TB1'S LAUNCHPAD TB2'S HANGAR TB3'S SILO TB4'S POD TB5'S COMCENTER BRAINS' LAB MANSION NTBS NEWSROOM CONTACT
 
 
HUNTER, PREY
by SAPPHIRE
RATED FRPT

An invasion of good. An invasion of evil. Invasions that are much closer to home than International Rescue ever could have imagined.

This story was inspired by a book I read a couple of years ago: "Needle" by Hal Clement. I haven't read it in a while, but when I came up with the idea to write a story more centred on John, the basic idea from that book popped up in my mind for some strange reasons. I just gave it the Thunderbirds Twist.



Prologue

The small yellow sun wasn't much different from thousands of other stars in the same galaxy. Like many stars of that type, it was accompanied by several planets (in this case ten), an asteroid belt and a multitude of comets. An altogether unremarkable star system.

A small ship neared the third planet at a speed of several thousand miles per second. It decelerated as it got closer and soon went into orbit. Immediately it started to collect data and transferred the information to its lone occupant.

The passenger was delighted when he learned that the planet was populated by an intelligent life form, one that though it had not yet made the step to other solar systems had already a highly developed technology up to interplanetary travel. It was absolutely perfect.

The planet called by its occupants 'Earth' was way off the normal interstellar routes in a distant sector of the galaxy that to his knowledge had not been explored yet. Here he could hide as long as he wanted. He would learn the language of those Earthlings and then he would manipulate them any way he wanted. Here he would be able to get the power he deserved.

All he needed was to find a host and there would be no way that his hunters would ever find him.

He knew that at least one of his hunters was still on his trail, only a day or so behind. He had pushed his ship's engines to its limits and beyond, burning out the interstellar drive in the process. Still, his hunter had managed to follow him somehow. But here on Earth the other one would lose the trail. And in case the other would be able to detect his ship once he had landed, he would make sure to leave behind a little surprise.

Manipulating the controls of the ship, he lowered his orbit, searching for a good place where he could land and find a host.

Suddenly there was a small explosion in the aft section of his ship. What had started as a controlled descent turned into an uncontrolled downward dive. Suddenly, he found he was over a large body of water, falling fast towards the surface. A small island dominated by an extinct volcano appeared on his scanner and he tried desperately to steer his craft towards it.

He didn't quite make it.

With a huge splash, the ship hit the water less than a mile away from the island. For a second it floated on the surface, but then the water closed over it and it sunk into the depths of the ocean.

Moments later, there was no sign left that there ever had been a visitor.

Chapter 1

"Is this the location?"

John Tracy checked the display of the device he was holding and nodded.

"Just the spot, Gordon. We're exactly above it. Stop the boat."

His brother Gordon complied and cut off the engine. He then peered over the side into the water below.

"I can't see anything," he said, squinting in the bright afternoon sunlight. "Not that I expect to. It's three hundred feet to the bottom here."

John didn't ask how it was that his brother knew exactly the depth of the ocean here. Gordon was an aquanaut by nature. Sometimes John suspected he was more at home in the water than on land. In the twelve years since the family had settled on Tracy Island, the copper-haired man had explored every reef, underwater cave and crevice that was to be found in and around the island. He knew the ocean here as well as the back of his hand.

"Care to speculate on what we're going to find?" he asked his younger brother.

Gordon frowned. "No idea really. The proximity detectors couldn't make heads or tails of the data. Only thing clear was that it was coming from above somewhere. Could be a meteorite or the toilet seat from an abandoned space station for all I know. Only way to find out is to go down."

This morning, the proximity alarm systems from Tracy Island had spotted a small object moving in fast from overhead, only to disappear in the ocean less than a mile away from the island. Normally an object so small wouldn't have warranted a closer investigation. However, two days ago, another object similar in size had arrived, pretty much in the same spot. So it was decided that Gordon, as their resident aquanaut, and John who was for a change on the island while Alan, their youngest brother, was pulling a shift on Thunderbird 5, were sent to investigate.

They just couldn't risk that it was something that might compromise the security and the secrecy of the island.

And Tracy Island held a secret. A rather big secret, actually. Unbeknownst to most of the rest of the world, Tracy Island, which looked on the outside like the eccentric get-away of billionaire Jeff Tracy and his five sons, was in fact the hidden headquarters of International Rescue, an organization dedicated to saving lives all over the planet.

IR was in possession of some of the world's most advanced machinery. Several organisations and individuals around the globe would like nothing better than to get their hands on the machines that were at the heart of International Rescue: the Thunderbirds. But Jeff Tracy was adamant that they were only used to help and never to hurt, so he had built a huge smoke screen to protect them. Hiding the fact that Tracy Island was more than it seemed to be was but the first step in that smoke screen.

John pulled on his wetsuit and flippers while Gordon went once more over their other diving equipment, checking each part thoroughly. After finishing the checks to his satisfaction, he helped John to slip his tank on, before donning his own.

"Ready?" he asked, testing the communication system in their masks.

"I'm ready," John replied, sitting down at the edge of the boat.

"Gordon to Scott Tracy. We are ready."

Scott, their oldest brother, was monitoring the mission from their father's office on the island. Jeff Tracy himself was at a meeting in Taiwan together with Virgil, the last of the brothers, and had left the island and the running of International Rescue in his oldest son's capable hands. After two years of operations, he finally had learned to ease up a little, much to the relief of all his sons.

"FAB. You two be careful," came their brother's voice from speakers built into their diving masks.

"Aren't we always?"

"Yeah, sure, you are," Scott teased back, but then let it go. Scott could be a little bit too overprotective at times. It was part and parcel of being the oldest of five healthy and very active brothers, especially after their mother had died thirteen years ago. The younger brothers had long accepted Scott's mother-henning, though that didn't mean they wouldn't tease him about it once in a while.

The two brothers grinned at each other, then simultaneously dropped backwards over the railing of the boat into the water. The got their bearings and started to swim downwards, following the diving line Gordon had dropped earlier.

As always when John was diving, it was driven home to him how much the world under water resembled the world in space. By nature, both were hostile to humans, requiring special equipment to survive. The smallest mistake could spell disaster. But at the same time, both worlds had an odd beauty a tranquillity that was not to be found in the area above water and below outer space.

Silently, he followed Gordon down. At a hundred feet, the light from above began to fade, so they switched on the strong lights attached to their diving masks. Everything had lost its colour by now; even Gordon's bright yellow diving suit had dulled to a pale grey. Thanks to their advanced equipment, there was no need to adjust for the increasing pressure as they went down, so they made good time.

After a short while, they reached the bottom where the anchor of the diving line sat. Gordon stopped, waving his light beam around. The ground down here was pretty desolate. No natural light reached it, and so no plants were growing. All there was was sand and rocks and occasionally a silver fish flitting by.

John stopped next to Gordon, pulling out the tracking device he had used earlier. He tapped his brother on the shoulder to get his attention.

"Gordon, it must be somewhere over there." John pointed in the direction of some large boulders to their left.

"Okay, let's check it out. Scott, we're heading in a southern direction."

"FAB," came Scott's reply, muffled through the mask's speaker.

As they passed the boulders, a new light started to blink on John's tracker.

"Wow," he called out. "Got something."

"What is it?" Gordon asked as he floated above his brother, trying to get a glimpse of the display.

"Give me a moment." John pushed a couple of buttons. "That's strange," he muttered more to himself.

"What do you see, John?" Scott's voice asked.

"The tracker detects metal, but the alloy is something it can't make sense of."

"Maybe it's a meteorite after all," Gordon offered.

John shook his head, but then realizing that Scott wouldn't be able to see him, spoke, "No. If it were a meteorite, I'd detect more iron. The composition here is all wrong."

"Well, I guess we'll find out when we get closer." Gordon, having noted the direction John had been pointing the tracker, swam off. After a moment, John followed him only to almost swim into his younger brother when he stopped in front of him.

The beams of his mask's light caught a brief reflection, so he aimed his head there.

"What's this?" John asked, perplexed.

In the light's glare, they saw an object obviously made of metal. Less than a yard across, it was more or less oval shaped, with a square box attached to one end. The surface was smooth, with no obvious openings in it.

"John, Gordon, what have you found?"

"I have no idea, Scott," John replied to the voice in his mask. He proceeded to describe the strange object, as he swam around it, flashing his camera for further reference later.

"It looks kinda like a toy space ship," Gordon cut in. "See, that box there could be the engine and the round bit is for the traveller." Gordon had swum down to the ground and now stood more or less next to the object, holding his position with easy waves of his hands.

"What would a toy space ship do here?" John asked.

"No idea. I just said it looks like one. It's probably something totally different. It's too small for a real space ship anyway."

"It's certainly not a design I've seen before," John said. Considering that John knew more about any kind of spacecraft and satellite than most people learned in a lifetime, this was saying something.

"You think we can take it back to the island?" Gordon asked next.

"It's the only way if we want to find out what it is," John replied. "What do you think?"

Gordon considered the situation in front of him, then proposed his plan. "Easiest would be to put that thing into a net, then blow a balloon. Unless it's much heavier than it looks, it will go up to the surface no problem."

John nodded. "Okay, let's do it."

He pulled a package from the back of his belt and opened it, pulling out a net made out of a thin but extremely strong fibre. He then moved closer to the object lying on the ocean floor, preparing to pull the net around and under it, so his brother would be able to attach the balloon he was readying.

He had no warning whatsoever about what was to come next. The moment his fingertips touched the strange object, the whole surface seemed to ripple for a second in the reflection of his mask lights.

Then, without any sound, it exploded.

Chapter 2

Hunter had been too focused on the spacecraft of his quarry to pay much attention to his surroundings. So he hadn't noticed the arrival of the two humans before it was too late.

He had arrived almost two days after the other alien had crash-landed on the planet. As he had had to make sure his quarry hadn't decided to hide on one of the other planets of this solar system, he had lost a lot of time, time he now sorely missed.

After he had submerged his own ship under the waves of this planet's ocean, it hadn't taken long to locate the other ship and also to discover that the ship wasn't occupied anymore. Leaving his own craft, he swam over to the other ship to investigate, knowing all the time that he had come too late, that his prey was long gone.

To the unaided eyes, the alien looked a lot like a lump of more or less transparent gelatine. Weighing less than four pounds, nobody on this planet would give him a second look, or believe even for a moment that he could be an intelligent being.

His race had co-developed on a far away planet at the same time as a humanoid race. Early on in their development, the Aviads, as they called themselves, had discovered that they were able to form a symbiosis with the Razons, as the humanoid race was called, by blending with them. While the Razons provided muscle power, the Aviads were able to control the immune system of their hosts in such a way that illness became a virtual unknown and even most injuries could easily be fixed from the inside, drastically prolonging the life of the host. All the time however, they still remained two separate races, keeping their own identity. In fact, over fifty percent of the Aviads and eighty percent of the Razons never blended in their life.

Over the millennia, they developed laws to govern their life together, the highest law being that no Aviad ever intentionally hurt his Razon partner. When the Aviads and the Razons finally stepped off their own planet and went to explore the universe, the Aviads found that their ability to blend and live inside another being was not limited to the Razons, provided that the host had enough body mass to support the needs of the symbiont. This had caused some problems in the beginning, as many races abhorred the thought that another intelligent being was able to live virtually undetectable inside another body and possibly control it.

If not for the high moral standards of the Aviads, they might have had good reasons for that fear.

However, even in the most perfect race and if there was one weakness the Aviads had, it was their belief that they were pretty much perfect there were bound to be some who didn't uphold their strict laws.

The occupant of the ship the alien visitor had been investigating was one of them. He had forced a blending with a host and had tried to manipulate that host to do what he wanted him to do. After his crime had been discovered, he had been extracted from his host. But before he could have been put on trial, he had managed to escape and stole an interstellar ship, heading to the most remote sector of the galaxy imaginable.

His hunter had tracked him over thousands of light years to finally pick up his trail in this out of the way solar system. Only to lose his trail once again.

If the hunter had been prone to swearing, he probably would have done so. He had had a bad feeling from the moment he had noticed that his prey was heading for a planet teaming with life forms. And not just animal life, but obviously an intelligent and technologically advanced race.

His prey could hide here undetected for years, waiting for the humans to take that last step and then he would be loose on the galaxy again.

But now the hunter had another problem. Two humans had arrived, the lights from their breathing masks reflecting off the space ship on the ground. Some kind of electronically assisted communication was going on, but as the hunter hadn't brought any equipment with him, he didn't know what they were talking about. Not that he had had the time to learn their language yet, so he wouldn't have understood them anyway.

What the humans didn't know was that their electronic communication so close had triggered the self-destruct mechanism of the spacecraft. That was in fact the reason Hunter had forgone to bring any equipment himself. He knew that his prey knew that he was followed. The hyper drive engine of his prey's space craft was burned out not that his own ship was faring that much better and thus wasn't of any more use to him. But if he could use it to finally get rid of the one who hunted him

Hunter desperately thought of ways to warn the humans, but nothing came to his mind. Here under water the explosion of the space craft would be muted relative to the damage it would cause above water, but still it could very well be fatal to one or maybe even both of the humans.

One of the two humans reached out his hand for the ship, and Hunter knew he had run out of time. What he intended to do was against the law, but it was likely the only chance the humans had to survive. Readying himself, he waited for the inevitable explosion to come.


John, standing closest, received the full force of the blast. It blew him backwards against Gordon, who was torn off his feet by the shock wave and the impact of his brother's body.

"John!" Gordon yelled, as he tried to hold onto John, who suddenly floated aimlessly in the water.

He hadn't needed to bother. John was out cold. A cloud of pinkish blood started immediately to form around John's side, where a piece of the exploded object had imbedded itself into John's flesh.

"John!" A note of panic now crept into Gordon's voice.

An exploding bomb was never a good thing. An exploding bomb underneath three hundred feet of water was exponentially worse. The only good thing in the whole situation was that of all the brothers Gordon was the one who was best equipped to handle a situation like this. For three years he had been with WASP, the World Aquanaut Security Patrol, before he had quit in order to join International Rescue. During his time with WASP, he had trained extensively in underwater recovery and rescue, aware that those skills would be useful once he started working in the 'family business'.

Of course, he had never thought that one day he would need to use those skills to save his brother's life.

Taking a deep breath, he tried to calm himself down. He knew to panic would be the absolute wrong thing to do. Any mistake on his part could very well spell his brother's death. For one moment, he wished they had taken Thunderbird 4 to check out the source of this morning's alarm. In the little submarine, it would have been no problem to get John to safety. Then he pushed that thought aside, knowing if he started to wish for things, he might as well wish that that thing they had been investigating had never exploded. But it had and now he had to deal with it.

First thing first. Checking over John's breathing mask, he found that there didn't seem to be any cracks or leaks and the rest of the diving equipment also seemed to be in good shape.

He placed two fingers against John's neck. For a moment, there was nothing, but then he felt a flutter against his fingertips, followed a moment later by a second, then a third. Gordon exhaled in relief.

He pulled John close, wrapping his left arm around the other man's chest. He felt it expand, chasing away the last of his concerns. John was breathing under his own power. This was good. He didn't know how John was able to breathe on his own with a wound like the one in his side and a cut on his head that now also began to bleed, but Gordon was not above looking a gift horse in the mouth.

Only now, he realized that Scott was screaming in his ears, demanding to know what was going on.

"Scott, I'm here," he called back.

For a moment there was silence, then came Scott's concern tinged voice, "What the hell is going on? What happened?"

Gordon collected his thoughts. "That thing we found, it exploded. John stood closest and got knocked out. He's breathing on his own, though I'm not sure how. I'm going to get him up now. Maybe it would be best you get the hover jet ready to pick us up. John is bleeding pretty badly and a piece of shrapnel got stuck in his side."

Scott didn't hesitate. "Okay. I'll be at the boat in seven minutes."

"We'll be waiting for you. Over and out."

"Over and out."

While he had been explaining the situation to Scott, he had started to swim upwards with his brother in tow. With strong, steady kicks of his legs, they quickly traversed into the lighter and warmer regions of water. At least, thanks to the special breathing equipment Brains had designed and built, he didn't need to worry about wasting any time for decompression.

He kept his eyes open for sharks, though. As far as Gordon knew, there were no sharks currently in the area. Out of interest, Gordon kept close taps on the maritime population around the island and knew pretty well where the larger animals usually hunted. But with John's blood in the water this could quickly change.

Even before they broke through the water surface, John began to stir in Gordon's arms.

"Wha ?" he asked, just as they surfaced. "Ouch."

"Don't move, John, you've been hurt. Let me help you."

He freed John from his breathing tanks and equipment belt, letting them sink in the water. John didn't need them any more and right now they were only additional weight.

Gordon looked around, spotting the boat not a hundred yards away. Swimming sideways, he headed for it, still dragging John along.

"No kiddin'. What happened?"

"Don't move," Gordon repeated more forcefully. John must have lost by now a lot of blood and, thanks to the water, there was no chance of the wounds to stop bleeding on their own. If John moved and jarred that piece of metal in his side, they might as well not bother to try to get him to safety. He would be dead before he reached the island. Of course, thanks to the cooling effect of the water, John had probably no idea how serious the situation was.

Gordon felt John tense up as if he was about to fight Gordon's command. But then he relaxed again, allowing his younger brother to pull him towards the boat. They all had trained on water rescues though of course no one as extensively as Gordon and knew what to do to make it easier for the rescuer.

They and the hover jet reached the boat at the same time.

The speakers in Gordon's mask crackled on. "Gordon, how is John?"

"I'm fine," John replied, but was then cut off by Gordon.

"Still alive, obviously." Gordon trod water, still holding John in front of him. He was for some reason a little annoyed that John sounded so much better than he had a right to feel at the moment. The few minutes it had taken Gordon to reach the surface had been hell to him. A thousand scenarios on what could go wrong had passed through his mind, and he had not been able to stop worrying about what could happen. He knew his reaction to John's words was childish, but he just couldn't help himself. He felt somewhat short changed.

"Can you drop the basket, Scott? I want to move him as little as possible."

"FAB."

The side door of the small jet opened and Gordon saw Brains peering out. The engineer folded out a small support beam with a strong cable attached to it. The other end was tied to a bright red, man-sized contraption, the rescue basket. Brains pushed the basket towards the edge of the hold, then lowered it towards the water. In the meantime, Scott held the jet rock steady at fifty feet, just high enough that the blast from the engines didn't interfere with the rescue.

As soon as the basket hit the water not ten feet away, Gordon swam for it with John in tow.

The basket had several floatation devices attached to its side to compensate for the weight of its steel frame. Gordon pushed a button that released some of the air inside the floaters and it sunk a little bit lower in the water. He then manoeuvred it underneath John who had stretched out alongside it.

Gordon noted that John didn't bleed as badly from the wound in his side any more. This could be a good sign; maybe the wound wasn't as bad as he had thought at first. But it also could be a bad sign, meaning that he already had lost too much blood and had nothing left to spare. He hoped for the former, but feared the later.

In no time, he had manhandled John into the basket and closed the safety straps. He pushed back, watching as Brains hoisted the basket with his brother in it back onboard.

"We h-h-have him, Gordon," Brains gave the all clear.

"FAB, just get him home. I'll bring the boat back."

The hover jet gained height then turned and headed back to the island and the sick room there. Gordon knew that Brains was more than capable to administer First Aid for John. Though Brains had no medical degree, he had made it his mission to keep the pilots of his beloved Thunderbirds in tip-top shape. Sometimes said pilots speculated always in jest though that Brains considered them just as some other specialized equipment that could be easily fixed by applying a hammer and a soldering iron. But the truth was that Brains cared about them as they all cared about him.

With a sigh, Gordon climbed back into the boat and pointed it back to the island and to news of his brother.

Chapter 3

He had never performed a blending that quickly, but there had been no other choice. It was either this or letting the human die. Luckily, human physiology was similar to most humanoid life forms, as similar circumstances created similar solutions.

The first order of the day was to stop the bleeding. Several organs had been cut by the piece of shrapnel and fixing those took priority. Creating a thin shield out of his own body mass to reduce the bleeding, he simultaneously coaxed the cells of the affected organs to reproduce themselves at an unbelievable high rate. At the same time, he enveloped the piece of metal and started to move it ever so carefully out of the body. While about seventy-five percent of his body mass was working on that, he infused himself within the human's body, sending feelers out to every region.

The cells of his body were about a tenth in size of those of most carbon-based life forms, so it was no problem to slip between muscles fibres and into the arteries and veins. He prodded the heart to beat and the lungs to expand and contract, making sure that the brain was supplied with oxygen. If push came to shove, he was actually able to provide oxygen directly to the brain, but this way was much better.

Hunter had lost all feeling for time, so focused was he on the battle to save the human's life.

Suddenly he noticed that he received assistance from outside. Fresh oxygen in high concentration reached the lungs, which had finally started to work again on their own. Somebody stabilized the piece of shrapnel, arresting his effort to push it further outside. In most cases a sensible precaution, as without him working from inside on fixing things, every movement of that piece of metal might just cause further injuries to the organs. He didn't want to call undue attention to himself, so he stopped pushing. The worst was over anyway, most of the damage already repaired.

What now?

The human would live. And for better or worse, he was now Hunter's host.

Of course, Hunter was able to leave the human's body anytime he chose to. But that would put him at a severe disadvantage. His space ship was somewhere underneath the ocean now, not accessible for him anymore. Somewhere on this planet, one of his own kind probably possessed another body, though how he was to find out which one, was for the moment beyond Hunter.

He didn't know the language, had no idea about the culture and their way of life.

He had to learn, and quickly.

If he could have sighed, he would have. Instead, he settled himself down, infusing himself even deeper within the human's body.

It looked as if he would be staying for a while.


John was sitting up in the bed, sipping on a glass of orange juice, when Gordon stormed into the sick room half an hour later.

Though Scott and Brains had spoken to Gordon multiple times while he had been steering the boat back to the island, it was obvious that he hadn't believed their assurances that his older brother was doing fine. The cut John had received on his head had been only a superficial one as he had been protected by the diving mask. The piece of shrapnel in his side had been only half as deep in as anybody had feared. By sheer luck, the metal bit hadn't even nicked any of his organs or larger blood vessels. It was removed by Brains without any problems. Seeing that his patient wasn't to die on him, Brains had grabbed the piece of metal and had disappeared in one of his many laboratories, happily muttering to himself about unusual metallurgic properties and compositions. John suspected they wouldn't see hide or hair of the scientist for the next couple of days.

John was told to rest and drink lots of fluids to replenish the blood he had lost.

"Hi, squirt." John looked up, smiling.

Gordon had stopped in the doorframe, drinking in the sight of his obviously still very much alive brother. He swallowed a couple of times, then, "You're looking good."

John studied his brother and grew serious. It was clear that Gordon had gone through quite a bit the last couple of hours and was still somewhat in shock. It must have been hard on the younger man, all alone under the water, thinking that John was seriously injured and not knowing if he could make it to the surface with him while John was still alive.

This wasn't like any of their normal rescues. Even though most rescues were life-and-death situations, they normally didn't involve direct danger for any of the brothers. Of course, sometimes it got hairy for them, but so far they always had come out on top.

John placed his glass on the nightstand and waved his brother to come closer.

"Gordon, I want to thank you. If you hadn't been there, I might be dead right now."

Gordon blushed, but then nodded. "You gave me quite a scare, John. For a while down there I thought "

But what he thought he never said. He didn't need to.

John gave him all the time he needed, and after a few moments, he was rewarded by a smile that spread over Gordon's face.

"I'm just glad to see you're going to be okay," Gordon finally said quietly.

"Thanks to you, squirt, thanks to you.

"So," John drastically changed tracks, "what do you think it was we've found down there. Was it a bomb? But where did it come from and what was it doing down there?"

For the next hour or so, both speculated on the origin of the object they had found on the ocean floor, until Tin-Tin showed up and shooed Gordon out of the sickroom claiming that John still needed some rest.

The next day John insisted that he was again fit for duty. Brains did a thorough examination and was forced to agree. John was fine, the wound Brains had lasered close was healing very nicely, with the prognosis that there wouldn't even be a scar remaining.

The day after John took Thunderbird 3 back up to Thunderbird 5, relieving Alan for the next month. John all but forgot about the incident.

He felt better than ever. All the Tracy boys were fit by nature and necessity, but he noticed that for some strange reason the five miles run he took every morning on the station's treadmill didn't take as much out of him as he was used to. In fact, the first morning on board, he found that he had improved his best time ever by over five percent, and then he continued to top that time every morning for the next week. Maybe he should get involved in an underwater explosion more often if this was the outcome.

Life was going perfect. Until one morning, a week after he had come back to Thunderbird 5, John started to see things.

Chapter 4

Hunter had been to many different worlds and lived in over a dozen hosts of different races. Most of his blendings had been temporary arrangements, for one special assignment or another. He was what the inhabitants of Earth would probably call a special agent, somebody who worked on various projects in government funded law enforcement. If a project required him to join with another being that was fine with him, if not, that was okay, too.

He spent the first couple on days in the human body learning about all the specifics of this race. Though similar to several species he had inhabited before, there were always some differences one had to deal with. He also had to make sure to evade the human's immune system, without overwhelming said system. Though he was perfectly capable of performing all functions of an immune system, working probably way better than it would have normally as he was more aware of what he was doing, he had to think ahead to the time when he left the human's body. If he took too much control now, there would be long-term consequences later.

During that time, he also established connections to the 'outside' world. He connected with the human's eyes and optic nerve, which gave him sight, and with the inner ear, for sound. He sent feelers along most of the nervous system and even established a link with the taste and smelling centre.

Even though Hunter rued every day he spent learning the language, he knew that his prey was in no better position. He also had to learn first before he could do something. He actually believed he had here some advantage, as he had had contact with more races than his prey, and thus he should be able to adapt faster than him.

So, using the eyes and the ears of the host, he started to collect data.

He had been somewhat surprised when he had found out that the human John had left the planet on the second day to move into a space station. From what little he had detected during his approach to the planet, he had assumed that habitation in space was still extremely rare with only a few hundred people out of several billions spending any prolonged time in orbit. But not only did John obviously plan to spend some time in the space station, he handled it as if it was just a normal occurrence to him.

The space station was also surprisingly sophisticated, with a primitive but functional artificial gravity system and an extremely complex communication setup.

John's job seemed to be to monitor all kinds of communication all over the planet. Automatic filters sorted the incoming data, though for the first couple of days hunter wasn't sure what John were looking for. The huge amount of data worked in his advantage however, as it gave him plenty of material to learn from. He had been confused at first when he had realized that there was more than one language spoken, but soon one language had risen as the predominant one and so he had concentrated on learning 'English'.

Then, about a week after they had arrived on Thunderbird 5, as the space station was named, Hunter decided he had learned enough of the human's language to communicate with his host.

It was time to make contact with John.


John stepped out of the shower, towelling his hair. During the last refit of Thunderbird 5 two months ago, they had finally installed a real shower on board, and John thought this was a great improvement. Of course, he knew that the water was recycled multiple times. It was a necessity in a place as limited on resources as up here. Thunderbird 3 could only bring so much up on a trip, and water was one consumable that could be used many times over if one just took good care of it. John just tried not to dwell too deeply on where the water had been before he used it for his shower.

He was looking forward to his breakfast. This morning he had decided to push himself on the treadmill, wanting to see what time he was really capable of. He couldn't believe it when he had finished his five miles and saw that he had run them in less than twenty minutes. That was only one minute higher than the current world record. If he hadn't checked out the gravity platings himself the other day, he would have suspected that the station's gravity was too low, but every test he had run had proven that he had exactly one G, nothing more and nothing less.

He felt good. On his last stay on the island he actually had managed to gain a couple of pounds for a change. Grandma was always after him to eat more, that he was too thin, but usually no matter how much he stuffed himself and with Grandma's cooking stuffing oneself was easy nothing stuck.

He got himself a cup of coffee and dove into the freezer in the search for something edible. If he remembered correctly, there should still be a couple of Grandma's delicious cinnamon rolls. Three minutes in the microwave and breakfast would be ready for him.

He popped the gooey treats into the oven, set the timer and waited for the rolls to defrost.

As he was waiting, he was looking at a blank space of wall. Suddenly a word appeared in his field of vision.

JOHN

What?

He blinked, but the word was still there. He looked to the left and right, but his name seemed to follow the movement of his eyes.

DO NOT BE AFRAID

His name had disappeared to be replaced with the next text.

"What the heck ?"

I WANT TO TALK TO YOU

"Who ? What ?"

John spun around.

"Where are you?"

I AM INSIDE

"Inside where?"

INSIDE YOU

He put his hands up to his chest, patting himself down. "What is this?"

YOU CANNOT SEE ME

John began to breathe hard.

"Who are you?"

I AM HUNTER

"Hunter? Is that a name or a profession?"

I AM HUNTER

The text had disappeared for a moment, only to reappear again with the same words. John was confused.

What the heck was this? Where did this text come from? How was this done?

Suddenly, he had an idea.

"Gordon, if this is one of your tricks "

NO TRICK

Gordon was the resident trickster in the family. Plastic spiders in shoes, birthday presents that exploded, prank calls. If there was a joke to be played, Gordon was the one to do it. He must have somehow managed to bring a projector on the station and some kind of two-way communication system.

Only, Gordon hadn't been on the station for over half a year. And if there were a projector, John would know about it. Nothing got onto Thunderbird 5 without his knowledge.

I SAVED YOUR LIFE IN THE WATER

What?

I WENT INSIDE OF YOU

Once again John looked down on himself. What was this? Was he possessed by a ghost?

"You are inside of me?"

YES

"What are you?"

There was a momentary delay before the next message appeared

I AM FROM ANOTHER PLANET

A short while ago, John and Alan had watched a series of old movies. In those movies, an alien queen had laid her eggs inside the bodies of some people. When the eggs were ready to hatch, the aliens had broken out of the chest cavity of their victims, killing them. Very bloody and gory naturally Alan had loved it.

Once again he patted himself down. No abnormal bulges so far.

"You're an alien?"

YES

"What do you want?"

I NEED YOUR HELP

I need your help. If the alien knew it or not, he had just said or rather somehow projected the magic words. John and his brothers lived to help those who needed them. They didn't make a difference if the person who needed their help was rich or poor; if he was a Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, or Atheist; if he was white, black, red or yellow. So, why should they make a difference if he was invisible or had tentacles instead of arms?

On the other hand, he or International Rescue wouldn't just run off on some crazy, alien rescue mission just because John saw some words on the wall after a hard workout in the morning.

"What kind of help?" he asked carefully.

ONE OF MY KIND IS ON YOUR PLANET

HE WILL HARM OTHERS

"And you aren't harming me?"

NO

The two letters popped up so fast, that John got the impression that the being inside of him was somehow insulted. As if to push the point further, more words showed up.

I WILL NOT HARM YOU

"So, what are you doing inside of me?"

If he really had an alien being inside of him something John wasn't one hundred percent convinced of yet, but he tried to keep an open mind it was a valid question.

I SAVED YOUR LIFE IN THE WATER, the alien repeated the sentence he had written earlier.

"The explosion?" John ventured. He had to admit that he had wondered how he had come out of the whole escapade relatively unscathed. He had put it down to Gordon imagining the situation worse than it actually had been. But what if

THE SHIP EXPLODED

IT BELONGED TO THE OTHER

YOU GOT HURT

I WENT INSIDE OF YOU TO SAVE YOU

So, it had been a space ship after all. But it had been so small. On the other hand, if the alien was small enough to reside inside a human body, he couldn't be very big.

Now John's curiosity was piqued.

"Where are you from? What star?"

John's one passion besides International Rescue was astronomy. He could spend hours in the small astrodome of Thunderbirds 5, watching the stars, trying to see further and further into the universe. This was one of the reasons why he didn't mind spending so much time away from home. Here, way above the atmosphere of Earth, the stars were clearer than anyplace else. He had even written several books on the topic, which were all well received among the astronomic community.

He had loved the stars longer than he could remember. Some of his fondest childhood memories were those of camping trips with the whole family, where he and his father spent half the night stargazing together and his dad had taught him the constellations.

I DO NOT KNOW YOUR NAME FOR IT

MAYBE LATER I CAN SHOW YOU

Right. As interested as John was, there were more important things right now.

"Okay, let's assume for the moment I believe that you are an alien and that you are inside of me. How can I trust you?"

I SAVED YOUR LIFE IN THE WATER

"Yes. Yes. Yes. We've been there before. If it's true, then thank you. But what are you still doing inside of me? Why did you not leave?"

I NEED YOUR HELP

John had the impression that the alien had only a limit vocabulary.

He sighed. "How can I help you?"

I NEED A HOST

I WILL NOT HARM YOU

"Whoa! What do you mean with 'host'? Are you eating me from inside, or what?" The image from that blasted science fiction movie popped up once again in John's mind.

I HEAL YOU

I PROTECT YOU

YOU PROTECT ME

WE GAIN BOTH

John stopped and thought. What the alien was describing was a symbiosis. Two different beings living together, both gaining from the other, nobody gets harmed. There were a million examples of this in nature.

He suddenly remembered the time he had run this morning on the treadmill. Normally, after a full out run for five miles like this, he shouldn't be able to stand up, really, let alone move as if it had been nothing.

"You make me stronger? Faster?"

I PROTECT YOU FROM YOURSELF

Hmmm, the normal consequences of a work out like the one this morning would be muscle cramps at the least. If the alien was able to stop them that would in turn mean he would be able to push his body further than normal and to hell with the consequences.

And there was another thought. He had gained almost four pounds while he was on the island. What if those four pounds were not, as he had thought, the result of Grandma's good cooking, but because he had unwittingly picked up a hitchhiker? What if he had originally been injured more severely in that explosion and the alien had indeed saved his life?

It all made sense, in a crazy, twisted, weird kind of way.

John plopped back down on the single chair in the kitchen, stunned.

He had an alien living inside of him.

And that alien was talking to him.

And he wanted his help.

The alarm on the microwave went off with a ping, but John couldn't move. He had something else to digest first.

Chapter 5

Hunter was quite satisfied with the way his first conversation with John had gone. Once or twice, he had wished that he knew more words of the human's language, but he had the impression that he had managed to convey everything that was important.

After John had come over his first shock, he had begun to ask many more questions.

How did Hunter make those words appear? How did the symbiosis work? How long had he travelled to come to Earth? What was with Hunter's space ship? How did he plan to find his prey?

Hunter had tried to answer them as well as he could, but he didn't know the answer to all of them.

Especially the last question had him stumped.

How did he plan to find his prey?

Hunter had never thought he would follow the other to a planet with intelligent life forms. He knew there had been a few expeditions in this region of the galaxy, but to his memory, there never had been a report that there were habitable planets.

Now, with over twelve billion humans on Earth, finding the other was like finding a needle in a very, very large haystack. His only hope was that the other hadn't left the island where Hunter had found the space ship. He knew from John that there were only nine humans without John living permanently on Tracy Island, and that they rarely left the island. If, and that was highly likely, his prey had blended with one of those humans, he would need also some time to adapt. Hopefully, the other one didn't know that Hunter had found his ship and knew where the other was. If this was the case, there would be no reason for him to try to get off the island. And in this case, Hunter had still a chance to find him.

Too many 'ifs' but it was the only thing Hunter had going for him at the moment.

John had reacted pretty badly when Hunter proposed that the other one had possibly blended with somebody on the island. It seemed that he was emotionally very attached to all of them. Some of them, as Hunter understood it, were his brothers, and one was his father. Hunter had to confess that he had a little problem with that concept, even though he had observed similar family groups in some other races he had worked with. Actually, it didn't matter why John cared. The important thing for Hunter was that he cared. And if it was important to his host, then it was important for Hunter.

That was the way things were with host and symbiont.

John had asked for some time alone to think, so Hunter had stopped projecting the words on the retina of his host's eyes, leaving the other to his thoughts.

The human had gone to the communications room, the largest room on the station. It seemed as if John's preferred method of thinking was to listen to all those channels all at the same time. Hunter had no idea how John was able to sort through that chaos of voices and the many, many pictures, projected on multiple screens on one side of the room. To him it was all just white noise.

Suddenly, a voice seemed to rise out of the chaos.

"Calling International Rescue. Calling International Rescue."


"Calling International Rescue. Calling International Rescue."

John immediately toned down the other channels coming in. For some strange reason he always had been able to think best when there was a lot of noise and there was a lot to think about.

After facing the irrefutable proof that he indeed had an alien inside of him, he had needed some time to come to terms with it. Like everybody who ever had looked up into the skies, he had wondered if human kind was alone in the universe, or if there was other intelligent life to be found between the stars.

Now he had the answer and a lot closer to home than he would have liked. Hunter had said that his people, and seemingly quite a few more races, lived just on the other side of the galaxy. Using some kind of faster than light travel he had been able to reach Earth in little more than three weeks. Considering the immense distances between the stars, this was just a short stone's throw away.

Hunter's people had even been to this neck of the interstellar woods before, but somehow they had missed Earth. The alien had said he was sure that he and the one he was hunting were the first of his species to ever land on the planet.

With the alien's ability to blend undetectably with any human, the one Hunter was searching could be anywhere by now. On one hand, John almost wished that was the case. Because the alternative was that the other alien was inside of one of his friends or family. When John had asked, Hunter had admitted that he could do quite a bit of damage inside a human's body if he wanted. Beginning with just pinching off an artery, to manipulating the whole hormonal system, to influence everything from breathing to the immune system. Hunter knew more about John's body than he did himself.

Only Hunter's elaborated honour system seemed to put a stop to any temptation.

John didn't want to imagine what an alien with fewer scruples could do to his family.

But right now there was an emergency and that took precedence over his own and the alien's problem for the moment.

He flipped a switch and spoke in a microphone. "This is International Rescue. What is the emergency?"

"Oh, thank the gods that I reached you," a voice replied in Mandarin. "My name is Huang Xian-Gua. I'm manager of the Lian-Chow-Po dam. There has been an explosion on the dam half an hour ago. We suspect sabotage. At the moment the dam is still holding, but it's only a matter of time before it gives. When that happens, the whole valley will be flooded, killing hundreds if not thousands as we can't possibly evacuate the people in time. A team of our people is working desperately to prevent this, but if they don't succeed, they will die, too. They are stuck in the work booth on top of the dam. We need help."

John thought for a moment about the situation, then spoke again, also switching to the Chinese language, "We will send a team to you as soon as possible. Please give us all the data you have on the dam and on the situation on site."

"Thank you, International Rescue. Thank you."

He cut of the audio link, but left a data link open waiting for the requested data.

"Sorry, Hunter, but it looks we have another emergency to take care of first," John said half to himself and half to the alien being in his gut, or wherever it was Hunter had settled down.

He then flipped another switch on his control board, connecting down to the island. There in his father's study, the eyes on his portrait would light up, indicating that he needed to talk to somebody.

"Thunderbird 5 calling base."

A screen lit up, showing Jeff Tracy. As usual, John's father was sitting behind his desk. He looked serious, ready for anything John would throw at him.

"What's up, John?"

"Father, there's been an explosion at a dam in China. So far, the dam seems to hold, but if it should break, the valley will be flooded. They'll never get all the people out of there in time. Also, there's a team working to hold the dam together somehow, but if they should fail, they're in danger as well."

Scott and Alan joined their father at the desk, listening intently to what John was saying. In the background, John could see Virgil and Gordon coming into the room as well.

"Okay, John. We take it", John's father said. Then, to the other men, "You heard John. Thunderbirds are go."

John activated a 3D display and started to enter data rapidly. The promised data from China had arrived, and he forwarded it to the computer on the island. From there, it would be distributed to Thunderbirds 1 and 2. He knew that down there, Scott and Virgil would use the hidden access doors in the study to reach their respective craft in the shortest possible time. Alan and Gordon would probably ride with Virgil in Thunderbird 2, spending the time of the flight to make sure that all equipment that might be needed during the rescue was warmed up and in tip-top shape.

Next John activated the camouflage system that prevented anybody from detecting the launch of the two Thunderbird craft from the island. He then checked the traffic around the island, satisfied that nobody was close enough to see the launch with their own eyes. While in flight, the two machines had their own masking program that hid them from all electronic detection. Except of course, from their Big Brother watching from above. A display lit up, showing a map and the progress Thunderbirds 1 and 2 were making towards the danger zone. As usual, Scott was ahead by a good bit, but Virgil was also making good time.

Suddenly, letters showed up in his field of view.

JOHN, the alien projected on his retina.

YOUR BROTHERS

THEY CAN NOT LEAVE THE ISLAND

John shook his head. He had thought about that as well. If the alien Hunter was looking for was in one of his brothers a thought that didn't sit well with him he just had given him the perfect excuse to leave the island and possibly move on to another host. He would be lost on planet Earth forever, and Hunter would have practically no chance ever to catch him.

"I'm sorry, but they have to. Lives are at stake. They should have little contact with others during the rescue, so nothing should happen if one of them is the host."

And there was not much Hunter could say or do about that.

John went back and contacted the manager of the dam again. The man almost broke out in tears when he heard that help was on the way, but John cut his grateful rambling off in mid-sentence.

"Sir, we need a location to land our two machines. We also need an English speaking local liaison to coordinate our efforts. And last, but not least, we need your assurance that nobody comes into the vicinity of our craft or tries to take any pictures of them."

The manager promised everything John asked for, nearly bending backwards in his effort to accommodate the fabulous International Rescue team.

Next John contacted Scott in Thunderbird 1 and relayed all the information he had and also the name of the local liaison, a woman named Suzan Chow.

"Thanks, John. My ETA is seven minutes. Virgil is twelve minutes behind me."

Again, John contacted the manager and also got to speak with the female liaison, telling her what to do as soon as Scott had landed.

"Thunderbird 1 calling Thunderbird 5," came Scott's voice from the loudspeaker.

"Go ahead, Scott."

"I'm approaching the danger zone. From up here it does look pretty bad. There's a big chunk of the dam missing on one side, and there are large cracks all along the wall face spouting water. The maintenance booth at the centre of the dam is cut off from the road; no way these people can get out. The only saving grace I can see at the moment is that the water level in the lake is fairly low, thanks to that long drought this summer, but even that won't save the dam in the long run."

"Okay. Thanks for the update. You are to land at the parking lot East of the dam at grid 7-13-4. A Mrs. Chow is waiting there for you."

"Is she pretty?" Scott asked, his voice lightening up a little. As usual, the prospect of female company lifted Scott's mood.

"Would I offer you anything else, Scott?" John returned grinning. He wished he could see Scott's face when he saw the lady in question. The woman was at least sixty years old, thin as a stick and no more than five feet tall. Scott would get a cramp in his back just from bending down to her. But she had seemed very competent when John had spoken to her and had the advantage that she spoke fluently English. If he remembered correctly, Scott's Mandarin was more than rusty, or, more to the truth, non-existing.

For a while, there was no communication as Scott was concentrating on his landing. John knew that Scott would get out Mobile Control and set it up at a location where he was able to monitor the situation. This was the phase of a rescue John hated the most. His work was pretty much done, and all he could do now was to listen in to what was going on on the ground.

"Mobile Control to Thunderbird 2," John overheard Scott calling Virgil.

"Yes, Scott?"

"What's your ETA, Virgil?"

"I'm coming in right now."

"Ah, yes, I see you now, sorry. I want you to come in from South-South-West. I think we should try the Web to stabilize the dam. With any luck it works, and we can concentrate on getting those people out of the maintenance booth."

There was a moment of hesitation as Virgil probably was assessing the situation as well. After a minute however, he confirmed that he would go along with Scott's plan.

The Web was a thin net made from an immensely strong carbon and metal monofilament. It could be packed to the size of a parachute bag, but when deployed it opened up to cover an area of several hundred square feet. After it had found its target in this case the face of the damaged dam a simple electromagnetic pulse would activate it, changing its structure and stabilize the whole construction.

"Okay, I'm coming around."

In China, Thunderbird 2 would now hover in front of the dam, readying the launcher, which would fire the package with the Web.

"FAB, Virgil."

"FAB."

John heard a soft 'phewt' over the open channel, and then Virgil's "Gotcha!"

"And here they say you can't even hit the broad side of a dam," Scott said lightly. "Good shooting, Virg."

"Who's saying that I can't shoot?" Virgil shot back obviously ready to take up Scott's banter.

"Nobody, Virg. Are you coming in to land?"

"FAB."

From there on, the rescue was fairly normal. Scott, Virgil, Gordon and Alan managed to get out the engineers from their maintenance booth without any injuries. There was no sign of the suspected sabotage. The dam held, thanks to the reinforcing net. The dammed up lake would be emptied carefully over the next couple of weeks to prevent flooding and then the Chinese engineers would start their repairs. But this was no concern of International Rescue.

After two hours, everybody was ready to get back home.

John wrote his report while the others were flying back and sent it down to the island.

After that, he had no more reasons to stall. He had had some ideas about Hunter during the rescue. They needed to talk.

Chapter 6

John had chosen to talk to Hunter while lying on his bed. This way, he could look up at the ceiling and Hunter could easily project everything he wanted to say on his retina. When John had asked how Hunter was making the words visible, he had said that he had a very thin film covering John's retinas, using it to see through John's eyes. When he wanted to form a word, he just thickened bits of that film, creating a shadow on the back of John's eyes. A pretty ingenious system, really, though John thought it a bit cumbersome. What if he was doing something else and Hunter needed to talk to him? This was an accident waiting to happen. Hunter had replied that he was working on using John's eardrums instead of the eyes, but so far he didn't trust himself to form understandable words. After a short demonstration, John had conceded the point. This definitely would need some more work on Hunter's side.

"Okay, Hunter," John started. "I'm willing to help you. But there are a few things we need to clear first."

WHAT DO YOU WANT

"You say that your special friend might be in one of my family or friends. How do you plan on finding out who is the one?"

I CAN SENSE HIM

"How?"

YOU TOUCH AND I SEND A PROBE

THE BLOOD CHANGES

"So your presence in my body changes something in my blood and you are able to detect that?"

YES

John thought. If he got back onto the island somehow, he should be able to arrange to touch everybody there at one point or another. And even if not, he should be able to arrange getting some blood from those he could not exclude at first. He wasn't so sure yet how, but he would find a way.

"Okay, we can work with that for now. Next question: When we find the other, how do we get him out of his host? I take it, he wouldn't go willingly."

NO

I AM SORRY

I DO NOT KNOW

I DID NOT THINK TO FIND HIM ON A PLANET WITH INTELLIGENT BEINGS

That was bad news. So even if they could find out who the host of the other alien was, they might not be able to get him out.

I CAN FIGHT HIM

GO INTO THE SAME HOST

BUT THIS CAN CAUSE DAMAGE TO THE HOST

That solution wouldn't do.

"Is there any reason why he would leave voluntarily?"

ONLY IF THE HOST IS IN DANGER

John mulled that over.

"So, if the host would be, say, in a fire, then he would leave."

YES

BUT THE DANGER MUST BE REAL

John could think of a few ways to simulate a dangerous situation, but each way still contained some risk that it might go wrong. It was too dangerous.

He filed that idea away for later, in case all other options failed, and went on.

"You said earlier that the other one has already caused damage to a host. That's why you hunt him, right?"

YES

"So, if this is the case, how did you guys get him out of the other host? Or did he go peacefully?"

THERE IS A WEAPON THAT DRIVES US OUT

A weapon. John could work with that. Or rather, Brains could work with that. There was little the brilliant engineer couldn't make possible. That was if Brains wasn't the one infected.

"What do you know about this weapon? Can we make it on Earth? Is there something special we need?"

I DO NOT KNOW NAME OF MODE

Damnit! John had feared something like this was going to happen. The communication link he had already formed with Hunter had made him somehow forget that the alien had only a limited vocabulary so far. Actually, it was pretty impressive what he already had picked up after only little over a week on Earth.

He sighed. The only thing was to wait then and hope that Hunter would be able to pick up the right words in time. Another possibility was to make sure that Brains was in the clear, and then give him a sample of his own blood. This way, Brains should be able to identify the marker Hunter had mentioned and also find a way to destroy it.

"Okay," John said. "We have to work on that later. Now I want something else."

WHAT DO YOU WANT

"I want you to leave my body. For a short while only."

There was a moment's hesitation, then, WHY

"Two reasons, really. First, I need to see if it's possible for one of your kind to leave a human body without damaging it. Maybe you will have to go into one of my brothers to fight the other one, and in this case, I want to know if you can leave him after that. Or me, for that matter."

I SEE

WHAT IS THE OTHER REASON

Now it was John's term to hesitate. He took a deep breath.

"I want to be honest with you. I know nothing of you. You seem to be an okay kind of guy, but I need some proof that you are on the level. That I can trust you."

Again, there was a moment quiet.

I UNDERSTAND

I WILL DO WHAT YOU WANT

John exhaled. He hadn't been sure how the alien would react to the request. There was actually a third reason but he hadn't wanted to tell that one to the alien.

"Do you need something? A container or are you okay on the floor?"

A BUCKET WILL DO

Funny how the alien managed to transfer indignity at being forced to move into such a lowly receptacle, but somehow he did. John grinned.

He got up and brought a bucket from the little cabinet next to the kitchen. Then he sat Indian fashion on his bed, the bucket between his legs.

"What now?"

PUT YOUR HAND INTO THE BUCKET

He did as the alien had instructed. For a moment nothing happened and John felt a little stupid sitting on his bed, holding his right hand into an empty bucket. There was after all still the remote chance that this was some elaborate joke played by Gordon and somewhere a camera was taking pictures to be displayed at the next Christmas party to the amusement of everybody else.

But then all thoughts of a joke from Gordon left his mind. He felt his hand suddenly growing heavy. Water seemed to pour from every pore, enveloping the hand with a sheen of liquid. The film got thicker, flowing as in slow motion towards the bottom of the container. John's heart rate increased as a small puddle formed in the bucket, growing steadily larger. In less than a minute, the small container was half full.

When nothing more came out his hand, John pulled it back, staring at it disbelievingly. He wiggled his fingers, looking at his hand from both sides. It looked the same as always only that just a minute ago an alien being had basically poured out of it.

If he had had any doubts left, they were now gone.

He peered into the bucket. Hunter looked pretty much like half a gallon of slimy water. Thinking that this had been inside of his body just minutes ago wasn't exactly a pleasant thought. But he didn't feel any different, really, so it seemed he hadn't been any worse off because of it.

John placed the bucket very carefully on the floor and got up from the bed.

"I'll be right back," he addressed the bucket, not knowing if Hunter could even hear him in this state.

He went into the com room and flipped a switch on the control panel.

"John Tracy calling Brains."

John had to wait a moment before the engineer answered his call. Brains was probably working on one project or another, and usually disliked to be distracted from his work.

"What is up, J-j-john?"

The display lit up, showing the bespectacled engineer wearing a lab coat. From what John could see from the room behind him, he was in lab 2.

"Brains, do you remember that piece of metal you pulled out of my side the other week?"

"Uh, o-o-off course I do, John. It is, ehr, a very interesting p-p-piece of material." Brains pushed his glassed up the bridge of his nose, looking curiously at John. John was sure Brains wondered why John was asking.

"So you already performed an analysis?"

"Yes. It is a very, ehm, interesting c-c-composition. I, uh, have never seen a-a-anything like that. I, uh, even think it might, ehr, not be from this w-w-world."

"Have you told anybody of your results yet?" John urged.

Brains thought about that for a moment. "No, ehr, not yet. I did not, ehm, have the time."

John breathed out. "Good. Brains, would you mind keeping that under wraps a little bit longer? I have something here that might be related to it."

"No p-p-problem, John."

"Thanks, Brains. See ya later."

"Bye, John."

John had taken a risk in calling Brains, but he figured that of all the inhabitants of Tracy Island, he would be the least likely to be infected by the alien. Hunter had told him that he and the one he was hunting had both landed their ships under water, and the only way to reach a human would have been when somebody came close to the alien. The aliens' mobility was severely limited on land, so if there had been a contact it had been most likely on one of the island's beaches.

Brains practically never left his lab, and John couldn't recall him ever taking a stroll along the water something that practically everybody else on the island did regularly.

He only hoped he hadn't been wrong.

But he hadn't wanted Hunter there for that talk, as he was pretty sure there would have been protests. Besides, the two reasons he had give Hunter were both true.

Steeling himself, he walked back into the bedroom. It was time that Hunter got back into his body. The thought was a little revolting, John had to admit, especially now that he had seen the alien in his natural form.

But he also knew that Hunter had no chance of achieving his goal and catching the other alien without John's help. And as that other alien threatened his friends and family John would do anything he had to do to help.

Looking at the creature in the bucket, he almost reconsidered. All his basic instincts screamed at him not to do it. His stomach clenched and he felt slightly nauseous.

He took a deep breath exhaling slowly through his nose. The alien had trusted him, else he would never have left John's body. He seemed to be pretty helpless outside of a host. John didn't know how helpless, but it was obvious that without a host, without him, Hunter would never achieve what he had come to Earth for.

In the end John had no choice. He knew he had to do it.

Inhaling once again, he dipped his hand into the bucket and inside the slimy mass sitting within.

Still he closed his eyes and tried to think of something else, when he felt the alien slowly sift back inside.

Chapter 7

The plan they came up with depended on John getting back to the island as soon as possible. His normal shift was to last three more weeks and it was out of the question that they could wait so long. Too much time had been lost already.

After some discussions, they finally decided that the only way to get John back home was to fake some kind of illness. Neither John nor the alien were exactly happy with that idea. John hated to deceive his family and Hunter felt reluctant to manipulate John's body to something that was essentially negative. But they both had agreed that it was the best way.

When the time of the daily check-in call came around, John was ready.

"Hunter, it's time."

YOU ARE SURE YOU WANT THIS

"I'm open to any other idea you have."

Instead of an answer, he felt like heat suddenly flushed his body. Breathing became harder and he felt his heart hammer in his chest.

"Wow!" he exclaimed, as he wiped off sweat from his forehead.

ARE YOU OKAY

"I'm fine, I'm fine. Just didn't think this would work so fast. You just go on."

On rubbery legs, John walked over to the com console, making contact with Tracy Island.

"Evening, Dad." Even his voice sounded raspy.

"John!" his father called out the moment he laid eyes on his middle son. "Are you sick?"

John swallowed. There was it now. He would have to lie to his father. God, he hated that.

"I'm fine," he said, trying to sound like he meant it.

"You don't look fine, son," Jeff replied, looking sternly at him.

John counted on the fact that he, like all of his brothers, was well known to downplay any weakness they might have. And being sick was a weakness after all. It seemed to work.

"It's just a bit of a fever, dad. I'll be fine."

John had to admit even to himself that he sounded pretty pathetic.

"John," his father said. "This doesn't look like just a fever. You go, right now, to the diagnostic bed and check yourself out.

"Father," John whined a little bit, but then relented, as he didn't want to overplay it.

He went to the bed in his room, transforming it with a couple of switches into a high tech diagnostic unit and lay down. Multiple sensor arrays sprang to life and started to examine him. John hated to be in the diagnostic bed, but as it was a little difficult to have a doctor making house calls in space, he had accepted its usefulness.

The unit collected the data and sent them back to Earth. A few moments later, he heard Jeff's voice again.

"John, you have over 106 degrees fever. This is not just something harmless. You're coming back home. Now."

"But, Father," John protested, even though this was exactly what he and Hunter had wanted. But it would sound strange if he would give in too fast.

"Don't 'But, Father' me, son. You stay exactly where you are while I send Scott and Alan up. Alan can stay on Thunderbird 5 for a week, until you're better."

With that Jeff cut off the connection.

John allowed himself a brief grin, then he closed his eyes. All of the sudden he was very tired.


Thunderbird 3 arrived a little over an hour later. John had actually fallen asleep but woke up when he heard Scott making contact.

"Thunderbird 3 calling Thunderbird 5," sounded his oldest brother's voice from the loudspeaker next to his bed. As John had to be ready day and night, there was also a com unit in his bedroom.

John rubbed his eyes, then flipped the switch.

"Still here, Scott," John said, making his voice sound weaker than he actually was.

Hunter had decreased his temperature a little, but John was still running a medium fever. He had to hand it to the alien; he was doing a great job. John really did feel sick. This also drove home to him what danger his family and friends were in. Hunter had been really reluctant to manipulate John's body and it had taken some fancy talking on John's part to make him agree to the plan. If the alien Hunter was searching for had no such high moral standards, there was no knowing what damage he could cause.

A few minutes later, there was a knock and Scott's dark-haired head peered into John's bedroom. "Hi, Johnny?" Scott's body followed and he stepped inside. "How do you feel?"

"I'm fine, Scott, really. It's just a bit of fever, that's all. No need to take me home just because of that."

"Sorry, John, but I do have my orders." Scott had stepped up to the bed and felt for John's forehead. "Hmm," he said non-committal.

"What do you mean, 'hmm', Scott?" Alan had followed his brother and also stepped into the bedroom. He dropped the duffle bag he had been carrying and joined Scott at John's bedside.

"John has a fever."

John rolled his eyes, while Alan grinned down on John. "It's always good to have a professional opinion. So, Doctor Scott, can the patient be moved?"

John pushed himself up into a sitting position. "The patient can walk himself," he said through the dizziness that grasped him suddenly.

He accepted Scott's steadying hand, not liking the concerned looks on Scott's and Alan's faces. John hated to cause worry to his brothers, but he was now committed to the plan and would see it through.

He held a little bit longer onto Scott as he got to his feet. Finally standing, he took a moment to get his breath back.

SCOTT IS CLEAR, a message suddenly flashed before his eyes.

"Thanks," he said to Hunter, though Scott, of course, thought he was the addressee.

"You're welcome," his older brother replied with an open smile.

It would do no good if John would go back to the island, only to leave the one brother who was infected back on Thunderbird 5. With Scott in the clear, they only needed to check out Alan.

"Alan," John called out for his brother.

The blond-haired man moved to John's side, slinging an arm around his shoulder. Scott let go, moving ahead to the air lock and Thunderbird 3 to start the pre-flight checks. John and Alan followed slowly.

"Are you okay with staying here, Alan?" John asked concerned. He felt a little guilty for pulling Alan out from whatever the youngest Tracy had been doing, only to dump him without any warning on the remote space station.

"I'm okay, John, don't worry. You just stay a week longer when you come back up here and we call it even."

"You don't need to worry, John. Brains has come up with a new kind of fire repellent gel that he 'burns' to test on one of us," Scott explained with a grin from up ahead. "I guess Alan is just glad he's far enough away not to be on the test subject list any more."

Well, that explained Alan's eagerness to stay up on TB5. Brains experiments could turn up with unexpected results, though there hadn't been any lasting damage so far.

"Not true!" Alan protested, but John could feel that his heart wasn't in it.

"Yes true!" Scott returned with a wink.

Again, John received an 'all clear' message from Hunter, lifting another boulder from his heart.

They reached Thunderbird 3 and John buckled up in the shotgun seat.

The ride back home was uneventful. Scott handled the huge space rocket with a deft hand and landed her without a jolt through the opening in the large round house on the island.

"Okay, John, let's get you to the sick room."

Scott helped John out of the seat and onto the sofa that was the fastest way to their father's study. From there it would be only a short walk to the sickroom.

Father and Grandma were expecting them, both looking concerned. John felt another stab of guilt for deceiving his family. Hunter had once again decreased John's temperature, but as they didn't want to raise any suspicions, they had decided to keep John sick for a little bit longer.

Grandma's face split into a grin when she saw her two grandsons. "John, honey, how do you feel?"

She reached out and felt John's forehead. "That doesn't feel too bad," she noted as she took John's arm and led him towards the sickroom.

"I'm fine," said John for what felt to be the hundredth time.

"We'll see about that, honey."

Knowing that resistance was futile, he allowed his grandmother to tuck him in.

"What you need, John, is some peace and quiet and some of my homemade chicken soup," she diagnosed.

John decided not to point out that there was probably no place as peaceful and quiet at Thunderbird 5 except maybe when a rescue was going on. But he wouldn't say no to grandma's homemade chicken soup. He wasn't crazy after all. Made the old traditional way, he and all his brothers would walk through a snowstorm just to get some.

"So, you rest a little and I will be back in a short while with the soup for you."

"Thanks, grandma."

Grandma lowered the light and left the room.

"Could you check her out?" he asked quietly when he was sure that he was alone.

YOUR GRANDMOTHER IS CLEAR

John exhaled in relief. "Thank God."


John woke from the blare of the alert going off. He was disorientated for a moment because he wasn't in his usual bed in Thunderbird 5 but quickly remembered that he was back on the island and why.

Dressing hastily, he rushed into his father's study only seconds after Scott and Virgil. Gordon showed up a moment later. It was dark outside, the clock on the wall showing it to be 3:45 AM.

Alan was on the monitor, looking grave.

" doesn't look good, Father. There are still explosives all over the place. If any more go off, the rest of the building will come down, too. The chief of police says there are at least twenty people trapped down there in the vault, but they can't get closer to the building because of the explosives. The only bright spot is that they believe the kidnappers all died in the first blast, so at least there will be no bullets flying."

"Okay, Alan, we take it from there. Scott, you better take off quickly. The situation is serious. Your target is Frankfurt, Germany. I'll update you on the way."

"FAB, father."

Scott moved over to his portrait on the wall and reached for the two lamp cones on either side. Pressing the hidden switches there, the wall rotated away with him, delivering him directly to the hangar with Thunderbird 1.

"Virgil, Gordon, you take Thunderbird 2 with Pod 5. The Deutsche Bank's vault is underground and maybe you will have to tunnel in with the Mole."

John noticed that he had been excluded from the round up.

"Father, let me go, too. Please."

Jeff Tracy cast a worried look at his middle son. Seeing that he actually looked better, he considered.

"How to you feel?" he asked still concerned.

"I'm fine, Father. Really. The fever's gone. It was nothing but a 12-hour flu."

"All right," Jeff finally relented. "You can go. But the moment that fever is back, you're off the mission and in Thunderbird 2's sickbay. Is that clear?"

"Yes, Father."

Together with Gordon John went to Thunderbird 2's hangar where Virgil was already loading up Pod 5. They entered the huge craft, and settled down on the extra seats in the cockpit. Virgil started to roll her out and in no time they were up in the air, heading Northwest.

"Thunderbird 5 to Thunderbird 2."

"Go ahead, Alan."

"Okay, let's give you the low-down. Two hours ago a group of men came into the Deutsche Bank Building in Frankfurt. They carried weapons and explosives. They took twelve employees and an undetermined number of customers hostage and locked them in one vault while they started to clear out the other vaults. The vault with the hostages was mined and they threatened to blow them up the moment the police tried anything funny. Twenty minutes ago there was an explosion and part of the building collapsed. Somebody in the vault managed to make contact to the outside, so we know they're still alive, but they also found out that the explosives down there are still hot. The people can't get out as they are still locked in, and nobody can get in because of the explosives."

"Thanks, Alan. Our ETA is one hour and seventeen minutes." Virgil informed his brother. "I just hope those people can last that long."

He cut off the connection to Thunderbird 5 and then poured all his considerable skill into getting the best speed out of Thunderbird 2.

Chapter 8

Gordon squirmed in his seat, feeling restless. He knew once they reached the danger zone there would be enough to do, but getting there always seemed to take so long, and there was always the fear that they would be too late and that when they finally arrived, the people they tried to rescue were already dead.

For her size and weight, Thunderbird 2 was pretty damn fast, faster than any other transport plane on the planet. Still he wished she would go even faster.

He cast a glance over at John, who was sitting next to him. His older brother had his eyes closed, though Gordon didn't think that John was asleep. He studied him, watching for any sign of the sickness that had made their father take him off the space station. But John looked fine. Well, Father had given John a green light, so he probably was fine. Still, Gordon decided he would keep a close eye on him, if he could.

When Gordon had heard that John was sick, he had worried at first that this was an after-effect of the underwater accident from last week. He had been really scared for John's life back then. Though it had been a relief to find out that the wound on John's side had been relatively harmless, he couldn't help wondering how he could have miss-judged the extent of John's injuries to such a degree. Not that he wished John any harm, but he could have sworn that that piece of metal had stuck pretty deep in John's side.

Gordon couldn't stand waiting in the seat anymore. He popped his safety harness and got up.

"Virgil, I'm going to check out the Mole."

Even though he could only see the back of Virgil's head, he knew that his brother was grinning. It was well-known in the Tracy family that Gordon couldn't sit still for longer than five minutes.

"FAB. Take John with you. He can read the check list."

"FAB, Virgil. Come on John."

He nudged his older brother. John opened his safety harness and got up as well.

They took the elevator down to the flight deck level and opened the double doors between Thunderbird 2 and whichever Pod she was carrying.

Pod 5 contained the Mole, a big drilling machine International Rescue used for any rescue that required them to travel any distance underground. The Mole's drill head was made of a material even harder than diamond. Depending on the composition of the ground, the Mole could travel up to one hundred feet per minute. The cabin seated two persons comfortably, three if they didn't mind getting in each other's way.

Like all their rescue equipment, the Mole was always kept in tip-top shape, but protocol still required that they worked through a forty-seven points long checklist every time a mission was imminent.

John pulled up the checklist on the computer and started to read it of. He seemed calm, as if he was on a rescue every day. Of course, in a way John was always on a rescue with them every time, but usually only as a voice from above, a watcher, and sometimes, Gordon thought with a little smile, their guardian angel.

"Are you okay coming along today?" Gordon asked, as he confirmed the function of the radar system.

"Sure. Why not?" John looked up from the computer screen to take a look at his younger brother. "Coolant system?"

"Coolant system: check. No reason, really. I'm just asking."

"Navigation system? I'm really fine, Gordo. Don't worry."

John laid his hand on Gordon's arm. It was cool to the touch and Gordon almost pulled his arm back, but John held his grip.

"Gordon, is it because of last week's accident?"

John waited, looking patiently at his little brother.

Gordon sighed. "I'm sorry, John I just can't help it. I had nightmares after the accident for three solid nights. I still don't know how you got out of this with barely a scratch. You really scared me."

John exhaled deeply. "I'm sorry I scared you, Gordon. But I'm fine. Really."

John let go of Gordon's arm, but held his eyes. Gordon could read the sincerity in there.

Finally, Gordon broke the eye contact.

"Let's go on with the list, shall we. Navigation system: check."

There was a short pause then John continued reading from the list.


When they arrived at the danger zone, Scott directed them to land in a small park a little off from the half-collapsed building. Scott had learned that the vault was only a few hundred feet away from an old underground railroad tunnel and to save time, they would travel by that tunnel until they had to drill through.

After landing, Virgil jacked Thunderbird 2 up, exposing the large door of Pod 5.

Gordon and John were already on board, unloading the Mole the moment the ramp was down. Virgil joined them a minute later. The plan was for them to get to the vault as fast a possible. John and Virgil would then start to cut their way into the vault with the hostages, while Gordon would take care of the explosives.

The entrance to the old subway system was just large enough to allow the Mole through and they made good time to the spot they had picked out for the breakthrough.

Now that the rescue had started, Gordon was all professional, his nerves from before forgotten. He was leaning over John's shoulder, watching Virgil fire up the drill head. Even though the dampeners the Mole had were the best there were, vibrations and a lot of noise still came through, and communications was only possible thanks to the head-phones they were all wearing.

"Scott, we're starting to drill," Virgil checked in with Scott.

"FAB. Be careful, there's still a lot of electronics embedded in those tunnel walls."

Virgil flipped a switch and a display sprang to life. He studied it closely then adjusted the drill point two yards to the right.

"FAB. The power's off, but I still found a place that is pretty much free of any cabling."

Gordon held on to whatever he could, as the powerful machine began to dig into the concrete walls. Virgil was careful at first, but after they hit the compacted earth behind the concrete walls, he increased speed.

John was reading the navigation and radar system, leading Virgil's path through the earth. He seemed to be calm, his voice sounding confident. Due to the confinement of the Mole's cabin he was pressed against Virgil's back, but didn't seem to mind.

It took them only a few minutes to reach their goal. Virgil had to slow down once again as they reached the steel enforced walls of the vault, but even they were no real obstruction to the strong drill heads of the Mole.

The moment they broke through, Virgil cut the engine.

A TV screen came to life, showing the dark and smoky interior of the large central vault. From the plans Scott has been given, they knew that there were four individual vaults leading off from the central room. Each vault had its own security system. While the bank robbers had worked on the vaults to the right, they had locked the hostages into one of the vaults to the left. This was also where the explosives would be.

Gordon palmed the door open. He was already outside, when he heard a warning call from Virgil.

"Gordon, wait!"

He turned back, but it was already too late.

The sound of a gunshot reverberated through the room. Something heavy slammed into his chest. Breathing was suddenly impossible. He looked down at himself, seeing a dark stain spread on his blue uniform. He tried to draw a breath, but then pain exploded all over him, spreading with lightning speed from his chest to the rest of his body.

From somewhere in the distance he heard someone calling his name, but he couldn't acknowledge it, couldn't move, couldn't think.

Then, finally, a dark hand reached out for him and he knew no more.

Chapter 9

"Gordon!" John screamed, not wanting to believe what his eyes told him.

Only seconds ago, Virgil had spotted three heat sources at the right side of the vault chamber, after switching the TV camera to infrared detection. As all hostages were supposed to be on the left hand side, the only conclusion was that some of the bank robbers had made it down here after all.

He had called out a warning to Gordon, who had already stepped outside eager to start working. But it had been too late.

Now Gordon lay in a crumpled heap just off the door from the Mole. He wasn't moving and John couldn't even say if he was still breathing. The bullet had hit him square in the chest. A fatal wound.

No, that couldn't be. Not Gordon. He couldn't be dead.

"JOHN!" a voice he had never heard before screamed in his left ear.

It was just enough to pull him out of his shock.

I CAN SAVE HIM

I CAN GET INTO HIM AND SAVE HIM

John blinked. Of course, as Hunter had saved his life after the underwater explosion, he would be able to save Gordon's life here.

John sprung into action. Crouching low, he reached for Gordon's arms and pulled him inside the safety of the Mole. New shots rang out, pinging against the walls of the Mole, but John ignored them. His concentration was fully on his younger brother.

Laying Gordon out on the floor, John placed his right hand just over the wound in his brother's chest, ignoring the blood that covered the uniform. Distantly he noted that the bullet had penetrated the left lung not far from the heart. He couldn't say if the organ was nicked or not.

"What the heck are you doing?" Virgil knelt next to him, his eyes wide and his face pale. What John was doing wasn't exactly standard operating procedure.

Gordon wasn't breathing. John didn't bother to check for a heartbeat. He knew there wouldn't be one.

Virgil gasped when suddenly clear water seemed to pour out of John's hand and mingle with Gordon's blood.

"What is that?" he demanded, but John ignored him.

The alien poured out of John even faster than the time he had gone into the bucket. In ten seconds he had crossed over from one body into the other.

The effect on Gordon's body was immediate. The blood stopped welling out of the hole in the chest, actually seemed to be drawn back inside. There was a gasp from the injured brother and he convulsed for a few seconds. John held him down.

"Please, save his life," he murmured. "Please."

Before their astonished eyes, the hole in Gordon's chest started to knit closed. Before it closed completely a small object was pushed through the hole and fell with a low clatter onto the metal floor of the Mole's cabin.

It was the bullet.

John picked it up, regarding it from all sides. Such a small thing. He was always amazed how something so small could cause so much damage.

Virgil held out his hand for the bullet and John gave it to him. He then searched for Gordon's pulse, finding it strong and steady. Gordon also seemed to breathe easy now, though he was still unconscious. Hunter would need some time to repair the damage, so this was to be expected. John had needed a little bit of time after the underwater explosion as well.

"Okay, John. Would you please tell me what this is? What was that stuff coming out of your hand?" Virgil held out the bullet and then pointed at Gordon. "And how did this get out of Gordon?" His voice was shaking in what was probably delayed shock.

John sighed. He hadn't wanted to tell anybody about Hunter until he was sure that everybody on the island was free of the other alien. On their travel here, Hunter had managed to check out Gordon and Virgil, and John had been relieved to find that both were free. All of his brothers were in the clear now. Still, he had wanted to wait until everybody else was checked out.

"He's an alien. He came to Earth to hunt for one of his own kind. When Gordon and I checked out that signal last week, he went into me to save my life after that explosion. They normally live in symbiosis with other humanoid beings, and that's how I ended up as his host. The other alien is probably inside somebody on the island. We've managed to check out Scott, Alan, Gordon, Grandma and you, but haven't found the other one yet."

Virgil looked at him as if John had grown another head.

"You're shitting me?"

"No," John simply said, pointing at Gordon. "He offered to save Gordon's life. What you just saw was the alien moving from my body to Gordon's. He's inside Gordon now, repairing the damage the bullet has caused."

Virgil obviously still had some problems grasping the situation. John couldn't exactly blame him. It had taken him some time as well to accept Hunter's existence.

"Mole, come in! Virgil! John! Gordon!"

The two brothers looked up. Both had basically ignored everything but their injured brother and only now realized that Scott had tried to reach them for some time.

"Mole here." Virgil picked up the microphone, rising from his kneeling position.

"Thank God. What is going on down here? I heard shooting over the link."

"Sorry, Scott, we got a little distracted. Gordon's been shot, but I think he's going to be fine." Virgil neglected to mention how badly Gordon had been hurt and how it was that he wasn't dead right now.

"What about the hostages?"

John had almost forgotten the reason they were on this rescue to begin with. But now, with Gordon out of imminent danger, his mind returned to the problem at hand.

"At least three of the bank robbers are still here, shooting around. We're still inside the Mole, so we are safe for the moment," Virgil updated their oldest brother, while John went back to the infrared monitor.

The three heat sources had moved closer to the Mole. John guessed that they would try to get past the large machine and use the tunnel the Mole had dug to escape. The explosives that had gone off had blocked the old way out of the vault chamber, so the tunnel was the only way in or out at the moment.

John tried to sneak a look out of the still open door, but couldn't see anything. How the goons had been able to see Gordon in the darkness with all that dust and smoke still floating around and actually hit him, was beyond him.

Unless

"They must also have infrared," he said half to himself, half to Virgil.

A grim smile crept on Virgil's face. John knew that smile. He also knew that whoever the smile was for would regret having crossed his brother's path.

Virgil got up and stepped around Gordon's body in order to reach a compartment in the rear of the Mole. For a moment, John wasn't sure what Virgil wanted from that compartment, as he wasn't quite as familiar with the rescue equipment as his brothers, but when he saw the flash grenades Virgil pulled out, he knew. Soon he wore a smile identical to that of his brother.

Half a minute later, a blinding white flash filled the vault, casting everything into sharp relief. John and Virgil, who both had known what was to come, had closed their eyes as the flash went off, but the three men sneaking along the wall towards the opening the Mole had made, had had no warning.

Cries rang out, and the men reached for the infrared goggles they'd been wearing, pulling at them to get them off. Due to the flash grenade the displays had overloaded, blinding the men effectively.

John and Virgil took careful aim and one robber after the other was hit by the knock-out pellets from their guns. Their cries were cut off and they all fell to the ground motionless. They wouldn't wake up for at least twelve hours, unless they were given the antidote to the fast acting drug in the pellets. John thought that he would probably forget to mention that option to the local police though. After those guys had shot Gordon, he didn't feel exactly charitable.

As Gordon was still out for the count, John offered to work on the explosive charges, while Virgil went to the vault with the hostages and started to cut his way inside. Soon all charges were disarmed, and Virgil had managed to cut an opening wide enough for the twenty-one people trapped inside to get out.

Giving the all clear, police and rescue workers started to swarm the vault chamber. The three goons were loaded none too gently onto some anti-grav stretchers, while the hostages were let out through the opening the Mole had left behind. John and Virgil coordinated the efforts, and it didn't take long for the last of the hostages to leave their prison.

"John?" a quiet voice at John's right shoulder said all of a sudden.

John almost jumped out of his skin before he recognized Gordon's voice.

"Gezz, squirt, you almost gave me a heart attack." He turned, smiling at his younger brother.

When he saw the confusion in Gordon's eyes, he quickly grew serious.

"What's the matter, Gordon?"

"How come I'm not dead?"

Chapter 10

Gordon didn't feel any pain when he woke up.

That was okay, as far as he was concerned. He had expected pain, he knew there should be pain, but he definitely preferred the non-pain variation.

He also knew he had been shot in the chest. A single bullet had torn into his body, leaving a path of destruction behind. It was a wound that was disastrous at best, lethal at worst.

So, why didn't he feel any pain?

His mind felt sluggish, but it still provided him with an answer. It was an answer he didn't particularly like.

He was dead.

If one was dead, there was no pain. Everybody knew that. It was the logical conclusion.

Suddenly he would have welcomed the pain.

He didn't want to be dead. Not so much because he was afraid to die he was a little bit afraid, but then, who wouldn't be but because he knew what his death would mean to his family. He knew they would be devastated. As he would be if one of his brothers would have died before him.

He never would have figured he would be the first to go. He had his life planned out after all. Working for International Rescue until arthritis would force him to take on a desk job and then watch his children and grandchildren take up the slack where he had to let go, while he directed them from afar.

Okay, there had been a close call once or twice. The hydrofoil accident four years ago had been pretty rough, but he had pulled through it and had come out the other end stronger than ever. And working on rescues wasn't exactly risk free either.

But he couldn't die just now. He was only twenty-three.

Something cold dug into his back, and he twitched to get away from it. Suddenly he realized that the whole floor was cold and pretty hard too.

Where was he?

He opened his eyes.

"What the heck ?" he asked into the empty interior of the Mole.

Nobody answered.

Moving his arms, he pushed himself up into a sitting position.

This was definitely the Mole. Not the Pearly Gates and not some fluffy cloud high up in Heaven. But also not some hot burning furnace or a frozen over Hell.

What was he still doing in the Mole if he was dead?

He looked down at himself, seeing the torn and bloody uniform he was still wearing. The bloodstain seemed to be centred at chest level, just in the place he remembered the bullet had entered.

Carefully he pulled the bloody fabric aside to gaze at his naked chest. The unblemished chest. The 'never has been touched by a bullet' chest. There wasn't even a bruise. But where did the blood come from?

Okay, Gordy, he told himself, taking a deep breath. Maybe you are a ghost and you have just risen from the remains of your body.

He looked back, but there was no Gordon body on the ground, only a rolled up jacket, which had been placed underneath his head. He struck his hand at some wall, but instead of passing through, he connected solidly with it.

So much for the ghost theory. It had been a stupid idea to begin with.

He finally decided to get up and find out what was going on. The door to the Mole was locked, and there was no sign of John or Virgil anywhere.

He unrolled the jacket that had lain on the floor and pulled it on. It wasn't so much that he was cold, but he wanted to cover up the hole in his uniform pullover and the blood.

He keyed the door open and peered out. The Mole was still sitting at one end of the underground vault. But while the place had been dark and dusty before, it was now brightly lit and milling with people. Uniformed men were leading civilians past the Mole and out through the tunnel behind it. Close by, a familiar blue uniform with a pale pink sash was directing people to different activities. John's quiet voice was giving commands in German and English, which were followed promptly. It looked like he had everything well in hand.

Stepping out of the Mole, Gordon walked over to where John was standing.

"John?" he asked quietly, afraid what would be if John didn't answer.

John nearly jumped a foot into the air.

"Gezz, squirt, you almost gave me a heart attack." John turned and smiled. He quickly grew serious when he saw Gordon's face.

"What's the matter, Gordon?"

"How come I'm not dead?"

Gordon had finally come to the conclusion that he was, in fact, not dead. But he knew that the wound he had received had been fatal, so he thought it was a fair question to ask. How he figured that John would know an answer to that question, he didn't know. He just knew that he needed an answer.

John looked down, then slowly up again. Something shimmered in his blue eyes, though Gordon couldn't place it at first. Then he realized that John did know something about what has happened to him. And he didn't feel comfortable about it.

"John," Gordon pressed. "What's going on? I know I've been shot, but when I woke up I didn't even have a scratch."

John sighed. "Not here, squirt. Let's wrap this up and then we can talk. Virgil needs to be in this as well, and if we can, Scott. This is going to be a little bit complicated."

A man in a dark green uniform had hovered close by, clearly not wanting to interrupt the two International Rescue operatives in their discussion. John waved him closer.

"Sir, ich denke, dass wir von nun an alleine zurechtkommen," the man said in German.

Gordon didn't understand a word, but then it wasn't him but John who spoke eight different languages fluently and several more good enough to get along.

"Danke. Ich rufe dann meinen Kollegen und wir brechen unsere Zelte ab," replied John also in flawless German.

He turned to Gordon. "This man just told me, that they won't need our help anymore, so I told him that we're going back home. Could you find Virgil? He must be somewhere over there."

John pointed to the left hand vault, just when the chestnut-haired pilot of Thunderbird 2 appeared out of the throng of people gathered around the vault entrance.

Virgil jogged over. His face split into a grin when he saw his younger brother.

"Hey, Gordon. How do you feel?"

Virgil stopped at Gordon's side and gave him a once over, his face serious again. He pulled open the jacket Gordon was wearing, peering at the torn and bloody uniform. He grimaced when he saw all the blood.

"I'm alive," Gordon replied. "Though I'm not sure why."

Virgil cast a glance at John, who just frowned.

"We need a place a little bit more private," John suggested.

John shook hands with the green uniformed man and said good-bye. The man wouldn't let them go without shaking everybody's hand, thanking them multiple times in German and broken English.

Back in the Mole, they contacted Scott.

"Mole to Mobile Control."

"Go ahead, Mole. What's the status? How's Gordon?"

"Gordon is fine. Looks like we're done down here," John said, while Virgil fired up the Mole. "We're getting the Mole back up now. As soon as we're in the Pod, could you come over for a moment? There's something we need to discuss."

"What's up?"

"Not over the air waves. It's important."

Scott clearly wasn't happy about being kept in the dark, and Gordon couldn't blame him. He also had a vested interest in finding out what the heck was going on. Finally, Scott agreed to wait for them in Pod 5.


The four brothers gathered next to the returned Mole in Pod 5.

"Okay, what's so important that we can't even talk about it over the air waves? In case you have forgotten, you and Brains made very, very sure that nobody can ever eavesdrop on any of our radio communications."

Gordon agreed with Scott. John should know better than any of them how tamper proof the International Rescues communications system actually was. After all, John had designed most of it.

"Scott, when we got down to the vault, Gordon got shot. In the chest."

"What? That's not funny."

"It's true," Virgil piped in.

"But he's okay, right?" Scott looked closely at Gordon and obviously couldn't find anything amiss. Gordon pulled his jacket closer. He didn't want Scott to see the blood on his uniform.

"Yes, but that's only because of a friend of mine," John went on.

"A friend of yours? I don't get it. What kind of friend?"

John sighed then said, "The alien kind."

Gordon's jaw dropped and Scott's followed suit.

"You're kidding, right?" Scott asked.

John shook his head, but it was Virgil who replied. "Nope, he's not kidding. I saw it."

"You saw what? A little green man jumping on Gordon and healing him from a gun shot wound?"

"He's not green, and he didn't jump on Gordon but into Gordon, but otherwise you are pretty much correct," John said.

"I don't believe you," Gordon now challenged John.

"Hunter," John just said, "say hello to Gordon."

HELLO TO GORDON

Letters suddenly appeared before Gordon's eyes and he couldn't suppress a cry of surprise.

"What was that?"

"What was what?" Scott asked, clearly more confused than ever.

"Hunter's preferred method of communications is to project letters onto the retina of the eye. That's how he used to talk to me when he was still in my body. I would guess Hunter just did the same thing with Gordon."

Scott's eyes wandered from John to Gordon and back again.

"You're telling me you had some alien creature inside of you? And it's now in Gordon?" he almost squeaked.

John only nodded. Gordon looked down at his body. He patted it down, not knowing that he imitated John's reaction when he first had found out that an alien creature was living inside of him.

"Get it out. Now!" Scott demanded.

"I don't think this is a good idea. Gordon was pretty badly wounded. I don't know if Hunter has managed to heal him completely yet or if he needs more time."

ONE HOUR

"Er, I think he just told me he needs another hour," Gordon informed the others. This was too weird.

"He will not harm Gordon. I'm sure of that. He already saved my life when the other alien's space ship exploded. And he's been inside of me for almost ten days now without any negative side effects. Actually, there are a couple of benefits to his presence."

"So, the accident was more serious than it later turned out to be. I knew it!" Gordon grinned suddenly. The lightness of John's injuries after the underwater explosion had bothered him the whole time. He was sure he hadn't misjudged the situation that badly.

Scott thought for a moment. He was clearly not willing to give in that easily. Aliens possessing his younger brother's body didn't sit well with him. Not that Gordon blamed him. The thought gave him the creeps. Though if John was right, the alternative was even less pleasant.

"What does it want?" Scott asked.

John gave the others a short summary of the reason Hunter had come to Earth and what the situation was.

" So, if the other alien is still on the island, then he must be either in Dad, Kyrano, Tin-Tin or Brains. I'm pretty sure it's not Brains, but it can be any of the others."

"And how do we get this other alien out of whoever it is occupying," Virgil asked.

"That's the crux of the problem. Hunter doesn't know. He says there's some weapon they use that repels them from a host, but he couldn't tell me what type of weapon it is. My plan was to eliminate Brains from the list, and hope that he would be able to come up with something."

Couldn't or wouldn't, Gordon had to wonder. But then he decided he could trust the alien. Gordon didn't doubt anymore that John was telling the truth about the alien. John also seemed to trust him, and as Gordon trusted John, this was good enough for him.

"Standing here and talking won't help us," he said. "We need to get back to the island. That's were the problem is. Besides, I'm hungry."

The brothers nodded.

Scott returned to Thunderbird 1 and within five minutes they were all back in the air and on their way home.

Chapter 11

They were about ten minutes away from home when Scott made contact from Thunderbird 1. They had flown back to the island in formation, even though Scott could make much better time and arrive more than an hour ahead of the others. But ever since the incident with the U.S.N. Sentinel he liked to stay close to Thunderbird 2 in case something like that ever happened again. It wasn't possible on the way out to a rescue of course, as there speed was always of the essence, but on the way back it was something different.

"Thunderbird 1 to Thunderbird 2, are we set?"

"Thunderbird 2 to Thunderbird 1, FAB. Everybody is where he belongs."

Hunter had returned to John about five minutes earlier. Gordon had been only too happy to get rid of the alien, a feeling that probably had only increased when he saw the slimy liquid flow out of his hand over into John's arm. John didn't exactly blame him. He had had some time to get used to Hunter by now, but Gordon was still pretty new to this. Besides, he always had been a little squeamish where slimy things were concerned, something his brothers used to tease him about mercilessly, until Scott had put a stop to it, after an especially nasty trick Virgil and John had played on their younger brother some years ago.

The plan they had come up with was basically that as soon as everybody was back on the island, each brother would seek out one of the potential hosts for the other alien and keep an eye on him or her. John was to go to Brains and check him out. If he was clear, he was to tell him about Hunter and start working on a way to repel him from a host body. If anybody could find a way to do it it would be Brains.

But as with the best-laid plans, they seldom survived the encounter with reality.

When they contacted base, it wasn't their father who answered their call.

"B-b-base here."

"Brains? What's up with Dad?" Scott asked concerned.

Though it wasn't that uncommon for Brains to staff the control desk, in light of the situation with the alien loose somewhere on the island it was some cause for concern.

"Nothing to w-w-worry, Scott. Your f-f-father just, ehr, went for a walk." Brains didn't look worried, but then he didn't know what the brothers knew.

"FAB, Brains. Our ETA is eight and a half minutes."

On the screen they could see Brains checking the monitors. Alan would also take a look at the vicinity of the island from Thunderbirds 5 to make sure there was nobody who would be able to see the arrival of Thunderbirds 1 and 2.

"All is c-c-clear, Scott."

Scott thanked Brains. He cut off the connection to base but retained the link to Thunderbird 2.

"Dad's going for a walk while we're still out?" he asked concerned. "That doesn't really sound like him."

John agreed. "We can't be too careful now. I think that means I'll go for Dad first, before checking on Brains."

"I don't like it," Gordon cut in. "If it's really Dad, what do you want to do?"

John sighed. This was the one-million dollar question. Hunter hadn't provided a new solution to their problem yet.

Maybe they were making too much out of a small thing. Dad was spending a lot of time behind a desk, so why should it be so unusual that he wanted to stretch his legs a little? The old man wasn't getting any younger after all, even though he was pretty fit for his age.

But John's gut felling told him differently. Something was wrong. He knew it.

John wished Virgil would go faster, but to be fair he knew that Thunderbird 2 was already going as fast as she could.

The great machine had barely landed and rolled into the hangar, when John was out of his seat and on his way to the study.

Brains was still sitting at the desk checking on the data he received from Thunderbirds 1 and 2 about the rescue and possible damage the two machines and the Mole might have received during the rescue. John knew all machines had come through the rescue without any problems, but still Brains had to make sure. He was also always looking for ways to improve the performance of the rescue equipment, so all data was important to him.

"Brains," John greeted the engineer. "Do you know where Father went? I need to talk to him."

"He was h-h-heading to the boathouse the last time I saw h-h-him." Brains wasn't even looking up from his monitors.

John hesitated for a moment. He wondered if Brains had noticed something unusual about father, but then refrained from asking. When Brains was involved in something, he tended to ignore anything but his work.

"Thanks," he said and headed downstairs and out across the pool deck.

"Scott," he then called his brother on his wristwatch. "Brains said Dad was heading to the boathouse. I'll see if I can find him there."

"FAB, John. We'll follow you as soon as we can. If it really turns out to be Father, I don't want you alone with him."

"I won't be alone," John said, cutting off the connection.

"How do you feel, Hunter?" he then asked his 'guest', He walked down the path that led to the boathouse where the Tracys housed all their sea faring crafts from surf boards to a fairly large ocean-going yacht. All that was of course without Thunderbird 4 that was kept out of sight of anybody who might happen to come to visit the island and didn't know about International Rescue.

I AM FINE

John had to grin at that.

"You've obviously been hanging around me too long. You must be tired after saving Gordon. Thanks again for that by the way. You have no idea how grateful I am for what you did."

YOU RESCUE PEOPLE

I RESCUED YOUR BROTHER

"You're evading my question, buddy. But it's okay. I only hope it's just a false alarm and it will turn out it's not Dad."

In truth, John worried a little about Hunter. He suspected that Hunter had done a huge amount of repair work inside Gordon in order to save his life and that couldn't have been easy. John didn't really know what Hunter's capabilities were, but he doubted very much that patching up a body after he had been shot was normally on his agenda.

Before the events in Germany, John had thought about the possibility that Hunter might be lying to him. There was after all nothing to support his claim that he was indeed here on Earth in order to search for another alien. There might have been hundreds of reasons why he might have lied to John, starting with the possibility that Hunter was in fact the one who was hunted.

But now any doubts he had had were gone. Hunter had saved his brother's life and this was a debt he would never be able to repay.

He reached the boathouse and opened the door. He looked inside, but there was no sight of his father.

"Dad?" he called.

There was no reply. Where had his father gone?

He stepped back outside and looked along the beach left and right from the landing. About three hundred yards away he could see a figure walking slowly along the water.

It was his father.

John started to jog towards the solitary figure. As he came closer, he saw that his father had his hands buried deep in his pockets. His head was lowered and he didn't seem to notice his middle son.

It was a small shock, but John couldn't help but thinking that his father looked old. Now, for a twenty-five year old man somebody closing on to sixty would always look 'old', but for some reasons John had never before made the connection between his father's real age and the way he looked today. Jeff Tracy took great care to stay fit. He exercised regularly, ate healthy and kept all of his doctor's appointments if it was possible.

The last couple of months had been stressful on all of them. There seemed to be more rescues than ever, and only the last two weeks had let off a little, reducing the number of rescues from three to four a week down to only one per week. Besides the rescue business there was also trouble at Tracy Industries, something only Jeff Tracy could take care of, even though his sons tried to take part there as much as possible. Of course, Jeff liked to be in control, so helping him wasn't always easy or even so it seemed sometimes appreciated.

"Dad," John called out when he was only a couple of yards away.

Jeff Tracy glanced up and a surprised look crossed his face.

"Oh, hi John. What are you doing here? Is everybody already back?"

John wondered how his father could have missed the landing of Thunderbirds 1 and 2.

"We came back about fifteen minutes ago, Father. What are you doing out here? We thought you'd been at the control centre."

"So, how did the rescue go?" Jeff asked evasively.

What was the matter? Something was wrong. John could feel it. And given the situation, there was only one logical explanation.

Jeff Tracy was the host to the alien Hunter was searching. And somehow he knew it.

Not wasting any time, John crossed the distance between them and reached for Jeff's arm. Jeff tried to pull back, but John was faster.

It only took a second before he got the answer he had been afraid to hear.

IT IS HIM

John took one more step and placed his other hand also on Jeff's arm in order to give Hunter as much contact area as possible. He prayed he was doing the right thing when he felt his hand grow heavy as Hunter gathered his body mass in John's arm. He hoped that Hunter was strong enough to fight his enemy. And most of all, he hoped that his father would be able to survive the confrontation.

From the corners of his eyes he saw some kind of light flashing from the water's surface. He tried turning his head but suddenly movement seemed to be impossible. His eyes remained fixed on his father, but the other man seemed to move away, though John wasn't sure how that could be as they both stood still on the beach, their feet firmly in the ankle deep water, John's hand still on Jeff's arm.

He saw his father's eyes widen. His mouth opened, though if it was just to cry out in surprise, or a warning, or something else, John couldn't say.

There was more light coming as the sun got brighter and brighter, until there was nothing but the light.

Then it was as if somebody had turned a switch. There was sudden darkness.

And then there was nothing at all.

Chapter 12

Gordon raced down the beach to where he saw the two figures laying in the sand. Scott was running at his side, his face an emotionless mask. Neither was speaking. They were saving their breath in order to get to their father and brother as quickly as possible.

They had reached the boathouse only a few minutes after John. Gordon had hoped that his older brother would have had the sense to wait for them, but when they arrived, they saw John already jogging to where their father stood. From the distance it was impossible to hear what they were saying, when suddenly a bright light had shot out from a place in the water a couple of feet away from where the two men were standing.

The light had enveloped both of them for a second, then it was gone and John and Father fell over.

Gordon pulled to a full stop as soon as he reached John's motionless form. The blond astronaut lay half in half out of the water, so Gordon grabbed him and pulled him further onto dry land. Scott did the same with their father.

He quickly checked John's vital signs and was relieved when he found that his brother's pulse was beating strongly and that he didn't seem to have any problems breathing.

"John," he called, slapping his brother lightly on the cheeks.

But John didn't react.

Gordon looked over at Scott who was copying Gordon's actions. From the relief evident in his oldest brother's posture, he knew that father was also okay, though he, too, remained unconscious.

A sound pulled Gordon's attention to the water where the light had come from and he felt his mouth drop open.

When John had told him the first time that there were aliens on Earth and that in fact one of them had been inside of him, he had thought John was pulling his leg. Of course, the proof laid out to him pretty quickly convinced him that John was in fact telling the truth. When he had seen Hunter move back into John, his last doubts had been erased.

He also had understood on a purely intellectual level that there was another alien running loose on the island and that he might be living inside one of his friends or family. He hadn't had time yet to fully comprehend what that could mean.

But even knowing about aliens on the island had not prepared him for what he saw now.

From the ocean water rose a very strange object. Not much bigger than Thunderbird 4 it was shaped like a cluster of a dozen eggs seamlessly fused together into one large pile. Each egg was no bigger in diameter than a yard across. On the far side each egg had a square box. The alien ship and Gordon had no doubt that it was indeed an alien space ship gleamed in the midday sun as it floated a foot or so above the water. Gordon realized with a start that a single egg of it looked exactly like that thing they had found underwater ten days ago.

John had said that Hunter had told him that Earth had never been visited by his people and that any possible help for him would be thousands of light years away.

It looked like Hunter had been wrong.

Remaining very, very still where he knelt next to John he waited for what was to come next.

The metal surface of the cluster began to ripple at a point where two eggs were connected. A single egg moved slowly away pulling a strand of liquid metal behind itself that grew longer and thinner until is snapped off and the egg was floating free. The engineer in him wondered on the technical properties a material had to have in order to perform like this, but he suppressed it. There were more important things going on right now.

The egg floated closer until it was only an arm's length away from the group at the beach.

Gordon was very conscious that none of them carried any weapons, as they all had changed out of their uniforms before landing. Though what he hoped to achieve with a gun against that alien ship was beyond him. Besides, he wasn't really prepared to start an inter-stellar war. From what he had seen so far of the alien technology, he had the strong suspicion that Earth would draw the shorter straw.

Once again the surface of the egg rippled, but now dark spots appeared on the up to now unsullied material. With a start Gordon realized that those spots actually formed words.

YOUR PEOPLE ARE NOT HARMED

"What do you want?"

Gordon had to admire Scott who sounded pretty calm and in control. He didn't know if he would have been able to form understandable words right now. But Scott had always worked best under pressure.

WE MEAN NO HARM

"Why did you shoot at my friends? They weren't doing anything to you."

THEY ARE HOSTS UNWILLING

"We know. John told us. Can you get your people out? We didn't know how to get the other one out of father."

The egg bobbed softly up and down at eye level.

YES

Gordon closed his eyes in relief, letting out a breath he hadn't been aware he had been holding. He had hoped that this would be the alien's answer. Here was the solution to all their problems.

From the corners of his eyes Gordon saw Virgil, Tin-Tin and Brains running up the beach towards them. He raised his hand, gesturing for them to stop.

A wide beam shot out from the alien ship, bathing John and father in a pale blue light. At first nothing happened, but then Gordon saw a thick, gelatine-like liquid form at John's right arm and father's left shoulder. The amount of liquid increased and it started to puddle in two depressions in the sand.

After a few minutes no more liquid alien, Gordon reminded himself came out of the two men.

The beam shut off and new words formed on the alien ship.

THEY ARE FREE NOW

YOU MAY REMOVE YOUR PEOPLE

"What's going to happen to your people?" Gordon heard himself asking. He hadn't intended to speak, but suddenly he wanted to know what was going to happen to Hunter. The alien had saved his and John's life after all and he owed him his thanks. Even if he did look pretty disgusting.

WE TAKE THEM HOME

THERE THEY WILL BE PUNISHED

"Not Hunter! He did nothing wrong."

HE BLENDED WITHOUT PERMISSION

"Only to save John's life," Gordon replied, gesturing at John who was beginning to stir. "John would have died without him. I was there. And he saved my life too."

There was a moment of hesitation.

HE BLENDED WITHOUT PERMISSION, the words projected on the alien ship were repeated.

"He had no choice. Ask John, he will tell you."

Gordon knelt down next to John and helped him up into the sitting position. John was looking around confused, but when he saw the ship floating close by and the larger cluster behind it, he woke up very quickly. Scott was kneeling next to their father, talking softly to him. After a moment, he also helped him to sit.

"What if I give him permission now?" John asked. Even though his voice sounded weak, there was no doubt that he meant it seriously.

YOU WOULD DO THAT

John looked up, his blue eyes firmly fixed on the alien ship. "Yes. He saved my life and that of my brother. I'll do anything to help him."

Gordon could see that his father wanted to say something, but Scott held him back with a raised hand.

WOULD YOU LET HIM STAY WITH YOU

"John," their father croaked out. "Don't"

Looking at his father, John shook his head. "Sorry, Dad, I made up my mind. It will be all right."

He turned back to the alien ship. "Yes, he is welcome to stay with me as long as he wants."

SO BE IT

Chapter 13

When Hunter returned to consciousness, he became aware that he was resting in a depression in the sand. The sun was shining warmly on his unprotected body. He felt worse than ever in his life, all his nerve cells seemed to be on fire.

Memory returned slowly and even then it was patchy at best. After John and his brothers had returned from their rescue mission in Germany, Hunter had been exhausted. In less than a day, he had stimulated a fever in John, had changed hosts twice and healed a major trauma to Gordon's body. He had taken as much energy as he dared from Gordon and John, but even then he knew that he would need a couple of days to return to peek efficiency. Of course, he had tried to hide this from John the human didn't need another worry but somehow the young man had guessed his condition anyway.

In the last couple of days he had come to understand that for all their differences, John and he still shared quite a few character traits. John made an excellent host and Hunter even had started to wonder if once everything was over, John would agree to remain his host in the future. His space ship's hyper drive was almost burned out and he knew that he would never be able to return back home. If he had to stay on Earth, he could do much worse than living with John Tracy. One thing was sure, it would never be dull.

But then it wouldn't really be fair to the human. Being a host entailed a tremendous amount of trust. Hunter's control over a host's body meant that John would trust him with his life twenty-four hours a day. So far, Hunter hadn't really given him a choice. It was one thing to trust somebody in a life or death situation, but something else when it came to everyday life.

Another disadvantage was that John would never be alone. Wherever he went, whatever he did, Hunter would be with him. The only real privacy John could have was when he, Hunter, would leave his body for a time, something that was not exactly pleasant for him.

So he had decided not to ask him.

Besides, it wasn't very likely that he would be able to survive the confrontation with his prey. If the only way to take out the other alien was to die, he was willing to sacrifice himself.

When John had gone after his father, he had hoped that it would turned out not to be the one to host his prey. He didn't know if he would be able to fight if the other was indeed inside Jeff Tracy's body.

Of course, with the way his luck was going lately, it had taken him only a second to find the protein marker in Jeff Tracy's blood that was undisputable proof that the other man was indeed host to one of his race. He remembered attempting to return the feeler he had sent out from John's body, when he realized that his prey had also sent out a probe and also had found out about his presence.

There had been no other choice. He needed to attack.

Fighting his prey inside a human's body would be a fight for the life of the host. His prey had no scruples harming the host, knowing that this would force Hunter to repair any damage the other one had caused, taking away time he would normally use to fight his opponent.

It would be difficult at the best of times and these were not the best of times.

Hunter remembered these thoughts were the last before he had just woken up.

So, what had happened?

If he had fought the other and lost, he would be dead. There was no doubt about it.

If he had fought him and won, he shouldn't be in a depression in the sand, but in Jeff's body making sure that the damage caused by the other was healed.

In either case, he should know what had happened. So, why did he have a gap in his memory?

He sensed a human hand touch his body. It took only a second for him to identify the hand as John's. Taking the gesture as an invitation, he started to sift through the skin cells into the human's body. The protection a host body brought immediately soothed his hurting body.

First, he automatically accessed John's physical condition. Relieved Hunter noticed that nothing seemed to be amiss and he made contact with John's eyes and ears.

What he saw was something he certainly hadn't expected.

They were still outside at the beach. Most of John's family had gathered around. And just off the beach hovered a Class Two Interstellar Expedition Cluster.

If Hunter had possessed a jaw, it would have dropped.

Where had they come from?

Hunter had been sure that he and his prey had been the only Aviads in this sector of the galaxy.

"Hey, buddy, how do you feel?" John asked quietly, concern colouring his voice.

I AM FINE

He felt how John laughed softly at that. "Try another one. Honestly, how are you?"

Hunter thought about it. He still hurt, but a quick self-assessment revealed that there was no permanent damage. With time and rest, he would heal. He decided to answer John in a more truthful manner.

I WILL LIVE

"Good to hear that."

WHERE DID THEY COME FROM

Hunter couldn't contain his curiosity any longer. He formed a small arrow, pointing to what he meant with 'they'.

"Good question." John took a step closer to the Cluster's lead pod. "Hunter would like to know where you came from. What are you doing here? He told me earlier that there would be no other ship anywhere close-by."

A text appeared on the lead pod's hull.

WE ARE HERE TO STUDY YOUR PLANET

An expedition mission. Hunter hadn't known that there had been one close-by. But then, the galaxy was a big place and he couldn't know about every expedition in this sector. He had just assumed because there had been some expeditions before to this sector who had returned empty handed, there were no others planned. An understandable mistake on his side but one that now had proven fortunate.

HOW IS YOU FATHER JOHN AND WHERE IS THE OTHER ONE

"Dad," John eyes turned to his father. "How do you feel?"

The oldest Tracy stood next to his son Scott. Hunter was by now apt enough in reading the human face to interpret Jeff's expression as one who was not happy about something but knew that there wasn't much he could do at the moment.

"I'm all right, son. Or, rather, I think I will be now."

He turned to the lead pod and addressed it. "I think we'll need some more explanations. If you don't mind, we should move to the house. Most of us would be more comfortable there."


About half an hour later, everybody human and alien alike had settled around the swimming pool. Even though the cluster ship wasn't particularly big, it still would have had some problems fitting into the living room or father's study upstairs. As the pool deck had nice and comfortable chairs aplenty it made for a good compromise. Even Alan was there in a way, thanks to Brains who had quickly set up a portable communication monitor.

John had started by telling his story and now came to the part where he had found his father on the beach.

"So, what were you doing there, Dad?" He asked, turning to his father.

Jeff Tracy sighed.

"I knew something was wrong with me for a couple of days. They were little things really: I felt tired all the time, had dizzy spells, headaches, a slight fever. I thought at first I had caught a flu or something, so I had Brains take a blood sample, but nothing showed up, except some weird protein markers Brains couldn't quite identify. I told Brains to keep quiet about it, as I didn't want to bother you boys."

A round of protest interrupted Jeff, who smiled weakly. John wondered what his father had been thinking, but then he realized that he just displayed the typical 'tough it out' trait the Tracys were so famous for. Nobody wanted to worry any other members of the family unnecessarily, so they all tried to be quiet if they figured it was nothing major.

Jeff held up his hand and the protests stopped.

"Thanks, boys. Anyway, I finally got an answer to my question of what was wrong with me when I began hearing things this morning. A voice but no real words, not then. I thought I was starting to hallucinate."

John grinned knowing the feeling only too well. Hunter had said that manipulating the eardrums so he could form understandable words was far more complicated than writing the words on the retina. The only understandable word Hunter had managed so far was the one time he had called John to get his attention after Gordon had been shot.

"You boys were due back from Germany, and so I decided to leave the desk, hoping I would be able to figure out what was wrong with me before you returned. I was at the beach when I finally realized that somebody somehow tried to communicate with me. And that this somebody was inside of me.

"I was still trying to work out what was going on, when John showed up, and then rest you know."

"So, what's going to happen next?" Scott asked.

WE TAKE THE CRIMINAL TO FACE TRIAL

HE WILL BE PUNISHED

The space ship had collected the alien who had been inside of Jeff and deposited him in one of the egg-shaped pods before they had gone to the pool deck. John didn't know if he had been awake, or even alive. He found he didn't really care.

"What about Hunter?" John asked softly.

He had a bad feeling about the answer to that question. When the alien in the lead pod had asked him if he would let Hunter stay with him, John had said yes. He already had suspected that this was more than a formality, more than a just reconfirmation that he, John, was, after all, a willing host.

Still he had given his permission. Hunter had saved his life and, even more important to John, that of his brother. If Hunter was to be punished because of it, John would give his damnest to prevent that. If that meant that he was stuck forever with the alien, so be it. There were worse things in life than having something inside of him that was able to fix any injuries to his body, heal all sicknesses and make him stronger and faster. It would certainly be useful when he went out on a rescue.

Besides, Hunter was an okay guy for an alien.

John thought it wasn't really fair basically to exile Hunter on Earth, just because he had tried to save a stranger's life. But it looked like that was going to be the case.

HE TOOK A HOST WITHOUT PERMISSION

"He did that to save my life. There was no time to ask. Without him, I would be dead. My brother would be dead."

John looked over to Gordon, who nodded grimly. Again he faced the alien ship.

"Besides, I have given him permission on the beach. That has to count for something," John continued.

Hunter, who had been silent up to now, flashed a sudden message to John,

YOU GAVE PERMISSION THREE TIMES

IT IS THE LAW

"In fact," John went on without missing a beat. "I gave him permission three times. Hunter says there is some kind of law that applies to that."

Judging the reaction of a slimy alien encapsulated in an alien space ship that looked pretty much like a floating egg wasn't easy, but John still got the feeling that the visitor was surprised.

THREE TIMES

"Yes. The first time was on Thunderbird 5. I wanted to know if I could trust him, so I asked him to leave me, then I invited him back in. The second time was after he had saved Gordon. And the third time was just now on the beach."

WHAT ABOUT THE SECOND HOST

For a moment John wondered if the alien was asking about his father, but then he realized that it must mean Gordon. After all, he hadn't been asked either if he wanted to have an alien inside of him.

"He can come and stay with me as often as he wants," Gordon said with little enthusiasm.

John hoped that aliens weren't too apt in reading the human body language. Even though Gordon had been saved by Hunter, John's younger brother had been pretty grossed out when he had seen what the alien really looked like. John knew he wasn't exactly eager to have him back. But he also knew that Gordon would still do the right thing if he had to.

THEN HE IS FREE TO GO

Epilogue

"That's it then, buddy," John said to the alien inside of him. "You can go home now."

THANK YOU I WILL NOT FORGET YOU

"Neither will I. If you ever should come to my corner of the galaxy again, you're welcome to visit me any time. Just give a call."

The cluster ship had by now reclaimed the leader's pod and hovered as one unit above the water of the swimming pool, waiting for their passenger to join them.

Now that Hunter had been given the option to go home, he found that he was a little reluctant to leave John. He couldn't be sure if John really knew what he had agreed to, when he had offered Hunter to stay as long as he wanted to. Nonetheless, John had made the offer and Hunter would always be grateful for it. He had never given much thought to what he would do once he had located his prey and hopefully eliminated him. The chance for that event had been slim to say the least and he had been realistic enough to know it.

The appearance of the expedition cluster had been a surprise, though he was glad and relieved that they had shown up when they did. Not so much because he had survived thanks to them, but because they had the tools he had not to do what he had come to Earth for. Because of them, John's father had survived without damage and that was at least as important.

What had been no surprise was their reaction to his blending with John. He had known he had broken the law the moment he had entered John's body the first time, even though his intentions had been good.

A blending was not to be performed without the expressive, prior permission of the host.

This was the Law.

And he had broken it.

He had all but forgotten that there was one, just one, exception to the rule.

If a host who didn't know the law gave permission for the blending at least three times after the first contact had been made, it was considered an approved blending after all.

PUT YOUR HAND ON THE SHIP

John stepped forward and placed his hand on one of the cluster ship's pods. Slowly, Hunter retracted his feelers from the distant parts of John's body, gathering his body mass in John's right arm. Last he left John's eyes, but not without leaving a final message.

GOOD BYE, he said.

Then he sifted through the skin in John's arm and the material of the pod's hull to the inside the cluster ship.

Immediately he gained access to the ship's sensors. He heard John say softly:

"Good bye, Hunter. Have a safe journey home."

As the cluster ship rose into the air, Hunter looked back at the human who, despite all their differences, had been willing to help a stranded alien in a seemingly hopeless mission.

Soon the face of the man was replaced by a bird's eye view of the island, then the planet, as it sat like a blue/green jewel in the black vastness of space. As they accelerated and the stars began to fill the view, he thought back to the man who had been his host for the last ten days.

He didn't know if he would ever see John Tracy again, but he already knew that he would miss him.

 
REVIEW THIS STORY
<< Back to Sapphire's Page
<< Back to Thunderbird Two's Hangar