Scott and Virgil left Gordon in the kitchen, wandered down the poolside steps and set off across the beach towards Tracy 2 which they could see sitting at an angle in the sand just before the Roundhouse. The bright blue plane had one wing-tip buried in the soft white sand near the top of the beach and the red emergency ramp hung limply out of the open doorway on the uppermost side of the plane.
"I don't get how he got it that wrong," Virgil grumbled as they approached the plane. "Everyone knows that you don't drop until you've cleared the Roundhouse and it's not like he was coming in blind 'cos we left the runway lit for him."
Scott shrugged. "Don't know," he replied. "Didn't know anything about it at all until he asked you to take a look at her…whoa. What the hell?" Scott had walked around to the front of Tracy 2 while he was talking and had caught sight of the blackened scorch marks marring the blue paintwork at the front of the plane.
"Fire damage," Virgil said with a frown. "He didn't do anything yesterday other than fly to Kansas, hang around and then fly back again, did he?"
"Not that I'm aware, no." Scott stepped underneath the belly of Tracy 2 and crouched beside the front landing gear. "This is scrap," he announced quietly and turned to look towards the back of the plane. "…and I'd guess that they'll not look much better, once they've been dug out enough to be visible of course."
"Of course," Virgil chuckled momentarily and then immediately sobered. "Gordon should have been checked over when he got back. He's not the strongest of us at the best of times and this…" Virgil waved his hand in order to encompass the whole plane, "…wouldn't have helped his back at all. I'd be surprised if he's not hurting this morning rather than just stiff like he's making out. Dad's going to do his nut."
Scott nodded. "That he is, Virg; that he is." He sighed and then clambered out from beneath the plane. "I'm going to call John to see if he can shed any light on what went on here. We're going to need Two to shift this and we're not going to be able to do that without Dad noticing. Gordy's going to get a rollicking for trashing the plane, no matter what the reason but if we can get some backup that it wasn't entirely his fault then Dad might…hopefully…cut him some slack."
Scott stood on the sand beside the plane and used his watch to ping John. There was a short delay before a flustered-looking John appeared on the screen. "Scott," he said briskly. "Hi. Alan's with me at the moment so I can't stop and chat. All I'll say for now is that it's a bright and balmy 127 degrees at your present locale. That much is plain to see. I'll call you later. Good luck."
The face of Scott's watch went dark and the eldest Tracy boy looked at Virgil in confusion. "What, exactly, was that all about?" he asked.
Virgil shrugged. "Obviously he wanted to tell you something without Alan overhearing. What did he mean though, '127 degrees at your present locale.'?"
"Present locale," Scott repeated quietly. "Present locale…well that's obviously here. 127 degrees though, that doesn't make any sense. There's no way it's that hot."
"Present locale is here…" Virgil pointed at the plane. "Exactly here and exactly what we're trying to unravel. When did Gordon get back? Could 127 be 0127 as in almost half past one this morning?"
"It's a good enough place to start," Scott replied. "Brains' lab?"
Virgil shook his head. "I don't think we need to. I think John's done something in there…" he waved his hand towards the plane again. "'Plain to see'…as in 'get in the plane to see'." He grabbed the bottom of the emergency ramp and pulled himself up before leaning down to give Scott a hand up into the plane. They both stood for a moment, appraising the inside of the plane and then moved to the cockpit where a small red light was flashing.
"Johnny, you're a genius," Scott muttered. "Take a seat, Virg and we'll see what he's got to say for himself."
Virgil sat in the co-pilot's position while Scott took the pilot's seat and once they were settled Scott leaned forwards and pressed the button below the flashing light. Tracy 2's Heads Up Display sprung into life and the screen was immediately filled with several hundred lines of code which scrolled past faster than either Scott or Virgil could read them. The code cleared and a flashing cursor appeared on the bottom of the screen, remained there for several seconds and then, with an audible 'beep', a login screen appeared.
Scott pursed his lips and glanced at Virgil. "Do I want to know how many of Brains' systems Johnny had to hack through to do that? In fact, don't answer that, I don't want to know."
He shrugged, entered his usual login credentials and let out a quiet 'ha' when the HUD changed to show that he had effectively gained access of the mainframe in the villa. "Right, Johnny, what do you want us to do now?" He looked across at Virgil and raised a questioning eyebrow. "CCTV?"
"Yeah," Virgil replied. "The one this side of the Roundhouse, I guess…presumably a little after 01:25 this morning."
Scott nodded and punched in the command to bring up the CCTV screens. "Dad's up," he murmured. "He's in the kitchen talking to Gordy and looks…well, he looks okay; better than yesterday in fact…but that may well change when he finds out what Gordon's done to his plane."
The camera on the Roundhouse proved to be at the wrong angle as Tracy 2 couldn't be seen approaching and as such neither Scott nor Virgil could work out what had happened to her. All they could see was that she dropped into view, enveloped in a fireball, buried herself in the sand and ended up in the position that they had found her.
"Maybe we'll have more luck with the camera on top of the aerial tower," Virgil suggested. "It's a bit further out but it covers the beach, the Roundhouse and the end of the runway."
Scott nodded and tapped at the screen. "Aerial tower coming up. Yes, that's much more like it. 01:20 aaaand 'go'."
This time Tracy 2 could be clearly seen approaching. As they reached 01:24, Virgil commented that everything looked good and that the plane was well balanced. 01:25 passed without comment but as 01:26 ticked past it became very obvious that something was happening beneath the Roundhouse. A dull glow and the flicker of flames could be seen deep within the silo beneath the round, red building and a plume of white steam belched forth a moment later.
Scott's nose crumpled as his eyes flicked between the Roundhouse and Tracy 2. "Uh oh."
Thunderbird 3's ignition sequence had been completed deep within Tracy Island and Scott and Virgil could only sit in stunned silence as they watched the small, blue Tracy 2 flying straight into the fireball that the huge, red rocket belched out of its engines as it began to propel Alan skywards. Gordon, in Tracy 2, disappeared completely from view for a moment, only to reappear in view at a dangerously steep angle with one wingtip almost touching the sand. Thunderbird 3 cleared the Roundhouse spewing forth another geyser of smoke and flames and by the time the beach was visible once again, Gordon, along with Tracy 2, was down and safe upon the sand.
"Crap," Virgil breathed. "That was…close."
Scott nodded. "Too close. And you know what's worse?" Virgil shook his head so Scott continued. "…that we've been blaming Gordon…for trashing the plane, I mean. We've been blaming him the whole time and it was one hundred percent, totally not his fault."
It was Virgil's turn to nod. "I know, Scott, but we weren't to know what went on here this morning. John obviously knew more than we did and Gordon knows as well although even he might not have realised just how close he got to becoming aquanaut-shish-kebab on a Thunderbird 3 skewer."
"What do you reckon?" Scott murmured. "10 seconds? 15?"
"Somewhere between the two, I'd have said," Virgil replied quietly. "Certainly no longer than 15. If you think about it though, it's very Gordon."
Scott let out a breathy laugh. "You're not wrong there. He's kind of the champ of surviving by the skin of his teeth, isn't he? We definitely owe him some sort of apology though and Dad…" Scott grimaced. "…Dad needs to see this." He stopped and sighed. "…and I guess it'll be down to me to tell him. That'll be…fun."
Jeff was still talking to Gordon when Scott and Virgil walked back into the kitchen. The Tracy patriarch had propped himself up beside his son and the pair were watching Ruth as she fussed around the room putting breakfast together.
"Scott, Virgil," Jeff nodded to his sons. "Breakfast won't be long. Grandma has vetoed any offer of help so you might as well go and wash up. Could one of you please get Alan up on the way back past and bring him with you as well. I…I understand why he stayed away yesterday but it can't be allowed to continue. He needs to come in and eat, if nothing else."
Scott, Virgil and Gordon shared a look for a moment before Scott sighed. "Alan won't be in for breakfast, Father. He's been…um…up for some time. Look, I've got various things that I need to talk through with you but, please, it's still early. Can we at least have a pleasant breakfast before everything gets fraught again?"
Jeff cocked his head to one side and frowned worriedly at his eldest child. "Well…okay, if...whatever it is you need to say can wait until after breakfast then that's fine by me. Gordon," Jeff turned back to the aquanaut beside him. "…are you going with your brothers, are you staying there or are you going to try and sit down?"
"Er..." Gordon looked undecided. "I…I want to go with them but I'll need a hand. Virg…?"
Virgil nodded, stepped towards Gordon and gently slung an arm around his back. "I think it's about time that a certain little fish took their tablets," he said softly. "You know, those ones that he doesn't like taking unless absolutely necessary? What do you reckon?"
Gordon stepped forwards and then grimaced. "Yeah, I reckon you're probably right. Look, I just need to get to the nearest bathroom. If you get me there and then come back with the tablets it'll save me walking all the way there and back again. Please?"
By way of reply, Virgil coaxed Gordon forwards. Jeff nodded approvingly and patted the aquanaut's shoulder as they passed. Scott fell into formation beside Gordon as they reached him and the three brothers soon disappeared from view.