It's not every day you wake up in the middle of nowhere, injured, alone, and without even the slightest clue who you are or how you got there...

Chapter One: Surreal Awakening

The first thing I noticed was the cold. It wasn’t mere cold; no, I was basically freezing. Dimly, I was aware of the fact that I should be warm. Cold was wrong. Very wrong. In more aspects than one.

But that wasn’t the only thing amiss. I expected to lie on something soft, but the ground under me was hard and uneven. Lumps poked into my back, made it uncomfortable to lie there. Not soft at all.

Annoyed to be awoken from my slumber, I blinked wearily. Found my way back towards consciousness. And made a sound of discomfort as I realized yet another thing that wouldn't fit .

I was wet.

Soaking wet, to be brutally honest. Icy water trickled down my face, collected in my lower back and made lying there damn uncomfortable. The clothes stuck to my skin, heavy with water and dirt.

What a wonderful way to wake up, soaked to the skin and freezing to death.

Opening my eyes revealed a grey sky over me, full of clouds. I blinked. Somehow, I had the impression that I should be in my bed instead of here…where was here, anyway? My mind was all fuzzy; I didn’t really function yet. A bed would definitely be nicer than this, I decided grumpily, as several aches announced their presence.

Slowly, I tried to sit up, only to notice a nice collection of bruises all over my body. Where had those come from? I didn’t have the slightest clue, but damn, they hurt! Wincing, I touched a couple of them. They looked nasty, sporting all colours ranging from blue to purple. There was also a ragged gash running along my left arm, not very deep, but painful.



Now, what was I doing here, all on my own?

I looked around, trying to find out where I was. Next to me was a huge river, the muddy water flowing very quickly. I was on my back not far away from it, sprawled on the ground like a limp rag doll.

What the hell had I been doing? Gone for a swim in there? I looked at the river in disgust. No sane person would go for a swim in that; and besides, I was still wearing my clothes. If I had really been swimming, I should have been clad in swimming trunks.

However, I was wet. So I had been in the water. And the only water in sight was the river. Very confusing.

I shook my head, feeling very befuddled. Maybe this was only a dream, I tried to reassure myself, and rubbed my face gingerly. It hurt, especially my temple, where I found an open wound, bleeding all over my cheek. Well, great. That made me feel so much better. I must have been pretty stupid to get injured like that. Hmm. So, how did that happen again?

Gee, you’d think I’d be able to remember that, but obviously…man, that must have been the hell of an accident, or my name wouldn’t be…wouldn’t be…what the heck…

…My name…

I opened my mouth like a fish, but it didn't change the gaping hole in my memory, right there where my name should have been. I couldn’t remember my damn name!

An uncomfortable feeling of dread fluttered in my stomach. This couldn't be. I had to know my name, maybe I was only disorientated...it would come back any second, I was sure...

But nothing happened.

A name is such a basic thing, holds so much importance, that it felt utterly horrible not knowing it. I mean, it was my name! I was born with it, yet I couldn’t…didn’t…didn’t even remember whether I had liked it or not. Nothing. Just emptiness.

I burrowed my head in my hands, trying to think, trying to remember, but whatever I did, my mind stayed blank. There was simply nothing, a whiteness that scared me much more than the awkward situation or my injuries. I felt lost, out of control, and so terribly alone that tears sprung to my eyes.

I wiped them away very quickly. Panicking wouldn’t help me, I told myself and tried to get my breathing back under control. It might not be permanent. It may come back any moment. Just breathe. Relax. Breathe.

I waited, but no memories popped back into my head. Well, I hadn’t really expected them to. Something told me that this wasn’t my lucky day (gee, really?).

Reality check. What did I know? What could I remember?

Obviously I hadn’t forgotten everything - I knew enough to make sense of the situation and recognize that I was suffering from amnesia.

Amnesia. What a horrible, cruel word. And yet it was the first one that popped into my name when I thought of my situation. Amnesia. Memory-loss.

So, I wasn’t totally brain-dead, that was a relief, if only a small one. But what else? Look at the facts, some invisible voice whispered deep in my mind, and then try to put the pieces together.

My name? Nope. Still not there.

My age? Hmm…difficult to say, but not too old, judging from my body. Not a kid, either. Probably in my twenties. Not in a bad shape, as I might say, even though I was a mass of scratches and bruises.

My appearance? Not even the slightest clue. My skin was white and my hair short, that was about all I could say. Didn’t even know the colour of my eyes – somehow, that depressed me the most. I mean, who doesn’t know his eye-colour? I ran through the possible colours in my head, but none of them rang a bell. That annoyed me no end.

I tried to look up at my hair, but I only saw a blur and concentrating that close made my head ache. Headache. Ugh. I could have lived without that, but the pounding seemed very insistent to stay.

My clothes? I stared down at my body, unable to identify what I was wearing. Trousers, that much was sure, nearly shredded to pieces and soaked with murky water. The shirt – had it been a shirt? – was laughable, full of holes and so dirty that I couldn’t even recognize the colour. My boots were sturdy, but didn’t tell me anything. There was no tag on the clothes, no label, nothing.

Great. I patted my body, trying to find some sort of identification. But all the pockets were empty – except one that was filled with mud, but I didn’t think that was going to tell me anything about my glorious life.

I was wearing a watch, as well, but one look told me that it would never be working again. The plastic had smashed and the insides were filled with mud, as well. What had I done, wrestled with a mud monster?

"This sucks." I said loudly and was surprised at the roughness of my voice. It sounded strange in my ears; shouldn’t I be used to my own voice? And if I can’t even remember my own voice, that means bad business, doesn’t it?

Hmm. That left me in quite a dilemma. As far as I could see, I was on my own. The forest was empty – how can you know about forests and not remember your name? – full of mud and debris. Somehow, that irked me. I knew for certain that a forest floor shouldn’t be littered with broken planks and parts of things.

"Who am I?" I whispered, looking down at my rough, battered hands. Nobody answered me, and the isolation, the pain seemed greater than ever. Like…like hanging in the air without any ground under your feet. No tether. Nothing to keep you secure. No safety harness…Safety harness? That seemed to ring a bell. I frowned slightly, trying to catch the memory, but it darted away again, leaving me as clueless as before. Well, great.

I didn’t remember anything about my life, my history, my interests…I didn’t know what I was, who I was, where I was! I lost the most basic of things - my memory – and it took all my will not to scream in panic.

Finally, I pulled myself together enough to get up on my knees. It hurt like hell, but I managed to stand. The world was tilting around me, slightly out-of-focus. I blinked, willing the dizziness to disappear, and oh wonder, it worked.

Then I started walking. Nothing better to do, eh? And who knew, maybe I’d find someone who could help me.


Have you every experienced something similar to amnesia? Have you ever lived through the pain of…of not having anything? Of being utterly alone?

It’s nothing that can be described with words. Imagine having everything torn away from you – everything you know and love, everything you remember, even the tiniest details. Imagine feeling like a new-born – everything is strange and frightening, new and exciting at the same time.

The more I thought about it, the more things came to my mind I didn’t know about myself, and each one added to the mental anguish I was going through.

What was my favourite food? My favourite colours?

The river reminded me of swimming. Did I like swimming? Could I swim?

What about my family? Did I have a family? Did I have a wife? Maybe even kids? No, I was pretty certain I didn’t have kids – far too young for that – but I couldn’t be certain. Man, it would be terrible if I had kids and had forgotten them. A shudder ran through my body. I sincerely hoped that I had neither wife nor kids.

While I was dragging myself through the forest, confused, hurting and very much alone, I couldn’t stop questioning myself. I kept looking for clues, for hints who I was, what I was doing there and why I was injured. But all I encountered was blackness, and the longer it took, the more frightened I became. It was a puzzle with all the pieces missing, an empty picture frame in my mind.

There were things I knew, almost by instinct – I knew what a tree was, for example, and that I needed to get medical help – but everything that concerned me was just a black hole.

A nightmare that wouldn’t end.

Finally, I found some sign of civilization. A road. It was full of debris, but still intact. I stood still for a second, trying to decide which way to go. Then I shrugged and walked to my right. Since I had no idea where I was, there was no way I could know which way to go.

The first house I saw I greeted with obvious excitement. It was a small farm house, huddled between the trees and made of wood. As soon as I saw the structure, I hurried there, looking all the way for some sign of life.

I found none.

The door was open, revealing a cluttered interior. There had certainly been people living here – there was a television, some bottles, clothes strewn around – but it looked as if they had left in a hurry without bothering to take anything with them.

"Hello?" I called cautiously into the eerie scenery. "Anybody home?"

No reply. The floor creaked under my feet as I stepped towards the table. Some bread was lying there – that’s something to eat, isn’t it? Yuck, well, at least it was...looks a bit on the other side, now – untouched. This house had obviously been abandoned, but why?

Even though I didn’t have any memories, I knew that this wasn’t good. People didn’t just leave their homes, not voluntarily. And they certainly didn’t leave everything behind. The only logical conclusion was that they had been forced – maybe by some kind of disaster.

The idea of being the only one left in an abandoned area made me shudder. I quickly left the house, trying to get those images out of my mind. My imagination was playing tricks on me; it surely couldn’t be that bad, I kept telling myself. There could be a logical explanation for this, one I simply didn’t find. After all, I wasn’t exactly in top shape, either.

(You're just getting paranoid. Yeah, that's it. Maybe they had a big family fight. Things like that happen.)

Determined to find someone, anyone, who could tell me what was going on, I trudged onwards, following the road that curved through the forest.

However, as the hours passed and my exhaustion grew, I found that I was still alone. I encountered a couple of houses, but they were all empty – the windows broken, the gardens untidy. Everywhere I looked, I saw signs that the inhabitants had left very quickly. Doors were hanging from broken hinges, some cars – mostly old pick-ups – overturned at the side of the road. And the ground, so dirty, full of mud and covered with rubbish.

I grew more and more uncomfortable. What if something horrible, something dreadful had happened and they had left me behind? (Whoever 'they' might be...)

I tried to shake off that thought, but when I passed a burned out car that had crashed against a tree, I gulped with sudden fear. Without my memories, I was helpless; if I had been left behind, I would never know…

It wasn’t fair. I balled my hands into fists, as a sudden wave of rage swept over me. Why me? What had I done? Wasn’t it enough that I couldn’t remember? Did I have to be thrown in some weird psycho movie as well?

"I don’t think that’s funny!" I shouted at nobody in particular, glaring at the trees that surrounded me. I needed to vent my anger, needed it to keep myself together. I didn’t like feeling helpless, and I felt the burning need to lash out at…at something!

"ARGH!" I screamed, frustrated at myself and the whole world. Why was there nothing I could do? I was going mad from anxiety. The loneliness seemed more tangible than ever, almost suffocating me. What if I was the only one left? What if everybody else had died? What if I was the only person alive?

No, don’t go there, I told myself, when I felt the panic crawl over my heart. You need to keep a grip on yourself. There’s no evidence for that. You don’t know what happened. Just…stay calm.

So I tried to ignore the tremors that ran along my spine every time I passed an empty house. Those people certainly had valid reasons to leave. Maybe…maybe…

Valid reasons, the hell! I couldn’t think of any logical reasons why anyone would leave their house behind, with the exception of some virus attack or other dreadful things.

That thought made me look around. I really hoped that the air wasn’t infected with any strange viruses, I didn’t want to catch some kind of sickness…Maybe I was already ill? Maybe that was the reason for my amnesia?

I grabbed my head in confusion, trying to sort through the tumbling thoughts.

Why the hell did I know what a virus was, and yet couldn’t remember my name? Goddammit, that was annoying.

The houses became more frequent (yet I didn’t go inside again; it was simply too freaky), until finally the road opened up into a small town near the riverside. Everything was empty as well; the streets covered with mud and rubbish. The houses looked normal; well, as normal as they could – I really didn’t remember how houses looked like, but they seemed normal.

"Hello?" I called cautiously, feeling very alone in this ghost city. My feet made squelching noises as I waded through ankle-deep mud. "Is anybody here?"

I opened the door to one of the houses and grimaced. Yuck, even the floor inside was covered in mud! Didn’t the people here know how to clean their homes? The brown stuff made interesting squishy noises under my boots, while I carefully peered into the darkness.

Immediately a word sprang into my mind – living room – and I knew what I was looking at. Annoyance crept up at me; why couldn’t it be that way with my memories? Just look at something and pouf! I’d remember everything. I waited for a while, desperately listening into myself, but nothing happened. Well, it figured.

In the corner of the room I saw some clothes, thrown carelessly across an armchair. That gave me an idea. My own were pretty ragged and wet. Wearing dry clothes probably wouldn’t bring my memory back, but it would be an improvement nonetheless. I'd feel better, at least.

Hesitantly I looked into a few cupboards, feeling like a burglar, and grabbed some jeans, a T-Shirt and a flannel jacket. There was also a couple of black boots, which I took gratefully; my own were soaked and shredded.

Getting rid of my soaked clothes was a relief, I can tell you! And then the bliss of having dry, warm cloth on my skin…still, I couldn’t bring it over myself to leave the rags of my old clothes there – after all, they were my only link to the past. So I stuffed them in a random plastic bag I found, closing it carefully.

Feeling much better, I left the house, determined to find out what was wrong with the world. It couldn’t be that everybody had left – I just had to find some people. Something to eat wouldn’t be bad, either. I was starting to feel quite hungry. Just as…always said…

Who? Who had said what? It had been on the tip of my tongue, but I lost it again. Frustrated I kicked against a piece of rubble, only to stub my toe. Great. The stream of curse words that flowed from my mouth was quite powerful and I had to smile at the irony. I could remember cursing, but didn’t know my hair colour.

Don’t you just hate life?

Across the street was a building with huge glass windows. There were tables inside, and a bar with lots of bottles. Yay. Food. And something to drink.

Can you imagine the eerie silence of an abandoned town? No? Now, have you ever been out on a hot Sunday, when the streets are empty and the shops are closed? You know that there are people there, behind the windows, inside the houses, but you can’t see them and it gives you this horrible, otherworldly feeling? Now imagine that feeling multiplied by 100 and made even worse by the fact that you know there aren’t any people there. Congratulations, you now have a distinct impression of what I was experiencing that very moment.

The door opened with a creak, revealing a dim interior. To my surprise, it looked rather inviting; soft, warm chairs, a room without any edges, but only curves and the walls painted in a pleasant sunflower yellow.

"Hello?" I called again, limping towards the bar – what in the hell was a bar anyway?

No reply, but by now it didn’t surprise me anymore. I kind of had accepted that the town was deserted.

"Something to eat, something to drink." I hummed to myself, trying to escape the eerie calmness around me. "Hmm, let’s see…" I picked one of the many bottles – bottles are those glass thingies, aren’t they? – and tried to remember how to open it. My mind came up blank, but my fingers were working on their own accord. With a slight hiss, the lid snapped open. I took a cautious sniff, but I was pretty sure I wouldn’t remember the right smell anyway, so I took a gulp.

Blargh. Nasty stuff – it burned down my throat and did nothing satisfy my thirst. I grimaced and shuddered as the liquid warmed my stomach. It tasted foul, but it seemed to warm me up, something I was grateful for.

Curiously, I turned the bottle over and looked at the label. The signs on it looked strange at first, but then they arranged themselves together. "Whiskey", it read. I took another sip of it, not because I liked it, but because it seemed to calm me down.

I know that taste.

Well, at least I was able to read, that was a relief, but everything else still stayed a mystery.

There was a tap – hey, I know what a tap is! – and I turned it eagerly. To my honest disappointment, no water came. Gee. Great. I scanned the rest of the bottles and finally settled for one with a red label on it. The content tasted sickenly sweet, but it was much better than the burning stuff from before.

The only food I found was a bag with crispy, salty things that I munched greedily. "Chips," the label said, and immediately the phrase ‘comfort food’ sprang into my mind. Well. I could certainly need that. I munched happily, wondering whether I had liked chips before or not. They certainly didn’t taste unpleasant.

Apparently, I could remember most day-to-day things – enough to get by – but now and then things eluded me.

"This sucks!" I told nobody in particular and rubbed my aching shoulder. "I can’t even remember what I was doing here. Maybe I had a job to do?" Suddenly, another thought flashed through my mind, one that made me very uncomfortable. What was I supposed to do when I met other people? Talk to them? Go to a hospital? Go to the police?

Thinking of the police made me wary. A warning bell rang in my head, telling me to be cautious – but why? There was a need for secrecy…but only criminals had to stay away from the police! I wasn’t a criminal, was I? The thought scared me; I certainly didn’t feel like a criminal, but how could one be sure? Maybe I had done something horrible, maybe I had escaped and was pursued by hundreds of cops…maybe the people in this town fled from me…Alright, that sounded a bit far-fetched, even to my ears. It was obvious that something else had happened, with so much destruction and devastation everywhere. But the uneasy feeling remained.

Well, there was nothing to be done about it now, I argued sensibly. One part of me was surprised at how logical and detached I was behaving – shouldn’t I be panicking and crying? But here I was, trying to be smart about everything (even though the rage was still there). Maybe I was used to stressful situations; or maybe I was simply too tired.

Anyway, I had to leave this town and not on foot. I was so exhausted that I wouldn’t make it far, and I had no intention to sleep in the forest. But staying here wasn’t an option either.

I frowned and looked out of the window, trying to find something that might help me. The road led slightly uphill, and there, on the highest point, I could see a car. My face lit up; it seemed dry and relatively undamaged. Maybe that was my rescue.

Do I know how to drive?

I jogged out of the building. The car was small, but sleek and slender. Whatever had happened here, it hadn’t reached the car. It appeared unscathed. I peered inside. Something was missing, I realised and frowned. Something which I would need to drive the car.

A key. You need a key.

The image of a silvery small device slipped into my mind. That was it. Dammit. My hopes were crushed immediately as I slipped down the side of the car and sat on the ground. Tiredly, I rubbed my face. My head began to pound. I wanted to be out of here, wanted to be home…wherever that was.

Cars. I know something about cars.

Maybe the key was in there somewhere? Maybe it was lying under the seats? I didn’t really believe it, but it was worth a try. I got up, every part of my body protesting, to look for a stone to smash the window with.

You shouldn’t do that.

The uneasy feeling increased. Apparently, smashing car windows wasn’t a nice thing to do. However, did I have another option? I reflected for a moment and found that I had none. Well, great. With more force than necessary, I struck the window with the stone. It shattered nicely.

Careful. Glass makes nasty cuts.

I growled at the insistent voice in my head. Why did it keep reminding me of useless things? Quickly, I unlocked the door and sat behind the round thingie – steering wheel. Used to steer the car. My eyes scanned the interior, but apart from lots of dirt and a few empty bottles, I couldn’t find a key.

That was when my hands started to work automatically, as they had done before with the bottle. They opened the plastic under the steering wheel and fiddled with the wires. I could only watch in amazement as I picked the correct cables with expertise, holding them together until finally, I heard a distant rumble. Automatically, I engaged the clutch, surprised at myself. Obviously, I knew a bit about cars.

The motor hummed comfortingly, filling me with a familiar feeling. I grabbed the steering wheel and played with the pedals. Yep. Definitely. I was used to cars. Hmm. What did that tell me?

Gee…had I just hot-wired a car?

The criminal theory was thickening. Why else should I be able to steal cars that easily? Maybe I was a professional car thief.

The idea didn’t seem right, but I couldn’t think of another one. Well, I had to be careful. Better to stay low until I was able to get some light in the matter.

Without thinking I reached up and adjusted the rear-view mirror. Catching a glimpse of myself, I thought ‘so that’s what an arch-criminal looks like’.

Slowly, I started driving down the road, intent to get the hell out of here.

Chapter Two: Fruitless Search

"But we lost him! You have to help us!" Scott Tracy had never been so frustrated in his entire life. He was standing in a little office, facing the mayor of the small town.

"We know, Mr. Scott." The woman seemed distressed herself. "And believe, we’re trying our best to help you. Fact is that your man was lost in a huge tidal wave, and the area it covered was vast. We told every single rescue worker to look out for him, but with so many roads blocked, it will be a difficult task."

She didn’t speak out what everybody dreaded – and by now, he might not even be alive any longer - , and Scott was grateful for that. He didn’t want to think of the fact that his brother was dead. No, he needed to concentrate on finding him alive, even if it meant he had to dig through every mud covered town himself.

"Thank you." he finally said resignedly. "We’re going to look for him ourselves, but please inform us as soon as you have any news."

She nodded. "We certainly will. Believe me, the whole valley is in your debt – International Rescue has saved so many lives, and everybody will be happy to help. Things are just a tad chaotic right now; it could very well be that your operative has already been found, but can’t reach us due to the broken telephone lines."

Scott smiled, thankful for the attempt to cheer him up. He didn’t bother trying to explain about their watches which they used as comm links. He would surely have contacted them by now, after all, he had been gone for nearly eight hours…

Yet the oldest Tracy knew that many factors played against him. It was easy to lose the watch; and even though Brains had constructed them well, they could still be damaged.

He rubbed his tired face. "I’m going back to Thunderbird One," he announced. "You know how to call me."

"Of course." The mayor looked at him full of concern. "If you don’t mind me speaking my mind, you look like hell. Maybe you should catch a couple of hours sleep before you continue searching. It will be dark soon and you won’t be of any help if you collapse."

"I know." Scott’s face stayed impassive. "But he might be out there as well, unable to sleep because he’s injured, or…I don’t know. I don’t think I could sleep."

"I understand." Suddenly, she smiled. "I guess this is the reason why you work for International Rescue. Go on then, I won’t keep you any longer – and believe me, we’re all trying our best."

Scott simply nodded and left the room. He was supposed to call his father, but right now, he couldn’t do it. He needed to pull himself together first, to get a grip on the raw emotions that washed over him.

It wasn’t unusual for one of his brothers to get hurt on a rescue – it was a dangerous business, after all, and his brothers, especially the younger ones, were known to take risks in order to save people’s lives. Not that he disagreed. More than once, Scott had put his own life on line, but it was always a bit different when he saw it happening to other people.

So, he was used to dealing with it when they got hurt. Most of the times, it wasn’t anything life-threatening – painful, yes, lots of broken bones and concussions, but there had been only a couple of times when it had been a life and death matter. Scott was grateful for that. Each of them had taken years off his life, and he didn’t know how many more he had to spare.

It was another thing, though, not to know what had happened to his brothers. It had been that way a couple of months ago, when one of his brothers had been caught in a rock fall along with a couple of children. He had tried to help them, but the ground had been too unsteady. It had taken them hours to dig them out, and the whole time Scott had feared the worst.

It was the not-knowing, the uncertainty that was the worst. Because he always started imagining what might have happened, and this was never good. The idea of one of his brothers in pain while he was stuck somewhere else, unable to help, tormented him greatly.

Scott couldn’t help it – he had always been protective of his brothers. They made fun of him, called him mother-hen and who knew how many supposed-to-be-funny nicknames. Sometimes he got angry at them, sometimes he was embarrassed, but most of the times he took it with ease. He had enough experience to know that some things couldn’t be changed – and his protective streak was one of them.

Right now it was killing him, though. The rescue wasn’t supposed to end that badly – but then again, most weren’t, and those who started the easiest were usually the worst. Maybe it was Murphy’s Law, maybe it was the wicked humour of the universe, but it was true.

He had been ready to pack up when the message reached him. Of course, he had dropped everything at once and took Thunderbird One to search for his missing brother. But with the flood and murky water everywhere, it was close to impossible. Like the mayor had said, the area was huge and it was difficult to spot someone who was most possibly unconscious anyway.

Professional experience told Scott that the chances of survival were very slim.

His professional experience could go to hell, the eldest Tracy decided as he made his way through the crowds on the street. As always Thunderbird One – parked in the middle of the market square – had attracted a crowd of people, but they all kept a respectful distance.

Good. Right now, he wasn’t in the mood to deal with any curious fans. Actually, he didn’t want to deal with anyone. Scott rubbed his face wearily, knowing that he had to call the others, let them know of the progress (what progress?) and be there for them, just as he always was – Scott, the rock, the reliable one, the eldest, the…mother-hen.

The corner of his mouth twitched when he thought of that. He would give everything to fight right now with his brothers, all of his brothers.

They had fought, shortly before the water had swallowed him up. Scott sighed when he thought of that argument. Usually, he knew how to keep his temper in check, but his brothers pushed his buttons occasionally. Honestly, sometimes he wished…

Sometimes he wondered how it would be if he wasn’t working with family members. At least that way, arguments wouldn’t be carried into rescues. Of course, they all kept their professional attitude – he had to admit that much – but sometimes, they over-reacted. Especially Gordon and Alan; they hated it when he worried and it drove them to reckless behaviour. Most of the times, it was justified – risks Scott would have taken himself – but there had been a few times when it had been downright foolish.

And even calm, steady Virgil could bring his anger into the rescues, fuming over the controls of Thunderbird Two, because someone (Gordon, mostly; sometimes Alan) had pushed him over the edge.

The only one who never blew was John, which was a relief. It was hard enough to have two hot-heads and one elephant (if Virgil was angry, he stayed angry for a long time. And he never forgot.).


Scott looked up, startled. A middle-aged woman had approached him. The eldest Tracy cursed himself – he’d been daydreaming in the middle of the street instead of getting back to work.

"Yes?" He replied, surprised how croaky his voice sounded.

"Sir, you must be hungry!" The woman dug in her huge basket and produced some hand-wrapped items. "I brought this for you. I know it’s not much, and certainly not enough to express the gratitude we’re feeling, but please take it."

She shoved the things into his hands. Scott took them out of reflex. Delicious smells reached his nose and he realised that he was indeed hungry.

"Thank you, that’s very kind of you." He smiled, even though his stomach sank. How could he eat this wonderful food when one of his brothers might be going hungry right now?

But he took it nonetheless, aware of the many eyes watching him.

"We thank you so much for your help, Mister!" Another man came forward. He was wearing a fireman’s outfit and seemed very professional. "It could have been nasty without you getting the people out before the wave hit. Stupid constructors – I hope they’re going to sue someone over this, this wasn’t supposed to happen. It could have killed everyone in our valley!"

Scott nodded. The same thing as always. Mechanical Faults. Someone had wanted to save money, and in the end, thousands suffered for it. It was an old song, one that got repeated over and over again.

"We’re going to help you with the search," the fireman continued. "Every single one of the boys is out there and has his eyes open. We got every boat available and are paddling up and down the river, but the current is still damn strong. If your man is out there, we’re going to find him, no worries!"

"Thank you." Scott was grateful for the help. He knew how much local authorities could do, with their knowledge of the terrain and their will to do everything humanly possible. "We will keep looking as well."

He took the packets and nodded to the crowd. "Thank you for the food, Ma’am – it certainly smells delicious – and thank you for your help, Mister. I have to start now, so if you could please clear the area? Thunderbird One’s jets are quite powerful and I don’t want to hurt innocent bystanders."

"Certainly." The fireman saluted and then started to chase the people away. "Come on, folks. You don’t want to get burned – could be nasty."

Scott closed the eyes for a brief moment; then he turned around to his precious ‘bird. It was time to make a few calls.

Jeff Tracy looked at the dirt-streaked face of his oldest and sighed. "So they haven’t found him yet." He summed up what Scott had told him. This wasn’t good.

"No, sir," was Scott’s terse answer. "We’re still looking, of course, but the area is very big and we don’t even know where to start."

"Understood." Jeff pinched the bridge of his nose. "Take some rest, as well, son; you look beat." He knew of Scott’s habit of taking responsibility for everything.

"I know I should, Dad, but I can’t. I mean, he’s out there somewhere, alone and injured…" Scott looked uncomfortable.

"You’re not going to help him by wearing yourself out." The Tracy patriarch advised, even though he knew he wouldn’t be able to sleep either. "We’re going to find him." There wasn’t even the slightest hesitation in his voice.

"But Scott…" Jeff’s face was grim as he continued. Scott knew that he wouldn’t like what would come and prepared himself. "We can’t stay there forever, you know. International Rescue could be called out every moment; we need to be prepared for that.

"We can’t leave him behind!" Scott protested.

"The local authorities are more than capable of handling this." Jeff’s voice was filled with regret and worry. "You know our duty, son. I don’t like the idea any more than you do, but you know that it’s the right decision. It’s what your brother would have expected us to do."

Scott’s face was as hard as stone. Sometimes it was really hard to be the one in command; logically, he knew that his father was right, but he still felt as if they were abandoning their brother.

"F.A.B." he acknowledged, even though his heart was breaking.

"F.A.B." Jeff tried to look encouraging. "Keep me posted."

"I will, Sir. Scott out."

Chapter Three: Explanations

The first sign of life I saw was a cow – stupid big animal that produces milk -, and I could have wept with joy. For a moment, I actually contemplated jumping out of the car and hugging it, but then I decided against it. I might have lost my memory, but that didn’t mean I had to lose my dignity as well.

Then I saw the farmhouse, with lit – lit! – windows and I knew that I was out of the danger zone at last. Immediately, I pulled over, craving for some human conversation. Maybe those people could help me understand what had happened to me. Hell, maybe they had some proper food. I could do with some.

I parked the car a little way away from the house – no need for them to see how I had hot-wired it - and stepped out on the road. The house itself was small and wooden, surrounded by a big herb garden. It seemed very peaceful, especially with the smoke coming out of the chimney. An oasis of peace in the midst of disaster.

I hesitated on the veranda before knocking on the door. I certainly hoped that I wasn’t an escaped convict with my face all over the media – I really didn’t fancy people running away from me screaming.

The door was pulled open and I saw…nothing? Confused, I redirected my gaze and met a tiny, chubby woman. She barely reached my chest, with a gentle face and chin length, reddish hair. She must have been over fifty, but her eyes sparkled with the most amazing green I had ever seen. She was dressed in simple clothes, a cloth hanging over her hands.

As soon as she saw me, her eyes became as big as saucers."Oh, good Lord!" she exclaimed. "You look horrible! Did you get caught in the flood? Oh my…you must have been left behind. Come on in, come on in, I’ll give you something hot to drink, you certainly look as if you might need it."

She motioned me to follow her, and I, flabbergasted by the warm welcome, saw no other choice than to follow her.

Inside it was warm and comfortable, the air filled with a heavy scent I couldn’t quite identify.

"Sit down, sit down!" the woman motioned and dragged me towards a cloth-covered table. I plopped down and watched her getting out various mugs and plates out of the cupboard.

"So tell me, darling, what happened to you? You look a bit roughened up!" she exclaimed.

"I…don’t really remember." I ventured carefully. I wanted to trust this woman, but how much could I tell? Maybe I was bringing her into danger – that thought made me sick – or maybe she’d be disgusted – that would be even worse.

"No?" She looked at me with huge eyes. Then she smiled. "Oh, I’m sorry – I haven’t even introduced myself. You can call me Annie. What’s your name?"

And there it was, the dreaded question. I opened my mouth, trying to say a fake name, something, just to break the silence, but my mind stays blank. Finally, I gave in. "I don’t know." I admitted in defeat, staring at the table.

"You don’t know?" Annie seemed surprised. "You mean, you don’t know your own name?"

"Yes. Ehm."

"Oh my gosh, that’s horrible!" she exclaimed and looked me up and down. "Did you lose your memory?"

"I think so." And then, almost out of reflex, I added: "Ma’am."

Annie smiled. "Well, at least you learned some manners. Well, well…we’ll have to wait for Howard to come home and discuss this. I certainly didn’t expect that." She tutted and took a pot from the stove, pouring some white liquid into two mugs. "But until then, how about you tell me everything you know? I might be able to help you."

Should I trust her?

You don’t know her, the invisible voice whispered. But I could tell from her open manner and her warm smile that she didn’t mean any harm. And, to be quite honest, I was tired, exhausted and wanted nothing more than to eat something and sleep.

So I let go of all care and started re-telling my story.

"The first thing I noticed was the cold…" I began, Annie listening with rapt fascination while we both sat over our hot drinks.

It was a good hour later when I finally finished. By that time, Annie’s husband had come back from his check of the farm. Howard was as small as his wife, with a leathery, sun-tanned face. His demeanour was as gentle as Annie’s; maybe a bit rougher around the edges, but they shared the same warmth.

I told them everything I could remember – which wasn’t much – the only thing I omitted was my theft of the car. Somehow, I didn’t think they’d approve of that. After I had finished, Annie frowned worriedly. "That must be very hard on you, dear."

Howard nodded briskly. "We should bring you to a hospital, but I don’t know whether the roads have been cleared yet."

"That might be a problem," his wife agreed. "We were lucky that our farm is on a hill, but the road to the next big town leads through the valley and will most certainly be full of debris."

That brought me to the question that had been itching in me for so long. "Why is that?" I asked curiously. "I mean, on my way here I came through a town that was totally deserted. What happened? Some kind of catastrophe?"

The couple exchanged a miserable look. "Well, you could call it that." Annie began, with Howard nodding beside her. "Every year in the spring, the river holds a lot of water – it comes from the mountains, when the snow melts. This year was extremely bad and we got a flood warning. Now, that wouldn’t have been a problem – the folks around here are used to floods, they happen every couple of years – but a couple of days ago, we received another warning."

A mix of different emotions crossed her face. "Most of the river is held back by a dam further up the valley. The dam itself is about twenty years old, and there’s never been a sign of it breaking. But then, two days ago, one of the workers there found a gap in the concrete. He informed the authorities immediately. The dam was checked – it was unstable and on the verge of breaking. Local authorities had to act fast; they evacuated most of the cities in time. But with the river already bigger than usual, some roads were flooded. I don’t really know what happened then, our TV got cut off. But the dam broke yesterday. A huge wave swept through the whole valley – believe me, Howard and I were so glad to live on a hill."

"So that explains the empty town." I muttered to myself, feeling relieved. No alien attack, thank God. No killer virus. Just a natural disaster. Well, maybe not ‘just’ – from the sound of it, the flood must have been bad, but at least it was something logical and not one of those half-cooked nightmares that I had imagined when I first encountered the empty town.

Annie put a comforting hand on my arm. "Don’t worry, I’m sure your family is alright."

Howard nodded. "I haven’t heard of any casualties yet. Then again, we’re a bit cut off without our phone and TV."

I simply nodded. In fact, I wasn’t worrying about my family – how can you worry about something you don’t even remember? – but about myself. Talking with the couple had made me realize how much I had forgotten.

Tired, I rubbed my face, which was still covered with dirt. "So…do you have any suggestions?" I asked warily.

The two exchanged a look. "Well, we’re going to help you, of course." Annie started. "And I think it would be best for you to go to the hospital – anyone who’s missing you is sure to look there."

Howard nodded. "The only thing is that the streets are still flooded. It may take a couple of days until everything is cleared."

"You’re welcome to stay." Annie smiled warmly. "We have a spare room that you could use, and I’m certain you need the rest. You look – excuse me for being frank – quite horrible."

Rest. Sleep. Yep, that definitely sounded great. Just closing my eyes and letting go of everything. Ignoring the fact that my life was a total mess and I didn’t even know my own name.

I shifted slightly and winced at the pain that shot through my side. My muscles seemed to have knotted together during the drive, and the bruises were aching more and more.

Annie, being the gentle soul she was, had obviously seen my discomfort. She tutted disapprovingly. "I think we have talked enough for now. What you need, my boy, is something to eat and then some sleep. But first of all, we have to clean up those wounds of yours. Come on, we’ll go to the bathroom."

She had a commanding air around her that I obeyed without question. Before I left the room, she turned to her husband. "Howard, would you be so kind as to get out the pot with the soup that’s in the pantry? You can warm it up on the stove."

Howard complied without hesitation, obviously used to obeying his wife. Annie took my arm and led me gently through the house, until we reached a small, tile-covered bathroom.

"Sit down." she told me and shoved me on the toilet seat. "Let me get the first aid box…" muttering to herself, she rummaged through the drawers, barely able to reach the top shelf.

"Dou you think you could manage a shower?"

I eyed the bathtub wearily. I didn’t really think I was up to it, but there was no way in hell I was going to admit that. Besides, it would be good to get the dirt off my skin. So I nodded and waited until Annie – polite as she was – had left the room.

I undressed and looked at the state my body was in. Ugh. So many bruises and abrasions – showering was going to hurt. Still, it was the best and quickest way to get clean. "Here goes nothing." I murmured to myself and stepped in the shower.

What bliss! Hot water streamed down my body, relaxing my muscles and washing the dirt away. It stung as well, but I could ignore it after the first wave of pain. The water running down the drain was coloured brown and crimson, as some of my wounds opened up again and bled freely.

I washed my hair and scrubbed my face. Then I left the shower, feeling a bit refreshed and a lot cleaner.

Again I examined my body, trying to find something. A lot of scars – I must have led an adventurous life – but nothing else. No tattoo. Hmm. Somehow, I had the perverse idea that all criminals had tattoos. Did that mean I wasn’t a criminal?

Something glittered on my hand and I looked closer, startled to see that I was wearing a ring. It wasn’t a wedding band, but rather a signet ring. Eager I pulled it off, hoping that maybe my name was engraved on the face. But I was severely disappointed. It was a very ornate script, but I could just about decipher S, A (or was it an N?) and F (or maybe T – there was a big scratch down the side of the ring which didn’t help). And since it was a ring, I didn’t even know which one was supposed to be the first. Great.

Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed the mirror. Quickly I stepped in front of it, wiped it clean of steam with my towel, and looked at the stranger that was my face. I could see the whole of it now, not just the fraction that had been visible in the car mirror. Didn’t do much to help, though.

Hmm. So my hair-colour was blonde – who would have known? As for my eyes, they were blue. I grimaced and turned my head. How old? Hmm…maybe twenty-five years. I looked healthy and strong, even with the dark bruises and scratches. But not bad…not bad at all. I had kind of harboured the fear that I was hideously ugly, but what I was seeing seemed quite pleasant.

That was at least something.

However, the revelation I had been waiting for didn’t come. Instead I just stared numbly at myself, waiting for…something. Some memory, some flashback, anything…

Nothing happened.

"Are you finished in there, sweetie?" Annie called from the outside, startling me from my reverie. "I want to have a look at your injuries, if you don’t mind."

"Give me just a second to get dressed." I called back and quickly pulled my trousers up. Then I sat down on the toilet seat and leaned my head against the cool wall, relieved to do nothing. I could have fallen asleep right then, but Annie wouldn’t let me. She bustled into the room with the first aid kit. With experienced ease, she started to clean and disinfect my wounds.

"You certainly look a lot more handsome now," she joked, while dabbing at some deep scratches on my arm.

The comment was obviously meant to cheer me up, but I didn’t even twitch. I had reached the point beyond exhaustion, the point when you don’t care about anything anymore. Annie seemed to realize this and stayed silent for the rest of the patching-up session. The only comment she made was when she saw my ribs. "That looks nasty." She frowned. "I hope they aren’t broken. Is it very painful?"

I didn’t reply. I couldn’t remember a time without pain, so how could I say whether it was very painful or not?

When we were finished – I swathed in thick bandages, Annie cleaning her blood-covered hands – she led me to a small room under the staircase. "It isn’t much," she apologized, motioning at the small room with its single bed in it. "I hope you don’t mind."

I simply flashed her a smile. Anything would have been great right now, even a haystack. She disappeared for a moment, then came back with a steaming bowl. "Here’s your dinner." She told me. "Eat it and then go to bed. I can see that you’re dead on your feet."

That statement held more truth than she could have ever expected, I thought wryly. Not only my body felt like it had been chewed by something nasty and spat out again but my mind was in uproar as well. Too much had happened in one day, and I couldn’t process it all. I honestly believed that I wouldn’t be able to sleep with all the thoughts going on in my head, but when my head finally hit the pillow, I was out in seconds.

The emptiness stayed with me even when I slept. It followed me into my dreams, haunting me until I tossed and turned, unable to find any rest. I had flashbacks of events that I couldn’t remember, but none of them made sense. I saw a lot of machines – huge, giant devices, with complicated blueprints and immense power. In my dreams, these machines held an air of familiarity around them. Why? I didn’t know.

"NO!" A voice screamed in my ear.

I flinched, knowing that I couldn’t listen to it, knowing that I needed all my concentration, or we would all die. The fire roared loudly around me. Sweat trickled down my face, burning in my eyes as I tried to see through the smoke. I was afraid, horribly afraid, yet I kept going, straight into the fire. God, it was so hot! The roaring flames licked at my suit, trying to eat me alive.

Blindly, I stumbled onwards, until I tripped on something. I just barely managed to catch myself – a fall would have been deadly under these conditions – and let our a strong of curse words. However, all my anger evaporated when I saw what exactly I had stumbled over.

It was a person.

Well. That put it nicely. It had been a person, once; but now I saw only charred remains of a body and a face frozen in a never-ending scream of pain.

I bent down, even though I knew that it was fruitless, and checked for a pulse. There was none to be found. I silently wept, knowing that it had been my fault, that I had been too late – I had been unable to save them, and now they were dead, just because of me…

I woke up crying. For the first few seconds, I was still entangled in my dream, trying to get away. I thrashed around, which only resulted in a wave of pain as I aggravated my wounds. Then I recognized the tiny bedroom and calmed down, at least a little.

I wiped my wet cheeks. Man. How embarrassing. Who cries in his sleep?

But that dream had been…worse than horrible. Because I knew that it wasn’t a mere dream, it was a memory, something that connected me to my past, yet I couldn’t make any sense out of it. What about the fire? And the corpse on the ground?

Even now I shuddered when I thought of the poor person that had died in the fire. The feeling of guilt was overwhelming, nearly crushing me. Was I too blame for the death? Was it my fault? What had I done? Or worse, not done?

But if it was my fault…then it meant I had killed a person! Did that mean I was a criminal?

My stomach dropped at that thought. As much as I considered it, it seemed to be the only possible explanation. My caution of the police, the fact that I was alone and injured, the dreams, the sudden flashes…I must have done something horrible. And when I was fleeing from whoever hunted me, I had been caught in the flood. Maybe I even went here on purpose, thinking that a flood would be perfect to wipe out all tracks. But I probably didn’t bargain with amnesia.

So, where did that leave me? An escaped criminal who couldn’t turn to the authorities?

Damn, my life sucked.

When I woke up, though, the world looked a lot brighter. The little room was lit by thin rays of sunlight that shone through the door and a small window. I didn’t feel so tired anymore, but I buried my head in the blankets anyway, just to seek comfort in the warmth and softness of the covers. I really didn’t want to face the day – I had the feeling it was going to be horrible.

But as soon as I was awake, memories started turning up, of the empty town, the dreams, the car, Annie…and others, as well.

At first I didn’t know what to make of them, but then I realised that they were memories of my past life. Not proper ones, only flashes of scenes, faces that I couldn’t place, names that had no meaning.

My memory wasn’t totally blank anymore; I even remembered events of my childhood. Some were crystal clear, some were blurred and distorted.

For a couple of minutes, I just lay there, sorting through the mess in my head, but even though I seemed to remember a lot more, it didn’t really make sense. The connection was missing, the big answer to everything – and I still didn’t know who I was.

It was disappointing, but I was still in a good mood when I got up. I’d probably only need time; maybe I’d know more with each passing day. I just had to be optimistic.

While I was looking for Annie, walking barefoot through the little farm house, I curiously scanned my surroundings and looked out of the windows. The sun was already up in the sky, illuminating a scene that would have been peaceful if not for the destruction that could be seen in the background.

Even though the farm lay on a hill, I could see the area that had been flooded, or, in some cases, was still flooded. Objects were scattered everywhere, things that had been swept away by the raging torrents and were now lying on the meadows, under the trees, on the roads. I saw a rocking chair hanging from a tree, looking no worse to wear. It would have been funny, hadn’t the situation been so serious.

I turned away from the window, looking for my rescuers (now why did that ring a bell?).

I finally found Annie in the kitchen.

"Oh, you’re awake!" she greeted me cheerfully and motioned me inside. "Come on, I prepared breakfast for you." She dashed through the small kitchen, hunting for cups and a plate with never-ending energy.

I could smell coffee and relished the taste. Yesterday I wouldn’t have known what it was, but today I remembered, and even better, I remembered that I liked it black with sugar. Wow. You’re getting better!

"You look better today," Annie observed and placed a steaming mug in front of me. "Now, what do you want? We have fresh eggs – that’s the good thing about having your own chickens – and bread. Scrambled eggs? Do you like that?"

"Yes, very much, thank you." I replied gratefully and grabbed the mug. I couldn’t see Howard anywhere; he was probably outside, working on the farm or assessing the damage.

Annie started working with the pan. "So, any improvement?" she asked over her shoulder. For a moment I was puzzled, but then I remembered that she knew about my condition.

"A bit. I think I can remember…some things." I began, searching for the right words. It was difficult to describe what was going on in my head, since I didn’t even understand it myself. "It’s like…flashes. They don’t make sense, really, and they aren’t contacted in any way. Nothing that makes sense…"

My voice trailed off as I remembered my night-time theory. Now, in the broad daylight, I really couldn’t believe that I was an escaped criminal. I didn’t feel like it. Shouldn’t I be paranoid if that was the case? Instead I felt totally at home, warm and comfortable. And I always imagined criminals to be rough and rude, yet I had displayed manners – unconsciously – and Annie seemed to like me.

I was puzzled.

"So, what is it you do remember?" Annie shook me out of my thoughts.

I shook off the discomforting thoughts and turned towards her. "Images. Some things I did when I was child." I frowned, trying to explain the feeling. "It’s weird, for example I remember a particular day when I was in class and had to give a report, but I had left it at home and everybody laughed. No idea why I remembered that – I must have been about seven years old at that time." I took a sip of the warm liquid and made a face. Uargh. I had forgotten the sugar. John might prefer it that way, but then again, he had always been weird…



Who the hell was John?

I froze. The name had slipped into my thinking with perfect ease, yet I couldn’t associate a face with it. I tried to grasp the memory that lurked at the edges of my consciousness. For a moment, I nearly had it, but then it slipped my grasp and I was in the darkness once again, frustrated and alone. Dammit!

"You need sugar with that?"

I nodded, barely aware of Annie’s worried frown. I was still trying to place that name. It definitely sounded familiar. Maybe it was my name?

I quickly discarded that thought. The thought had clearly been connected to someone else, someone who liked his coffee black, without sugar. A friend, maybe? A co-worker? A relative?

Without even realizing what I was doing, I poured sugar into my mug. So this John person was one I knew, and quite well, if I knew his coffee habit. Hmm. If I just knew his last name, I could find out more about him. Maybe if I…

"My, you do like it sweet, don’t you, lad?" Annie interrupted my train of thought.

Confused, I stopped what I was doing. "What?"

Instead of answering, she just pointed at my mug. I looked down and realized that I had poured half the bowl of sugar into my mug. "Oh." I felt my cheeks redden. "Sorry…I was lost in thought."

"So it seems." Annie chuckled. "If you don’t like it, I can brew you some fresh coffee."

"No, no, it’s fine." I waved it off and took a sip of the liquid. Ugh. Too sweet.

"So you only remember events of your childhood?"

"Not only." I stirred the coffee, trying to dissolve the sugar heap on the bottom. "I know for a fact that I did – do – a lot with cars, for example. I have a lot of flashbacks that involve me sitting in a car, repairing a car, driving a car." Of course I didn’t mention my theory of being a notorious car thief. That wouldn’t have gone too well.

"And then there always machines, big, powerful machines that I work with. I don’t know what they are, but they look impressive." I frowned at the coffee. Maybe it’d become sour if I looked at it sourly enough. Or maybe not.

Annie emptied the pan into a plate and placed it in front of me. "Maybe you’re an engineer?"

"Engineer…" I spoke the word slowly, trying to taste the sound of it. "No, I don’t think so." It did ring a bell, sounded very familiar, but somehow, I couldn’t apply it to myself. No, I knew for sure that I wasn’t an engineer. Hmm. Maybe I worked with engineers? That sounded quite plausible, thinking of the many machines I remembered.

"Anyway, I’m sure the police in Bell’s Gate will help you sort it out – they’re usually quite efficient, even though it’s a small station. Someone is bound to miss you, and even though you might not recognize them, they’ll recognize you."

She had meant her words as assurance, but I didn’t feel assured at all. Somehow, I didn’t like the fact that people would be able to recognize me, whilst I didn’t have the slightest clue who they were. There was this overwhelming need for secrecy again…maybe I was a spy, a secret agent?

I played with that thought for a while, and then discarded it, amused by my own foolishness. Even though I suffered from amnesia, I remembered enough that those kinds of things only happened in stories.

"Howard’s gone out to check the roads," Annie explained, sitting down with her own mug of coffee. "If they’re clear, he’s going to take you to the town. If they’re not, you might have to stay for another day or two." She shrugged apologetically. "Our road is not used much, and they’re going to clear the main ones first, especially since there’s nobody in distress in our area."

"That’s okay." I replied, even though it wasn’t. I was itching to find out more about myself, but I knew that I wouldn’t be able to get any information stuck on this farm. "I can give you a hand around here – I don’t want to be a bother." The words left my mouth before I even knew what I was saying.

"Stop being so self-centred and help other people for a change. That’s called politeness."

I could clearly hear the voice in my head – gruff, annoyed, exasperated – but when I tried to remember a matching face, I came up blank. Interesting. So I had been taught to be polite, or at least been scolded for not being so. Self-centred? Was I really self-centred?

Well, one more thing I had to find out.

"Oh, that’s nice of you, dear!" Annie was clearly flattered by my response. "But you shouldn’t exhaust yourself, you’re injured and have experienced some very traumatic events. No, I wouldn’t want you working, just relax. There’s a nice couch in the living room, you can read some books, if you want – I’m afraid that the television doesn’t work right now, because of the flood." She paused. "Er – you can still read, can you?"

I was taken aback. "I…guess so?" I remembered the bar, and the bottles. "I’m pretty sure I can."

"Well, then just settle down while I do the dishes and feed the chickens. Howard should be back in an hour or so."

"But I…." I really didn’t like the fact that she was working whilst I was supposed to sit and do nothing – even though I hurt all over.

"No, no, you’re a guest in this house!" Annie tutted and shoved me into the living room. "It’s very gentleman-like of you, but I don’t want it. Here, sit down."

She manoeuvred me in the couch, where I sat down flabbergasted.

Then a slow smile spread over my face and I shook my head. Somehow, I had taken a liking to Annie; with her bustling energy, her cheerful optimism and the motherly attitude, she had grown on me and calmed some of my fears.

Better do what she wanted, or she’d smack me with a broom.

Now that was a funny image. I chuckled to myself and then sat back and browsed through the books that were lying on the table. My eye fell on the newspaper that was lying on the coffee table. It dawned on me that I didn’t even know the date, so I quickly took it and read the headlines. If I wanted to collect more information about myself, this was the right place to begin.

Chapter Four: Midnight Conversations

13 hours 57 minutes 31 seconds.

Gordon stared at the alarm clock. He knew that he should sleep, but even though his arms and legs hurt with exhaustion, there was no way he could fall asleep.

13 hours 57 minutes 46 seconds.

That was how long Alan had been missing. Jeff had reordered them back to base hours ago, insisting that they couldn’t do anymore than the local search parties were doing. And besides, International Rescue might be needed again.

Gordon had hated him for that, even though he knew it was true. A helicopter could just as well fly over the flooded area and look for survivors as Thunderbird Two. But leaving meant leaving his brother behind, and that was something he didn’t like at all.

13 hours 58 minutes 14 seconds.

The redhead tossed around in his bed. As soon as he closed his eyes, he saw the same scene over and over again – his brother, dangling below him, trying to reach the boy, then the screams, the sudden roar and the water, water everywhere, the wave engulfing his brother. He had immediately activated the winch, but it had been too late. The giant wave that swept through the valley when the dam broke had reached his brother before anyone could react.

And when the worst was over, all he could see was the empty harness. No Alan. Just churning, dark water.

13 hours 58 minutes 35 seconds.

13 hours 58 minutes 35 seconds ago his brother had been swept away and nobody had ever heard from him since.

What if he was dead?

He didn’t even want to think about that. Alan was his partner in crime, the one who stuck with him through all his crazy schemes, his ally against his older brothers! As the two youngest, they had always shared a special bond, trying to struggle against three protective older brothers.

They had understood each other in the need to prove themselves. Whilst it had been easier for Gordon (none of his older brother had inherited his affinity for water), Alan had always struggled. His hot temper didn’t make things any easier.

Why had he taken off that harness? He had told him not to, but he hadn’t listened, as usual…

Although Gordon had to admit that he would have done the same. It was the only way to save the boy, the only way to reach him. In moments like those, your own safety didn’t count – Alan probably hadn’t even thought about it, had just done what was necessary, even though he was in danger himself.

He had gambled and lost.

And Gordon had been forced to watch how both rescuer and boy had been swept away, swallowed by the rushing water. He remembered how he had screamed until he was hoarse, desperately looking for a sign of his brother, anything…but with the rain and the mud, it had been nearly impossible. By the time they had recovered enough to look for the signal of his watch, it was gone.

Gone. Just like that.

The watches weren’t indestructible, they knew that from painful experiences, but the thought of how it had been destroyed made him feel sick. In the raging torrent, it was very possible that Alan had been smashed against a tree, or one of the flooded buildings…or he could have been dragged into in an underwater current that kept him under until he couldn’t breathe anymore…

Sometimes he hated his imagination.

"You’d better be okay." Gordon grumbled and turned around yet again. Then he couldn’t bear it any longer and swept the covers aside. Maybe some hot chocolate would help him settle down – or at least calm his thoughts.

Softly, he tapped through the corridor, trying not to wake anybody. But he needn’t have bothered. When he reached the kitchen, the lights were already on. Gordon wasn’t too surprised to see Scott sitting there and stirring his hot chocolate, a gloomy expression on his face. It was a well-known fact that the eldest didn’t sleep particularly well, especially after a rescue had gone haywire.

Like this one.

"Hey." He smiled softly and plopped down on the chair opposite to Scott. "I kind of expected you to be here."

"Yeah, me too." The dark-haired Tracy smiled back and shook his head. "I simply can’t sleep while he’s still out there, hurt and alone…"

"Don’t do that." Gordon shook his head.

"Do what?"

"Imagine what might have happened. Imagine what’s he doing right now – or rather not doing." He propped his head in his hands. "I’ve been doing that for the last two hours, and believe me, it doesn’t improve things at all."

"You’re probably right." Scott pinched the bridge of his nose. "That’s a first one."

"Hey!" Gordon was indignant. "Just because Methusaleh here is already forgetting the many occasions on which I made a brilliant comment, starting everyone with my overwhelming intellect…"

"Is that a private party or can anyone join?" An amused voice sounded from the doorway, interrupting Gordon’s monologue.

Both brothers turned around to see Virgil, who seemed as tired and drawn as them, clad in pyjamas, hair a mess.

"Sit down." Scott motioned to the seats. "Gordon was just telling me what an insufferable prick he is…"

"I think somebody needs to recheck his ears…"

Virgil ignored the good-natured banter between his brothers. "Hot chocolate?" he asked, noticing the nonexistent cup in front of Gordon.

"Yes, please, that would be nice."

Virgil nodded busied himself with preparing the hot liquid. Nobody of them really wanted to say anything, but they all knew that their thoughts were circling around the same topic.

"They said it would take up to one week to clear all the roads in the valley." Scott said, stirring his by now cold drink. "I really hope they find him before that."

"Alan is tough." Virgil replied, pouring milk into two mugs and placing them into the microwave. "He’s got nine lives, like a cat. If anyone can survive this without a scratch, I bet it’s him. Remember the rescue in the French alps? We thought he was dead for sure, but he received only a broken ankle…and drove us mad afterwards because he was grounded."

Gordon grinned weakly and shook his head. He didn’t want to say it aloud, but he had seen his brother before he was swept away, and that had terrified him. It would be a miracle for him to be unhurt…and besides, why wasn’t he contacting them? Over half a day had passed without a message from him. The only explanations were either that he was stuck somewhere and had no way to reach them…or that he was injured and couldn’t (physically) call them…or that he was stuck at some make-shift hospital, unconscious, without any identification on him. They had John looking for reports of John Does, but so far, no matching description had appeared.

Scott sighed. "Well, Dad’s right – worrying about it won’t help at all. We need to be alert and fit in case we’re needed."

Virgil snorted. "You know as well as I that none of us can sleep."

"No, but we should damn well try." Scott replied seriously, slipping back into his commander mode.

"I will." Gordon sipped his chocolate. "But before I do that, I need to get a bit of fresh air. I think I’m going for a walk." He looked down at himself. "Ah, but I might get out of my PJs before that…" he mumbled to himself as he stood up abruptly, heading into the direction of his room.

The action startled his brothers. "Gordon, you…" Scott began, before he was shushed by Virgil.

"Let him," the pilot of Thunderbird Two whispered, looking at Gordon’s retreating back. "I think he needs it."

"I don’t like it…" Scott relented, but gave in anyway.

"You have to understand him, Scott; he was the one who saw it happening. I bet he’s blaming himself."

"But it’s not his fault! It was Alan who made the mistake and took off the harness because he couldn’t reach the boy…"

Virgil put a calming hand on Scott’s arm. "I know. And I bet deep inside he knows as well. But guilt is a funny thing; and with Alan missing, it’s not going to improve."

Scott hesitated and nodded, rubbing his face with his hands. "God, what a mess."

"That about sums it up, yes." Virgil glanced out of the window, at the dark sea that seemed almost black during the night. There was no wind, and barely any waves, yet he could still hear the calming sound of the ocean.

He turned around to face his brother, who had a forlorn look on his face. "Now tell me what’s on your mind."

"Huh?" Scott was startled. "What?"

"I know you. You’re in one of your dark moods. So tell me what’s up."

"Nothing, it’s just…" The dark-haired Tracy sighed and ran a hand through his hair. "I yelled at him this morning."

Virgil raised an eyebrow. "Scott, I’m sorry to disappoint you, but you yell at Alan on a daily basis."

"I know! It’s just…he pushes all my buttons without even realizing it, and suddenly we’re yelling and he storms off…it’s just, I hate the fact that he’s gone missing and the last words I said to him were spoken in anger. And they weren’t very kind words."

"That sucks," Virgil agreed. "And I can understand why you’re feeling down. Alan can be a prat, everybody of us knows that, and he’s too stubborn for his own good. But Scott, it takes two to fight, and you know that he usually sees reason once he has calmed down."

"But what if he…I mean, what if he doesn’t…"

Virgil stopped him. "No. Don’t even go there. ‘What ifs’ don’t help you, Scott Tracy, they only make your life miserable. You fought with Alan, period. What’s done is done and no amount of moping will change that."

"I know, but…"

Virgil shook his head. "No buts. Alan knows that he’s important to us; we all do. We’re a family – fights are bound to happen. You and Alan, you’re both extremely stubborn, that’s why you clash against each other so often. He feels he needs to prove himself, you want to protect him. Fights are bound to happen. But, Scott, it has always been that way and will always be. Don’t put yourself down just because you separated in anger; concentrate on finding him instead."

"That would be easier if there was something to do." Scott grumbled.

"I know," his younger brother sighed. "Waiting is always the worst part."

They sat in silence, each of them lost in their own thoughts, while the clock was still ticking, counting the seconds, unaware of the grief it was causing.

14 hours 26 minutes 37 seconds

And still no sign of Alan.

Chapter Five: Nightmares

The day passed slowly, as I tried desperately to make myself useful and keep the worried thoughts at bay. Howard had come back mid-morning, telling us the bad news that the road wasn’t cleared and I had to stay at least another day. I hated it, but I tried not to let my feelings show, since it wasn’t their fault. But I couldn’t hide my frustration, and so Annie ordered me to go outside and get some fresh air.

After the devastating storm that had caused the flood, the sky was clear and blue, not even the slightest wind moving the trees. I had spent the morning indoors, reading the newspaper and pressing Annie for information, for anything that would help me solve the mystery that was my life.

I looked over the empty valley. So many people had lost their homes, and I didn’t even want to think of those who had died. The thought filled me with anger, and somehow, with guilt, as if it was partly my fault. As if I…should have done something. More. Whatever.

I rubbed my aching side. Walking had helped to loosen the sore muscles, but it still hurt when I moved too quickly or bent over.

Carefully I sat down on a tree log and looked back at the small farm house. It was time to bring some order into my jumbled thoughts.

First of all: assess the situation.

Alright, that I could do. Now, my situation was…extremely particular. I was stuck on a farm in the middle of nowhere and had to wait for the roads to be cleared. Not much to say about that.

I knew…certain things. Like driving a car, repairing a car and – funnily enough – stealing and hot-wiring a car. I also seemed to understand about technology. So far my guess was that I must have been working with technology. Not an engineer. Not a scientist.

Hmm. Maybe a mechanic?

That word had a familiar ring to it, but it didn’t hit the nail completely. Maybe I had worked as a mechanic, but had stopped for various reasons?

Or maybe – the idea scared me – I needed to be a mechanic for my profession as a car thief?

After all, the ease with which I had hot-wired the car with had to count for something! Hell, I hadn’t even thought about it, it just had happened, like…like I did it so often that I didn’t have to think about it anymore. A habit.

I groaned in frustration. This wasn’t really helping much – I was turning in circles. Seemed as if I had to keep the master criminal theory in mind and be extremely careful. I was still hoping that more memories would come my way as the time passed.

"You alright son?"

The day had finally found an end and we were sitting around the dinner table in peaceful silence. Well, up until now. Howard had turned a questioning gaze towards me.

"I’m fine." I replied shortly, not wanting to elaborate further.

"Any improvements on the memories?"

"No." I remembered the dreams I had had and flinched. If my past included dead people in a burning house, I wasn’t all so sure whether I wanted to remember it or not.

Annie noticed my depressed sigh. "Now, I’m sure you’ll remember as soon as you’re back among people again. Then you can talk with the police, watch the news, and visit a doctor. I’m sure they can tell you more about the amnesia."

"I don’t think it’s that bad that I need to see a doctor," I immediately relented, remembering my criminal theory. "I mean, the amnesia seems only partial and I think in a couple of days I will have regained my memories."

And besides, I don’t want some doctor to snoop through my past and find things I wouldn’t want to be found.

"And as for my injuries, I’ve had worse." The sentence left my mouth before my brain could even think it. I blinked surprised. How had I known that? But it was true – I had been injured worse. A couple of bruises and scratches was nothing to be worried about.

Howard, however, seemed to disagree. "Amnesia is usually caused by a head wound, and head wounds aren’t to be taken lightly. You should still see a doctor, just to be on the safe side."

"But I don’t even have a headache," I complained, surprised at the whininess in my tone. Apparently, I didn’t like taking orders. Well, who does? "And besides, there are several causes for amnesia, I believe---a severe trauma, for example…" My voice trailed off. It really confused me that I came up with the weirdest bits of knowledge, but had no idea where it came from!

"I say we discuss this further when we’re actually in the town and standing in front of the hospital," Annie declared firmly, successfully cutting off our conversation. "Now, does anyone want more bread?"

After doing basically nothing for the whole day, it took me a while until I was able to fall asleep. My head was whirling with thoughts and half-baked theories about who I was. To my great frustration, none of them made sense, and the awaited ‘click’ – the moment when everything slid into place – didn’t come. I guess it was no surprise that my night wouldn’t be a restful one.

I was dreaming.

Like all dreams, they didn’t make sense, but felt terribly real nonetheless. I saw myself floating, the feeling of weightlessness being overwhelming to me. I was so carefree, so…so far away from everything else. I chuckled and laughed until someone told me to get back to work.

"Oh, for God’s sake, just grow up, will you?" A strange and yet familiar voice complained, dripping heavy with contempt. "Your behaviour was absolutely foolish!"

I was sitting somewhere – on a couch, I believe – and gritting my teeth in anger. One part of me knew that this voice was right, but there was another part of me that fought with stubborn insistence – I had had my reasons for my behaviour, and I was angry that the ‘voice’ didn’t even bother to ask. Instead, it had simply assumed…

The scenes came like flashes, not connected in anyway, just…snippets of my former life, flashbacks, cut-outs, nothing that would really help me. Most of them were quite nasty memories, the nice memories hazy, almost pale compared to the other ones. I wasn’t sure whether it was because I didn’t have any good memories, or because negative emotions are more powerful…

"GET THE HELL OUT OF THERE!" A voice bellowed, the angry tone underlined with worry and fear. I ran, scrambled, fell to the ground and coughed as dust entered my lungs. Everything around me groaned, and then the whole building shuddered – yes, shuddered! – and the walls started breaking. I knew I was going to be buried alive, knew that I was going to die…

I tossed and turned, trying to get rid of the nightmares, but I wouldn’t – couldn’t wake up, had to relieve every single painful memory to the end.

"We can’t be compromised in any way. You know why our organisation has to be kept a secret. And I trust you to act accordingly."

The words echoed through my head with sudden clarity, my thoughts swirling around the ‘why’s’ when slowly, sleep caught me again and threw me into another nightmare.

I was floating again, but this time, I couldn’t breathe. Fear clawed at my heart, as slowly the light disappeared from my eyes and I sank deeper into the abyss. I wanted to fight, to struggle, to do anything, but…my limbs, like lead, not moving, dangling there…

I gasped and then it burned, burned down my lungs and I still couldn’t breathe. Red spots appeared in front of my vision, everything becoming blurry. Then, through the haze of greyness, I could see the boy. His face was deathly white and his eyes wide open – unseeing, staring at me. He was dead, and I was going to die as well.

I screamed and the water rushed into my lungs, burning, hurting, pure agony…

Several times I woke up, gasping and sweating, torn by the nightmares. Once I found myself crying, my cheek slick with tears and my body convulsing in huge, wracking sobs. I didn’t know why; there was just this feeling of loss, of loneliness and pain, being misunderstood, being patronized. I was mortified – how could I be so weak and actually cry? – and quickly dried my tears, promising myself not to think about it anymore.

The beach was empty. I walked – no, stormed – along the shore, hot anger pursing through my veins. How…how could he! Treat me like that, as if I was a child. I cursed, shouted profanities at the waves. They continued to roll towards the shore, undaunted by my fury. I calmed down a bit and sat down on the ground, letting the white sand run through my fingers. Behind me, the cries of the gulls made an intriguing, if rather loud and atonal concert. The sky was wide and blue, and I looked up and smiled. Despite everything that had happened, I loved this place with all my heart.

The morning saw the exhausted and bedraggled, as I dragged myself to the breakfast table. Annie poured me coffee without a question and then sat down to send me a concerned glance. "Any more memories?"

I remembered the haunting nightmares and shuddered. "Not very good ones," I admitted and took a sip of the hot liquid. Gah. Definitely needed more sugar. "I seem to have led a dangerous life."

That was an understatement. My nightmares had portrayed several occasions when my life had been dangling over the edge – literally – and worse, other people’s lives seemed to have been included as well. This thought worried me; the memories were sketchy at best, but in most of them, people had been by my side.

And then that sentence, spoken in a gruff voice, telling me about the dangers of being compromised. To me, that sounded perfectly like some mafia boss, trying to keep his crimes a secret. So, where did I fit into that scheme?

"Well, you’re young," Annie said brightly. "The young people of today seem to enjoy dangerous sports such as bungi jumping and surfing and parachuting…"

I winced. "It’s called bungee jumping, Annie, and nobody says parachuting…sky diving is a better word, I believe."

"You see? You know enough to correct me!" She beamed at me. "I bet you were doing a lot of these things. Though I wonder why you were in our valley then – it’s a pretty quiet place."

"Rock climbing, maybe?" Howard took some toast and spread jam on it. He didn’t say much, but when he uttered words, they were always very carefully placed and well thought out.

Climbing? Actually, that didn’t sound totally off. I imagined myself dangling off a vertical rock wall. Yep, I was pretty sure I could do that. "You know, I think you might be right with that." I said slowly, reaching for the jam myself.

But the uneasy feeling didn’t quite leave my stomach. I knew that my memories weren’t from occasions when I had done something for fun and – maybe – the adrenaline. No, the fear I had remembered (and felt) during the night was real; fear for my life, for the lives of other people.

I didn’t mention it, though; no need to bother Annie and Howard with my anxieties. "So, do you reckon the roads are clear today?" I asked instead, munching happily (the raspberry jam was delicious!).

"They should be." Howard spread out his hands. "They usually are on the second day. We can leave at around ten and have lunch at town. What do you think of that?"

"Sounds great." I enthused and paused, feeling compelled to say more. "I’m really grateful for your help, you know..." I began awkwardly, but Annie just waved it off.

"Anybody would have done the same, dear." She declared loftily. "And besides, I couldn’t leave such a good-looking young man without my help now, could I?"

My cheeks started burning. "Erm…well…"

Howard turned gazed at me seriously. "Just ignore her. Annie has always been a bit, well, not right in the head."

"What?" I was tempted to believe him for a moment him until I saw the mirth in his eyes.

Annie punched him in the shoulder. "Howard, it’s not nice to make fun of the boy when he can’t even remember his own name!"

"As if you’re any better, trying to flirt with him, at your age."

I watched the banter surprised and after a while amused. The two bickered on and off, neither of them taking the other seriously. There was such a feeling of, well, belonging to each of them, that I felt humbled and a bit sad. They obviously had been together a long time, and were still in love.

That brought my train of thoughts to an entirely other thing. Did I have a significant other as well? Because if I did, I couldn’t remember her at all. Nothing. And my dreams hadn’t shown a loving person…well, the logical conclusion was that I was single. Handsome I might be, tied down obviously not.

Or maybe I did have someone – somewhere – and I just couldn’t remember. The idea was even worse. To think that there might be a person waiting for me, but I didn’t come, because I couldn’t even remember her name, yet alone the fact that she existed.

Dejectedly, I nibbled at my toast. Somehow, the raspberry jam didn’t taste that great anymore.

The morning passed uneventfully and when we finally left in Howard’s truck, my mood had improved a bit. The road was mostly free of debris, and the few remaining pieces we could easily clear ourselves. Thoughtful Howard had taken some tools with him, so it really wasn’t a problem.

Still, the ride took as about one and half hours, although Howard told me it could usually be done in about forty minutes.

The town – Bell’s Gate – was bustling with people. I could see army trucks, a lot of tents and information centres for people who were searching for missing relatives. Police cars and ambulance folk were everywhere, trying to get some order into the chaos. The town itself had been spared from the disaster, lying on a slight elevation – only the allotments had been flooded.

"Look, there’s the hospital." Annie declared and pointed a collection of huge tents. "Bell’s Gate is too small for a real hospital – they have a medical station with about ten beds – but that’s the area where you’ll find doctors that can help you, and where the helicopter lands for the more serious injuries."

I regarded the tents with distrust. I really didn’t want to go there and get examined, but Annie insisted on it. But I managed to convince her that company wasn’t needed (a fake blush, some incoherent mumbling and the job was well-done) and we arranged a time where we would meet each other for lunch.

So I weaved through the crowd, wondering whether I should really see a doctor. I didn’t really want to, and I didn’t think I’d need it. By now I was pretty sure that none of my ribs were broken, just bruised. I hadn’t had any headache today and all my wounds were healing quickly. No need to consult a doctor – they were certainly stressed enough as it was. And besides, I didn’t like doctors. Not at all.

Funny, how I couldn’t remember my favourite food, yet I knew a lot of things I disliked – hospitals, unsweetened coffee, waiting, being patient.

I decided the best way to gather information was to blend with the crowd and listen to the conversations. I stayed in the shadows, though, after all I didn’t know how famous my face was.

Pretty soon I found a lively discussion of about five people, all of them retelling the events of the flood and afterwards. I strode towards them. "Mind if I listen for a bit?" I asked, doing my best to smile nicely. "I haven’t found my relatives yet, and I’d like to know more about what happened."

The speaker – a middle-aged man with glasses and a cut on his face – looked at me doubtfully and them smiled tiredly. "Of course. We’re all waiting for someone. Join the queue." The words were spoken in jest, yet there was a sadness hanging in the air that was almost tangible.

"I haven’t heard any news," I began hesitantly, "I was on a farm and we didn’t have phone or TV connections…so…how bad was it? Did many people die?"

"Oh, it could have been much worse," a woman exclaimed, her red hair in a tight bun. She was standing close to a teenage girl, probably her daughter. "So far, they found about four bodies. I think there are some people missing, but there are many spots where they could be. Many more are injured, but most injuries aren’t severe. Broken bones, concussions, bruises, and a few that nearly drowned."

The man nodded and continued. "But many houses got damaged, some even fell down because the foundations were washed away. The whole valley is a place of destruction. It’s going to take months to repair all this…"

"Still, we were lucky." The red-haired woman stabbed into the air to emphasize her point. "If International Rescue hadn’t arrived, the people of the outlying farms and houses wouldn’t have been rescued. They really saved a lot of lives."

"International Rescue?" I frowned, remembering dimly that the name had been mentioned before.

"They were awesome!" The teenage girl exclaimed. "I saw them! They came with their aircraft and rescued all those people. The one with the rocket landed in this town, near the market place, and he coordinated the rescue."

"Did a damn good job of it," the bespectacled man added gruffly.

"Our heroes in blue." The girl agreed dreamily and I smiled. She seemed very smitten with those heroes – whoever they might be.

Her mother smiled. "I would love to talk to one of them personally, just to say thank you. They did so much for us…"

"So how did they actually rescue those people?" I wanted to know, cutting off the hero-worship they were starting. Nice it might be, but it didn’t really help my situation. "I haven’t seen anything."

"Well, they came with their Thunderbirds of course, and the big green one, Thunderbird Two – an impressive aircraft, but such an ugly colour – helped to retrieve the people who were cut off by the water. They did it just in time before the dam broke. Just like proper heroes."

Somehow I had the impression that the pilot of said aircraft wouldn’t be very happy about her comment. An ugly colour indeed. Hah!

The thought quickly flashed quickly through my mind and left me smiling (though I didn’t know why).

I listened for a while, throwing in questions when I dared to ask them, silently collecting information. Then the woman saw her husband and disappeared, not before flashing me a huge smile. I said good-bye to the man with the glasses and left as well, wandering through the crowd.

What was I supposed to do now? Go to the register and tell them that I was looking for relatives? They’d ask for my name and then the secret would be out. Maybe they’d take a photo, sending it around for everybody to see. If I really was a criminal, I couldn’t take that chance.

I could almost imagine myself at the registration. "Excuse me, I don’t know my name, but I believe I’m dangerous. Could you maybe help me?"

Yeah, as if that would work.

So, what options remained? I didn’t have any money. There had to be a bank account somewhere, but without memories, it might as well be non-existent. Without money, I wouldn’t even be able to reach the next city. I didn’t know what I could do, so finding a job was out of question. I remembered a bit more with each passing day, but not enough to know about family or friends – people I could trust. Maybe that John person, but how could I contact him?

What ever way I turned it, I was screwed. Royally so.

I was quite depressed by the time I wandered back to where I was supposed to meet Annie and Howard. They were looking at me expectantly. I spread my arms helplessly. "No improvement."

"What did the doctors say?"

"I…" Frantically I searched for an explanation. I didn’t want to tell them that I hadn’t been to the doctor’s; somehow, it seemed ungrateful. Yeah, and as if lying to them is any better.

"I’m fine," I babble. "The head injury is not serious, not even a concussion. They can’t do anything about the amnesia, though; such things usually take time."

"Oh." Annie looked disappointed. "So, did they at least contact your relatives?"

"They couldn’t." I swallowed hard. "I don’t know my name! There are many people missing, and even more people looking for them. No. I have to look for them myself. The authorities can’t do anything; they’re overwhelmed as it is."

Howard nodded seriously. "So what are you going to do now?"

I opened my mouth to reply, hesitated, and shook my head. "No idea. I don’t have any money, I don’t know where to go, I’m…clueless. I thought about travelling to a big city; somewhere close to the sea – I saw a beach in my dreams, you know – and, well, try to find more about myself. Maybe work with cars for a bit; I seem to have a soft spot for them."

Suddenly, it occurred to me that it wasn’t fair to burden those people with my problems. They had done so much to help me already; they didn’t deserve to have to listen to my personal crap as well.

Annie and Howard exchanged meaningful glances. "You could visit our son, Martin. He works in a big city about one hour from here, as a police officer. I’m sure he would help you and offer you a place to stay."

"No, no!" I protested immediately. "You can’t…you’ve already done so much, I don’t want to be a burden. Don’t worry, I’ll find a way, somehow. I’m tough. I’m sure there’s a possibility…"

"Nonsense." Howard interrupted me gruffly. "You don’t have any money, son; you can’t even reach the next city when you’re unable to pay the bus fare."

For a moment, I felt hot anger race through me – how dare he treat me like a kid! – but then I deflated quickly as I realised that he was right. "But…"

"No buts." Annie was quite firm. "We can lend you the money, and I’m sure Martin and his wife will help you. Do you honestly expect us to leave you on your own?"

I spluttered. "I can’t accept that!"

"We insist. And you don’t have another choice. You can always repay us when you’ve regained your memory, and maybe pay us a visit."

They were right. I really didn’t have another choice. But just taking their money felt so...cheap. They had already done so much for. If I really was a criminal, then they had been helping me escape...and even more so by giving me money.

What to do, what to do?

I wrung my hands in agitation, paused as I saw a flicker of light and noticed the band on my finger. The signet ring! I had totally forgotten about it. It looked quite valuable, so maybe...

"Wait…I can give you my ring!"

Quickly, I pulled the band off. "I don’t know how much it’s worth, but take it as a sign that I’m going to pay you back."

Annie looked startled at the small piece of jewellery. "Oh no!" she exclaimed horrified. "I couldn't take something from you – this ring might be the only link to your past! I would never forgive myself. No, dear, we will lend you the money, give you our address and phone number (even though it's useless with the lines down) and you call us as soon as you get any news, won't you?"

She forcefully shoved the ring back onto my finger. I watched helplessly, once again flabbergasted by the amount of energy this tiny woman seemed to possess. "Come on, let's head for the bus stop." She dragged me away from the depressing 'hospital', Howard following demurely behind.

"You'll like Martin," Annie babbled, while we were moving through the crowds. "He's our second oldest and a dear, just like you. I'll bet you'll get along just fine! And since he's with the police, he might be able to help you. Isn't that great?" She sounded perfectly elated, while I felt more panicked with each passing minute. I couldn't very well tell this cop what I was suspecting about myself. Sooner or later, he would ask questions. Questions like 'So, and how did you reach my parent’s farm? Oh, with a car? So, was it your car? No? So how did you...oh, you hot-wired it? Very interesting indeed...' And then he'd call his cop friends and arrest me.

Nope. I didn't want to experience that. And I really hated the way my imagination was running overdrive, coming up with all kinds of weird scenarios.

Still, I had to escape this place. I didn't belong to Bell's Gate, that much was sure; and it was easier to blend in a big city. Once I was on my own, I would be able to figure everything out. I just needed to leave. As much as I liked Annie and Howard, I couldn't misuse their hospitality any longer. I might even be a danger to them. If my dreams were any indication, disaster just seemed to follow me. So no, I didn't want their house to catch fire or something equally horrible.

So I finally accepted the money and the hastily scribbled address of their son. I managed to explain that I wanted to look on my own first, but I promised sincerely that I would visit Martin of things got hairy or I was out of money (After all, so I concluded, their definition of 'hairy' might be different from mine. I, for one, had no intention of calling Martin).

I also wrote down Annie's and Howard's address. I fully intended to pay them back as soon as I got some money of my own. They had saved me when I thought I was lost, and they gave me a feeling of warmth in the middle of disaster. For that alone they deserved a medal of honour.

Howard just shrugged off my thanks and pressed a couple of bills into my hand. "Here. That should be enough for the bus ride and a couple of nights in a motel. Take care."

It was a lot more money than I expected. Once more, I opened my mouth to protest, but all words died in my throat when I saw his kind, weather-worn face. "Thank you." I said instead, meaning it with every fibre of my being.

"You're welcome." He smiled briefly and fell silent again.

Annie, on the other had, had tears in her eyes. "Please call us as soon as you know something!" she sniffed and took my hands in hers. "I couldn't stand for you to be hurt in any way; you looked so lost and alone when you appeared on our farm. I really hope that you find your family again; they must be missing you terribly."

I shifted uncomfortably. "Thank you, Annie. You were very kind. I...I can't describe how much your smile meant to me."

Honestly, I couldn't explain it. When I had been utterly alone on this planet, I had found this old couple and they had taken me in. I still couldn't remember, but knowing that they were ready to help and support me made things a lot easier. I wanted to tell Annie how much she had helped, how much she had done for my emotional roller coaster ride, but I was unable to articulate the words.

Annie didn't mind. She smiled through the tears, and I had the impression that she understood anyway. "I wish you the best of luck, darling. You're going to need it."

How right she was.

Chapter Six: A Gentle Melody

Jeff Tracy was not a patient man. He never had been. Waiting seemed like a waste of time, time that could be spent doing much more useful things. It was this attitude that had brought him this far, that had made his business a success and allowed International Rescue to work.

And since he wasn't patient, he found himself sitting over reports at one o'clock in the morning. He couldn't sleep – why not use the time to work on some Tracy company business? At least it distracted him from thinking about Alan.

His youngest son had been missing for over 36 hours now. They had followed every bit of news of the flood, John monitoring all the communications in that area. Quite a lot of missing people had been found by now – either alive or dead – but none matched Alan's description. His son seemed to have dropped from the face of this earth.

There was, of course, always the possibility that his body was still stuck somewhere underwater. The thought scared Jeff more than he wanted to admit.

And if he was alive, why hadn't he contacted them yet? Local authorities had raised temporary phone lines so that people could contact their relatives. It would be easy for Alan to use one of those – or his wrist watch – or communicate with Thunderbird Five. There were so many possibilities. The fact that none of them had been used could mean only two things: Either Alan was dead, or he was so injured that he was still unconscious.

The idea of his youngest being stuck in some makeshift hospital with no sort of identification on him made him sick. They should recognize the uniform, at least; but so far, none of the doctors had called in and told about any blonde young men with mysterious blue uniforms.

He had simply disappeared.

And it was driving his father nearly mad. The not-knowing was the worst; the constant thinking about 'what ifs', the wondering, the despair.

His brothers weren't fairing any better. Scott hadn't slept a wink in the 36 hours. Gordon was constantly on edge, and when he wasn't swimming, he was hiding in his room, very unusual behaviour for the outgoing prankster. John worked feverishly on the communications, but came up with nothing, and the strain was beginning to show in the dark circles under his eyes. Virgil...Virgil played the piano for hours, trying to ease his worries with music. It didn't seem to be working.

As for Tin-Tin, well the poor girl was a wreck; Alan's disappearance was hitting her hard. There hadn't been a time he hadn't seen her crying in the last day and a half. She was devastated; a fact Jeff could relate to only too well.

Sighing, he leant back and looked at the picture in front of him. It was a simple passport photo of Alan, nondescript and bland, of the type used on official forms. His youngest looked uncharacteristically solemn, the blonde hair mussed, and the blue eyes gazing intently at the photographer. Jeff preferred photos in which Alan smiled – he looked much younger if he did, cheeky and optimistic. But for what he was planning, this had to do.

Well. It was time to do something. Jeff stood up, sighed one more time and then walked to the vid-phone. He needed to make some arrangements.

Push. Dive. Stroke. Preserve energy. Stroke again. Come up for breath.

The water glittered around him. Tracy Island lay in perfect peace; the sun standing high in the blue sky, the weather warm and gentle.

Gordon couldn't remember how long he had been swimming. He had lost count after the first 150 laps. But it didn't really matter. He wasn't doing laps for training. He was trying to distract himself, trying to calm his mind.

Swimming had always been his release. Under water, everything was so different. The sounds, the feelings, the motion...it was much more relaxed. He loved the silence under water. It was perfect. So unlike the hustle and bustle on land.

Alan had always teased him about it. His little brother loved noise, revelled in it. Be it loud music, the humming of engines, or just the throbbing pulse of life...and whilst he had nothing against swimming (and even liked diving), he couldn't understand Gordon's fascination with it.

"Isn't it boring?" he would always say, shaking his head. "Just doing lap after lap. It's always the same. Nothing changes. And you do hundreds of them!"

How very wrong he was. It was never the same. Sure, sometimes it got tedious. Back in his Olympic days, there had been phases when he had hated it. 300 laps and still not enough? It had been enough to drive him crazy.

But afterwards, it always felt good. The first couple of laps were the worst, but then he would work himself into a kind of trance. He was moving on autopilot and his mind wandered. It was soothing, relaxing, and very good when he really had to think about a problem.

It had helped him with girl troubles in his teenage years; nowadays, it made it a lot easier to deal with the aftermath of difficult rescues.

Reach the end of the pool. Roll. Dive. Stroke. Come up for breath.


They were so close, and yet so different. As the two youngest, they had been forced to work together – how else could they have fought against the older brothers? They shared the same humour, the same love for pranks, yet they were entirely different in some aspects.

Gordon smiled inwardly. Hell, there had been a time when Alan had been afraid of water! Granted, he had only been little, but Gordon had loved water ever since he had been born.

Not Alan. He had hated it, had refused to learn swimming, had cried in their rare holidays when they went near the beach.

Funny how things seemed to change.

Funny how Alan's disappearance had been caused by water.

Gordon stopped at the end of the pool and lifted himself up. No, he couldn't think that way. It was making him all bitter, and afraid, and ironic. He needed to be optimistic. He needed to smile.

...but most of all, he needed his brother back.

"You shouldn't do that." Virgil reprimanded gently.

From the video screen on the wall, John was looking at him out of bleary eyes. "What?"

"Run yourself down."

"Oh please." The blonde astronaut laughed bitterly and took a sip out of his mug. Coffee. Black. Just as he liked it. He must have consumed litres of it, judging from the twitching muscle under his eye. "As if things down there were any different."

Virgil refrained from commenting. They weren't. Scott wasn't sleeping, Gordon was never to be seen, Tin-Tin hadn't stopped crying, and his father had buried himself in work.

"No." He shook his head. "But John...you're alone on Thunderbird Five."

"Yeah," A tired smile flickered over John's face. "But I can't leave my post. I'm the only one who might hear something, don't you understand? If they find him, they're going to contact me!"

"Hmm." Virgil couldn't understand how his brother did it. He at least had the comfort of his family. John was stuck up there on his own, with only cold space for company. He knew from his own experience how lonely it could get on Thunderbird Five. Those were the times he desperately missed his piano – the only item that would have made him forget the cold space around the station.

"Are you going to play?" John asked, interrupting his train of thought.

"Of course. You know me."

"I do." Another tired smile.

"Would you mind...would you mind if I listened for a bit?" The question was hesitant, almost afraid.

Virgil looked at his brother in surprise. He didn't mind if others listened to him practising, but then again, they never asked. For John to be so outspoken was rare. Almost like a request, he realized, and understood. John was as worried as the rest of them, and being alone didn't help.

"I would be glad of your company." He strode to the piano, looking back over his shoulder. John could see him from the vid-screen in the lounge. Good. He liked to have a bit of space around him when he played.

"What are you going to play?" John queried from the wall.

Virgil flexed his fingers. "Moonlight sonata. Beethoven."

Recognition flickered in John's eyes. "Very fitting."

They exchanged a knowing look. Then Virgil began to play the solemn piece, his eyes half-closing as his fingers slid over the keys. The song was very slow, but beautiful. It didn't have a lot of fancy chords or embellishments; in fact it was very simple. He remembered what one of his teachers had once said; that it was either the easiest or the most difficult piece of music that existed. Easy because the technique was simple and easy to acquire; difficult because in order to play it right, one needed to know his piano inside out, needed to feel the soul of the music and pour everything into it.

He closed his eyes completely. His body swayed rhythmically as he played, lost in his own little world.

John listened in silence while he continued to monitor the communications. Virgil had always been a wonderful pianist, but today the Moonlight Sonata was especially beautiful. Maybe because of what he was feeling. After all, the music seemed to reflect the mood they were all in.

A slight smile appeared on Tin-Tin's face as she heard the familiar notes echo through the villa. She knew the tune as well, had listened to it during quiet moments when she needed to relax, or when she was too worried to sleep. She was used to worry. Every time the boys went off on a rescue and things got hairy, she worried. It was perfectly natural – after all, they were her brothers in all but blood!

With the exception of Alan. He was an entirely different topic. Hot-headed and impulsive, he had worked his way into her heart.

Not knowing where he was, whether he was injured or not, was killing her. She needed to know.

"Please be okay," she whispered and looked at her hands forlornly. "You are far too stubborn to give up. I know you. A bit of water doesn't scare you. You're going to be fine."

Empty words.

No. She wouldn't cry again. She had done enough crying for now. She didn't even know yet...she would save her tears, for later, for a time when she might need them. If...when...No. Tin-Tin refused to even think of such a time. It would not happen.

For now she would be strong. She would stop crying and be strong. She would show that she was a Tracy in both spirit and heart; and she would stand by Alan.

The soft music drifted through the air like a dream, a gentle melody of sadness and hope.

Chapter Seven: Flashes of a Former Life

The bus ride had been cramped, uncomfortable and far too long. A lot of people were trying to get out of their valley; people who had lost their homes, who wanted to get away, who had nothing left.

I felt right at home with them. The atmosphere was depressing and by the time we reached the city, I was in a very dark mood. The loss and the despair were almost tangible; and for the first time I started fearing that I might be the same; that maybe, there was nothing left for me. Maybe I didn't have a home to return to. Maybe I didn't have any people who loved me.

It was a devastating thought. Being so utterly alone...fending for myself, with nobody to care for me if I got hurt in any way...

I realized that I was steering into a full-blown depression and quickly abandoned that train of thought. At least there were people who liked me – Annie and Howard, for example – for now, that had to be enough.

When I stepped off the bus, everything was loud. And smelly. The city was big, and since it was around five o'clock on the afternoon, full of people and cars. Rush hour.

I looked around the main bus station. It seemed as if everybody beside me had a purpose or knew at least a place to go. I felt a bit lost.

What had Howard said? Look for a motel. And the next day, for his son, Martin. The first one I could do, the latter not. I needed to be careful with my money; according to Annie, it should last me for about three or four days, but after that, I had to fend for myself. Not a whole lot of time when you have to recapture your whole life.

I sauntered off, coming to the conclusion that the best way to find a cheap motel was to ask one of the taxi drivers. But on my way there, something else sprang into my vision. It was a huge advertisement, spread over a housewall. In the middle of it was a red car, glinting magically in some strange light. It seemed to be racing, followed by other cars.

My eyes were drawn to the text under the picture. "COME TO THE RACE TRACK" it said in bold, fiery letters. And then, a list of dates when races would take place.

I could only stare, while my heart thudded loudly in my chest. For some unknown reason, this advertisement excited me; I felt ready to bolt, to do something, to...a vague memory appeared in my mind...the feeling of speed, the adrenaline, the rush, and the mad laughter when yet another...another...

Frustrated, I stamped my foot. "Damn!" I had nearly had it. It had been there, I had felt it, lying at the edge of my vision, just waiting to be found – but then it had disappeared again, leaving me hollow and empty.

Racing. And cars. It was pretty clear now – there had been something going on with cars in my past life. Maybe not even a criminal. Maybe...maybe I was working on the track. Maybe I was a mechanic there. Maybe I designed cars, or built them. Or maybe...maybe I was even a driver!

I was elated. That would mean that I wasn't a criminal! And if I wasn't a criminal, then I could go to the police and tell them that I had lost my memory, could they please help me look for my family?

Alright. No need to get overenthusiastic. I couldn't be sure; and I wasn't going to risk anything before I was sure.

But at least I knew my next goal. A visit to the racetrack.

The motel was small, dirty, run-down and generally horrible, but it was cheap. I paid for a night in advance, startled for a moment when the clerk asked for my name. Panicking, I told him the first name that came to my mind – one of the few I had remembered so far.


The clerk looked bored. "John what?"

Good question. I looked around the room, my gaze falling on the cheap porcelain figures behind the man. They looked tacky – the sort of stuff you get for a couple of dollars in souvenir shops – and were not very well-cared for. Some of them depicted animals, some of them humans, but there was one in particular that met my eye.

"Shepherd." My answer was automatic, as I continued to gaze at the figure of the young shepherdess. It didn't sound as wrong as John, somehow; it still wasn't my real name, but it...came closer. A lot.

Confused, I shook my head and handed over the bills. The good thing about cheap motels is that nobody asks questions; and the fact that I didn't have any sort of identification on me didn't faze the clerk at all. He handed me a dirty looking key, attached to a huge weight nearly three times its size.

"Room 127, go down the corridor and turn left." He announced in a rather bored tone and continued browsing through his magazine that showed – as I noticed with a quick glance – a couple of expensive looking cars and a lot of scantily clad young ladies.

I smirked and walked to my room. Did I like such magazines as well? The images had certainly pleased me, but whether it was the cars or the girls, I honestly couldn't tell. Probably the combination of both, I admitted sheepishly to myself; after all, I was a rather handsome and more importantly, young man, according to Annie.

Lost in thought, I put the key in the lock and opened the door. The room was very bare, and even though I had expected it, I was a bit disappointed. Almost as if I was used to something better than...this.

There was a single bed with a creaking mattress; a small cupboard and a worn-looking table by the end of the bed.

When I saw this, a terrible feeling of...loneliness washed over me. This wasn't how it was supposed to be. I was pretty sure that my own room was much nicer than this. Wherever it was. It certainly didn't look as shabby and...impersonal as this one. With more presence, of other people...people that I couldn't remember yet, but I knew they were there.

This was frustrating me no end; being unable to do anything beside wait. When would my head finally come around and tell me about myself? I wanted to know my name, dammit...it was frustrating not to know how to refer to myself.

I went to the bathroom and looked at myself in the mirror. Nothing had changed. Still the same blonde hair, the same bruises, the same dark patches under my eyes.

"I'm John." I said aloud and studied myself. No. I didn't look like a 'John', didn't feel like one. "I'm...Martin." I tried. Nothing. "Ned. Henry. Jeff." I started to list random names that popped into my head. Maybe one of them would fit. Maybe I knew instinctively which name was the right one. After all, a lot of memories were subconscious.

The last one - Jeff - seemed to be vaguely familiar, but then again, there were a lot of people with that name. Heck, it could have been the first name of my accountant for all I knew!

"What else...let's see...Steve."


"Sharon." No, that was a girls name. And I most certainly wasn't a girl – that was one of the first things I had checked.


Nope. I could have been listing the names of flowers, for all the effect it had on me.



That name definitely rang a bell. I knew a Scott. I was pretty sure about that. It sounded so familiar, came so easy over my lips that it just had to be.

"Scott...Scott...Scott who?" I murmured in frustration, running my hand through my hair. Blonde. I rather liked that colour. It looked good.

Was Scott a blonde? Was John?

I had no idea.

"DAMMIT!" I suddenly exploded and slammed my hand against the mirror. It had no effect. I wasn't remembering. I simply wasn't remembering!

Okay. Need to calm down. Need to get everything under control or I might flip.

Breathe. Slowly.

It worked, but it took a while to get my temper in check. I just felt so angry and I wanted to lash out...but I couldn't do that. Not until I knew more about myself. I had no idea what I was capable of. I could be dangerous. And I already felt that I had a hot temper. Heck, sometimes I was so angry that I scared myself...

Exhausted, I sat down on the bed and put my head in my hands. It was barely eight o'clock in the evening, but I felt bone tired. And whenever I felt tired, the aches and pains crept back into my awareness, twingeing and hurting with sudden force. I winced and rubbed at the giant bruise that was my left side.

Sometimes I really wondered what had caused my injuries..was it the flood alone? Had I been carried along by the waters? Had I hit...stones, buildings, trees? Or had something else been involved? Was there maybe a reason why I wouldn't remember? Was my brain trying to protect me?

It was strange, not being able to remember. I had been existing for three days – well, two nights and three days. Hell, I could have been born three days ago and I wouldn't know the difference.

That thought scared me. A lot.

"You're tired." I whispered to myself. "You're not thinking logically."

Those words sounded strange coming from my mouth. I had the distinct impression that I wasn't a very logical person at all; maybe my situation would be a lot better if I was. Maybe I'd be able to trust people then. But as I wasn't able to do so, I was on my own. For now.

I felt so alone.

With a sigh, I laid back and decided to go to sleep. No use moping around like this. But sleep eluded me for a long, long time, and when it finally came, it was filled with nightmares.

"Shut up! Just shut the hell up!" I roared, angry beyond measure. "You don't know anything, how dare you make assumptions about me just like that! I wasn't irresponsible! There was no other possibility! I had to get them out of there and that was the only way!"

"But you weren't supposed to climb down the tunnel with the water rising! You didn't have any gear!" he raged in response, and for the first time, I saw his face clearly. Red with anger, eyes blazing, he seemed ready to pound me into the ground. "What would have happened if you hadn’t been quick enough? What if Gordon hadn't been there to help you? What would have happened if the..."

"Oh, just cut it, Scott!" I interrupted, feeling terribly disappointed. Didn't he trust me? Didn't he expect me to know what I was doing? I wasn't a kid any more, I was grown-up and able to make my own decisions...

I woke up, briefly. I clearly remembered the face. Quite a few years older than me. The dark hair a stark contrast to my own thatch. And the look of fury and...something else in his face that I couldn't quite place.

"I knew he'd muck it up, he always does."

"Oh, come on, he's just a kid! He doesn't know any better."

"No, but he should."

It was painful, listening to those voices. They came from deep out of my heart, floating to the surface like bubbles in a soft drink. And I could do nothing but watch them.

Freedom, such incredible freedom...I gripped the steering wheel harder, concentrating on the task ahead of me. Even through my earplugs I could hear cheering, people urging me to go faster. It didn't matter. There was only me, going as fast as I could. I loved it. I thrived on it. I threw my head back and laughed in exhilaration.

It was nice to remember something pleasant for once. I tried to hold onto it, tried to keep it in my mind as comfort, so that I knew that there had been good things in my past as well. It wasn't all dark. It wasn't all hopeless.

"I like it when you do that," she giggled, smelling of coconut and the sea and warmth and love.

I felt perfectly happy just lying beside her and letting her hair trail through my fingers. "I like how you look." I responded and smiled, but before I could take a good look at her face, the memory was gone again, slipping through my fingers like sand on a beach...and I nearly cried in frustration because it had been so beautiful, she had been so beautiful...

No matter what memories poured into my mind, I seemed to be unable to hold onto them. They just came and went again, without leaving any marks, and it was even more frustrating than not knowing anything.

"I’LL KILL YOU! I SWEAR I'M GOING TO KILL YOU!" His dark hair stuck wildly in all directions. I knew him...knew his name. Scott. Yes. It was Scott.

A rush of exhilaration coursed through me. But it was the only thing I knew – his name. And the fact that for some reason he was so angry with me that he wanted to kill me...so mad...

I awoke with a gasp, sweat pouring down my face. The last dream had been the most vivid, and I still remembered every detail. I even knew what he looked like. Handsome, tall, dark-haired, with blue eyes.

Happily, I held on to that memory, because it was the first thing I could definitely remember...but then I quickly deflated. I didn't seem to have a good relationship with this man; on the contrary, he seemed to hate me.

Did he really want to kill me? The anger in his eyes had been real.

Frowning hard, I snuggled deeper into the bedcovers. Alright. I would be careful of people called 'Scott'. Maybe he was after me. Maybe he had been following me and that was why I had been in the valley. Maybe there had been a fight and I had been pushed into the water...by someone who wanted me dead. Maybe that person had been called Scott.

Suddenly, I felt cold.

I didn't feel very refreshed the next morning, but I got up anyway. I didn't have any time to spare. My money was running out quickly, and there was no way in hell I would go back to Annie and Howard and ask for more.

The motel didn't offer any breakfast – lousy little dump it was – but luckily, there was a fast-food place not far away and I grabbed a coffee there. Looking down at the black liquid, I thought of this John I knew, who drank his coffee without sugar. I shuddered. How could anyone do that? Disgusting, really. Coffee needed sugar. Where else would you get the energy from?

Thinking of food reminded my stomach that it hadn’t been filled in quite some time. Sighing, I scanned the menu and ordered a cheap burger. Not enough to fill me up, and not a very tasty breakfast by any means, but it stopped my stomach from grumbling and that was all I wanted.

So. I remembered two names. Scott and John. Scott was out of bounds, as he seemed intent on killing or at least harming me. I knew nothing about John besides the fact that he liked his coffee black. There seemed to be a girl in my life, but I didn't know a name. And another person called Gordon as well, about whom I knew nothing. Very disappointing.

With a weary sigh, I crumbled the paper cup and threw it in the bin. "So, John Shepherd, time to face your day."

I decided to follow my hunch from yesterday and visit the racetrack. After all, I had nothing better to do and at least it was a start, though a meagre one.

But first I had to find out a way to get there. I didn't want to take a cab – too expensive – but I really had no idea how to use public transport. I could try to walk, but then again, it would probably be outside the city and could take hours to get there on foot.

There was no way around it; I had to ask for the best and cheapest way. Feeling slightly disgruntled, I sauntered over to the next news-stand. I really didn't like asking for the way, it made me feel...incompetent. Although it really shouldn't.

The old lady behind the counter was serving two customers before me, and as I didn't want to embarrass myself in public, I waited for them to finish before I posed my question.

I took the time to read the newspapers that were posted up all over the stall. Most of them featured the flood, showing pictures of the valley and distraught people. "INTERNATIONAL RESCUE SAVES THE DAY – AGAIN!" one of the headlines read and I reached over out of curiosity, remembering what I had learned about International Rescue so far. It really sounded intriguing. According to those people I had talked to in the town yesterday, they were true heroes, risking their own necks to save the life of others. They might have even saved mine as well and I didn't even know it.

Intrigued, I opened the paper and started skimming the article. "Our heroes in blue did the unthinkable yet again..." it started and I had to smile. But my smile quickly vanished as I saw a photo on the opposite page.

Of myself.

I could only stare. There, printed in black and white, was exactly the same face that stared out of my mirror every morning. The blonde hair. The eyes. The dimple in the cheek. There was no mistake. That was me.

I looked solemn and serious, as if my thoughts were elsewhere.

My mind raced. How...how could this be possible? Where had that photo come from? What was it doing in the newspaper, where everybody could see it?

Who the hell would put a photo of me in the newspaper?

Panicked, I read the headline, International Rescue forgotten. "Have you seen this man?" It said and my blood ran cold.

That almost sounded...sounded like they were looking for me. But who were 'they'? The mafia? The police?

"If you have seen this man, please contact the following number. A reward will be given to anyone who can help in finding this person..."

And then a phone number. No name. Neither mine nor of the person looking for me.

I was being hunted.

With shaking hands, I closed the newspaper. It couldn't be the police. The police would be official about it; no, this had to be a private person. A person that didn't want to be identified. A person that was ready to pay money so that I'd be found.

I remembered my mafia theory and suddenly it didn't seem that far-fetched anymore. I didn't know whether I was a criminal or not, but I was in danger, was being followed, and I had to be damn careful.

Somebody put a photo of me in the newspaper. Offered a reward.

Was I really that important? What the hell had I done to deserve that sort of attention?

"Can I help you, young man?" The voice startled me from my thoughts. I turned around, slowly – I had nearly forgotten why I was here, but now, with the news-vendor frowning at me, I remembered my purpose.

"Ehm...as a matter of fact, you can." I began and coughed slightly, trying to hold the newspaper so that she wouldn't see my picture. "I was wondering...could you maybe tell me the best way to the racetrack?"

She glowered at me. "Why don't you take a cab?"

I swallowed hard. "Because cabs cost an awful lot of money, Ma'am."

Her face softened a bit. "A student, eh? My grandson’s one of them, too – always out of money, eating out of tins because he can't afford proper plates. Well, it's a bit of a hassle with public transport – you need to get to the main station and then take the train. Direction of Haybridge; I believe it's the fifth station. From there, you should be able to see the track."

"Thank you." I put the newspaper on the table and looked in my pockets for some coins. "How much is that?"

"One dollar fifty." She studied me closely. "You know that there aren't any races on now? The season won’t start until next week."

"I know", was my involuntary reply, and to my surprise, I really had known (why could I remember race dates, but not my stupid, fricking name?). I looked for the coins and put them in he old, wrinkled hand. "Thank you for your help, Ma'am." I smiled at her and she smiled back, which made her look about ten years younger.

Then I sauntered off, my mind in turmoil although I did my best to appear calm and collected. The newspaper was tucked safely under my arm.

The lady had been right. It was a long ride. First I had to find my way to the train station, which was in a totally different part of the city from the bus station I had arrived at. And from there, I had to take a slow regional train. After a twenty minute long bumpy ride in a (thankfully) empty carriage, I finally reached my destination.

As I had been promised, I saw the track immediately. A surge of recognition swam over me and I doubled my speed. I wanted to be there, wanted to hear, smell and feel the cars...

There might not have been races on, but there were still people there – and cars. The track itself was surrounded by a fence, but that proved to be no problem. I looked for a deserted spot, made sure that nobody was watching, and climbed over the fence with an ease that surprised myself. I didn't even stop to think that I was doing something immoral; the urge to get closer was far too strong.

There was a familiar mix of smells in the air – gasoline and tires, metal and plastic – and I paused for a moment, closing my eyes. I knew this scent – had smelled it so often that it felt natural – I had once belonged here – this was close, so very close.

The anticipation, the waiting game, and then, the bang of the starting gun – the race had begun. Palms sweating, feet carefully controlling the pedals, eyes never leaving the track, trying to cut the corners, trying to be faster than everybody else, the excitement, the rush, the smells, the sounds, and I knew that was were I belonged...

My eyes snapped open. There was a car further down the track, doing practise runs. I watched the sleek build of it, the broad wheels, the smoothness with which it went through the curves...

Forgetting about everything else, I sprinted down to watch. I wanted – no, needed – to see how it was going, needed to get closer to the smell. My memories were so very close, and it drove me nearly mad – there was only one spark missing and the walls inside my mind would crumble.

The car was beautiful. Blue, with white stripes on its sides, the windows dark and freshly polished. The engine hummed comfortingly, a noise of power even though the car was just cruising, getting warm. And yet...there was something off about that sound. Something I didn't like. Frowning, I listened more intently.

"Hey! What are you doing there?"

I froze in mid-step. Who?...I had been so absorbed in my observations that I hadn't even noticed there were people as well – not just the car. And they didn't seem to be happy about my presence.

The man – older than me, clad like a mechanic, with sunglasses and a dark hat – looked ready to throttle me should I not give him a satisfying answer.

"Ehm", was my very intelligent reply as I frantically searched for a plausible excuse. There was none. I was stuck. I was a stranger on a racetrack, I had sneaked in, had probably broken a law with my trespassing. Why hadn't I thought of that, why hadn't I been more careful...

Out of the corner of my eyes I saw the car again. Just for the briefest of seconds, I thought I had seen something.

"Hey! I'm talking to you!"

My attention was fixed on the car now. The driver was going through a narrow curve and... was it only my imagination or could I see wisps of rubber smoke from the inside tire?

"Stop the car!" I yelled, as I suddenly realized what it meant. "Or he might damage it even more!"

"What?" The man's mouth fell open. "What the hell are you talking about? And you haven't answered my que-""

I didn't let him finish. "There's a problem with the diffuser, don't you see that, man? The car seems loose, and I'm pretty sure that I saw it bend just now!"

Deep inside, I was astonished by the knowledge I was dishing out – I had assessed the situation almost instinctively. The words left my mouth before I had even thought about them.

The man stared at me for a moment, appearing to be shocked and angry. Then his head swivelled around and he watched the car with an intense gaze. There was a tense silence between us – and then he growled, "Goddamn, you're right!"

Without acknowledging me any further, he used the walkie-talkie on his belt. "Mick, stop driving and return to the garage. There's a problem with the diffuser, we have to fix that before James arrives."

I couldn't hear the response of the driver, but the car obliged and turned around, heading towards the garages. I followed it with a wistful glance; I would have given anything to have a look inside.

The mechanic put the walkie-talkie away and fixed me with a doubtful glare. "Alright. How did you know that? And what are you doing here? Only identified personnel are allowed inside for practise sessions. Are you a spy? A reporter?"

"None of those." I held up my hands in defence. "Honestly. I just...I love racing, and I wanted to get closer. I work a lot with cars, that's why I saw it. And I was lucky – if I hadn't been looking at it that very moment, I wouldn't have realized it...I'm not meaning any harm, really! I just...well...wanted to have a look around and..." My voice trailed off. How was I supposed to explain about my memory loss and my relation to the race track?

"What's you name?"

The question startled me. "Err...John. John...Shepherd."

"Alright, John." He eyed me doubtfully. "I still don't trust you, but I want you to come with me to the stall so that we can talk about this with the others."

I felt happy and worried at the same time. Happy because I would be able to go inside and see the car, worried because I had no idea what this man would do. He seemed friendly enough, but also quite strict.

So I simply nodded, my throat too dry to say anything. Would I get some more answers? Would I finally be able to find out more about myself?

Only one way to find out.

Chapter Eight: Familiar Smells

The man who had caught me introduced himself as Henry. He led me into the garage, where the blue car was already waiting. A young man with reddish brown hair stood beside it, clad in a racing overall, with a helmet in his right hand.

"Henry!" He marched towards us, looking strangely sheepish "Why did you pull me in? And who's your blonde friend?" There was a mixed expression of guilt and defiance on his face. He eyed me warily.

I sent him my most charming smile, trying to make a good impression. "Hello, I'm John."

"We need to have a look at the diffuser." Henry replied in a gruff tone. "This little fellow here spotted that something was off."

"Really?" Mick was curious. "And what are you doing here...John?"

I flushed. If he had known how much I would give to answer that question! But since he didn't, I only made an evasive gesture. "I’ve worked with a lot of cars. Did a bit of racing myself." At least I suspected I had done a bit – it felt that way, but I could never be sure now, could I?

Damn, how I hated this...uncertainty!

"Really?" His eyes narrowed. "And what was your name again?"

"John. John Shepherd."

"I've never heard of you."

I laughed uneasily. "I never said I was famous, did I?"

Just then, Henry gave a cry of surprise. While we had been talking, he had laid down on the floor to take a good look under the car. "Damn me, the boy was right!"

I immediately bristled at being referred to as a 'boy', but I managed to keep my temper in check, although it was proving to be increasingly difficult.

Henry looked at us from his position on the floor. "This would have been a real problem in the turns. Nothing life-threatening, but enough to lose much-needed successions. I doubt the spotters would have been able to see this, it's very subtle...if you hadn't pointed it out..." He gazed at me, this time with admiration in his eyes. "How did you know?"

"I...well...," uncomfortable with the sudden attention, I shifted from one foot to the other. "I told you, it was pure luck. I happened to watch the car...anyone could have done that..."

Henry shook his head. "No, my boy, don't bullshit me. You need expert knowledge to be able to spot something that insignificant – a normal passer-by would have never seen it. You must be a mechanic yourself, or an engineer...somebody who works a lot with cars." His gaze was intense, fixing me on the spot. I felt the sudden urge to run away, but I couldn't move. "Say, what were you rally doing on the track?"


"Come on. You know your way around cars. That's not average knowledge you just displayed – that's very advanced, even for a racetrack mechanic. Are you working on a top team? What was your name again?"

"John." I shook my head, raising my arms in defence. "Henry, you've got it all wrong. I'm not working anywhere – well, at least not currently. I was just...in town, and I wanted to see the racetrack."

I wondered how much I could tell them. How could I make them understand that I didn't know myself where I had obtained my knowledge? Really, I surprised myself on a daily basis...what would I learn about myself tomorrow? That I could tap-dance? There were so many possibilities, and a lot of them scared me...

Maybe a bit of truth was needed to make my story more believable. I chose my words carefully. "I've been in the flood, you know, and I lost pretty much everything." Well, that much was true.

"I needed to get my mind off things, so I came here."

I shrugged, feeling uncomfortable even though I was telling the truth. Parts of it. Small parts of it. But I wasn't lying, was I? Just...glossing over some facts. Like the fact that I could not only drive, but steal a car as well...

Henry nodded in understanding. "The flood. Of course. I saw it on TV – it must have been horrible. I'm really sorry."

Ugh. Now I felt even more guilty. He seemed honestly sorry for me. "Don't be."

Mick looked apprehensive and a little bit relieved. "So you're not here to spy on us?"

"No, not at all." I laughed. "I guess I was just drawn here – I missed it, you know. The smells. The noise. It feels a bit like home." That much was true. I really felt a lot better since I had arrived on the track, as if something was working in my favour for once.

"Good." Mick grinned sheepishly. "I would have been in loads of trouble if you were. I'm not really a driver, you know."

"You're not?" I was surprised. Then I remembered the sloppy turns the car had been making. Of course. No experienced driver would ever drive that way.

He blushed. "Yeah, I'm just a mechanic. The driver of this car – James Corringway, you might know him – is going to arrive in two days and we have to prepare everything for him."

Henry chuckled. "We had to test the new tires we're using, plus we wanted to see how the motor was running. Mick was itching to get his fingers on the car, so I let him do a couple of test rounds."

Mick's face was crimson. "I enjoyed it. I'm not a driver, but it's nice." He mumbled and then pulled himself together. "So, what do we have to do?"

"Well, get that problem fixed. Give me the tool box, this is going to take a bit..."

I looked at the two of them, already engrossed in their work. They seemed to have forgotten about me. I was surprised how quickly they had accepted my story. Maybe I simply didn't look dangerous – I had done my best to smile in a charming way for the whole conversation – or maybe the car was much more important.

They looked so at ease with what they were doing that I ached to join them. Watching them made me realize how much I missed...well, belonging somewhere. I just wanted to feel useful and wanted. I wanted to do something instead of worrying.

"Need some help?" I offered, not really expecting an answer.

Henry sent me a challenging gaze. He seemed to be looking for something in my face, for what, I didn't know. But obviously, he found it, because an enormous smile lit his face. "Come on, kid, get over here!" He motioned me to join him. I bristled at the nickname – I wasn't a kid, for God's sake, I was grown-up and responsible – but I quickly swallowed my pride, knowing that I should be grateful for his acceptance.

I sauntered over to the car and grabbed a tool, feeling a bit more at ease than I had the whole morning. This was something I could do!

"That's done with!" Henry smirked two hours later and wiped his soot streaked face. "I must say, you're a damn good worker, Johnny-boy. Where did you learn all this?"

I grimaced at the nickname and put my tools back into the tool shed. "Oh, here and there." I replied vaguely. "I've been jobbing in lots of places."

Henry sent me a look that clearly meant 'You-can't-fool-me', but luckily, he let it go. We had had quite a pleasant conversation over the last couple of hours, me steering him from one safe topic to the next. I quite liked his cheerful attitude and he seemed to like me in return. Mick was also nice, and the three of us had fixed the car like old friends.

It had been the most fun I've had since I woke up at the shore of that muddy river. At least I was able to forget about my troubles for a while.

"It's nearly time for lunch", Mick announced. My stomach growled in response.

They laughed, while I grinned sheepishly. "My stomach seems to think the same."

"And he's right, ain't he?" Henry wiped his hands. "You want to come with us? There's a nice little place just over the street. Nothing fancy, but they do have a good steak, and rather cheap as well."

"Sounds great." I enthused and nodded. "But...I hope I'm not intruding? I mean, I am a stranger, after all, and I've got no business being here..."

Mick and Henry exchanged a look. "Well, you're right about that."

"You could be a mass-murderer for all we knew", Mick added cheerfully. My insides clenched together and it took lot of effort to keep the smile on my face.

Henry punched me playfully in the shoulder "But we like you anyway. Come on, I'm starving."

I breathed out in relief and wiped my hands on a clean rag. With a look of dismay, I stared at my trousers that were now streaked with oil. I had totally forgotten that I only had this one set of garments. Great, now I had to run around with dirt all over. I tried my best to wipe it off, but the stuff proved to be very persistent. How annoying.

We left the garage after we washed our hands. To my surprise, Mick and Henry weren't the only mechanics around. I could see more cars, most of them just warming up and being inspected from inside out. Just watching them gave me a feeling of comfort and belonging.

"Oh no, not him again." Henry muttered beside me. I turned around and saw a short, round man strolling towards us. He wore a very expensive looking overall and had quite a arrogant look on his face. I felt instant dislike.

"Henry Tuckett. I certainly didn't expect to see you and your team here," he smirked. "I though this racetrack is only for professionals!"

"Oh, just shut up, Pickford," Henry retorted angrily. "This race is for people who are good and not people who have money."

Pickford just sneered. "Pity that you think that way. I can't see your team winning any races. Well, no wonder, what with the kindergarten you seem to have opened recently." He nodded towards Mick and me. "Can't afford a proper mechanic, can you?"

I felt my fists clench at my side. That arrogant prick...how dare he talk that way! He didn't even know me, and yet he assumed I was...just because I was young...I was as useful as everybody else, if not more so...

The anger burned hot in my stomach, threatened to overtake every rational through. I felt the urge to shout at him, show him exactly what I was thinking of his arrogant ways...and it scared me.

It scared me how easy it was to rile me, at least when it came to certain topics. What would happen if I exploded? Was I a raving madman? Certainly I wasn't in control of what I was doing or saying when I was angry. Something entirely unacceptable in my current situation.

So I swallowed my anger and clamped my mouth shut. This wasn't my fight. Hell, I didn't even know those people!

I needn't have worried. Henry had the situation under control. "I’d rather have mechanics who aren't afraid of getting dirty than something as disgusting as you. Are you finished with your insults? Because I'd like to enjoy a peaceful lunch break with my friends – not that you know what that is."

Friends. Plural. Meaning that he thought of me as his friend. That mere idea warmed me and was enough to dissolve the rest of my simmering fury.

The small man glowered in anger. "You wait, Tuckett. You and your pathetic bunch of losers, you'll soon see..." his eyes narrowed and he looked at me, recognition dawning in them. "Wait a moment...you, the blonde one, haven't I seen your face somewhere?"

I immediately thought of the photo in the newspaper and paled. "I've never been here before. You must be mistaken." I babbled, trying my best to look innocent and not at all like somebody who was being hunted down.

"No, no, I'm sure..."

"Stop annoying he boy." Henry boomed, effectively interrupting the interrogation. For once, I didn't object to being called 'boy' – instead, I was grateful for it. Thank you, Henry.

"Let's go. I'm too hungry to listen to this any longer."

Henry brushed past Pickford with an impatient sigh. Mick and I followed him, my legs trembling with relief. That had been close. I needed to be more careful. Maybe dye my hair or something. Hmm. I tried to imagine myself with black hair and failed horribly.

"Just ignore him," the weathered mechanic advised and I had to remind myself that he was talking about Pickford. "Jonathan Pickford, one of the most disgusting mechanics I know. He's too full of himself, just because he works for one of the best track teams this season. They are the top favourites; the racer, Luke Featherstone, has got a lot of financial back-up and so his team gets only the best."

I shook my head. "A good car is important, but all that is of no use if the driver is a pussy."

Henry looked at me with shining eyes. "That's exactly what I think, my lad! Now James, he's a wonderful driver – a bit on the reckless side, perhaps, but definitely talented – and he gets along with us great, which is always important. Never annoy your chief mechanic, I always say."

I chuckled. Now why did I have a feeling that I had heard that sentiment before?

Dinner was a pleasant affair. The steak, though a bit chewy, tasted good and did wonders for the hole in my stomach. Mick and Henry made pleasant company, entertaining me with silly little stories about cars and races. There were a couple of dangerous questions – about my family, of course, or where I had been working, whether I had watched that and that particular race – but I managed to dodge them fairly well. They seemed to blame my silence on the recent trauma of the flood, which wasn't entirely wrong – and I certainly made no effort to convince them otherwise.

The more time passed, the more subdued I became. I had hoped that the race track would trigger my memory, but so far, nothing had happened. I remembered a great deal about cars, yes, and I was able to recite the race rules by heart, but other than that? Nothing.

I was really beginning to despair. Would I ever solve the mystery of my past?

"And then he told me to 'suck off'", Mick exclaimed, gesturing wildly with his fork. "Honestly! The nerve! I was just trying to help!"

Henry chuckled. "Sometimes, help is not appreciated. My older sister always tried to teach me how to ‘behave properly in front of girls', but I would never listen. Should have done so, in retrospect, as my first date proved to be quite the disaster, but well, I thought I knew better..."

Their bickering conversation took my mind off my dark and gloomy past/future. I smiled, doing my best to look entertained and understanding.

"Do you have any siblings, John?" Mick turned and looked at me curiously." Or are you an only child?"

"Err..." I made, trying to stall for time. I really had to think of a good cover story; this was getting annoying. "Yes." I blurted out, and then cursed myself. Why hadn't I said no? Now I had to invent some siblings...knowing nothing about them. Still, they didn't know that I didn't know anything, so it'd be alright...I hoped.

"Younger or older?"

The wheels in my mind turned. "Younger."

"Really? Then you're an older brother, just like me." Mick grinned at me. "It's a tough job, but somebody's got to do it, eh? I swear, if I wasn't looking out for my younger brother, the trouble he'd get into...so how old are they? What are their names?"

I shifted in my seat, feeling under pressure. Who would have thought that thinking up some family could be so difficult?

Luckily Henry noticed my discomfort and put a restraining hand on Mick's shoulder. "Mick. The poor lad has been in a flood and lost his home. Maybe he doesn't want to talk about his family just yet."

He didn't speak the next sentence, but it hung between us anyway. Because they might be all dead and it hurts too much to talk about them.

Mick got the meaning immediately and his face fell. "I'm sorry, John, I didn't want to be rude..."

"It's okay", I waved it off, but my insides felt shaky all of sudden. What if that had really happened? So far, I had only thought about me...about the people that were after me...but what if my family, the people I loved, were involved as well? What if they were dead? What if everybody who had known the real me was dead?

The thought chilled me to the bone.

"You alright, John?" Henry asked in a soft voice. I nodded briskly and took a sip of my water. I didn't want to think about this any more, I just wanted to relax and...have fun...be myself...even though I didn't know who that was...

Mick frowned at his plate. "I've wanted to ask this ever since I heard that you had been in the flood..." he began, and my insides turned cold. Please don't let him be suspicious, please don't let it be another question I can't answer...I'm already making a fool of myself as it is...

Oblivious to my inner rantings, he continued. "But did you by any chance get a glimpse of International Rescue?"

"Huh?" I blinked. This wasn't what I had been expecting.

Henry's eyes widened. "Oh, you must have! The news was everywhere – they flew over the valley and rescued the people from their houses, lifting them up in their Thunderbirds – wonderful machines, I wish I could see them closer up one day – saved hundreds of lives and helped barricade off the higher villages, so that they wouldn't get flooded as well..."

I couldn't help but chuckle at their obvious enthusiasm. It seemed that wherever I went, International Rescue was received warmly by people, met with a gratitude and appreciation that seemed humbling.

"I'm sorry to disappoint you, but I didn't see anything." Their hopeful faces crumbled. "I was unconscious for quite a while and the memories of the flood themselves are dim at the best."

Dim? Try non-existent!

"Ah, what a pity." Henry sighed. "It would have been great to hear some first-hand tale. Those guys are simply amazing. And nobody knows who they are, that's the best bit!"

"Really?" That was news to me. But now that I thought about it, nobody had ever mentioned names – it was always International Rescue and the Thunderbirds.

"Of course! They have all these precautions about secrecy – nobody can take photos of their craft, for example, and they never reveal names or anything about themselves. Understandable – the machinery they have could easily be misappropriated and used for some sinister purpose."

Interesting. I wondered how those 'men (and probably women) in blue' lived with that. Did they tell their wives, husbands, children, friends where they were working? They must have to...after all, rescuing is a dangerous business, and any spouses might wonder why their significant other returned muddy/soaked/injured/full of smoke after every work-day.

"So, John, what are you planning to do now?" Henry interrupted my train of thought. I stared at our empty plates and realized that lunch was over. My two newly-made friends would return to their work and then I'd be stuck on my own again. My stomach lurched unpleasantly.

"I don't really know," I offered, too tired to lie any more. "There's not much...I lost basically everything..."

Henry and Mick exchanged a significant glance. "You're really nice, sonny-boy." Henry began. "And a very good helper, but you're not a worker for our team, so we can't let you tamper with the car. I'm sorry." He looked genuinely displeased.

"That's fine. I understand." He probably could get in a whole lot of trouble – secrecy was important on the racetrack, and I was a stranger to them, after all, even though it didn't feel like it anymore.

"Take the day off and relax", Mick offered. "You must be exhausted. There are some nice parks in the city; or you could go to our thermal pool, that's quite relaxing. You look knackered."

That's because my sleep has been interrupted by mind-wrenching nightmares!

But I only nodded, feeling very empty.

"You could always come back tonight and go out with us. We usually celebrate the first couple of nights, to get to know each other better or simply because we can…." Henry offered. "And we could let you watch the practise runs tomorrow, if you want to..." He shrugged.

I perked up immediately. The mere idea of having some place to return to – where people knew me – made this horrible life bearable. "Really? I'd love to!"

The mechanics grinned. "That's good – it's nice talking to you, even though you're a bit weird." Mick said cheerfully. I resisted the urge to snap at him.

"So I guess I’ll see you tonight?" The idea of leaving was made a lot easier now that I knew I'd see them again.

"Sure. Let’s say…about seven? Could be a bit later, depending on when we finish, so be prepared to wait a bit."

I grinned. "That's fine. "

I couldn't believe it. They were actually happy that I'd return, as if...as if they liked me! The notion pleased me immensely. It was nice to know that I wasn't a total prick, that there were good sides to me as well. I hoped that there were people in my old life that liked me in the same way...

That made me think of the flood again. Until further notice, I would stick to the story that I had lost everything. It was quite convenient. But the more I thought about it, the more I feared that there might be some truth in it. Not that I had been living in the valley – no, that was quite unlikely, I would have remembered the place and somebody would have recognized me at Bell's Gate, it was a pretty small place after all.

My thoughts were interrupted by the waiter. We paid our lunch and I looked mournfully at the money, realizing that I had to find some way to earn cash, and quickly at that. Maybe I could spend the afternoon looking for some job...the thought sickened me, but I didn't have any other chance. I didn't fancy sleeping on the streets.

Mick and Henry waved me a cheerful good-bye and returned to their work place. I smiled at them and watched their retreating backs with mixed feelings. I was quite jealous of them; I would have loved to work with them and get paid for it. Lucky bastards.

I sauntered off to the station, intent on making my way back to the inner city. On my way across the street, I managed to catch a glimpse of Pickford, who glowered at me menacingly. Unable to contain my anger, I glowered back, doing my best to look intimidating. That seemed to piss him off even more and I nodded in satisfaction. Served him right, that arrogant prick.

An arrogant prick with a life, mind you, unlike me who had nothing at all.

I was quite depressed by the time I made my way back to the central station. The more I learnt, the more frustrating it got. No sign of my family; I didn't come from this place, but from elsewhere; I possessed criminal skills; I was being hunted by some mysterious person; my dreams were haunted by suspicious men who wanted to kill me; and I couldn't even remember the name of the girl I liked.

"Stop moping," I firmly told myself. "Remember: never give up at any cost."

The simple phrase gave me more comfort than any speech could have done. No clue where I had heard it, but I knew that it was true and that no matter what, I'd never give up, because that was just me.

At least I knew something.

Chapter Nine: A Hint, and Lots of Puzzlement


John Tracy sat aboard Thunderbird Five, playing idly with his pen, while around him the babble of voices filled the air. With no rescue calls in the last twenty-four hours apart from a small fire that had been quickly dealt with, he felt rather bored and useless. It was a feeling he hated, because it made him think...and then, of course, his thoughts immediately circled around Alan and what might have happened to his little brother.


The tune drifted slowly through the background. A gentle piano piece, by a French composer. Virgil had played and taped it for him, after he had found out how much John liked the French music – sad and optimistic at the same time, beautiful and thoughtful.

He often listened to it when he had to think, or relax after a stressful rescue. This, and watching the stars, helped him unwind, helped him to get rid of the tension that he sometimes felt after hours of worrying.

Today, the music drifted by unheard, as he was unable to relax and let his mind wander. Every few seconds he checked the computer, looking for news on Alan, searching yet again for a signal from his watch, and coming up empty.

How long?

Four days and three nights. Three nights in which he hadn't slept very well, and if he did, it was plagued by nightmares.

His little brother had been gone for three nights, and they weren't any wiser. John couldn't help but wonder – where had Alan spent those nights? Was he out in the woods somewhere, sick, alone, injured? Had he slept outside, freezing and lonely? Even though Alan had done his own share of wildlife adventures – bushwalking, rock-climbing, rafting – this was different. He didn't have any supplies this time. No proper gear. No medical facilities. No company.

Just loneliness.

The thought made him sick and yet it was better than the alternative, namely thinking that Alan wasn't sleeping at all – or rather was facing eternal sleep.

John sighed and looked at his empty coffee cup. Only a residue of the black liquid swirled on the bottom, long forgotten and cold. He shouldn't drink that much coffee, but he couldn't help it. It was the only thing that kept him going during the long wait of rescues, and now it was helping him focus.

He smiled, as he remembered the many fond arguments he'd had with Alan about coffee – Alan, who insisted that coffee needed sugar, because it wasn't drinkable without. And John countering that only wimps drank their coffee with sugar, that pure black and strong coffee was for real men and not for pussies, such as Alan.

Alan, of course, hadn't taken this very well. But hell, it had been funny.

And then Scott had walked in – Scott, who loved his coffee with milk and sugar, of all things – and they had immediately started laughing, because the mere idea of Scott Tracy being a pussy was hilarious.

Damn. He was doing it again. Reminiscing, looking at the memories, torturing himself. Alan was not dead. And he would not think of past memories like they were, well, past.

"Focus", he mumbled to himself and buried his head in his hands. "We're going to find Alan, be pissed at him because he worried us, and then everything'll be back to normal."

Right. And Thunderbird Five was playground for little children.

He had to stop that. He was doing nobody any favours; and besides, John was supposed to be the sensible one. Scott was already doing the ruining-my-health-by-not-sleeping-thing; And Gordon had probably worn a hole in the pool by now, if that was possible. As for his father...Jeff Tracy was burying himself in work. John suspected that a lot of paperwork had been finished over the last days.

Alan might be dead and al I think about is that Dad gets his paperwork done?

John laid his head on the table. Gosh, he really needed sleep. Maybe if he fell asleep right here, on his chair – he'd still be close to the computer, so if any call came up...

A shrill alarm tone startled him out of his reverie, far more efficient that any self-reprimands could have done. He looked around wildly for a moment, forgetting where he was, but then he remembered, and into the place of the worried brother stepped the professional IR operative.

But that only lasted a couple of seconds, until he saw the ID of the caller. It wasn't a rescue call. It was one of their agents. More precisely, the agent that was stationed the closest to the valley with the flood. The agent they had trusted with the special assignment.

Suddenly, his mouth was dry. "International Rescue, what can I do for you?" he intoned softly. The caller spoke in an urgent voice, and John listened for quite a while. When the call ended, he stared out of the window. For the first time, he didn't look at the stars – the thought didn't even cross his mind – but a million of other thoughts ran through his head.

Then he shook himself awake and opened another channel, this one to Tracy Island.


They had news.

"SCOTT!" Jeff Tracy rarely shouted – he didn't need to – but when he did, it was in a voice that could raise the dead. All of his three sons, sitting in the lounge in various states of restlessness, immediately jumped to attention. They exchanged startled looks.

Scott swallowed and strode towards the office, followed by Virgil and Gordon. Grandma and Tin-Tin had heard the ruckus as well and thinking along the same lines, appeared from their various rooms. They all were curious, and yet they couldn't help but worry...what if it was about Alan? Well, they hoped it was, but what if it was bad? What if this was the news they had been dreading...that Alan's body had been found, broken, bloodied, dead?

"What is it, Dad?" Scott asked, his voice betraying the anxiety he felt.

"Go and get Thunderbird One ready. We've got a lead on Alan." The words dropped like a bombshell.

There was a moment of silence. And then-

"No way! How is he?"

"Is he alive?"

"He's not injured, is he?"

"Why hasn't he contacted us?"

Jeff interrupted the flurry of questions with a shake of his head. "To be quite frank, I've no idea how he is." He spread his hands in an obvious gesture of confusion. " Alive, at least, and that's what counts. John just contacted me. I had Alan's picture put in the newspaper by our local IR agent. Just now, a person has called, claiming that he has seen Alan in Haybridge, a suburb to a bigger city a good 80 miles away from the valley."

Scott frowned in confusion. "But what is he doing there? Are you sure that it is the right person? Maybe someone just looked like him..."

"That's what I thought." Jeff looked at his son with grave eyes. "But Scott, the caller said that he had seen Alan on the racetrack – and he was working on a car, showing all signs of an experienced mechanic and driver. His description fits Alan to a ‘T’!"

"What the hell is he doing on the racetrack?" Gordon exclaimed. "We've been worried sick!"

Scott's face darkened. If he found out that Alan was skiving off...taking some days off while they didn't know about his whereabouts...but no. Even though Alan had a tendency to do reckless and irresponsible things, this was not like him. He would know how much they'd worry, and he would have contacted them somehow...

But that didn't explain...eighty miles! He had been swallowed up by a tidal wave, so what was he doing there? How had he gotten there on his own?

Tin-Tin sprang to Alan's defence immediately. "He wouldn't do that! Alan knows better – he may be immature, but he would never disappear like that just to watch some stupid race!"

They all shared confused looks. Of course Alan wouldn't do that. None of them would. Even though they bickered and fought, they knew how important family was.

Jeff shrugged in a helpless sort of fashion. "I don't understand myself. It's a lead, but I can honestly say that I didn't expect this. A call from a hospital, or maybe some farmer who found him unconscious and unable to identify himself...but this? He's obviously alive and walking around, so his injuries can't be serious. But what the hell is he doing on a racetrack, of all places?"

"Maybe he’s not acting of his own free will?" Virgil offered in a soft undertone.

Scott's head snapped around. "What do you mean by that?"

"Maybe...maybe he was injured. Or maybe...maybe he can't contact us." Virgil frowned as he thought of possible scenarios. "You know, there are a lot of bad guys out there. Maybe he got picked up by some criminals...maybe someone is threatening him..." he shook his head. "There are so many possibilities. We don't know anything about his injuries. But I know for sure that he wouldn't go and watch some race while we're worrying about him. He knows better than that."

"There's not even a race on right now", Jeff informed them. "According to the caller, he was just wandering around, and they picked him up, thinking that he was a spy or a fan...apparently, he made friends with the mechanics and spent the whole day with them."

Gordon snorted amused "Trust Alan to make friends in the direst of situations." Despite his hot temper, people were immediately drawn to Alan's friendly and outgoing personality – a fact that was once again proven.

"But where is he staying?" Grandma wanted to know. "He doesn't have any money, the poor boy!"

Jeff looked at a loss. "I don't have the slightest clue. The caller didn't give us any more information, so we have to make do with what we have. Scott, you're to fly there immediately. Find a safe spot for Thunderbird One somewhere outside the city - our IR agent will help you with that – and then make your way to the racetrack. Try to be inconspicuous – no uniform. We don’t want to draw unnecessary attention on ourselves."

"F.A.B." Scott nodded. "I'll be off."

"Do you want me to come?" Virgil called after him. But Scott had already left, and a couple of minutes later, they could hear the familiar sound of TB1's engines.

Gordon and Virgil exchanged uneasy glances. "I don't like this." Gordon admitted. "Maybe it's not Alan at all, just a doppelgänger."

"Could be," his brother nodded. "But I so wish for it to be Alan. At least we'd know that he was alive..."

Tin-Tin looked at them both, her eyes blazing. "He is alive." The Malaysian girl stated and then staked off to the lounge, settling down on the couch to wait for any news. She was as shaken as everyone else, but she refused to let it show. Alan was alive – thank God! - but he hadn't contacted them, and that alone was enough to worry about. She sincerely hoped that he wasn't in any trouble.

But then again, this was Alan they were talking about.

Chapter Ten: Chasing a Brother

Scott Tray had always been proud of his 'bird. He could never stop praising her speed, how she could outdo any other plane on this planet. It was the source of his pride and the one argument his brothers could offer nothing against – because she was the fastest, point proven.

Today, the rocket seemed to go at a snail’s pace. Or maybe it was only his impatience playing tricks on him. Either way, he found himself drumming his fingers anxiously against the armatures, glaring at the tachometer, while waiting for his destination to come closer. John had already given him the coordinates of a safe landing place. An abandoned rural area, far outside the city, where (hopefully) nobody would notice a huge rocket.

And such a long way from the city that it's going to take me hours to even get there...dammit, maybe I should have taken the jet, but that would have been even slower...

"He's not going to run away, Scott." John's voice crackled through the speakers, trying to ease the eldest of his worries.

"Something is not right here, John." Scott said tersely. "Why is he hiding from us? For all we know, the Hood could be involved in this! This isn't to be taken lightly, John!"

There was a moment of silence. And then: "I know, Scott. And believe me, I'm as worried as you are. But Thunderbird One is already at top speed, so torturing the armatures isn't going to improve things – and neither is glaring at the tachometer."

Scott had the decency to feel sheepish – after all, he had been doing exactly those things. "You know me too well, little brother."

"Years of experience." John was amused.

"How come you can always be so calm and sensible?"

"Natural affinity, Scott." came the smooth reply. "Comes with the dashing looks and the wonderful character."

"And a good portion of arrogance."

"Now, how can I be arrogant? I'm only stating the truth, after all..."

Scott smiled slightly, realizing what John was doing. His younger brother had always been a good talker; and right now, the reassurance was much needed. At least it helped to get rid of the tense feeling – well, a bit. It was good to think of something else, even if the 'something else' was John teasing him. "Remind me again why I like you."

"Because it's your duty as the oldest brother. You can't get rid of it – it's in the contract."

"I knew why I didn't want the job..."

The eldest Tracy bantered with practised ease, but his heart wasn't in it. There was just too much going on, and he couldn't help but worry...Alan always called him a worry-wart, but then again, it was always Alan who pulled the most unbelievable stunts...how could he not worry?

A close look on the control panel told him that Thunderbird One was getting close to its destination. Finally. After how many years? It felt like an eternity.

Scott’s stomach lurched unpleasantly. What would he find there? Alan had probably managed to get himself in some hairy situation again, no doubt – the blonde had the annoying habit of doing so. Trouble just seemed to follow him wherever he went.

But then again, Scott reflected, he had the amazing ability to escape even the toughest situations almost unscathed – Virgil had once dubbed him 'the cat with nine lives'. If anyone could survive getting swept away by a giant water torrent, it was probably Alan.

"Airspace is clear," John announced, interrupting his thoughts. "You're free to land. Be careful, Scott."

"F.A.B." He was eager to get down, but he knew better than to rush. Mistakes happened when people hurried, and he was far too aware of his position as IR agent to behave foolishly. Worried he might be; incompetent he was not. Detaching feeling from doing was one of the first lessons Scott Tracy had learned with IR. So he swallowed his impatience and proceeded in a calm and professional fashion.

"I really hope One will be safe here." Well, maybe there was a bit of worry shining through.

"Don't worry," came John's reassuring voice. "Our local agent has it all under control. He'll stay with TB1 as long as he needs, and I have her on my monitors as well. Nothing will happen."

"That's what they always say before the building crumbles," Scott muttered to himself as he checked the time. Five o'clock in the afternoon, local time. By the time he reached the track, it would be around six or six thirty – almost too late for normal work hours, but he hoped he'd be able to find someone anyway. With the race approaching, people were bound to be on the track, repairing and testing. He knew from Alan's racing days that the team had a tendency to stay behind and go out for drinks later. Of course, Alan's racing friends weren't here, but some people would be and they could answer his questions.

"Coming in to land," he announced, sounding business-like as usual. He was wearing civilian clothes, which felt strange sitting in the cockpit and carried a gun (hidden, of course). Over the years, International Rescue had realized that while they meant well, others didn't, and sometimes firearms were the only way to defend themselves.

"F.A.B., Scott." came John's reply. "Good luck."

"Thanks." His throat was dry as he gently set the rocket on the ground. Luck...yes, he'd certainly need that.

By the time he reached the race track, he was thoroughly annoyed. The vehicle their agent had kindly leant him was a rusty old pick-up that could not manage the speed Scott would have liked.

It was already dark outside, but the track was alight with floodlights and he could hear the familiar noise of car engines. Good. He had been right with his assumption.

He looked at his watch, calculating that it was just after 6.30 local time. Good. He was supposed to meet the contact at around seven, in the local restaurant. It looked simple but clean and the smells from the kitchen were delicious. It reminded him of the fact that he hadn't yet eaten – but he shoved the thought of food in a far back corner of his mind. Alan was more important right now.

He smiled at the waitress as he entered, took a table close to the window and ordered a coffee. With sugar and milk, just as he liked it. He could never understand how some people (John, for example) drank the stuff without sugar. Sure, he did it if he had to – after all, he had been in the Air Force and got used to foul smelling stuff – but when he had the opportunity to use sugar, he'd damn well do it.

He spooned two teaspoons into the black liquid, swirled it around and was just in the process of asking for some milk when a short, round man entered the room. His small eyes scanned the room and fell on Scott, the only one in the restaurant who was on his own. With a slick smile, he sauntered over and held out his hand.

"You must be Mr Hagen, I presume?"

"Yes." Scott shook the hand, trying his best to keep his poker face. He didn't like using false names, but the Tracy name was so famous that it was often more a hindrance than a help. "You have seen the man we're looking for?" He immediately came to the point, not wishing to dawdle.

"Oh yes, I have." The guy – Pickford was his name, as Scott dimly remembered – flopped down on the seat opposed to him and smiled. "Saw him on the racetrack."

"How was he?"

Pickford seemed startled at the question and more so at the obvious concern in Scott's voice. "He was fine, from what I could see. A bit obnoxious, but then again, he was walking around with Henry Tuckett, so that was to be expected." He leaned forward, his eyes glinting eagerly. "Now, I understand that there is a reward?"

Scott was immediately repelled. So this guy was only in it for the money – how disgusting. "Yes, there is. But only if the information is valuable and the suspect is indeed the man I'm looking for."

"Very well." Pickford smiled. "I saw him just this morning, running around with Corringway's gang. The same face as in the newspaper – blonde hair, blue eyes – looking a bit ragged..."

"Was he afraid? Did he seem in any danger?"

"What?" The mechanic blinked. "No, not at all. Why should he? He was hanging around with two of Corringway's mechanics – insulted me, those useless idiots – and as far as I could see, they went out for lunch-"

"They went out for lunch?" Scott was incredulous. No. How could he? They had been thinking he had been dead and he went ahead and had fun with some race track mechanics? "And he didn't look...coerced, or maybe threatened?"

Pickford shook his head. "No, not at all. Quite the opposite, they were enjoying each other’s company – laughing and talking, you know."

"Oh, that little ungrateful..."Scott gritted out and curled his fingers around his coffee cup. Alan would suffer for this, that much was certain. "Where can I find him now?"

"I don't know."

"You don't know!"

"No. But you might want to ask Henry Tuckett – he's the one who's at fault with this, you know – and he might know...so, what about my reward?"

Scott growled impatiently, just stopping short of strangling the man. How could he insist on his reward after the terrible news he had just delivered? "Contact the same phone number given in the newspaper," he told him in a clipped tone, "And our agent will sort it..."

He never finished his sentence. His gaze had strayed away from his conversation partner and wandered over the street. What he saw there made him nearly lose his grip on the mug.

Scott froze. No. It couldn't be. He must be mistaken, it was just someone who looked like him...

Blonde hair. Lean build. Tattered, worn looking clothes. And an open face.

His little brother. Standing on the street, apparently waiting for someone.

The first emotion he felt was relief. Alan was okay. He was alive. Their nightmares hadn't come true.

But then the relief transformed into anger. How could Alan do this to them! Tin-Tin had been beside herself with worry, and there he stood, looking perfectly at ease with himself and the world. No sign of danger. No sign of horrible, life-threatening injuries. Sure, there was a dark bruise on his face and he appeared far too pale, but he was standing over there and smiling to himself as if nothing had ever happened, while everyone at home had been worried sick!

Scott saw red. That stupid, infuriating, obnoxious little prat! How could he! He knew how much they worried, and here he was, obviously fine, and he hadn't even thought about calling them, had enjoyed himself instead and gone off to watch the races...no sign of any criminal force, no Hood, nothing!

All the worry of the last days morphed into anger as Scott stood up from the table, slammed a bill on the counter and left the restaurant in hurried strides. Oh, he would get the little bastard for this...

Alan didn't even notice his presence. He was staring at the racetrack, his expression eager and anxious at the same time. He must be waiting for the other mechanics, Scott realized, the ones Pickford had been talking about. His lips thinned at this. So he was having fun, eh? Making new friends? Well, he'd tell him about fun...

"Alan!" Scott shouted over the street, but got no response. Alan didn't even react to his name, as if he hadn't heard him at all – or was ignoring him. That fuelled Scott's anger even more.

"ALAN SHEPHERD TRACY!" he roared, loud enough to raise the dead. "IF I GET MY HANDS ON YOU, YOU LITTLE..."

The young man jumped, startled by the sudden yell, and turned around to investigate the commotion. As soon as his eyes fell on Scott, all the blood left his cheeks and he stared as if he'd just seen a ghost. His blue eyes widened in unmistakeable fear and it took him only a second to realize that Scott was heading towards him, and very quickly at that.

With a startled yelp, he whirled around and fled.

Scott cursed under his breath. Now his younger brother didn't even have the courage to stand by his actions and was fleeing like a coward, that annoying little twerp...Too angry to care about anything else, he started running.


But Alan didn't listen. Instead, he only skidded around a corner, Scott hot on his heels. Confused shouting followed them, as passers-bys tried to make sense of what was happening. For once, the eldest Tracy didn't care about public appearance – his gaze was focused solely on the back of his brother.

"Alan!" He yelled again, but it was no use. For the first time, it began to dawn on him that this wasn't normal Alan-behaviour. Foolish he might be, but a coward he was not. He'd never run from his older brother before – at least not when Scott had been serious. But then again, the dark-haired man mused grimly, there had never been an offence as...disgusting as this one.

"ALAN, PLEASE STOP!" He tried again, to no avail. Cursing under his breath, he used the advantage of his long legs to gain on Alan. The blonde was usually a quick runner, faster than Scott, but it seemed that he wasn't in top shape. From the way he was holding his hand pressed against his side, he must be hurt – probably not seriously, judging from the speed he was running, but enough to slow him down.

Scott panted harshly, his anger and betrayal making him go faster than he ever thought possible. Alan disappeared into an alleyway, but he was hot on his heels. Fed up with this mad chase, he darted forwards and gripped the blonde's upper arm . Alan screamed in surprise and pain, as the momentum threw him backwards and they both fell on the floor in a tangled heap.

"Will...you...please...stop...now..." Scott panted, his face twisted in an angry frown.

"No!" Alan thrashed around wildly. "Leave me! Let me..." His eyes were wide with fear, as he tried to get free.

"I'm not letting you get away!" Scott hissed, still angry, and pinned the smaller man to the ground. "Of all foolish things to do, this was the most..."

But Alan didn't listen. Instead, he wrestled with a force that bordered on insanity, forcing Scott to tighten his grip. He received a painful blow into his stomach and doubled over. By now, he was so angry that he was beyond reason. Using the advantage of his height, he pressed his younger brother to the ground, digging his fingers forcefully into his arms. It had to hurt, but Alan didn't make a sound.

Scott opened his mouth to start ranting, when he saw something that made him gasp in shock. There was fear in the face in front of him – naked, honest fear, an expression Scott wasn't used to being the cause of. Was his younger brother...afraid of him?

And then he realised...realised what had unsettled him ever since he had talked with Pickford, ever since Alan had fled from him... and it made his blood run cold, because it couldn't be true, it just couldn't!

The man in front of him was clearly Alan, starting with the gold blonde hair, the honest, open face (though it was more a grimace of pain right now) and ending with the familiar blue eyes. But...there's wasn't the slightest bit of recognition in them. None.

It was like looking into the eyes of a stranger.

Alan was unaware his musings – he continued his fight, on the edge of a full blown panic attack. "No, stop..." he gasped and struggled against Scott's death grip. "I’m not going to let you kill me! I won’t!"

Scott was so surprised that he let go. Kill him?

What the hell...?

Chapter Eleven: Hunted

The afternoon dragged on slowly and was in some ways even more depressing than the nightmares. I travelled back to the city, reading the newspaper on my way back to look for some job offers. They were a lot of them, but since I didn't even know what I could do...work with cars, obviously, but without a curriculum vitae and an ID card, it would be almost impossible to find a job in that area.

So I kept looking for casual jobs – bartenders, McDonald's worker, things like that. But wherever I went, they were either full or asked me to identify myself – in which case I nodded politely and excused myself, saying that I had urgent business to attend to.

And so I found myself sitting in the train again, after hours of fruitless searching. My money would be enough for two more nights at the motel; maybe one more if I starved myself, but that was it. I could always sell the signet ring, but felt hesitant to do so – it was my only link to the past, after all.

Only the idea of spending the evening with Mick and Henry cheered me up a bit. I liked the two; they were cheerful and harmless, and I could talk with them about cars without worrying about whether I might give myself away or not. I wasn't entirely comfortable with the fact that I was lying at them, but it had to be. Besides, if someone was hunting me, they'd be better off not knowing about it.

I frowned at the window. Three more stations until Haybridge. I'd probably be early, but staying in the city had been far too depressing. At least this way I was going somewhere.

Soft giggling interrupted my thoughts. I turned around to see two young girls sitting in the seats across from me. One of them looked at me and smiled in a friendly manner, while the other winked at me.

I was so surprised that I only sat with my mouth agape for a moment. Then a warm feeling spread through my body, and almost out of instinct, I sent them a charming grin. This caused the one on the left to blush, while the other beamed at me.

I was pleased. What had Annie called me? Handsome? Well, she'd obviously been right, judging from the impact I had on these girls. At least something was going in my favour...

"So, where are two beauties such as you heading?" I asked amiably.

"Going home after a day of shopping." The dark-haired one of the duo replied. "What about you?"

"Haybridge. The race track."

Their eyes widened simultaneously. "Really? Are you a driver?"

If only I knew. "I'm afraid not. Merely a humble mechanic."

That seemed to impress them anyway, and I thanked the Gods of racing. Apparently, the mere idea of working on the racetrack, so close to fame and glory, seemed to appeal to women.

Then, suddenly, a face flashed through my mind – a young woman, beautiful, with even, Asiatic features and a radiant smile. She was the girl from my dreams, and I felt guilty. For what? I hadn't been doing anything – hadn't even begun flirting yet!

Annoyed with myself, I started a conversation with the girls. I might belong to the girl in my dreams, but right now I felt very alone and ached for companionship. The easy small-talk with the two was a relief; they were impressed by my looks and I couldn't help feeling flattered. One of them asked after my bruises, but I invented a nice little story about a bar brawl where I had to defend my waitress friend against a rather rowdy customer.

After that, they looked at me with admiration in their eyes. I almost gloated – it was great being the hero, even though I knew there wasn't the slightest bit truth in it. Ah well. What they didn't know couldn't hurt them.

Finally, they had to get off the train, one stop before mine, but not before they had scribbled down their numbers on a scrap of paper. Feeling immensely pleased with myself, I put the note safely in my pocket. I hadn't lost my touch, after all...well, I didn't really know...had I been a playboy in my former life? Or was I so shy that I didn't dare to approach the ladies?

I frowned in contemplation. For all I knew, my personality could have been totally altered by this accident. What if I found out about my former 'me' and didn't like it? That would be horrible!

Maybe I was married, had seven kids and cheated on my wife with other women. Ergh! Or maybe I was gay...even more disgusting. I looked around at the other passengers of the train. Did I feel attracted?

My gaze fell on a huge guy a couple of seats down, who was snoring so loud that he could have been sawing logs. I grimaced. Well, I certainly wasn't attracted to him, that much was sure. But who know, maybe to some finer specimen of manhood?

Don't be a fool. You dreamt of a girl, there's no way you can be gay!

Still, I could always be bi...but since I wasn't planning on getting involved with someone anyway, this really didn't matter.

The train came to a shuddering halt. Haybridge. Finally. I had enough of this lousy day and my gloomy outlook on the future. Now I would have an evening of fun, together with Mick and Henry, and I was dead set on enjoying myself!

The sun was already below the horizon and the street lamps were alight. I glanced at the clock at the station; I was a bit early, but not too much. I could wait.

I walked down to the restaurant where we had been having lunch. As I had expected, nobody was there yet, so I leant against a street lamp and prepared myself for waiting. A smile flickered over my face as I remember the two girls from the train. If everything else failed, I could always become a womaniser, I mused and chuckled to myself. Now that was an idea I hadn't thought of before...or maybe I could become a model, with my dashing good looks? That was even more amusing.

Behind me, the door of the restaurant opened and closed again, but I didn't pay any attention to it. I was facing the racetrack, since Mick and Henry would most likely come from that direction.

Hmm. Maybe I could invite the two girls to our little get-together? I cursed myself for not having thought of that earlier. Mick and Henry would have certainly been impressed – well, maybe not Henry, but definitely Mick.

A name was being called behind me, but I didn't react. Probably some patron looking for his friends. Although he was shouting rather loudly – didn't he think of others? How inconsiderate...

I contemplated calling the girls immediately – or should I wait and ask the others beforehand? They might not be okay with it, and after all, we had just met. Maybe it'd be better if I...

"ALAN SHEPHERD TRACY!", a voice roared behind me "IF I GET MY HANDS ON YOU, YOU LITTLE..."

Sudden fear grabbed at my heart and I whirled around. There was a man striding towards me in long, urgent steps. His face was a mask of fury and his fists clenched in anger.

I knew that man! It was the same person that had been haunting my dreams! The one who had been so angry with me that he wanted me dead! It was the one called Scott...and he looked beyond reason, his eyes burning with fury.

The man – Scott – had nearly reached me when I finally recovered my senses. One glance at his face told me that he didn't harbour any friendly feelings towards me; and with a startled yelp, I turned around and fled.

A sharp, hot pain raced through my ribs the moment I started running, but I just clutched my hand against my side and continued down the street. My heart hammered in my chest; this was the man I had been afraid of, the man who was chasing me. And now he was here, and would kill me, with the same furious look on his face he'd worn in my dreams...


No way in hell. I gritted my teeth and skidded around a corner. By now it was dark. I needed to escape the light from the streets, I realised and darted towards an empty alleyway. The darkness would give me cover.

But Scott was hot on my heels. Being taller than me, and healthier at that, he had no difficulties keeping up with me. My chest felt constricted and the pain worsened with each step.


He was calling me. Was that my name? Was Alan my name? It sounded better than John, anyway...

My feet slipped on some gravel and I cursed, nearly falling to the ground. No time to think!


There he was again, calling me Alan. It must be my name then; and for a short moment, I felt exhilarated because I had solved one of the big mysteries that was my life. I had a name; I was somebody!

But I didn't stay happy for very long; suddenly, a hand grabbed my arm and twisted it. I was thrown backwards by the sudden force and teetered to the ground, unable to stop the movement.

The impact was hard and drove all the air from my lungs. Pain flared up in my bruised ribs and for a short moment I could do nothing but lie there and gasp. Then Scott was on me, pinning me down, fighting me.

I yelled and struggled to get free. There was no way I could win a fistfight against this man, not in my current condition! I arched my upper body, wriggled beneath him, but his weight was too much and my ribs screamed in protest. Dammit! I didn't want to die! Not like that, not like some dog in a dark alleyway, hell, I hadn't even found out about my past yet, I didn't deserve to die...

"Will...you...please...stop...now..." Scott panted, his face twisted in an angry frown.

"No!" I thrashed around wildly, trying to hit him. "Leave me! Let me..." Maybe I could talk with him. Maybe I could make him understand that I was a changed person. That I didn't know anything. That right now, I was innocent.

"I'm not letting you get away!" He shoved me forcefully on the ground, his blue eyes glaring into mine – hard as steel. Ready to kill me.

He didn't look like someone who'd listen to reason.

His eyes scanned my face, blinking through the semi-darkness that was only illuminated by a small, upstairs window. I reached out to hit him, but his reflexes were lightning quick and he stopped my hand short before it smashed into his chin. I used the momentum to punch him in the stomach instead. He curled up, gasped in surprise and winced in pain. Anger flared up in his face. I had annoyed him, made him even angrier...damn, what was I thinking?

Fear raced through my body, followed by an intense wave of frustration. He'd kill me, damn, he'd kill me and I didn't want to die, I was too young to die...

"No, stop..." I struggled. His grip was like iron and hurt my ribs. "I’m not going to let you kill me! I won’t!"

There was an almost comical expression of shock on his face and he sat back with a thud. "Kill you?" he repeated. "What..."

His grip had loosened and I took the chance. Using all my force, I shoved him away and scrambled up. I fell, scraped my knee open and hissed in pain as blood startled to trickle down my leg. Then I was free – a sudden rush of excitement – and I was off again, running wildly.

Sweat poured into my eyes and made it difficult to see. I couldn't keep this up much longer – already my breath was coming in short, laborious gasps.

"Alan!" He was still behind me, had obviously overcome his initial surprise. Maybe he hadn't expected my resistance? Maybe I hadn't fought against it (whatever it might be) before? Maybe I had accepted my fate docilely?

Well, I wouldn't do so now.

Determined, I ran straight towards an old warehouse, empty from the run-down look of it. Scott was shouting behind me, but I didn't listen, my eyes fixed on an old, rusty stairway not far ahead. It led down a wall, into a maze of little alleys. The perfect place to get rid of a pursuer.

Ignoring the aching pain in my side, I almost jumped over the first stair and made my way down, taking three stairs at once in my hurry to escape.

A mistake.

My injured leg overbalanced and I careened sideways. I tried to grab on the railing, only to realize that there was none – obviously, the owners of the building hadn't particularly cared about keeping it up to safety standard.

"Alan! Careful!" Scott yelled, and for a short moment, something else flashed through my mind – Scott, running towards me with a wild, panicked look on his face, trying to keep me from falling, but he was too late – then I fell forward.

Everything moved in slow-motion. I saw the stairs under me, old, rusty and worn, and the ground underneath, a long way below. Scott's voice sounded thin and frail, far away to my panicked ears.

I don't know whether I screamed or not. I could have. Or maybe I only imagined screaming. But I fell, that was sure, and my mind went into overdrive, as picture over picture re-appeared...

...a safety line, attached to myself...

...rushing water, racing towards me at incredible speed...

...Screaming in my ear, people shouting at me to get back, to save myself...

...a child wailing...

...a panicked face with red hair, looking at me from the open hatch...

...and then the pain as the water hit...


I fell.

My already battered body hit the stairs with a sickening thud. I rolled around, an almost instinctive reaction and covered my head in the desperate attempt to save myself from injury. Pain flared up again and this time I screamed for sure.

I slid down the staircase and came to a rolling stop on the ground. Everything went blurry for a moment, and when my gaze focused again, I saw boots stopping a couple of feet away from me. They were mere shadows, but the street lights were close enough that I could make out shapes and forms.


That gave me something to focus onto. Scott was still there, still following me and now I was at his mercy. Ignoring the pain, I turned around on my back. Damn, that hurt! I was one giant bruise, and in my mouth I tasted the metallic taste of blood. Yuck! Why had I been so stupid to fall down the stairs! Of all the foolish things to do...

"Are you alright?" Scott's voice startled me. He was hovering close to me, his hand outstretched and his face a mixture of disbelief and worry.

"No!" I scrambled back, out of his reach. "Get away from me!"

He looked put out. "Alan, stop this nonsense! Have you gone mad? I'm not going to kill you!"

"Sure you are!" I spat, trying to get up and failing. "I might not remember everything, but I do know your face, and the last time I saw you, you were making death threats.."

"I swear, I'm going to kill you for this!"

If I had been paying attention, I would have seen the myriad of emotions crossing his face. Hurt, shock, understanding, and then horror. But I didn't care; for all I knew, I was on my own with a brutal killer. I kicked, but he darted out of the way with an ease I could only be jealous of.

"So that's why you didn't contact us? You...couldn't remember?"

That was enough. Suddenly all the anger and frustration, all the pain and fury came to the surface and I roared. I had enough of it! Enough of being afraid, of not-knowing, of the insecurity! I simply wanted to...be myself and be happy! But wherever I went, it seemed as if I was doomed, and now he had come as well, haunting me, threatening to take away the precious little hold I had on my sanity.

No! I wouldn't let him! Anger welled up in my stomach and I catapulted myself forward, barrelling into him with brutal force. He gasped, tried to grab my arms, but I was too furious to be held down. Instead, I started attacking him without mercy. Shocked by my approach, he didn't do anything but stand there for a moment.

"Alan!" He spluttered, only to duck my flying fist. "Alan, please calm down...I can explain everything!"

Explain, hah! I was blind to his words, saw only the target, saw red, didn't listen to reason. I could have been sobbing; I could have been screaming at the top of my voice – but what it really was, I will never know. It all became a blur, as I attacked him again and again, using every ounce of strength left in my body.

"For God's sake, Alan! What were you thinking?" Voices echoed through my brain – little bubbles of memory floating to the surface.

My fist contacted with flesh and the painful yelp filled me with grim satisfaction. Served him right, that bastard!

"Don’t you know that it’s your job as the youngest to do all the dirty work?" Another voice this time, its tone joking.

Scott stumbled backwards and I tackled him, throwing us both to the ground, where we rolled over the dirt, locked in a deadly embrace.

"Alan, Scott tells us to hurry. He says the dam is breaking and it’s gonna be one hell of a wave. We don’t want to be washed away."

"I hate you! I hate all of you!" I screamed, my voice raw from shouting. And then I started punching him again, my only goal to inflict him pain, to make him suffer like I had suffered the last days...and it felt so good to release the energy, to let go of everything and get swept away by the anger...

"Hurry up!" Scott's tone was really urgent. "You don’t want to be caught in the water." The voices merged together, formed a symphony of scattered memory and made my head hurt.

"Alan, stop!" He yelled and grabbed my arm. "I'm not going to hurt you, I'll help you, Alan, would you just listen!"

"No, Alan!" came Gordon’s panicked voice. "Scott just called, the dam broke! We have to get out of here! If you get rid of the harness, you’re going to be swept away!"

I ignored the pain, ignored the blood that was trickling down my hand. What did he know? He still had his life, a purpose, everything, while I was left to fend for myself, a nothing in this world...I didn't have any money, any friends, and my past was a book with seven seals. And now he was here to take away the one thing I had left: my life.

"ALAN! GET UP!" Gordon yelled.


And the wave hit.

My fist contacted with Scott's temple. His head lolled back with the sudden force and he grunted in pain and surprise. Blood began trickling down his cheek, and I couldn't stop staring at it, mesmerized by the sight. It was...he was...so close! The memories, moving below the surface, so tantalisingly close, if only the last barrier...

I looked at him, really looked at him for the first time since the chase began. His hair was dark, but his eyes were blue, just like mine, and he had a dimple on his chin like the one I had seen in the mirror that morning – something that didn't really fit in my mental image of a cold-blooded killer. He was sitting in front of me, holding his head with such an injured expression on his face that it cut through my head. The anger had evaporated, had been replaced by sadness.

"Why?" Scott, the killer, Scott, the hunter, Scott - my brother? - asked in a helpless fashion.

And then the memories caught me in their tidal wave and swept me away.

I'm wet and cold and tired, but I know that I can't stop. There's a little boy that needs to be rescued. And so I ignore the pain, the exhaustion, the cold, and struggle onwards.

The rain beats relentlessly against my face, making my skin hurt, washing away the blood and dirt.

Scott’s just called, he’s worried the dam won’t hold much longer, but the last family I sent up in the elevator car were missing their little boy who’d been out playing when the river burst its banks.

Gordon's not happy; he keeps yelling at me, telling me that it is dangerous. But what am I supposed to do? He's just a kid; he doesn't deserve this.

Virgil can’t see anything on the thermal scanner. Hope is slim; and I feel the familiar lump of sadness in my throat. Another life lost, another family ripped apart. We are so powerful, yet we are so weak. Too late. How I hate those words.

Scott gives orders over the watches, coordinates he rescue with determined authority. I'm ready to go back in when I see a flash of colour in the trees just downstream.

"Virgil. Over there. Quick." I tell my brother, and he obliges, though grumbling as he does so. Gordon is on the look-out, but I'm the only one who sees the little face, a pale speck against the dark, churning water. They're not very happy when I tell them to swing me by.

"Alan, the dam is close to breaking."

"I know." I keep my gaze fixed on the small body. "But there's a child. I can't just leave him there."

Gordon, though not happy with it, mans the controls, while Thunderbird Two hovers over the trees where I've seen the face.

The rain makes it difficult to see, and I can't really reach – the face has disappeared – I see only emptiness and dead branches. In order to get closer, I need to get off the cage. Scott will be furious; doesn't matter, I'm already unbuckling my harness.

"Alan! The dam!" Gordon screams over the mike and then curses. "What are you doing? Get back into your harness, you idiot!"

I ignore him. I'm nearly there. Just a couple of metres. Just a bit more...

"The dam! It's breaking! Get back! Get back AT ONCE!"

A sudden roaring sound fills the air and I look up.


The water churns, and there's a giant wave hurtling towards me with incredible speed. I scream and try to escape, but it's too late and I lose what precious little hold I had.

I fall.

And then the water hits me.

Pain. Mind-numbing, burning, agonizing pain.

Suddenly I'm under water, spinning round and round until I see circles. My lungs burn with the need for oxygen, but there is none.

"Oh Shit!" flashes through my mind, and after that it's only a whirl of pain and confusion, of water and sticks and the desperate need to breathe.

The frantic voices of my brothers vanish in a gurgle as my watch smashes against the tree with brutal force.

Something hits me – hard – and my whole left side goes numb. The remaining air is driven from my lungs. Greyness tugs at the edges of my vision, and the last thing I see before I'm surrounded by darkness is a pale, childish face.

Chapter Twelve: Confrontations, Revelations, and Memories

Scott barely had the time to be surprised when Alan slid out of his grip and started running again. He cursed. His brother was slicker than an eel, and worse, he was afraid, and fear had always been a good motivator.

The harsh words Alan had uttered were running through his head as he followed the younger man. Kill him. He expects me to kill him.

But why? Alan had never been afraid of him in his entire life. Well, maybe a bit frightened, but that was usually after he had somehow evoked his brother's fury through some foolish stunt; and most of the time, he reacted with anger rather than fear. Never had he believed that Scott would actually harm him.

"Alan!" Scott shouted, but the blonde wasn't listening. He ran at top speed, heading towards an old factory building.

Scott, hot on his heels, felt his brotherly instincts rise. If Alan continued like that, he'd injure himself. His brother had thrown all caution in the wind and was running like a mad-man. It was difficult to see in the darkness, but Scott thought he recognized some rusty looking stairs, leading down...

Slow down...please slow down...

Without looking back, Alan thundered down the rather dubious looking stairway. And he didn't seem to be slowing down. Scott's eyes widened in dread as he saw the speed at which his brother hurtled down the stairs.

Be careful, be careful...

Too late. The momentum was too great, Alan stumbled. For a moment, he was hanging in empty air, arms windmilling wildly. Scott darted forward, but he was too far behind, couldn't reach his brother in time.

Alan fell.

His body hit the stairs with a sickening thud, and then he rolled the rest of the way, connecting harshly with the stairs. His limbs flopped around in an aimless way, making him resemble a rag-doll. The staircase wasn't long, and he'd already been half the way down when he'd stumbled, but it still looked very painful.

For a moment, Scott was frozen – he had a horrible vision of Alan's broken body lying on the ground, his brother taken from him again.

I've just found him! I can't lose him again! Please, this can't be happening...

The blonde came to a rolling stop on the ground and didn't move. A groan escaped his lips, almost too soft to hear.

"Alan!" That shook him out of his stupor and he raced down the stairs, coming to a skidding stop beside his brother. "Alan?"

An icy feeling of dread trickled through his stomach when he didn't receive a response. No! He couldn't lose him all over again!

"Are you okay?" There was an edge of panic in his voice as he asked, falling down on one knee to examine his brother. He stretched out his hand, trying to get Alan to face him, trying to get a response. Then training kicked in and he shoved his emotions aside, trying to deal with this like he would with any rescue.

"No!" Alan recoiled from him as if he was on fire. "Get away from me!"

Relief washed over Scott – Alan was alive, he wasn't dead – followed by irritation and confusion. What the heck was wrong with him? Was he...stoned?

That could be a logical explanation for his behaviour, and Scott kicked himself for not having thought of it earlier. Drugs often caused paranoia, extreme feelings and delusions. He reached out again, this time intending to look at Alan's eyes – dilated pupils were a sure sign of drug-induced hallucinations.

But he never came that far. Alan let out a wild roar – sounding more like an animal than the human being he was – and attacked him.

It was safe to say that Scott Tracy had never expected to be attacked by one of his brothers. Quarrels, yes; bouts of wrestling in the gym, certainly; and sometimes arguments, nasty word exchanges. But attacked, in the meaning of real, proper dirty street fighting? No. Never.

And so it was quite understandable why he froze in shock when Alan suddenly threw himself at him, throwing punches with such a fury that he was propelled backwards.

His youngest brother seemed convinced that Scott was going to kill him, a notion that hurt him deeper than he let on. Even if he was on drugs, he should know that Scott would never hurt him. Right?

"Alan, stop this nonsense! Have you gone mad? I'm not going to kill you!" He tried to calm his panicked brother, feeling totally overwhelmed. He had been ready to deal with an indignant and sulking Alan, even with an Alan that had been kidnapped by some criminals, but this? This wasn't the brother he knew. He behaved like a different person! And it scared him.

"Sure you are!" Alan spat, his eyes open wide. "I might not remember everything, but I do know your face, and the last time I saw you, you were making death threats..."

And then Scott understood. Understood why Alan had been acting that way; why there wasn't the slightest hint of recognition in his eyes; why he looked so lost and miserable. It wasn't drugs. He hadn't been kidnapped. No, it was something far more frightening.

"So that's why you didn't contact us? You...couldn't remember?" He blanched at the mere idea. Amnesia was not unknown to him – with the amount of injuries and trauma he had to deal with, he had encountered it frequently.

But not in one of my brothers. It happens to victims, to people I don't know, people I can treat with professional detachment. It can't be Alan...he would have forgotten everything...has forgotten about his role in IR, about Tracy Island, about me...

Dear heaven, he doesn't remember me!

It was a selfish thought, but one Scott couldn't stop thinking. His little brother, the boy he had taught how to walk, didn't remember him, looked at him as if he was some stranger.

Emotions flashed over Alan's face, quicker than the eye could follow. For a moment, he didn't look like the man he was, but like a boy, utterly lost and alone. Scott had gotten the answer he had been looking for; but it wasn't one he particularly liked.

And then Alan screamed.

It was a shout of rage and frustration, of hatred and loss. Suddenly, his eyes burned with wild fire and he sprang forward, attacking again, with a ferocity that Scott had never seen before, hadn't even known that his brother was capable of it.

Oh God, he doesn't remember me and he thinks I'm going to kill him...

No wonder he's freaking out...but why?

"Alan!" He barely escaped a flying fist. "Alan, please calm down...I can explain everything!"

But it was no use. Alan seemed to have lost his reason; he was in a full-blown panic attack, deaf to everything around him. He continued to fight, the way a wounded animal in a trap won't stop struggling, harming itself in the process.

He caught Scott off-guard, threw him to the ground until they rolled through the dirt, the older brother barely able to avoid getting hit.

I can't fight back...hell, I can't hit my little brother!

"I hate you! I hate all of you!" Alan raged on, his eyes blazing. He continued beating Scott's chest in a useless fashion, tears spilling down his cheeks. Scott was too stunned to react. Never before in his life had he seen his brother...freaking out like that. Alan might lose his temper, but he was still Alan, his kid brother. This, however, was downright scary – like a stranger, a lunatic who wore the face of someone he had once known.

Scott held up his hands, trying to stop the blows and winced when one struck.

"Alan, stop!" He tried to get through to his brother. "I'm not going to hurt you, I'll help you, Alan, would you just listen!"

Alan didn't hear. His eyes glinting dangerously, he darted forward again, striking with his fist. The movement came too quick even for Scott's lightning reflexes. It connected with the side of his head, throwing him backwards. Hot pain flared up, and for a moment, the world tilted out of focus.

Scott blinked and held up his arm to protect himself. Blood was running down his face, but he ignored it, too shocked by what had just happened.

Alan had punched him.

And judging from the look on his face, he wasn't feeling particularly sorry about it.

He thinks I'm his enemy.

He hates me.

He is afraid of me.

I don't understand. If he can't remember me, I should just be another stranger. This shouldn't happen. Why does he remember me that way?

"Why?" Scott asked, his voice almost inaudible, not tearing away his gaze from his brother. He flinched, as Alan made a movement, expecting to be hit again and hating himself for it. He wasn't weak; but he couldn't fight his brother, of all people!

Or maybe he has been feeling like that for forever. Maybe he has hidden those feelings, and now they come to the surface, because he can't remember to hold them back...

But he can't be afraid of me, he's my little brother! I'm not that terrible, am I? I know that we often fight, and that I've got a quick temper...but he knows that I love him, does he? He knows!

So why does he behave that way?

Alan sat back on his heels and stared at him, breathing heavily. His face was full of scratches from the fall, and his hair stuck out in all directions. The punch seemed to have brought him back to his senses – or what was left of them. He stared at Scott with his mouth hanging open, awareness trickling back into his face. The panic disappeared and...something else flashed through his eyes, something almost akin to...recognition?

"Alan..." Scott began, though he had no idea what to say. He had lost control, was slipping, a feeling he didn't like at all. Maybe one of the others would have been better equipped to deal with this – John, for example - the relationship between him and Alan had always been a bit rocky. But who could have known?

Alan let out a weird sound – a mixture between a groan and a sob – and clutched his head, grimacing in pain. His eyes lost their focus and he swayed back and forth, like a drunken man searching for balance. Scott stretched out his arm to steady him and stopped when a sharp sting in his head reminded him of the fact that Alan wasn't very fond of him of him at the moment.

The blonde moaned again, all anger seeping out of his body, and then curled up in a ball, his shoulders shaking.

Huh? What's happening now?

"Hey." Scott's voice was so tentative that his brothers would have been surprised to hear it.

Alan ignored him, just made himself even smaller, trying to hide from the world. He now resembled more the little kid brother Scott knew so well. When they'd been younger, Alan had always curled up when he was afraid, as if it would somehow protect him from anything nasty. Scott's heart went out to his brother, and, all hesitation gone, he moved across and put his arms around the trembling figure.

He expected to be shoved away, to be attacked again, but moments passed and nothing happened. Alan only tensed, surprised by the sudden hug.

"Shh." Scott whispered, almost immediately falling back into the role as older brother – comforting his siblings had always been his first goal.

To his surprise, Alan relaxed into him. A small sniffle broke the silence, another followed – and suddenly the blonde was racked by violent shudders, as he cried wordless tears into his brother's shirt.

Scott held him tight, glad that he was able to feel his presence, happy that Alan was alive. It filled him with a warm glow from the inside. He closed his eyes briefly, allowing himself to bask for a moment in the gentle happiness of having his brother back – and then took the opportunity to examine said brother.

A lot of bruises – Scott winced inwardly when the saw how blue Alan's rib cage was – and a ragged looking gash on his left arm. Several cuts, but none of them too serious – most of them were wrapped in bandages anyway. Probably a concussion, too, judging from the fall he had taken.

"If only I had known..." In an unconscious gesture of affection, Scott stroked the blonde hair out of Alan's face. "And here I thought you'd forgotten about us...well, you did, in the literal sense of the word...damn, you must have been so alone!"

Alan didn't respond, caught up in his own little world. Scott had no idea what his brother was going through at the moment, so he contented himself with holding him, offering what little support he could.

Memory loss. Amnesia.

The idea of Alan wandering around helplessly, not knowing who or where he was, while they'd been looking for him everywhere...it was enough to turn his stomach. While they had been sitting on Tracy Island, Alan had been forced to fight with his own, personal demons. It was must have been dreadful.

Scott remembered the dark circles under Alan's eyes, the haunted look, the tension in his shoulders. The last days had taken their toll on him. The usual round and open face looked thin and haggard, etched with lines of worry and exhaustion. The blonde hair was matted and dirty.

Tin-Tin had been right. Alan would never have skived off, not without a serious reason, and Scott felt foolish for believing so.

He'd known, deep down. Had known that Alan wouldn't do that. But it was easier to be angry, because that was an emotion he knew – an emotion he could deal with. He hadn't wanted to acknowledge any other possibilities, because they scared him, and he didn't want to be scared. Didn't want to feel the mind-wrenching worry. It was easier to feel anger...

"I'm sorry," Scott whispered, as he ran gentle hands along Alan's shaking body and checked for broken bones. To his relief, he found none, though he suspected that the ribs were bruised severely - and one wrist appeared sprained. He looked very battered, his brother, signs of the catastrophe he had lived through. "I'm sorry for doubting you."

Despite everything that had happened - and his memory loss, which seemed to be vast – Alan had been drawn to the racetrack, something he was familiar with. Had he remembered that bit? Or had he just acted on instinct?

He had looked happy for a moment, before Scott had announced his presence. That thought alone gnawed at his gut. It was Scott's fault that Alan had run, Scott's fault that Alan was afraid, that he fell down the stairway...

My fault.

But if he remembered racing, he should remember his family sooner or later...shouldn't he?

Alan began to relax, and the breathing that had been coming in short gasps now settled into a more even rhythm. Scott waited with a patience he hadn't known he possessed. He didn't want to destroy the fragile peace they had created. He didn't even know what had changed; but he was glad for it.

However, he needed to make sure how severe the memory loss was; and he needed to reassure his confused brother that his fear wasn't real, that he was here to help, and not to kill.

Thinking that I'm out to murder him...honestly.

Alan groaned and mumbled something he couldn't understand. Then he scrunched up his nose, like he had always done when they had been kids and he'd been dreaming about something nasty. Scott watched him with a bemused smile; some things, it seemed, would never change.

"Alan?" he asked again, his voice very soft.

The blonde groaned and blinked through the headache that was exploding in his skull. His gaze was blurry at first, but then focused on Scott. A set of emotions washed over his face – fear, confusion, understanding, frustration. Scott was ready to pin him to the ground should he run again – but Alan didn't move. Instead, he just stared at him, his eyes wide and solemn.

"Hi." Scott smiled.

Alan just watched him warily.

"I'm not going to hurt you."

There was a heavy silence between them – and then Alan shook his head. "I know that." he replied instead, his voice rough and unsteady. "Well...I think I do."

"I should be insulted if not", Scott tried to joke, even though his heart nearly broke when he heard the uncertainty, the confusion. "I'm your brother."

Alan blinked, face set in stone. "But I remembered...remembered you wanting to kill me."

Pain flashed over Scott's features. "Well, I don't really understand..." he began and trailed off. "What exactly did you remember?"

Alan shrugged. "Nightmares. Mostly your face – screaming at me, and you were so mad! I believed for sure that you were going to kill me! You said so yourself – screamed it, actually. 'I swear I'm going to kill you', something like that." He rubbed his aching head, wincing when he touched a sore spot.

Scott swallowed hard. Now that he thought of it, he had said some rather nasty things. The phrase Alan had mentioned was his standard curse after his younger brothers had played a prank on him again. Yet it was never meant in a serious way, and they knew it. He just got...mad.

However, take the words out of context and the whole world shifted. Alan had remembered them, but without everything around it. Given that evidence, it was no surprise that he had been convinced that his brother meant serious harm.

Scott felt sick. So Alan had been running away from him, having nightmares, for God's sake, just because he couldn't control his temper in a stupid fight!

In the future, he really would have to really watch what he said.

Alan, unaware of what was going on in his brother's head, sat up and winced as his body protested. He felt battered, but relieved. At first he didn't know why, but then he realized...realized that where there had been emptiness before, his head was now full of memories. They didn't make sense; most of them weren't even connected, and there were far too many of them – a memory overload.

It would have been funny, but he couldn't muster the energy to laugh.

But at least they were there!

"You were angry because I...did something to...your 'bird?" He concentrated hard, trying to make sense of the overlapping pictures. "Yes. I know. The morning before we left on the rescue, I had been loading some programmes into Thunderbird One’s computer. It was taking a long time, so I went to get a pizza from the kitchen. Tin Tin came into the cockpit while I was working..." Alan stopped and smiled. Tin-Tin. Of course. Finally he had a name to go with the beautiful girl. Then he noticed that Scott was waiting – Scott, his brother! - and continued dutifully.

"...and I put the plate on the floor while we had a little er, chat. By the time I had finished the programming I had forgotten all about it. I was playing pool...I think...that's the game with the cues, yes?...when you came storming into the games room, breathing fire. You’d gone into One to see if I had finished, stood on the pizza and slipped. You were pretty mad at me. We were just working up to one of our rows when the alarm went off."

Alan stopped in wonder. The words had tumbled out of his mouth effortlessly, yet he still had to make sense of them. It was like before, on the racetrack. His mouth said things his brain didn't know yet, and only after the words had left his mouth, he realized that they were true. He had a past. He had a history. It was there.

He was someone!

"I'm sorry." Scott started to apologize, but Alan didn't appear to hear him. He stared at some spot to his left, a faraway look on his face.

Scott waited with baited breath. It seemed as if Alan's memories were returning – maybe triggered by his presence? - and he didn't want to destroy this miracle.

"There was a rescue", he began and looked at Scott, the man he had thought was out to kill him. He saw only kindness in the blue eyes, so similar to his own. "Wasn't there?"

...have to do something, oh no, it's too late, the wave's there shitwhatamidoing...

"And I was...in the water." The blonde continued, looking at the pictures in his mind. "I wanted to help...the boy. And then the water came. The wave. It hit. And it hurt." He blinked in the darkness. "You were screaming at me."

"I didn't want you to take off the harness." Remembering the rescue was painful. "It was a foolish thing to do."

...I'm so dead, I'm going to die I don't wanna die please...

"I wanted to help him."


Scott didn't dare to hope. Alan looked different compared to before. The almost mad look had disappeared, had been replaced by contemplation and honest confusion. Awareness shone out of his blue eyes, and for the first time, Scott had the feeling that he was really dealing with Alan, not some stranger who bore the same face.


"Are you...remembering?"

Alan looked up, and saw him – really saw him – for the first time since the whole ordeal started. For a moment, time seemed frozen, while he took in everything – the shirt that had been torn during the fight, the darkening bruise on Scott's face, the scrapes on his knuckles from where he had been forced to defend himself – and horror began to dawn. This was...not a killer. This was a man he knew...had known...was...familiar...

He blinked through the pictures that flashed in front of his eyes, swaying under the mental blizzard that seemed to rage through his head.

My brother.

The thought stood in the forefront of his mind with such clarity that he couldn't help but shudder. Not a killer. Not a madman. His brother. His brother Scott, whom he had known for his whole life.

...friendly, easy-going banter at the breakfast table...

And his name wasn't John, either. It was Alan. Alan Shepherd Tracy. And John was the name of his older brother, the one who had the same blonde hair as him, who was an astronaut, just like him, and who loved the stars...

...exhausting, frustrating tennis battles, young against old, the war raging on for hours, until both parties fell to the ground and couldn't move any longer...

Not a criminal. He wasn't a criminal. The thought filled him with such profound relief that he felt his knees go weak. Even though it had seemed unlikely in the end, he couldn't help but wonder...and the mere idea had scared him.

...the smell of perfume when Tin-Tin brushed by him, alluring and exotic...

So. He had to keep secrecy, but only because he belonged to...International Rescue...

Alan almost smiled as that particular memory came back. Over the last days, he had heard sing-songs of praise for International Rescue, never once realising that he was one of those famous heroes in blue...it certainly put a lot of things in perspective.

...loud, painful arguments, where both lost their temper and got so mad at each other that the only way to escape was to leave the room and slam the door...

"Yes." He finally answered, his voice a triumphant whisper. "I remember."

And those were the best words he'd ever said, sweet tasting and full of triumph.

Scott gave a whoop of joy, something so out-of-character for his older brother that Alan found himself gaping at him, and hugged him fiercely. "Alan! I'm so glad to have you back! You had me worried!"

"Well, I was worrying myself." Alan smiled through the splitting headache he was encountering. "It was horrible, Scott! I didn't know who I was, and so I kept drifting around...I had myself convinced that I was some wanted criminal!"

"No way! Why that?"

"Well," the blonde gave a sheepish grin, "First, I had this need for secrecy which I couldn't explain to myself - must have been some kind of subconscious IR protection safeguard – and then I hot-wired a car. I had to," he quickly admonished against Scott's shocked look, "There was nobody there, it was like a freakish nightmare, and I wanted to escape those ghost towns as soon as possible."

Scott nodded in understanding, feeling that there was still a lot Alan wasn't telling. How frightening it must have been – he tried to imagine himself in the situation and failed horribly.

"And then, of course, I saw my picture on the newspaper...gave me a real scare!" Alan shook his head, seeing the irony of the situation. "I had myself convinced that I was being hunted by some kind of mafia!" He snorted, since International Rescue was probably almost the exact opposite of a mafia – well, with the exception of the secrecy and the patriarch...

But he could remember! He didn't mind the headache, but he finally knew who he was – Alan Shepherd Tracy, twenty-three years old, former racing driver, International Rescue operative, pilot of Thunderbird Three and astronaut. Smiling serenely at the happy thought, he didn't notice when Scott stood up and was thus startled when a helpful hand was offered to him.

"Come on, kid, let's go home. There are a lot of people waiting to see you."

Home! Alan rolled the idea around in his head. What a wonderful word. He wasn't drifting any longer; he had an anchor place, a history, and a family.

He belonged.

And he was itching to see them again, to hear Gordon's familiar banter, see Virgil's laughing face, eat Grandma's apple-pie, feel Tin-Tin's sweet touch on his skin. He wanted it more than anything, and yet...

"Hang on, Scott." He pulled himself up and leaned on Scott's shoulder for support. His injured ankle stung like hell, but he was far too happy to complain. "I've got to tell Mick and Henry what happened – they're really nice guys. They were my friends when I had no-one, and I will never forget that. They knew I had lost everything in the flood, they'll be pleased to find out that this is not the truth! And you should see the car, it's really great, I did some work on it, and boy, it's good, maybe they let me make a few rounds, I'd like that..."

Scott nodded amused. Typical Alan – as soon as he had his memory back, he was talking his ear off. But he wouldn't have exchanged that for anything in the world. Right now, Alan's babbling was the sweetest sound on this planet.

"Well. Let's go then. But not for long – I want Brains to have a look at your injuries. Amnesia is not to be taken lightly."

Alan rolled his eyes. "I'm fine, Scott."

"Ten minutes ago you were convinced that I'd cut your throat. You're far from fine, Alan."


"Alan, we thought you were dead! And then I find you running away from me! Humour me - you're going to get examined, even if I have to knock you unconscious and tie you to a chair!" Scott glared at his brother.

Alan mumbled something under his breath. Even the prospect of a gruesome examination couldn't dampen his mood – he could have hugged the world. Then another idea struck him. "Hey Scott, I bet you came here with Thunderbird One?" The grin threatened to split his face in two halves.

Scott, having learned from experience that this meant no good, nodded wearily. "Why?"

"Well, let's just say there's this farm that I want to pay a visit to...I wonder what Annie and Howard will say if Thunderbird One lands in Annie's herb garden and I climb out of the cockpit?"

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