Just One of Those People
Chapter 4 - Beam me up, Scotty, this planet sucks
Alan’s departure the next week was marked with the news of the Hood’s escape from maximum security. I had a row with Scott over the ethics of shooting nasty, bald intruders, a row with Mr Tracy about Scott and finally a row with Gordon about the sun shining from odd places.
Grandma took me into my quiet quarters and had me sit still with camomile tea. She wisely told me that I’d need to calm down.
“John turns red in the face, goodness knows!” Grandma recounted to me. “Do try to avoid him at first. Space tends to make him cranky any day past thirty.”
I fully intended to give him the cold shoulder in light of his harsh comment the first time I talked to him. According to Virgil, John had declared me a bimbo with streaks and a Barbie doll, no one important. I truly wanted to bash his face in. Kick his solar plexus. SOMETHING!
And besides, Jeff told me I wasn’t allowed to use the telescope without John’s permission. John had, apparently, denied my access.
John Tracy, in real life, looked like there something nasty under his nose. He barely looked at me, but when he did, his eyes darkened. On insistence from Jeff, he stiffly greeted me.
“I heard you’re interested in astronomy,” John forced out.
I smiled almost in a grimace. “Yes – I know the galaxy fairly well. It would be nice to pursue my hobby, but alas I cannot use the telescope here because some bastard doesn’t like me.”
John looked almost winded. Gordon started choking on his cocktail, but was grinning ear to ear. John’s rebuttal was snapped, “Some do not deserve what they ask for. Besides, you’ll soon learn to hate gazing at stars when you spend months in space.”
Mr Tracy had asked me casually if I might be interested in four months a year, rotating with Alan and John. I didn’t have to start right away, though. Jeff wistfully admitted that those two sons had no real Earth life, then confessed that Alan actually kind of did in the form of fast cars and Tin-Tin.
Simply, John had no life down here.
“You’re still in love with the stars,” I pointed out sweetly. “Why else would there be a Numean telescope on TB5? I helped design that.”
John griped, “So did I.”
And turned on his heel. Gordon cheered loudly. He raised his empty glass at me. “Such a telling off he’s never had. Tara, I sense disaster. You couldn’t have picked a worse enemy…but then, John’s good favour is hard won.”
Grandma told me it was unwise to hold grudges against Stormie (my name for John) but it was my own sweet vengeance. Kyrano somehow knew what was on my mind, advising lightly, “The dragon breathes, but nothing to ignite.”
Gordon thought it was funny. He did impressions of John to me and vice versa. Virgil painted a great likeness of me, then John spoke none too well of it.
“You conceited pig!” I screamed at him. “Virgil is gifted. Don’t bag it out just because I’m an ugly evil ogre!”
Jeff Tracy took me aside after this outburst. “Tara, I cannot have this behaviour continue. Grudges can ruin team trust, therefore a mission. Put aside your differences. John changes – with time.”
Yeah, and I’m the Hood, I thought sarcastically but nodded. My word was not to be trusted, so I simply didn’t speak it.
Jeff Tracy tried his hardest.
John and I were constantly sent to missions in Thunderbird 2, along with Virgil and someone else to keep the peace. Gordon lacked sincerity, Tin-Tin was wise but rarely came and Brains – you couldn’t understand him half the time. Gradually, I was allowed to do the dirty work along with everyone else. I only truly enjoyed life again when Alan returned from space.
“Heard there were fireworks,” he wisecracked.
I was only slightly amused.
A few days later, I was sprawled out by the pool, lapping up the sunshine, fast fading into colder months. A shadow fell across me and I opened my eyes. Scott Tracy was holding a towel over one arm, though his intent was definitely not swimming. He cleared his throat. “Can I sit here?”
“Sure.” I rolled over, making room. “So you’re here to talk to me about being nice to John, right?”
Scott shrugged. “Believe what you will. Tell me – is there any reason you hold grudges for a long time?”
I hated personal questions, but decided to face my fears effectively. I sighed. “When I was young, my parents hated me. They held stupid grudges over me, so I just used that as my defence mechanism later. When I turned thirteen, my aunt took me in and paid for my upkeep. I haven’t seen my whore of a mother or my drunk of a father since.”
“Everyone has their baggage,” Scott encouraged my talk softly.
I ploughed on, unsuspecting of the trap he was cornering me in. “They sure do! It drives them to do near unpleasant things.”
Scott grinned triumphantly at me. “I’ll let you in on a family issue, Tara. Our mother died when we were all fairly young. Father had to quit NASA and recruit Grandma to raise us. It hit John pretty hard.”
I was aghast at being manoeuvred into this situation. I glared at the rippling clouds for a moment, knowing throwing a kick at him was unwise and petty. I grumbled, “You’ve made your point – now scat. I know you want to get back to yout Internet dating line.”
He smiled in relief. “Good to know you’re still perceptive of people.”
Too soon it was the end of the month – but it seemed my fears were not necessary. Mr Tracy proclaimed the night before the change over, “Tara, this may sound forward, but would you consider starting a satellite shift tomorrow?”
“Yes, please!” I exclaimed. “I can’t wait to get up there.”
Alan snorted with laughter (buried in a book that was upside down) and informed me slowly, “I’ll blast you up at midday, sufficiently late enough to aggravate Stormie.”
“Stormie will have to deal,” I decided.
My first ride in Thunderbird 3 was much better than Virgil’s joy ride, TB2. I let out an appreciative whoop to Alan, “I can see why you’re an astronaut.”
I’d been trained as an astronaut, but due to my limited bribe funds and weak connections, I didn’t make it onto any shuttles. I loved it! The power behind me, the galaxy in front. Alan Tracy was justified in this living. There was Scott acting as co-pilot (I vowed one day that I would be able to take that job), sure, but I knew who really ran the joint.
I just didn’t understand John, a nasty astronomer who clearly liked yet hated solitude – and according to Scott, had heaps of baggage. Thank goodness I was only seeing him for a couple of hours.
There was no love lost between us.
John sneered at me, “If you so much as touch the telescope I’ll…”
“What?” I demanded scathingly. “You’ll set Hal on me? You’ll bark at me? Heel, Lassie.”
Alan looked half mortified, half amused. I was really quite relieved that Scott was still aboard TB3 otherwise he’d have me out on my ears. John growled, “You think you’re funny do you? Calling me Lassie and Stormie? You will have to revert to other imaginations than that of Arthur C. Clarke for your insults.”
I’d really touched a nerve, I noticed. I was impressed that he knew who wrote about Hal. I decide to try something so I leered back at him, “Resistance is useless. Don’t underestimate the power of the Dark Side.”
Sci-fi was worth a bet, I figured. John’s lips twitched. “Beam me up Scotty. Crysalids are just misunderstood.”
“What’s the Ultimate Answer?”
There was a terminated air to the way John spoke. He was obviously keen to let the trade off end. I, however, was keen to outdo him in any manner possible – even if it meant twentieth century science fiction.
“Monolith,” I said seriously, to test what he really knew.
“IBM,” John replied craftily, catching onto my game.
John’s face almost shone. “Stargate, Bra’tac.”
Then we both seemed to remember out past grudges – sorry, current. Alan was gaping at us in astonishment. “What the hell was that?”
“You, Stormie,” I jeered at John, “are a sci-fi geek.”
The moment of amiability passed. John glared. “No more than you, Fitzgerald.”
I poked my tongue out at him.
“Very mature of you,” John commented dryly, then turned away.
I stared his retreating back out of sight.
Thunderbird 5 was amusing for what it was. I prodded the prized, but locked up, Numean telescope. John had thoughtfully waved a key at me through the airlock upon departure.
I loved listening to all the different radio frequencies. Some country’s president was re-elected, but the funny thing was, he radioed another president, sounding like a love sick puppy. Apparently, high school sweethearts.
Being the communiqué between the victims and victors was the best thing ever. Gordon, Tin-Tin and Virgil kept up a steady stream of emails. Gordon constantly asked me whether I’d deducted a clever way of disposing of annoying middle brothers. I had to politely say I was working on it, while his suggestions gave me rather nasty ideas.
Tin-Tin kept her emails to things trivial and almost boring. But the normality of it kept me from going insane when I looked at the stars. By this email exchange, I was able to discover an upcoming birthday that I would have been otherwise ignorant of.
Virgil happily hinted:
Christmas is one of my favourite times of the year. It means presents. Guess which is my second favourite?
I was shocked to get such a blunt clue from him. He didn’t seem the type, though I did ask Gordon if there was indeed some candle blowing to be conducted soon. The resulting answer had me spending my spare time surfing the Internet for something musical. Then Gordon was kind enough to inform me that there were three birthdays in the mean time.
With three upcoming birthdays within a month of each other, I was hard pressed to think of anything. The first thing I did was send a blistering email to Virgil over matters of putting self before others. I received the meek reply with some vengeance.
I planned to make a call to Scott to make sure John wasn’t spreading slander about my sci-fi tendencies (the other boys would probably drive me insane over it; Gordon and Alan making a spoof of it and Virgil trying to engage my interest over his newest artistic piece). However, I remembered my obligation to my blood family.
I instead placed a call on the vidphone to my cousin.
“Hey, Diane!” I began brightly as soon as her face appeared. “I’m having trouble buying birthday presents, particularly a musical and artistic buff.”
“Oh, Tara, I just got over my birthday presents.” She laughed.
We got talking about our latest achievements and I gave a vague answer about my employment.
“Tracy Enterprises?” Diane shrieked. “You lucky, lucky person! Jeff Tracy is a humanitarian and pays well.”
I rested my feet lightly on the controls. “Think of a present no billionaire would buy his son, okay? It’s for a good friend.”
Suddenly, I was telling her about Virgil’s talent, Alan’s thrills, Gordon’s humour, Scott’s sophistication, Tin-Tin’s vaguely feminist views, Kyrano’s wisdom, Grandma’s cooking, Jeff’s authority, a geek’s stutter and, finally, about the imbecile named John.
“You have a history of stubbornly refusing to make amends with enemies.” Diane sighed, exasperated.
I ended the call, just as an emergency message came over the equipment. It sounded a little suspicious to me, though I answered it, “International Rescue, go ahead.”
I was unimpressed to discover a nuclear plant had imploded, with extreme danger to explode. I grabbed the details and connected to Jeff. I briefly entertained the thought that there might now be a picture of me on some wall somewhere on the island.
Once delivering the details, I hesitated, “Jeff, if I may add…”
“It sounds a bit odd. The plant was only set up last month. It can’t be experiencing difficulties due to eroding security barriers.”
“That’s for the boys to decide once they get out there,” Jeff told me sternly. “Accidents happen to new plants all the time.”
My gut instinct told me otherwise. Or maybe I was just paranoid, as my nature was sometimes. I spent the next few hours monitoring the exchanges between Scott and Thunderbird 2’s motley crew. Gordon made the discovery – the security barriers had been sabotaged. I resisted the temptation to call Jeff up and chant “I told you so”.
Suddenly and eerily, Scott stopped transmitting anything.
“Must be a malfunction in mobile control,” noted Virgil at one stage.
I bit my nails to the point of drawing blood from the pads of my fingers. I couldn’t stand the tension any longer – I called up Virgil and told him to check out Scott’s last known position.
“I’m in the middle of evacuating workers,” he snapped at me, the meek artist buried.
Gordon took the opportunity to declare he would check it out, adding, “You know, if you’re wrong I’m going to have to cash in on this.”
Relieved, I sank back in my seat. I desperately wanted to be down there, not moping about in space!! I realised just how exasperated John and Alan got sometimes. I immediately assured myself it wasn’t enough punishment for Stormie and too much for Alan.
I listened with anticipation as Gordon located mobile control. He sounded anxious. “Scott’s out cold. I don’t understand. There can’t be any radiation leaks in this section. I’d have collapsed, too.”
I clenched my fists. I contacted Gordon and ordered, “Check out Thunderbird 1. Take your gun with you and shield your eyes.”
“You think it’s the Hood,” guessed Gordon and by the sound of his hurried footsteps, he quickly obeyed me.
“Damn right,” I griped. “Activate the, um, film blanking thingamajig.”
“Let me remind you I’m not an amateur.” Gordon snorted. “What do I do if he’s there? Shoot him?”
“We don’t do killing. Just…knock him out or something.”
I mentally cursed Scott for turning me into a pacifist. My advice sounded weak even to my own ears. Gordon kept his communicator on and his ragged breathing came through. His footfalls stopped abruptly and he grumbled something about bald jungle people ruining his day.
“Freeze!” exclaimed Gordon. “And don’t try your glowing eyes on me, pal.”
There was the sound of a scuffle. I frantically paced in front of the communications equipment, hoping Gordon wasn’t incapacitated. My anxiousness was slightly doused when Gordon managed, “He got away, but I’m not hurt. I wiped his film.”
“I’m feeling faint,” I mumbled.
I heard Gordon laugh. “I’m fine! Continuing on from earlier, why would the sun shine out from my nostrils?”
“Please, not this argument now.”
Jeff at least had the grace to admit my gut instincts were spot on – “sometimes”, he emphasised. I decided that while being in Thunderbird 5 was cool, it did get a bit agitating sometimes.