the potholer had quietly set about deliberately getting into such a position as to be stuck when the early afternoon rain turned the warren of tortuous tunnels and caves into an impassable, inundated  torrent of raging flood waters. Silly. He shook his head, watching as Thunderbird 2 lifted her massive ungainly bulk into the sky with surprising ease, before  going  to check how Scott and Gordon were faring.
Virgil leaned back in the pilot’s seat and stretched. ‘Okay John,’ he smiled, ‘you can take over for the next hour. I’m going to check on the Mole and make sure the control station is ready.’ He stood up, and gestured to his seat. ‘She’s all yours.’  And he was gone, almost before John had had a chance to say anything. The onboard computer continued to fly Thunderbird Two with its customary efficiency  and silence while the pilot’s seat was empty.
John slid into Virgil’s place, running his fingers over the wheel, the controls, even the panels, as if he had never felt them before. It had been a long time since he had flown the International Rescue workhorse transporter craft and for one fleeting moment he felt  a cold flush of doubt sweep through him, chilling his senses and making him take one long, shaking  breath. Then, training took over. He relaxed, allowing his hands to grasp the controls, not with tightness and desperation, but with an almost instinctive  delicate touch, responsive, sensitive,  his fingers exerting just the perfect amount of pressure to allow the beast of burden the freedom to react  to the air currents that lifted her up, but at the same time preventing her from misbehaving by bucking in the turbulence that also flowed around them.
He sat there, engrossed in the minutia of flying, checking dials, controls, lights and it was with a sense of shock that he realised that Virgil had returned and was standing  there watching him with a gently amused expression his face.
‘Having fun?’ his dark-haired brother asked, softly, a hint of understanding in his rich voice.
John smiled sheepishly, before admitting with a touch of reluctance, ‘Gosh I love flying  her. She’s such an ungainly looking cow of a plane, but once she’s up, there’s nothing that can touch her for sheer manoeuvrability It’s like she’s a  jet fighter. Totally capable of anything you might want her to do.’ He blushed, then pleaded, ‘Whatever you do, don’t tell Scott I said that, please, otherwise I’ll never hear the end of it.’
Virgil smiled, one hand unconsciously, gracefully,  stroking the back of the pilot’s seat in a gesture of affection. ‘Don’t worry John,’ he reassured him, ‘I won’t ever tell.’ And he patted his brother on the shoulder, with acceptance and understanding.
Chapter 2
The sun was beginning to set when they finally arrived at the site.  The grey dusk was ominous, the darkening sky heavy with  the threat of further storms. Despite the weather, they could see lights, vehicles, torches, narrow country lanes full of traffic all heading to one point.
‘What the  hell’s going on?’  Virgil muttered to himself, annoyed that word of the rescue had seemingly  got out, despite their attempts to keep the incident out of the news.
John was flicking through the computer data for the area, looking for a suitable level site to land. ‘No. It’s not us, Virgil. Remember? Tonight is October the 31st and that hill just over there  is Pendle.’ He grimaced as he realised exactly what that meant.
‘So?’
‘Come on Virgil. Don’t you know anything? Pendle Hill. As famous here as Salem is to Americans. So. Everyone is heading there hoping  to see witches and devils and ghouls. Hallowe’en. You know, the night before All Saints’ Day. The night when all malevolent beings roam the countryside doing deeds of great evil and  wickedness. Looking for their next victim. Great.’ He scowled cynically, annoyance clearly visible on his pale fine-boned face.
Virgil smirked at his brother. ‘The trouble with you  John, is that you spend too much time up in Thunderbird Five with nothing to do but  research esoteric facts like that. You really need to spend more time down on Earth.’ He looked sideways at John, at his seemingly  impassive, calm expression. John muttered to himself and turned away, staring out of the window so that his brother could not see the bleak look of sadness, of loneliness that filled his eyes.
If only, if only they knew how desperately cut off, how desperately isolated, and frighteningly lonely he felt, up there on the space station. He had managed to hide it so far, to put on a mask of competence, of assurance, knowing that any admission of need might well be seen as failure by others. It was not as if he was permanently stationed in Thunderbird Five, he did after all manage to get down to Earth every few months or so, but it was hard, hard being so remote, so separate, so apart from everything that made life worth living.
They could see the crowds sweeping up the steep hill, past the church, its floodlights showing the graveyard with toppling monuments and mould-covered gravestones casting blacker, darker shadows across the moonlit landscape. John was quiet as Virgil slowly, carefully, swung Thunderbird Two into a sweeping curve that would line her up with the chosen landing site. Well away from the crowds fortunately.  Whatever these ghouls wanted to see this night was  some distance from the designated rescue site.
On board the huge aircraft the cockpit was silent with intense concentration.   Virgil, eyes focussed on the controls, reflexes ready to lift her up and  away in a fraction of a second. But ….after a tense moment she was down, settled and John could almost hear her sigh with relief as she relaxed, let her senses finally ease now she was quiescent, stationary, waiting for the moment when she would lift herself back into the sky and live. For only then was she alive, truly alive.
 He relaxed as Virgil eased his grip on the joystick, and began to power down the craft. The vibrations slowed as she settled to sleep, her chance to rest until he wanted her again.
‘John?’ Virgil turned to his brother.
‘Hmm?’
‘The Mole. You okay to take her down?  It’s going to be a long  haul. I’m happy to go if you’d rather stay behind?’ There was silence for a long moment.
The shower continued, saturating his skin, flowing in torrents over his shoulders, down his spine, his thighs,  but nothing was powerful enough to wash away the memories, the changes, the …constant horror. If only. His empty  world was made up of  those two treacherous words.
If only he had stayed behind.
If only he had let Virgil go. If only he had ….
‘I’m fine, Virgil. Honestly. It’s just a case of drilling through the substrata and breaching the  cavern. Simple. It’s not as if the flood water is anywhere near that cavern. I can get that caver out without even getting my feet wet. Easy.’ John smiled a gentle, reassuring smile at his brother, and headed for the Pod and the Mole.
Headed, although he did not realise it, for the end. Of everything. It was as boring (and he grinned to himself as he realised the pun) as  he had expected, drilling through the hard rock. The slow minutes dragged by as he sat there, guided by Virgil’s instructions from the control centre in Thunderbird Two.
‘Okay John, a layer of sandstone ahead, you’ll need to slow down the drill until you are through. It’s about ten metres thick.’
‘F.A.B. Virgil, reducing speed now.’ There was nothing else to do on the trip apart  from follow his brother’s instructions. He thought about the last few weeks, alone up in Thunderbird Five. How quiet and empty it was, how much he missed the bustle and noise of family life, of being part of the real world.  And he determined that, on his return home, after this rescue, he would finally summon up the courage to tell his father and his brothers that he wanted to be here on Earth, here, involved with the rescues, here, part of his family instead of always being on the outside. Thunderbird Five could run on automated mode if necessary. Or someone else could do the  duty.
Give him a chance to get that  suntan….. to lie on a beach and rest in the warm sun. To sit at the table and laugh and joke with his brothers, to hug them when they returned after a difficult rescue, to simply be part of  his family. That was what he would do.
Oh, it might not go down so well, but he  had finally acknowledged that he was lonely, so terribly terribly lonely up there in space. He sighed, shook his head with relief at finally making the difficult decision, and stretched his weary stiff muscles.
The Mole drilled on. Faithfully  following his guidance, faithfully cutting its way down through the rock as John watched the dials, adjusted speeds, temperature, direction. And above him, his brother waited.
Then. The drillhead broke through. The engine slowed, the powerful machine shuddered to stillness. John shuddered as well, the sudden immobility unwelcome after the noise and vibrations of the past hours. It took him a moment or two to readjust his senses, his being, to the calm of being stationary.
Quick and effficient, he equipped himself with the necessary items; head torch, radio, ropes, all the accoutrements he might need. He slipped out of the exit  and, using the thermal imager, headed out  into the huge, dark cavern. Strange. He could not locate anyone. No thermal image. Surely the caver wasn’t dead? Even so,  the body would still retain sufficient heat to register on the imager.
He called out. ‘International Rescue here. Where are you? Can you hear me? Tell me where you are.’ Just three words. That was all it took. Three words that changed his life for ever.
The words  came from directly behind him, from  a soft dark voice, husky, rich with sultry overtones. Startled, he jerked around and found himself face to face with……. He didn’t remember too much after that. The eyes, her eyes, her dark smooth skin, her thick mane of hair.   Oh, he remembered those. And  her mouth, her lips, as she reached for him, her hands pulling his unresisting body closer, closer, until…….
He awoke later. How much later he had no idea. Gradually he became aware that he was naked, and there was a hand smoothly and tantalisingly tracing intricate patterns on his chest before wandering idly down his body to  stroke his abdomen, his thighs, his groin. He held his breath tightly as the fingers explored him, gently caressing soft flesh, moving delicately, tauntingly, over skin that had not felt a woman’s touch for more months than he cared to recollect. Sharp nails scratched enticingly, and his body responded to her touch, to her presence, to her fragrance.
Mindlessly, hungrily, he reached for her, his strong hands pulling her soft yielding  body closer to him, his lips searching for hers, his tongue forcing itself against her mouth and  between lips that tasted of blood… blood and salt. He nearly pulled away, but she responded eagerly, beguiling his senses, his reactions and he forgot everything except his overwhelming desire as her tongue met his, as her hands, such cool hands he thought irrationally, her hands clenched on his flesh. But even as he reached for her, plundered her mouth with his tongue, his lips, there was a tiny  part of his mind that screamed in terror and fought vainly against the flood of irrational, overwhelming desire that filled his mind, his body. Savagely he crushed the traitorous thought back to the deepest recesses of his consciousness and freed his lust to revel in her. Totally.
Slowly, tantalisingly, he leaned over her, nibbling her breasts, her dark raised nipples until he heard her groan with delight, with longing, but he was not finished. Slowly, so very very slowly, he moved down her body, nuzzling, licking, biting with tiny nips, his fingers reaching for her, bringing her to full arousal.
And he was lost. Lost in the darkness, in the passion, in the overpowering need for her.
Time passed, a minute, an hour, an age. An eternity. He had no idea how long. Eventually, reluctantly, his senses returned and he could feel her next to him, her body pressed against his, her hands caressing him, warm breath on his chest, her head heavy on his shoulder. And treasonably, it felt ….. right. Perfect.  As if his whole life had been  spent waiting for this day, this moment. She stirred,  long thick hair tickling his face, his bare skin, and as he lifted his head to look at her, he realised with a sudden returning sense of dread that he could see perfectly. In the darkness. The bare cavern floor beneath his skin, and he was not cold. In fact he could feel …nothing. Just a hunger, a terrible, gnawing hunger. For her.  And….for blood.
He pushed her away, hearing her unresisting body thud against the rough cavern floor. ‘What have you done?’ His voice was harsh, strained, desperate. He wrapped his arms around his gut in a futile  attempt to ease the vicious pangs.
Laughter, cold cynical laughter,  filled the cavern. ‘Done?’  She lay back on the floor of the cavern, her hair strewn around her pale face like a dark halo on the white limestone bedrock. ‘I’ve made you mine. That’s what I’ve done. Every  Hallowe’en  I need to  find myself a new ….. partner. Someone to share my world down here. To provide me with what I need.’  She paused and smiled lasciviously up at him, ‘Unfortunately, I was trapped by the flood waters, otherwise I would have been out on the hill above seeking fresh blood, fresh lives. But,  International Rescue were so helpful. So very helpful. And now..’ she paused again and he saw her tongue lick her lips, blood stained lips, his blood on them.
He wrenched away from her, away from the cold, seductive body lying there. She laughed again and the sound chilled him more than anything he had ever heard, ever experienced, and then she reached out for him, ‘Too late for thoughts of escape. You are mine. And now…….’ She half-closed her eyes and leaned towards him as if to offer herself to him once more. Horrified he shuffled backwards, out of her reach. She did not follow, merely watched him, her dark eyes playing over his body appreciatively, her back arching gently with her returning desire.
He turned the water off. Stood there letting the last drops trail down his face, watching the swirl of water drain away, before he stepped out. Picking up a hand towel he rubbed his hair vigorously, too vigorously, as if he wanted to do more than merely rub it dry, as if he wanted to erase more than water from his body. The small bathroom was thick with steam, the ceiling hidden above a thick cloud of steam, the large mirrors over the basins opaque behind condensation. Good. He had no wish to see in the mirrors, to see what had been done to him. He could feel it.  Could feel the increased muscles, the stronger tendons, the strength that now emanated from his changed body. And  he had learned over the past weeks not to touch the  scars on his neck, those two small raised lumps. But he could not bear to look into the mirrors. Ever. So it was with a sense of relief that he left the bathroom, head turned to avoid looking into the blurred reflecting surface.
‘Now?’ his voice was so faint now that he could hardly hear himself speak. He swallowed, painfully,  his throat dry and rough.
‘Oh, now?’ she laughed lightly, carelessly, easily. ‘Now, Thunderbird pilot, you will remain here with me. You have no other choice. You have tasted my blood and I have feasted off yours, feasted deeply, deliciously. Now you are a creature of the night, and you cannot return to the world of sunshine, of light. Let me assure you. The slightest touch of sunlight on your body will be enough to cause you such pure agony that you will never set foot outside this cavern again. This will be your home and you will serve me. Like the others. Until you are no longer of any use.’ She waved a hand carelessly, negligently, and he followed her gesture.
‘Oh god,’ and  bending over he vomited, retching with sheer revulsion and horror. How had he not seen them? How had he missed the desiccated corpses that  were strewn around the cavern, thin and stick-like as if mummified. Faces contorted in agony, limbs twisted in the last writhing attempts to survive. And that was what she had planned for him. A long drawn out death. He would spend the last months of his life providing her with the two things she desired. Blood and .. his mind blanked out the nightmare thought of what he had done with her, the feel of her skin, her hair………. Her body entwined with his. A succubus, a vampire, a demon. Whatever. It didn’t really matter what she was. Not now.
She had enslaved him, had trapped him. Condemned him to a life of darkness, down here away from the sun.  There was no escape. Or was there?
Chapter 3
Virgil had tried in vain to contact John. He had, for one split second, considered  going down the tunnel that the Mole had left behind, but he dismissed the thought immediately. It was too dangerous. The must be a reason for John’s silence, a reason that contact had been lost. He just had to be patient. And hope that any moment now the Mole would reappear in clouds of dirt and dust and grit. It had been hours now.
Long long hours of silence, of waiting. He stood, looking down at the hole as if his very stare could somehow drag the Mole back up to the surface, could bring his brother back to him. He could do nothing until more help arrived. And that would take time. Maybe too much time.
And then. The slightest vibration, the most delicate shuddering of the earth beneath his feet. He knelt, placing his hands firmly on the grass. Surely… he lay down, one ear pressed to the earth. And he breathed a sigh of utter relief. She was on her way back. That sound was unmistakeable. The Mole. And John would be controlling her. Had to be controlling her.
Standing, he dusted off his hands and stepped back, well away from the exit hole. And so Virgil  waited, relief flooding through his whole body. Noisily, slowly, the huge machine emerged, to slide up her cradle, and lock into place. Then, still with no radio contact, no explanation, the tractors began to move and the Mole headed for Thunderbird Two and the open Pod door.
Virgil headed for the flight deck, anxious and concerned. He needed to guide the Mole into place, to ensure that she was securely locked down and he needed to do that first of all. ‘John? John. Are you alright? What happened? ‘ he tried again on the internal communications system. There was silence, but he knew that the radio was working. He could hear the empty sound of an open channel when no-one was speaking. ‘John.’ Virgil’s voice was desperate. ‘I’m coming down. Stay there.’
‘No. Don’t. Please.’ John had never sounded so afraid, so desperately desperately afraid, alone, lost.
‘Stay there John, I’m on…….’
There was a snarl of anger. A ragged, raw, animal sound, that tore at Virgil’s nerves and senses and left him shaking with unsurpassed terror. ‘No. you will not come down here Virgil. You will do exactly as I tell you.’ John’s voice was barely recognisable, behind the rage and desperation.
‘John..’
‘Exactly Virgil. Or else….’ and then, in a quiet, soft, pleading voice, filled with regret, with tears,  with sadness,  John Tracy told his brother precisely what had happened and what had to be done. There was nothing else Virgil could do. Iin silence he flew Thunderbird Two home, supervised the unloading of the Mole in the darkened hangar bay,  watched, tears streaming down his face as his beloved brother, protected from the murderous rays of brilliant sunlight by a visored spacesuit, clambered into Thunderbird Three for his final journey. The journey that would take him away from everything he loved and lived for.
Thunderbird Five would protect John. Would provide him with a… life.. no not a life,  an existence, that was all. In a permanent orbit on the dark side of the Earth, John would survive. And would be able to continue to help International Rescue. In all probability he would never return to Earth again. Would never feel his brothers’ arms around him again, or the touch of a woman, the caress of the sea, the taste of chocolate cake, the smell of a small bonfire on the beach. But he could have a life. Here on Thunderbird Five. If this could be called life.
He knew that the overwhelming desire for the taste of blood and for her, would rule his future existence, would dictate his every thought, fill his mind and body endlessly, but there was no other way. No other path he could follow. A bitter end.
Epilogue
He looked down at his altered body, the changes wrought in him by his admittance to her world. The strength, the power, the ….and  he could feel them as he licked his lips in  hunger, desperate for more blood, those  two sharp and  extended canine teeth that would  forever marked him as a vampire, a demon, a succubus. And he recalled, as he passed the mirror that betrayed him, the mirror that showed no reflection, however long he stood there, he recalled those three words that she first spoke in the darkness, in the cavern before his life ended.
‘Trick or Treat?’
 LtCdr Oct 2010

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