by Polly Amber
Thunderbirds is a Gerry Anderson production licenced by Carlton International media Limited. Other characters featured in this story are my own fictitious creations.
The Moon hung low in the sky like a glowing golden orb. It seemed to be particularly bright tonight. Jeff Tracy, Head of International Rescue remarked upon this to his eldest son Scott. There was always a kind of magical feel about a full Moon, and Jeff Tracy was one of the few men privileged to have stepped on it. Before he founded International Rescue, Jeff had been a lunarnaut.
He lived on the Moon for two months while helping to set up Moonbase Alpha. The Moonbase was to be an important staging post for explorations further afield. Having conquered the Moon, man now had his sights set upon Mars. Flights to and from the Moon were now routine. Astronauts and Lunarnauts were just people who had a job to do, and they went about their duties as anonymously as a soldier, research scientist or airline pilot. The first men to establish the Moonbase were hailed as heroes of their time. As were the first men to have walked on the Moon.
Jeff was one of those first colonists. As a young, newly-wedded man of twenty-eight, he found it hard to leave his young wife. She understood that his career was important to him, and never once voiced any negative fears. Lucille Tracy was as brave as her husband in her own quiet unselfish way. She had a promising career ahead of her as a concert pianist, but had put this on hold to raise their sons. She had loved the full Moon. Feeling that she could almost reach out and touch it brought Jeff closer to her. On those nights while Jeff was away on the Moonbase, she would tuck her young sons, Scott, Virgil and John up in their beds, and leave the curtains undrawn so that they could wave to their dad. John Tracy had been certain of his chosen profession since the age of two.
Now he joined his father and older brother, on the veranda of their villa, overlooking a calm Pacific ocean. It had been a stifling day, and John had been asleep for most of it, in preparation for his journey back to Thunderbird Five. Now the searing sun had dipped below the horizon. It was a still, warm night, with just the slightest of balmy breezes, rustling the row of palm trees that fringed the islands runway. The sea reflected ripples of moonlight. John poured himself a drink, and handed one to Scott and another to his father.
"Well here's to two more hours on terra firma, before I blast off to relieve Alan."
Jeff raised his glass towards the sky, as he indicated a star directly overhead, which seemed to be shining far brighter than any of the others.
"There's Thunderbird Five shinning away up there. I wonder if Alan's looking out on us. On a night like this he doesn't seem so far away," mused Jeff.
"Yeah, Mum used to say that to us about you, when we were kids," recalled John.
"How do you stand being up there for a whole month John. I'd go stir crazy, and I know it gets to Alan sometimes too," said Scott.
"Well, I know I can come back whenever I want. I can never be lonely when I am in constant link with the whole wide world. I have friends all over the world, and my family to talk to. On top of that I get the most amazing views. I must have looked out over the Earth more than a thousand times, but it never fails to give me a thrill."
"Yeah, I know what you mean, Son. It got to me too. I still miss those days. We were the equivalent of the old pioneers of the west, conquering and taming a hostile environment and we did it too. The Moonbase is now well established."
"But don't you find it a bit claustrophobic up there John?" asked Scott.
"Claustrophobic? No not really. Agoraphobic maybe. There's just me alone in a vast wide open space. I guess if you were pre-disposed to any kind of paranoia, it would soon get to you. But I can deal with it. I enjoy the solitude, I can study in peace. The stars never loose their fascination. There are so many new worlds just waiting to be explored. I hope that one day I will be able to set foot on Mars."
"Well I must admit that I find it all just a little scary," admitted Scott. "On the odd occasions when I have had to stay on Thunderbird Five. I felt very small and humble when faced with the vastness of the universe out there."
"Well I suppose we are small and humble compared to whoever created all of this," interjected Jeff.
"Or whatever," added John.
"Well now it looks as though you are going to get all philosophical with us John," smiled Jeff. "I'm afraid you'll have to save your theories on the creation of the universe for another time."
"Must be all those boffins you have long rambling discussions with," chided Scott. " I don't mind accompanying you and Alan in Thunderbird Three, but I'm pretty sure that within two weeks I'd be climbing the walls."
"That's because you are a man of action Scott, not to mention something of a control freak." John laughed, and just managed to duck out of the way to avoid an ice cube that Scott lobbed at him.
"The Moon is becoming a pretty busy place these days," continued Jeff. "What with all the Research Scientists, Geologists and not to mention the Chemical companies moving in."
"Yeah, it's a regular highway up there with ships going back and forth," voiced John.
"Why the sudden interest?" asked Scott
John explained, "With the discovery of an underground water supply, and the now well established Moon bases, the next logical step is to create a refuelling plant. The Moon is rich in type 3 helium - a source of rocket fuel."
"Yes," agreed Jeff. "It's generated a lot of interest. Several companies wish to set up extraction plants. There is also the titanium, there's a pretty penny to be made in that as well."
"Isn't that the stuff Brains uses as a base for his top secret metal?" asked Scott.
"He can't get enough of it," replied Jeff.
"So Brains might be tempted to establish a laboratory on the Moon one day," mused Scott.
"I'm sure he'd jump at the chance if he were not so indispensable here."
"Guess he could do a little moonlighting," quipped Gordon, who up until now had been relaxing in a garden chair. He was listening to some music with his headphones on, and was so uncharacteristically quiet, that the others had forgotten he was there. Now the music had ended, Gordon was able to catch the tail end of the conversation, and felt inclined to chip in. The others chided him in a good natured way.
"Aw, go back to sleep Gordon," laughed John.
However Gordon was determined to have his two cents worth. "But how are they going to allocate mining rights? I mean no-one actually owns the Moon do they?" He continued "So who will sanction the right to mine on it? What's to stop there being a disastrous free for all? Like the gold rush We don't want every Tom, Dick or Harry who can get their hands on a space ship to go rushing up there. It's a recipe for disaster. And guess who will be called upon if anything goes wrong?"
"Well there aren't any valuable minerals like gold or silver. So it won't be like the Klondike up there, but I can understand your concern Gordon. Those were exactly my thoughts when I first got wind of it," explained Jeff. " And I can tell you at first I was against the idea. There are a lot of greedy folk out to make a quick buck, some of them so consumed by their own greed that they will place themselves and others in danger without a thought."
"So are you still against it?" asked Scott.
"I'm still a little cagey, but not quite so much now. Not since the meeting I had with the World President."
Scott looked surprised. "You met the World President! When Dad?"
"About three months ago. It was on a top secret mission, and I didn't even tell you boys about it. Nothing had been finalised. Several companies had expressed a desire to mine the Moon and the President felt the same as I did. He voiced the same concerns, the viability of such a project and the safety aspects. Like you said Gordon. Nobody owns the Moon it belongs to us all. The United States would like to claim a chunk, because it has invested the most in its exploration. We put the first man on the Moon. We put the Stars and Stripes on alien soil, but that doesn't mean that we own it. Throughout the years the Russians, Chinese, Japanese and the British have all played key roles in conquering the Moon. But we can't go carving it up in portions like a cake."
"Or a ripe Dutch cheese," quipped Gordon.
"There's a lot of competition for the helium extraction rights," continued Jeff. "There is pure grade stuff up there. Geologists have also found minerals that could be processed to make the toughest, most durable metals. It would be a viable proposition, if there was a reliable company to set up a processing plant right there on the Moon."
"Well if all extractions were strictly controlled by the World Government," put in John. "If we only took what we really needed perhaps there would be no harm in it. It would be a pity to let a rich source go to waste."
"That's what the World President has decided. He will grant rights to the first company who can extract the raw ingredients and set up a processing plant. The companies will be thoroughly vetted to weed out any cowboy outfits. He will allow only one area to be mined at any one time. This will be monitored by scientists who will be able to predetermine whether this will have any adverse effect on the Moon's surface. The fuel will not be available for commercial use back on Earth. The costs of transportation would cancel out any profit."
"Yeah they would be astronomical," said Gordon, who despite being the joker of the family, was unaware of the pun he had just made.
Jeff gave him a wry smile. "Establishing a refuelling plant on the Moon will make exploration of Mars a probability and the Moons of Jupiter the next possibility. There have been several companies bidding for the right to mine on the Moon. "
"Whoever secures the contract will make a fortune," stated John.
"Who's in the running Dad? Anyone we know?" inquired Scott.
"Well, at the moment, it's a race between Harvey Daniels and Will Carmichael. I've heard both of them are chasing the same contract. They have both invested all they possess in their companies. One of them is going to be mighty disappointed."
"Couldn't they amalgamate and share the mining rights?"
"Well Scott, if it had been anyone other than Harvey and Will that would have been possible."
"And the most logical solution," cut in John.
"Ah, but I happen to know there is no love lost between those two," explained Jeff. " I have had dealings with them from time to time. They have both commissioned equipment from Tracy Engineering. I happen to know they are bitter rivals - absolutely hate each other."
"Why is that?" asked Scott.
"Harvey and Will were colleagues of mine at NASA. They engineered and erected radio telescopes. They went with us to Moonbase, to help set up a huge radio telescope on the far side of the Moon. The far side is shielded from the Earth's radio waves and electromagnetic radiation. So it was the perfect place to situate a telescope. When Daniels and Carmichael had chosen the best site for the telescope, they had tests done on the rocks. These tests showed the area to be rich in Helium 3. I remember them getting quite excited about it. They asked me to go into business with them at one time, with a view to mining the stuff. But I found Harvey a bit of a hot head. There was a dark side to him. The two men were friends who became partners in business, but Harvey's wife left him for Will. The two men have been bitter enemies ever since. Harvey's wife took his five year old son with her and the divorce was so acrimonious that Harvey did not seen his son for nigh on fifteen years. Harvey became a mean embittered man. He would like nothing better than to get those mining rights just so as he can push Will's face in the dirt. "
"It seems a pity," remarked John, looking up at the sky. "Man has just set up a colony on the moon, and already they are fighting over the right to plunder it. "
"I know what you mean Son. I sometimes wonder if we have done the right thing. We haven't done so good with our own planet and now we could be about to ruin another."
"There will always be ruthless opportunists," said Scott. " The most horrifying thing is the thought that someone could manufacture nuclear weapons to train at the Earth. Money makes men evil. Oh, present company excepted of course"
Jeff smiled. He was one of the worlds richest men. He earned a good salary working with Nasa and had invested it wisely in forming his own company Tracy Engineering. The company had gone from strength to strength, when Jeff employed a young genius inventor named Hiram Hackenbaker.
Orphaned at the age of twelve, Hiram, or 'Brains' as he was now known, had been noticed by Jeff as he was nervously delivering a speech to a bunch of very impressed University Professors. The young man spoke hesitantly and suffered a stammer made worse by his apparent nervousness. But once he was in full flow regaling all of his ideas, the stutter all but disappeared, and Jeff knew he had found a very remarkable man. Brains was responsible for the design of the Thunderbird machines and most of the rescue equipment. He was obsessional about his work and holed up in his laboratory at this very moment working on his latest project. He could have become a rich man in his own right, but for all his genius he displayed a child like naivety. Jeff saw that many unscrupulous people were out to manipulate him for their own ends. So he persuaded Brains to join him to help establish International Rescue. Never the social animal. Life on a secluded tropical island suited Brains down to a T. His stutter became less pronounced and with fewer pressures on him, his creative genius flowed copiously. The problem now was getting him to take a rest!
Jeff became aware of a beeping noise coming from the living room. Scott stiffened and replaced his glass on the table, then followed his father. He noticed the eyes on Alan's portrait were flashing in time with the bleeps. Scott steeled himself to leap into action. As the pilot of Thunderbird One he was needed on every rescue. Virgil, pilot of Thunderbird Two, was enjoying a rare night off to attend a concert. Scott hoped that he would not be need to be recalled. Although things were quiet on the rescue front, Virgil had been hard at work with routine maintenance on Thunderbird Two. All day he had toiled and sweated, lifting heavy components in the searing heat. If anyone deserved a night off it was Virgil. Gordon and John now stood at their father's side as he pressed a button on his desk, which upturned a crystal ashtray concealing a microphone.
"Go ahead Alan," instructed Jeff. "Any problems?"
"No." Alan's boyish face grinned down from his portrait frame.
Scott felt the tension leave his body and he walked back on to the veranda to relax and finish the rest of his drink.
"Why the call?”
"Just to say that my bags are packed, and I'm ready to go. I wanted to make sure that John hadn't forgotten me, and was living it up in some nightclub on the mainland."
"Well I asked Tin Tin if she was interested, but she turned me down," teased John. Alan pouted, not knowing whether to take John seriously or not. "So Virgil took her instead."
"Take no notice of him, Alan," said Grandma looking up from her sewing"He's just winding you up."
"See you later, kid," laughed John.
Alan was the youngest in the family and jealously guarded his relationship with Tin Tin, the beautiful daughter of Jeff's personal assistant Kyrano.
At the NASA launch pad in Cape Canaveral, last minute routine checks were being undertaken to the space shuttle Argos. It had been commissioned by the Carmichael Mining Company, to take it's founder and director Will Carmichael, plus a team of expert miners and geologists on a mission which, if it was successful, could secure them a place in history. Will's team were certain that the best sources of helium and titanium were to be found on the Moon's far side. Many years of research had gone into this project and millions had been spent organising robot probes to analyse the soil samples. When at last, they were reasonably sure of their location, Will Carmichael had commissioned special drilling equipment made of the hardest and most durable metal known to man. There was only one company able to match his specifications, and that was Tracy Engineering. Their top scientist Professor Hackenbaker, had designed drilling equipment similar to the Mole, which was used by International Rescue. The special drill tip would make short work of the rocky surface of the Moon. Designed to be operated by a two man crew it was to be used to burrow into the Moon to open shafts, so that mining could begin on a commercial basis. So, with this precious equipment secured in the transporter hold. Will Carmichael took his place at the front of the ship in preparation for the take off in twenty minutes time.
"All set?" he enquired of the young man sitting nervously beside him.
"You bet, Dad."
Tom Carmichael fastened his seatbelt. He could hardly contain his excitement. He was going to the Moon. He had just turned twenty, and by way of a birthday treat, his Stepfather was allowing him to come along for the ride. His stepfather was no stranger to the Moon. He went there on regular business trips, but this time he had wangled a trip for Tom.
"I figure it's time for you to get some real experience. All that training at astronaut college will be nothing compared to experiencing the real thing."
Tom smiled at the silver haired man sitting next to him. This man had been a father to him for the last fifteen years. His real father hadn't wanted to know him after the messy divorce from his mom. Tom could not remember his father having time for him or his mother even when they were together. But he could remember his dad's real nasty temper. When things were going well, his dad was one of the most charming and generous folk around. But when things were bad you had to keep out of his way. Tom was four years old when he first saw his father hit his mother. It was in front of company too. Will Carmichael had been horrified to discover that his friend and partner had such a Jekyll and Hyde character. Jeanie Daniels turned to him for comfort at first, but then found in Will, the love she had always craved. She walked out on Harvey when Tom was just five. Harvey had taken this badly and during drunken rages he even threatened to kill her, but he did not have to. Jeanie died five years later. She and Will never had children of their own, so he took on Tom and cared for him as if he were his own..
As the astronauts were running through their preliminary checks, Tom could hear the rockets firing up. He held his breath as he listened to Mission Control begin the countdown. It got to ten, then nine... eight... seven... six... five... four… three... two... one... We have lift off. Tom could feel himself being flattened against his seat, as if restrained by invisible hands. His face felt distorted, like it was being pressed against a sheet of glass. He was aware of a sound emitting from his lips, midway between a whoop and a scream. He felt as if someone was sitting on his chest, and he found it hard to draw breath. One of his eyes was watering copiously, but he could not lift either of his arms to wipe the tears away. He was gripping the armrests of his seat for dear life! He jumped as an ear splitting roar, signalled the firing of the giant rocket boosters thrusting them skywards. Moments later they fell away ,as the second stage rockets took over. When these were spent, they too were discarded. The stage three rockets gave them the final boost, to lift them out of the Earth's atmosphere and into space. Tom could feel the pressure on his chest lighten.
"Well what did you think of that for an adrenaline buzz?" asked Will.
Tom's mouth was moving, but no sound came out. He could find no words to describe the feeling he was experiencing . After a few seconds he uttered one word. "WOW!"
The Earth was framed by the portside window, and the spectacle of it took Tom's breath away again. It hung like a giant blue/green jewel with swirls of cloud drifting by. He could see the oceans the deserts and forests. Like pages of an Atlas springing to life.
Will pointed. "Look we're just passing over Texas. Say howdy to the folk back home. Look at those clouds over Mexico bay. Could be they're building up for a storm."
"It's just awesome!" exclaimed Tom.
"It gets better. Just wait 'till you see the Moon and stars at close quarters, and the Sun too. You will be able to view the Sun without damaging your eyes. The windows have specially tinted shutters to protect against the glare and radiation. There's nothing quite like the sight of the Moon and just behind it - the sun with it's flaming corona. The Earth becomes like our Moon only four times bigger and sixty times brighter. I tell you boy there's no experience that can ever top that."
In the centre of the Tracy's living room stood an uncomfortable, but functional couch. However, this one was not designed for lounging in front of the TV set. It had another purpose.
"All set?" asked Jeff Tracy
"F.A.B," replied his two sons.
Jeff reached under his desk and pulled a lever. A section of floor disappeared into a hole, taking the couch with it. Moments later an identical couch was substituted and the section of floor locked into place. It looked like a normal living room again. The couch carrying John and Scott, descended into a shaft which lead to a secret railway. At the bottom of the shaft the couch was transferred to a trolley. It trundled along rails underneath the villa, through a maze of tunnels, until it reached a silo beneath the Round House. The Round House was perched on top of a cliff and housed laboratories and surveillance equipment. The couch was transferred to a hydraulic hoist which lifted it up into the tail section of the huge two hundred foot high red space rocket Thunderbird Three. When the couch had locked into position, John and Scott rose and entered a glass elevator which carried them up to the main controls in the cabin. They took their seats with John at the controls. He carried out a series of preliminary checks and then fired up the mighty engines. Scott clenched his fists, his jaw tightened and his whole body tensed.
"You have never liked this bit have you?" remarked John to Scott, as they strapped themselves in their seats.
John was right. Although he had taken off in Thunderbird One many times, Scott was always a little nervous about the take off in Thunderbird Three. He didn't make a very good passenger. He preferred to be at the controls.
"Sixty seconds and counting," announced John.
Scott felt his stomach lurch as he waited for take off. His dark brows knitted together anxiously.
John continued the countdown while checking the dials, "Fifty-nine... fifty-eight... fifty-seven... fifty-six... fifty-five... fifty-four... fifty-three... fifty-two... fifty-one… fifty..."
To Scott the ten seconds had felt more like ten minutes. He wondered if John felt the same underneath his ice cool exterior. John had often confided to Alan that he did feel apprehensive on take off. It was a natural human reaction.
"Eleven... ten... nine... eight... seven... six… five…
"Clear for blast off," sanctioned their father.
"Four... three... two.... one ... blasting off now."
The rocket's nose cone thrust out of the Round House, followed by the rest of the craft. It was thanks to the special fire retardant material Brains had developed, that the Round House was still standing, in spite of it's close proximity to the searing heat emitted by the rockets powerful boosters. They trailed ribbons of flame across the dusky evening sky. The resulting backdraft shook the foundations of the Round House and vibrated its windows.
Scott grimaced as he was flattened against his seat by the g forces. He could feel a great weight pressing on his chest, like an elephant had just jumped on to his lap. He held his breath, unable for a few second to breathe out. When at last the pressure eased he exhaled, and began to feel a bit dizzy. He shook his head and held the bridge of his nose. John appeared as unruffled as if it was nothing more than a stroll in the park. Below them, their island home had shrunk to a small green dot in a vast ocean, peppered with other small green dots. The sky was becoming darker. Soon they were on the edge of the Earth's atmosphere. Scott felt a little more comfortable and began to relax. When they were halfway there, John opened a radio channel to Alan on Thunderbird Five,
"We should be with you in about a couple of hours. Just time for you to tidy the place up a bit. You left it like a tip the last time."
"You'll make someone a good housewife one day," retorted Alan.
"Anything interesting I should keep an ear out for?"
"Not really John. There's a rocket carrying the Carmichael Mining Company approaching the Moon. It came closer to me than I thought it would, but nothing to get excited about. Thunderbird Five is well screened so we shouldn't be detected."
"Seems we've all had too quiet a time recently. Probably all hell will break loose when I'm back on duty."
John's estimation of the time was correct to the minute, two hours from his last broadcast he proceeded to dock with Thunderbird Five. Using the sensors located in the black ring around the nose cone of Thunderbird Three, he skilfully angled the large red space rocket in to position. Electro-magnetic clamps locked it into place inside the boarding tube, forming an air tight seal. It took a few minutes for air to be pumped into the hangar. When the correct air pressure was reached, a green light shone on John's control panel.
"Docking procedure complete," he reported to Alan.
"F.A.B. Opening airlock."
John and Scott left the space rocket and walked through the airlock, to where Alan stood with a big beaming smile on his face, obviously relieved to be going back home after a rather boring term of duty. Alan, unlike John was more of a sociable animal and not content to be on his own for very long. He stood with his brown leather holdall packed and parked by the door. He welcomed John, and then Scott with a bear hug.
"Well let's go," he said to Scott. "I'm going take Tin Tin shopping to buy a new dress, and then I'm going take her out on the town tomorrow night."
"Oh yeah. Tomorrow’s a special day, isn't it?"
"Sure is," replied Alan. "And I've also got to scour the shops to find a birthday card rude enough for Gordon."
Scott was secretly envious of his youngest brother's boundless energy. Space flight left him feeling drained and he was looking forward to an early night! John was prowling up and down in front of the console checking that everything was okay.
"Have you been listening in to Moonbase, Al?" he called.
"Yes, most of the time. They are about to conduct trial boreholes with a view to mining the uranium. They are going over to the dark side tomorrow. That's where the scientists figure they stand the best chance of success."
"Can we still monitor them from there?" asked Scott. "Won't they be out of contact? No radio waves can penetrate that atmosphere. They will be completely on their own. It's risky."
"Yeah, there will always be risks, but if we don't take them then we never advance," argued John. "Whoever reaches the source first...well he'll have the world at his feet."
Scott was still unsure. He shared his Father's reserve and secretly hoped that it would be Carmichael rather than Daniels who won the contract. From what he had heard about Daniels, Scott figured that he wouldn't be able to handle the responsibility that riches and power would bring him.
"I figure that Daniels character could be a bit of a maverick."
"Well the Moon's big enough for the both of them to keep out of each others way," replied John. "They're both professionals with only one goal - the mining rights. They won't have time for feuding. Shares in both companies have taken a hike recently, and I've put my money on Carmichael. So if he comes up trumps, it will be good for my pension fund."
John shared his father's entrepreneurial skills and with a sharp brain, he took a keen interest in the business side of Tracy Engineering. As Scott was being groomed to take over the running of International Rescue, so John the second born son was poised to take the helm of his father's successful Engineering business.
Alan butted in, "I hate to interrupt you guys but I have a prior engagement, so I'm off, and if you're not ready Scott, you'll just have to hitch a lift from one of those passing mining ships."
"See you Alan," said John, settling back into his routine again. "Bye Scott."
Alan detached Thunderbird Three's nose cone from the docking tube and slammed the rocket into reverse. Scott who had not yet fastened his safety belt was nearly jolted out of his seat.
"Hey, take it steady, Alan."
Alan just grinned, "Boy am I glad to get away from here and back to the action."
"We've not had much of that lately," said Scott. "Not that I'm complaining though. It's good to know that no-one is in trouble. If things are still quiet when we get back I will take you up for a few burns in TB1, just to keep your hand in."
"Great," enthused Alan who relished every opportunity he had to get behind the controls of Thunderbird One "And what say I return the compliment by letting you drive us home."
"What, now?" asked Scott.
"Yep, I'll catch up on some sleep so I can stay the pace with Tin Tin tomorrow night."
Scott eagerly took the controls, unlike Alan he was never content to be a passenger. He even hated anyone else driving his car. He was positively on the edge of his seat when he had to take Gordon up for practise at the controls of Thunderbird One Their father had insisted that they each learned to pilot each others craft. This had proved harder for Gordon being an aquanaut with only basic flight training. Gordon had mastered the controls of Thunderbird One, but Scott knew he lacked the confidence to really make that bird fly. Scott likened him to the nervous driver sitting in the slow lane on a motorway. Gordon had made several flights to Thunderbird Five to help with repairs, but had yet to take the controls of the space rocket. It was not that Thunderbird Three was difficult to fly . All the hard work was done by computers. it was so simple a child could do it. Poor Gordon had never been able to keep his head out of the sickness bag long enough to take charge. All the Tracy brothers had undergone astronaut training at their father's insistence. The training simulators had been sheer torture for Gordon. Being strapped to a seat, and revolved round and round at high speed for ten minutes sent him reeling. He was able to withstand the rolling of the roughest oceans, but in space, the effects of zero gravity brought him weakly to his knees. He knew that he was never going to cut it as an astronaut.
Alan stirred in his bunk and began to snore. It was a testament to the faith he had in his elder brother's capabilities that he could sleep so soundly while Scott, or on occasion Virgil brought him home. Soon they would be re-entering Earth's atmosphere and see welcoming blue waters of the Pacific lapping languidly below them.
"This is your wake up call," came Scott's voice over the intercom. He sounded his usual calm, controlled self. Alan knew that John liked to wind Scott up, particularly on take off. There was a certain amount of rivalry between the two. John had followed in his father's footsteps with his astronaut training , while Scott had joined the military and become a fighter pilot. Both were handsome men who were successful in their own right. Which often lead to a clash of egos.
Alan swung his legs over the side of his bunk and joined Scott to strap himself down for re-entry. This was another process Scott hated. He gritted his teeth as the space craft juddered violently for what seemed like an eternity, but which was actually four minutes. Scott could see the flames dancing around Thunderbird Three as they re-entered the Earth's gravitational pull. He had to hand it to Brains, the fire retardant materials used in the construction of this, and all other space rockets built by the Tracy Engineering Company, were worthy of the Nobel prize that had been awarded to the shy genius. Scott breathed a sigh of relief when he heard his father's voice.
"We have visual. Welcome home boys. You're clear to land."
"This is Moonbase Alpha You're clear to land."
Will Carmichael sat by the porthole window with his stepson Tom as they drew nearer to the Moon. Tom was silent as he took in the bleak, barren landscape spreading before him. In that instant he made a major career decision. He was going to be an astronaut. No he was going to be a lunarnaut."
"Moonbase Alpha this is Argos requesting permission to land."
The space ship wheeled around and touched down silently on the grey powdery surface of the Moon. From his porthole window Tom had his first glimpse of the Moonbase. It glowed with an eerie artificial light emitting from dome like structures, connected by a tangle of snake like arms. The three Moonbase structures sat in the windless, colourless landscape like giant octopus.
"Is this where you and my dad were stationed?"
"Yes this is it. My first visit in twenty years. It's grown a bit since I was here last. There are two more domes now. There was only the one back then and it was home to me, your dad, Jim Ross, Ivan Kovak, Vladimir Kolskey, Lee Chuan, Nils Petersen and Jefferson Tracy."
"I guess Dad was a different person back then," added Tom sadly.
"It's not all your dad's fault that things turned out the way they did. We all came back from the Moon to a hero's welcome and when you've been to the Moon you know nothing can top that experience. Your dad basked in that glory at first, but then others went to the Moon and pretty soon it was routine stuff. I guess your dad found it hard to handle being yesterday's news."
"But it happened to you and you didn't hit the bottle. "
"No, I didn't. But I won't judge a man until I've walked a mile in his shoes. He's still your father Tom - your real father."
"No," said Tom adamantly "He forfeited that right the first time he raised his hand to Mom."
"Bitterness destroyed him Tom. Don't let it destroy you."
Tom put his troubled childhood behind him, and under Will's guidance he had grown into a strong, responsible young man. He couldn't wait to get out there and explore the Moon.
"We will have to wait for a few minutes. They are sending a boarding tube out to us. It will take us directly into the main communications centre," explained Will.
Tom watched the snake like tube extend towards their space ship's airlock, and lock into place. Above the door a red light turned to amber, paused for a minute and then turned to green. An automated voice informed them that it was now safe to proceed. Tom was a little disappointed to be walking through a plastic tunnel rather than the surface of the Moon. He harboured a childish dream of jumping out of the space ship and planting both footprints on the powdery surface. As an adult he realised that jumping out of a space ship in zero gravity was not a good idea, weighing a sixth of what he would weigh back on Earth he would rebound several feet into the air!
They entered the control centre and found it a hive of activity. The rooms were maintained at a comfortable 65 degrees and the Moonbase employees were comfortably attired in jump suits. A dark haired man extended his right arm and gripped Will in a firm handshake. The Commander of Moonbase and Will were old acquaintances.
"Good to see you again, Will," said Commander Jim Steel "Your first time on Moonbase?" he enquired of Tom.
"Well, Maria here will show you to your quarters. When you've had the chance for a shower and a bite to eat, I'll be happy to give you a guided tour."
"Wow, things sure have changed. Showers, satellite TV, a proper restaurant. You'll soon be opening the place as a hotel and letting the tourists in," quipped Will.
"It will come one day," laughed the Commander "There are plenty with the money to pay for the ultimate in holiday one-upmanship."
"Sir, will I get the chance to go out and explore the Moon?" asked Tom eagerly
"I'm sure you will. You will be helping out on the drilling sites, and you've have had the required training?"
"Oh yes, I've trained on the simulators and on location in Iceland."
"Good, good. Then you'll know what's expected of you. You've got a first rate instructor in Will Carmichael. I've put you and your team in the beta dome. Harvey Daniels and his crew arrived two days ago and they are in Gamma"
"Well hopefully our paths shouldn't cross all that often. I say let the best man win," said Will.
"I of course must remain strictly neutral in all of this, but I agree with you... and I wish you luck."
The next day saw Harvey Daniels and Jim Weaver out on the Moon's surface preparing to dig out a mine shaft. Weaver was checking his computer equipment. As a geologist he was well aware of the volatilities of the Moon's crust. This particular area was rich in the minerals they were seeking, but there was a major drawback. The black magma crust was thin in places and concealed a bubbling cauldron of lava. Dangerous gasses naturally vented out from time to time. Weaver had set up a device for predicting such eruptions by measuring the pressure under the Moon's surface. The pressure gauge was rising steadily.
"Hold it Harvey!" he instructed. "We've got a vent out building up."
Harvey Daniels stopped what he was doing and made his way laboriously back to the safety of the Moonrover, where he was joined by his partner and another colleague. When all were strapped securely inside, Harvey reversed the Moonrover to a safe distance and then sat back to watch the show.
"How long?" asked Harvey. He was an impatient man who realised that time was money.
"Could take another ten maybe fifteen minutes."
"Well, we could have hung out a little longer. I'm almost ready to sink that shaft."
"Too risky. I can't predict the exact time a vent out will occur. So I aim to leave a good margin. We need time to move to safety. That could take at least ten minutes in these bulky suits."
Daniels drummed his fingers impatiently.
"Blow, damn you," he cursed. "Just get it over with."
As if on cue a jet of steam and molten rock shot twelve metres into the atmosphere. The vent out was an awesome sight, like a giant roman candle. It lasted for three minutes. Flaming debris spewed out of the ground and floated away into space.
"Whew, that was a little too close for comfort," remarked Harvey.
"Now you see what I mean. That's the force we've come to harness. Just imagine if we had been sitting on top of that. We would be on our way to Jupiter by now!"
"Is it safe to go back and check the instruments? Or are we likely to get another one like that?"
"We might get a few spits, but the big one is over. They usually come at intervals. It will probably take another two to three hours for the pressure to build up again. So I figure we should get a clear run."
"Lets go ahead and sink that shaft. We can't waste anymore time." Harvey started up the Moonrover and hastened back to the drilling site. In his eagerness to get back to work he tumbled from the Moonrover and bounced several feet along the ground.
"Whoa! Damn zero gravity." He clumsily hauled himself to his feet and adjusted his stride to the loping gait needed to compensate for the lack of gravity. He had no desire to go catapulting off into space.
"Where are Reeves and Jackson? They should be here by now," he demanded, angrily looking around.
Weaver pointed to another Moon buggy way back in the distance.
"Looks like they're coming."
"And about time!" snapped Harvey.
Harvey Daniels gave his two engineers short shrift when they arrived some forty minutes behind schedule. The two engineers did not like Daniels very much but he was paying their wages.
"Now lets get started," barked Daniels "We've got to be able to steal a march on Carmichael. His company arrived yesterday and my sources inform me that he has superior drilling machinery. We've got the advantage of a head start. We are here now and ready to drill so let's jump to it."
"Carmichael's Moonrover was behind us," informed Reeves.
"What, here? Already?"
"Yep. They've set up just behind that ridge."
Daniels swore. "He's muscling in. Well he's taken every thing else from me. I'm sure as hell not going to let him take this."
"He's got some pretty hot machinery. Designed by the top man at Tracy Engineering," added Jackson, which prompted Daniels to swear even more.
"Tracy Engineering," he spat. "Might have known Tracy would take his side in all this. As if the man isn't rich enough already."
"Do you think Carmichael has got funding from Jeff Tracy? I heard he turned you down when you asked for sponsorship."
He did - the no-good hypocrite! and now I know why. He was funding Carmichael. He told me his company would be happy to sell us his fancy machines but he was not willing to finance either venture. Said he doesn't really agree with all this. Seems he's changed his tune."
I always thought that he was a man of principle."
"Principle, my ass! A man doesn't get that rich with principles. You've got to be ruthless, you've got to let nothing or no-one stand in your way. Now I want this deal for me and for my company. We stand to make a fortune every bit as big as Tracy’s."
The two rivals had picked the same prime spot, where the raw material for Helium 3 was in plentiful supply. Will thought it was a ridiculous situation. He had the best drilling equipment money could buy, but Harvey had got there first. The two of them were preparing to mine within two miles of each other. It didn't make any sense. If ever there was a time to let bygones be bygones this was it. He decided he would go over and try to make Harvey see sense. They could share the mining rights. It made sense to work together. Jeanie the woman they had both fallen out over, had been dead for five years now. Will could see the widening rift between Tom and his natural father and it concerned him. Harvey Daniels had not touched a drop of drink since Jeanie died. He managed to pull himself back from the brink to build up his company and his fortunes again. Will did not want to be the one to push him right back again.
Will put his suggestion to Tom, who was dismissive. "It won't work."
"I could at least try. I've decided to take the Moonrover and pay your father a visit. I'm going to try to make him see sense."
"Don't bet on it," replied Tom icily, "He's not a man you can reason with."
"Then I'll try to contact him by radio first, and see if I can get him to talk to me. It's been too long, Tom. It's time to heal old wounds. Harvey was once the best friend I ever had. You don't remember him when he was a good man. You were just a toddler. But he was a good man. As brave as the rest of us. I know he treated your mother bad, and I can't defend him for that. but that wasn't your father Tom. It was the drink that did that to him. The night Jeanie left him, she turned up on my doorstep because she had nowhere else to go. When he had sobered up the next day, your dad was horrified to learn what he had done. He came round and begged her to give him another chance. He swore he would never touch another drop. He made the same promises to her that he always did. But she had had enough. She told him she wouldn't comeback until he admitted his alcohol addiction, and took steps to get help. I didn't expect to fall in love with your mother, Tom."
Tom shrugged. He feigned indifference but Will knew this was an act. Tom, like his father was a proud man, and his Mother's death had hit him hard.
"I wish you would speak to him, Tom," pleaded Will.
Tom's jaw was set rigid. "No. Never."
Will sat in the Moonrover and activated the two way radio receiver built into his Space helmet. When Harvey heard Will's voice he let loose a torrent of abuse. Tom had been right. Harvey Daniels was not a man to be reasoned with.
"So you think you're gonna lose the precious contract, is that it?" Daniels’ voice snarled over the receiver. "Well, I'll see Hell freeze over before I have anything to do with you again. You took my wife. You turned my son against me. You can't stand to lose, can you? You can't stand the fact that I got here first. Well, you can take all of your fancy Tracy Corporation machinery and stick it where the sun doesn't shine, buster!"
Will switched the radio off and stepped from the Rover. He saw Tom looking at him and shook his head.
"I tried to tell you," Tom said "Forget him. He's not worth it."
Jackson was the first person to see the Moonrover appear from behind the rill. It was a small dot on the horizon and must have been about three miles away.
"Are we expecting anyone else?" he called.
Harvey called back up the shaft. "No, we're not."
"Well it looks like we've got company anyway."
Harvey was inwardly seething. The nerve of the man. He was coming anyway. Coming to stick his nose in. In twenty minutes he would be here. Harvey swore. He was busy helping his men to reposition heavy drilling equipment. He had neither time nor inclination to make small talk with Will Carmichael.
"Weaver, I need a hand," he called.
"What is it? I'm monitoring another pressure build up."
"Is it anything to worry about?"
"Not right now. If it blows I calculate it will vent out some three or four miles away. Should be safely out of range. What do you want."
"I need you to take over for a while. I've got something I need to attend to."
"I really should stay here and watch the instruments."
"Well I'll keep an eye on them. A kid could do it. If the pressure in our area builds up to amber level we back off. It's a good skive this job of yours, gets you out of doing all the physical stuff. I've been down that shaft for the best part of two hours and my throat is kinda dry."
"Of course, You take a break. I doubt if anything will happen."
Weaver climbed down into the shaft as Harvey reached the surface. Carmichael's Moonrover was getting closer. Harvey walked over to his team's Moonrover, and plugged a tube of orange juice into the feeding tube on his helmet. When he was suitably refreshed he checked Weaver's instruments. The needle on the pressure gauge was wavering on amber alert. Harvey Daniels logged in his site's coordinates into the computer it gave him a reading. As Weaver had predicted the vent out would occur in the next ten minutes some three to four miles east. No need to worry, unless... Harvey narrowed his eyes. Some three miles east, Will Carmichael's Moonrover was making its approach. Its balloon-like tyres left their tracks in the powder. Harvey switched the radio link on to give out a warning. Ten minutes would give Will chance to pull out of danger. Something stopped him. The bitterness that had festered inside him for all those years. He switched the radio mike off, and waited and watched... and did nothing. Three minutes passed, and beneath his helmet Harvey was perspiring. It wasn't as if this was going to be outright murder. Carmichael was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Carmichael had turned his own son against him. Tom hadn't seen or spoken to him since Jeanie had died. So what if Carmichael died? It would be his own fault. Two more minutes passed, suddenly the ground started to tremble. A fountain of steam and rock spurted from a fissure in the Moon's surface - and it took the Moonrover with it. Far out into space.
"Bye, Will," said Harvey.
Weaver was beside himself with guilt, as he endured the bumpy journey back to alpha base.
"I should have stayed with the instruments, I shouldn't have left them. I broke my own damn rules. One of us should have been there. We were too complacent."
"Look, will you shut the hell up?" snapped Daniels. "What do you want, for God's sake, an inquiry? It was an accident. They were in the wrong place at the wrong time. These vent outs can occur without warning. you said so yourself. Now stop beating yourself up about it. You need to get your facts right. They're certain to want to question us when we get back. We saw what happened. but we couldn't prevent it."
"But I could have..."
"WE COULDN'T PREVENT IT, RIGHT?”
"If I had been there I could have..." anguished Weaver.
Daniels stopped the Moonrover abruptly. "Do you want to find yourself on a manslaughter charge? Then keep talking the way you are now. You know what will happen. We'll lose the project, everything we've worked for. Carmichael chose to muscle in on our site. If he hadn't been there his buggy wouldn't have been on top of that vent as it blew. It was not your fault. I was the last person to check that pressure gauge, and I noticed nothing out of the ordinary. It was a spontaneous blow. It could have happened to any of us, but it didn't, it happened to Carmichael. Now I'm no hypocrite. We were rivals make no mistake, and I'm not about to shed any tears. BUT IT WAS AN ACCIDENT, GET IT!?"
Weaver had a feeling that Harvey Daniels words were intended more as a threat than a comfort. The way he felt now he was ready to break down and confess, but like all the others he harboured a secret fear of Daniels. He even half suspected that Daniels may have tampered with the instruments. He should never have let them out of his sight. That blow-out was a big one. The pressure must have been mounting and his instruments had never failed him before. Now Daniels greatest rival was stranded in Space under a certain death sentence. Was this more than a coincidence? And was he partly to blame?
On their return, Daniels and Weaver stood outside the airlock at Moonbase alpha. The door slid back with a low hiss. The two men stepped inside and waited for the door to seal up again before removing their protective helmets. Daniels regarded his partner wordlessly with steely grey eyes. Weaver stared at the floor. The two men walked in silence to the communal area. Weaver felt himself shaking. All eyes seemed to be upon them. Weaver could not look up to meet them. Were they sympathetic? Were they hostile? He saw the Moonbase Commander walking towards him. He laid a hand on Weaver's shoulders.
"It must have been a dreadful shock for you both," The Commander said kindly.
"I'm so sorry," Weaver heard himself mumble. Daniels shot him a vicious stare.
"I'm sure there was nothing you could have done," consoled the Commander.
"I saw the whole thing," volunteered Daniels. "The rover was directly over the vent out. There wasn't a thing we could do about it."
"We were monitoring the area... we had instrumentation..." began Weaver, but Daniels cut him off.
"But it happened so quickly."
"There's bound to be an official inquiry of course, and it goes to say that operations will have to be suspended for a while," said the Commander.
“I suppose there's no chance he could still be alive?" asked Daniels.
"I was hoping you might be able to tell me."
"I-I don't know, it happened so fast. The steam and molten rock just blew the rover away. If anyone, survived that it would be a miracle"
"Well, we're all praying for that, but so far we have had no word."
"I'm sorry, Will Carmichael was once a friend of mine," said Daniels remorsefully. " We trained together at NASA. I know we went our separate ways after our business broke up. But I had the utmost respect for him. He will be a great loss to industry."
"But Harvey..." began the Commander.
A man sitting with his back to Harvey and Weaver, cradled a greying head in his hands. He ran those hands down the side of his face, and then slowly rose to his feet.
"It has to be me who tells him. It's all my fault," mumbled the man, who was clearly distraught.
Daniels felt his legs buckle. He stared at the man standing before him. No, this couldn't be true. How could this man be here? In this room, standing in front of him. Will Carmichael’s eyes met his own. they were brimming with tears.
"Harvey, I'm so sorry. I persuaded him to go over and talk with you. I know I should not have brought him to the Moon, but he wanted it so much. You have a son to be proud of, Harvey. He wanted to go to the Moon like his Dad. It was his one ambition. I'm so sorry."
Daniels could not take this in. Why was the man he had just dispatched to certain death, standing here in the flesh apologising to him?
"Why are you sorry? W-what have you to be sorry for?"
He felt a steadying hand on his shoulder.
"Your son Tom was in that Moonrover," said the Commander solemnly. "We are all deeply sorry."
Harvey Daniels could hear a voice screaming over and over again. "Noooo!" Then he realised it was his own.
The Moonrover spiralled into the infinite black sky. Drifting helplessly in space, Tom was aware of hysterical screams of his companion Bruce Taylor. Hysteria was catching, and Tom thought that if he listened for any longer, he would lose control and start screaming as well. For an instant he wanted to tear off his helmet to stop the noise, but he knew this would mean certain death. Unable to listen to his colleague's anguished cries, he switched off the radio inside his helmet. Then he tried to get a grip on himself. Bruce was only seven years older than Tom, and neither of them wanted to die. The Moon buggy was being buffeted by the rocks, spewed out in the jet of steam and fire that had blasted them into space. It rolled over and over against an inky backdrop. Tom knew that Bruce was still screaming because of the look of sheer panic on his face. His eyes were wide with terror, and his mouth was open. A large rock glanced off the side of the Moonrover. Tom held his breath. If it had punctured the protective outer shell, the Moonrover would have been ripped to pieces. The rock had actually done them a favour. It had knocked them out of the path of the rest of the debris. Slowly the Moonrover stopped spinning. Tom tried to calm his companion.
"It's okay, the Rover's tough. Can you hear me?" Tom realised that Bruce had not switched his radio receiver on. He motioned him to do so.
"We've got to stay calm, " said Tom "I'm going to see if the radio is still working." He could hear the sounds of rasping breathing as Bruce fought to control his hysteria. "Now we're both unhurt. The Rover is still intact and we've got our air supply. Things could have been a lot worse."
Bruce took a deep breath as Tom picked up the radio mike,
"Moonrover 4 to Moonbase Alpha. Moonrover 4 to Moonbase Alpha. Moonrover 4 to Moonbase Alpha." Tom repeated the words over and over again like a mantra. It seemed to help focus his mind. He felt he was doing something constructive. Bruce was negative.
"It's no use, they'll never pick us up. We're on the dark side, We're in a communications black spot."
"I've got to keep trying. Moonbase Alpha, come in Moonbase Alpha." There was an ominous silence. Not even a crackle.
"I told you it's no use. Anyway, they'll think we are dead. Pretty soon we will be. I wonder whether the air will run out first, or whether we'll be pounded to pieces by a meteor shower."
"Just cut that out," snapped Tom " There must be something they can do. I'm not going to give up. Someone, somewhere must hear us. They've just got to!"
"How's Harvey?" asked Commander Steel, as an ashen faced Will Carmichael stepped into his private office.
"The Doc's given him something to make him sleep."
"There will have to be an inquiry," stated the Commander and then added. "What about yourself, Will? You looked after that lad like a father."
"I shouldn't have let him go. It should have been me in that buggy, but he was so eager. He just kept on at me, and in the end I backed down. I thought it was safe. I never dreamed..."
"Dwelling on what might have been isn't going to help anyone. Did you get any more information out of Weaver?"
"No, he was in the shaft at the time of the accident. The only person to witness it was Harvey, and we won't get any sense out of him for a while."
"Now this is what I propose to do," announced the Commander, "I'm going to
ask if NASA
if it can mount a rescue. If they can't, we'll have to go it
alone. It will be tricky and ..."
"Count me in," said Will jumping out of his seat. "I'll go on my own if necessary."
"Now wait. It's a long shot. We can't ask men to risk their lives to bring in a couple of dead bodies."
"But there's a chance they could have survived. They would have had their helmets on. They have an air supply. It's possible!"
"We don't know that for sure. We have our radios tuned in, and we are listening. If we receive any evidence to suggest that they are still alive. Then we can try to mount a rescue."
"We can't give up on them. We've got to do something!" shouted Will, pounding the table in frustration.
"Get some rest if you can."
"No, no, I can't do that until I hear that they're still alive. I'm going to go over to the radio room."
Commander Steel gave Will a sympathetic look as he watched him leave, but realistically he knew that Will was hoping for a miracle.
High above the Earth in geostatuory orbit, the antenna of Thunderbird Five scanned the Heavens. Inside, Space Monitor John Tracy threw back his head, and yawned loudly and widely. Then he stretched out his arms. He wondered whether to watch a video, or settle down with a good book. He fiddled with a few knobs and dials, and was about to put the automatic receiver on while he made himself a coffee, when he heard a mumbled message. The voice did not sound anxious or excited. It uttered a monotonous repetition of a single sentence John turned the volume up as high as he could, and rotated the giant dish on top on Thunderbird Five, to try to get a better reception. The first part of the message was gobbledegook, but John thought that the last two word sounded like Moonbase Alpha. Then John heard a plaintive cry of desperation.
"Please...please... somebody help us! We don't want to die out here.."
At once he grabbed the microphone. "This is International Rescue.."
There was another garbled message, and then a crackling of static.
"International Rescue here....." repeated John. He repeated this again, but still could only get back the same unintelligible message. It was obvious to John, that whoever was sending the message, was well out of communication range. He decided not to waste any more time trying. He contacted the Moonbase straight away to report what he had heard. His next call would be to his father.
The restaurant boasted four stars. Only the best would do for this special evening on St.Valentine's day. The decor was chic and romantic, The Head Waiter ushered a glamorous couple to a secluded corner. He directed them to his very best table, giving spectacular views over the harbour. A myriad of twinkling fishing boat lights bobbed up and down on the horizon.
"Oh Alan, it's beautiful!" Soft lighting illuminated the gentle features of Tin Tin Kyrano, as she toyed with a beautiful emerald ring on the third finger of her right hand. Alan had given it to her as a token of their friendship after a romantic weekend in Egypt.
"You look beautiful tonight," whispered Alan. Tin Tin was wearing an oriental style dress in kingfisher blue Thai silk. Her shiny raven hair was swept back from her face to show off her exquisitely sculptured cheekbones. She smiled sweetly at him with warm brown, almond shaped eyes, and leaned across the table to take his hand.
"I missed you," she said.
The head waiter fussed around them. Pulling out chairs and handing out the wine list. They had already picked out their first course during pre-dinner drinks on the terrace. Alan handed the wine list back.
"Just a bottle of mineral water for me, I'm afraid." He had to stay sober to fly the helijet back home. "But how about you, Tin Tin? You must have some champagne."
"Oh well, just one glass. I couldn't possibly drink a whole bottle by myself."
"They do halves."
"Half a bottle of champagne? I've already had cocktails. I warn you Alan Tracy, I won't be responsible for my actions." She giggled
"Half a bottle it is then," said Alan decidedly. "The very best."
"Very good, Sir." The waiter bowed slightly as he left the two of them together, gazing lovingly into each others eyes. Alan plucked a single white rose from the flower arrangement on the table and placed it in Tin Tin's hair. A small thorn scratched her ear, but she was not going to let that ruin a perfect evening. Alan was trying so hard. Before his last spell of duty on board Thunderbird Five, they had a stupid quarrel. They made up again later, they always did, but it had preyed on Tin Tin's mind. Especially as Alan, in a fit of pique had blasted off into space without kissing her goodbye. They had always embraced before parting. Tin Tin felt apprehensive. What if, God forbid, something went wrong and she never saw him again? What if her harsh words spoken in the heat of an argument were the last words she ever spoke to him? They vowed never to quarrel again, but making up over a videolink, 2,000 miles above Earth, was not the same. Tonight, she vowed she would do it properly.
"Tin Tin..." Alan was about to say something, but was interrupted by the head waiter bringing their first course and their drinks. The champagne cork popped loudly and shot across the room narrowly missing a couple on the next table. The head waiter filled an ample glass for Tin Tin, and then unscrewed the Top of Alan's mineral water. He raised his glass.
"Pity it's not champagne," he said, watching the sparkling bubbles of carbonated water cascade into his glass.
"You're never really off duty are you?" remarked Tin Tin.
"Well, tonight I aim to be. Tonight, after this splendid meal, you and I will dance under the stars. Not forgetting to wave to John of course." He laughed. They made a handsome couple. He with his wavy blond hair and piercing blue eyes, and she with her sultry oriental good looks. Alan was aware of the admiring glances Tin Tin was receiving from other men in the restaurant, but tonight she only had eyes for him. She sipped champagne with her moist ruby lips.
"Tin Tin…" began Alan again.
The champagne was beginning to make her feel light-headed and skittish. Playfully, she picked up a spiced prawn and fed it into his mouth with a giggle. The gesture was unexpected and the prawn was rather hot! Alan began to cough. Then he turned a deeper shade of pink and began to choke!
"Oh Alan, I'm sorry," Tin Tin leapt to her feet and patted him on the back.
Alan's eyes were watering. "Hot," he managed to rasp.
"Oh gosh! I'm sorry, I didn't realise." She handed him a glass of water. He took several gulps and then had to stop to blow his nose loudly.
The head waiter rushed to their table. "Is everything all right, Sir?"
"I'm okay. Could you just bring some more water?" croaked Alan. "It's a little too spicy for me."
"Very good, Sir."
"What were you going to say, Alan?" asked Tin Tin.
Alan blew his nose again. The romantic atmosphere was gone.
"It doesn't matter. I hope the main course soon arrives, I'm ravenous."
Their conversation lulled. Alan was afraid he might start to cough again if he tried to talk. Presently the head chef brought out two steaming plates of deliciously aromatic food.
"That looks wonderful," complimented Tin Tin, which was praise indeed from the daughter of a master chef.
Alan looked at Tin Tin. Should he tell her now? She gazed at him expectantly. The aroma of his char grilled steak wafted around his nostrils. His mouth started to water. He sliced the succulent meat with his steak knife and lifted his fork towards his mouth. Then his watch started to bleep!
Alan swore. Tin Tin's face crumpled. "Oh dear."
"Its a red alert. I'm needed in Thunderbird Three immediately." He threw his knife and fork on to his plate, and to the bemusement of the other diners, he ran out of the restaurant followed by Tin Tin hobbling on her high heels.
"Hey!" shouted the head waiter, but Alan was already running towards the helijet Tin Tin hoisted up her long skirt, and like Cinderella, lost one of her shoes. It was a new pair bought to match her dress. She really wanted to go back to retrieve it, but Alan was sprinting ahead. She kicked off her other shoe, and ran barefoot, trying to keep up with him. The rotor blades were already spinning as she hopped in beside him.
"Hey you!" shouted the head waiter, waving a fist angrily in the air, but they did not hear him. It was only when they were halfway back to Tracy Island, that Alan realised he had not paid his bill!
The Tracy family were assembled in the living room, when Alan and Tin Tin stepped from the lift. Seeing that Alan had a face which could sour milk, Jeff was sympathetic.
"I'm sorry, Alan. I know you have just come back from Thunderbird Five, and I'm sorry the evening has been spoiled for you both. But I'm afraid we have an emergency."
"Just my luck!" he complained.
"You need to leave with Scott straight away," continued Jeff "John will fill you in with the details, and you will need to take on more fuel when you reach Thunderbird Five."
"The bill, Alan ! We forgot to pay the bill!" cried Tin Tin ."Oh Mr Tracy, what must they think of us?"
"I'll square it with the restaurant Tin Tin. Don't worry."
"I didn't even get to taste a mouthful," said Tin Tin ruefully. "I'll make us a sandwich Alan."
"No time," snapped Jeff "Alan, there's a microwave on Thunderbird Three. You'll just have to warm up a pie or something."
At this point Gordon stepped forward. "I'll not be needed, will I, Father?"
"No. Probably not."
"And the restaurant is only a ten minute flight away."
"Yes, our dinner will probably still be hot," added Tin Tin
"Then you shall go to the ball, Cinderella." Gordon gave an exaggerated bow and took Tin Tin's hand.
"You don't mind, do you, Alan?" she asked
"Mind? Of course I don't mind," he replied in a tone which indicated that he did. "No, go ahead, enjoy yourself."
"Well, it is your birthday after all, Gordon." Tin Tin smiled, and then she kissed Alan fully on the lips. She still tasted of champagne. Alan could feel himself getting hot under the collar.
"Hey, break it up you two. Time to get on your way," ordered Jeff.
On Moonbase Alpha, Commander Steel addressed his assembled staff in the leisure room. Will Carmichael stood resolutely beside him.
"Ladies and Gentlemen," began the Commander, "an hour ago, I was contacted by International Rescue. They have picked up a distress call from Quadrant three. I am pretty sure that this call came from the Moonrover carrying Tom Daniels and Bruce Taylor."
There followed outpourings of relief from the assembled men and women.
"They are preparing to effect a rescue, but it will take four hours for their ship to reach us. A lot could happen in those four hours. We can only pray that the Moonrover stays intact, and that those two men have enough air left. I know you will all join me in offering our prayers for Tom Daniels and Bruce Taylor, and also for the brave men of international Rescue. We pray that their mission will be successful."
Thunderbird Three docked with Thunderbird Five to refuel in preparation for the journey to the Moon. While this was ongoing, Scott and Alan joined John inside the space station to discuss the latest situation. Scott and John were formulating a rescue plan. Alan decided to put a call back to base.
"Is anything wrong, Alan?" inquired Jeff.
"Everything's okay, Father. We are just taking on some more fuel. I... I was just wondering if Tin Tin was back yet?"
"No, they're not back yet."
"Not back!" Alan was startled "But it must be getting near two o clock in the morning. Where the hell have they got to?"
"You could give them a call if you like."
"No, it's okay," lied Alan.
"Well, Tin Tin loves to dance and Gordon doesn't get out much. So I suppose they are making an evening of it."
"Yeah, I suppose so."
"Relax, Gordon will take good care of her. Don't you worry."
"Oh, I wasn't worrying," dismissed Alan. " I was just a bit concerned, with Scott, John and me up here in Space, what if there was an emergency and Gordon was needed? Perhaps you should call them back."
"If an emergency call comes through I will do just that, but Virgil is back on duty now, so relax. You boys need to let your hair down once in a while, and it is Gordon's birthday."
"Well, not anymore. As it's now two o clock in the morning Earth time, his birthday is over." Alan's voice had a slight edge to it and his face was set in the familiar Alan pout.
"Look, I'm sorry about your evening. I'll let you and Tin Tin have some time alone when this rescue is over. For now that's the only thing I want you to have on your mind. There are two young men up there who need you to keep your wits about you."
Jeff smiled to himself, as he saw his youngest son in the grip of the green eyed monster of jealously. Tin Tin had the enviable position, of being the only attractive female living on an island with a group of young red-blooded males. Jeff had watched her grow from a tomboyish ten year old to the beautiful woman she was now. He had anticipated trouble when teenage hormones kicked in. Kyrano had voiced the same fears and flirtatious Tin Tin had been packed off to an exclusive girls school, much to Alan's dismay. Jeff had not anticipated Alan falling for her in a big way. Kyrano had not anticipated Tin Tin feeling the same way about Alan. Of all Jeff's sons, Alan was the one who seemed to be the most reckless. Tin Tin had always been encouraged to meet boys of her own age, and once harboured a secret crush on Virgil. Jeff always had a nagging fear that if ever any of his sons fell out, it would be because of her.
When Alan had finished talking to Jeff, he could hear John and Scott still engaged in a discussion about rescue tactics. Scott as usual was taking charge, and speaking in that rapid machine gun way that signalled adrenaline was pumping through his veins.
"So this is the situation as I see it..."
John looked solemn faced and a little uncomfortable. He ran his fingers through his tousled blond hair, and then turned to face Scott.
"I know you will probably argue with me, but I think that I am more qualified to handle this rescue than you."
The tension was all around them. You could cut the atmosphere with a knife. Alan sucked air in through his teeth. With hindsight perhaps this was not the best of ways for John to have approached Scott.
"What do you mean?" he snapped back tersely.
"I mean space is my environment. I was trained to work in it. I live in it for part of the year."
"Hmmph," snorted Scott in derision.
"Let me put it this way," continued John "How many space walks have you done?"
They both knew that Scott had not done any real ones. "Well there was that simulation..."
"John's right," agreed Alan.
"So what would you have me do? Sit in this tin can and mind the store?"
"That's what I have to do Scott. I have to sit here and monitor your broadcasts. Sit here and bite my nails while I listen to the rest of you risk your lives down there. But I do it because it's my job. Now I wouldn't dream of treading on your toes back on terra firma. Thunderbird One is your baby. But up here it's different. Rescues in space are tricky, but thankfully rare. But up here I call the shots."
"John's right," repeated Alan much to Scott's irritation.
A voice crackled over the radio link, breaking an awkward silence. "If I might make a suggestion..." It was Jeff. Alan had left the radio link open and Jeff had heard their interchange.
"I'm sorry father," John apologised immediately, more out of habit. He was anticipating a dressing down.
"I think you have a valid point, John."
"You do, Father?" queried Scott, slightly taken aback when his Father appeared to be taking John's side.
"This rescue could involve a good deal of space walking. You don't know what state you are going to find that Moonrover in. You may have to do some laser cutting. It is not a heavy duty craft and it may have sustained meteor damage."
"We must assume that it has been damaged," said John. "A vent out contains a certain amount of rock as well as steam and gasses. The Moon Rovers are tough up to a point. Scott has just suggested that we use the magnetic grabs. I think it would be risky too try to deploy them automatically. Those grabs bite hold with quite a force. If they happen to attach to an area which has sustained damage, they could cause even more trouble. It only needs a stray chunk of metal to pierce a space suit, and that could result in a nasty death for the poor person inside."
"I overheard what you suggested John," said Jeff. "This is the way I see it Scott. Alan and John will survey the damage and then make the decision as to whether to attach the magnetic grabs manually. Hopefully the craft can then be towed back in. We face more of a problem if the Moonrover has sustained severe damage and has started to break up. It's risky and we don't know how much air those boys will have left."
"So you want John to go and me to stay?" suggested Scott.
"No I want you all to go. Put Thunderbird Five on automatic. If the Moonrover breaks up the men will be drifting in just their pressurized suits. Scott, you will stay with Thunderbird three, while John and Alan effect the rescue. Oh and Scott, in this instance John is in charge and you follow his orders."
"Yes sir," replied Scott.
"You don't give up, do you?" said Bruce to Tom, who appeared to have his hands welded to the microphone he had been grasping for the past hour. The two men inside the battered Moonrover were drifting further away from the Moon.
"Never say die," replied Tom, and repeated the distress call again.
"You're beginning to get on my nerves, do you know that?" snapped Bruce. "The cup is not half full. It's half bloody empty and draining! Like our oxygen tanks. You are using more of your oxygen. Wasting it on messages no-one will here. We are behind the dark side of the Moon. I doubt if even International Rescue could pick us up here. It's a radio black spot."
"International Rescue..." sighed Tom. "I've repeatedly tried them, but ..." his voice trailed off and he shook his head.
"It's a strange thing to say but I'm beginning to feel quite calm," admitted Bruce
"That's the first sign that the lack of oxygen is affecting you."
"Do you suppose we'll just pass out and that will be that?"
"Yeah I suppose so."
"Well that's okay then."
"NO! NO!" shouted Tom "It's not okay. I'm twenty years old. I've trained for three years in college to become an astronaut and I want my life."
"University of Colorado."
"I remember my College days. It's where I first met my wife. "
"Is she an astronaut too?"
"She was up until two years ago."
"What made her quit?"
"This little fellow." Bruce took a picture out of his breast pocket and fingered it lovingly. Tom regarded the picture of a brown faced child with huge, laughing, saucer eyes and tight black curls. He was cradled in his mother's arms.
"He's beautiful. They both are. How old is he?"
"Coming up to fourteen months. Walks, runs, there's no holding him now."
"You've got something to hold on for there, Bruce."
Bruce silently put the picture back in his pocket and turned his face away from Tom. Tom suspected it was because there were tears in his eyes. Presently he turned back to Tom and with a false cheeriness, he asked if there was anyone special in his life.
"What you mean like a girlfriend?"
"You're not going to tell me, that a good looking boy like you don't have no girl."
"There is someone, back home." Tom blushed slightly. "I promised her a would bring her back a piece of Moon rock."
"Well take your pick. There are a whole lot of Moon rocks out there, most of them embedded in this old tin can! Just wind down the window and grab one!"
Bruce started to laugh in the manner of someone who has had a few too many beers. The oxygen levels were depleting ,and Tom figured that Bruce's tank had less oxygen than his. Tom still held on tightly to the microphone, still listened to the eerie silence coming from the radio. He still held on to the hope that somewhere in this vast emptiness of Space, he would hear another human voice coming to their rescue.
"International Rescue. We need your help. Can you hear us?"
"Yeah, International Rescue, where the hell are you?" Bruce lurched sideways and snatched the microphone from Tom. "We're waiting..." he added in a sarcastic, sing song voice.
When Thunderbird Three was some 215,000 miles above Earth, the gravitational pull of Earth and the Moon were equal. John could see the Moon looming in front of him. He could see it's rills and craters and the sea of tranquillity. The Moonbase structures appeared like specs of dust.
"Still nothing from the radio," reported Alan "I've been scanning for about an hour. Do you figure they could still be alive?"
"It's a long shot, but we haven't come all this way for nothing. Keep at it Alan," instructed Scott.
"It's my guess that they could be behind the Moon. On the far side," cut in John
"Why do they call it the dark side?" asked Scott. “It's very much the same as the side we see turned toward Earth. It gets the same amount of light."
John explained, "On Earth we cannot see the other side of the Moon. We orbit the sun, the Moon revolves around us, but always has the same face turned towards us. The side we cannot see, was known as the 'dark side' because it had not been explored. Just as Africa was called 'the dark continent' centuries ago. Although now we know that's not technically true. Nowadays the whole of the Moon has been explored, but the name has still sticks."
"That could explain why we don't receive a response. It's a communications black spot," informed Alan.
"We've got to keep trying," encouraged Scott "If there is the slightest possibility that they are still alive, we must leave the tracking frequency open."
"We don't have the same technology here, as I have here on Thunderbird 5. Even then I lost the call just as soon as I had picked it up," admitted John.
" Brains is still trying to calculate some coordinates. I transmitted the broadcast to him, and he is trying to work out which sector it came from, but one of Grandma's sayings about needles and haystacks springs to mind."
John was interrupted by a bleeping noise on the console in front of him. "We're on the outer edge of the Moon's gravitational pull. Firing retros now." The reverse thrust engines fired with a roar, slowing the spacecraft down in its approach to the Moon. Without them, Thunderbird Three would be drawn into the Moon's gravity and plummet at speeds of around two miles per second to a crash landing.
"Are we going to land?" asked Scott nervously.
"No," said John "Hold on to your hats, we're heading for the dark side!"
With that, John used the engines and gravitational pull to catapult Thunderbird Three away from the landing site, and round to the far side of the Moon.
Grandma Tracy couldn't sleep. She sat in her room, picked up her sewing, put the needle in and pulled it out a couple of times. She did a couple more cross stitches. She usually found her hobby of needlepoint relaxing, but she just could not settle. She sighed, and then put it down. She picked up a magazine she had read twice already, opened it, scanned a few pages and then put it down again. Then she got up and paced around the room, fiddling nervously with the buttons on her cardigan. Her face seemed to have acquired more lines in the last few hours. Her normally smiling pale blue eyes looked clouded with apprehension. She left the privacy of her annexe and walked into the main living room, past the silent portraits of her five grandchildren.
"Hello Mother, I was wondering when you would join me," said Jeff. He looked haggard underneath the harsh artificial light, and suddenly older than his fifty-six years. "Couldn't sleep, huh?"
"Of course, I can't sleep," she retorted, as if somehow it was all his fault.
"Do you want me to ask Kyrano to make you something?"
She shook her head " It won't help. It was always the same with you, Jeff," she confided to her son. "I couldn't settle down to anything while you were up there. Oh, I know you are going to tell me that space travel is safer now than it's ever been, but I can't help worrying. It's not natural."
"Those boys have a job to do, Mother, and they have had the best training for that job."
"But we can't reach them anymore, Jeff. That's what I hate the most."
"It's because they are behind the Moon, on the far side. The radio waves from Earth are screened by the Moon. At best, any communication would be so distorted it would be intelligible."
"I can't help worrying about them."
"I know, I worry too. But just think how bad the families of those two young men are feeling right now. One of them is only a year younger than Alan. The other has a wife and baby son."
"Oh ,I'll go and bake a cake, or make a pie. I've got to do something to take my mind off things."
"That's a good idea. Scott will certainly appreciate it when he gets back."
"Better make that two cakes then."
Jeff managed a feeble smile, and was about to answer her when he was distracted by a phone call. "No peace for the wicked. It's probably Penny. She likes to be kept informed."
Bruce Taylor wanted to talk. For the last half hour he had done nothing but talk about himself. Tom knew his entire life history. From his childhood in South Carolina, to his College days. It was as if he was replaying all of his life like a fast forward video. He was gasping now, his oxygen supply was getting low. Tom was feeling muzzy headed himself.
"Slow down, don't try to talk anymore. Try to conserve your air supply."
"You giving me advice now?" said Bruce. "Seems like you've given up on calling International Rescue then."
"I'm running out of air," answered Tom. "I figure I have only got another hour left."
But Bruce still wanted to talk "It doesn't matter anymore. There's no-one who can hear us. I just want to talk."
"Well if it makes you feel better, I'm happy to listen."
"What about you Tom? I've talked a lot about me, but I don't know anything about you. If we are going to be companions in the afterlife, I figure you need to open up more. You got any regrets you want to air before you shrug off your mortal coils?"
Tom shook his head. He had regrets, plenty of them, but they were private. His biggest regret, was that he was now unable to tell his Father he had forgiven him. Will made him see sense. Tom was on his way to make peace with his father when the blow out occurred.
"Obviously I'm going to regret not seeing my kid grow up," continued Bruce. "And be able to kick a ball around in the park with him. But my biggest regret is not being able to give him a brother or a sister. I always planned on having at least six."
"What did your wife have to say about that?"
"She agrees with me. She comes from a family of nine and I come from a family of seven." He gave an ironic laugh. "I'm actually the seventh son of a seventh son. Isn't that supposed to be lucky or something?"
"I think it's supposed to give you the gift of second sight."
"Hah!" Bruce gave a hollow laugh "Well so much for second sight. I sure didn't see this coming."
"Maybe you have hidden supernatural powers."
"What ? Like being able to talk to ghosts and all that?"
This time Tom laughed. "I figure we'll both be able to do that pretty soon."
"You got any brothers or sisters Tom?"
"No. My parents got divorced when I was young. I'm an only child."
"I've got four older brothers and two sisters. We look out for each other. Have done ever since we were kids. Most people nowadays have only one, or two kids at the most. I'm proud to have come from a big family. I learned a lot from my older brothers. They gave me stability in my life."
"Well I can't comment on that. I did know one guy at college who was from a pretty big family. He had four older brothers, but I wouldn't exactly call him stable. He was a couple of years older than me. We got to know each other because his dad and mine were on Moonbase together. He blew all the windows out of the North side of the College during a rocket propulsion experiment. He ended up being suspended, and then he dropped out altogether and took up motor racing. Wonder what became of him?"
"I've got something!" called Alan excitedly. Scott rushed over to the monitor screen. "Roughly where Brains calculated they would be. That's them I know it is."
"Good old Brains, he's done it again," whooped Scott.
"Take over controls Scott," called John. "Alan and I have got to get into our suits. This is going to be the tricky bit."
Scott's handsome face darkened. "Yeah, we don't know if they are still alive."
"If they are, we'll have to work fast. We won't have time to go back for the gear, so lets take it all with us. Scott see how close you can get to the Moonrover. The closer you get, the quicker we can reach those men, but don't get too close or our engines may send the rover further away. Get the grabs and the cutting gear. Let’s go, Alan."
The two brothers disappeared into the inner airlock and supply chamber to don suits for the space walk.
"Take care you two. Good luck." Scott could not help but feel concerned for them.
When they were suited up, they put on their huge helmets. Scott watched the outer airlock open. Through a porthole window, Alan and John gave him a cheery wave before they stepped out into the silent, dark void with only a silver umbilical cord tethering them to the Mother ship. Scott sat at the controls of Thunderbird Three and felt completely alone. He didn't even have radio contact. He wasn't used to being a spectator. When he was out there in the thick of things, adrenaline made him quick and mentally agile, now it only made him feel sick.
From the portside window, he could see John floating a little way ahead of Alan. Their silver-white suits appeared cumbersome, but John moved with the ease and grace of the accomplished gymnast he was. Although he spent much of his time on board Thunderbird Five, in a sedentary job, he trained rigorously Back home, in the gym on Tracy Island, he had a large trampoline, and would do back flips while his brothers counted. His other love apart from astronomy was skydiving. He would freefall 10,000 feet , arms and legs spread-eagled, the wind whistling in his face and the ground rushing towards him. Then he would leave it until the very last moment, before he pulled the rip cord which opened his parachute. His grandmother refused to watch him.
Alan followed John with his arms and legs flailing. He looked as if he were swimming in an imaginary sea. Both Alan and John were required to spacewalk to repair and make adjustments to the scanners and antenna of Thunderbird Five. Space held no fear for them. However, Scott's stomach was in his mouth. He watched the twisting lifeline that connected his brothers to the Space rocket. They had rescued a man stranded in Space once before. A freak accident had severed his line and left him drifting helplessly. God forbid, If anything went wrong and he couldn't get John or Alan back.
Inside the Moonrover, Bruce was becoming breathless. His oxygen cylinder was practically empty and he was drowsy. He was drifting in and out of consciousness. Tom shook him by the shoulder.
"Bruce, hey Bruce, wake up."
Bruce waved him away. "What for?" he slurred "What's the point? I just want to get it over with now. Leave me alone I just want to sleep."
"But look... There's someone out there…"
"What can you see? Bright lights? Stairway to heaven? Angels playing harps? That's what we are supposed to see, isn't it?"
"No, there really is someone out there. Look at that rocket. It's International Rescue... Bruce they're here... They picked up our message."
"International Rescue... so they came through after all..." And with that, Bruce Taylor head lolled onto his chest as he passed out.
John was the first to reach the Moonrover. When he saw the extent of the damage, he thought that it was nothing short of a miracle the craft was still intact. No way were they going to be able to attach the grabs. The towing action would probably just pull the stricken craft to bits. John and Alan were hampered by poor radio communication John pointed to the grabs and shook his head. Alan tried to ask if the men were still alive, but all John could hear was a distorted crackling. He seemed to understand what Alan was asking and gave the thumbs up sign. Alan in turn, waved to Scott who breathed a sigh of relief. Now all they had to do was get them safely out, before the craft disintegrated. John tried to open a door but found it jammed. He gesticulated to Tom to push the door from his side, but Tom's eyes were beginning to roll and he was finding it hard to focus.
Meanwhile Alan had made his way to the door on the other side of the craft. He noticed that the closed door was the only thing supporting a ragged shard of knife sharp metal, which was poised to crash down on top of the unconscious Bruce. He signalled to John that there was to be no entry on that side. He didn't want to decapitate the man he was supposed to be rescuing. Alan returned to John's side and they both tried the other door again. It still wouldn't budge. When Alan heard John curse over the microphones in his helmet, he realised that they were close enough for radio contact.
"John, we had better be quick. They don't look too good to me."
They could see that by now, both men were unconscious. Tom's face was starting to turn red, and there was a strange purple tinge beneath his eyes. John knew they had to work fast now. The air supply had obviously been exhausted.
"I'm going to use the lasers. You do the same. I'll start at the top and you start at the bottom."
John hauled the laser cutter from a bag attached to his shoulder. Alan did the same. It took only a few minutes for the high powered lasers to cut through the metal, but to John and Alan it seemed much longer. Finally they were through. John wrenched the broken door off and threw it out into space. Tom tumbled out, John was waiting to catch him before he drifted away. When Tom was securely harnessed to Alan, John went in after Bruce. Alan wished that they had another pair of hands. The stricken craft lurched, and a damaged metal support gave way and caught John across the shoulder..
"John? Are you alright?"
"What are you waiting for?" snapped John. "Just get that man back to Thunderbird Three. He stands a chance. I don't know about this one though. He's been unconscious for longer."
"Are you sure you're okay?"
"I'm fine. Now just get going."
Alan saw that Scott had moved Thunderbird Three in as close as he could. He struck out towards the ship, where Scott was waiting to let him into the outer airlock. John was having difficulty manoeuvring Bruce into a position where he could strap him into the harness, in preparation for their Space walk. His shoulder was feeling sore and he hoped that his suit had not been damaged.
Alan had just made it to the outer airlock, he lay down the injured man, and waited for the airlock to reach cabin pressure. He felt Tom's pulse, although it was faint, it was regular. A green light flashed and the inner airlock opened. Scott and Alan swiftly removed Tom's helmet, and immediately gave him oxygen. Tom's eyelids flickered.
"He's coming round," said Scott "Help me get him to the bunks."
Tom could feel himself being lifted up and carried. He tried to speak but his words just came out as an unintelligible slur. He started to gasp for breath again.
"Steady don't try to talk yet," cautioned Alan, as they lay him on the bed.
Tom looked at Alan's face with a glimmer of recognition. Alan had removed his space helmet, but it had left his cheeks pink and puffed up like a hamsters. His eyes were still the same cool blue, but his blond hair was matted with sweat. Tom gave him a thoughtful stare.
"Hey, don't I know you?" he mumbled.
Scott looked concerned. "I don't think so, pal."
"No, not you." Tom took a couple of deep breaths and then removed his oxygen mask. "I meant Alan, Alan Tracy. It is you, isn't it?"
"I think you've got the wrong person," replied Alan, who at that moment didn't really remember Tom.
"Colorado High 2063?"
Alan shook his head "Just rest. You're obviously still groggy."
Tom lay back and closed his eyes, suddenly feeling very exhausted.
"I've got to go back and help John," said Alan.
"Do you know him?" asked Scott as they made their way back to the airlock to await John
"I don't remember," replied Alan truthfully.
"Seems to know you... mentioned Colorado High... and the year 2063"
"Oh yeah... that. I guess I did make myself rather infamous..."
"It's not everyone who nearly succeeds in blowing their school sky high."
Alan looked embarrassed. "It wasn't intentional you know. It was a mistake. I miscalculated one of the chemicals needed for rocket propulsion. Added three times the amount . I just managed to dive under the table before it exploded. I ended up with the ceiling on top of me and a broken collar bone."
"All the same, I wish you had been the shy retiring type. That guy wouldn't have remembered you, and the security of International Rescue wouldn't be at risk."
"Perhaps we can convince him that he was hallucinating or something....."
Scott suddenly cut him off, "Alan, it's John ....I can see him. He's still a fair way from the air lock... and he's in trouble!"
Alan quickly put on his helmet and re-entered the airlock. He could see John and Bruce Taylor through the porthole window. Bruce was dangling listlessly from the harness, strapped to John like a tandem parachutist. John's arms were flailing at his throat. Something was obviously very wrong. John's actions were of a man stricken with panic. Alan immediately realised what was happening. John's suit must have been snagged by the metal, and was now depressurising. John would be experiencing crushing pains in his chest and breathing difficulties.
"Scott, get a suit on quick. I need you to help me reel them both in."
With the rocket set on automatic hold, Scott suited up and joined Alan as the outer airlock opened. Alan floated out to assist John who was beginning to lose his sense of direction. When Alan reached out to his brother, John clung to him desperately. His eyes were wide with fear and pain. Alan could hear him making gasping, gagging noises.
"It's okay, John. You'll make it. There's only a little way to go now." Alan guided the two men towards the airlock, where Scott was gently reeling in the lifeline that tethered then to the ship. In the safety of the airlock, John crumpled to his knees. His face grimaced with pain. Tears streaming from his eyes splashed on to the visor of his helmet.
Alan watched the pressure light turn from red to amber.
"Come on, come on," He drummed his fingers impatiently.
He was counting the seconds as he waited for the green light to appear, to tell them that they could now enter the inner airlock, and remove their helmets.
The long awaited green light appeared accompanied by a series of bleeps. Scott took Bruce by the legs and unceremoniously dragged him through. Alan hoisted the lighter framed John over his shoulder. When the inner airlock closed, Alan laid his brother down, swiftly removed his helmet and strapped an oxygen mask to his face. John took a deep breath, then coughed, spluttered and gasped. Another spasm hit his chest and he doubled up again.
"How is... How… is... he...." John was pointing to Bruce who was lying prone on the floor with Scott bending over him.
"John, don't try to talk," said Alan gently " We're doing all we can."
"The... the other... "
"The other man is doing fine, John. You just take it easy. Lie there for a bit until you get your breath back."
"He's not breathing and I can't find a pulse," said Scott rapidly compressing Bruce Taylor's chest.
John closed his eyes and lay back on the floor. Alan rushed over to assist Scott.
"You do the bagging, while I stay with the chest compressions. On the count of three... one... two... three…" Scott pumped his chest three times, and then Alan took over. He placed the face mask over Bruce's nose and mouth and began to squeeze the air bag to give artificial respiration. They were both to wrapped up to see Tom walk in.
"Oh no....It's not too late! It can't be!" Tom knelt down and took hold of Bruce's hand. "You're coming right back here this minute. You've got another five kids to make. Do you hear? We're not finished with you yet."
Scott and Alan had been working on Bruce for almost ten minutes, Scott paused. " It's not looking good. I don't think he's going to make it, Alan...."
"He's got to. I'm not giving up yet."
"Let me take over," said Tom. He began to bear down on Bruce's chest. "Come on. You've got this far you're not giving up on me now."
Scott took a torch and shone it into Bruce’s eyes. Then he attached a sensor from the portable life support monitor to his patient's wrist and began to check for signs of a pulse.
"I think I've got a faint pulse," he said triumphantly. "Yeah, I got it, it's getting stronger all the time."
Bruce's chest gave a heave as the breath filled his lungs. There were tears in Alan's eyes as well as Toms. Tom clasped Alan's hand in a firm handshake and thanked him repeatedly.
"You know who I am, don't you?" said Alan.
"Your face reminds me of someone I once knew at college. Bruce and I were talking about him earlier."
"We were talking about large families. Bruce here wants another five kids. He was talking about stability in big families. I mentioned a chap I knew at college, who was from a big family. Not the most stable of characters as I recall, but at least the students have him to thank for the new science block. The old one had gone way past it's sell by date."
Alan looked embarrassed as Tom continued, "But I can see that I must have been mistaken. You are not the tearaway Alan Tracy I once knew"
"I would appreciate it, if you didn't mention anything about us, or what you have seen here. It's of vital importance that our organization, and the identities of its operatives, remains a secret."
John had now recovered and was trying to stand up. Scott gave him a helping hand. "It was touch and go out there. For a moment I didn't think we would make it. My suit must have been damaged, I realised I was losing pressure."
"Are you okay to pilot, John? Can you take us down to Moonbase?"
Bruce was now sitting up rubbing his eyes. He stared incredulously around him "Where the...?"
"Hi, pal," said Scott. "You're with International Rescue, and we're about to take you and your buddy back to Moonbase."
"International Rescue. Well I'll be...” He smiled as he caught sight of Tom.
"See, I told you: 'Never give up'.”
Bruce gave a huge white-toothed grin. "Daria... Can somebody call my wife Daria? Tell her I'm safe."
"Sure thing. We should have our radio communication link back by now. You can talk to her yourself."
Alan had an overwhelming urge to call Tin Tin, but he knew it would have to wait until they had dropped the two men off at Moonbase. Presently, John's voice came over the intercom, telling them all to take their seats and strap in for the touchdown.
Tom and Bruce's return was an emotional one. Scott handed the two man over to Commander Steel and the Moonbase resident doctor. Will was overjoyed to see his stepson, but he now faced the unpleasant task of telling Tom of Harvey Daniels’ breakdown and terrible confession. Bridges that had been about to be mended would be torn down once again. While Scott was receiving congratulations and handshakes, Alan sneaked back to Thunderbird Three, longing to call Tin Tin.
After the successful rescue, John guided Thunderbird Three back to Thunderbird Five. Apart from the routine checks, there was nothing much else to do. The paperwork could wait until tomorrow. All Scott and Alan wanted to do was return home. John was busy checking the equipment in Thunderbird Five. Alan walked over to the console to switch off the automatic response
"Mission completed. Better report back to Dad," Alan remarked casually. When he called he was surprised to find Virgil sitting at his father's desk.
"Dad's gone to bed I suppose," assumed Alan.
"No...," replied Virgil.
"I just called to tell him about the rescue."
"Well ... he's not here at the moment."
"Has he been called out in an emergency?"
"Well ... he was called out suddenly."
"He didn't say, Alan."
"That's odd, I thought he would want to hear all about the rescue."
"He did listen in. We all did, then Scott radioed to say that you had the two men. When the crisis was over he said he had to go out."
"Oh. When he returns, tell him we are on our way home. By the way did Gordon and Tin Tin enjoy their evening?" Alan added trying to sound unconcerned.
"I suppose so. I haven't seen them."
"What do you mean? They must be back by now surely?"
"I'm not sure. I've been here for the last three hours."
"You must have heard the helijet land."
"I'm sorry, Alan, I think I might have dozed off at some point."
"Where's Tin Tin? Is she awake yet?"
"Possibly not after such a late night."
"What about Gordon? He never misses his early morning swim?
"Look Alan, I'm sure there's nothing to worry about. I'm glad you all pulled off the rescue. Dad will be the first to congratulate you when you get home."
"Are you sure there isn't anything wrong?"
"See you soon, Alan," and with that Virgil signed off. Alan knew Virgil well enough to know that he was keeping something from him. Virgil never was a very good liar. From his tone Alan was pretty sure that Tin Tin and Gordon had not returned home after their evening out. Alan fingered the wristwatch communicator strapped to his left wrist. The watch face displayed the correct Earth time in the Pacific zone, 6.05 am. Dawn would be breaking and at that moment Alan felt as if he was breaking too. He had another urge to call Tin Tin again. Something was very wrong. He sat at the console looking pensive until Scott approached carrying a mug of hot coffee.
"You look as if you need this. Is something wrong?"
"No... I'm not sure. Dad has left Virgil in charge. Apparently he has been called out."
"Did Virgil say what for?"
"No, but he said there was nothing to worry about."
"Well, we're going to be here for another hour or so, while John finishes his checks. So how do you feel about breakfast?"
"Breakfast?" Alan still appeared distant and distracted.
"Yeah, breakfast. The first meal of the morning, you know the one that sets you up for the rest of the day. Now what does John keep around here? bagels? muffins? cereal?"
"I think you should drink that coffee. Let me know when it de-fogs your brain so you can give me a straight answer."
Alan hardly noticed Scott disappearing to the galley. Now the tension of the rescue had been released from his body, all Scott wanted to do was eat and eat. However eating was the last thing that Alan wanted to do.
At seven o’clock Earth time on Tracy Island, Alan could stand the suspense no longer. He made the decision to call Tin Tin. He could use the rescue as an excuse. He would call her and tell her he was heading for home. He raised his arm and spoke into his communicator He anticipated seeing Tin Tin's face, as he noticed a picture appear on his watch face. The miniaturised camera was picking up the pale blue wall of some kind of room. Alan knew this was not Tin Tin's bedroom. It was obvious that Tin Tin was not wearing her communicator, but had left it switched on. He saw Tin Tin reclining on a large pillow. He could see only her head and shoulders, and her face was turned towards the person who was holding her hand.
Then the picture wobbled. The communicator was being held as if someone was trying to conceal it. Alan lost contact, but not before he saw the unmistakeable copper red hair of his brother Gordon.
"Tin Tin?" Alan tried to contact her again but received no reply. Then he tried to reach Gordon. Why were they both not answering? Then a horrible thought struck him. He tried to dismiss it from his mind. He didn't want to believe what he had just seen. Surely he could trust his own brother! He trusted Tin Tin, but now he was not so sure. He remembered how they made an inseparable trio as children. They were all roughly the same age, Gordon only a year older than Alan. They each shared a playful sense of fun and enjoyed the same outdoor activities. Alan knew that Gordon was fond of Tin Tin in a brotherly kind of way. But hadn't he also been fond of Tin Tin in a brotherly kind of way? - until he fell in love with her! Tin Tin and Gordon always laughed a lot together. Gordon was very easy going and had a great sense of humour. Girls tend go for that more than just good looks. When Gordon was seriously injured, it was Tin Tin who swam with him, and encouraged him during his six months of often gruelling physiotherapy. His long struggle to recovery brought out the motherly instinct in her. Supposing ...
"What's wrong Alan, you've got a face like a wet week?" It was Scott again.
"Nothing's wrong," he lied,
"Well cheer up, you've still got that special date with Tin Tin to look forward to."
"I'm tired, Scott. Will you just leave me alone for a while?"
"Sure." Scott was taken aback by his brother's abruptness. "Look, why don't you get some rest while I fly us home?"
"You do look whacked," observed John, who poked his head round the door to announce that Thunderbird Three was ready for the homeward journey.
"Yeah. Thanks, Scott. Be seeing you, John."
Alan was grateful to escape to the rest room. He closed the door behind him and sat on his bunk, his hands balled into fists. He wanted to strike out at someone or something to relieve his tension. He slammed his fist in to the mattress on the bunk. He didn't like the way he was feeling, but he couldn't help it. He knew that if he and Tin Tin were ever to part, it would be because of his jealous nature. He simply could not bear to share her with anyone else. He was secretly envious of his three handsome elder brothers, Scott for his looks and sophistication, John for his intellect and Virgil for his honey-coated voice and easy way with words. He would not have sat tongue tied in a romantic candle lit restaurant, trying to pluck up the courage to tell his girlfriend that he loved her. Gordon, however was a different kettle of fish, Alan wasn't in awe of Gordon. Gordon wasn't strikingly handsome, outstandingly clever or sophisticated. He was just your average boy next door who happened to excel at swimming. Alan was trying to think of a reasonable excuse as to why Tin Tin and Gordon would be in a strange room together at seven o clock in the morning, but still he could not get horrible thoughts of betrayal out of his head. As Thunderbird Three hurtled nearer to Earth, Alan could feel his temper rising.
Four hours later, Scott and Alan sat side by side on the couch as it slowly descended from Thunderbird Three to transport them back to the Tracy Villa. Alan had a face set like granite, and Scott knew better than to approach him. They sat in silence as the couch glided swiftly along its tramlines. A trap door in the ceiling above them opened, the couch rose up and clicked back into place in the Tracy's living room. Alan glowered at the floor.
"Welcome back." Virgil beamed a smile from behind his father's desk. Alan did not acknowledge him.
"Promotion at last then," joked Scott as alighted from the couch.
"No way! The sooner Dad gets back the better."
"Yeah, where is he, Virg? It's not like him to dash off without telling me. I thought he would want to hear about the rescue, and all the latest news from the Moonbase. Nothing's wrong is it?"
"Where's Gordon?" demanded Alan, before Virgil had the chance to reply to Scott. Both brother's were taken aback by the bitterness in his voice. Virgil shrugged his shoulders in response to the unasked question that played around Scott's bemused face.
"Tin Tin... Is she here?" asked Alan in a voice that fought to control his tide of emotions.
"No, Alan. There's something I have to tell you..."
Alan pushed Virgil aside and strode through the doorway that led to their private rooms. "You don't need to tell me anything. But Gordon does!"
"Alan…" Virgil grabbed his arm, but Alan roughly brushed him aside again.
"Look, will somebody please tell me what's going on?" pleaded Scott.
"Later, I think Alan has got the wrong idea. I've got to stop him doing something he may regret." Virgil dashed from the room in hot pursuit and caught up with Alan who was hammering furiously on Gordon's bedroom door.
"Gordon, I know you're in there."
Virgil tried to restrain him. "Don't do that, he's got a headache."
"I'll bet he has! He'll have an even bigger one when I get hold of him!"
"ALAN!" The normally placid Virgil was now shouting at him. "WILL YOU CALM DOWN AND HEAR ME OUT!"
"It's none of your business! This is between me and Gordon." Alan began to hammer at the door again. Virgil grabbed Alan by his shoulders and forcibly pinned him to the wall.
"NOW WILL YOU PACK IT IN AND LISTEN!"
Virgil, was a gentle, good natured man, but he had a powerful build. He could match Alan strength for strength. As Virgil fought to restrain him, Alan's face crumpled.
"I called her ,Virg," he said miserably. "I had finished the rescue and I wanted to talk to her. They didn't come home last night, did they? You knew it when I called you, I could tell you were hiding something. You've always been a lousy liar!"
"You know you should be ashamed of yourself." Virgil's eyes blazed with anger, and for a moment Alan thought he was going to hit him. "I can't believe what a mean, suspicious mind you have! You thought... How could you possibly think that Gordon and Tin Tin would do anything to hurt you? Tin Tin would never speak to you again. She would be appalled and so would Gordon, she's like a sister to him... to all of us, except for you. I know she flirts with us occasionally, but that's because for most of the time you take her for granted. HOW COULD YOU? After all they have been through?"
"What do you mean, 'after all they have been through?'"
"Just give me chance to explain Alan, before you put your fist through the door."
"You know that communicator she wears?" continued Alan. "The one disguised as a broach? Well, she wore that pinned to the neck of her dress. She must have taken the dress off and accidentally switched the videolink on. It was obvious she was not wearing that dress when I tried to contact her, The videolink was still running, I saw the picture through the crumpled folds of her dress. It looked like some poky motel room. I saw her resting her head on a pillow and my beloved brother was bending over her. Explain that!"
At that point the door opened, and a dishevelled looking Gordon appeared. "I'm sorry Alan..."
Alan was momentarily shocked by Gordon's appearance. "What happened to your face?"
Gordon's right cheekbone was bruised and swollen. A small cut on his forehead was held together by a couple of pieces of surgical tape. "I'm sorry, I couldn't do anything to stop them. They attacked us from behind. Stole my wristwatch communicator. I figure they thought it was one of those fancy videophones. Then they knocked me cold."
"Knocked you cold? Gordon what are you talking about? Where's Tin Tin?"
"I think the police wanted to talk to her again."
"Police? Tin Tin's in some kind of trouble with the police?"
"Alan, will you let me explain?" interjected Virgil, "And Gordon, you look terrible. Go back to bed."
"No Virgil, it's my fault, I should have insisted on getting a cab back to the helijet. It was Two o’clock in the morning when we left the nightclub. There was a beautiful full moon shinning on the sea. It was still and quiet, Tin Tin wanted to walk along the beach, so she could watch the moon. She was missing you, Alan. She was worried about you on that rescue. She did her best to hide it, and I tried to give her a good time to take her mind off things."
Virgil interrupted with a nervous cough. He wished Gordon could have chosen a better phrase to come out with in the circumstances. However Alan's temper had subsided. He was now filled with shame and concern.
"I should have called a cab," repeated Gordon remorsefully " Living as we do here, in luxury, on our own island, kind of insulates us from the real world and the darker side of life. I didn't see who attacked us, but Tin Tin did. There were three of them. They jumped me first, had me on the ground before I realised what was happening. She said they were just kids, probably homeless drug addicts. I suppose in a way we asked for it, walking in a deserted area late at night in our swanky clothes. They took all our money of course, and they will probably try to sell my wristwatch, but they will get one hell of a shock if they try to use it to call anyone. Brains has deactivated it and programmed it to emit an ear splitting shriek."
"You were mugged!" exclaimed Alan. The penny had suddenly dropped. "Tin Tin. Was she hurt? Is she in hospital?"
"Tin Tin's going to be fine. She was shaken up a bit, and they broke her finger when they snatched her ring. The Doctor decided to keep her in. He wanted to keep me in too but I discharged myself as soon as Dad arrived with Kyrano. They had to re-set the bone in her finger. Kyrano stayed with her, and I came back with Dad."
"Oh my God!" Alan looked horrified. The sparsely furnished blue room was a hospital. Tin Tin had been lying on a hospital bed, and Gordon holding her hand to comfort her.
"I'm sorry, Alan. We decided not to tell you until you came back. We didn't want to worry you while you were on such a tricky rescue. I called Dad from the Hospital, and he came straight over with Kyrano. I knew you would try to contact her. I heard the communicator bleep beside her hospital bed, I figured it must be you. I managed to switch it off before anyone else heard it. A policeman had just arrived to take a statement from Tin Tin. I didn't want him asking any awkward questions."
"Gordon... I'm..." Words failed Alan, as tears of shame welled up in his eyes. He pulled his brother into a bear hug.
Gordon winced "Ow! Careful. They gave me a punch in the ribs for good measure. I'm still sore."
Alan loosened his grip. "I want to see Tin Tin."
"Dad's gone over to bring her back as soon as she has given the police a description of the attackers," explained Virgil. "The police have apprehended three suspects, and want to see if she can identify any of them. Don't worry Alan, she's bearing up well, she's more worried about you and Gordon."
"We didn't really want the police involved," explained Gordon "But someone apparently called them, and an ambulance, while I was unconscious. I was just coming round when they arrived. Tin Tin was holding her hand and in some pain, so they took us both to hospital. It was the last place I wanted to be, but Tin Tin's finger was bent at a horrible angle. I thought she might need surgery. She was more upset about the ring than her finger. She wished she had left it at home, but she wanted to wear it for you, it was special to her. She thought you would be cross with her for losing it. It was quite valuable wasn't it?"
"It doesn't matter about the ring. I just want to see her."
"Come on, Alan. Let Gordon get some rest now." Virgil closed the door and led Alan away.
"You don't have to look at me like that, Virgil. I know I've been an idiot."
"I'm not going to argue with you on that point!"
"Look, I don't know how to apologise to him. I don't know what got into me..."
"Well, fortunately neither Gordon or Tin Tin will ever know what you were thinking. I'm not going to tell them, nor will Scott. Now you have been an idiot, and if you want my advice you'll buy Tin Tin another ring. One for her left hand this time, with a large rock set in a gold band. Don't let this irrational jealousy of yours come between you. She's crazy about you, not that you deserve it, and a girl like Tin Tin isn't going to wait in the wings forever."
Another week passed, and on another moonlit night in the same restaurant, the same head waiter offered the same table in the same secluded corner. The same couple thanked him politely and sat down, although Tin Tin was wearing another new dress in rich ruby red to complement her dark oriental features. Alan was determined that nothing was going to go wrong tonight, schooled by Virgil as to what to say, and when to say it, he clasped his fingers around the small box hidden in his jacket pocket. The champagne was flowing and Alan was allowed to indulge himself. Virgil volunteered to act as taxi service.
Alan took hold of Tin Tin's delicate hands, her injured finger was still strapped up. Alan was feeling nervous and unsure of himself. Virgil had practically said that he did not deserve her, and still feeling shame for his past behaviour, he had to agree. He would be twenty-two next month, Tin Tin would be twenty-three in June. They were still young. He wondered what life for her would have been like if she had not become a member of International Rescue. She would probably have a thriving career of her own. A wide circle of friends and a busy social life. But he did not forget that she also had a demonic half-uncle who wished to possess her and kill her father. What could he offer her? A secure, stable home life? Hardly In his line of work he figured his chances of living to draw his pension were not very high. Gordon said she worried about him while he was on a rescue. What would a lifetime of worry do to that beautiful face? International Rescue was his life; he and his family faced danger all of the time. Gordon was philosophical about it all. He figured that if your number was up, there was nothing you could do about it. You could be killed in any number of ways if you thought about it. You could die in a plane crash, or choke to death on a piece of food. Gordon's own near death experience in a hydrofoil crash had left him with a fatalistic approach to life, and strangely unafraid of death. Alan had never experienced the death of someone close to him, Alan had never known his own mother who died during his birth, but he had seen the effect her death had on his father and elder brothers. What if he and Tin Tin had a child, then something happened to him and Tin Tin was left to raise that child without a father? There were so many responsibilities.
Tin Tin was smiling across at him with her soft beguiling eyes. All he had to say were those three little words. Three so very simple little words...
Why was he finding them so hard to say?
"Excuse me Sir, I do hope you are able to enjoy your meal tonight."
"Thank you," replied Alan "I'm sure I will." The head waiter hovered and then gestured to the manager. Alan was perplexed when the manager of the restaurant came over personally, to enquire after his health.
"I'm fine, but I think I will give the spiced prawns a miss just to be on the safe side," he joked.
"I have made a few improvements to our facilities. I hope they meet with your approval."
Alan felt a bit embarrassed when he remembered the choking incident. He just wanted to forget about his last visit, however the manager was insistent.
"Come with me, I will show you," he announced proudly.
Alan was not sure what he was supposed to see. He assumed he was going to be given a tour of the kitchen. He was even more confused when the manager insisted on escorting him to what he coyly termed as the 'restroom' amid references about 'making things more comfortable for him'. Alan was completely speechless when the manager discreetly slipped him a key to his own private toilet cubicle. When he opened the door he found a polished mahogany seat hermetically sealed in a plastic bag! The manager then jokingly made a remark about 'having the best seat in the house'.
Although Alan hadn't the slightest idea of what the man was talking about, he nodded and smiled. As the son of a billionaire, he was use to being fawned over, and it rather embarrassed him. But this was going right over the top! He had expected a cooler reception, after dashing out of the restaurant on his last visit, without paying the bill!
"I don't know what that was all about," he remarked to Tin Tin, when he returned to the table. She smiled knowingly, and then burst out laughing when Alan explained what had just happened. Suddenly Alan had the feeling that Gordon must have had something to do with this.
"When you and Gordon came back to re-order the meal and settle the bill, what did he say about my running off like that?"
"Well, he could hardly tell the truth," Tin Tin smiled. "So he made something up."
"What? Like telling them I was a heart surgeon being paged for an urgent operation?"
"Well, what reason did he give for me running out of the restaurant like that? Galloping food poisoning?"
"Something like that." Tin Tin started to laugh again. "He said..." she stopped as she was overwhelmed by a fit of giggles.
"He said what?" asked Alan, a note of irritation creeping into his voice
"He told the manager that you suffered from stomach problems, and had a fear of catching germs from public toilet seats."
"HE SAID WHAT!?"
"They were very understanding," giggled Tin Tin. "They promised to make sure that on your next visit, they would be more accommodating to your... er problem."
"I'll kill him. I swear I'll kill him"
"They must value your custom if they have installed your own private restroom."
"I don't care. I'LL STILL KILL HIM!"