BEHIND THE VEIL OF SHADOWS
When a rescue turns into a
nightmare, John finds himself venturing into the Twilight
Thanks to Pen for her
beta-reading skills. This story would have been a whole lot
shorter (and worse) without Pen's faithful help. I ruthlessly
bounced my ideas off her and she never complained, but bounced
right back and gave me useful insights or kicked my muse into
working. Thanks, Pen!
Chapter One: Quite detached from the
stared at the coffee cup in his hand and took a sip, grimacing
as he realised that it had gone cold already. Well, that
didn't really surprise him. It had been a miracle that any
coffee had been left at all, not with the hundreds of people
that bustled through the hospital, looking for relatives and
making a general mess.
me!" A nurse hurried past the blonde, pushing a long gurney
with a child on it. A small girl, maybe six or seven years
old, her face covered in blood. John swallowed hard. He never
got used to the devastation; and children were always the
parents were nowhere in sight. Probably dead, as so many were.
Modern technology might be advanced, but when nature decided
to strike, humans were as helpless as newborns.
another sip of the cold liquid – caffeine was caffeine, after
all – and threw the plastic cup into the next bin. It was
already overflowing with waste. A sharp pang in his side
reminded him why he was at the hospital and not out there
John rubbed his aching mid-section and grimaced at the
pounding headache in his skull. He felt like he had been in a
fight with a giant hippo – and lost. This was going to hurt
for quite a while.
vibrated with sound; too many people and not enough space. It
was a madhouse, the doctors running around, hundreds of
injured to care for and not enough supplies.
weaved through the crowd, evading flailing hands and busy
nurses. He felt a bit lost; everything had been taken out of
his hands. He knew what he was doing on a rescue scene – here,
the doctors and the nurses were in charge.
they were as lost as he felt. Not surprising, with the sheer
amount of tragedy that filled the hospital.
were lying in the corridors, skin torn, limbs broken, bleeding
freely on the ground. They groaned and cried and screamed, but
it simply disappeared in the overbearing background noise.
John tried to ignore their begging – he wasn't a doctor, there
was no way he could help them – but it tore at his heart. So
much despair. So much pain. And he was right in the middle of
managed to avoid a collision with a sobbing woman, ducked out
of the way just in time and let her pass. She didn't even
notice his presence, wrung her hands and screamed for her son.
"David," her voice echoed brokenly through the hallway.
"Please, where's my Davy, help me find my Davy..." She babbled
on, bearing the frantic look of a woman on the edge of her
sanity, until someone took her by the arm and led her away.
John watched them numbly.
I have to
get out of here,
through his head. The job's not finished yet. There are
people who need my help.
annoyed he had been sent to hospital while the others were
still working. Sure, he had been hurt, but he'd had worse. A
couple of cracked ribs. A concussion. Severe exhaustion. He
could live with that.
there were still people out there, lying under tons of rubble!
They needed him.
Scott doesn't share that opinion.
snorted. Okay, so he had been right in the centre of the last
afterquake...and maybe the room had collapsed on top of
him, but dammit, he was fine, no need for all this
fuss. And if things got a little blurry on the memory front,
well, that was to be expected, wasn't it? He'd been knocked
out for a couple of moments – blurriness was to be expected.
If he was
honest, he could barely remember how he got here – it all was
a mixture of colours and voices and pain – but he was standing
and he was alright, so they could damn well have taken him
back with them.
that there had been no reason to bring him to the hospital, of
all places! They could have patched him up in the infirmary,
and he would have been able to go back to work, instead of
being lost inside the giant building.
they could have just picked him up again, after he received
his treatment. What was he supposed to do now? Stick around
and read the newspaper? Help the nurses? He belonged to
International Rescue, and that was where he should be right
Scott doesn't trust you to handle the rescue.
shook his head against the whispering little voice. He was
fine – well, not entirely. But well enough to do his job -
even though he didn't get as much rescue experience as his
brothers, he was still perfectly able. Scott could trust him
as well as he could trust the others.
just wait, Scott," the blonde Tracy growled to himself. He'd
enough of this place; he was going to go to the rescue scene,
where his brothers would – no doubt! - still be working. With
the firm intention to leave, he swung around, realising
belatedly that he had been wandering aimlessly for the last
couple of minutes.
way to get information was always the front desk, John
reflected, and marched towards the loudest part of the
building. People tended to cluster around those kind of
places, especially in a panic situation. Today was no
entrance hall was a flurry of activity. People bustled through
the corridor, most of them wet, dirty, and bedraggled-looking.
The doctors and nurses appeared stressed, trying to get some
order in the chaos, to no avail. There were babies crying,
people sobbing, and others screaming in pain while they waited
to be treated.
hospitals," John murmured to nobody in particular and pushed
through the crowd, careful to avoid the injured. He saw at
once that there was no chance to speak to the nurse at the
main desk – she was dealing with four people at once and
looked as lost and exhausted as he felt.
anyone here know what's going on out there? How's the rescue
going?" he asked loudly, but received no reply. Figured.
People never felt responsible if the question was too general.
He needed to talk to someone directly.
me," he turned to a small, young man standing close to him.
"Do you know..."
mumbled something and then hurried past him, ignoring his
plea. "Hey! I was talking to you," John called after him, his
patience wearing thin. How rude! And he was in his IR outfit,
to get the attention of an old woman, but she only clutched
her handbag to herself and seemed to stare right through him.
Totally bonkers, he thought to himself, a wave of pity
flooding him. The old lady started humming a toneless tune,
her eyes flickering wildly. John sighed in frustration and
flashed her an encouraging grin (which came out more as a
grimace, but the effort was there nonetheless).
looked for someone else he could ask, but everybody was so
caught in his own grief that he didn't want to interrupt.
Sometimes it was really a pain to be the sensitive one.
He was on
the verge of simply leaving the building and following his
nose (after all, Thunderbird Two wasn't easy to overlook),
when he saw a familiar face above the crowd.
brother, well on the other end of the hall, didn't hear him.
Still in his uniform, he appeared tired and weary, lines of
exhaustion etching deep into his face. He was talking to a
doctor, and whatever it was they were conversing about, it had
to be serious. Scott looked very grave, blue eyes dulled and
pained, and didn't even notice the admiring stares he was
receiving from the people around him.
bubbled up in his stomach, and John started to slide through
the crowd. A worried Scott meant trouble. Had something
happened during the rescue? Was one of his brothers injured?
And why was Scott still here and not out on the rescue scene,
coordinating the clean-up and being his usual, in-control
Scott didn't look very much in control. On the contrary, he
appeared lost and hung onto the words of the doctor like a man
hanging on his lifeline. It was enough to make John
there was only one way to find out. He weaved through the
crowd, for once glad that he wasn't as sturdy as Virgil – it
made it much easier to slip past the people unnoticed. As he
drew closer, he managed to hear snatches of their
much we can do...hospital's full..."
know...rescue...still a lot of people out there..."
John was nearly run over by a tall, muscular man. He barely
managed to catch himself and glowered at the offender, who
continued to push through the crowd, a panicked look on his
face. "Help! Please! I need help!"
did John realize that the man was carrying a limp body in his
arms; a small woman, lifeless and soaked with blood and mud.
His annoyance evaporated into nothingness. Were their
positions reversed, John would have acted the same. There was
simply no time for politeness when a loved one was dying.
all those near collisions were getting annoying. It made him
remember why he hated crowds. The peaceful solitude of
Thunderbird Five was like a haven in his mind.
gonna happen anytime soon.
turned back towards his brother and the doctor, only to
realise that they were moving down a corridor.
he called again, but the background noise must have been too
high; Scott didn't turn.
Just great." John watched in dismay as the two disappeared
around a corner. "Just ignore me. It's only me. Thank you."
really angry – it wasn't Scott's fault that it was so loud –
but he felt frustrated, and it was good to get rid of some
tension. He'd never been a big people person, and all the
activity around him was getting on his nerves.
Out of the
corner of his eye, he noticed the staff toilets. Nobody was
bothering with them, and, feeling the need for some quiet time
alone, he slunk away, careful not to run into anyone. That
proved to be quite a challenge. Even though he was very keen
on avoiding people, they didn't seem to share the opinion; on
his short way to the door he had another three
to himself about the rudeness of panicked people, he slid
through the door and sighed in relief as the bathroom proved
to be empty.
of the staff didn't probably have the time to use the toilets
right now. John felt a bit guilty, but not enough to leave the
room. Just two minutes, to get his bearings, and then he would
follow Scott. After all, it was like being thrown into cold
water, being here – he'd spent the last month on Thunderbird
Five, in total isolation, and now he was surrounded by
hundreds of people.
hospitals," he repeated again and stepped towards the basin.
"And I hate rescues that turn bad."
splashed his face with cold water and then leant his head
against the cool tiles. Ah, blissful relief. The pounding
eased somewhat. For a moment, he wondered why he hadn't taken
some pain medication.
insisting that I don't need it.
always the same? It seemed to run in the family. Stubborn
Tracys. Medications are for weaklings. Besides, John hated the
loopy feeling he always got when he took prescribed drugs.
pressure in his head seemed to increase steadily, making him
opened his eyes and stared at the tiles. The hospital sounds
were still audible, but softer, dulled by the walls. The
blonde pulled a face. He didn't fancy going out there again,
but his sense of duty told him otherwise. He couldn't very
well hide in this bathroom forever.
wrong with you? You're behaving like a coward! It's just a
hospital, for God's sake!
And so he
steeled himself, masked his face as another wave of pain swept
through him, and left the bathroom just as a weary looking
doctor stepped in and steered towards the toilets. The strange
feeling in his gut remained.
the doc a sympathetic look – the man looked even worse than he
felt – and then winced as the rush of noises pounded on him
like a tidal wave. He stayed close to the walls, to keep out
of the way of everybody. It was almost impossible. A group of
children filled the corridor; probably a school class, hurt,
dirty, and crying for their parents.
didn't notice his uniform, he knew that it had to be really
bad; usually, children clustered around everybody who wore the
IR logo. But they didn't even seem to notice him. Caught up in
their own pain and grief.
little things. Their parents are probably dead.
people died today.
his head, turned around the corner and stopped in his tracks.
He had discovered Virgil.
piloting Thunderbird Two, or operating one of the rescue
vehicles as he had expected him to do, his brother was sitting
on a chair, head in his hands, the picture of utter
devastation. The sight worried John; Virgil was not easily put
down, and seeing him like that only could mean one thing: One
of them was hurt.
couldn't be Scott, John concluded; after all, he had seen him
running around just minutes ago. And it couldn't be Virgil, as
he was sitting here and probably wouldn't be worried about
still on Thunderbird Five, unless he had been shot down, which
John thought unlikely.
left Gordon and him. Well, John knew that he was fine –
battered and bruised, maybe, but fine – so it could only be
his copper-haired brother. Cold dread settled in his stomach.
That explained why Virgil and Scott were here instead of out
there; that explained why nobody had picked him up yet. Gordon
must be injured – so bad that they had been afraid to leave.
He asked softly, as not to startle his brother. Virgil didn't
react, probably hadn't even heard him. Even though they were
away from the main tumult, the noises still carried heavily
and made speaking softly almost impossible.
wrong?" John asked a bit louder, walking closer to his
sighed and pinched the bridge of his noise. He looked tired
and exhausted, the result of hours of piloting and rescuing
had they been here? At least fifteen hours, from what John
could remember. Enough to clear the worst areas. Now it was
probably left in the hands of the locals. International Rescue
was only human, after all; and with Virgil looking like he
did, John could understand why Scott hadn't ordered them out
shouldn't have happened," Virgil mumbled, his eyes dull.
laughed roughly. "It never should, and yet it always does."
brother just shook his head and didn't reply. John's heart
slipped even lower; it must be really serious. Had Gordon hurt
his back again? Was the damage permanent? Or maybe...maybe he
thought carried such graveness that he sucked in a sharp
breath. No. Absolutely not. Gordon couldn't be dead – he
was...he was indestructible! The kid had survived a hydrofoil
crash, goddammit! He always bounced back, like a cat with nine
Please, I need to know what happened." John swallowed hard.
"Is it Gordon? Is he injured? He's still alive, is he?"
took his time to answer, and John fought down the urge to
shake him. No, he was supposed to be the sensible one. Shaking
fell into Alan's department. Still, the insecurity was almost
worse than the truth, however bad it might be. It was tearing
at him and...
voice startled them both and stopped Virgil from replying.
Scott strode towards them, his face grim and stony. John knew
that particular look - it was his
It meant that he was on the verge of breaking.
proves is. Things are worse than bad.
stood up – resembling more an old man than the young pilot he
was – and turned frightened eyes towards his brother. "How is
Scott shook his head, his blue eyes clouded. "They...they say
paled even further and John couldn't help but gasp. "No! Not
pain in their faces told him enough, and the last, desperate
hope that maybe they had been here because of someone who he
didn't know, disappeared. The naked anguish could only mean
one thing. Fear, honest fear to lose a brother.
Gordon. Not him. He makes us laugh. He keeps our spirits up.
He's important. He's...my brother...
we see him?" Virgil asked, hesitant.
at a time. And not before they're finished." Pain flashed over
Scott's face. "They're operating him right now. One of his
ribs...it pierced his lung. Pneumothorax. He stopped breathing
and..." he took a deep breath, trying to find the best way to
voice this, "...they had to resuscitate him."
course, the hospital is stretched thinly as it is. They're
making allowances, because we're International Rescue, but..."
how desperate his brother sounded. "What are his chances of
survival?" he asked, voice dry.
received no reply, which was answer enough. John could almost
feel how the blood drained from his face, making him feel
hollow and empty. Slim to none. Dammit Gordon, why now?
and see him." Virgil suggested.
and John nodded, too stunned to say anything else. Scott kept
rubbing his face, probably sporting a headache equal to
John's, with the magnitude of slow moving icebergs. It hurt.
And yet it didn't hurt as much as the idea of losing a
had been under control until those stupid afterquakes had hit.
occurred to John that he didn't even know how it
happened. But then again, it didn't really interest him. The
how wasn't important; Gordon was. And his survival. They had
nearly lost him once; losing him a second time was
brothers marched down the corridors and went to the surgical
area. The hospital itself was very modern, something John was
grateful for. It meant that his brother was receiving the best
care available; well, as available as it could be in a city
that had been devastated by an earthquake.
as another wave of pain welled through his head. Pain
medication sounded more appealing with each passing minute; he
had the feeling that he would need to stay awake for quite a
about the rescue?" Virgil inquired softly.
face tightened. "We helped with the worst. They should be
okay, at least for now. I don't want to..." His voice trailed
off, but John knew anyway what he had intended to say. I
don't want to leave while Gordon might be dying.
sense of duty was really clashing with his worry for his
brother. John could see the internal agony he was going
through; and he certainly didn't envy him for it. Duty before
family? It usually was the case, but it seemed like one of
those borderline decisions...they weren't desperately
needed, but they could still help.
on his lower lip. Now that he knew about Gordon, he wasn't
entirely sure whether he'd be able to go back to the rescue or
not. He'd go, if Scott ordered him to – professional
detachment was the first thing he had learned in this job –
but that didn't mean he had to like it.
it wasn't his decision to make. Once again John was glad that
he wasn't the oldest. Being a middle brother was much easier;
the youngest and oldest seemed to get the worst out of the
know about this?" he wanted to know. "One of us should
probably contact Alan..." It surprised him that they hadn't
done so already. But then again, there had been a lot going
on, and he hadn't been there.
sighed and rubbed his face. He looked tired and grey, which
made John feel guilty that he had burdened his elder brother
with yet another foul duty. "I can do it, if you want," he
hurried to say, already pressing the button of his wrist
watch. His stomach churned as he thought about telling Alan
the news – he was the closest to Gordon – but he knew that the
youngest Tracy would be angry if he wasn't told immediately.
Thunderbird Five, please respond, Alan."
annoyance, John only received static. Confused, he tapped the
plastic. Nothing. Strange. He hadn't damaged it - the watch
should be working perfectly. John frowned at the offending
item and examined it closely. There was no fault, no broken
parts; and no reason why it shouldn't be working. Was
something blocking the communication? Naw, impossible. Even
some of the phone lines were still working!
his attempts to repair the watch, John turned towards his
brothers. "Guys, my watch isn't working! What about yours? I
don't like the fact that we're cut off from..."
mid-sentence when he saw the doctor leaving the room. Wearing
a bloodied surgeon's coat, she looked tired and worn. Scott
straightened immediately and stepped towards her, Virgil
guess other things are more important.
was starting to feel a little bit left out. Couldn't they at
least listen to him?
They're in shock, both of them. And you too. Don't be too
he, doctor?" Scott asked, voice rough.
chose her words carefully. "Well...he isn't dead yet."
face fell. "But he's going to be alright?"
know for sure." A weary sigh. "To be quite honest, it looks
bad. We lost him once, and he nearly didn't come back. It took
him a long time to respond, so his brain was cut off from
oxygen. It doesn't make things any easier. Right now, he's
hanging on a thin thread. We're doing everything we can, but
really," she lifted her hands in a helpless fashion, "It's up
to him. He's healthy, so that counts in his favour, but..."
closed his eyes, could almost sense the unspoken words. But
don't have too much hope. You'll only be disappointed.
see him?" It was Virgil who asked, his voice strained.
– the name tag labelled her as Dr. Anita K. Fowler – frowned
and watched them carefully. "Normally I'd have to decline,"
she began and then smiled wryly, "But this is not a normal day
and you're not normal people. So yes, I will allow you to see
him, but only for five minutes. After that, we'll have to move
him out of the room and find some space for him. He's not
stable enough for air transport yet."
you, Doctor." All tension seemed to leave Scott's body.
"And...thanks for being honest."
least I can do."
about..." Scott had half turned around, but Virgil seemed to
read his thoughts. "I'll call him." He tapped on his watch and
stepped aside. John frowned at his back. So now he was going
to call their father? Well, Virgil's watch seemed to be
working at least.
hesitated on the doorstep, glancing one last time at Virgil,
and then followed Scott into the room.
angle where he was standing, he couldn't really see the figure
on the bed, only Scott, standing close at the end and staring
down as if he was seeing a ghost. John took in the many
machines that were attached to the inert body and swallowed.
It reminded him of times long gone, when Gordon had been in a
bed similar to this one and the doctor had announced the
terrifying news – 'it's very unlikely that he's going to
walk again'. But Gordon had proven them all wrong, had
managed to regain his life – only to find himself back in the
same place today.
won't happen. Gordon is a fighter. He will pull through this.
Fowler hovered in the doorway, stepping aside as Virgil
entered the room. "He was already on his way," he almost
whispered and walked past John without so much as a glance.
"Should be here any minute."
head whipped up. What the hell was he talking about? There was
no way their father could be here 'in a minute' – he was back
on Tracy Island, and even with the fastest jet, it would take
him hours to get here. The uneasy feeling returned, the
nagging suspicion in the back of his mind that something was
not right here.
so pale." Scott knelt down on the ground and took the limp
joined him near the bed, and John realised with sudden
intensity that he was stalling – for some odd reason, he
didn't want to see Gordon all sick and bloodied, so he stayed
behind...Coward! His mind reeled, he's your brother!
And then the headache exploded behind his eyelids, pure agony,
and he couldn't help the groan that escaped his lips.
Scott nor Virgil reacted. Their gazes were focused on the
figure in the bed.
a deep breath, waited for the pain to subside – which took
quite some time – and then stepped forwards, with the firm
intention to get rid of those cowardly tendencies he had shown
didn't get far. The door was ripped wide open and someone else
stormed in the room. "How is he?" an urgent voice whispered; a
voice so familiar to John that his blood ran cold.
alive." Virgil's toneless reply. He seemed unfazed by the
turned around, not believing his ears. It couldn't be – maybe
he was hallucinating – maybe it was a coincidence...but...
was Gordon Tracy, standing behind him, his copper hair matted
with dirt and his eyes bloodshot, but looking very alive and
not at all on the verge of death.
exclaimed and then shrunk backwards, his gaze fixed on his
brother. "Gordon! You...but...I thought you were
ignored his fragmented sentences; instead he strode past him
around the heavy machinery that was obstructing the view and
stepped as close to the bed as he could. John gaped after him,
his mind a whirlwind of confusion, the headache making
thinking almost impossible.
"Gordon...if you're alive...then who's the person on the bed?"
nagging feeling intensified, urging him to step forward. He
felt loose, detached, and very confused as he peered over his
brother's shoulders to get a good look at the invalid.
swallowed. And blinked. And then he looked again, because this
couldn't be possible. The sight remained unchanged. And John
thought it had to be a dream, because reality was never that
has to be a dream.
More of a
very realistic dream, complete with dolby surround and 3D
sense, but a dream nonetheless. This was...impossible.
swayed on the spot, as the nauseous feeling threatened to
overtake him. It wasn't the sheer amount of bruises and cuts
that shocked him; nor was it the machines that were obviously
working hard to keep the body alive, even though the mind
might not be there. It wasn't how artificial everything
looked; or how dead the body appeared, even though the chest
was rising ever so slightly.
It was the
face. Almost unhurt except a large bruise on the forehead. A
tube attached to his mouth, doing the breathing because the
body was not able to. And no copper hair.
wasn't Gordon – nor Alan, for that matter, even though he had
thought so on the first glance. No, the face was frighteningly
familiar, but in a weird way – like he wasn't used to look at
it from this far away. Pale and sallow, with a mop of white
But one of
the Tracy brothers. And there was only one left who had the
same hair colour.
can't be possible." John whispered and felt his knees go weak.
the face on the unconscious body was his own.
Chapter Two: The dream of a
staggered backwards, his mind reeling. His brothers continued
their whispered conversation, but the words flew past him,
didn't even enter his brain. Instead, his eyes were fixed on
the pale face sunk deeply into the pillows.
It was his
own face, no doubt, the very image he saw reflected in the
mirror every morning when he went to the bathroom. Though a
lot paler, with a breathing tube in his mouth and a sick,
"This is a
joke, right?" His voice came out in a ragged gasp, and he
looked around wildly. "Gordon, please tell me that this is one
of your stupid jokes!"
didn't answer. The copper-haired Tracy had his arms crossed as
he stared at the bed with an unreadable expression on his
Stop ignoring me!" John felt the familiar presence of panic in
his mind. "GORDON!"
word was a shout, but still none of them reacted. It was as if
he didn't even exist. And that, John realised with a sudden
feeling of dread, was probably true. Because if the body on
the bed was him...his mortal shell, or whatever people wanted
to call it – then he was a mere shadow.
see me." He whirled around and jumped in front of Scott.
"Scott, please tell me that you can see me! Do
something! Tell me that this is all but a nightmare!"
didn't even look at him. His eyes went right through,
as if he was invisible.
John swore, and then squeezed his eyes shut. Alright. He
couldn't panic; that wouldn't help matters. He didn't know
what had happened, but that could be changed. If he analysed
the situation...yes, he was good at analysing. Thinking.
He took a
step away from his brother and one towards the bed. "I'm not
dead," he frowned. "But I'm not alive either...well, my body
is, but me...I'm..." he trailed off. How the hell was he
supposed to make sense of this when he didn't even know what
reminded him of one of those mystery/new age novels Alan read
occasionally. Soul transfers, wandering ones, spirits, all
things that were regular occurrences on those kinds of books.
John used to laugh about those; after al, he lived in space
half of the year and there was nothing spooky about that. He
had always been a man of science; not a total disbeliever, but
sceptical. John knew that there were still a lot of things in
the human mind that couldn't be explained by modern medicine,
but still...soul wandering? Out-of-body experiences? It
sounded pretty far-fetched.
wasn't so sure any more. Because right now, he seemed to be
living through such an experience.
I'm just having a bad dream. Damn, I really shouldn't be
eating pizza that late...
dream," John whispered softly and stretched out his finger to
touch himself. He almost expected his hand to glide through
his own body – now that would have been creepy! - but to his
surprise, he was able to feel the skin. It gave him a tingling
feeling, like the one people get when their limbs fall asleep,
and it was very strange, but it was there...
does that tell me now? That I'm a ghost with touch sensors?
and turned his attention back to his brothers. So it hadn't
been Gordon they were worried about, but him. Well. Although
John knew that his brothers worried about him when he was in
danger, it was a bit disconcerting to see it written clearly
in their faces. After all, he usually wasn't awake to see
those pensive expressions. It touched and humbled him at the
looked dark, his face marred by a tight frown. His stance
appeared rigid and in-control, but John knew better. The
eldest Tracy was fighting an internal battle.
contrast to him, Virgil's face was an open mask of worry – and
was that a glint of fear in his eyes?
looked tired and solemn, something that was alarming in itself
– things were pretty intense if the redhead didn't crack a
John tried again, though he hadn't much hope that they would
be able to hear him.
Gordon moved "He looks pretty bad." A whisper, barely audible
over the constant noises of the machinery that kept his body
going. John deflated, feeling very old and tired.
going to be fine." Virgil insisted in a stubborn voice, even
though the doubt was clearly visible in his eyes.
we could take him to Thunderbird Two," Scott sounded as weary
as John felt. "We could get him better treatment...they can't
do much for him here...the hospital is crowded as it is..."
stepped closer to the bed and sat down on a chair, facing the
still figure. "Can't do much about that." He took the limp
hand and held it tightly. John watched and waited for a
sensation, anything – shouldn't he feel it if someone touched
his hand? - but nothing happened. He was like an outsider,
observing a scene where he didn't belong.
you have to be in that house when the afterquake hit?" Gordon
snorted. "Believe me, I kind of regretted it the moment the
ceiling fell on me!"
fell flat. Not really a surprise there.
use of being out of your body if nobody can hear you?
rubbed his temples, as the headache spread. And why could he
still feel pain for that matter? He felt a bit cheated; the
least that could have happened was for the pain to remain in
his body while his mind was elsewhere, doing mental
do I call myself now? Ghost? Spirit? Soul?" John quipped with
himself. But the humour was lost again. He didn't really
understand what was happening, and he didn't want to think of
the possible implications.
what happens if you're dying and this is your chance to say
Absolutely not. John refused to even consider that option.
There had to be a way back – now he really wished that he read
more of those novels. Hadn't there been a tether mentioned? Or
a link? Something that connected him to the real world...
looked around, but found no glowing bond that trailed from him
to the still body on the bed. Damn. Well, nothing was ever
opened with a soft click, and Doctor Fowler peeped in. "I'm
sorry, but you have to leave now."
nodded. "Alright. Thank you for your co-operation and...please
tell us if something happens. One of us will stay in the
hospital." Then he turned to the other two. "Come on. There
are a lot of people who need our help. Gordon, you'll come
with me, Virgil, you'll stay at the hospital and keep us
watched mutely as his brothers brushed past him, unaware of
his presence. They looked years older, and the blonde, having
been in their position more than once, could relate to their
feelings. Sometimes he thought that it was easier for the one
who was injured; while he had the pain and the suffering, he
didn't have to go through the worry, the fear, the anxiety.
the last to leave the room. He glanced one last time over his
shoulders, his eyes flashing with unspoken motion. "Don't give
up, John," he whispered. "Hang in there."
smiled grimly. "Not gonna happen, Scott. I've got the firm
intention of staying on this planet a bit longer."
door closed and he and the doctor were the only ones left.
John watched in mute disinterest as she flashed a penlight
into his unresponsive eyes and shook her head. Somehow, that
wasn't very encouraging. He swallowed. Suddenly, he didn't
want to be there any more, didn't want to be subjected to an
examination of his own body.
So he slid
outside and found out that he didn't even need to use the door
– he could walk through walls.
that's odd," he mused. "I can touch things, yet I can walk
through walls? Doesn't make much sense to me."
again, not much did. But the final traces of doubt were wiped
out when he stepped through a solid door; he was a
spirit. His body was back there and John had no idea how to
return to it.
John Tracy." he rubbed his chin and stared at the grey wall.
"Let's see...I'm not dead. I don't want to die either. Nobody
can hear or see me. I can...touch some things, and I can go
through walls." he frowned. "Might need some kind of
clarification on that one. What kind of things can I
touch? Can I go through every wall? And how do I affect
stopped and groaned. "Hell, I sound as if I'm writing a paper
about some topic for one of my classes – and I'm not even in
really ridiculous. Some part of him realized that all this
speculation served only one purpose: to keep him from losing
it. Hell, what was he supposed to do? There seemed to be
sudden he felt very lonely. John stood in the middle of a busy
corridor, amidst dozens of people, and yet he had never felt
so alone. There was a wall between him and the rest of the
world; a wall he couldn't break down. He could watch and
listen to them, but it didn't work the other way round.
One-sided communication, something he had sometimes
experienced during rescues – but back then, the equipment had
been at fault and not himself.
there's a wire missing in my brain," he reflected aloud. Urgh.
It felt wrong thinking of himself as some damaged piece of
equipment. Even though his body had looked quite battered.
of nurses rushed past him, their overalls spotted with blood.
This part of the hospital was a bit calmer, but there were
still a lot of people, the rooms crowded. Apparently, he was
the only one who had a single room to himself; everywhere
else, they had put in several people. John suspected that
every bed, every cot was occupied by an injured person. The
faint sound of helicopters reached his ears, probably
transporting the ones that needed immediate help.
the doc said? 'Not up for air transport'.
of the simulations had ever told him how to deal with that
kind of situation. He might keep it in the back of his head,
as a suggestion to Brains the next time they programmed the
simulators. They could title it
snorted. Well, but that didn't really help him now, did it? He
had no idea how to deal with it...what was he supposed to do?
Walk around? Watch the people? Why couldn't he just be
unconscious like everybody else? Nooo, he had to have the
worst part, as always...
down for a long wait, he tried to get some order in his
jumbled thoughts. Maybe everything would be clearer if his
memory wouldn't be such a blur...
you going, John?" the voice crackled through the dust-ridden
air. John coughed and looked up from where he was standing.
so far – haven't seen anyone yet, but I haven't been
everywhere." He took the flashlight and shone it into some
half-open room of the building that had formerly been a
anybody there?" the blonde called, but received no reply. The
thermal scanner came up empty, as well. Glancing one last time
around, he nodded in satisfaction and turned back. He was just
about to report in to Scott as the watch came to life again.
"Move it, John!" Scott barked. "Afterquake!"
didn't even think, just reacted. His training kicked in and he
dove forward without the slightest hesitation. He made a good
head start before the quake hit – first a low, rumbling sound
and suddenly everything was shaking. John teetered on the
rubble, but managed to regain his balance. He had thought he
was clear of everything, but then he heard the groaning noise,
looked up and saw...a ceiling.
down on him.
The blonde managed to gasp. "Scott, I'm-"
as far as he came before stones rained down on him. One hit
him on the shoulder, throwing him to the ground. The light was
cut. For a moment, he heard his brother screaming at him –
inquiring his whereabouts, his status – but he was too winded
to reply and he wouldn't have been heard over the ruckus
The yell escaped his lips just as a big slab of concrete fell
in his direction. His heartbeat drummed loudly in his ears –
and then there was the pain, as something hit his side, and
gravel started burying him alive. There was enough time to be
scared out of his wits, and so it came as no surprise that he
felt a tiny bit of relief when the pain became too much and he
slipped into unconsciousness.
memory he had was of himself standing in the corridor and
only me, or does that sound weird?" John mused, and then shook
his head. "Look at that – I'm talking to myself already. But
still, why the hell was I drinking coffee?"
was his subconscious trying to be normal, he pondered, or
maybe he had been trying to convince himself that nothing was
amiss. Well, that had been working until he saw his own body.
If he thought back now, he should have noticed the clues – the
fact that everybody had overlooked him, the strange gut
feeling, the headache, and his overall behaviour, which had
been very atypical.
Even though I'm just a ghost, I went into shock. Amazing.
hugged himself, as the loneliness crept back towards him.
Anything was better than this reflecting; and so he strolled
onwards, a shadow amidst the crowd, unseen and unheard.
really nothing to do, and so he followed his brothers, even
though he felt a lot like an intruder. Eavesdropping on
conversations that weren't meant for him.
being human, couldn't help the tiniest spark of curiosity in
his mind. And even though he knew what would have been proper
– namely not listening – he only managed to restrain himself
from it for maybe five minutes, then he went after his
Virgil, and Gordon stood in a semi-circle near the exit,
talking softly. Their worried frowns spoke volumes. John edged
closer – maybe he'd find out more about his condition? Or
about what was happening in general...he'd be grateful for
of him, Virgil," Scott said, just as John came close enough to
understand them. "I have to go back to Mobile Control."
Virgil nodded, his face a firm mask.
looked around, sighed, bid them a curt good-bye and left, his
back rigid and tense.
grimaced. "Thank you for caring, but that doesn't really help
me, you know."
eerie, standing beside his two brothers without them noticing
him. If he had been Gordon, he would have used this
opportunity to play all sorts of pranks – but then again, John
pondered, even Gordon would have had his problems in this
situations – how was one supposed to do anything when you
couldn't interact? Besides, they would never know who'd done
of his copper-haired brother – Gordon was looking unnaturally
solemn. John watched him with a worried frown; it was rare to
see his brother down, and when he did, it always scared him.
hospitals," Gordon announced, probably more to himself that do
Virgil. Nonetheless he received a reply – two, better said; a
forceful nod by John, and a whispered answer by Virgil. "Me,
too. They're creepy. But necessary."
furrowed his brow. "Yeah. And I hate the meaning behind them;
because every time I'm in a hospital, someone's hurt."
'usually me' hung unspoken in the air. Of the whole Tracy
family, Gordon had had the worst share of injuries, the
devastating hydrofoil accident leaving him nearly crippled.
John remembered those painful times all too clearly – he had
come to despise hospitals as well and could fully relate to
believe it's John." Virgil shook his head. "I mean, I'm
somehow used to you getting injured – don't understand me
wrong - and Alan...but John, he's..."
a flicker of pain, and then anger. "What are you saying with
that?" he began hotly. "Are you insinuating that I don't pull
my share? Because if you are, Virgil Tracy, then God help me,
I'll haunt you until...until..."
what you mean," Gordon nodded, unaware of the invisible
ranting by his side. "John's always so cautious."
smiled slightly. "You mean he isn't as impulsive as you and
not as brave, John thought sourly and crossed his arms.
This had always been a sore point for him; while his brothers
were known to rush into danger, he usually thought things
through, which had saved their hides more than once. Still, he
had the distinct impression it made him appear cowardly; and
with Alan and Scott as brothers, who rushed into dangers as if
it was their hobby, he had often felt that maybe it
Gordon sighed wistfully. "That's why I like going on rescues
with him. I know that I can rely on him, trust him. He's
always so calm, even in the direst situations – I wonder how
he does it - I almost envy him for that."
dear brother, I'm far from calm.
he had to go ahead and let a house fall on top of him." The
pain in Gordon's voice spoke volumes.
wasn't exactly planning on making it happen. I do value my own
life, you know.
pretty sure that he didn't do it voluntarily," was Virgil's
dry reply. John's lips quirked upwards at this. Thank you
for that, Virg.
think he'll be okay?"
Virgil's eyes clouded over, the sadness overshadowing his
usually so gentle features. "I...don't really know. The
doctor...she was pretty vague, and his injuries are severe."
swallowed, his face pale. " God, Virgil...he can't die! When I
pulled him out of the rubble, I thought he was dead! He looked
so pale, and there was blood everywhere...and then I shook him
and he started coughing, but he was coughing up blood and I
knew I needed to get help really quick..."
sorry you had to see that...I would have...well...there's
nothing I could have done, but I wish...I wish this hadn't
happened...I hate seeing you in pain.
to put a comforting hand on his brother's shoulders, moved
almost out of instinct, but he was unable to touch. It left
him feeling sad and alone. Even though John wasn't a tactile
person, he came from a family where back slaps were the proper
greeting, and being unable to perform this gesture made him
realize his isolation even more.
going to die." Virgil shook his head, his expression firm.
"John's tough; he's going to fight. He may not be as loud as
the rest of us, but he's just a strong – maybe even stronger.
He'll pull back, you'll see...he has to."
had been a tiny bit of doubt in his brother's voice, and it
made him feel uneasy. John wasn't ready to die – didn't want
to die, and especially not while he was separated from his
body, forced to watch his family suffering.
better," Gordon grumbled, running a nervous hand through his
hair. "He just came back from his shift...promised me he'd go
snorkelling with me...and I was looking forward to talking to
John had to smile. The moment he had entered his home after
his shift on Thunderbird Five, Gordon had jumped on him, eyes
sparkling excited, and invited him on a snorkelling trip.
Apparently there was something extraordinary to see, but John
had taken one good look at his brother and had known that this
wasn't the main reason. Gordon wanted to talk; and with the
disaster the last month had been, it didn't really surprise
comforting to know that his brothers would turn to him when
they had problems. Very often John had been woken up by a
late-night call when one of his brothers wanted to have a
chat...be it the aftermath of a strenuous rescue , a fight
among siblings, or simply girl trouble – John was the person
they turned to. It made him feel appreciated, needed – and he
wouldn't want to miss it in the world.
Gordon...I was looking forward to the snorkelling, too.
crushed look in the eyes of his younger brother, John made a
vow to himself. He would find a way back – would fight his
way, if it was needed – no matter how bad the pain, because he
couldn't stand seeing his brothers suffer. They needed him.
hour later, his determination had faded a bit and despair
threatened to take its place. John had wandered through the
hospital, had listened to doctors, patients and nurses, but
none of them had said anything valuable. After Gordon had
left, Virgil had situated himself in some far corner, humming
an unidentifiable tune. John had stayed for a while, but since
Virgil wasn't talking, he had seen no sense in it and left to
John had the distinct impression that he wasn't alone in his
predicament. He didn't have any proof for this, just a gut
feeling – but just as his brothers, John had come to rely on
his gut feeling, because it told him things his mind couldn't.
he got glances of other people who looked as lost as him –
wandering through the corridors, ignored by everyone else
around them, most of them injured, frightened – alone. There
had been a young woman - bearing an eerie resemblance to the
limb body the huge man had been carrying in the lobby - a
middle-aged man, and then a child, crying softly.
disappeared before John had had the chance to investigate
further. But it left him with a tingling feeling in his
stomach. Maybe he was in a kind of twilight zone – a place
where people went to when they were unconscious – or dead. And
maybe there were others just like him...trapped in some kind
earthquake had been huge. Many people had died. And who knew
how many more were buried under some kind of rubble.
the stream of people, deep in thought. Maybe he could find a
way back if he found a way to talk to those people? If they
Christ, not another one!" a voice snarled somewhere from below
him. John was so surprised that he jumped, pushing himself
away from the wall and whirling around to see who had been
speaking. It was stupid, he knew; nobody could see him, for
God's sake, but it was reflex.
stood small, old man, his hand on a wooden stick, the watery
green eyes blinking at him. His hair was almost pure white,
but the beard was grey, streaked with lines of silver. He wore
an old looking cap and clothes that had been out of fashion
dozens of years ago – and he was looking right at John.
me, what happened to you?" The oldtimer grumbled,
emphasizing the 'you' in a strange fashion.
mouth fell open. He quickly scanned the area, but there was
nobody in close proximity the old guy could be talking to.
Have ya become deaf as well?" The old man hit the ground with
his stick, the loud clacking sound racing through John's ears
like a lightning bolt.
see me?" he whispered, unable to believe what was happening.
snorted and raised his eyes heavenwards. "Of course I can see
ya, kiddo! Do you think me stupid, what?"
I'm...I'm..." Now John was utterly confused. Had he somehow
become visible again? Had everything changed without him
him out of his confusion. "I'm not dead!" The blonde protested
immediately. "I'm just...disconnected." The explanation
sounded lame, even to his own ears.
get a lot of those," the old man said as if he was conversing
about the weather, folding his hands over his walking stick.
"I figured you were one of them. You still have the colour,
John felt as if he had been thrown into a very bad movie. So
the only guy who could see him was a crazy madman? Thank you
very much, that would help his current situation.
A sigh was
his reply. "Why me? Alright, kiddo, I'll explain it, but I'll
only tell it once, so you'd better listen, because there's
going to be no repetition." A short pause, and then a
wide-sweeping gesture of a hand, that nearly knocked into
John. "Well...my name's Gustav Schnabelewopski , and if you
laugh at this, you're one dead man."
blinked and kept his mouth from twitching upward. It was a
hard battle, but he won – having four brothers was good
training. That earned him a nod of approval.
here for...oh, almost thirty years, I think." Schnabelewopski
tipped his nose carefully. "Died in an accident – was a long
time ago. Anyway, I didn't really want to leave, and so I
moment – so you're dead?" John had a sinking feeling in his
stomach. Talking with dead people couldn't be good. Actually,
it put him more than likely in the 'dead' or 'near-dead'
Schnabelewopski glared at him and gave him a whack with his
walking stick. "Ain't'cha listening? Of course I'm dead. How
else do you think I could see you? What do you think you
dead," John replied in indignation and rubbed the sore spot on
his leg (why did it hurt? Was he even corporeal?). "My body's
still alive..." He grimaced as he realized how awkward it was
to say 'my body' and actually mean it.
difference," Schnabelewopski waved it off. "Anyway...where was
I...really, the young people of today, no manners at all...ah.
So, I died in this accident, but I didn't want to leave and
started hanging around. Anyway, I wasn't the only one. You
see, when people die suddenly, their spirits can get confused.
And so they hang around, until they realize what has
happened...and then they disperse. Some of them become
permanent spirits, like me." He cackled. "Not many do that,
can see one over there," the old guy pointed at a crowd of
people not far away. "See the guy with the glasses and the
followed the direction and nodded. "Yes, I can see him."
blanched. "How do you know that?"
Can't you see how pale he's looking? All washed out. Like the
colour has leaked from him. I reckon his body is hanging on a
thin thread – not much longer and he'll die for real."
mean...his body is still alive?"
Schnabelewopski nodded. "Barely. The moment the body dies, the
spirits disappears – unless they're as stubborn as me and hang
around." There was the evil cackle again. John inched away
from the old guy, wondering whether ghosts could catch
insanity or not. He didn't get very far. The walking stick hit
him with more force than necessary. "Pay attention and look!
head snapped up. True enough, tie-guy had an almost startled,
then relieved look on his face. For a second, his whole body
seemed to flicker – and then he was gone, just like that.
Cow." The blonde gaped. "He's gone!"
it was going to happen."
gesticulated wildly. "I don't want to die like that! I want to
go back to my body!"
in the queue. Absolutely crowded today." Schnabelewopski shook
his had. "This earthquake really took a number on the people.
Haven't seen so many since the big road accident."
feeling that all this had to be some drug induced nightmare
grew stronger and stronger. "And so what's your role in all
smile. "I help. I watch. I talk. But most of all, I'm around."
rubbed his temples wearily, as the headache ebbed up again. He
wasn't quite sure if this was a good sign or not – did the
pain somehow link him to reality? Or was it a sign that he was
deteriorating, losing the last little bit of connection he
had? "And do you have any suggestion as to how I can return to
my body, and my life?"
Schnabelewopski turned his intense gaze in him. "Do you want
I want to! Why wouldn't I?"
was his reply. "You'd be surprised how many people chose not
to return. After all, it's painful – you only get disconnected
when things are really bad – which means that your body has
suffered a lot of painful injuries - maybe broken bones,
bruises, concussion, cuts, burns. You might even have damaged
your brain, or your eyes, or your spine. Going back to your
body means going through all that pain – accepting that you're
going to spend the next months in some crappy hospital bed –
realizing that your life might never be the same."
clenched his hands into fists. He had never thought of it that
way. Of course, he had seen his body – the injuries were
severe, and painful. Nobody had talked about longer lasting
effects yet, but that was because they were all busy worrying
whether he'd survive. What if he had suffered from
brain damage? What if he'd be unable to walk?
doesn't matter." As soon as he spoke the words, he knew they
were true. "If there's even the slightest chance that I can go
back to my life, I'm going to take it."
Schnabelewopski raised an eyebrow. "Then you're braver than
his head. "No. I'm not brave. I just have a life to return
eh?" This time, he could have sworn to see sympathy in the old
man's gaze. "Come with me for a bit, kiddo. I'll show you
away, not even waiting for a reply. John frowned in confusion
and then followed – there wasn't really anything else he could
do, was there?
this old guy might just give him the help he needed.
Chapter Three: Of ghosts, spirits,
and non-existent coffee cups
Ha!" Schnabelewopski continued his ramblings which had been
going on for at least twenty minutes now. In those (painfully
slow) minutes, he'd insulted the doctors ("don't know nothing
about anything!"), John, the nurses ("what are women doing
here, anyway"), the patients, the wall-colour, John, the world
of today ("all rubbish, I tell you"), the ugly looking waste
bins, John, International Rescue ("silliest name I ever
heard") oh, and not to mention John.
knew it all by now – he was a weakling, a coward, and stupid
because he wasn't able to read the old guy's thoughts. Oh, and
don't forget annoying – because he kept asking questions – and
a general pain in the ass.
John had been offended; it wasn't particularly nice to be
constantly insulted by the only person available to talk to.
But then he'd realized that it wasn't to be taken seriously;
Schnabelewopski was one of those old guys who weren't happy
unless they had something to grumble about. After realizing
that, it was actually quite funny to listen to him talk.
another grin. "Medicine does help people, you know." John
pointed out. "Without it, I'd already be dead."
GnaGnaGna!" The old man waved him off, unaware of the
amusement he was creating. John, who felt very much reminded
of his brothers, contained his mirth and schooled his
expression to one of careful indifference.
it's true. They're keeping my body alive, until I can find out
how to return to it." He paused, thinking he'd try out his
luck again. "Which, by the way, you could help me with. After
all, you have been around for quite a while – I bet you meet a
lot of people who are in the same situation. Can't you give me
a couple of pointers? Or at least answer my questions?"
Schnabelewopksi snorted. "Answer your questions! You see, the
young people of today, you don't want to do anything
yourselves, that's the problem. Now, when I died, I had to
find it out myself, and it was hard work – but you youngster
you, you just expect me to tell you everything..."
resisted the urge to roll his eyes. He'd had enough of the
'everything-was-better-when-I-was-young' speeches to last him
a lifetime. "How can I still feel pain, even though I'm not in
my body?" he asked, some part of his brain deciding that it
was probably best just to ignore what the old-timer said.
sharp bang, as the walking-stick collided once again with the
ground. "Gee, what do you think you are?"
Schnabelewopksi waggled his brows. "Oh, really? And what
defines a ghost?"
that's the problem. If you wanna understand what's going on
with you, then you need to know what you are. And you're not a
ghost – not yet. You're still alive. You're just not there."
nodded slowly. This actually made sense. He wasn't a ghost
yet, because ghosts were dead. He was more of a spirit, but
even that didn't fit it correctly..."I'm still John," he began
slowly. "But I'm not there. I've been...displaced."
suitable explanation, kiddo." Out of Schnabelewopksi's mouth,
it sounded like the sweetest compliment on the planet. "You're
an imprint – your mind – everything that makes you the person
you are. All the things modern science can't explain, that's
you, bundled up just like that. Now, why do you think can you
rubbed his chin, his mind trailing back to the various levels
of feeling he had encountered. He had been able to touch his
body, yet he could walk through walls. But he seemed to be
able to control it – otherwise he would simply slide through
the ground and keep falling until he had reached the centre of
pain...because I remember it?" John had to think of a familiar
phenomenon – phantom pain. Maybe it was something like that.
"Or maybe...maybe I feel pain because I imagine it? If I don't
have a body, then...then something is keeping up my
appearance. And that has to be myself, my subconscious! And of
course my subconscious knows what pain feels like!"
Schnabelewopksi nodded grimly. "Took you a while to figure it
out, eh?" Just out of pure spite, he hit John again with his
stick. The blonde flinched and grimaced. Was there no way he
could switch this pain thingie off?
why I had the coffee cup." The astronaut concluded, edging out
of Schnabelewopski's reach.
was the gruff reply. "You can have anything that you can think
of here. Just imagine it and it'll be there. Like a cigar, for
example." The object appeared in his hand, already alight.
Schnabelewokspi tossed it over his shoulder, where John
noticed it vanished.
chocolate muffin." A delicious looking muffin popped in his
hands, smelling alluringly. Schnabelewopksi took a bite,
munched happily and then dropped it to the ground, where it
scattered and then disappeared.
gorgeous redhead girl." Nothing happened. "Ah well,"
Schnabelewopksi said, disappointed "Nearly everything."
back another grin. The guy was funny, he had to admit that
much. "Well, why couldn't I have imagined a decent-tasting
Schnabelewopksi sent him a scornful glance. "Because your
imagination is crap? Or because you expect hospital coffee to
be foul? Or have you ever had a good one?"
no... and thank you for the compliment." John shook his head.
"Okay, another question: if I'm just this...well, imprint, or
spirit, or whatever you want to call it, how do I return to my
know. I never tried."
astronaut suppressed another sigh and growled. "Look. Can you
see the chestnut-haired man over there? The one who's standing
by himself, all slumped down?" He pointed at Virgil, who was
indeed not far away from their current position, leaning
against a wall as he waited for any news. "That's my brother."
John explained. "One of four. They've been here and I saw
them. At first I thought one of them was injured, but then I
found out it was me. Now, can you see how depressed he looks?"
Schnabelewopski followed his direction and nodded, almost
against his own will.
John's expression was firm. "They're going to be devastated if
I die. I don't want to leave them like that. They need me –
and I need them. I have a life. I love my life. I don't want
my brothers to suffer any more than necessary because, hell, I
know how hard it is to fear for someone's life! I've been
there, and by God, I don't want to repeat it again. But
they're going through that right now! Scott and Gordon are out
there, saving lives while they're fearing for mine!"
flashed. John seldom got angry, and when he did, he looked
positively dangerous. He didn't scream, didn't shout - he
didn't need to. His voice carried a silent danger, a message
that was not to be taken lightly.
"I want to
return, Mr Schnabelewopksi," John said in a cold voice, "And
you're not helping me. I don't mind feeling pain, I don't
mind...whatever, I just want to go back."
Schnabelewopksi seemed to ponder this. "Did you think about
the consequences, boy? Have you listened to a word I said? Did
you consider the pain, the possible handicaps, long-term
injuries, mental losses? What help will you be to your
brothers if you're a breathing vegetable? Do you think they
won't suffer then?"
swallowed, his throat dry. He had tried to not think of these
possibilities, but now they flashed through his mind with
burning brightness. Him, stuck in a wheel-chair, or – even
worse – his intellect gone, so that he was forced to spend the
rest of his life looking at the stars without ever knowing
was quite sure that there were some things worse than death.
a possibility." His gaze was firm; his eyes didn't betray the
doubts he was feeling. "I can't base my life on 'ifs' – I'd
never get anywhere. How can I give up before I even attempted
the fight? That would be a cowardly way out. No. No, I want to
go back, and I'll do whatever is necessary. Never mind the
Schnabelewopksi clutched his walking stick harder, the
knuckles turning white – and then threw his head back
laughing. "What a nice little speech, kiddo!" he guffawed.
"When I first saw you, I thought you were some wet noodle, but
you do seem to have some spunk in you! Very well. I will tell
you what I know, but it is not much."
bristled at the 'wet noodle' comment, but managed to keep his
temper in check. After all, he had gotten what he wanted.
Schnabelewopksi hammered with the walking stick on the ground,
startling the blonde. "Sooner or later, you're going to feel
the pull, and that's when you decide-"
smarty, the pull. Like, when your body reaches the critical
point? You'll get pulled back, and the bond either snaps or
you return to your body."
blinked. "So...I don't have to do anything? I just have to
wait? That seems a bit...odd."
Schnabelewopksi shrugged. "I dunno what else you could do.
Trying to dive into your body? Willing yourself there? Naw.
Doesn't work. You've been sent away from your body by your
subconscious – and your subconscious will decide when to pull
you back, usually when you reach a critical point. Then it's
up to you to make the right decision."
met many people who...were in the same situation?"
The old man cackled. "Heaps of them! The funny thing is that
half of them don't even remember that they wandered from their
body when they wake up. Only the young kids do – their minds
seem to be more receptive to strange ideas. But then nobody
believes them anyway."
flooded John. "So a lot of them do return to their bodies."
really." Schnabelewopksi grinned. "I'd say about one third
actually manage it – the rest simply vanish, while the body
dies. Some stay around for quite a while, keeping me company."
that was something to look forward to, John reflected wryly;
having the company of a grumpy old man while fearing for your
life. "So what's the longest somebody stayed?"
question." A moment of silence stretched between them, the
hospital's busy noise doing nothing to fill it. "The ones who
are in a coma are always the worst. I had this one girl – she
was about eighteen, I think – she stayed around for almost two
months!" John's eyes boggled. He didn't want to think what it
would do to his family if he stayed out of action for two
months! Not to mention how his muscles would weaken!
"And...did she wake up?"
Schnabelewopksi sent him a piercing gaze. "Yes, in fact she
did...but the accident permanently blinded her. She wasn't
very happy about that."
recognized the underlying warning. He simply shrugged, as if
to say 'I don't care'. It wasn't entirely true – he did care,
he just didn't want the old cot to know. Being blind meant
never seeing his precious stars again; but still, it was
always better than being dead. And he had seen no damage on
his face...so his eyes were probably alright.
vowed to himself that he'd find out more about his injuries at
the next opportunity. He hated not knowing.
months! That was the hell of a time! What was he supposed to
do if his subconscious decided to let him wait that long? Was
there no way to speed up the process? Maybe this girl had
become blind because she had been looking at Schnabelewopksi
for two months...it would be enough to scar anyone.
months." He rubbed his head, which hadn't stopped aching. Why
couldn't he stop his imagination from hurting him?
months." Schnabelewopksi confirmed. And then slid forward to
peer into an examination room where an almost naked woman lay
on the bed, being bandaged by stressed looking nurse. There
was a look of glee on his face, which caused John to groan.
Great. Of all people to be stuck with, it had to be a grumpy
a look at that, kid!"
his head fall in his hands. What had he done to deserve this?
had long slid down the horizon and the hospital was finally
coming to a rest. With the roads cleared, most of the injured
had been transported to other places, so that the hospital
wasn't cramped any more, simply filled to its normal capacity.
didn't know how many hours had passed – six? Eight? - but it
had been quite a while, and without bodily needs like hunger,
it was difficult to tell the time. Everything seemed to drag
on slowly, and he had the slight suspicion that time didn't
move in the same way for spirits as it did for the real world.
times, he had watched Virgil, until he couldn't bear it any
longer. Somehow, sitting and looking at his brother while
knowing that he couldn't hear him made it even worse.
And so he
had wandered off, leaving Schnabelewopksi behind (the old guy
was getting on his nerves with his ramblings), seeking
solitude in some far-off corner of the hospital. And he
amazing what you noticed when you were watching – really
watching. So far, he had found about the relationship between
a nurse and the janitor, the lack of toilet paper in the men's
toilet, the stack of porn in the office of the head doctor,
and the habit of several people to talk to themselves. The
last one was actually quite funny; John knew (from experience)
that people only talked to themselves when nobody was around.
Without them knowing that he was listening, he got amazing
tidbits of self-directed conversations...
enough to write a book about, John reflected. Maybe he'd do
that once he was back – the time in the hospital was bound to
be boring. But how could you write about something like that?
Nobody would believe him, not even his family.
probably wouldn't even remember it. John's brow furrowed. It
seemed to be a bit of a waste – why bother with this
out-of-body crap when you couldn't even remember it
picture of his copper-haired brother flashed into his mind.
Gordon had been in a coma for a long time, while the rest of
the family had feared for his life. Now that John was in the
same position, he couldn't help but wonder – had his younger
brother gone through an experience similar to his? Had he left
his body and wandered the hospital?
mentioned it, but then Gordon still found it difficult to
discuss that episode in his life. After his long stay in the
hospital and the slow process of recovering, Gordon had thrown
himself back into life with full force, leaving all the bad
things behind him. But the whole family knew that sometimes he
had nightmares. Whenever Gordon was up early in the morning,
nursing some coffee, it was a clear sign that his sleep had
to imagine his brother walking around the hospital, listening
to their conversations and trying to find a way back to his
was better that he didn't remember. John had certainly talked
a lot of bullshit in the many hours of lonely vigil beside
Gordon. He had rambled on about all sorts of things, spoken
freely of his fears, and he knew that the rest of the family
had done the same.
had it been for Gordon?
them had ever dared to ask. It was a taboo topic. The case was
closed, the past stayed the past, and they were by nature a
family that looked ahead instead of looking back.
be the same?
to think of his own body. With a sudden jolt, he realised that
he had explored every part of the hospital, but hadn't been
back in his own room ever since the first time. Coward,
he scolded himself, because the mere idea was creepy enough.
It was his own body, dammit, and one wasn't supposed to look
at it from far-away.
his jaw and turned hot on his heels. If Mr Schnabelewopksi had
been right, then it could take ages for him to return. Maybe
there was some way to speed up the process – or maybe he
needed to make sure that he was still alive, not some ghost
like the old guy.
How had it
gotten that far? Yesterday he had been looking forward to his
stay on the island, the relaxing days on the beach, familiar
banter with his brothers. Now the only thing he was looking
forward to was either death or a very prolonged hospital stay.
again, life never was. It certainly hadn't been fair on Gordon
when he'd had his accident. Or on the whole family, when
Lucille Tracy had died.
"Complaining won't help you, John Tracy." he snorted and then
winced. This talking-to-himself thing was getting routine –
not good. Not at all.
determined, the blonde made his way to his own room. He slid
through the wall without any resistance and felt a cold shiver
when he saw himself lying on the bed. Pale, unmoving, deadly
white. The beeping of the machine clashed with the soft
hissing sounds of the breathing apparatus. John despised the
fact that he had to rely on a machine to keep him alive.
Couldn't he breathe on his own?
gaze wandered further and he discovered the second figure in
the room. To his surprise, it wasn't Virgil, but Scott. When
had he returned? And why hadn't he noticed him? Shouldn't he
be aware of it when somebody was in the same room as him?
disconcerted, John stepped closer, aware of the closed-off
look on Scott's face. It was dark outside, and only then the
astronaut realized that a lot of time must have passed. The
rescue was probably all wrapped up, the vehicles tucked safely
away, and here stood Scott his silent vigil over his bedside.
Scott," John whispered. "I know you can't hear me, but thanks
anyway. For keeping me company, I mean."
brother was sitting on one of those hospital chairs – made out
of plastic and designed to be uncomfortable – and staring at
the silent body. John's gaze followed his.
I hope I
normally don't look like that.
that he was pale would have been an understatement. The white
gauze wrapped around his head barely differed from the pallor
of his skin; only the dark blood stains stood out sharply. His
jaw was slack, the tube firmly attached to it, keeping him
breathing, keeping him alive. His chest was bandaged, as well
as his hands - he dimly remembered digging, his nails
breaking. The rest of his body was covered by a white sheet,
but there was no doubt that the injuries were severe.
hard, John stepped closer to have a look at the chart hanging
beside his bed; the one where his injuries were described in
detail. The list was far too long for his taste.
ribs. Punctured lung. A developing infection that had to be
fought using antibiotics. Plus the usual stuff. Abrasions.
Surface wounds. Bruises. A sprained wrist. Hairline fracture
in the fibula.
‘craniocerebral injury’ stood written at the very top of the
list, and under it, in a messy scrawl that was hard to
identify - MRI Scan advised – regular checks needed’.
suspected that with all the mess going on, they hadn’t been
able to treat him as they would have liked. But he didn’t like
it. It meant that something was going on with his brain, and
since that was the part of his body he valued the most, he
felt quite anxious.
Schnabelewopksi’s warnings flashed through his mind. John saw
himself for a moment as a drooling imbecile, his wits and
intelligence gone from his body, unable to even form a
coherent sentence, while his brothers sent him pitiful looks.
shuddered. Sometimes it was scary to have a vivid imagination.
his brains, he would be useless to his family. A burden. A
Tracy who wasn’t strong - that was unheard of.
what you’re thinking." The voice startled John, as he’d been
on the verge of sinking onto a full-blown depression.
had been brooding, Scott had scoped up his hand and held it
tightly between his roughened fingers. "Half the time I never
know what goes through that blonde head of
his breath. It seemed like an awful private moment, and he
contemplated leaving the room - he felt like an intruder. But
in the end, curiosity won, and the need to be with someone he
knew; and besides, Scott was talking to John. He just
didn’t know that his brother could hear him.
everything else, it was interesting to watch. Scott wasn’t the
talkative type – every time a conversation steered in an
emotional direction, he got nervous and uncomfortable. And so
the tall man fidgeted on his chair, bit his lips and searched
for the right words.
have laughed if the situation hadn’t been so damn sad.
dreaming?" Scott wondered aloud.
"I wish it
was that easy," was John's reply.
you would wake up, John." The word's were barely audible.
"You're starting to worry me. Yeah, yeah – I know. I always
worry too much, you told me so yourself numerous times." Scott
gave a dry laugh. "But I reckon my worry is justified. That
building really did a number on you, John. When they told me
that you had stopped breathing..."
trailed off. "That was one of the worst moments in my life. I
thought you had died, and I...I couldn't bear that."
Scott..." John's heart went out to the distressed man. He knew
what it was like to worry – he did it all the time when he was
on Thunderbird Five. It must be ten times worse for Scott – he
always found a way to blame himself, and the inactivity of
waiting drove him crazy.
doctors are worried about your brain," the dark-haired man
continued. "You took a bad blow to your head. It scares me.
You're one of the smartest people I know, Johnny - Brains
included. Your brain always seems to be a step ahead the rest
of us. I'm good when it comes to quick decisions, but you're
the really smart one." A smile played around Scott's lips. "I
remember when we were kids – you were always off reading a
book, while we stormed the house and drove Grandma crazy. Dad
joked once that you were the easiest kid – he just had to give
you a couple of books and you were happy."
grimaced. "Yeah, I know – good, ol' boring John." He had
always been a bit of a loner, which was cause of many jokes
from his more extrovert brothers.
again, you only had to know the right tricks to calm everyone
down," Scott's smile widened. "With Virgil, it was music – and
you could happily throw Gordon in a pool and he would stay
there for hours, never making a sound. Even Alan had his soft
spot – race cars – I don't know what mine was, though. But
yours were books."
had to grin as well when the familiar scenes flashed into his
mind. Oh, I know your weakness, Scott. You did have one.
But you never realized it.
me, I'm rambling." Scott pinched the bridge of his nose.
"Talking to you as if you could hear me - listen to me the way
you always do."
that's the great thing about you. You always listen. I don't
know how you do it, but...I can always talk to you, and I know
the others feel the same. You don't even say much, it's just
how you listen...must be a gift." Scott fell silent, probably
remembering the numerous times John had forced him to talk
after a rescue. Or maybe forced was the wrong word – the
blonde would just look at him and then Scott was spilling his
paused, his voice weary. "You know that you can always tell me
anything? Yet I never know what goes through your head. You're
an enigma. It's pretty easy to figure out Alan – a lot more
tough when it comes to Gordon, but just because he's so sneaky
– but you and Virgil, you can be difficult. There were times
when I wondered...who listens to the listener?"
tilted his head, surprised at the sudden insight coming from
his usually so stoic brother. He never went to other people
with his problems – must be habit, he guessed – but he didn't
mind, because it was just his way of dealing with things.
really hope that the damage on your brain...that it isn't
serious..." Scott changed the topic, apparently uncomfortable
with the amount of feelings he had just put into his words. "I
think that would be the worst for you, wouldn't it?"
Definitely. His brother sure knew him well.
you wake up?" There was it again, the sentence he had asked so
many times while Gordon had been unconscious. In the many
nights he had spent there, he had always wondered – what was
going through Gordon's mind? Why wasn't he returning? Had he
found a better place, was he too tired, in too much pain? Or
was he fighting, struggling, against the weakness of his own
body? And now it was him whom this sentence was directed at;
it was John who lay there pale and unresponsive, and even
though he was the one, he still didn't fully understand as for
why he wasn't waking up.
give up, John, because there's always a chance. But if you
give up, this chance will be lost. It's easy to give up –
surviving is the hard part." Scott paused. "We need you to
come back to us, Johnny.", he continued, voice thick. "Damn,
I...I order you to come back! You are a valuable member of
International Rescue, you can't just not come back! We
need you! I need you!"
three words were barked in a gruff tone, but John still
noticed the underlying affection and concern.
I'm so sorry.
His mind circled back to happier times, the ones they had
smiled. You do have a soft spot, Scott Tracy. Two of them,
actually. The first is flying – and the second is us – your
Chapter Four: Furry friends and
watching your brother from an invisible point of view had a
sort of excitement of its own, the novelty soon wore off.
Scott fell silent very quickly, just sitting by his brother's
side, lost in his own thoughts. John knew the feeling very
well; had been prone to it on more than one occasion. How many
hours had he spent like that? His mind leaping in circles –
one second worrying, the next remembering the most
insignificant things about the injured person, character
traits, habits, favourite food, anything...
had no doubt that Scott was going through the same ordeal.
And, so John mused, he deserved to have some real privacy for
it. He already felt bad for intruding, knew that Scott would
be very embarrassed about his emotional outburst – but on the
other hand, John was glad he had heard it. His oldest brother
was a very private person, and he would never have said those
things if he had imagined that his brother could hear him.
John had been witness to something very precious; and he hoped
this particular memory would stay in his mind no matter what.
privacy wouldn't last long, anyhow, knowing his family – soon
they'd be crowding round John's bedside.
hope I manage to return before that.
why he found himself wandering again. He was almost glad when
he stumbled upon Schnabelewopski; it was a nice distraction
from the depressing thoughts that kept going through his head.
you are," the old guy nodded as if greeting a passing
acquaintance. "Well? More enlightenment for ya?"
funny." John didn't grimace, but he came close. "I visited
myself – well, my body, or whatever you might call it – and
watched my brother."
Schnabelewopksi nodded wisely. "Ahh. Family. Yes. Very
important. It's amazing what you can overhear when they don't
know you're there. Did they gossip about you?"
mere idea of his family gossiping like a bunch of old
housewives was ridiculous.
It's always nice to get some juicy titbits to blackmail them
astronaut rolled his eyes. This was so typical – he was pretty
sure that the guy had been a living plague when he was still
alive. Schnabelewopski wasn't a bad man– just a very, very
annoying one. There probably was a good heart somewhere under
the gruff exterior, he guessed, but so far, he hadn't found
"It was a
very sad and solemn visit, if you must know."
nothing, kiddo." Schnabelewopksi whacked him with the walking
stick. "Be polite to your elders!"
John rubbed his shin. He was pretty sure that there was
already a bruise forming...well, there would have been, if
this body had been real...but it hurt nonetheless. "Stop doing
Schnabelewopksi grinned. "Me? Hitting you? You must be
mistaken. Did you forget that we are incorporeal? How could I
hit you? You can't even feel pain!"
his hands in the air and shook his head. That moment,
Schnabelewopski reminded him very much of Gordon. The
copper-haired Tracy had the same way of smirking when he knew
that he was pulling one over you and you couldn't do anything
against it. With the only exception that Schnabelewopski
looked a whole lot meaner and uglier.
please," John said in a resigned tone. He had learned a long
time ago that resistance was pointless. In fact, giving the
impression that he didn't care at all was the best shield
against such antics.
enough, Schnabelewopski chuckled, but didn't hit him again,
changing the topic instead. "We sure do have a lot of traffic
today. Just met another one like you."
Another one who is out of his body?" John as curious. "Where
is he? Can I see him?"
can. Ya can do anything you want. But ye won't find it much
help; just a little brat, that's all."
stomach sank. "A child?"
Little girlie. Six years, tops."
blonde's heart went out to the mention of the girl. It was bad
enough being stuck here as an adult; how frightening must it
be for a child? She wouldn't even understand what was
happening – why she was unable to talk with her parents, why
nobody noticed her...it would traumatize her!
decision was quickly made. "Where is she?"
Schnabelewopski raised an eyebrow at him. "What, the brat?
Last time I saw here, she was hiding under a table in the
resisted the urge to tell him off for his rudeness. "Will she
be able to see and hear me?"
should be. It depends on her, really. Some people work
themselves in a frenzy – don't see anything, until they fade.
But those never last long. A couple of minutes, half an hour
at the tops."
John set his face and marched towards the waiting area, which
was considerably less crowded now that the worst of the
disaster was over. A loud clacking sound told him that
Schnabelewopski was following him, but he didn't really care.
There was a child that needed help; and for a moment, that
shoved the hopelessness of his own situation out of the way.
the people in the waiting room, hesitating as he saw several
children. They didn't react to him in any way, so he guessed
that those were real ones – however macabre that sounded. But
soon enough, he glimpsed a small, huddled form under one of
the tables. A questioning look in Schnabelewopski's direction
told him that this was indeed the aforementioned girl.
careful steps, he walked over and lowered himself to the
ground. The girl was a scrawny little thing; her navy blue
shirt torn and covered in blood, her jeans ripped open and
filthy. Her black hair hung limp across face, which was
covered in scratches. She was clutching something against her
chest, so tightly that it was impossible to make out what it
was – and she looked awfully familiar.
John said in a soft voice.
snapped open and stared at him. The girl looked ready to bolt,
and John couldn't blame her. He had probably looked the same a
couple of hours ago. And then it hit him why she appeared
familiar; it was the girl he had seen on the gurney, on his
first venture through the hospital.
hurt you," he promised and inched a bit closer. "My name's
John. What's yours?"
him warily, unable to believe that this stranger was really
talking to her. Everybody else had been ignoring her so far.
smiled, doing his best to look innocent and trusting. "I know
you are pretty scared. Something weird happened to you and me,
and now we are stuck. Nobody else can see you. But I can. And
you can see me." He stretched out his arm and willed himself
to be as solid as possible. His fingers touched her shoulder,
causing her to flinch. "You see? I'm real."
nodded and wetted her lips. "You...can see me?"
course." His hand closed around her shoulder and gave a
comforting squeeze. "Won't you tell me your name?"
beautiful name." John slowly slid into a sitting position
beside her. "So Cassie, can you tell me what happened to you?"
clutched the thing even tighter – it was some sort of stuffed
toy, John reckoned, and tried to make out a shape, but the
light under the table wasn't very good.
shopping with my Da." she announced in a trembling voice. "And
then everything was loud and fell down and then I hurt!"
It was probably fruitless to question a six-year-old about
something as complex as that. She probably didn't even
understand the concept of death...
me, Cassie, have you by any chance seen your...er, a girl that
looks very much like you? Lying in a hospital bed?"
needed to make sure how badly she was hurt, and for that, he
needed to see her body. Damn, that sounded...wrong.
looked at him. "It was like a dream. There were people in
white coats." She paused to think. "You don't have a white
blonde smiled. "I'm not a doctor. Just someone who's here to
helps me." There was the slightest spark in her eyes which
encouraged him to prod further.
is this Fuchur?"
lucky dragon!" was the proud reply and true enough, a small,
stuffed dragon was pointed into his direction. The animal
looked like it had suffered more than its owner. Ruddy and
dirty, the toy looked like it had been used as a oil rag. Both
wings were ripped off and there was a hole in his tail where
the stuffing was coming out.
knew about the importance of toys (Alan had once gone
ballistic when his stuffed pig had disappeared) and he didn't
even crack a smile. "He sure looks like a fierce dragon to
doesn't he?" Pride shone in the pale little face. "And he's
supposed to bring me luck."
maybe Fuchur was taking a day off when this earthquake
happened; I wouldn't exactly call this a result of luck.
his expression, he managed to look impressed. "I bet he does."
looked a bit more relaxed, so John took the chance to let his
eyes run over her. She didn't seem in any pain, though her
clothes were blood stained. Well, that was to be expected.
After all, her body was elsewhere, so she shouldn't be in any
finally I found one advantage of being a spirit – you don't
need to bother with your body. But then again, that means you
miss the good stuff, as well...dammit.
he thought about it, his headache had disappeared as well. It
only came back when he really had to think about something –
or maybe it was a sign? Maybe something was happening to his
body whenever he had a headache?
certainly a train of thought worth pursuing, but right now,
Cassie held more importance.
you and Fuchur meet anyone in this hospital?" John asked in a
"I saw my
parents." A dark cloud passed over Cassie's face, and poor
Fuchur was clutched tighter than ever. "But...but they ignored
me! So I ran away...it was mean of them!"
winced. The poor girl. "Your parents didn't want to be mean.
They simply didn't see you."
stupid! I'm here!"
too." John searched for the right words. How did you explain
to someone that he was severed from his body? And to a small
child, at that? "But you and me, we both had an accident.
Something happened to us – we were hurt, badly – and now
nobody can see and hear us."
Cassie frowned. "Am I dead? Pete's cat died last month. We
poked her, but she didn't move."
you're not dead-"
was difficult. For the first time in his life, John was at a
loss of words. "But you need to find your way back to your
b...life, and your parents. Where did you see them?"
"In one of
those ugly rooms on the second floor. I walked down here all
on my own." she added with a touch of pride.
great." John turned over his shoulder to see Schnabelewopski
ogling a petite nurse. That guy...a sigh escaped his lips.
come with me? I'd like to see your parents. Maybe we can find
a way to get you back to them." He held out his hand. Cassie
took it eagerly.
not mad at me?"
swallowed against the lump in his throat. "No...no, not at
all. Believe me. They'll be very happy once you go back to
Cassie agreed amiably and crawled out from under the table,
careful not to let go of her stuffed dragon. Her hand
disappeared in John's big one, but she didn't seem to mind.
Schnabelewopski had noticed their progression and, after one
last glance in the direction of the nurse's décolleté,
strolled over to them. "What'cha doing, kiddo?"
her up. I want to find out how bad it is."
can't do anything, anyway." The old guy shrugged. "It's all up
to her. She has to fight her way back."
a surge of cold anger. "She is just a kid!"
From my point of view, you are just a kid, as well.
What do ya want to do, shove her in the right direction?"
statement hit, more so because it was true. He didn't know
what he could do; he just wanted to help her
(because it was what he did!), and if it only meant comforting
her in a way he could, then so be it.
steel-blue eyes, John levelled his gaze at Schnabelewopski.
"You know, I don't really care about your egoistical
ramblings. My job is it to help and rescue people; and that's
what I am going to do, no matter where or what I
Cassie forward, who had been following the exchange with wide
eyes. "Come on, Cassie; we're going."
She stayed close to him, a lost little girl, her only link to
reality a small, battered toy dragon.
of Cassie's body was almost worse than seeing his own. Maybe
it was because she looked so small in the huge hospital bed.
Maybe it was because her father was sitting in a wheelchair
close to his daughter, cheeks glistening with tears. Maybe it
was because Cassie stood just outside the room, where he had
left her so that she wouldn't be traumatised.
it was because she didn't belong here, should instead be
outside playing, letting Fuchur fly through the air, running
around and being alive.
didn't belong here.
helplessness was the worst. What could he do? How could he
bring her back, make sure that she'd survive?
couldn't, and that thought nearly killed him.
wasn't attached to a respirator – that was a good sign, wasn't
it? - but she was on oxygen and her face looked far too pale.
There wasn't an inch of her skin that wasn't swathed in
bandages. Even if she survived, this girl would have a helluva
road to go.
studied her chart. Cassie had slipped into a coma as well, but
hers hadn't been caused by a head injury. Instead, it was a
combination of blood loss and lack of air. The information
wasn't very detailed, but apparently Cassie had been buried
and the air supply had run out, leaving her on the brink of
death when they finally found her.
was good, wasn't it? At least her brain was intact, which
meant she wouldn't have to deal with any mental handicaps. Her
body, though...well, John was no doctor, but the road to
recovery would be long, though he really did believe that she
would be fine.
she managed to return to her body.
one last glance at the worried parents, he stepped out of the
room again. Cassie had huddled down on the floor, her face
buried in the dragon's chest.
John tried his best to sound encouraging.
"I want to
go home," came the wavery reply.
you do. I want to go home as well." The blonde didn't like how
dejected Cassie looked. The situation was getting to her.
Distraction was needed. John immediately slipped into his role
as a comforter. "So, what's your home like? Do you have any
brothers or sisters?"
That must be great. I have four brothers. That can be pretty
peered out from under the dragon's fuzzy frame. "Do they all
have golden hair?"
John chuckled and placed himself on the ground, close to the
girl. "Only one of them is blonde like me – Alan, the
youngest. The others have different hair colours."
Cassie contemplated this. "Are they nice?"
out her stuffed dragon. "Do they have a friend like Fuchur?"
caught off guard by the question, had to laugh. "No...no, I'm
afraid none of us has a guardian as brave as Fuchur. Though we
did have something like that when we were younger."
sensing a story, Cassie inched closer.
astronaut nodded, as he remembered the times when his brothers
had been toddlers. "I had a bird; I reckon it was an owl, or
an eagle. She was called 'Maia', after a star in the Pleiades
– that's a constellation on the sky." A smile fluttered over
his face as he thought of his beloved stars.
the others, let me think...Alan – the youngest, you remember –
he had this massive black pig which he would carry everywhere.
I think it was called Mr Hanky, but don't ask me why. Virgil
had a teddy bear; what was his name again? Ah yes, Doolittle,
just like the character of the story. And Gordon...what did
Gordon have?" He frowned, trying to remember. Gordon had
always been independent; had there ever been a time when he
had needed a comfort toy?
of course! Gordon's furry friend was a blue dolphin – I should
have known that immediately."
his name?" Cassie listened in rapt fascination.
searched through his memories. "Starfish, I believe. We tried
to convince him that it wasn't a starfish, but he wouldn't
listen. Always a bit of a pighead, that one. Said that when a
dolphin jumps out of the water, it wants to reach the stars,
so he's a starfish." He smiled. "I liked that explanation a
wondered where those stuffed animals had ended up. After
growing up, the boys had discarded their toys, feeling too old
to need them any longer, and they had probably been thrown
away. Which was kind of sad, really.
about the last one?"
thrown out of his reminiscing, he didn't know at first what
she was talking about.
Scott?" John scratched his head. "You know, I have no idea.
He's older than me, so he probably gave up his stuffed animal
way before I can remember...but that's a good question. I've
got to ask Dad about it once I get back."
giggled, pleased that she had helped in some fashion. John was
relieved to see that the haunted look had left her eyes, at
least for now. Sometimes he envied children for being able to
forget so easily.
black-haired girl leaned back, her hand stroking Fuchur
absently. John could almost imagine seeing the wheels turning
in her head and smiled involuntarily. This one was tough, that
was for sure; and smart as well.
fun?" a voice snarled behind him. Schnabelewopksi again. Damn
being friendly." John looked up at the old man. "And you?"
what I always do. Say, shouldn't you be looking out for
yourself instead of helping some kid? I thought you wanted to
go back no matter what."
that rush of anger again. "The kid's name is Cassie, and right
now, she needs my help." For him, that was explanation enough.
Schnabelewopski watched him with a gleam in his eyes. "I see.
I reckon she's already being pulled – look at her colours."
John jerked his head around and true enough, it seemed as if
the colour was leaking out of Cassie, making her pale and
shadowy. Just as he had seen it before, shortly before...
John exclaimed, the lump of ice in his stomach increasing.
Panicked, he shook her by the shoulder. "What are you
green eyes stared at him. "It's like a dream..."
Remembering Schnabelewopksi's warning, John took her face in
his hands and forced her to look at him. "Cassie, I know that
this is hard on you, but please listen. You want to go back,
don't you? You want to go back to your parents? You have to
think about it with all your power – can you do that? Come on,
think about your parents...and your home, your friends, your
nodded, just as her whole frame seemed to flicker.
that she was trying, John nodded. "Tell me about them. Come
on, Cass, tell me. What do you like doing the best?"
"I'm...learning to ride a bike."
great! And you want to go back for that, don't you?"
about how much fun it is, Cassie. Think about how great it
will be when you can ride your bike and you can go everywhere
with your friends."
smile fluttered over her face. "Down...to the sweet
shop...whenever I want..."
with a snap, it was over. The colour streamed back into
Cassie's face and she was there again, whole and aware. Still
in her spirit form, of course, but at least she hadn't
vanished. A look of confusion crossed her face and, almost out
of instinct, she snuggled up to John, seeking whatever comfort
she could find.
himself, the blonde threw a questioning glance at Mr
Schnabelewopski. To his surprise, the old man was smiling. "Ye
just won a major crisis there. Good job!"
complimented was such a far cry from the usual rough behaviour
that John blinked in surprise. "But...she's still here."
she didn't die, either. I reckon they had some sort of crisis
with her body – heart failure, lack of oxygen, who knows – and
she won, at least for now. You pulled her back."
didn't..." John felt very lost. Had he condemned Cassie to a
livelong existence as a spirit?
Schnabelewopski seemed to read his thoughts. "Don't'cha worry.
She'll be fine. She's going in the right direction. I'd worry
more about yourself, if I were you."
didn't reply. He worried about himself, too.
Cassie had been playing 'I spy' for hours, and yet neither of
them showed any sign of tiredness. How long had they been
awake? He didn't know. The night had long passed and they were
nearing the early hours of morning. It was another one of
those eerie signs that showed him how screwed up everything
was. Unable to feel real pain, exhaustion. Unable to be.
two a.m., his father had arrived, clad in his IR uniform,
followed closely by Grandma Tracy.
watched them for a while, Cassie in his trail (she had grown
quite attached to him), but after a while, the air had gotten
too heavy and he had left, unable to bear it any longer.
Seeing his family in pain was much worse than sitting here and
taking care of Cassie.
his relief, the girl's body wasn't far away from his own. They
were both in intensive care, their rooms only a couple of
corridors away from each other. John had chosen a position in
the middle; a corner with a couple of chairs in it, where they
could sit without disturbing anyone. Or better, without
someone walking through them, which had scared the living
daylights out of Cassie the first time it happened.
bored." the girl stated, expressing what John felt. Spying on
people lost its appeal after a couple of hours.
sighed in frustration. "Me, too."
the funny grandpa go?"
she meant Schnabelewopski, John shrugged. "He's been on and
off ever since I've been here. Don't worry about him, he's
just an old cot."
shouldn't say that," Cassie reprimanded. "Ma tells to always
be polite to elder people."
me, he's the exception to the rule." John leaned his head
against the wall. The tense feeling in his stomach had been
growing stronger and stronger, and it had nothing to do with
hours passed, the more anxious he got. What if the separation
of his body was permanent? And how could he help Cassie? Her
parents were desperate, and the girl herself didn't fare any
better, judging from the tight grip she still maintained on
The situation was hopeless. And worst of all, he couldn't even
do something; instead, he was sitting around, counting the
tiles on the floor and nearly crawling up the wall in
question caught him totally off-guard and he blinked. "What?"
remained patient. "An angel. You are one, right?"
makes you think that?" Despite everything else, a smile lit
his face. "No, I'm not an angel, just a person, like you."
you're helping me. And nobody can see you. Ma always says that
angels help people. And you have golden hair."
argument didn't make any sense, but then again, few things
did. "And you think angels have blonde hair?"
blonde. Golden." Cassie seemed annoyed at this rather
slow angel-adult. "You're going to bring me home, aren't you?"
faith in her voice made him feel uneasy. He couldn't exactly
promise...and yet she looked at him with these trusting eyes.
John was torn.
golden then," he gave in, his heart heavy. "But Cassie, I'm
really not an angel. I'm just -"
interrupted by a shrill alarm coming from further down the
corridor. Both their heads jerked up and they watched as a
nurse hurried towards the sound, followed by a doctor.
Suddenly, there was an awful lot of commotion, and John
realized with a feeling of dread that it seemed to accumulate
in front of his room.
here," he told Cassie, trying to hide the rising panic, and
got up to investigate.
was shouting orders, and then there were a lot of people,
running, shouting, disturbing the (relative) peace of the
hospital. John's heart pounded in his chest, and he felt the
old headache ebb up again. Damn. Damn. This wasn't good.
got a problem, boy." Schnabelewopski materialized beside him,
giving John a start, his face grim.
a glare in his direction, then decided it was better to ignore
him. He closed his eyes, concentrated and stepped right
through the wall. He didn't like doing this – it made him
realize just how bad his situation was – but with the door
already crowded, there was no other way. Stepping through a
nurse or one of his brothers was unthinkable.
of the room was dim, only his bed illuminated brightly. The
doctor was examining him, checking his pupils, looking
worried. Then she barked orders to the nurses, who promptly
started wheeling the bed out of the room. John shivered as his
own body moved past him, frozen in time, appearing just like a
corpse. The urge to run away grew imminent, and yet he stayed,
couldn't help but watch with morbid fascination.
there, inquiring what was happening, and then his father, an
overwhelming presence and yet so helpless. John couldn't bear
to see their anguish and so he almost ran after his bed,
determined to find out what was happening.
John!" Cassie's voice stopped him in his tracks. She had
followed him, Fuchur clutched to her chest. "Where are you
He shook his head. "I gotta go, Cassie, there's something
happening and I need to be there..."
so frightened, brimming with tears. John only had to look at
them for a second and relented. "Alright, you can come with
me, but be quick!"
slid her small hand into his. Schnabelewopski – somehow
managing to be just where the action was - snorted at them
both. "If you keep that up, boy, you're going to be a goner
sooner than you think."
John gritted out, nearing the end of his patience. He had lost
sight of the doctor and wanted to find her again.
you're reaching a breaking point. Focus on yourself."
of his mind told John that maybe Schnabelewopski was only
trying to help him. That he actually cared about his
well-being, wanted to nudge him into the right direction. But
the other, much more prominent part was frustrated, confused,
and getting very, very angry. It was all too much; he had to
care for Cassie (without even the slightest clue how); he was
afraid of dying; and then the constant reminder of the pain he
was involuntarily causing tore at his nerves.
focusing on whatever I like." John almost snapped. "And Cassie
is the one who needs help! Like I said, it's my job to save
people, and if I have to give up my life to do it, then dammit,
I'm going to do it!"
shocked. "Angel! Swearing is bad!"
men looked at the girl, who regarded them indignantly. Then
John burst out laughing. "Oh Cassie, you're priceless!" He
ruffled her hair, glad for the small lift of his spirits.
"Thanks for reminding me. I shall try not to do it again!"
to Schnabelewopski. "And you keep out of this." The astronaut
warned, his finger raised. "You might feel all mighty and
powerful, but frankly, I don't care. I don't belong to
International Rescue for nothing. I've faced death more times
than you, and I know how to deal with it. So stop nagging me;
I need to find out what's happening to myself and Cassie."
Schnabelewopski opened his mouth like a fish, but no words
came out. Instead, he huffed n indignation and slammed the
walking stick on the ground. "Alright, kiddo. If that's the
way you want to play it."
John grabbed Cassie's hand tighter.
silence, the trio marched towards the area where the
examination rooms where located – CAT, MRI scans, EKG, EEG,
plus various other machines that weren't frequently used. They
had missed seeing to which room John had been brought, so they
had to check each of them.
finally found it, Jeff Tracy was already standing there,
having a hushed conversation with the doctor. John inched
closer, not liking the lines of worry in his father's face.
"...scanning him right now, but I fear we have to operate."
John paled. Had he taken a turn for the worse?
pinched the bridge of his nose. "But didn't you say that his
His breathing isn't as stable as we'd like, but if we don't do
it now that won't matter anymore. I don't want to lie to you,
sir, the young man is gravely injured. He is suffering from a
brain haemorrhage, and the pressure is increasing. It might do
significant damage to his motor functions – and maybe even
inflict permanent mental damage - if we don't do something
are the odds?"
The cold feeling in his stomach increased, and almost out of
reflex, his fingers crushed around Cassie's, who winced in
I'm afraid. If his lungs weren't injured, I'd say they were
okay, but with him already weakened and dependent on a
respirator, there might be unforeseen complications. However,
without the operation, he will almost certainly die, or be
mentally disabled. So...as I understand you are in the
position of next of kin for my patient, do I have your
sighed and nodded, eyes bright with worry. "Go ahead. Do
everything to save him."
tremor in his voice was all it took to shatter John's heart.
Chapter Five: Torn between two ways
on, it was all a blur of voices and confusion. John watched in
tense silence, Cassie's hand clutched tightly in his, appalled
by the state of his own body. He watched how they prepared him
for surgery; watched as his father told the rest of his family
the news; watched as the surgeon prepared himself; only to
hurtle out of the room when they started operating.
never be forced to watch medical intrusions to your own body.
John would have nightmares for the rest of his life. Which,
judging from the current outlook of things, wouldn't be very
John?" Cassie sensed his turmoil and grew restless, too.
laughed at that question. How was one supposed to explain the
impossible, to a child, nonetheless? "It’s…" he began and
shook his head. "They are having problems. With me. And…" No.
He couldn’t explain to her about out-of-body-experiences –
she’d only be scared. Instead, the blonde waved in the general
direction of his family. "Those are my brothers, and my
father. Something's going wrong and worries them, and well,
seeing them in distress makes me sad as well."
nodded in understanding. "They look nice."
Well, one could describe them in that way. They were in
general a good looking family, although John wouldn’t have
used that description right now. Good-looking they might be,
but the lines of worry wiped away the charm. Scott, Gordon and
Virgil looked bone-tired, Grandma fretted, Jeff was weary, and
Alan…well, he hadn’t seen a glimpse of Alan. He'd still be
stuck in outer space.
pang drove through his heart. What if he died here and now? He
could say good-bye to most of his family, but not to Alan,
because he was on Thunderbird Five. He wouldn’t be able to say
good-bye to the one brother who shared his love for outer
space, who knew the incredible feeling of floating over the
Earth by heart, who…
closed his eyes. No. He refused to let his thoughts wander in
that direction. He would fight, and return and live, so that
he could talk with Alan about the stars and about life in
general. He would wake up, just so he could ease Scott from
his worries and be there for him, because it killed him to let
his brothers down. He would go back. Somehow, he would find a
to the operating room closed with a sharp snap. They were
doing things to his brain in there! It was enough to
make John feel sick.
your decision is drawing close, boy." Schnabelewopski snarled
close to his ear. "Still having the same mind set?"
clenched his jaw. "I will go back to my body. I will live."
least you’re persistent." Was that a glimmer of admiration in
the old guy’s eyes? John wasn’t sure. Maybe it had just been a
reflection of the light.
to help Cassie." The girl was humming softly to herself, the
childish tune eerily misplaced among the hospital noises.
glowered at him. "I don’t know what’s going to happen, but
judging from your stories, there won’t be much I can do when
the…pull finally happens. There’s the possibility that Cassie
will stay behind. She’s just a child, Mr Schnabelewopski.
Please, you have to help her. I’ll try my best, but if I
upon hearing the conversation, slung a thin arm around his
leg. "You’re not going to leave me, are you?"
heart broke at the tears in her eyes. He felt…overwhelmed,
achy, tired. There was no relief, no sleep in the shadow
world, and he had seen so much sadness in the last hours, it
was beginning to wear him out. "I don’t want to, Cassie." He
rubbed his eyes. "But…but I might be pulled away, and then I
won’t be here anymore. God, I hope it won’t happen, but I
really can’t promise…"
so small and fragile, just looked at him, Fuchur close to her
chest. John had the distinct impression that the toy was
staring at him, accusing him for even thinking of leaving her
behind. No, that was a foolish thought. Stuffed animals didn't
again, he was a ghost standing in a hospital corridor where
nobody could see or hear him; he was able to walk through
walls – and hell, maybe toys were alive in this shadowy realm.
he was slowly going mad.
on duty?" Cassie’s voice interrupted his mental ramblings.
on duty sometimes. He’s a policeman, and when he’s on duty, he
gets called away, even when it’s a birthday or in the middle
of a plate of cookies." She sounded as if it was the greatest
offence in the world to leave a freshly baked batch of cookies
behind. "But he says it’s very important, because he’s
fighting the bad guys, like the heroes on TV, and he always
makes it up to me afterwards. So are you on duty as well? On
Angel-duty. I wonder where kids get their ideas...what comes
next? A package of angel-donuts?
smiled. "Yes, I reckon you could call it that." He had given
up trying to convince her that he wasn’t an angel. If it
comforted her, she was welcome to believe in him.
least one of us has faith in me.
Really cute." Schnabelewopski, whom John had totally
turned pain-filled eyes on him. "Will you promise?"
to look out for her."
Schnabelewopksi leaned heavily on his walking stick. "I
might?" Hot anger flared up. John, tired, frustrated, and at
the end of his rope, was ready to explode. "You MIGHT? Damn,
do you even have a HEART? She’s a child, for heaven’s sake!
She doesn’t deserve this! What’s with you? Just because you
didn’t have the courage to return to your life, or take the
final step, you feel that you have the right to criticize
everybody else? You are SUCH a HYPOCRITE! I’m sick of your
narcissist behaviour. I’m sick of- of- EVERYTHING!"
his hands up in the air, breathing hard.
Schnabelewopski regarded him calmly. "Are you finished?"
long way from finished!"
Suddenly, fire flashed in the old man’s eyes. "Listen, kiddo,
you don’t understand shit of what's going on. And if I were
you, I wouldn’t talk about things I have no knowledge of. You
are currently walking a thin line, and yet you use your energy
to fight with me? Remember, it’s your life that's
slipping out of the hands of those white-coated doctors, and
you ain't doing nothing to improve it!"
As if to
underline his statement, a nurse left the operating room and
hurried down the corridor. He could hear agitated voices, and
then pain exploded in his head.
groaned and squeezed his eyes shut. Damn, it hurt, like his
eyes were on fire, burning and throbbing and pulsing.
John!" came Cassie’s alarmed cries, and then Schnabelewopski’s
satisfied snort. "You see?"
lessened somewhat, leaving him exhausted and spent. The anger
dissipated, John not really being a hot-headed person anyway.
He balled his hand to a fist and concentrated. "Okay. I don’t
want to fight. We’re obviously not going to agree. But…but
please, I beg you, take care of Cassie!"
despised begging, hated how vulnerable it left him. Still,
feeling Cassie’s small hand on his thigh, he knew he would do
anything to protect her.
another one of those unidentifiable gleams in
Schnabelewopski’s eyes, and then, to John’s immense surprise
and relief, he nodded. "Alright, lad. But now you’d better
look out for yourself."
you." It came from the heart.
been operating for over an hour and things weren’t looking
good. John was a nervous wreck by now, his hands trembling,
and his mind in overdrive. Cassie, sensing his mood, remained
silent, but snuggled up close to him. John didn’t know who was
comforting whom; but he didn’t really care anymore.
umpteenth time, he had to fight down the wish to go in there
and see for himself. His natural curiosity clashed with the
fear of the unknown. And besides, he didn’t want to leave
really growing tired of that title. It carried more
responsibility than he could bear, but how could he disappoint
the girl, who had so little left? "Yes?"
head snapped around. Indeed, Cassie looked peculiar, washed
out, pale, just as before, just as…damn.
She was getting pulled again, he was sure. "Cassie, explain it
to me, what are you feeling?"
frowned. "Like…like I should be elsewhere."
Schnabelewopski laughed. "Seems I promised for nothing. The
girl’s leaving before you."
you know that this is for real?" John snapped back.
Cassie’s eyes widened. "It hurts…"
an arm around her. "It’s okay, Cassie, I’m here. Don’t be
afraid. It’s just telling you that it’s time for you to go
girl doubled over, as a wave of pain rolled through her. A
lonely tear trickled down her cheek and she whimpered. "But it
Cassie…" Professional training kicked in, urging him to speak
in the same reassuring voice he used to calm down panicked
victims. "I know it hurts, but you have to endure it. You want
to go back, don’t you? Go back and play with Fuchur in your
own room? Wait for your Dad when he’s coming home from one of
his rounds? Remember the bike?"
nodded through the tears.
Think of that. Concentrate. Can you tell me about it? Tell me
about your bike?"
a help-seeking glance at Schnabelewopski. 'What should I do?'
he mouthed, while Cassie started a stammering tale about her
last biking adventure.
Schnabelewopski frowned. "Get her back to her body. It might
help… sometimes the-"
barrelling into him with sudden force, fire, agony, and the
sudden need to be somewhere else –
gasped. Schnabelewopski’s words were drowned out, morphed into
a garbled symphony of sound, and the only thing that was
keeping him grounded was his tight hold on Cassie. He
suppressed a wince and tried to focus, his mind doing
can’t be happening. Not now. Cassie needs my help, I can’t
leave her now, I have to send her back to her body, somehow…
the feeling back down, like he always did when his
concentration was needed. It was a skill he had mastered to
perfection – don’t give in to the worry, focus on your
work, think of a solution, the others are relying on you,
don’t let them see your fear – although it took him all
his remaining willpower to do so.
his head, trying to get rid of the buzzing sound, and turned
aching eyes on Schnabelewopski. "So…we have to…get her back to
man’s eyes narrowed in suspicion. "It might help."
John stood up, only his stubbornness keeping him from keeling
over, and gathered Cassie, who was sobbing heavily, in his
arms. "Let’s go."
ahead, not wanting to give Schnabelewopski the chance to
notice what was going on. "Shhh," he whispered to the girl, as
she clung to him with all her might. "It’s going to be
alright. I’m taking you home, Cassie. Just think of going
back. Think of how much you want to go. I always loved biking.
When you have learned how to do it properly, you have to race
down the hills – it’s the most fun you can have, almost like
talked and talked, reminding her of her life, coaxing her to
remember, to concentrate, to endure the pain, all while the
world tilted sideways, merged from colours to grey and back to
breath like fire in his lungs, racing down his windpipe like
magma, torturing him in his need for oxygen –
Concentrate, John Tracy!
on Cassie tightened. "It’ll be okay, Cassie, you’ll see," John
whispered, almost as much for his own comfort as for Cassie’s.
"We’ll pull through this. And when we’re out of the hospital,
I promise you, I’ll take you to the biggest amusement park
ever, and we can spend hours in the toy section…"
Her voice was thin, too frail, and yet there was a tremble of
hope in it. John again marvelled at the strength of children.
huge park!" He tried to smile through the pain. The urge to be
somewhere else grew more intense with each step he took away
from his own body. "With slides and many rides and candy floss
John blinked, his mind blank until he came up with the
familiar figure of his childhood. God, did they still
there’s a Tigger, and maybe Pooh as well, or Piglet."
smiled shyly. "Cool."
around a corner, and there they were, in front of Cassie’s
room, where it was remarkably calm compared to John’s OR. The
blonde took a deep breath and braced himself.
black-haired girl nodded, her eyes full of fear, but her face
set in a mask of determination. A real little trooper,
John reflected with no small amount of pride, she’d make
good IR operative later on. If she survives this.
breath, they stepped through the wall. It took all of John’s
willpower not to give in to the pull he was experiencing;
instead he focused on the bed, surrounded by blurry figures,
focused on the pale body of a little girl.
"Concentrate, Cassie," he whispered to the trembling body in
his hands. "Go back to your parents."
tilted, lost its colour for a moment, blended with something
else – something sinister, darker – but John stubbornly
refused to let go. Cassie was depending on him.
fool!" Schnabelewopski cursed somewhere behind him. "Stop
trying to help her, you’re only making it worse for yourself-"
snatches of conversation, someone shouting, the beeping of a
heart monitor – images overlapping, and amidst of all, Cassie,
sobbing quietly through the pain.
John whispered, a gentle hand caressing her hair. "Go back to
your parents, to your life. Don’t be afraid. You’ll be okay.
Just go. Don’t give up, Cassie. Never give up. Keep that in
mind. You can do this. I know you can do this."
breathing became quicker, rasher, and then she flickered, lost
her outlines, her colours, as if something was draining her.
At the same time, the hammering pain in John’s head increased,
screamed for attention. He swayed on the spot, blinking
against the bright circles in his vision.
expression changed. First, she looked frightened, then
surprised, and finally, elated, happy, peaceful. She looked at
something John couldn’t see, her eyes bright. "Ma!" She
exclaimed loudly. "MA!"
she was nearly translucent and weightless in his arms. Fuchur
fell to the ground, forgotten in all the confusion. Just
before she disappeared completely, she turned around to John,
smiled brightly and kissed him on the forehead. "Thank you,
Angel John," she whispered.
was gone. Only the tingling feeling of her kiss remained on
panic surge inside him. What had happened? Had she returned?
Or had she died? His gaze flickered to the body on the bed,
but she remained unmoving. Almost out of reflex, he bent to
pick up Fuchur – just as another wave of pain hit him, this
time so intense that he crumpled to the ground in a heap of
groaned, an almost animalistic sound, and tried to curl up to
escape the pain, but it was relentless.
"Pressure is building! We have to drain-"
Schnabelewopski was there, towering over him. "Serves you
right, you foolish bastard! Won’t be my fault if you die here
and now just because you had to help a little brat."
"Is…Cassie…alright?" John managed to ask through gritted
- "Get the
worry about her! You have to get back NOW! It’s almost too
late as it is!"
"Back…where?" Too much pain, too many noises. What voices was
he hearing? Why was everything blurred? John rolled around,
tried to get up on his knees and nearly tumbled to the ground
body, you idiot!"
slithered back, made him realize that his life was dangling on
a silver thread right now. "Body…" John crawled to the wall
and managed to heave himself in an upright position. There was
no way in hell he was going to die like this..
erratic, blood pressure dropping…"
go." The pain was immense, but John was used to dealing with
pain, and so he forced himself onwards. Schnabelewopski
hovered – yes, hovered! He hadn’t thought that the old guy had
it in him to care – by his side, coaxing him along the way.
hospital corridor looked strange, almost otherworldly, a mix
of swirls and colours and shapes, people moving past him like
ghosts. No. He was the ghost. And soon he'd vanish like a puff
his lip. He wasn’t going to give up. No matter how bad the
pain, he would go back to his own body, to his own life, to
his family! He was a fighter, dammit, and somehow, he would
fight his way back!
you are going to be paralysed?)
matter. Gordon had been paralysed, and he had won in the end.
John could do it as well, could beat the odds, if only given
the chance. But giving up meant not even having the chance in
the beginning. And besides, it wasn't even certain. It was
merely a possibility.
your family might look down on you?)
never do that. Pity him, maybe, but they would try their best
and hold together, just as they always did. They would support
him, always. He trusted them. Loved them.
you might be a mental vegetable for the rest of your life? In
a family of over-achievers, of heroes? Won’t you feel left
sure about that?)
going to let it happen.
change the course of nature.)
I can damn
Focus!" Schnabelewopski’s rough voice was a welcome
distraction from the nagging stream of words in his head.
John barked back, too tired to restrain his temper. "I’m
not good enough for ya!"
nearly there, just around the corner, and he could see the
distant faces of his family, carved with worry and stress. I’m
coming, his mind screamed while his body protested. He felt
himself stumble, crashed through the ground and didn’t even
feel it, because he was disconnected, because everything else
was…blurry, not really there.
Schnabelewopski cursing, but the words slipped his attention.
Don’t. Give. Up. The sentence hammered in his mind in synch
with the pain, urged him to crawl forward, every thought about
dignity forgotten. It didn't matter.
flickered, like a damaged light in the subway, like a slowly
dying candle, and he teetered sideways, lost contact, lost
gasped as he tried to understand what was happening. He
glanced at Schnabelewopski – was that worry in the old
guy’s eyes? – tried to formulate a sentence, anything that
reminded him of the fact that he was still there, that he
still existed, even in some horrible, twisted way. But no
sound came from his lips.
to the floor, connecting hard with the tiles, but felt no
pain. Everything greyed out; John felt as if a deep void had
opened up under him, sucking him inside. Voices were yelling,
but he couldn't understand their words. The colours swirled,
the lights flickered – no, he flickered! - and then everything
dissolved, just like sugar in a glass of water, slowly
disappearing, blending with the background...
echoed through his mind, seemingly coming out of nowhere.
Something was wrong – John could almost sense the worry, the
hurry, the frantic concentration.
melted and the floor tilted upwards, buckling and waving like
an untamed horse, throwing him off balance. Another flicker,
and then the familiar hospital faded out, as the walls seemed
to cave in, threatened to swallow him whole.
the..." John cursed, but his own voice sounded empty. It was
difficult to see in the blurry shadows, almost as if he was
surrounded by thin, wisp-like smog. He blinked to clear his
vision and faced back up the slope. But despite his best
efforts, he felt himself slowly sliding down, away from
whatever was waiting for him up there. With the walls so
close, it almost reminded him of a...
was way to cheesy.
And yet he
couldn't deny it. One part of him was still in the hospital
corridor – the background noise like a very faint hum – and
then there was this other part, standing in a much narrower
corridor that resembled a tunnel.
Unbelievable! John shook his head in astonishment. "I can't
believe that this is actually happening..."
echoed through the emptiness, breaking the heavy silence into
tiny little pieces. "I mean, come on, a tunnel – nobody really
believes that stuff like this really happens!" he was halfway
annoyed with his subconscious; couldn't it have come up with
something a bit more original?
for some snide comment of Schnabelewopski, but none came
forward. John turned around, only to see that the man was
still there, but...faded out, greyer, blurry around the edges.
His mouth was moving, but the blonde could hear no sound. Only
if he concentrated very hard, he managed to make out weak
mumblings; it was as if Schnabelewopski stood behind a thick
wall and tried to communicate through it.
hear me?" John said very loud and clearly.
Schnabelewopski nodded and then frowned. His hand clutched
tightly around his walking stick, but John had already gotten
distracted by some movement in the swirling shadows. What was
think now I'm really going mad," he murmured under his breath,
wincing at the nagging pain in his head. Damn, the only thing
he wanted to do was to wake up – was that so difficult to
achieve? He wanted to go back to his life and see whether
Cassie was okay...he wanted...
lurched and John was thrown backwards, stumbling down
the steep slope. His arms windmilling wildly, he tried to
catch his balance, but it proved to be difficult on the
slippery floor. The blonde was on the verge of falling as
suddenly a hand shot out of the swirling grey and clamped
around his wrist.
not ze way you vant to go," a female voice said in a thick,
heavy accent. John's head shot up and he gave a startled gasp
as a figure started to emerge from the nothingness in front of
him. The features came into focus and revealed an old lady,
clad in a yellow blouse and a cotton skirt. She smiled at him,
gently, with a tiny frown of disapproval on her face.
John looked at Schnabelewopski and then back. The old man
seemed as clueless as him, gaping at the newcomer like some
fish out of the water.
laughed and pointed up the hallway – tunnel – slope –
whatever. "Zere is your goal. Komm schon, you vant to see your
– German, John dimly realized – and her looks were very
familiar, but he couldn't quite place them. Frantically, he
tried to make sense of what was happening. "Do I know you?"
do not remember? Meine Güte. I am Eva-Maria Stäubler." Behind
her, the shadows flickered again.
an involuntary step backwards as he saw more figures emerge
from the fog. This was getting downright scary, and he
seriously contemplated running away. But the woman's grip
prevented him from moving.
wave of pain passed through him and John clenched his teeth,
suddenly oh so very tired.
shadows emerged and became substantial, just like the old lady
in the front.
grubby looking man in miner's clothes came to a stop right
beside her, his overalls splattered with blood. Behind him
stood a small Asian man wearing an apron, his eyes twinkling,
and next to him, a middle-aged Mexican woman. There were more
in the background – a business man, a basketball player, a
teenage girl dressed in pink, a farmer with a straw hat.
of the faces painfully familiar.
eyes widened in shock. No! It couldn't be! This was
impossible, it was pure madness...and yet his eyes weren't
lying to him. The faces were clearly outlined in the sharp,
cold light of the corridor, couldn't be mistaken for anything
but what they were.
John began, the desperate need to understand like a flame in
doesn't matter. Ve are here to help you." The answer was
are..." He couldn't bring it over him to finish the sentence.
The Asian man spoke up. "Of course we are. But the fact is,
you are not – not yet."
into their faces – kind, filled with compassion – and
swallowed. He had seen every one of the faces, and each time,
it had taken a little out of his heart. Each time had brought
a nightmare, questions of guilt flung at himself. Each time
had been horrible.
died. And he had been there.
swallowed, as the familiar memories washed over him.
lady had been involved in a terrible highway accident in
Germany. He remembered how she had introduced herself to him,
her face contorted in a grimace of pain. John had spent hours
cutting her out of the car, only to find out after the rescue
that she had died a day later in the hospital from her wounds.
had been one of those involved into a mine collapse in Russia.
John had spent several hours talking to him and his colleagues
through a small opening until International Rescue finally
found a way to get them out. The man had talked about his
wife, his three children, and the scrappy family dog, while
John had desperately tried to keep him alive. But his injuries
had been too severe and the miner had died on the way to the
were more, many more – people from rescues, people whom John
had tried to help, and whom he had failed, because they had
died, because he had been too late, because their bodies had
him, Schnabelewopski gasped, his presence growing stronger as
he stepped closer to John. He, too, must be realizing what was
past. There was only one reason why...
here to punish me?" John asked, mouth dry.
you?" A voice from the far back spoke up. "Why should we want
to do that?"
couldn't rescue you." Failed rescues always gnawed at his gut,
and he could remember these very clearly – the sleepless
nights, the constant 'what ifs'. It didn't matter how often
Scott told him that it hadn't been his fault, John still felt
guilty. Often he had wondered what those people would say if
they could talk to him again; he had dreamed about them,
accusing him, hating him, blaming him.
And now he
was here, in this strange inbetween place, facing the figures
that haunted him in his nightmares.
died." He whispered, a single tear trickling down his face. "I
remember how I stayed with you...but in the end, it wasn't
enough, and you...died..."
dummer Junge – silly, stupid." Maria tutted. "Ve are not here
to punish you. Are ve?" The last bit was directed at the
others. A chorus of 'Nos' followed and then a squeaky voice
piped up. "We wanna help you, mister." The comment came from a
strawberry-haired teenager, chewing bubble-gum and grinning
outrageous." Schnabelewopski breathed beside him. "This has
never happened before."
stayed mute, too baffled to say or do anything. First he met
the ghosts of his past, and then they wanted to help him?
up his hands in a gesture of complete loss. "But why?"
when people help you, you want to help them back." The Asian
man intoned softly.
his head. "I didn't...couldn't help you. You died!"
shone in Maria's eyes. "I might have died, but I remember very
clearly zat you talked wiz me. When I was in ze car, I vas
very afraid. My huzband was dead, and I vas alone. It vas
horrible. But you came with those great machines and started
vorking. And you talked. I remember zat I listened. It was
beautiful. You made everyzing so much easier. I forgot my
fear. I even forgot ze pain."
right." The Asian man interjected. "You helped me keep my head
when everything around me was in total chaos."
as if a tidal wave had started, there was suddenly a flurry of
voices. Everybody wanted to say his piece, so that John nearly
staggered under the flood of well-meant comments.
time I heard your voice on the radio, it calmed me down..."
u was ik niet alleen toen ik stierf..."
way you talked with me about my flowers was so gentle and it
distracted me from the pain. I wasn't afraid when I died, and
that's all thanks to you..."
ahorró mi alma..."
lumière dans l'obscurité..."
haben alles in Ihrer Macht stehende getan. Und dank Ihnen war
ich die letzten Stunden meines Lebens nicht alleine..."
couldn't save me, but you saved my children. I'll be forever
grateful for that..."
all kinds of languages tumbled at him, but they all carried
the same message: gratitude, acceptance, relief. None of them
were hostile, or angry, or even bitter.
understand..." John stuttered, giving in to the gentle pull
Maria was exercising on his wrist. He stumbled along as she
goaded him up the slope.
need to," the old German smiled, "Let's just say zat it's now
our turn to help you."
him along, and suddenly there was a comforting hand on his
shoulder, and another one on his back, urging him along. He
threw a desperate glance over his shoulder. Schnabelewopski
stood there, looking at him with a half-smile on his lips.
I'll be damned," he coughed and the walking stick thudded once
more on the ground, making John wince. "I reckon all your
speeches had some merit after all."
John began and then cringed as the pain hummed in his chest.
worry about me." The old man barked, but there was an
undertone of gruff affection in it. "Do as those people tell
ya, and go back and help some other folks. You already did
your rescue job out here."
encouraged him to go further, even though the ground became
steeper and steeper. John gritted his teeth; he couldn't give
up, not with all those people supporting him. Still, he waved
at Schnabelewopski, who was being swallowed by the swirling
fog. "Will we meet again?"
it," came the distant reply.
laughter swapped back. "I didn't do anything, kiddo. It was
all your work. But it's not over yet."
vant to come wiz us as vell," Maria's gentle voice floated
towards Schnabelewopski. "I zink you have been around long
Schnabelewopski grinned lopsidedly. "Well, someone's gotta
take care of the newcomers."
someone has to be you?"
listened with half an-ear, astonished at the sudden insight.
Somehow he'd always expected that the old guy was unable to
pass on, due to some ties that kept him linked to the real
world. But his answers hinted into a different direction – was
he actually staying out of his own free will?
sure?" Another voice floated past him, full of compassion.
Schnabelewopski barked a laugh. "I once chose to stay behind.
My work is not done yet. With this earthquake, there are a lot
of spirits that need rescuing – and the young man over there
showed me what it means to keep fighting."
hand still firm on John's arm, smiled. "You are a good man,
mention of his given name, the old guy became grumpy again.
"Well, do what you have to do. There's a hospital waiting for
stared in wonder, unable to believe what was happening.
Schnabelewopski stepped back, into the churning fog, his
outlines slowly blurring.
pain cut through him like a knife. He doubled over, panting
through the fire in his lungs. It was nothing like the
physical pain he knew; no, it ran deeper, seemed to cut right
through his soul. Sympathetic voices murmured close to his
hear, and above all, Schnabelewopski's last words floated
through the red haze.
care, John Tracy."
blinked, but the fog engulfed the old man and then he was
gone, just like that.
he stammered. "What is he?"
little girl was right when she said zere was an angel here."
angel?" John echoed.
self-appointed one, anyway."
"Self-appointed..." John's mind had barely begun to grasp the
meaning of the words, as the blinding headache hit again.
A male voice this time, sounding urgent. "Retournez."
"...go….back…" John stuttered between gasps. Yes, of course he
wanted to go back, but he was so tired...maybe if he could
rest for a second, just a little bit...the pain increased,
like a hot iron in his lung.
"...b-back…" John tried to concentrate on his family, on
everything that was important. Tried to ignore the nagging
voice that painted his future in the darkest colours. Tried
not to think of the fact that the doctors were doing things
to his brain right now. That he might be disabled –
handicapped – unstable – stupid.
es gleich geschafft." The hand on his arm, tugging him
forward, up the steep hill, towards the foggy end of the
corridor. "Don't rest."
"go…back…to Dad…and Scott…and Virgil…" John swallowed the bile
that threatened to rise in his throat. "…and Gordon…and
lost their meaning, as the faces of the persons belonging to
them were washed away by another surge of pain and confusion.
grew weaker and he started sliding downwards, his tumble to
the floor only prevented by the many hands that were keeping
him upright. "'M'tired..."
stumbled into something solid and was dragged upwards again,
half-carried by the Russian miner. "Thanks..." he murmured,
but was too weak to make sense of the whispered Russian reply.
close, so close. Don't now give up." A voice whispered into
his ear. Maria.
forced himself to keep his eyes open, even as the leaden
tiredness threatened to drag his limbs to the ground. The
voice of his eldest brother echoed through his head, Scott
sounding serious and collected, the concern hardly evident in
the clipped words.
up, John, because there's always a chance. But if you give up,
this chance will be lost. It's easy to give up – surviving is
the hard part.
short second, he wondered when Scott had told him that
sentiment, but then he remembered.
mumbling of voices increased. John bit on his lip, searched
for the last ounce of will-power in his body – the one that
kept him going even under the most difficult odds, whatever
his body told him – and balled his fist. Maybe he wasn’t as
strong as Scott or as tough as Gordon; but damn, he was a
Tracy as well, and even though his brothers considered him a
scholar, he was a fighter just like them.
hot trickled down his cheek…tears? He recoiled in shame, but
couldn’t stop them from falling. Damn, he didn’t want to die
like this, it wasn’t fair…
his shoulders through the agonizing pain. "Won't give up."
right you won't. Your family needs you. And we need
International Rescue." Someone murmured in his ear, and then
Maria was close to him. "Go on, son. Go back home."
right. How could he have forgotten? His family needed him.
International Rescue needed him. Cassie needed him.
of all, he needed to be alive, to be with them, because
he was too young to die, because there were so many things he
hadn't achieved yet..
dragged his feet along, half-carried by his gentle
self-appointed helpers. How ironic, one small part of his
brain mused – the rescuer was being rescued by the rescuees.
But the other, bigger part gave in to the exhaustion and a
mind-numbing tiredness. Slowly, he could feel every train of
thought starting to close down, just like a computer shutting
down open programs.
allowed himself a small smile at the mental comparison –
seemed as if one part of his job even followed him into his
dreams – and then he gave in to the gentle pull, his energy
a voice whispered. "Take the last step."
hands shoved him forward, into the swirling abyss of colours
and fog. John reacted automatically, his long legs bridging
over the deep spasm that was suddenly under him. For an
eternity, he seemed to be flying, hanging suspended in the air
– just like being in outer space – and then his feet hit solid
ground again, the impact jarring his bones.
immediately fell to his knees, panting through the pain that
distorted his vision. Leaden weights dragged down his arms,
and then something weird happened. Instead of generally
hurting, he could place where it hurt – his right arm,
his stomach, his feet, his chest, but worst of all, his head.
pretty sure that there was a reason for that, but his brain
had ceased working altogether. Then the chorus of voices
started up again, this time far behind him. John glanced back
through eyes that were already at half-mast and saw them
waving at him.
laughed and congratulated him, and he gave a weak wave back,
too exhausted to say anything. And then he finally gave in to
the darkness and slipped away, just barely aware of where his
body was falling to.
And in a
small room on the same floor of the hospital, a little
raven-haired girl opened her eyes.
Chapter Six: Follow the shadow, and
you’ll find the light
a long period of darkness during which he seemed to float
through the fascinating depths of space. John had no feeling
of time, and it didn't really matter. He felt light and
comfortable, totally at home in the depths. However, he sensed
that quite a while had passed, and so he finally swam back to
the surface, knowing that he couldn't stay much longer.
like a climb back towards consciousness, similar to waking up
on a lazy Sunday morning. No sudden jolt, just the peaceful
flow of time.
noticed the little things first – that he was lying on his
back, for example, on a bed of some sort; or that he could
hear the faint hum of hospital machinery; and then the
bone-deep exhaustion that made even the thought of
moving too much of an effort.
pain came, but not as sharp as he had imagined it. The edge
had been taken off, the burn becoming a dull throbbing
John's mind dimly registered, and he understood why his
thoughts were drifting so slowly instead of their usual
lightning speed. Everything was sluggish and his body felt
heavy, as if tons of water were pressing down on him.
hated drugs with a passion, simply because they made him feel
like that – so slow and stupid. He recognized their
importance, of course, but that didn't mean he had to like it.
part of his mind recalled excruciating pain, so bad that he
had been unable to walk, that others had to help him stay
upright; and suddenly, the presence of the drug wasn't that
head tingled with some hidden memory that seemed quite
important, but he couldn't place his finger on it. It annoyed
him to no end. But then again, with his body pumped full of
drugs, it was a miracle that he was having coherent thoughts
at all. Well, mostly coherent.
to move his head and was annoyed as a wave of nausea swept
over him. It cleared the fog in his head and with sudden
clarity he realized that he was back in his body, with real
limbs attached, the whole package complete with a headache, a
dry mouth, and a lot of pain. It seemed important, somehow. He
to grasp the thought, but it slipped through his fingers
before he could make sense of it. Only the feeling of relief,
of achievement, stayed, puzzling him because he
couldn't explain why it was there.
the emotional mess his mind was presenting him with, John
cracked his eyes open. Maybe a quick check of his surroundings
would make things a bit clearer.
himself gazing at a ceiling. Complete with a row of white
certainly didn't help to clear things up, John reflected
dryly. But it felt good to just lie there and look – even
though his eyes were dry and full of grit.
while, they started watering because he was staring directly
into the light.
to avoid the brightness, John tilted his head just a fraction
and was surprised to see a person sitting beside his bed,
intently studying some papers. He blinked, cursing under his
breath as everything swam out of focus. It took a while until
the outlines sharpened, but then he was able to make out a mop
of dark hair. And a familiar face. Sitting beside his bed,
looking worried and exhausted.
John realised, inwardly smiling at the warmth the name evoked
in his stomach. Scott was here, with him, and everything would
be okay now, wouldn't it?
thought escaped him before he could snatch it, leaving him
frustrated and slightly angry at himself. What was wrong with
have noticed his discomfort, because he glanced up – and froze
in his tracks when his eyes met John's open ones. For a couple
of seconds, the two brothers stared at each other, neither of
them wanting to break the moment.
slow smile slid across Scott's face – tentative, as if he was
afraid that the situation might break into a million shattered
pieces. He leant forward. "Hey there." His voice was soft, the
evident. It was the special kind of voice Scott only used when
one of his brothers was sick or injured; and no matter how bad
the injury, it always brought a measure of comfort.
tears collect at the corners of his eyes and blinked in shame.
There was no reason to cry, and yet...he was just so damn
by his own feelings, he tried to say something, but his mouth
Scott leaned over, out of his sight, and came back with a cup
in his hand. "You want some ice-chips?"
– a blessed present from heaven!
nodded eagerly – well, as eagerly as he could while feeling
weak as a kitten. His mouth felt as if it had been filled with
cotton; and very foul tasting cotton at that.
him the first ice-chip. "I called the nurse and the doctor;
they're going to have a good look at you now that you're
was a blessed relief for his sore throat; but even as it
melted and the water ran down his oesophagus, it hurt like
hell. John suppressed a wince.
eh?" Scott said sympathetically. "It's from the respirator;
they only removed it yesterday, when you started breathing on
your own." He hesitated, his eyes darting to a point above
John's head. "You gave us quit a scare."
the closest Scott would ever come to saying 'I was worried as
hell'. John understood; he always had. His eldest brother
never vocalized his feelings, but they all knew that under the
tough exterior was a heart as soft as a marshmallow.
brief moment, he had the flash of seeing Scott sitting
and...talking? Forlorn, alone, depressed, the words tumbling
from his mouth at a quick rate.
disappeared as quickly as it had come, leaving John completely
eyes seemed darker than before, clouded over, and the blonde
couldn't help but thinking that something had happened –
something he needed to know about. Something bad. Maybe to
Why was it
so hard to think?
did his head hurt so much?
stomach grew cold and it was not because of the ice-chips. If
only he could think...
started to say, but the raspy sound that escaped his lips
barely qualified as a word of the English language.
opened his mouth to reply, just as the door flew open and a
nurse hurried into the room, followed by a stern looking
doctor. Before John knew what was happening, he was being
prodded and examined thoroughly. Scott retreated, and from
then on it was all light, movement, and a flurry of questions
he could barely keep up with.
know where you are?"
nod. A hospital, that was sure, but what hospital exactly...
remember what happened?"
blinked through eyes that were watering heavily. The light
hurt, and the questions only increased his headache. What
happened? Rescue, that was for sure...
He gave a
faint nod. God, he was so tired...
in the background, he could see various members of his family,
clad in their uniforms. Odd looks of worry and relief coloured
their faces. They shifted in and out of focus, as the drugs
took hold of his system.
was talking, but he couldn't make out the words, just the
reassurance in the tone. John clung to it like a lifeline, his
mind already succumbing to the familiar pull of darkness.
floated to the surface only long enough to hear the voices
talking beside him.
"I wish he
would wake up."
doctor said it's okay for him to be sleeping – his body is
exhausted and the operation was very draining."
don't like seeing him so...pale."
what you mean."
whispered, and John wondered whom they were talking about. He
wanted to wake up and ask, but got lost on the way and sank
back into his dreams again.
up, briefly, to see his father smiling at him. "Hallo, son"
Jeff Tracy said in a gentle tone and caressed his son's
forehead. "It's good to see you."
to smile, but his muscles weren't cooperating properly and it
came out as a grimace instead. His father, though, seemed to
get the meaning, and the wrinkles around his eyes deepened.
worry. You're still pretty weak."
eyes followed his father's movements. His whole body felt
sluggish and unresponsive, like it didn't really belong to
him. There were so many things he wanted to say, but his
tongue refused to budge. It scared him, a lot.
must have been evident on his face, for his father leant
forward and took his hand. "I know you're feeling pretty lousy
at the moment, but that's because of the drugs. The operation
was a difficult one and you need the rest. They will wear off.
You'll be fine."
explained why it was so difficult to stay awake. John refused
to give in to the gentle pull; he had seen the worry in his
father's eyes and there were so many things he wanted to say,
to ask – his doubts, his fears, he needed to know...
once, mind couldn't win over matter, and the tired body
insisted on much-needed rest. John's eyes slid closed almost
on their own accord and he was lost again, barely heard the
last whispered words of Jeff Tracy.
you're back, son."
Easy now. Small sips."
urged him to drink, coaxed cool liquid to his lips. John,
confused and disorientated, tried to turn his head away, but
the female voice seemed to have none of it. "No, no, I know
it's painful, but you need to drink, the sooner, the better –
you don't want to stay on the IV forever, do you?"
and so he relented, even though it hurt like hell. He slipped
away quickly again, realising with dismay that he hadn't even
opened his eyes.
time he awoke, it was easier to think. With his thoughts no
longer drifting like icebergs, John was able to assess the
situation. Many of his memories didn't make much sense,
though; blurry images of waking up, confused, disorientated,
in pain, and the vague feeling that he had been suspended
flew open to reveal a darkened room. The lights were dimmed,
much to his relief – though it was undoubtedly a hospital
room. So he was still here. How much time had passed?
to get some semblance of order in what had happened, but found
out that he couldn't – everything was clear until the rescue,
and then things became fuzzy and disconnected. Hell, he didn't
even know what day it was!
to turn his head and noticed that it was wrapped in thick
gauze. He tried to glance at the rest of his body, but wasn't
able to see much lying down. Instead, his eyes fell on the
figure sitting beside his bed. A slow smile slid on his face
as he took in the familiar face, the grey temples and the trim
figure of his father.
John whispered, pleased that he had finally regained control
of his voice.
Tracy's head snapped up and he looked at his son. "Hey there."
Relief shone in the eyes of the Tracy patriarch, as he inched
closer to the bed. "How are you feeling?"
guess." John licked his lips. "Dad, what happened?"
do you remember?"
been asked that before? But when? Annoyed with the way his
usual so perfect mind was failing him, John closed his eyes
for a second to think. "I remember the rescue...it was a bad
one. I was in the house and then...everything crumbled..."
right. The whole ceiling fell down and you were caught under
it." Jeff placed a comforting hand on his son's arm. "It took
a while for the others to dig you out."
pinched the bridge of his nose, weariness evident in his face.
"Bad," he whispered. "They almost lost you once."
strange being told that one had barely escaped death. Once
again, John had the feeling that something was tugging at the
edges of his mind – something closely connected to what Jeff
had just told him. He frowned, but was unable to make sense of
blinked, realizing that he'd been spacing out. "Sorry." The
blonde focused his gaze on Jeff again. "What about
sigh, and his father rubbed his eyes. "Three broken ribs, two
cracked ones; one punctured your lung, which is why you were
on a respirator all the time. They took it out three days ago,
when you finally started breathing on your own. You sprained
your wrist and fractured your fibula. But the worst was the
head wound. You were being treated for a lung infection
when..." here Jeff's voice broke and he took a deep breath.
"-when the alarm rang. A haemorrhage had started in your
brain, and the pressure was increasing too quickly. They had
to operate. It was a touch and go situation for a while."
operated his brain? The thought scared John more deeply
than he liked to admit. Knowing how easy it was to injure the
grey matter, he did a quick check of his body – moved his
fingers, wriggled his toes. So far, everything seemed to be
smiled. "Yes – now that you have woken up, you should be fine.
It's going to take a while – your body is still weak – but you
"Completely?" John prodded, needing to know everything. There
was a nasty little voice running in the back of his head,
repeating sentences like 'you'll be handicapped' or 'you're
going to be a pitiful vegetable for the rest of your life'. It
surprised him, because he would never refer to himself as a
vegetable. Yet he couldn't get it out of his mind.
doctors can't say for sure, but they're pretty optimistic. You
woke up, you were more or less coherent, and your body works
just fine." Judging from the look on his father's face, they
shared the same sense of relief. Battered, bruised, hurting he
might be, and in a lot of pain, but he would be okay.
A wave of
satisfaction rolled over him, the urgent need to say 'I told
you so' – but to whom?
It must be
the drugs, John decided and shook his head. His imagination
wasn't known to take such wild leaps.
the door swung open to reveal a tired looking Virgil. "Dad, I
brought you some coffee..." he began, holding two steaming
styrofoam cups. Then his eyes took in the scene and widened in
John greeted, grinning slightly. "Did ya forget to bring me a
not allowed to drink coffee yet, you crazy caffeine-addict."
Virgil's voice was lathered with affection. He placed the cups
on the table and knelt down near the bed so that his face was
level with John's. "It's good to see you awake."
mind." John replied serenely. "The coffee here's terrible
sent him an odd look. Though clean and shaven, he appeared as
if he hadn't gotten a proper rest in days. The worry was
clearly showing on his face. John felt bad, knowing that he
had been the cause of it.
about the rescue?" he inquired.
it up days ago." Virgil's eyes twinkled in merriment. "You
slept right through everything."
unconscious the whole time you were on the respirator," Jeff
interjected. "It was better that way – being awake would have
been much too painful. Even now, you're on heavy painkillers."
that explains why I'm feeling so loopy." John thought back to
the weird memory flashes he kept having. It must be the drugs.
thought it was your charming personality shining through."
Virgil grinned. "The others will be so happy to see you awake.
It was pretty unfair; you woke up when Dad was sitting with
you, and once with Scott, but Gordon, Alan, and I, we got the
bad end of the stick. We just watched your sleeping face for
John frowned. "Alan's here?"
Thunderbird Five on automatic and picked him up." Jeff
explained. "He insisted, wouldn't have it any other way; and I
can't really blame him for it."
understood only too well. Being isolated on TB5 when a family
member was injured was hell. Though usually, he and Alan had
to grit their teeth and go through it. The very fact that his
father had relented spoke volumes, showed how serious it had
sensing John's dark thoughts, patted his hand. "But
everything's under control now and we're sending the squirt
back once he's seen you and we've arranged your transport to
good." John said earnestly. He'd hate for International Rescue
to fail to complete a rescue because of him.
of that, your brothers should be here soon. They were
escorting Grandma back to the hotel."
grin widened. "John, you know her. She threatened us all with
liver and brussels sprouts for the next three months if we
hadn't allowed her to accompany us!"
was his grandmother all right. John smiled. "I'll have you
know that I happen to like liver."
you're the only one on the whole planet. Probably comes from
too much time in space – addles your brain, does weird things
to your stomach..."
on the verge of replying with something nasty as the door
opened again. Gordon stepped in, a wide grin on his lips. "I'm
telling ya Alan, it's a gift."
Alan's voice floated through the open door. "The girl wasn't
even thinking straight-"
Jeff's deep rumble interrupted their friendly bickering. "Keep
to know that some things never change." John commented softly.
Alan's and Gordon's heads whipped around in perfect synch.
forgotten, they immediately rushed to the bed. A barrel of
Jeff raised his hand and stopped them. "Give your brother a
Alan looked to the ground.
couldn't help but chuckle. "I'm okay, I guess. High on
painkillers, but okay."
great!" The grin threatened to split Gordon's face in half.
"John, you won't believe what just happened to me. I've been
called an angel!"
Virgil snorted. "That's stretching things a bit."
sent him a dirty look. "Well, you've just been overlooking my
amused. "Who called you that, Gordon?"
right." The grin was there again. "There was this little girl
– a tiny thing, with long, black hair – and she was being
wheeled to the scanner room. When she saw me, her eyes got
round, and she started tugging at her mother's sleeve. She
pointed to me and said 'Look, Ma, there's another angel! The
angel I told you about wore a uniform just like that! Only he
had golden hair instead.'" Gordon looked immensely pleased.
blinked. This sounded...very familiar. But why?
rolled his eyes. "And he's been insufferable ever since. The
girl probably saw us on the rescue scene and you know how
that's not true." Gordon shook his head. "I had a quick chat
with the mother, and she said that the girl was unconscious
for the whole time after the earthquake and the rescue. It
wasn't even us who found her, but a local fireman. She woke up
a couple of days ago, and has apparently been talking about
this mysterious angel ever since."
of contentment and pride swept through John, and though he did
not know where it came from, he bathed in its warmth. Alan and
Gordon were still arguing, Virgil was throwing in his piece as
well, while Jeff only sat there with a broad smile on his
exchanged a knowing look with his father. It was nice to have
a sense of normalcy again. Even though he knew that his
recovery would be slow, it didn't really matter right now,
because he knew he would recover, eventually, and that was all
that counted. What was more important was that he was with his
family and that they were there to support him, every little
step on the way.
if you're an angel, then I shall voluntarily spend my
afterlife in hell. Can you imagine him with wings?
Nothing will stop him!"
to laugh outright. The idea of Gordon with wings was as
ridiculous as the idea of himself being an angel. And yet...
turned back to his brothers. "You know, Gordon, you got it all
wrong. Didn't you hear what the little girl said? The angel
had golden hair...so that kind of throws you out of the
equation." They laughed, the pain and the concern momentarily
luck, John Tracy!'
turned his head, as a whispered voice floated past. It was
probably just his imagination playing tricks on him, the drugs
playing cartwheels with his mind. But for a moment, John could
have sworn he had seen a shadow beside his bed.
Bewildered, he shook his head. Naw. Must have been the drugs.
Epilogue: Reminders of the past
strolled into the lounge, whistling a merry little tune. He
had just finished his morning run and the obligatory shower
and was looking forward to what promised to be a good day. A
lot of the last days had been good, mostly due to the fact
that a certain blonde-haired Tracy was up and around. They had
come dangerously close – too close in Scott's opinion – to
losing him, and it had shaken everyone.
of his astronaut brother, Scott was surprised not to see him
in the lounge, where he was usually sitting at this time,
reading and relaxing. With his movements restricted and his
body still healing, there was not much John could do.
saw Virgil sitting at the piano, running through some warm-up
scales and then playing a gentle melody Scott didn't
recognize. He sauntered closer.
started slightly. "Oh, hi Scott. Didn't hear you there."
do when you're practising." Scott peered over his brother's
shoulders. "What are you playing?"
a couple of new songs I ordered."
nice," Scott commented and looked at the title of the song.
"'La Valse D'Amélie' by Yann Tiersen – is that French?"
nodded. "John told me how much he likes the music by this
composer. I thought it might be a nice surprise if I played
and taped some songs for him – that way he can listen to them
when he's back on Thunderbird Five."
won't be for a while yet," Scott grinned, "But I'm sure he's
going to appreciate the gesture. That's a wonderful idea, Virg."
He turned around. "Speaking of John, where is he? Normally
he's up by now."
he went down to the cellar."
arched an eyebrow. "The cellar? He's supposed to be resting.
What's he doing down there?"
me." Virgil stopped gazing at the sheet and gave his brother a
disapproving look. "Stop the mother-hen routine, Scott, he's
not going to run a marathon down there. He said he wanted to
look for something; but John is sensible enough not to
overexert himself. He knows his limits."
okay." Scott sighed. "It's just difficult. I've been so
worried, and he's still in so much pain, even though he tries
to hide it..."
sympathetic smile slid on Virgil's face. "I know, Scott. It's
hard for all of us. When they came and told us that his heart
had stopped during the operation...well, I thought my world
would crash for sure. But he came back, somehow, beating all
the odds. And now that he's finally at home and up and around,
I have the feeling I can start to relax."
know what you mean."
smiled again and then turned back to the piano, focusing on
the song. Slowly, the soft notes started filling the air, a
gentle, slightly melancholy melody that told of deep emotions.
John had been rummaging around for the last hour, but so far
had only found a lot of dust and a few aggrieved spiders. The
cellar was huge and over the years, a lot of things had piled
up. Old magazine collections, boxes full of abandoned books
and toys, exercise books, school things, discarded furniture
and a whole lot of odds and ends.
stopped for a pause, wincing at the pain that shot through his
ribs. Even though he had been allowed up several days ago
(after spending weeks confined to his bed), moving was still a
challenge and hurt like hell. If he overdid it, the results
were blinding headaches that couldn't be soothed by even the
strongest of pills.
surprised him, though, was how well he was resting at night.
On previous occasions, after a rescue gone bad, his dreams had
been plagued by nightmares, nameless victims screaming at him,
blaming him because he hadn't been able to save them. That
didn't seem to be happening this time.
John wasn't dreaming – he was, just that they weren't making
any sense. Last night he had dreamt that an angel, complete
with halo and wings, was chasing him down a hospital corridor,
trying to hit him with a walking stick.
recollection made him smile as he rubbed his smarting shin.
he had woken up in the hospital, something else had been
nibbling at his mind. John had been unable to stop thinking
about his childhood toys. For some odd reason, they popped
back into his head whenever he let his mind wander. Annoyed
(and a bit curious), he had finally relented and gone down to
opened another box and brightened as he saw the fuzziness that
greeted him. It was filled to the brim with various plush
toys, and right on the top of it lay one he recognized all too
well. The familiar owl seemed to blink at him, and he smiled.
rummaging brought the toys of his brothers to light. There was
Mr Hanky, Alan's black pig, and Starfish, Gordon's dolphin.
Next came Doolittle, Virgil's teddy bear.
the toys carried a lot of memories that made John smile. Pain
forgotten, he thought back to the times when those toys had
been more than merely plush; when they had provided comfort in
the darkest of nights.
been unable to sleep without his pig and used to curl up
around it. Gordon had insisted on taking his dolphin into the
water with him, which was the reason why the toy looked so
battered and washed out.
himself had been very careful with his owl; but he remembered
clearly that he used to place her on the windowsill so that
she could watch the stars while he was asleep.
makes four of us," he mumbled to himself, "But where is
he didn't even remember what Scott's toy had been. With a
frown on his face, he bent over the box and blinked through
the dim light. There was another outline at the bottom.
Wincing at the pain the movement caused his ribs, John bent
over to pull it out.
couldn't help himself. In his hands, he was holding possibly
the ugliest toy ever produced. Now he remembered. John
had been little when Scott had decided that he didn't need his
plush friend anymore, thus damning him to a life in the
cupboard. But there had been a time when he and 'Snort' had
John did exactly that – snorted and turned the toy around. It
didn't really surprise him that he held a dragon in his hands;
he would have bet his life on the fact that Scott's toy had
been either a lion, a dragon, or an eagle. But the colour
know why you always sucked at Art," John chuckled.
green. Two colours that didn't go well with each other. Plus
the whole thing...sparkled. Despite being careworn – John
dimly remembered Scott dragging the dragon by its tail through
the whole house – the wings still glittered. Purple. With
bright green dots.
grin spread over his face. His younger brothers had never seen
this dragon. What would they say? John could already imagine
the teasing that would start. The grin grew wider. With Scott
being in full-fledged mother-hen mode, John was starting to
feel a bit smothered. Hopefully the toy would earn him some
much needed space.
going to help me, aren't you?" He stared at the dragon. For an
instant he had an image of another dragon, clutched by a small
hand, but it was gone before he could grasp its meaning. The
dragon he was holding seemed to be giving him a knowing look.
John had the feeling that – despite being purple and ugly –
'Snort' knew something that he did not.
dragons were magical creatures.