The lives of the Tracy’s from a
Special thanks must first go to
Little Miss Bump for being my beta, and patiently correcting
me on my many many grammatical errors. Couldn’t have done this
Huge thank you to all who have
reviewed Strangers. Each one has been read and greatly
appreciated. It has been such a wonderful and unexpected
response for my first story, and has really encouraged me to
keep going and write more!
So, from me, Stacey, Stan,
Jane, David, Jack, Emily and Ben…Thank you!!!
food, bag the food, give them the food.
hours a day.
no way of dressing it up to make the job more interesting.
Working on the tills was dull. Painfully dull. Management
didn’t even like staff speaking to friends on the other
counters. So essentially, Stacey was trapped in the till booth
- in silence - until she was relieved.
compensation for the mind-numbing task was that it gave Stacey
a good chance to people-watch.
her chin on her hand and stifled a yawn, listening to the
terrible store music numbly as she watched the shoppers move
from aisle to aisle. The CD was on a loop, and this was the
seventh time she had heard the song today.
a small child went tearing past the counter, running down the
aisle clutching a plastic toy high above his head.
nee-naw! Submarine to the rescue!”
raised an eyebrow as she watched the child run out of sight
into the condiments aisle, laughing delightedly as he did so.
Then, only a moment later, a tall dark haired man quickly
strode in the same direction.
suppressed a laugh as a customer began unloading their
shopping onto her conveyor belt. She smiled warmly at them,
and thought no more of it, scanning the food and assisting the
customer with packing. She was just handing over the receipt
when an announcement came over the tannoy from her boss
“This is a
staff announcement, clean up in aisle three. Clean up in aisle
three. Thank you.”
three, the cans and condiments aisle. She glanced up just in
time to see the young boy from before and laughed aloud before
she could stop herself. He was being held tightly by the dark
haired man, and it appeared that the boy was covered from head
to toe in a substance that looked suspiciously like ketchup.
She only managed to catch a snippet of their conversation as
they walked past.
a fuss! Now you are going to sit in the cart and think about
what you’ve done until your mom has finished getting what she
care what Johnny said, you don’t-”
disappeared down an aisle and Stacey grinned to her colleague,
Adam, who was stacking shelves in the aisle in front of her.
She loved watching the families, especially the ones that
clearly had no control over their kids. Lord knows what their
homes must be like.
minutes passed and Stacey slumped back in her seat, absently
toying with her name badge as she waited for the next
customer. Boredom began to set in again, until the afternoon
took a strange turn...
in curious disbelief, as a large bottle of juice with legs
seemed to move slowly in her direction.
glanced behind her to check that she wasn’t the only one
seeing it, but if anyone else was seeing it, they weren’t
paying any attention. She watched the strange sight in awe, as
the juice bottle teetered towards her, before being pushed up
onto the conveyor belt slowly. Finally the juice fell
unceremoniously onto the belt, revealing a little boy with
untidy blond hair grinning triumphantly as he pushed it
further onto the surface.
hello there!” she said brightly.
boy said, still grinning. He was adorable. He couldn’t have
been more than two years old, and his bright blue eyes shone
excitedly as he watched the bottle move down towards her.
pick this all by yourself?” she asked. The boy nodded
jooce for evveywun!” he giggled, throwing his arms out in an
encompassing gesture. His enthusiasm was infectious, and
Stacey laughed along with him.
done! Where’s your mommy?”
you think she’ll be looking for you?”
nodded her understanding. She was about to go and make an
announcement over the tannoy system, when a young boy came
striding towards her. He looked around ten or eleven, and was
clearly a boy on a mission.
goodness,” he said, scooping the boy up in his arms and
hugging him, before pulling back and looking at the boy
what did Mom say about wandering off like that?!”
Scotty forgot da jooce!” he exclaimed, pointing at the bottle,
which still rested on the conveyor belt.
boy looked numbly at the bottle, before grinning sheepishly,
“I guess I
did… but still, don’t run away from me, okay?” He picked up
the bottle, carefully shifting Alan so he was resting on his
hip. He looked at Stacey nervously.
Ma’am. Our mom and dad will be over in a minute to pay.”
problem,” Stacey said lightly, just as Scott waved over his
was stunning, even though she looked slightly harassed at the
moment, pushing a trolley overflowing with food. Walking
beside her were two more boys, both apparently on their best
behaviour. The father was the dark haired guy with the ketchup
kid. And, sure enough, there was ketchup kid, sitting in the
trolley, his arms folded stubbornly as he sat amongst the tins
Stacey thought to herself, no wonder they were a little
the mother said exasperatedly, smiling at her briefly. Stacey
smiled in understanding as the mother and her husband began
unloading the cart.
go on the mover!” the ketchup kid demanded, pointing to the
adults began unpacking the cart, and as Stacey began to scan
the goods, she glanced up to the man. He looked familiar, but
she couldn’t quite place him. Maybe from TV? The way Adam was
gesturing frantically suggested she should have known who it
was, but the name wouldn’t come.
you pick up any juice?” he asked absently as he lifted the
ketchup kid out of the cart, holding him easily in one arm as
he continued unpacking the trolley.
By now the
two boys had moved around to the end of the conveyor belt, and
seemed to be having some kind of race to see who could pack
the bags the fastest. The mother sighed and straightened up,
pushing her blond hair out of her face
on I’ll -”
is,” Scott said, putting the juice down. “Al got it.”
did?!” the mother exclaimed, grinning at the small boy
proudly, who was still being held by the eldest “Good job!”
giggled ecstatically as his mother planted a kiss on his
forehead. The father was trying to suppress a smile as the
ketchup kid sighed dramatically in his arms, watching the
conveyor belt go by mournfully.
be $230 please,” Stacey confirmed. The mother nodded and put
her card in the machine, smiling warmly at her.
I’m shopping on my own,” she joked, typing in her security
number to confirm the payment. The machine beeped a
confirmation and she removed the card, helping the two boys
with the last of the bags.
I’m real sorry I maded a mess,” the ketchup kid said
forlornly. The dad looked at the child in his arms and hitched
him up, his expression seeming to soften slightly.
okay, Gordon. Do you know why Daddy had to tell you off?”
boy nodded apologetically. “‘Cause I maded the shop man do
lotsa work to clean up.”
right,” the dad confirmed, “and that wasn’t kind, was it? “
shook his head sadly. “And I got covered in ketchup.”
couldn’t help but snort with laughter at the child’s response,
and immediately realised her mistake. She looked up in horror,
waiting for the family to shout at her for eavesdropping, but
the mom just smiled at her with equal mirth. Indeed, Stacey
thought she could see a smile tugging at the corner of the
dad’s mouth, but he was still attempting to look stern as the
“I wont do
it again. I promise. Can I get down now?”
looked at the child in his arms and smiled, attempting
half-heartedly to wipe some of the ketchup off his son’s
everyone’s packing up, Gordon. But what say we get you cleaned
up and then go swimming, okay? Just Gordy and Daddy time.”
eyes lit up and he nodded enthusiastically, flinging his arms
around his father’s neck. He left a red ketchup stain on his
father’s cheek, but the man didn’t seem to notice.
your receipt,” Stacey said, handing the mother the long till
you,” the mother said warmly, “and thanks for your help.”
time,” Stacey replied.
guys, good job!” the mother enthused as the boys put the last
of the bags in the cart. “Are we all set?”
Mom,” the chestnut haired boy replied.
I help make dinner tonight?”
John, honey. I’ll teach you how to make Gordon’s favourite
spaghetti meal. How does that sound?”
began moving away from Stacey’s till and towards the exit.
Stacey watched them leave, chattering happily amongst
themselves. Those kids must be the luckiest kids in the world,
she thought to herself.
colleagues were all staring at her, waiting for her to give
them all the gossip on that guy…it was bugging her now. What
was his name? Before she could think of an answer to that
question, a woman dumped a basket onto her conveyor belt,
startling Stacey out of her thoughts abruptly.
come on then! I haven’t got all day!”
sighed resignedly. “Yes Ma’am.”
food, bag the food, give them the food.
his job. He hated it with a passion. Especially on days like
his soda through the plastic straw, not taking his eyes from
the ugly scene in front of him. There were dozens of people
just like him. Some were standing on their vans with
binoculars, some were arguing with each other about the best
position. A few were in the middle of a live feed, speaking
confidently into their camera as the large house lay behind
He got out
of the car and sighed, leaning against the bonnet as he
watched the large farmhouse closely. The media cordon
prevented anyone from getting closer to the house, but that
didn’t stop eager paparazzi from swarming around the front
gates and surrounding woodland in an effort to get the perfect
shot. No one seemed to be having any luck though; because no
one had come in or out of the house for a good few hours. The
last action they had seen was Jeff Tracy’s mom arriving, but
grandmas do not make headline news.
half-heartedly checked his camera and looped the strap loosely
around his wrist. This wasn’t the life he had pictured when he
first got into photography. Back then, he’d had lofty ideals,
and it disgusted him that he broke those ideals at the first
scent of a large cheque.
Stan, over here!”
winced at the familiar voice as the man strolled casually
got the shot yet?”
“If I had,
do you think I’d still be here?”
still here and I got a doozy earlier.” He lifted his camera
and turned it on. Stan noted it was a state-of-the-art model,
with an extreme zoom big enough that he would be able to see
right into the house. And sure enough, the picture was of a
bedroom in the house, slightly blurry, but it was clear that
it was Jeff Tracy in the photo. Instead of his usual business
suit, he wore a baggy grey t-shirt and sweatpants. He was
sitting on the edge of the bed, his head in his hands.
looked at Rob in disgust. Another private moment destroyed by
people just like him.
whadda ya think?” Rob exclaimed, grinning broadly. Stan grit
his teeth, before forcing himself to smile
should be worth a few bucks, eh?” Stan nodded tightly, not
trusting himself to speak as Rob continued, “I’m just waiting
to get one of the kids now. That’s what all the glossies are
stand a chance,” Stan commented, staring at the house ahead of
them. “He was cagey about pictures of his kids before this
happened. You wont get near them now.”
need to get near them with this.” Rob grinned, patting the
camera fondly “I can see right into the house. I just need one
of ‘em to look out of the window and ‘click’!”
stared at Rob for a moment, waiting for the man to show some
compassion. But it never happened. Instead, there was just
that infuriating grin. He took a deep breath, his voice
carefully controlled as he tried to contain his anger.
with people like you sitting outside his house every day, it’s
a wonder that Tracy talks to the press at all.”
his hands in protest
not the enemy here! Tracy’s going to have to come to terms
with the fact that people want to know about him. Besides,” he
chortled, “if he cared that much about privacy, he’d shut all
couldn’t listen to this man anymore. He didn’t care if he lost
the shot. He had to clear his head before this drove him
completely insane. He walked away from the furore and towards
the woodlands behind them.
Where’re you going?!”
Stan ground out, stomping away from the ugly scene.
wandered through the woodland that the house backed onto,
kicking a stone aimlessly in front of him. The media frenzy
faded away to a distant murmur, and soon he was surrounded by
the silence of nature.
remember how many times he had sat in front of that house,
waiting for the big scoop; and he’d had no qualms about doing
whatever it took to get the shot. He’d even been caught by
Tracy once when he was trying to snap a picture of the oldest
kid’s birthday party. So why did he feel so bad now? Maybe
because this time was different. This wasn’t a business deal
gone wrong, or the birth of a new child; this was a family
stopped his aimless walking and looked around, suddenly
realising he’d lost his bearings. He stood completely still,
hoping to hear the sounds of the photographers behind him in
order to get an idea of where he was. But all was silent…no,
that was wrong…it wasn’t completely silent.
been so wrapped up in his own thoughts that he hadn’t heard it
at first, but now, there it was. A snuffling, breathy noise
that seemed unnatural in the tranquil setting. He hesitated,
looking back in the direction he had come, but his curiosity
got the better of him and he followed the noise as quietly as
take long for him to reach the bank of a small river. There
was a battered looking rope swing hanging out over the water,
and the area around it was well worn down. It would have been
picturesque were it not for the source of the noise he had
distance away from him, there was a boy sitting alone. He was
looking at something in his hands, his shoulders bobbing up
and down erratically. What was he holding? Stan raised his
camera without thinking, focusing the lens to get a closer
look. It was a toy plane. The boy was gripping it so tightly
that his fingers were white from lack of circulation. His sobs
were clearly audible now, the sound of desolation and anguish
completely heartbreaking; particularly coming from someone
that young. He couldn’t have been older than twelve.
eldest was twelve years old, Stan thought to himself
carefully. Scott. He wasn’t sure what the kid looked like, but
the ages matched up just about perfectly. It had to be him.
Stan’s eyes widened in shock at what he had stumbled upon.
This was the find a paparazzo dreams of!
finger drifted towards the ‘capture’ button before he could
even think about it, but before he could complete the action,
there was another sound that broke his concentration. A loud
rustling was coming towards them, and Stan quickly ducked
behind a tree, his heart beating wildly in his chest. Any
minute now, Jeff Tracy would emerge and discover him. He
shouldn’t be here! He was going to get himself into big
trouble. He expelled a breath of relief when, instead of Jeff
Tracy, another young boy emerged in the clearing. His chestnut
hair was wild and unkempt, and clearly he’d been running for
some time. He looked panicked at first, then relieved when he
saw the other boy, putting his hands on his knees and getting
his breath back.
seeing that he wasn’t alone, the darker haired boy tried to
hold back his tears, wiping his face quickly and taking a
shuddering breath. He even attempted a smile, the poor kid.
But the other one wasn’t fooled. Stan slowly raised his camera
again, looking at their faces. The resemblance was undeniable:
these were definitely Jeff Tracy’s sons.
younger boy moved forwards, gingerly sitting next to his
brother on the log. They sat in silence for a moment, staring
out at the river as it rushed happily past them. The rope
swing swayed lazily in the gentle summer breeze, and the wind
murmured through the trees serenely, but neither of them were
paying any attention. Both looked utterly lost.
chewed his lip thoughtfully. He had the perfect shot. A
portrait of grief and loss from Tracy’s own kids. This would
be worth thousands. Millions maybe, to the right buyer. All he
had to do was take the picture.
hovered over the button, his hands trembling slightly as he
did so. But he didn’t take the picture, instead he just
watched as the younger of the two slowly put his arm around
the other’s shoulders. The eldest, Scott, looked at him, and
tried to speak, opening his mouth soundlessly a couple of
times. Then he looked down at the battered toy plane in his
hand, and the younger boy followed his gaze.
had said a word, but Stan could see that there was an
understanding between the two of them. The eldest began to cry
again, silently at first, his breath hitching as tears rolled
down his cheeks. The younger brother rubbed his shoulder
gently, which apparently was all the permission that was
needed. Scott began to cry in earnest, trying bravely to hold
it in, but failing. The younger boy drew him closer, and Scott
flung his arms around his brother, crying uncontrollably into
his shoulder. The younger boy clutched him just as tightly,
but no tears fell. They stayed that way for several minutes,
just hugging each other. There was no need for words, it would
no longer see the face of the eldest, so instead focused on
the younger boy. He didn’t know this one’s name. He would have
said he was around ten years old, but the look in his eyes
made him seem ancient. He looked over the woods around them,
looking for something he would never find, his eyes wide with
kid seemed to stare right at him.
staring right at him!
froze. Maybe he hadn’t seen. Maybe he was disguised by the
as the boy’s face slowly clouded with hurt, and disbelief.
a moment of strange stalemate as they stared at one another,
neither moving a muscle. The boy still held his shaking
brother in his arms, who was completely oblivious to Stan’s
intrusion. The younger boy didn’t need to move or say
anything. Through his camera lens, Stan could see every
emotion play across his face, almost as though it were in slow
motion. Confusion at first, then hurt…anger…and then sheer
watched through the lens as his expression slowly changed to
that of hollow resignation. The boy seemed to wilt, and he
gave an almost imperceptible nod, lowering his eyes and
hugging his brother even closer to him.
never felt so low. He knew exactly what the kid was saying.
it matter anyway? How could it possibly get any worse than
what those two were living through?
held the camera to his eye, frozen with overwhelming guilt. He
willed himself to take the photo. All he had to do was click
the button and he would be set for life. But those eyes…the
look in that kid’s eyes…he couldn’t bring himself to press his
finger down. It wasn’t right. Taking pictures of drunk rich
girls was one thing, but this…this was monstrous.
lowered the camera, the ‘capture’ button still untouched, and
watched the brothers for a moment. Then, as silently as he
could, he moved away, leaving their private moment to remain
time to get another job.
was tidying up the classroom. The kids had left it fairly
tidy, but the large group of four-year-olds always managed to
leave some evidence behind. It had been a great day; they had
done finger painting, and learnt about space and the stars.
She loved days when the kids really seemed to hang on her
parent had left a few minutes ago and the classroom was now
calm. Jane would have been thinking about going home herself,
were it not for the final person left in the classroom.
Looking over, she watched the little boy, with his thatch of
blonde hair, leaning over a picture and colouring it in
furiously, quietly humming to himself as he did so.
over there, Alan?” she asked. The four year old looked up and
Miss. I’m drawing a rocket ship.”
great Alan,” she said brightly, continuing to tidy up, “maybe
you can take it to space when you’re done?”
smiled, his blue eyes sparkling mischievously. “It’s only a
chuckled, deciding not to correct him on his pronunciation,
school had finished after all.
She gave a
small sigh of relief at the content of Alan’s drawing. Lately,
Alan’s creative work had displayed his state of mind better
than he could ever say. Sad faces, rain clouds, houses with
locked doors and dark windows. For a four-year-old, it was
unsettling, and she had thought long and hard about how she
could help him. But a rocket ship was more on the right track.
glanced up to the clock on the wall as she walked to the front
of the class. Four o’clock. The poor kid should have been
picked up half an hour ago. She settled down at the desk,
keeping an eye on Alan as she casually organised the next
day’s lesson plan. However, as her eyes drifted over the
schedules and targets, she found herself thinking about the
boy sitting in the corner.
six months ago, Alan hadn’t turned up for school one day; and
hearing from other teachers in the school, it would seem his
older brothers were all absent too. The news about their
mother made headlines later that day.
been back in school two weeks later, but he was a changed boy.
He looked lost, losing focus constantly and sitting alone at
break times until his brothers came to check on him. His
brothers too, who had once been bright, friendly boys, were
now walking through school as though in a daze. The whole
family had changed irrevocably, it would seem.
taken a long time for Alan’s behavioural problems to settle
down. Only now, six months on, was he starting to return to
the same exuberant little boy that had first joined her class,
and Jane thought she knew why this was.
weeks following Mrs Tracy’s death, she had noticed a change in
Alan’s routine. He would arrive late to the class, being
dropped off by an apologetic Jeff Tracy. Alan’s father always
looked rushed and exhausted, his pager or phone normally
ringing insistently. When Jeff did pick up Alan after school,
he was invariably late. Sometimes he just didn’t turn up and
Jane had to take Alan home herself.
while, Jane feared that she was witnessing a man on the edge.
Grieving his wife, with constant attention from the press, a
huge workload, as well as being sole carer to five young
boys…it was too much for one person to handle, and Jeff Tracy
clearly wasn’t coping.
morning, after three months of tardiness, something changed.
After only a few minutes of waiting for Alan, Scott Tracy
arrived, holding Alan’s hand tightly. The eldest of the Tracy
boys looked unnervingly calm as he gave his little brother his
lunchbox and a hug goodbye; as though it were the most natural
thing in the world. Jane remembered Scott from teaching him
only a few years ago, but the boy that stood in her class that
day was a very different person. He came up to her desk,
looking tired but determined, and said simply,
taking the boys to school from now on.”
was that. Scott Tracy had become an adult. An adult at only
thirteen years old.
a knock on the classroom door and Jane was startled out of her
thoughts by the very person she was thinking of. Scott walked
in hurriedly, his younger brothers in tow. Jane smiled as the
Tracy’s all filed into the nursery, wearing identical navy
uniforms. She had taught them all at some point or other, and
it never failed to amaze her seeing their relationship when
Alan exclaimed joyously. He ran over and hugged Scott around
the legs tightly. Scott crouched down, allowing Alan to hug
late,” the small boy scolded playfully. Scott frowned,
glancing to Gordon Tracy, who was looking determinedly at the
floor, avoiding his older brothers gaze.
Al, sorry about that. Have you been good for Miss Lyons?”
nodded, grinning, as Scott looked him over for dirt or mess.
then, home time. Get your stuff together.”
watched as Alan went over to Virgil, who was standing behind
Scott quietly, and tugged on his hand.
come see the pitcher I drew!”
Virgil corrected, allowing Alan to drag him over to one of the
tables. Scott got to his feet, brushing his trousers down
briefly and moving over to Jane.
Miss. Sorry we’re late. Gordon was held back by Miss Gautrey
and we had to wait for him.”
Jane made a mental note to talk to the new teacher. Delays
after school were the last thing these boys needed.
you get Alan’s gym kit? It’s the bag with the race cars on
haired boy nodded, and disappeared into the cloakroom without
a word as Scott looked over to his three younger brothers in
the corner. Virgil had sat Alan on his lap, looking at the
picture and nodding his appreciation, though he didn’t smile.
This didn’t seem to phase Alan however, who babbled happily
about his rocket ship. Gordon was in his usual position when
Scott and John collected Alan, on his tiptoes, his face
pressed up against the glass of the class fish tank.
turned to Jane worriedly.
been okay today?”
problem at all, Scott,” she happily confirmed, “He’s doing a
lot better now.”
breathed a sigh of relief. “Good. Dad said he’ll be able to
make parents evening next week but, ah…could you do a written
report anyway? Just in case?”
course.” she responded understandingly, smiling as Alan walked
over, proudly holding out the picture for his older brother to
look at. Scott took the picture from him and raised his
eyebrows, giving an impressed whistle. On first inspection it
looked like a giant red splodge on a page, but looking closer,
Jane could see a vague resemblance to a rocket ship.
Good job!” Scott said overenthusiastically, then he knelt down
next to his brother again. “Do you think you could get your
coat on so we can take this home to show Daddy?”
put it on the fridge?” Alan asked, in awe of the very idea.
Scott nodded, ruffling the youngest blonde hair
affectionately. Alan giggled and ran off to the cloakroom at
top speed, tearing around the tables and chairs before
disappearing through a doorway. Scott winced as they heard a
thump in the direction Alan had just ran. Virgil got to his
feet with a sigh and, without a word, went to find Alan.
Jane asked carefully, “is Virgil doing okay?”
frowned, looking at the doorway where Virgil had gone after
his youngest brother, then back to Jane. She could tell he was
wrestling with something, but seemed to make a decision on
what information he would give.
“Yeah…He’ll be alright. He’s just having a bad week, that’s
all. It was his piano recital.”
didn’t go well?” Jane asked sympathetically
went brilliantly!” Scott enthused “He got top marks! But…uh…”
he trailed off, lapsing into an uncomfortable silence.
upset Virgil, Scott clearly didn’t want to talk about it. But
Jane could guess; only last week she had attended her own
daughter’s piano recital. The room was full of moms and dads
supporting their children. It must have been lonely on that
stage with no one to play for. Scott looked at the picture in
his hands closely, then smiled at Jane hopefully.
good, right? Not as sad as the ones he’s been drawing
smiled at the Scott’s intuitive question. Not many
thirteen-year-olds would know the psychological implications
of a child’s drawing, but then, Scott had never been
thinking the exact same thing,” she responded, looking at the
picture fondly. “He seems a lot happier recently.”
beamed at that.
good. I’ll tell Dad tonight. We’ve been worried about Al
I can help with?” she asked curiously. Scott shook his head.
being Al,” he said lightly, then hesitated, glancing up to
Jane almost embarrassed. “He was bottling a lot of things up
about…Mom, you know. Dad had a talk with him about it a few
nights ago…looks like it worked.” He gestured to the painting.
there’s anything I can do to help, you be sure to let me
know,” Jane said sincerely. Scott nodded his understanding,
and thanks, smiling warmly at his old teacher.
emerged from the cloakroom, carrying a brightly coloured tote
bag and backpack. He proceeded to pack up Alan’s belongings
into the small backpack habitually while Scott folded up
Alan’s picture. The older Tracy then ran his hand through his
hair wearily. However if he wanted to relax, he was prevented
by Gordon, who tugged at Scott’s jacket, a hopeful look in his
can we have Sketty for dinner?”
“Spaghetti,” Scott corrected absently, trying to put Alan’s
picture into his bag as carefully as he could. “And John made
that for you yesterday. You need to have some vegetables
looked sourly at Scott, but didn’t complain at the idea. It
was then Virgil emerged from the cloakroom, holding Alan’s
again,” he explained to Scott exasperatedly.
didn’t hurt!” Alan boasted, giggling as he threw his arms
around Virgil, hugging him tightly. Virgil seemed to relax
slightly and gave a small smile, draping one arm around his
little brother; it was the first time Jane had seen the middle
child smile since arriving.
need to slow down! You’re going to hurt yourself one of these
days.” Scott scolded, before looking apologetically at Miss
Lyons. “We’ll be out of your hair in a minute.”
time,” she replied as she watched John crouch down to help
Alan put on his backpack.
are we going to the park?” Alan asked hopefully as John helped
Me, Virgil and Scott have got homework to do. We’re going
Johnny-” Alan began to whine desperately.
worry Al,” Gordon said confidently, “Daddy said he’d play a
game with us tonight after dinner. That’s way more fun than
grinned, not seeing John’s worried frown to Scott.
remember Daddy’s got lots of work. And you need to catch up on
your biology work because you made them stop the class.”
promised you’d stop letting the frogs escape but you did it
again, didn’t you?”
my fault! Miss Gautrey said-”
don’t want to hear it.” Scott interrupted, effectively ending
the potential argument. Gordon crossed his arms and pouted
sullenly, but Jane couldn’t help but feel slightly pleased. If
Gordon Tracy was playing pranks again, then things must be
getting back on track.
straightened up and held out his hand, which Alan took
automatically, beaming at his older brother fondly. Scott
nodded his approval, seemingly relieved that the school run
was fairly painless.
“Ok, do we
have everything?” Scott asked, there were general murmurs in
the affirmative from the boys.
go!” John and Alan walked hand in hand to the exit, and the
for waiting with him again.” Scott said gratefully. Jane
smiled affectionately in response.
Scott. Have a good evening.”
Lyons!” Alan shouted, waving as he walked away.
boys,” she answered fondly. Gordon lingered behind, staring at
a poster on the wall of a coral reef.
Virgil called, holding out his hand as they walked without so
much of a look back. Gordon ran to catch up, taking Virgil’s
hand and holding it tightly as the family began the short walk
watched them leave, a small smile gracing her features. They
were going to be okay.
Tanner sat at his desk in the familiar setting. He blocked out
the noise from those around him, the tannoy announcements, the
murmur of low voices from nearby desks, the rustle of jostling
papers, and the constant ‘thrum’ of electronic equipment.
Instead, he focused his attention entirely on his work. The
deadline was only months away, and he was in the process of
redesigning the space station’s complex communications system.
Each calculation had to be pored over meticulously, and then
inputted by his team, before he checked it again.
job of monitoring all communications on the space station had
to be delegated to his colleagues. He did this grudgingly, but
there was no one else with his kind of expertise. So while he
was happy to pass his normal job to his colleagues, he had
insisted that he remain in the mission control room, so he
could be on the scene straight away if something needed his
glanced around momentarily to see the flight controller, Nick
Wright, striding towards him. He looked back to his screen.
your new guy waiting for you in the meeting room.”
paused momentarily, before continuing his work.
to talk to the team over in the communications office, they’ll
be able to brief him.”
silent for a moment.
you’d say that. You can’t avoid this guy forever, you know.”
David snorted, attempting to laugh at the ridiculous
statement, but he still felt his cheeks flush. Had his
behaviour been that noticeable?
Dave. Give the kid a chance. Besides, when he’s up there,
you’re going to be his man on the ground, so you’re going to
have to -”
wait a minute! I didn’t agree to that, Mitch has been taking
over day to day comms, he can-”
doesn’t have the experience you do, and don’t tell me you
don’t want to be there second by second when they install your
baby.” he said, gesturing to the screen. David frowned
thoughtfully. Nick was right, he wouldn’t trust anyone else
with the delicate installation of this equipment.
what have you got against the guy?”
him. It’s just-” David paused, frustrated, and took a breath.
“Nothing. It’s nothing. I’ll talk to him now.”
Nick said brightly, and clapped him on the shoulder. “I’ll
send down the files for you. He’s waiting in the briefing
walked away, David slumped back in his chair and glared at the
screen in front of him. He reluctantly stood from his desk and
gathered up the notes he would need, before trudging the short
distance to the briefing room.
months since this man had been hired, David had done all he
could to avoid any interaction with him. He really didn’t have
anything against him as a person, it was just what he
represented. David knew of three or four really decent people
on his team that had worked their way from the ground up. They
had worked for years on mission control to be the best they
could be in their field. And then this guy waltzes in from
nowhere and steals the job from under their feet!
this he could forgive if he was the best man for the job. But
that wasn’t the case. No, there was a far simpler and uglier
reason for him getting the job: his surname. If there was one
thing David hated more than anything, it was nepotism.
reached the doorway and sighed resignedly, before swinging it
open. The man was looking at a picture of the shuttle launch
on the wall, his back to the door. He was tall, with a
muscular build and a crisp navy NASA uniform. David already
he said coldly. The man spun round quickly, then smiled. Now
that he was not expecting. He was blond, with blue eyes and a
sort of natural tan. He looked nothing like his father, but at
the same time, David recognised that smile immediately. He
looked a lot older than his age. As the tabloids loved to
mention, at 24, he was the youngest to ever recruit to NASA’s
astronaut programme. But he looked a lot more mature than his
be David Tanner,” the young man said. David nodded, walking
into the room and dropping his files unceremoniously onto the
table in the centre of the room. The man held out his hand
“John Tracy. It’s great to finally meet you.”
paused, looking at the proffered hand and debating whether or
not to take it, but his manners won out, and he shook the hand
grudgingly, before gesturing that they should both sit down.
“I’m a big
fan of yours,” John continued eagerly, ignoring the earlier
pause and sitting opposite him at the table “I’ve really been
looking forward to meeting you.”
looked determinedly at his notes, organising them into some
kind of order. After several moments, he glanced up to see
that John had turned slightly pink, and looked a little
awkward. Was he shy or something?
began, looking around the room. He was trying to fill the
silence. “I was told that you’re no longer on daily
communications to the space station?”
right,” David said shortly, still staring at his notes, rather
enjoying making this guy squirm. John seemed to get the hint
and lapsed into uncomfortable silence, toying with the sleeve
of his uniform.
to talk you through the new system,” David explained
brusquely, “and what your job is going to entail, both on the
ground and when you’re on the space station. I’ll also be
reporting back to the flight controller, to ensure we’ve got
the right man for the job.”
that little dig hadn’t been too noticeable, but John didn’t
seem phased, which irked David. He was trying to insult him,
and John hadn’t even noticed!
your training going?” he asked the young man, flipping through
the portfolio in front of him.
well,” John said brightly, “we’re done with the basic
training, and they’ve rushed me along in the programme.”
you along?” That sort of thing was only done in rare
circumstances, maybe his father had put in a word with the
closer at the portfolio in front of him and grimaced. No, that
wasn’t the case. According to his statistics, John was fluent
in several languages and semi-fluent in several more, and his
pilot’s license suggested that he had clocked more air miles
than David had himself. That would cut at least six months out
up to John, waiting to see some kind of smug grin, but the
younger man just nodded to his question almost nervously,
moment I’m doing all the book stuff, you know, study of all
the systems on the shuttle and things.”
David said testily, “how much do you know about the new system
you’ll be installing?”
haven’t actually started any study of the space station yet,”
John admitted, and David felt an unaccountable sense of
triumph at that, “but I’ve studied it pretty extensively
anyway. I know the old SDR system inside out,”
That surprised David. Most astronauts didn’t give the old
systems a second look, but in his opinion, the old systems
were superior in many ways. He watched John closely as he
know the system I’ll be installing isn’t completed yet,” John
said with a nervous smile, “but I’ve heard you’re creating
something pretty revolutionary, so I thought I’d better swot
sure ‘revolutionary’ is the right word,” David said, ignoring
the compliment and handing John the appropriate breakdown
sheet. “But it’s fairly new. That’s where you come in. The
John asked absently, studying the paper in from on him. David
decided that the two of us are the most qualified to complete
the project. Which is apparently why you got the position.”
looked up from the paper and grinned, and David found it
difficult not to smile back, which frustrated him even
further. John Tracy was not living up to the image he had
created in his head. He was supposed to be snotty, spoilt and
stupid. And right now he seemed quite pleasant. It made hating
the paper aside and looked at David hopefully. “So are you
going to be my man on the ground?”
seem that way, yes.”
looked like he could literally leap out of his seat in
brilliant! I couldn’t think of anyone better. I’ve read your
book so many times now I’ve lost count.”
people have,” David dully supplied. His book was one of the
most widely read in aeronautics, and it had recently been made
an essential part of the astronaut training programme.
mean…well, I read that one too. But I meant your other book,
‘The future of Space Communication.’”
David blurted, sitting up immediately before he could even
think about it. John nodded, that small smile appearing again
your take on the old ‘Connect’ system was inspired.”
looked dubiously at the young man. His last book, while
critically acclaimed, was not widely read. Had he really read
you,” he said, and he surprised himself that he was being
honest. “We’ve still got a long way to go on the new system
though. We’re still working through a lot of glitches.”
sifted through the pile of paper in front of him and extracted
a circuit diagram to show John, who peered at the incomplete
circuitry with interest.
come across the same problems I did,” he said thoughtfully,
pointing out the error in the diagram.
glanced up from the diagram, seemingly just realising he was
speaking aloud and looked slightly embarrassed.
working on a prototype communications system myself before I
got accepted for the mission.”
theory at this stage of course…sort of a pet project.”
project? You do this stuff for fun?”
seemed quite bashful all of a sudden, and began to blush.
David blinked, surprised.
happened to the snotty rich kid he had pictured? The one who
knew nothing about communications? David was really starting
to believe that John Tracy, part of one of the most famous
families in the world, was shy.
what was your idea?” he pressed, mildly amused at the strange
turn of events.
thought, using your circular wave system, something could be
created that could operate on a global level.”
back in his chair again thoughtfully, thinking through what
the young man had just said. A new global communications
system that used his techniques? He hadn’t thought they could
be used at that kind of level. The technology just wasn’t
of system couldn’t be sustained from the ground though.” he
reasoned, “It would need several relay satellites - not to
mention the ISS and Lunar science stations. Plus, it would
need constant manual operation.”
degree,” John agreed “You’d definitely need a man in the sky
to make it happen. But it could work without relay satellites
and the ISS if there were a dedicated control centre in
thought about that for a moment, then smiled disbelievingly
new space station?”
John laughed in response, “This whole thing is hypothetical
anyway. “ David couldn’t help but grin along with him.
brilliant,” he admitted “Not possible with current technology,
of course…but inspired nonetheless.”
laughed and visibly relaxed. “Well, that’s praise indeed
coming from David Tanner.”
found himself smiling at the compliment, and looked down at
his notes. He had never met anyone that got as excited about
this stuff as he did. The situation was no longer as black and
white as he had hoped, as John Tracy seemed to know what he
was talking about. He looked at the young man before him and
was reminded of himself twenty years ago. All that excitement
and passion for the subject, without any of the cynicism. It
was refreshing, and he found himself softening slightly.
much do you know about your job on the ISS?”
John ran a
hand through his hair nervously and sat up in his seat “I know
I’ll be up there for six months. And I know I’ll be the
communications officer. In terms of the installation work -
I’m sort of relying on you for that.”
a stab of guilt all of a sudden. He really hadn’t given this
guy a chance. He’d been working here for months without a clue
as to what he job would be doing. Well, it was time that was
I talk you through the system from start to finish, and then
you can tell me where you think there might be problems in its
nodded eagerly, and without hesitation David found himself
telling John all the things he had been working on. It was the
first time in a long time that David hadn’t had to simplify
terms, or slow down his delivery, John seemed to really
understand what he was talking about. He asked all the
questions David have been asking himself, and after an hour,
David found himself laughing along with John as they talked
through the intricacies of the design, enthusiastically
pointing out sections of the circuitry on the diagrams on the
think once you’ve finished the design, I’ll have no problems
getting that up and running for you, Mr. Tanner,” John said,
sipping a glass of water.
David,” he said without thinking. “I’m going to be your sole
communication with Earth for six months. I think we can handle
first name terms.”
months…” John said thoughtfully. “That sounds a long time when
you say it like that.”
by once you’re up there,” David responded.
nodded his understanding with a small smile “I remember when
Dad went up, it never felt that long. Mind you, I was only a
kid back then.”
your brothers must be proud of you,” David said, “for
following in his footsteps.” For some reason, the idea of John
taking his father’s place at NASA now made perfect sense. John
all pretty proud. Not that they’d ever admit that, of course.”
his head with a grin. “Unless it’s an Olympic gold medal, we
try not to boost each others ego’s any more than necessary.”
smiled in understanding at the reference to his younger
brother. Gordon’s achievement, and subsequent retirement to
join WASP had only just dropped out of the headlines.
achieving family, huh?”
laughed, relaxing into his seat for the first time. “You could
say that, yeah.”
why aren’t we all spoiled brats living off Daddy’s riches?”
John asked. David flushed, and opened his mouth a couple of
times, but John smiled
okay. I can’t expect people to think I’m here because of my
own talent when I have the last name that I have; especially
found himself unable to look the man in the eye all of a
sudden, guilt beginning to build in him again.
when people think of you a certain way before you’ve even met
them, you work doubly hard to prove yourself,” John said
simply. “Which means that we’re all pretty high achievers…Plus
there’s nothing like sibling rivalry to get you to push that
little bit harder.”
technician tried to smile at the joke, but he had the feeling
that John had known David’s opinion of him from the very
beginning, which made him feel very small. He felt he should
apologise, but John seemed happy to pretend that everything
then that he liked this guy, whatever his last name was.
John, I think you’ve proved to me that you’re the right man
for the job,” he said, tidying up his paperwork. “How do you
fancy helping me out with all this ‘book stuff’ in mission
grinned like an excited schoolboy.
sounds brilliant, David.”
stood up and clapped John on the back, and together they
walked back to the control centre, and back to work.
a strange atmosphere from the moment Jack stepped through the
doors that day.
changed from his normal clothes into his work overalls, he
could hear the noise outside. There was the usual quiet calm
of life in the ICU, but there seemed to be an excited buzz
about the place as well. The doctors and nurses were all
talking amongst themselves about something. Some kind of
important patient. He retrieved his trolley and ward breakdown
list and began moving through the daily cleaning rota. To
most, this was the most boring part of the day, but after
thirty years in the job, Jack thrived on it. It was his main
opportunity to speak to the patients and, indeed, the staff.
the staff was preoccupied. From what he could eventually tell
from half overheard conversations as he passed, there was a
famous patient in one of the rooms on the ward. It was none of
his business, of course. If they were on this ward then they
got treated the same as anyone else, at least that was how it
was with Jack. He pushed his trolley, moving through the rooms
as he always did.
Sebold,” he said brightly.
always Jack’s first stop on his walk around. He plumped up the
cushions, threw away the dead flowers that still sat in the
vase, and stocked the bedside cupboard with clean sheets. He
then eased himself into the seat beside the bed with a stifled
groan. His back had been giving him more trouble than usual
today, but when you worked day to day with people this sick,
it felt a little redundant to complain about something so
Sebold, have you heard the buzz around here? Apparently
there’s a famous fella down the hall. Maybe he’ll come out
here and say hello?” There was silence, the hiss of the
breathing apparatus the only audible response. Jack chuckled,
looking down to the armrests of the chair and habitually
brushing down the vinyl finish.
suppose not. These famous fellas don’t have much time for
anyone, do they?”
at the man’s sunken closed eyes. His skin was so pale it was
almost translucent, and he had lost so much weight that he
almost appeared skeletal. Mr Sebold didn’t have long now; Jack
didn’t have to be a doctor to see that. He sighed quietly and
sat in silence for a moment, watching the unconscious man.
Then he straightened up, wincing slightly as he did so.
Edward, I must do the rounds. I’ll pop in for a spell before I
leave to read you the paper.”
squeezed the man’s frail hand, then hauled himself to his
feet, before moving onto the high dependency unit. He moved
respectfully from bed to bed, tidying up and restocking
whatever equipment was necessary. He tried to learn the names
of patients wherever possible, but in this section of the ICU,
people generally didn’t stay long. Either because of an
improvement, or because they didn’t make it.
couldn’t account for why, but he had expected their famous
guest to be here. Instead, there was an empty bed by the
window, just as it had been empty the day before. However, it
was clear that in the last twenty-four hours it had been used,
as the sheets were rumpled and extra pillows had been added.
Someone had also closed the curtains, casting shadows
throughout the ward and blocking out the beautiful day
outside. He efficiently made the bed, and prepared the area
for the next patient. Once satisfied, he moved his trolley to
the next section of the ward. Every window was streaming with
sunlight here, which immediately made for a cheerier
atmosphere. Also, the man in the final bed on the ward looked
delighted to see him.
Jack!” he said brightly. “Did you hear about the soccer?”
robbed, Dan, robbed!” Jack called over to the man, seeing him
laugh at his response.
over and tidied up a little, listening to Dan talk about the
game. Dan had been really sick when they brought him in. Some
kind of rare blood disease. All the doctors were saying he
wasn’t going to make it, but he’d made a turnaround. A medical
miracle apparently. He was definitely Jack’s favourite patient
at the moment, and he’d been there several months, so they’d
had plenty of time to get to know each other.
got you something,” Jack said, when he had finished, taking a
magazine from the bottom of his cart and handing it to the
Pony!” Dan exclaimed, “Where did you find it?”
Jack’s got his ways,” he said smugly, placing the magazine on
the table in front of the man. Dan grit his teeth and slowly
lifted his hand, moving it towards the magazine.
to do it?” Jack asked lightly. Dan shook his head tightly.
was shaking with the effort, but he eventually managed to
reach the magazine and turn the bright cover. Jack resisted
congratulating him, and instead just matched Dan’s grin.
is great,” Dan said earnestly, “Sarah’s gonna love it. Thanks,
give Sarah a big kiss from me when she comes to visit.”
will,” he agreed, grinning at the thought.
looking forward to seeing her?”
It’s been way too long for her to be away from her Daddy.”
have come sooner,” Jack reasoned, emptying the trashcan as
his head briefly, still looking at the magazine, “I wouldn’t
have wanted her to see me the way I was.”
continued to tidy around Dan. Thinking back to last month,
when Dan was still almost completely immobile, he could
understand the young man’s decision. It had been a hard
recovery for him, and today was certainly a milestone.
whispered conspiratorially, breaking Jack from his thoughts,
“have you heard about the guy in room six?”
it’s some famous guy apparently. He was in next door but
they’ve moved him to a private room now.”
a wave of sadness at that. They generally only moved people to
the private rooms when things were really bad. He only hoped
that, whoever it was, they had been moved because of their
fame and nothing more sinister.
heard anything yet,” Jack replied, wiping down the bedside
cabinet. “Just that it’s someone special.”
frowned thoughtfully, then his eyes twinkled mischievously and
he grinned at the older man. “Think you could get me the
guarantee it.” Jack grinned back. “I’m going there now.”
me know if it’s someone young. I’m sick of being the only
person here under sixty…no offence.”
barked out a laugh and clapped the man on the arm “None taken.
You’re only as young as you feel, Dan, my friend, and I’m not
a day over twenty-five. I’ll come back and sit with you in a
little while, okay?”
you later.” Dan smiled.
returned to his trolley and moved from room to room, humming
gently to himself as he cleaned the ward. He knew some of the
people didn’t like to be disturbed, and so remained quiet and
respectful. The worst was always when he got to the large
private rooms. Visiting hours didn’t apply here, so there was
normally a worried family member there, looking at him as
though they thought he could fix the person in the bed. It was
definitely the saddest part of Jack’s day, but he tried to
help as much as he could.
got to room number six he knocked gently. Always best to be
courteous on the first visit, he thought. The door opened and
a young man looked around, apparently confused that someone
was requesting permission to enter. He was a good-looking kid,
Jack thought to himself, with dark brown hair and deep brown
eyes. Of course, he’d look a little better if he had a decent
night’s sleep- but if he had a relative on this ward, then
that wouldn’t happen any time soon.
porter,” Jack explained. “Just here to tidy up a little.”
“Oh…thanks,” the man said, gesturing him into the room. He had
that look, Jack noted. It was familiar around here, that
helpless look that spoke of quiet desperation. He pushed his
trolley in and wasn’t surprised to see more people in the
room. Two more young men sat around the bed, one with blond
hair, the other dark and wearing a crumpled Air Force uniform.
There was also another man sitting with his back to him at the
head of the bed.
never really considered himself a smart man; working around
these doctors and nurses proved that to him every day. But he
could read people pretty well, and he could tell that this was
a close family straight away.
up as quietly as he could, glancing up at the young man in the
bed. He looked in an appalling state. He was covered in
swollen dark bruises, his head thickly bandaged, as well as
his chest and arms. His breathing - which was being regulated
by a ventilator - and the life support machine were the only
sounds in the room as Jack changed the refuse sacks.
saw the face of the person closest to the bed, and suddenly
all the buzz became clear. Jeff Tracy - the famous billionaire
astronaut - sat there, gripping the man’s hand tightly with
both hands. He looked distraught; just like any other upset
heart immediately went out to the guy. No father should go
through this ordeal, but hadn’t this guy been through enough?
Jack remembered all the craziness that went on when his wife
died, and now it looked like it was happening all over again.
He only hoped the press would be nicer this time around.
his name?” Jack asked, not ceasing his cleaning.
one of the young men quietly supplied, not looking away from
the unconscious figure.
stopped what he was doing and regarded the man on the bed for
a moment, looking at his dark and swollen eyes. Gordon Tracy.
The Olympic gold medallist. He and Eva had watched those games
avidly, and he remembered the young man who came out of
nowhere to win gold. He didn’t remember seeing any photos of
Gordon out of the water, and with the bruising and the tube
snaking from his mouth, it was near impossible to picture him
as he would normally look. Never mind, he thought to himself,
the bruising would fade and he’d see his face eventually. He
gripped the end of the bed and leaned over, to be sure Gordon
could hear him.
Gordon. I’m Jack, the porter. Very pleased to meet you.”
were all looking at him as though he was insane, but he just
they can hear,” he said simply, then went back to his cart,
taking out the new oxygen cylinders and placing them carefully
next to the bed by Jeff Tracy, before frowning and raising his
should open the curtains,” he commented, nodding to the
darkened windows. “I know Gordon’s sleeping, but a bit of
light wouldn’t hurt you fellas, and it’d make this fiddly job
a lot easier.”
can’t,” the blond haired man said miserably, his chin resting
on his hand as he stared at his brother.
were on the roof of the building opposite,” Jeff Tracy
explained carefully. “That’s why we were moved.”
nodded his understanding, trying not to give in to sympathy,
and treated them how he would want to be treated if in the
said decisively, walking over to the window and pulling open
the curtains. “This is the West side of the building. Nothing
but bungalows and ocean for miles. I’d like to see them try to
get a snap of you. They’ll have to come through old Jack
He held up
his fists mockingly and smiled at the group. With more light
streaming into the room, and with the ocean in view, the room
immediately perked up, if only a little.
the name of course,” he continued brightly, going back to
changing the oxygen cylinders carefully and talking directly
to the injured man. “Gordon Tracy. Our Olympic swimming hero.
My Eva was glued to the screen every time you were on. But,
truth be told, I think that had more to do with all those
toned swimming fellas lined up than the race itself.”
chuckled to himself and glanced up to the man on the bed. He
didn’t react, but the family were all staring at him as though
he were a complete oddity. To Jack, that wasn’t unusual, the
people in these wards were so used to misery and sadness,
sometimes being cheerful was a completely alien concept. He
smiled his understanding and began fixing the last cylinder in
know I talk a lot.”
okay,” the blond haired one said, looking earnestly at Jack.
“You’re the first guy here to talk to us about anything other
than his condition.”
should be proud of him,” Jack commented warmly as he continued
to hook up the oxygen cylinder. “He fought hard to win those
races. Just like he’s fighting now, right Gordon?”
not respond, but Jeff Tracy sat forward in his seat slightly,
affectionately brushing the matted hair from his son’s bruised
and battered face.
making the rounds every day,” Jack explained, straightening up
with an involuntary groan and wiping his hands down on his
overalls. “If there’s anything you’d like me to fetch for you,
I’m happy to help out. I know it ain’t no fun leaving them
when they’re like this. I could even bring young Gordon
something, if you like. For when he wakes up.”
an uncomfortable silence in the room now. The lightening mood
now sinking into horrible despair.
Gordon might never wake up.
all stared at the man on the bed, their eyes speaking so much
more than words ever could.
you, Jack,” Jeff Tracy said quietly, after a protracted
Thanks,” the brown haired one agreed sadly. “That’s good of
and continued his cleaning route, replacing the sheets in the
cabinet. Terrible shame when it happened to the young ones,
Jack thought. But he had also been around long enough to know
that doctors weren’t always right.
call David again,” the guy in the Air Force uniform said,
absently toying with the sheet that was covering his brother.
nothing more to tell him, Scott,” the dark haired man
but if…if what the doctor said is right…then John should
wrong,” the blond haired one said quickly, his voice shaking
with barely restrained emotion. “The doctors are wrong.”
shuttle is bringing him down tomorrow,” Jeff Tracy
interjected. “We should wait and tell him in person.”
was stoic, and wavered only slightly, but it seemed to have a
real effect on the younger men. Jack wasn’t sure why. Maybe it
was that unmistakable sound of defeat in his voice.
another silence in the room, broken only by the scratching of
a pencil. The brown haired one was drawing on a sketchpad, and
as Jack looked at him he wasn’t certain that the man was even
looking at what he was drawing. He imagined it was more of a
calming exercise than an actual attempt at a piece of art.
The one in
the Air Force uniform, what had his brother called him? Scott.
That was it. He was sitting watching the other one sketching.
He appeared to be gaining some comfort from the actions,
perhaps just as a reason to not look at the man on the bed.
The one drawing seemed to understand, and had subtly angled
the sketchpad in such a way that Scott could see his progress.
one, on the other hand, had barely looked away from the man on
the bed since Jack had entered the room. He was staring at
Gordon with a lost, almost frightened expression that made him
seem younger than he actually was.
there was Jeff Tracy. It seemed all his emotions had been
locked away somewhere where only he could access them. He
clung to Gordon’s hand, his eyes willing him to wake up. The
result was that Jack thought he was witnessing a man, and
indeed an entire family, on the edge. They needed someone to
give them hope.
know,” Jack started carefully, “there’s a fella in the ward
you might want to talk to. Dan, his name is. Three months ago
they were going to switch off his life support. The doctors
said there was no chance.”
all looking at him now, and for a moment Jack thought he’d
overstepped the mark, but none of them looked angry.
happened to him?” Scott asked, his voice wavering slightly.
daughter’s visiting him for the first time today,” Jack
beamed. “And last week he walked on his own two feet right
down this ward and back again. He’s gonna be fine.”
looked a little more relaxed now, all silently considering his
his odds?” the blond haired one asked thoughtfully
sure.” Jack shrugged “These doctors do like to give
percentages and numbers that don’t mean much. But, truth be
told, I’ve been in these wards long enough to see the ones
that will try and fight. And your Gordon is a fighter. He’s
going to do everything he can to stick around, isn’t that
right, Gordon?” They all glanced to the man on the bed, and,
while there was no response, the family seemed to look with a
little more positivity. Jack’s job was done
These wards ain’t gonna clean themselves,” he said brightly.
“It was really great to meet you all.”
Scott said, with a nod of thanks. Jack smiled in response and
gripped Gordon’s foot gently at the end of the bed.
get yourself better, young Mr Tracy,” he said sternly. “This
isn’t a very funny practical joke.”
laughed. Jack wasn’t sure why, but the sound was wonderful in
the once stifling room. Jeff Tracy gave him a long look of
deep gratitude, and Jack nodded a farewell to the man, before
pushing his trolley out again. He’d check up on the Tracy’s
have got to check out table seven.”
it?” Emily asked distractedly, trying not to look at the
mouth-watering crème brûlée she was preparing to serve.
but there’s five of them, and I swear, they’re all models or
just a sucker for a guy in a tuxedo,” Emily joked, carefully
lifting the large tray.
stared at her exasperatedly, before taking the tray off her.
your section for this service, you take mine. Then you’ll see
what I mean.”
nodded her agreement, too tired to protest, and took another
tray of desserts. Working in the Tracy Corp building, Emily
saw her fair share of big events. Sure, she only worked as a
waitress, but she liked to think she did a good amount of
networking as well. After all, it isn’t what you know, it’s
who you know, and she wouldn’t be a waitress forever.
these big charity functions. Seeing the famous faces was so
exciting! She had already served Johnny Ashford tonight, the
world famous movie star. He was even more gorgeous in the
flesh than he was on the screen, a fact that every waitress
commented on when they reached the kitchen.
tonight had been arranged by the Tracy family, to raise money
for a new wing of the hospital. It was good of them, Emily
thought, though she hadn’t the faintest idea why they had
decided to do it. In the six months Emily had worked for Tracy
Corp, this was the first time the Tracy family had surfaced
for anything. They were notoriously reclusive, but perhaps
this evening marked a change.
moved into the dining hall, and was once again hit with a wall
of sound. The band were playing upbeat swing music, and the
seated guests were getting more and more raucous as the wine
went to their heads. She saw a lot of familiar faces, all of
whom were wearing their finest clothes and looked stunning.
There were singers, actors, and celebrities left right and
centre, but Emily decided to ignore all those and see what all
the fuss was about at table seven.
glanced at the numbers in the centre of the tables, and
spotted number seven in the far corner of the room. She
laughed aloud before she could stop herself. There were five
boys, and Jenna was right; those boys were magnificent. Why
had she been so excited about seeing movies stars and singers,
when male perfection was only a few tables away? Johnny
Ashford looked ugly in comparison!
to the table as smoothly as she could, and smiled nervously at
the men, before carefully placing the desserts in front of
them all in turn. They were talking amongst themselves,
seemingly all at once, though none of them seemed to find that
a problem. The one that drew her attention first was tall,
with dark hair and piercing blue eyes. He was listening to the
man sitting next to him, who had almost platinum blond hair,
and was talking animatedly as she placed the plates in front
David was panicking so much that he completely forgot to
reroute the power supply. I know in space no one can hear you
scream, but I swear, you could hear me holler in the next
haired one laughed uncontrollably. “What did you say to him
moved around the table before she could hear the blond haired
ones response, and set down the dessert in front of another
blond haired man. He smiled gratefully at her, and immediately
set about cracking the top of the dessert with a spoon. He
grinned at Emily when he succeeded, and for a moment he looked
like an excited little boy,
she whispered conspiratorially, sharing the man’s grin.
the next plate down in front of the copper haired man sitting
beside him. He looked a little thinner than the rest of the
men, and his skin was pale, but he was laughing happily with
his friends, and definitely seemed to be the life of the
party. He smiled at her, and stopped his conversation with the
me, Ma’am, could we order some more drinks?”
she said immediately, and placed the final dessert on the
table, before removing a notebook from her pocket.
It’s time to get this party started!”
the dark haired one said warningly,
relax,” he responded with a wave of his hand, and smiled up at
Emily again. “Let’s get a bottle of Dom Perignon, and four
four?” Emily asked, thinking he had miscounted. The man nodded
with a smile
a glass of OJ.”
two glasses of OJ,” the chestnut haired one added, before
grinning at his friend. “Big flight tomorrow. I don’t want to
be drunk at the yoke.”
else?” Emily asked, jotting down the order.
that’s all thanks,” the man said with a smile. Emily couldn’t
help but smile in response, and immediately went to the bar to
carry out the order. Jenna was waiting for her when she
grinned. “Do you fancy swapping sections for the rest of the
laughed, taking the order form from Emily quickly. “No way,
they’re all mine. Now you get back to Johnny Ashford, he’s
complaining that the ice water is too cold.”
sighed wistfully, and briefly considered protesting, but she
knew if she were in Jenna’s shoes, she’d do exactly the same
of the evening passed by in a blur. She lost count of the
amount of drinks orders she took, and boy did these people
know how to drink! They were all up on their feet and dancing
for hours, until the night began to wind down, and people
started to drift home, or back to the hotel suites in the
evening was nowhere near as glamorous. A particularly drunk
reality star had spilt red wine over her white shirt, Johnny
Ashford had been, without a doubt, the most demanding and rude
customer she had ever served, and to top it all off her feet
felt like they were about to fall off. It was a relief when
the band finished and the night slowly drew to a close.
were now steadily moving in and out of the bar with empty
plates, and the sound from the large dining hall had faded
away so the only sound was the beautiful piano music they had
started playing over the speakers next door. Emily wiped her
brow on her sleeve for a moment, before continuing to clean
the bar with a cloth.
she responded, wearily turning to Jenna.
go clear the glasses in the main hall? We’re running low.”
Emily nodded her assent and wiped down her hands on her apron.
She picked up the largest tray she could find, before moving
into the room next door.
were still dimmed, the room lit only by the flickering candles
on the tables and the mood lighting on the walls. The room had
quietened down considerably, and all but the most die-hard
partygoers had gone home. A few people stood out. A woman in a
silver dress sat alone at a table, staring miserably into a
glass of white wine. A man in a dishevelled tuxedo was asleep
in a chair, his head resting on the table in front of him, and
there was still a couple dancing in the middle of the dance
floor. The woman had removed her shoes, and they were doing
that familiar, shuffling dance in a small circle, which
suggested that neither were particularly aware of the music
they were dancing to. Emily was, however, and it was this,
which drew her attention.
the bar, she had assumed the beautiful music had been on the
sound system, but that wasn’t the case. The swing band had
disappeared, and now the only person that remained was a
solitary piano player. He was wearing a tuxedo, though the bow
tie had been unfastened and now lay loosely about his
shoulders. He was young, with dark hair and a small smile
gracing his features, and he was, without a doubt, the most
attractive man Emily had ever seen. How had she not spotted
him when he was sitting at the tables?!
expelled a breath as she watched him play. He was flawless. He
was completely oblivious to the room around him, playing the
gentle, lilting melody simply for the joy of playing. He
appeared a man completely at peace, his eyes were loving and
generous, his figure obviously muscular even beneath that
perfectly fitted tuxedo.
sighed to herself and tucked the tray under her arm, walking
further into the room and just watching him play for a few
around and let out a small yelp of surprise. There, sitting at
table seven - almost completely obscured by shadow- was Jeff
Tracy!” she exclaimed in horror, rushing immediately to the
nearest table and loading empty glasses onto the tray “I’m
sorry, I was just-”
it’s okay,” he said with a chuckle, “I’m not gonna fire you
for taking a break.”
heart was beating wildly in her chest, but she chanced a look
up to her boss, and saw he was not angry. He was smiling at
her, and was leaning back in his chair, his arms folded in a
relaxed way. He looked like a cowboy that someone had cleaned
up and forced into a suit. He gestured to the empty seat at
seat,” he offered. “Your feet must be killing you.”
hesitated, glancing around the room to see if her supervisor
was watching, but Jeff Tracy was technically her boss, so she
didn’t have much choice. She walked nervously over to the
table and sat gingerly on the seat, relieved that the weight
was off her feet for a moment.
seemed happy to sit in silence, and Emily found that
incredibly unnerving. She looked around the room again, and
back to the pianist, who was still playing the beautiful
lilting melody. Then she looked back to Jeff Tracy curiously.
The look on his face was of a man lost in a thousand different
memories, and each one was wonderful. His eyes positively
glowed with warmth and love as he listened to the music. This
song must mean something to him, Emily thought, watching him
as he smiled at the pianist’s beautiful playing.
watching him play,” he said quietly.
the pianist, Sir?” she asked timidly.
smiled at some joke Emily didn’t understand, and nodded. “Yes,
I know him.”
to Emily and looked at her curiously.
enjoy the evening?”
“I - uh -
I didn’t really see much of the party, Sir,” she said
nervously. “I was on the bar.”
nodded his understanding. “Well, you did a good job. I think
my sons were pretty well lubricated by the end of the
evening.” Emily smiled in response. She was surprised to hear
his sons were here; who’d have thought the whole Tracy clan
would turn up to something like this?
all the proceeds went to charity, Sir,” she commented. Jeff
nodded in agreement and took a sip from his champagne flute.
hospital has been good to us these past few months. It’s the
least we could do.”
lapsed into silence, not knowing how to react. She was, of
course, aware that Mr Tracy’s son had been in an accident, but
other than that there had been next to no news. She hadn’t
realised it had been so serious.
have you worked for Tracy Corp?” Jeff asked.
don’t want to be working as a waitress forever,” he stated,
looking at her pensively. Emily shook her head, and went to
explain, but the man continued.
took the job here because you knew you’d meet the right sort
of people. And even though it isn’t what you really want to
do, you need the money, and it’s better to do a dumb job
somewhere like this, than in some dive bar with no prospects.”
laughed incredulously. “You must meet a lot of people like
nodded with a smile. “You’re doing the right thing. What’s
your dream job?”
“I want to
be a journalist, Mr Tracy,” Emily confessed. Jeff Tracy
wrinkled his nose distastefully,
nobody’s perfect,” he said wryly,
a noise from the hallway behind them, and two men stumbled
into the room, laughing hysterically as they did so. It was
two of the men from table seven! The dark haired one with blue
eyes looked a little worse for wear, his tie now loose and his
hair dishevelled in a way that, somehow, made him even more
attractive. The other was the copper haired man with the
wonderful smile. Emily was surprised to see he was using a
walking stick, but it didn’t seem to be holding him back.
is!” he exclaimed, pointing to the pianist on the stage.
him,” the taller man said, and went to walk to the stage, but
the one with the walking stick stopped him.
let him play for a bit. I like hearing him play.”
you two up to?” Jeff asked the young men. Both span around and
one with the walking stick said, and walked over to the table.
“We’re going up to the roof to keep the party going. John and
Al are already up there.”
wise?” Jeff asked dubiously. “Our flight is at six.”
packed and ready, and we can sleep on the flight.”
maybe,” the taller one said with a grin, spotting the bottle
of champagne that still sat on the table and pouring himself a
glass, “I’ve got to keep an eye on you lot.”
couldn’t believe what she was hearing. They were Jeff Tracy’s
sons! Now they were together it was immediately obvious. The
tall one especially looked like a carbon copy of Jeff Tracy,
the only difference was the colour of his hair, which - unlike
his father’s - was still jet black. He poured the champagne to
the very rim of his glass, then he spotted Emily and looked
surprised for a moment, before flashing her a smile that made
her melt a little.
said brightly, and sat heavily in the chair next to her.
coming up to the party on the roof?” he asked, taking a sip
from his glass.
“Uh - no,
Sir. I’m working.”
on,” he protested, “it’ll be fun! We’re gonna watch the
sunrise, and have a jam session with the band. It’s gonna be
How much have you had to drink, Scott?” Jeff asked with a
smile, drawing Scott’s attention to him.
tried to look offended at the question, but quickly descended
into laughter, rubbing his face with his hand. The one with
the walking stick moved around behind his chair and clapped
him on the shoulder.
worry, Dad, we’re looking after him. Scotty’s allowed to let
his hair down once in a while, aren’t you?”
right!” Scott said with a grin, banging his fist on the table
decisively, which only succeeded in spilling the champagne he
had just poured himself. He looked horrified, and grabbed the
nearest discarded serviette, mopping up the liquid quickly,
apologising quietly to the glass of champagne as he did so.
Meanwhile, the other young man ignored his brother and held
out his hand to Emily
she said simply, taking his hand and shaking it, astounded by
the latest turn of events. Sitting at the same table as Jeff
Tracy was surreal enough, but now his famously reclusive sons
were introducing themselves!
Emily,” he responded brightly, before turning to his father
again. “Virgil’s piloting tomorrow, not the drunk, so don’t
nodded his understanding. “Well, it is a special occasion.”
right!” Scott said again, and raised his now half empty
champagne flute. “To new beginnings!” He then drank the
remainder of the glass and sat back in the chair, smiling
broadly at the group.
get Virge,” Gordon placated.
go get him,” Scott agreed, he then sat forward and put his
hand on Emily’s shoulder, pointing to the stage, where the
pianist still played.
little brother, Virgil,” he whispered, “and he’s my best
friend. Don’t tell him, though.” He then got to his feet and
strolled just a little too casually to the stage.
about him,” Jeff said, chuckling to himself, watching as Scott
struggled to get onto the stage. “It’s a real military effort
to get him to relax, so we should appreciate nights like
should have seen him when we first introduced the idea of
having a glass of champagne.” Gordon ran his fingers through
his hair exaggeratedly and lowered his voice in an uncanny
impression of the man. “No, Gordon, someone needs to keep
control, and you can’t drink because of your meds, and I’m
your big brother, blah blah blah.”
laughed aloud at the impression and looked at the performance
space. Scott had managed to get onto the stage and had walked
to the piano, leaning against it and smiling at the man, who
returned the gesture without ceasing his music. Emily almost
laughed when she saw the pair together. She couldn’t believe
that she hadn’t seen the family resemblance before. Suddenly
Jeff Tracy’s expression earlier made perfect sense; he was a
father who was proud of his son.
pianist said something to his brother, who laughed in
response, looking around the room and running his hand through
his hair habitually in a gesture that Gordon had mimicked only
a moment ago.
Jeff Tracy said wearily, drawing Emily’s attention back to the
table she was sitting at, “I think I’ll leave you boys to your
party. Big day tomorrow.”
turned to Emily, lowering himself slowly into a seat beside
her. “We’re moving house,” he explained “Well, moving
countries, to be exact”
careful what you say to her, Gordon,” Jeff said with a joking
smile, getting to his feet. “She’s a journalist in the
journalist?” Gordon exclaimed, eyebrows raised. “Then you
definitely have to come to the roof with us. It’ll be your big
scoop. I can see the headlines now ‘Scott Tracy is human! He
drinks beer and falls over! Stop the press!’”
laughed and stood up, ignoring the throbbing protest her feet
made. “Thank you very much for the offer, Sir, but I should
get back to work.”
Gordon asked, dismayed. “When did I become a ‘sir’?!”
listen to him, Emily,” Jeff joked. “Just ‘cause he’s got no
manners doesn’t mean you have to lower your standards.”
away the comment, and removed his wallet from his pocket.
Emily felt a vague sense of disappointment at that, but she
wasn’t sure why. Most people would be thrilled to be tipped by
a billionaire, but somehow it made the past few minutes seem
Jeff said decisively, looking through his wallet distractedly.
“I’d give you a tip, but I don’t think that’s adequate
smiled to herself. No wonder this man was such a success, he
could clearly read minds. He finally removed a small white
card and looked at her, handing it over casually
the direct number of Stan Derwent.”
Derwent…the photographer?” Emily asked confusedly, staring at
the innocuous white card in her hand.
nodded. “He’s a good man, and he’s worked his way from the
ground up. He works at the Times now. Tell him I sent you, and
he can get you some on the job experience. I doubt it pays
well, but it’s a foot in the door.”
It took a
moment for Emily to register what he had just said. She stared
at him incredulously, her eyes filling with tears before she
could stop herself. No one had ever done so much for her. She
stared at the card in her hand as though it were solid gold,
running her fingers over the black lettering. She opened her
mouth a few times to say something, but no words would come.
She looked at the man, and went to say thank you, but he waved
her off before she could utter a word, smilingly kindly at
a good evening, Emily,” he said warmly. Then he strolled
through the doors and out of sight.
watched his father leave, then turned and grinned at her.
Emily stared at him, still processing what had just happened,
before uttering a sound halfway between a laugh and a cry.
With that little card, Jeff Tracy might just have changed her
that, sometimes,” Gordon explained, still grinning at her.
Emily wiped her eyes quickly, trying to compose herself.
Luckily she had a little more time as Scott and his brother
here,” the pianist said exasperatedly. “Now let’s go before
Scott forgets how to walk.”
not that bad!”
yeah,” he chuckled, nudging his older brother jokingly. Gordon
picked up his walking stick again, before hauling himself to
his feet, wincing noticeably as he did so.
said tightly, still obviously trying to remain cheerful.
“Let’s go thatta way.”
upwards at the ceiling, and began to walk through to the
hallway, before turning to look at Emily again.
to the roof when you’re finished down here,” he said. “And
bring your friends. We need to toast your new job!”
that simple sentence the Tracy boys moved out of the dining
hall, and out of sight. Emily stood there, stunned for a
moment, watching the doorway where they had just left.
what’s the hold up?”
voice cut through her daze abruptly, and she looked over to
see her friend looking mildly annoyed at her, loading glasses
onto the tray Emily had abandoned earlier.
“Sorry…sorry, I’ll clear up now.” She tried to shake herself
out of it, walking unsteadily over to the table.
some of the debris aside distractedly and picked up Scott’s
empty champagne glass. She turned it around in her hands,
staring at it thoughtfully as she ran through the events of
the last few minutes, smiling to herself. Things were about to
change. Excitement began to bubble up inside her, and before
she could think about it any further, she came to a decision
and turned around to her friend.
Jenna, what are you doing after work?”
for breath, coughing violently as dust invaded his lungs. It
was pitch black and every second was a fight to remain calm.
He knew something was deeply wrong with his legs, but he was
too scared - and in too much pain - to feel down and see what
the damage was.
been getting changed into his overalls in the lower levels of
the chemical plant when it happened. He’d been late, thanks to
his little girl keeping him up half the night crying. He was
trying to be as quick as possible, and he was only ten minutes
late. He’d thought that if he rushed, then maybe his
supervisor wouldn’t notice. Then there had been an almighty
bang, and Ben found himself blown off his feet and propelled
across the room, before hitting the far wall and falling in a
crumpled heap. Rubble had started to fall all around him, and
then everything went dark.
awoke it was still pitch black, and it had taken him a long
while to adjust to his new situation. It was the smell that
he’d noticed first; the air was stale, with the faint odour of
smoke. The place normally smelt almost clinical, and that,
more than anything else, showed Ben that something terrible
felt the pain at first, it was only when he tried to stand
that the problems arose. A large piece of wood lay across his
lap and he had summoned all his strength to push it off.
However, as soon as he pushed the beam to one side, pain like
he had never experienced before lanced through his legs. He
had roared in agony, arching his back against the wall behind
him, his breath coming in quick pants, but there was no
escaping the excruciating pain.
tried shouting for help, screaming even, but the factory was
unnaturally quiet. He’d shouted until his voice had grown
hoarse, then, when no one came, he picked up a small chunk of
metal behind him and started banging it on the wall. His leg
constantly throbbed in agonising protest, but hopefully,
someone would pick up the sound he was making.
That was a
long time ago now. Now, he had even given up on that. Instead
he lay his head against the wall behind him, focusing on
keeping his breathing under control. Dust drifted down onto
him, covering him in a fine layer of dirt. The taste of it was
sickening, and made his tongue feel disgustingly grainy. He
could cope with the pain, but that taste was driving him
insane; all he wanted was a drink of water.
had heard the distant rumbles of lesser explosions and the
sound of machinery moving above him, but now there was
nothing. They must have all got out, he thought to himself
grimly; they must have thought he was dead.
lost all track of time. It was around ten in the morning when
he had arrived to work, but it could have been hours, even
days in this place. He had no way of telling. He tried once
again to figure out the events in his head. He guessed there
had been an explosion, the force of which had made the
corridor cave in. That would explain the stuffiness in the
room, and also the darkness. He hated to think what that meant
for the rest of the building above him. Already he had heard
ominous groans from the ceiling, like it was under a huge
amount of strain. Occasionally there would be a crack, as
abrupt as a gunshot, and dust would shower Ben from above. It
wouldn’t be long now before the whole roof collapsed on top of
slightly, wincing in discomfort as he tried to quell his
rising sense of panic. He couldn’t hold out much longer. And
he wasn’t ready to die. But how could anyone reach him when he
was so far underground? And if he was hurt down here, what
about his friends who were already at work on the shop floor?
Were they still alive?
rumbling noise of machinery returned, he ignored it. They had
passed over him dozens of times, this time wasn’t any
different. He continued to think that until the rumbling began
to gradually get louder. He couldn’t see, but he thought the
noise was coming from the wall on the other side of the room.
It was getting much louder now, the floor beneath him
vibrating with the sound of it. Then, there was a light! He
stared at the pencil thin beam of light stretching across the
room, hope stirring in him once again.
to fall around him, moving through the light and creating
swirls; it was the best thing Ben had ever seen. The rumbling
noise got louder and louder, until it was almost unbearable.
The vibration was causing jolts of pain to travel up his legs,
and he groaned, though the rumbling noise was now so loud he
could barely hear himself. Suddenly, there was a muffled bang,
and dirt exploded from the spot in the wall where the beam of
light had emerged from. Ben winced, covering his eyes as best
he could as clods of dirt rained around him.
grinding metallic sound filled the void Ben found himself in,
until it began to slow down. Eventually, the room became quiet
again, and Ben lowered his arms cautiously. When he opened his
eyes, he thought for a moment that he had passed out again. A
giant iron conical sphere now jutted from the wall, its barbed
edges coated in mud and grime. Ben stared at it in awe for a
moment, then things just got stranger.
He had no
idea where it had come from, but a thicker beam of light
appeared, dancing around the walls until it rested on him. He
winced at the brightness, until the beam was pointed away.
In the dim
torchlight, he could make out the silhouette of a man. He
rushed over to his side, pushing debris out of the way so he
could kneel next to him. The man was wearing a filthy blue
uniform and a facemask, which was apparently providing him
with oxygen if the cylinder on his back was anything to go by.
It made seeing his face difficult; all Ben could see was his
greeted, his voice strangely clear even through the mask. He
placed a comforting hand on Ben’s shoulder. “Let’s get you out
on dazedly as the man raised his arm up to his face. “Come in,
the Mole, go ahead”
him, Virge. I need you to take a look at him before he’s
The man with the blue eyes looked back at him and removed
something from his pack.
said gently. It took a moment in the dim light for Ben to
figure out what it was, then he realised. Water!
give you a lot,” the blue-eyed man apologised. “Not until we
get you checked over, but it’s enough to get that awful taste
out of your mouth.”
How did he
know? Ben sipped the water gratefully, until the man
regretfully took it away. He leaned his head back against the
wall behind him, relief flooding him.
problem,” the man said lightly, as though the action were just
a normal, everyday thing.
machine behind him whirred to life again, and moved back
slightly, creating a tunnel of sorts. The man didn’t seem
phased by that at all as he walked around the various chunks
of debris and picked up a long object that was lying carefully
against the wall. Now his eyes had adjusted more, Ben could
see it was a hover stretcher.
powered up from the enormous metal contraption jutting from
the wall, casting the room in a shadowy orange glow. For the
first time, Ben could see what remained of the locker room.
Part of the roof had caved in by the doorway, with cracks
running all the way across the ceiling above them. In the room
itself, the floor was littered with chunks of wood and
concrete, as well as the twisted remains of the metal lockers.
People’s belongings were strewn around the room, a haunting
reminder of the normality that had existed prior to the
explosion. The room was barely recognisable.
happened?” he croaked, his thoughts easier to manage now.
explosion,” the rescuer confirmed, powering up the hover
stretcher as he spoke.
building came down. They think it was a chemical leak. You’re
the last stop on our rescue tour!”
thanks for stopping by,” Ben breathed, chuckling until the
sensation caused him to cough again, which was painful. He
felt some movement around him as the rescuer pushed aside more
of the rubble and debris.
more light as another torch danced towards them. Then another
man was there, wearing exactly the same soot stained uniform,
except that his sash was yellow- though it was difficult to
tell beneath the mud and grime. Thinking about it, who were
these people? Their uniforms weren’t that of the police or
fire department, and they definitely weren’t paramedics. Their
equipment was completely unfamiliar too. Still, he was in no
position to turn them away. Right now, he’d take any help that
rescuer removed a bag from his shoulder and then, to Ben’s
surprise, removed his mask.
man greeted. Ben was relieved to see a friendly face. The guy
looked about the same age as him, with brown eyes and a warm
smile. His face was covered in soot and dirt, though Ben had
no idea how that had happened while he has wearing a mask.
responded, bewildered by the latest turn of events. “Ben
You can call me Virge. I’m a medic. Do you mind if I take a
look at you?”
yourself out,” Ben breathed. These guys sure were to the
point. ‘Virge’ proceeded to quickly check him over, focusing
on his neck and chest.
in any pain?” he asked while shining a penlight in his eyes.
legs,” Ben responded, wincing at the bright light.
fine if it weren’t for the dust.”
smiled, glancing around the shadowy room for a moment. “Yeah,
you never really get used to the dust. I can’t tell you how
many times I’ve been at rescues and-”
the other guy cut in warningly and the man rolled his eyes.
“I know, I
know,” he said, taking Ben’s pulse and looking at him with a
raised eyebrow. “You know, it’s a fine line between a good
bedside manner and breaking secrecy rules.”
gets me out of here, you can talk all you want,” Ben
responded, coughing slightly.
chuckled and moved down to his lower half, manoeuvring himself
around the debris to feel down Ben’s leg. Ben stared down at
his swollen and misshapen limbs, now horribly exposed. Both
legs were obviously broken, with white bone jutting from his
left shin. His right leg was covered in blood from various
gashes and cuts, and looked like it was broken in around about
the same place, though the bone hadn’t broken the skin. He
couldn’t help but suck in a sharp breath as Virgil felt the
area around the break. The man glanced up apologetically, but
continued his exam as much as he could. Then he sat back on
his haunches and smiled.
Ben, it looks like you’ve broken both your legs.”
are you smiling?”
news is that you’ve no large splinters or shrapnel embedded in
your skin anywhere, and you seem to have done our job for us
and got yourself free of whatever did this.”
that,” Ben breathed, pointing over to the large block of wood
he had shifted from his lap earlier. Virgil nodded his
understanding, and withdrew a needle from his bag. He removed
it from its packaging.
to give you some morphine for when we transport you,” he
explained as he was loading the syringe, before flashing him a
supportive look. “Then I’m going to splint your legs. I wont
lie to you, Ben. It’s gonna hurt like hell, but once that’s
done, we’ll have you out of here in five minutes flat. Just-”
Control to Danger Zone,” a new voice sprang out of nowhere and
both men stopped. Then guy in the facemask lifted his watch to
his mouth, for some strange reason.
four minutes and counting. I repeat, four minutes and
counting. Do you understand?”
the man confirmed.
four minutes flat,” Virgil corrected with a sheepish smile,
and immediately sprang into action.
minutes until what?” Ben asked dazedly; but neither would
both still calm and collected, but seemed to work much quicker
than before. Virgil injected the morphine into his upper arm
with skill that only came with experience, and then set about
binding his legs together with bandages and padding. Every
movement caused a ripple of pain to move up his leg and
through his body, but he tried not to cry out. He knew the
rescuer was being as gentle as possible, and Ben could see
that this was a man entirely at ease with the task at hand.
something about these two men that made him feel immediately
safe. He was amazed at their calmness, and the way they worked
together so seamlessly. Even friends he had in the emergency
services didn’t work as skilfully as these men. He had to ask
the question that had been plaguing him since they arrived…
looked up from his task, surprised, and smiled.
widened in shock, and before he could stop himself he started
to laugh. It was a mistake. Pain shot up from his legs and
through his chest. He groaned and arched his back, praying
that the morphine would kick in quickly. Virgil took his own
oxygen mask and placed it over Ben’s mouth. The cool rush of
air was wonderful, and he sucked in deeply.
nodded, and watched in silence as he got his breathing under
control. International Rescue! Now he knew he was going to be
okay. He stared at the two men as they worked efficiently
around him. They certainly weren’t what he was expecting of
the secretive organisation. They didn’t look like the
incredible heroes the papers made them out to be; they just
looked like normal guys. Mind you, what was he expecting?
Supermen in capes?
Ben,” Virgil said, tying off the final knot in the bandages
around his legs. “We’re getting you out of here. This might
hurt a little, but just keep hold of my hand and it’ll be over
before you know it.”
gripped his hand tightly and Ben looked nervously towards the
other guy, who was standing next to the hover stretcher, which
was now floating at waist level. He was about to ask what was
happening…but there wasn’t time.
a slow rumbling from above which grew gradually louder, and
dust showered over them. Virgil immediately threw himself over
Ben, protecting his body with his own as the walls shook
violently behind him. He could hear concrete and steel falling
from all around them, and Ben shouted in fear and pain. Then,
he heard a menacing crack from the ceiling, and Virgil became
suddenly heavier on top of him.
a terrified pause from them as the dust settled and silence
are you okay?” the other guy murmured, his voice unnervingly
quiet. There was a long silence, until the masked man spoke
again, his voice still soft and quiet, as though speaking
normally would cause the whole room to crumble around them.
“Virge, come on, man, speak to me. Are you okay?”
finally grunted from above him, and moved slightly, murmuring
something incomprehensible as he did so. He then slowly pulled
back. Ben was shocked to see a deep cut now above his eye,
blood pouring freely down his cheek and down his neck. Virgil
shook his head, as though trying to clear his vision, then
looked at his colleague blearily.
silent, his head bowed for a moment, his hands on his knees.
He took a deep breath, closing his eyes as he exhaled. Then he
glanced back up to his teammate, looking a lot more composed
this time. He wiped some of the blood out of his eyes and
man was staring at him concernedly, though kept glancing up to
the ceiling with equal concern.
up and began to understand the severity of their situation.
The whole ceiling was sagging towards them, and the cracks -
which were only small patterns before - now gaped open, and
were extending with every second, silently joining up with one
another like trickles of water.
almost out of time,” Virgil murmured, staring upwards as he
spoke. “How long will it take to secure him to the stretcher?”
minute,” was the other man’s hushed response. Virgil stared at
Ben, before he seemed to come to a decision, and nodded to
Let’s do this the old fashioned way.”
apparently all the other man needed to hear. He put his arm
around Ben’s shoulders and waited for Virgil to explain.
going to move you into our transport vehicle,” Virgil said in
a muted voice, glancing between him and the roof above them.
“We don’t have time to use the stretcher now, so Al is going
to carry you.”
care. He just wanted out of this place. Without another word,
‘Al’ lifted him up and onto his shoulders. Ben bit back a
groan at the jolting movement as Al got him into the correct
position. The whole time Virgil was standing beside them,
glancing between Ben, the ceiling above, and his watch for
he whispered urgently, “run!”
immediately began to move, and Ben couldn’t help but cry in
pain as agony blossomed from his legs. It didn’t phase Al, who
immediately set into a jog, running towards the jagged spike
jutting from the wall as quickly as he could.
almost have dealt with the jarring pain, were it not for the
catastrophic bang that came from somewhere high in the
building on top of them. He felt a terrifying rumbling that
started above them, but within seconds seemed to surround them
completely. The groaning and roaring got steadily louder until
the noise became unbearable.
shouting coming from somewhere, but Ben honestly had no idea
who, or where, it was coming from. The darkness returned, and
he felt dirt and debris falling all around him as the roaring
consumed them. There was a shout of pain from behind him, but
they kept running until they were all plunged into complete
blackness. Ben screamed in pain as Al dropped him and he felt
something heavy covering him. He squeezed his eyes shut,
waiting for the final blow that would end him. But it never
booming crashes and thuds continued, and Ben tried to make
himself as small as possible, ignoring the agony that surged
through his legs with every movement. He could still hear
shouting above and around him, but the noise all merged
together and he couldn’t make out the words that were being
said. All that existed was the screech of twisting metal and
that awful roar of the earth caving in around them.
felt like a lifetime, the sound began to slowly desist and ebb
away, until there was only the occasional impotent thud, like
small rocks landing on metal. All he could hear for a long
moment was the sound of his own harsh breathing. Then the
thing covering him moved and lifted. It was Al! He had been
covering him just as Virgil had done earlier. But why were
they both alive?
movement and, to his shock, fluorescent lights buzzed and
flickered on above him. He winced at the harsh light for a
moment, before looking blearily around him. Adrenaline still
coursing through him, Ben let out a sound of total disbelief.
He had no idea how, but they were in a vehicle of some sort.
lying in the corner on a stainless steel floor, as far away
from the door as they could get. Al was kneeling beside him,
his face still obscured my the mask, but from the look in his
eyes, Ben could tell that this one had been a close call, even
for International Rescue.
over to the other side of the craft. Virgil was lying against
the doorway, which was only half closed. He had his eyes shut
tightly, his breath coming in quick pants and his hands
pressed against the wall behind him, as though his own body
weight could keep the door closed. Through the half open
doorway, Ben could see dirt and lumps of concrete attempting
to force their way through the crack. Clearly the room that
had been his refuge had now completely caved in.
back and looked down at Ben, checking him over briefly with
concerned eyes. Then he pulled off his mask and Ben got a look
at him for the first time. Beneath the thick layer of soot and
dirt, it was clear that he was fair skinned, with blond hair
and bright blue eyes. He couldn’t have been more than
thought to himself mutely, the man was younger than him. And
he had just saved his life. Before Ben could find the words to
thank him, Al got up and went to Virgil, kneeling next to him.
with me, bro?” he asked concernedly. Virgil went to speak,
then glanced to Ben and hesitated. He nodded wearily and sat
up, wincing as he did so. Al helped him to his feet, and
together, without a word, they used their joint strength to
force the door closed.
attempted to sit up and look around his new sanctuary. It was
technology he had never seen before. Lights and computers
filled the curved, tubular walls, and the vehicle itself,
while utilitarian and robust, was sleek and obviously designed
to perfection. Every inch of space had a purpose, and the
equipment they had in here was clearly light years ahead of
what existed at the moment. What confused him was the fact
that the vehicle was completely undamaged. How had it survived
that cave in?
could contemplate the question further, Virgil was at his side
again. His face was covered in blood, and his eyes looked
tired, but he still had that same calming expression that made
it seem as though everything was alright. He briefly checked
the field dressings he had done only moments ago, then sat
back on his haunches and looked wryly at his patient.
you out of here,” he said wearily, a smile playing at the
corner of his mouth. Ben felt like crying with relief at those
himself to be lifted by the pair, the pain now only a dull
throb as the drugs took effect. They carried him over to the
wall and pulled down a makeshift bed. Virgil connected several
pieces of medical equipment to him, seemingly from nowhere,
then pulled a blanket over him. Al then took over, putting a
pillow under his head and strapping him in without a word. The
whole thing was a well-organised machine, and this was clearly
a routine they had been through dozens of times. He couldn’t
believe that these two men had got him out of there.
you, Al,” Ben murmured, still a little shell-shocked by the
whole thing. “You saved my life.”
up to his face, and looked almost surprised at the statement.
just doing our job,” he said simply.
machine whirred to life and began to move. Ben looked over to
the controls, as much as the straps would allow, and saw that
Virgil was now at the helm, watching the monitors in front of
him as he drove. It really was just the two of them that had
saved him! And what was more incredible than that was the fact
that Virgil seemed to be driving without any visible window on
Al put his
hand on Ben’s shoulder, drawing his attention back to him.
about a five minute trip to the surface. We’ll then transport
you over to where the paramedics are waiting. I’m going to be
just over there with Virgil,” he explained, gesturing over to
the co-driver’s seat a few feet away. “But you just holler if
you need something.”
Ben responded. Though, truth be told, the morphine was doing
its job brilliantly. He couldn’t think of anything more he
could ask of these men.
a medikit from the draw above Ben’s bed and walked over to
Virgil, putting a hand on his shoulder. They didn’t speak to
one another, but Virgil seemed to understand the gesture and
nodded, still looking at the monitors in front of him. Then,
as Virgil continued to drive the vehicle, Al sat beside him
and began to bandage the wound on his head. Neither said a
word the whole time; they were clearly so used to working with
each other that words weren’t necessary. Al turned around to
check on Ben and smiled, all the stress and worry now gone
from his face.
thought about the question for a moment, realising his
situation for the first time. Only a few minutes ago he had
resigned himself to dying in the bowels of a crumbling
building, and now, he was safe. Completely safe. He looked
back to the two men and nodded.
“Yeah…yeah, I’m fine.”
boyishly, still bandaging his colleague’s head as he spoke
cheerily. “Great! We’ll have you fixed up in no time.” Then he
ruffled Virgil’s hair in a half affectionate, half teasing
way. “And the same goes to you.”
Virgil chuckle quietly and felt a little relieved. He didn’t
like the idea of this man being hurt on his account. More than
anything, he wished he knew the two men’s full names so he
could thank them properly. But, of course, they hadn’t asked
for his thanks. And yet, lying there on a makeshift bed in a
metallic underground craft, he couldn’t think of anyone in the
world who deserved more gratitude than those two men.
back to his opinion of International Rescue when he had woken
up that morning. The secret organisation was a myth that made
his kids feel safer when they went to sleep. These anonymous
supermen who swooped in and saved the day were just as good as
any comic book character.
over to the two men driving the craft, watching as Al finished
tying off the bandage on his friend’s head. Bloodied,
exhausted, and covered in soot, dirt and mud, they definitely
weren’t the International Rescue he had pictured.
to himself, slowly lying back on the stretcher and closing his
eyes. He took a long, deep breath and finally allowed himself
to relax. As the tension sank away from his body, and his
thoughts were filled with getting back to his kids, he began
to realise the truth…
didn’t need capes or costumes.