LIKE DUST, LIKE RAIN
Not long after the start of
International Rescue, the boys experience their first failure.
A heart-to-heart between Alan and Scott leaves Alan with a new
appreciation of his brother's wisdom.
iciness of the water takes my breath away as I plunge into its
depths. Immediately I raise my arms to fight for the surface.
The current is powerful – if it weren’t for the safety harness
and the line anchoring me from Thunderbird Two (hovering
above) I’d have been dragged away downriver by now. I break
the surface and suck in a lungful of oxygen and look around
quickly to get my bearings.
several metres downriver of me, clinging to a branch of a
submerged tree. A young girl, maybe eighteen. When she sees me
she screams something in her own language, but I understand. I
will help her. I will save her.
Virgil’s voice crackles urgently over the radio in my ear,
“make it quick. Scott says the second dam is about to
waste time replying; instead I start playing out my line so I
can reach her. She watches me with dark, molten eyes. The line
comes to an end and I curse. Too short, far too short.
I yell into the radio, trying to make myself heard over the
roar of the water, “the line’s too short, get lower”
But I know
before he responds that he is already perilously close to the
ground. He can’t get lower. I can’t get closer. I stretch out
my hand towards the girl, trying to get her to reach for me.
I holler to her. The strength of the current is increasing and
the water is rising. Shakily, she takes one hand from her
tenacious grip on the tree branch and reaches out to me.
Between out outstretched fingers is a metre of open water.
I’ll never reach her like this. With icy fingers I reach for
the buckle of my harness. I say a quick prayer as I release
the catch and the harness is torn from me. I just manage to
grab the straps in my left hand and narrowly avoid being
washed away. Now I can get closer. Keeping a tight grip on the
loose harness, I reach out to her with my right hand. If I
lose my hold on the harness, we’re both done for.
what the hell are you doing?!” Virgil must have spotted me
on the monitors. My left hand is going numb and it feels like
the force of the water is going to tear my arm from its
socket. But I don’t let go. I realise this may not have been
one of my best ideas, but there’s no point admitting that now.
Virgil’s voice comes over the radio again, “Put the harness
back on, now!”
there’s no way I can fight against the power of the current
and undo my mistake. I ignore Virgil’s ranting in my ear and
concentrate on stretching out my right hand to the girl. She
responds and our fingertips brush against each other in the
water. I’m heart-achingly close. I try to stretch out as much
as I dare, I’m worried I’m about to lose my grip but I have to
get her. So close, so close…
second dam’s gone!” Virgil breaks off from his rant to
give me that piece of heart-stopping news. “Alan, I have to
pull you up.”
manage through gritted teeth. The tips of her fingers are
enclosed in my hand. It’s not enough. “Virgil, I can’t reach
we’ve gotta go. The water’s rising already – you’ll be washed
I hear the
whine of Thunderbird Twos’ massive engines. Virgil is
preparing to climb.
wait! Pull forward, get me closer! I can still—” The water
rises suddenly, choking off my words. I feel her fingers being
pulled from my grip. Submerged, I can still see her. Her face
is contorted with fear, her black hair billowing out in a
stream behind her. My left hand is numb and I can feel the
harness slipping from my grip. Virgil is pulling me upwards. I
need both hands to hold on or I’ll be lost. Her fingernails
are scraping against my palm. I’m being torn in two. I need
air. We’re both drowning and I can’t hold her. I meet her eyes
under the water. “I’m sorry.” I mouth uselessly. And I let go.
cold. I curl up in a ball on the deck of Thunderbird Two,
coughing up river water, trying to gulp down a great lungful
of air. I’m alive. Virgil is standing over me but I can’t hear
a word he says; I can only hear the water rushing through my
ears. He gently disentangles the harness from my frozen hands
and drapes a blanket over me. My hearing is returning, I hear
him say, “Are you OK, kid?” There’s a look of real fear in his
eyes. I hear Scott’s voice, tinny and concerned over the main
One to Thunderbird Two: Boys, did you get her?”
answers because I can’t, “No, Scott, we couldn’t reach her.”
journey back to base is a quiet one. I sit in the co-pilot
seat, dressed in a dry uniform and sipping scalding hot tea.
Virgil insisted. Virgil worries about things like hypothermia.
I can’t think of anything. I still feel cold all over.
as we approach the island; it must be gone midnight but the
light is on in the lounge. Scott will be back already,
detailing the whole experience to Father who listen and nod
and not interrupt. I suddenly feel I have to say something
before we land, I feel like my heart is going to burst from my
chest. The words are unpremeditated, unexpected – a cry in the
“I let you
down” I gasp, my eyes burning. Virgil turns in his seat
briefly and fixes me with his dark eyes. He seems surprised
that I’ve spoken but his reply is firm.
I let her
I want to say, but I’m afraid of the answer. So I stay silent
as Virgil lands his craft with his usual finesse. And I stay
silent as we disembark and head for the lift shaft. As the
lift doors close and we begin our ascent to the lounge, Virgil
drops an arm around my shoulders. Beneath the weight of his
arm I can feel I am trembling.
broke off from his explanation at the door to the lounge slid
open to reveal Virgil and, following a step behind, Alan.
back, Boys,” Jeff greeted, “are you both all right”
fine,” Virgil answered, “Alan got a bit of a dunking.”
a second to look his youngest brother up and down; he was
paler than usual and still shivering. “Al, go take a hot
shower and get to bed. Virgil can fill us in, OK?”
acquiesced with the briefest of nods and darted from the room
without hesitation. Scott was somewhat puzzled – since when
was Alan ever lost for words?
“Is he OK,
Virg?” He asked when the three of them were alone.
sighed, flopping down into the lounge chair. “I don’t know,
Scott, he’s barely said two words. A bit shell-shocked, I
think. It was tough, he very nearly had her.”
happened?” Jeff queried. Virgil gave him the briefest details
– there was no point mentioning about the harness. Both Scott
and their dad could yell all day and Alan would apologise,
look contrite and do the same damn thing over again.
listened and nodded along. “Well,” he announced, “as far as
I’m concerned you can file a report in the morning. I’m
heading for bed and I suggest you boys do the same.”
Dad.” Scott said, echoed swiftly by Virgil. He moved to join
his younger brother on the sofa. Once Jeff was safely out of
the room he turned to Virgil, “Fancy a drink?”
“Make it a
smiled to himself as he opened the drinks cabinet and took out
two shot glasses and the scotch. He poured and handed one to
Virgil, then settled back on the sofa. He waited a few beats
and then couldn’t refrain from asking a second longer.
something reckless, didn’t he?”
raised his eyebrows at the question as he downed his shot in
one swallow. He sighed with satisfaction as the drink warmed
him, “What makes you think that?”
you haven’t said anything.” Scott replied matter-of-factly,
taking a slow sip, “So come on, what was it this time?”
the harness off”
Scott closed his eyes for a second with a groan, “He could
have drowned, for the love of—”
fine, Scott. It was stupid and I think he realises that,”
Virgil attempted to placate him, their commander-in-the-field.
doesn’t think. I mean he really doesn’t think, Virgil.
What am I supposed to do? If he were a cadet under my command
I’d tear a strip off him.”
“As it is,
he’s not a cadet and he won’t listen to you,” Virgil reasoned,
“it’ll probably make it ten times worse—”
stopped as the lounge door opened again and Alan padded into
the room, a towel around his shoulders. He seemed surprised to
see his older brothers there, but quickly clocked the shot
glasses in their hands and the bottle on the table.
you were going to bed,” Scott said.
ignored the statement, “Scotch?” he approached the living
space, “Can I have some?”
found it quite endearing that their now 21-year-old brother
still felt the need to ask, “Sure, why not?”
Scott’s voice held warning. Virgil almost laughed at Scott’s
inability to accept Alan’s adult status among them.
him live a little, Scott. It’s not like he’s underage anymore”
not the point.”
warm him up.” Virgil pulled out another shot glass from the
cabinet and thrust the drink into Alan’s hands. “You’ll be
lucky if you don’t catch pneumonia.”
responded with the ghost of a smile, “Thanks”
used to that.” Scott said, but without much conviction.
rolled his eyes, “Scott, you were drinking Dad’s scotch when
you were seventeen.”
was very mature for my age.” Scott relented, finally allowing
himself a smile. He watched Virgil pour himself a refill and
shook his head when he offered the bottle in Scott’s
direction. Virgil moved over to the grand piano, settling
himself down with a warm familiarity. He ran his fingers
lightly over the keys in a score.
something relaxing, Virgil,” Scott requested, sinking heavily
into the sofa, “my nerves are shot through tonight.”
acknowledged his request with a nod, and launched into
something of his own creation, slow and undulating. He felt
the tension flow away through his fingers.
hardly heard it; he was quietly watching his youngest brother
out of the corner of his eye. Alan stared into space and said
nothing at all.
Virgil sounded the last chord ten minutes later he broke from
his trance and heard Scott’s soft laugh.
look at that?” He said over his shoulder to Virgil, gesturing
to Alan who has settled back into the arm chair his chest
rising and falling in a steady rhythm.
a light” Virgil smiled, quietly closing the piano lid.
the medicinal alcohol” Scott commented dryly.
argue with results,” Virgil shot back. “Want me to wake him
him sleep.” Scott stood up and stretched, “I’m heading for
bed, Virg. I’ll see you in the morning.”
you,” Virgil took the glass from Alan’s slack hand and set it
down, then pulled the throw from the sofa and carefully tucked
it around Alan’s shoulders.
clucked from the door way, “You are such a mother-hen.”
shrugged, “It gets cold in here at night.” He glanced out at
the big glass windows, “and it looks like a storm’s brewing.”
I think it
must be the distant roll of thunder that wakes me. For a
moment I am completely disorientated and then I realise I am
in the lounge, curled up in Dad’s armchair. Just for an
instant, I imagine I am still a child and I don’t know the
things I know now. I pull the blanket around me tightly – who
put that there? – and try to comfort myself with my fantasy.
flashes, briefly illuminating the dark room. It looks a lot
more foreboding that I imagined. I see the shot glasses and
the scotch still on the table and I am tempted, but I an
almost hear Scott’s voice in my head telling me that it’s not
the way. Suddenly wakeful, I get to my feet and pad softly
over the big window. I can see the palm trees twisting wildly
under the force of the storm. The thunder crashes again,
closer now, and the rain is lashing against the glass.
I think it
is funny how someone can be so alive, so vital for one moment,
and then obliterated. I didn’t know her name – for some
reason, that really bothers me. I try to get a fix on her face
in my mind but even that is fading now, washed away like dust,
like rain. Will it always be like this? Will the faces of the
people we rescue – or don’t, for that matter – always seem so
burned into my memory but then blur together? It confuses me.
I feel deflated. Sure, we’ve only just started, but I thought
we were going to save the whole world.
The voice comes from the doorway of the lounge and makes me
jump. I don’t know how long I’ve been sitting at the window,
but I’m suddenly aware my limbs are cold and cramped. “Are you
fine,” I lie to Scott (I can’t help it, it’s habitual), “What
are you doing up?”
to join me at the window, “Checking on you. You were out for
the count earlier; I didn’t want to wake you.”
stand up but my legs are dead and don’t feel as if they’d take
my weight, so I stay cross-legged. Scott perches down next to
me and follows my gaze outside, “Hell of a storm out there.”
He comments. I don’t trust myself to look at him. There’s so
much I’d like to ask him; about bravery, about sacrifice…about
guilt. I can’t find the words.
is it?” I ask, stupidly, because it’s about the only thing I
can say. I can feel his cool gaze upon me, working me out. I
hate it how he does that.
about 4am.” He says after a moment. “You know, you did a good
answer, my throat becomes constricted. I wish he wouldn’t do
this because, whilst I want to hear it, at this moment I feel
sometimes,” he continues, “that you don’t have the military
background. Maybe things would be easier.” He sighs and scrubs
a hand through his hair, “What I am trying to say, Alan, is
that we can’t win them all.”
I hate the small sound of my own voice. The words hang in the
a hand on my shoulder, squeezes it, “I don’t doubt it. Not at
stupid line…it was too short, Scott. I couldn’t reach her.”
The words are tumbling out now, so fast I can’t stop them,
“Then the dam broke and I thought I was going to drown. And I
was trying to think what you would do…”
about what I would do, or what Virgil would do or anyone else.
You did what you could. You went out there to save a
life…sometimes that life has to be your own.”
must have been a way. Something we could have done?” I finally
turn to look at him, desperate, but Scott just shakes his
there’s not always an answer. Come on,” he makes as if to
stand, “there’s no purpose to this. All these ‘what ifs’ will
drive you crazy”
I hug my
knees to my chest, “I’m sorry”
He pauses, “For what?”
letting go.” To my horror I hear my voice break.
Scott’s voice is gentle, a kind of despairing fondness. He
puts an arm around my shoulders, “what am I going to do with
you? You really do think you can save the world, don’t you?”
unnerves me how closely his words echo my own thoughts. I
shrug and swallow hard, trying to regain some composure.
Alan, as strange as it may sound to you I remember being
twenty-one. And I felt much the same as you do, but I won’t
have you driving yourself crazy. You think you can do this all
on your own? If you were half as clever as you think you are
you’d be running this operation!”
is light, teasing, and despite myself I can feel a smile break
onto my face. He squeezes me against him briefly and then
ruffles my hair in the way that drives me crazy. He stands up
and I let him pull me to my feet.
more dangerous stunts. I’ll be grey by thirty-five at this
I smile to
myself. I think, really, Scott knows this won’t be the last
time I do something reckless. But at least he is there, and at
least he understands. Outside the thunder crashes but I don’t
really hear it. The rain is falling, wiping the slate clean
again. It strikes me that Scott has his own kind of wisdom and
maybe, as Virgil says, I ought to listen to him more often.
Sometimes I’d like to tell him he’s my hero – but I think it
would only go to his head.