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THE SILENT CONVERSATION
by MCJ
RATED FRT

Author's Notes: The following story was my submission for the recent 2013 TIWF Ficswap Challenge, in which I was voted Joint Winner.

My assignment was to use one of the main TB series characters in a story that features the sounds of sirens, a flash of light and waking up under a pile of rubble.

Thank you to Jaimi-Sam, beta extraordinaire, and to Lee for your encouragement throughout. And thank you to Chris for making me this great picture to illustrate the story!  


The colour pink swirls into purple...arcs of lilac...spiralling me downwards towards the black. The sequence manages to reverse itself just before it swallows me. The return of the pain tells me that I haven't allowed myself to go far enough...at least not yet.

Deep from within the compartments of my mind, your voice continues to will me away from the precipice.

"Remember the code of International Rescue. Never give up at any cost."

"Yes, sir, yes I know."

The sequence of colours unravels and my descent begins again.

"Scott, remember the code."

"I'm remembering it, sir."

Our silent exchange has gone on like this for hours. He's refusing to let me go.


Seven hours before

A haze of grey and the sound of distant sirens slowly herald my return to the world of the semi-conscious. Stabbing pain and a feeling of claustrophobia soon follow.

Where am I? How l did I get here? How long have I been here? Why is it so hard to breathe?

As the haze finally lifts and my eyes begin to focus, I soon realise that what I've woken up to isn't good. The sirens are no longer distant and the rumbling of some sort of heavy machinery fails to drown out the screams of human panic. Jagged concrete teetering precariously above me and a steel rod wedged tight against my throat make it clear that I'm not going anywhere, anytime soon.

"Calling International Rescue...Calling International Rescue..."

My feeble attempt at mental telepathy with my father is almost laughable and fails to provide the desired response. Dad can't hear me.

Nobody can hear me.

I'm trapped in some kind of air pocket in the basement of what's left of my Chicago hotel.

"Calling International Rescue..."

I guess with my cell phone and wrist communicator still in my hotel room, all I can do is listen to the sirens and wait for someone to come.


One hour closer

The sirens are keeping my spirits up even though the concrete is shifting dangerously under the vibration of the heavy equipment somewhere right above my head. I've almost convinced myself that whoever's in charge up there isn't factoring the possibility of someone still alive in the basement into the rescue equation. In my experience, a successful rescue is a combination of three important factors: a plan, an element of risk-taking and some plain, good old-fashioned luck. I'm not all that confident I should rely on luck being on my side right now.

"Calling International Rescue..."

The concrete shifts again.

"Dad, I'm in real trouble."

More rubble starts to fall around me. I stupidly make the mistake of trying to move so that I can do something to protect my head. The pain sears through me and the blood trickles freely. In the panic, I'd forgotten all about the steel rod.

"Scott, you can't move. You'll sever your windpipe."

So says the voice who taught me common sense.

"Dad, if that concrete comes down, it won't matter. I'll be dead."


Another hour closer

There seems a lessening sense of urgency in the activity going on outside. It's comforting to hear the sirens still come and go. I'm trying to stay positive and tell myself that they're conveying survivors to the hospital, not ferrying bodies to the morgue. At least the concrete seems to be holding up for now, so I'm feeling a little better. If only it wasn't so damn hard to breathe in here. The steel rod doesn't help.

"Calling International Rescue..."

I'm sure Johnny has contacted Dad by now to tell him he's picked up on an emergency situation in Chicago.

"Calling International Rescue..."

Maybe Dad had already put two and two together and Virgil, Gordon and Alan are on their way.

"Don't worry, son. We'll get to you in time."

I don't know that. I don't even know if I'm going to survive long enough to find out.

All I can hold on to is that voice inside my head as my world starts to meld into a sea of colours turning me around...and around...and around.


Four hours

The sounds of the sirens are starting to become more distant. The section of concrete above my right leg is crumbling. Even if I could move, I think my air has started to run out.

"Dad, I'm not going to make it."

My psyche turns on itself and berates me for entertaining such negative crap. It tells me I should know better than to think that my father would ever sit back and allow any son of his to give up. The name Tracy comes with a certain expectation. Resilience, effort and determination are the keys, no matter what the situation. I only have to remember how unwavering Dad was when he kept Alan talking all those hours on the San Miguel Bridge. He made sure Alan focussed and above all, he stayed with him so he didn't give up. Every word...every sentence...every command he gave remains indelibly etched in my head.

"Listen to me Alan; you've got to stay with it. Don't let yourself go."

I think in order to survive I have to tell myself he's saying those words to me, too.

"I want you to tell me exactly how you got into this fix. I want you to start at the beginning..."

And that's what I'll do.

"Okay Dad, I'll start at the beginning. But the only way for me to concentrate is to tell this story to myself. "

The World Space Agency's vision for the future of aircraft in 2029 was the catalyst for this whole situation.

After a twelve-year study of advanced concept designs, the Space Agency made contact with Dad through the New York office of the Tracy Corporation to instigate discussions around the viability of their three carefully selected options. They also invited him to tender for their lucrative six billion dollar contract.

Before we knew it, Dad and Brains were on their way to Houston to meet up with Tim Casey, one of Dad's old Air Force buddies, who, thanks to a sequence of political faux pas swept under the carpet was temporarily heading the Agency. Of course, none of this was before Dad and Brains had agreed to disagree about which design each of them thought was the best.

"I'm telling you, Brains, this is it. Tim Casey said he wants something that delivers less noise, cleaner exhaust, lower fuel consumption and can achieve speeds up to eighty-five per cent of the speed of sound. What I like is the fact that we could build her without taking the production off shore."

Dad was playing the role of astute businessman who knew his preferred design matched the Agency's brief in its entirety.

Brains, on the other hand, simply couldn't help himself. He'd zeroed in on the design with the most potential, knowing he could unleash his genius if any further advances needed to be made to the technology over the next few years.

"I...err...really think the one with the engines sitting between the two...err... fuselages is the better of the two designs, Mr Tracy. Having them situated in the tail section of the... err aircraft... is not something I'd personally recommend, my...err...self."

I saw the look on Dad's face and started to feel pretty grateful that I was being left behind to deal with the day-to-day issues involving International Rescue. Dad respected Brains' opinion immensely but not when it came down to backing an option he wasn't sure Tim Casey and the Space Agency wanted. As their plane disappeared into the horizon of a brilliant red and pink sunset, it was Grandma who summed up the situation better than anyone.

"Something tells me that it's going to be an interesting three days for your father in Houston."

All the rest of us could do was nod our heads and agree.

As things turned out, the Agency went with the third design; the one Dad grumbled reminded him of a military stealth bomber and not something he'd ever associate with the future of modern passenger aircraft. The grumbling didn't last long. The day after he returned to the island, the contract for the first stage of the multi-billion dollar deal to build the "Kruger" was awarded to the Tracy Corporation and at two hundred and fifty-four million bucks for the just the first aircraft, Dad was put in the hot seat to deliver.

It was at this point that Virgil and I entered the equation.

Two days after he'd signed the contract with the Agency, Dad called the two of us into his office after dinner. Dad rarely used his office for International Rescue business, except perhaps the odd debrief when he didn't want Grandma to listen to what he had to say. As we followed him down the hall I was already wracking my brains trying to figure out what the heck I'd done wrong heading the outfit while he'd been gone. Virgil's face told me he didn't have a clue either. We'd had one major training drill in Dad's absence, but that was it.

"Close the door boys. I want to have a word with you."

Virgil looked at me and I looked at him. This wasn't good. Whatever we'd done, it was both of us and we were sunk.

Dad's office had the best view over the Pacific in the entire villa. It was a reward for his all hard work and he did a lot of thinking in it. He also liked to display Mom's artwork on two of the four walls. Several months before we'd spent a tense half hour staring right at it as he gave us his blunt assessment of how we'd handled ourselves during a heart-stopping rescue which nearly resulted in Gordon being killed. I didn't know what Virgil was thinking as the door closed, but I wasn't looking forward to being on the receiving end of something like that again.

"I think I'd like to sit outside tonight," Dad said, indicating the private balcony, where Kyrano had laid out three glasses and Dad's best bottle of single malt.

Virgil was a great believer in the safety of numbers, so when I sat down with my back to the ocean, he made sure that he sat there too. Dad took his usual seat to take in the view and picked up the bottle; inviting me to do the honours and pour each of us a glass. The clink of ice against pure crystal was a welcome sound in the uncharacteristic silence. I knew he'd had that bottle carefully tucked away since the day he'd made his first million, so I figured whatever he was going to say had to be pretty darned important.

It took him a while to get around to saying it: two glasses and three-quarters of an hour to be exact. He started out by telling us a little more about his trip to Houston, chuckling how Brains had ended up the worse for wear after indulging in "one too many of these." After a while, he moved on to discuss what had happened on the island in his absence, saying how impressed he was that the two of us had really found our feet when it came to working with our younger brothers as a team in International Rescue.

But despite our relief and his jovial mood, we were still on edge and waiting for the crunch. Dad was never one for small talk so we were glad when he got down to business.

"Boys, I've decided to take a step back from our aviation business for a while. Scott, I'd like you to consider heading it as of now. Virgil, given your expertise in engineering, you're the perfect fit to step up with him. This new contract with the World Space Agency is a great opportunity for the two of you to learn."

Virgil looked at me and I looked at Virgil.

Grandma had warned us months ago that one of these days Dad was going to need our help, especially at the rate at which the Corporation was growing. Dad went on to explain that he wanted to spend the next twelve months expanding his aerospace business and when the time came in that particular business he'd be offering the same opportunity to Johnny.

"Gordon and Alan still need a few more years to mature," he finished off. "I don't think either of you would argue with me about that."

Then he looked out to sea and polished off the rest of his scotch, waiting to hear what our answer was.

I never thought for a moment that Dad would ever ask me to take on any kind of desk job, mainly because he knew I wouldn't like it. I was a military strategist trained to fly hard and fly fast, and I'd agreed to leave the Air Force for one reason only; to be the Field Commander of International Rescue. Virgil was probably even more shocked than I was. He'd resigned from his position in Denver to be part of a professional rescue team, not to oversee the production of a new commercial aircraft.

Dad wasn't fazed and agreed with both of us. What he hadn't made clear was that nothing we did in International Rescue was going to change. The Tracy Corporation was a well-oiled machine which ran itself thanks to the core group he trusted to oversee the day-to-day administration in New York. All he wanted us to do was keep an eye on things for a while to allow him to concentrate on building up the profitability of what secretly funded International Rescue.

"Saving lives is important to all of us and it takes money to do it. That's why I've made the decision to go out of a limb and ask you boys to help me over the next few months."

When he put it that way, the decision was easy. I'd helped Dad with a few things in his aviation business since leaving the Air Force, and he'd taught me first-hand how to make the most of an opportunity and the importance of cutting a good deal. Virgil agreed that if nothing changed in International Rescue, he was more than happy to help Dad too.

We'd entered his office as the glue that held International Rescue together. We left as fledging businessmen tasked to oversee the production of the most exciting new aircraft in the world.


Three Hours

I don't know why the sirens sound so distant. It's almost like they're heading in a different direction. Maybe I was right about the person in charge forgetting the basement.

"Calling International Rescue..."

I wish I could move my head, even if it's just a little.

"Calling International Rescue..."

If only the slabs of concrete weren't so close.

"Dad, I need to readjust my focus..."

Memories of that day at San Miguel surface again to help me do just that.

"Scott, try to remember what happened next."

Building the "Kruger" was turning out to be a real bitch. Not my words - Virgil's and I wasn't about to disagree. Despite Dad being right about nothing changing in International Rescue, I couldn't say the same for our previously relaxed lifestyle. We were literally run off our feet and that was before word got out that I was filling in for Dad.

"I think you look very handsome, dear," was Grandma's opinion of the recent article she'd picked up about me lamely titled, "The Plane Maker."

"Yeah and get a load of this one," Gordon laughed, reading it out loud. " Less than three years since his quiet exit from the United States Air Force, Scott Tracy is gearing up to take over the reins of one the richest corporations in the world. "

"Those people just don't have enough to do," Dad interrupted, not happy. The last thing he'd wanted was media speculation and photographs of his Field Commander plastered all over the business pages.

But speculation was turning to be the least our worries.

It was a sharp learning curve being thrown into the business of mapping out delivery schedules and gearing up our manufacturing plant in Nevada to turn the design of the Kruger into the engineering masterpiece the Space Agency was expecting. It became even sharper when Dad insisted we find a specialised project engineer; someone we were confident could be trusted to ensure the safety and integrity of the new aircraft from the beginning of its production to the end. How were we supposed to do that?

"I don't know about you Virgil, but I don't think we can trust any of these guys." Sitting by the pool and trawling through the "short list" of twenty-seven resumes received from the New York office certainly wasn't my preferred way to spend a hot summer afternoon on a tropical island.

"They all come highly recommended," Virgil shrugged as he sipped one of Kyrano's latest concoctions a non-alcoholic Mai Tai. "I know Dad's worked with James McKinley before. The last I heard of him he'd moved to some high-flying executive position with Boeing in Chicago.

"Why Tracy Corp?"

"My first thought, too. My second is maybe the guy's genuine and just wants to come and work for us."

"Hmm ... maybe." I wasn't so sure. All I knew was that employing people was a painful business and I guessed we had to pick someone.

Dad seemed okay with us engaging McKinley despite his initial reservations about the current connection with Boeing. He said that three years ago James McKinley had been the vice president of another rival aviation company when their two companies had been contracted together to help the government deal with different sections of a complicated international project. He could deliver to a time-frame, of that Dad was certain. Could he be trusted? Dad said that was for me to figure out.

"I think it might be a good idea for you to fly to Chicago to meet him, son. Ask him questions. Let your intuition tell you. If he's the right man for the job grab him and let him get on with it. Then you'll find the Kruger will almost build itself."


Two hours

I'm starting to hallucinate. It's the lack of oxygen. I'm still hearing sirens, so that's a good thing. At least it means that I'm still alive.

"Calling International Rescue..."

I'm trying not to focus on the huge cracks appearing in the slabs of concrete. I'm trying to stay calm as the rubble starts to fall on me again. I close my eyes and pray it doesn't hit the rod threatening to cut my throat. If that happens, I think I'd prefer the whole thing to come down.

"Calling International Rescue...Dad, where are they?"

I try to listen beyond the noise of crumbling rubble. I try to hear more than sirens, more than machinery...

...more than just the sound of my voice pleading to my father from inside my head.

But you soon will me away with another diversion.

"Scott, what did you do next?"

Chicago at night was something special from the air ... the tallest skyline in the United States and third tallest skyline in the world. As I marvelled at the enormity of it and began my descent into Chicago Executive Airport, I was glad I had been able to avoid the highly congested O'Hare airspace. Dozens of glittering beeps in a holding pattern on my secondary radar told me why Dad had chosen Chicago Executive as the place to accommodate his private jet. He didn't have time to waste waiting to land at O'Hare and neither did I. Like him, my time was precious now and I didn't want to be away from the island and my role in International Rescue for too long.

James McKinley had requested a breakfast meeting, no doubt because he didn't want Boeing to know he was about to pack his bags and jump ship. With the early morning start, I'd decided to fly in the night before. After landing the jet and checking into the Marriott, I spent the night enjoying the best of what Chicago had to offer me.

McKinley arrived late for our meeting, which surprised me, given that the primary assurance I was seeking from him was that he could deliver the Kruger to me on time. He was tall and well dressed and had a lot to say about how he planned to handle the project but somehow I couldn't shake the impression that he was truly irritated I was handling this deal for my father. At one point, I even felt he was trying to intimidate me by making reference to his own achievements in the aviation industry and asking me to outline my own.

"So why do you want to leave a company as progressive as Boeing and come and work for us at the Tracy Corporation?"

I thought it was a reasonable question, given the circumstances, and he avoided it every time it was asked.

At first I'd assumed he was opportunistic, and I probably could have lived with that. Guys like him were everywhere and who cared, as long as they got that job done. It was only when he admitted that whilst his past experiences with Dad had made him respect the way the Tracy Corporation did business, the main thing he wanted was the key role, and I assumed the credit, in building the Kruger for the World Space Agency that the motivation clicked.

"Don't get me wrong, Scott, I like it where I am, but it was a real kick in the gut when Boeing didn't get that contract."

It was hard not to wonder if this guy was only taking a hiatus from Boeing to take a first-hand look at how the Tracy Corporation ran its manufacturing plants. It certainly made sense, and I didn't need to be a businessman to see it. Our contract with the Space Agency was only valid if we built, tested and delivered a successful prototype in the time frame. What if something went wrong? Could the balance of the contract be awarded to Boeing? I decided I wasn't too sure about this James McKinley, despite his track record and regardless of his guarantees.

"So what are you going to do about it?"

Over the vid-phone, Dad was stretching me way past my comfort zone to help me make the critical business decision. Setting timing schedules for production was one thing. Taking such a huge risk was another. Dad was asking me to make a decision which had the potential to lose us the biggest contract we currently had in the Corporation.

"Well?"

"I don't know, Dad. When I'm flying One, I always go with my gut."

He kept the pressure up. "What about when you were in the Air Force?

"Most of the time I went with my gut there too."

"And the times you didn't?" Jeez, when he wanted to push me past my boundaries he could be ridiculously intense.

"I followed my orders."

He nodded at me, satisfied.

"Yes, you did. Just like me. And that's the difference between the man you were when you left the Air Force and the man you are now. You make the tough decisions. Now make this one. I'll back you on McKinley whichever way you go."


One hour

My chest and eyes are heavy. The colours are becoming more pronounced. I'm fading in and out of blessed unconsciousness. At least I'm glad that it's not going to be the concrete. I've seen too many times what that can do to a human body.

I can no longer hear the sirens, but I still hold on to the hope that I might get to see their flashing oranges and reds. If I don't, I hope the last thing I see is the flash of light that tells me I'll soon be with Mom...

"Never give up at any cost."

Dad, I remember asking you as a child what it felt like to die. You told me you didn't know. You said that dying was a deeply personal human experience that we all went through whether the people who love us like it or not.

Then you said, "You need to forget about it, son. We all just have to get on with things now."

There isn't much more for me to say about Chicago. Dad told me to call him back when I'd made my decision and I did. I wasn't going to be bringing James McKinley on board to build the Kruger. I told him I'd be returning to Tracy Island after another night in Chicago and that Virgil and I would start looking again.

"All right but do your best to stay out of the papers, will you?" he joked.

I joked back. "You've got no worries there, Dad. I'm going straight from here downstairs to the gym. I can't go letting myself get soft."

"That's right; enjoy yourself, son," were the final words he said to me.

No-one could have predicted that a light plane carrying six passengers was about to slam into the side of the Marriott Hotel in Chicago.


Now

The colours are almost non-existent. There seems no point in me trying to hold on. I now understand how the victims feel; the ones who die waiting for us to get to them or who die before we come.

"You can't afford to take what's happened so personally, son. International Rescue won' t always be able to save everyone."

"Dying is a deeply personal human experience, Dad."

He said that to me when I was nine years old and he was right.

I'm tired now and sleep is starting to sound good. I close my eyes and feel my breath coming in much slower. The pain in my neck has gone completely. Maybe it's because I just can't feel anything, anymore.

Yes, I'll allow myself to sleep, Dad. Just for a minute. I'll pretend that I'm back on Tracy Island listening to the waves and soaking up the sun.

But you command me not to do that.

"You can't let yourself go, not now. Not when you can hear them."

"I can't. All I can hear is the far-away whining of machinery. I've listened to it for hours. I 'm too tired to do that, anymore."

Yet, from somewhere in the back of my mind there comes another high-pitched whine, a faint almost muffled alarm insisting I open my eyes, pleading with me not to give in to darkness.

"For Christ's sake, Alan, get that flashlight over here now!"

My eyelids almost burn as a flash of light comes at me; a laser beam, another flash and then more darkness.

"Scott?"

"Virgil, quick! I think he's over here."

The light flashes again.

"Father, we've found him!"

It's definitely a voice. I can barely make it out. Muffled, choked, so far and so distant, the words make no sense as they echo though what sounds like a never-ending wind-tunnel. Another flash of light and this time it comes with a flash of colour. Not pink or purple or lilac this time. This time it's orange with a centre of blurred gold.

"He's got no pulse."

Dad, I'm too exhausted to ask you what the voices mean. I couldn't even ask you if I wanted to. My body is drifting now. I can't feel it.

"Virg, he's not breathing!"

"Scott, they mean you."

"Gordon, get that resuscitation equipment on him, NOW!"

"Never give up at any cost."

"He's still not breathing."

"It's your brothers, Scott."

"No pulse..."

"Hey, take it easy with that rod, Virg."

"Damn you, Scott! Listen to me! BREATHE!"

A faint consciousness with no control over mind and body...that's what it feels like to die. The peace that comes from surrendering yourself to a world where things might be different is such a temptation. But it's a place where the new warmth I feel inside my body isn't going to fit. My brothers refuse to give up and they refuse to let me stay there. One of them is saying that there is too much they need me to do for Dad and International Rescue.

It's the catalyst when I acknowledge there is still too much I need to do for them.

"Virg, I think I'm getting something."

"Are you sure?"

"Yeah...Pulse is faint but getting stronger...Yeah...it's there. I think we've got him back."

"Dad..."

"I heard, Virgil. Good work, all of you. Make sure you fully stabilise him before you try doing anything about getting him out."

It hurts to open my eyes but I do it all the same. The images swirl above me. It doesn't matter. Even the rumbling of the idling machinery can't drown out the voice I thought I would never hear again. Sometimes gruff, more often mellow, from time to time worried and, as I listen to him demanding to be kept informed about my progress, so clearly shaken and so very obviously relieved.

"Thank you, Dad."

Our silent conversation draws to an end with my expression of wordless gratitude and what I know he would say in response.

"Don't just thank me, son. Thank your brothers. Like me, they never once gave up believing that International Rescue would be bringing you home."

The End


Author's Note Thank you to the author who requested this story in the 2013 TIWF Ficswap challenge. It certainly was a challenge for me to write it. Thank you also to Gerry whose original series episode " Move and You ' re Dead " provided a small part of the inspiration for the story.

 
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