Five's pilot's feet are ripped out from under him as the whole ship shudders and the artificial gravity suddenly fails. John's eyes, painful and dry, force themselves open again, and he finds himself floating, staring out at the vacuum of meteor-studded space through a great, horrible hole ripped right through his 'bird's side. Detritus of his daily life, anything that isn't strapped down, is being sucked out into space, bumping against broken meteor shards and ripped, mangled pieces of Five's hull. Jeff's voice has been cut off; communications are sizzling and crackling on the control panel. Systems are failing all around him. Alarms blaring.
John, in shock, is unable to anything but stare, horrified, at the gaping hole where half his life had once rested. He'd been sitting on that little windowsill looking out at the stars only moments ago. His small bookshelf, full of his real paperback books – textbooks and fiction and journals - the ones he'd been salvaging and saving since his Uni days, picking up every time he returned to Earth, was just gone. Half a page, illustrated with a careful etching of the moon and a spacecraft flutters, ripped and trapped between twisted metal and John nearly cries out as he realises his favourite Jules Verne has been destroyed.
Mum's picture is gone too.
Beside where his bookshelf should be, his favourite comfy chair has been swallowed by the breach and, oh gods, his telescope, his beautiful little, perfect telescope, is just simply gone. Reduced to twisted metal and floating glass fragments. The gorgeous, golden brass and black lacquer and the assortment of lenses and filaments that's he's treasured and cared for and carefully polished since he was fifteen and gazing up at the stars from Earth, has been obliterated. Memories of his Father's hand on his shoulder as Jeff grins down at a much younger him, a him who was bubbling with sheer joy over his birthday present, send his head spinning with the loss.
His empty lungs feel like they're burning, and Five's Communication's Monitor knows, has had drilled into him, how low pressure air trapped in the lungs will expand and tear the tender tissues of the organs apart as it drops. He prays to no-one in particular that he'd exhaled fully enough before the meteor hit. The lights above him spark a final time and fail almost completely, bathing everything in the muted orange of the emergency backup lights and the glow of the still-raining meteors over to his west. They've have taken on a bloody reddish hue as they streak across the sky. LucilleX10-37, the star discovered and named by John himself, twinkles familiarly at him through the breach from its place in the cosmos. It feels like a there's fist tightening around his heart, squeezing.
And he can feel the cabin begin to depressurise slowly around him; oxygen is rushing out of the breach like liquid being sucked through a straw. John's suit protects him from the most part from the swelling of his skin as the water in it begins to vaporise, but he's hyperaware that without a space helmet and an oxygen tank, he's only got about two minutes before the depressurisation kills him anyway. He's got to get out of the control room.
He's not wearing space manoeuvre gear, with its powered rocket jets, and so John is forced, undignified, to use the pipes along his Lady's walls to heave his body around, heading towards the door. In the zero gravity, he usually feels completely, perfectly weightless, but his hands are struggling to grip and his face is beginning to feel swollen and painful, his skin tight. It makes his body feel much heavier than it should be. John takes a moment to try and even out the shaking of his fingers and to force onto himself his usual calmness, as he notices the surface of his tongue is tingling, almost burning. It feels like the water in his mouth has sort of begun to boil.
John reaches the door and stretches out his hand towards the little panel set next to it, pressing his palm to the plate and letting it scan precisely over the size of his gloved fingers. There's the ugly grind and clunk of bolts, but the door doesn't swoosh open the way it should. Frowning, John hammers in the emergency override code, his fingers skidding over the input panel, but there are warning lights suddenly flashing and realisation hits John that when the meteor struck and knocked out most of his electronics, it also knocked out the airlock doors, leaving them stuck in lockdown. Doors that are a foot thick of reinforced titanium. He's not going to be able to get to the pressurised area of Five beyond.
John is trapped.
Swinging his body around, John looks towards the breach, where he knows, somewhere there, the spacesuits, helmets and tanks had been kept, fixed to the walls and if there's a chance a mask and oxygen has survived, he's got to take it.
Trying to make his way over, John has to duck his head more than once as Five's debris flies haphazardly around what was his monitor room. The loose items of his daily existence batter against his aching body; he takes one of his cameras to the knee and a box of freeze-dried space food to his lower back before he's forced to twist, quickly and painfully, to avoid having his skull split open by one of his larger potted plants as it barrels past him.
John's ears are roaring, his head pounding, Thunderbird Five sounds like she's screaming into the silence of space, all screeching metal and the electric fizz of sparks preying on the last of the oxygen, and John is the only one who can hear her. John who is the only one who always hears everyone screaming. The trapped people calling, the onsite rescuers, his family. And all he can ever do is listen. Just sitting tight and staying calm while he directs those people to safety from his seat up in Thunderbird Five. Thunderbird Five who is screaming and rolling under him.
Then John, heaving himself hand over hand, becomes aware of the pressure mounting in his ears, and suddenly his eardrums feels like they're exploding, popping with the shift in pressure and then, equally suddenly, he can't hear anything at all. Not the scream of Five, or the fizz of wires. He can't even hear the regular, fast thump of his own heartbeat echoing in his ears, and the startling absence of that is more disturbing than anything else. His ears don't even change at all as he tries to force his throat to swallow hard without taking a breath of nothing. He brings a hand up, sure his ears must be bleeding, but his fingers come away clean.
Black spots are dancing is his vision by the time he reaches the other side of the control room and his lungs are screaming for oxygen. The vague knowledge he has probably less than thirty seconds before he's going to blackout is not a comforting one. The glass-fronted storage case for the helmets and O2 tanks, for out-of-ship and emergency use is completely shattered; ripped apart. The impact of the meteor has destroyed most of its contents, and John finds himself desperately grasping for one of the only two helmet's he can see as his vision begins to shift, sliding towards whitish grey. He can just make out a thick, jagged cobweb of cracks in the helmet's glass front and he almost screams in frustration as he tosses it aside. His fingers are slow and clumsy as they reach for the other, fumbling over smooth metal and plastiform and perspex as he tries to see if this helmet is damaged too.
He can't really tell anymore and so, with no other choice, he jams it, one handed, onto his head anyway. Tactilely checking the locks around his neck are secure and that it'll hold oxygen, the young Tracy feels around the back of his neck for the O2 tank hook-up. As his vision greys out completely; he trails it down, focusing on both staying conscious and keeping a tight grip on the metal pipe that's anchoring him with the other hand. He can feel the veins in his neck pulsing, straining. He can feel his heart thumping so hard, it hurts his chest. A fragment of something, perhaps floating glass from his telescope, slices his cheek as wildly; he casts a fiercely shaking hand around for a tank. He can feel blood on his face. When his fingers finally close over one, he finds its line tangled in what feels like some kind of broken metal, he does his best to untwist it and hook himself up as his vision sinks into a inky blackness that feels like space but isn't. The bizarreness of the sudden darkness leaves him unsure if his eyes are open or closed; even though he's sure he's hardly so much as blinked. The blindness is even more terrifying than the loss of sound.
His fingers slip and the clasps for the tank slide out from under his hands. He finds, as his limbs drift and his heart stutters in his chest and his skin feels like it's literally boiling, swelling, no strength at all with which to force his hand back, to knock the tank into place. His nerves are all tingling, fizzing like a head rush and his lips have gone numb.
In a last ditch effort, as John's consciousness fades he, in a almost-out-of-body, disconnected way, feels his feet meet something big and flat and metal in the air that feels perhaps like a chunk of hull floating around or a piece of TB5's massive circuitry, and he kicks off it, trying to keep a grip on the wall pipe he can hardly feel, as the momentum throws him backwards and the oxygen tank behind him hits the wall and is slammed into place.
The sudden rush of pressurised O2 into his lungs hits him like a speeding bullet train to the chest and he finds himself choking, coughing, doubled over and gasping for air as it streams through the little plastic tube and into his helmet. He can taste the sharp iron tang of blood in his mouth and he's hyperaware of the fierce grip his hand is curled into; which, he hopes means he's still holding on to the piping and hasn't been sucked into space.
His head is spinning, the oxygen making him dizzier than even the lack of it had done. He can feel his heart straining in his chest, thumping wildly. His lungs cry out painfully at their re-introduction to air and his ribcage feels like its on fire. He tries to open his eyes, which have squeezed themselves shut, but they protest angrily at the movement and John becomes aware he's hyperventilating; choking on his own air as he tries to force it into his lungs faster than his chest can cope with. His whole body is tense; every muscle trembling with exertion as, slowly and carefully, John begins to let that tension go and his breathing struggles to even itself out.
In out. In out. That's it John. You're not dead yet. You're not dead yet. Come on John.
He tries a second time to peel apart his eyelids and it feels disturbingly similar to the sensation of ripping the tab off a cereal carton as his eyes open, dry and painful, but clear. He swallows thickly, once, then twice, forcing his breathing into a regular rhythm and trying to re-pressurise his ears by swallowing repeatedly. At first he's terrified he's been deafened by the shift in pressure but then suddenly, there's a sharp popping feeling once more and the sound of his own breathing, loud and harsh and awfully raspy fills his ears along with a accompanying crackle of empty radio static that buzzes from somewhere in his helmet. Everything seems to be shifting before his eyes and John lurches dizzily, trying to keep a grip on his 'bird and himself.
He has to get back to the control panel; to firstly see if he can shift Thunderbird Five's shielding back to where it should have been. Doing so should stabilise the pressure and stop everything from begin sucked into space. Including himself. John looks over at where the console is bathed in emergency orange and realises his body, weak and trembling, is never going to make it around the walls, holding onto piping the way he got here. He's just too tired. Eyeing the gaping mouth of the hull breach he wonders if with one, big push off the wall behind him, towards the console, he could clear the damaged section and reach the other side without being sucked into space.
It's a wild shot, a poor plan, but he knows that he's not going to be able make it round, so bracing himself against the side wall, John kicks off as hard as he can. He finds himself flying, shooting through empty space faster than he'd imagined he would and the world spins and lunches violently around him. His hands sluggishly fail to brace for the impact in time and John slams into the console with a pained, strangled yell that scrapes his pressure-damaged throat raw. He feels his ribs give under the impact, tight lines of fire snapping all at one in his chest and he chokes on the pain. It feels like he's splintering apart. Wildly, John's fingers scrabble for purchase on something, anything, as his momentum fails him and the pull of space catches his body, twisting it violently towards the opening and empty space. Scraping over smooth glass and metal John's fingers finally snag and his body is horribly yanked, slamming to a sudden stop as his arm is wrenched painfully backwards and he feels the sharp slide of bone as his shoulder is yanked clean out of its socket. The awful, pained sound that comes out spilling of his mouth through his teeth is unrecognisable as anything he'd ever produced in his life. Lines of fire wrap like an iron band around his chest and it's a struggle for air as he tries to use his good hand to pull himself back upright. The nerves through his shoulder and down along his arm sear, the feeling pooling at his joints and spasming through his fingers.
Choking and gasping, John heaves his body around, eyes bleary and fingers aching and his dislocated shoulder burning as he dials in access codes one handed and tries to focus on the screaming computer before him. The console is intact, for the most part. The half-functioning screen shows readouts of damage and lights flash up warnings all over the place. John's whole right arm is stiff and useless, as if rigor mortis has already set in, and he instinctively curls it in, hissing through the pain as he tries to ignore the way he can hear his breath rattling in his throat. Numbly, he hammers in the numbers that correspond to the shielding program and feels a rush of relief as soundlessly in the vacuum, a large black panel slides down, covering the breach as the shields fix themselves on the outside of his station. The pressure stabilises itself on the screen and there's no more horrible, dragging suction towards the abyss of space. The red warning lights for the oxy-rig haven't changed though; life-systems have been badly damaged.
He's still floating as well, so John, his good arm trying to clamp around his oh-god-broken-definitely-broken ribs and the other rendered useless, fumbles about in an attempt to strap himself into his pilot's chair at the console. Finally getting the clips into place; the seatbelt forms a tight cross over his agonising chest and John finds himself coughing all over again, hacking on air until black spots build in his vision and the whole world spins, sliding out of focus like the white snow of an avalanche has fallen, deadly smothering, across his vision.
What feels like moments later, but can't possibly be, John is wondering if he passed out because he feels like he's sliding back into consciousness and there's an orange warning light blinking on the inside of his helmet. His oxygen tank's levels are getting low. John frowns hazily at that, his lips feeling numb and his head swung limply down against his chest. Just how long had he been out of it? And if he'd been unconscious nearly long enough for an oxygen tank to empty, then why wasn't Thunderbird Three here yet? Blearily, John flicks his dry, sore eyes across to the time readout on his helmet screen and is shocked to see his unconsciousness appears to have only lasted a few minutes, perhaps five at most. Which means his oxygen tank is getting low faster than he can breathe it.
Which, he realises with a bizarre horrified calmness, means it must be leaking.
John's head is still pounding his brain against his skull and his mouth and taste buds feel all off and odd and rough. His shoulder fees like hell and his ribs are screaming and, wondering if he'd been better off unconscious, it's only then John realises, rather belatedly, exactly what woke him.
A strong, male voice, crackling with white noise is shouting, low and urgent in his ear. Shouting his name. Painfully, weakly, John tries to summon up the strength to raise his head, and finds himself staring fuzzily into sharp, terrified blue eyes.
"John!" his Father's holographic face fills the vidscreen, his voice crackling with white noise as the picture keeps sliding out of focus, broken with the interruption of wavy, crackling lines across the screen. Five's communications rig must be damaged too. "Finally." Jeff sighs "Are you alright? John, what happened, I need you to..."
"Dad." The word rolls faintly off John's tongue, rasping and painful in his throat as his head lolls back, his neck screaming with the effort it took to keep it there. The word felt like needles rising in his throat, like there's broken glass lodged in his pharynx. He takes a thick, dry swallow as Jeff stares at him, his Father's grey eyebrows scrunched and his eyes dark with worry. "Dad." John tries to force out again. "My oxygen" he has to pause to gasp on air again, his throat burning, "levels are getting low." Each word is precise and soft. He's dazed, his breath rasping feebly and quickly in his ears and he feels like a small, terrified animal, his heart racing in his chest. He's cold too, so cold and he's not sure if that's because he's been floating in the space vacuum or because he's going into shock.
"John. John. Look at me." His Father's steady voice brings John's weary focus back to him. "You're going to be ok." Jeff Tracy promises, his face familiar and comforting; all hard, serious lines and sharp business. "Scott and Alan are on their way in Thunderbird Three. Their ETA is forty seven minutes, you're going to be..." but he's cut off by John shaking his head sadly.
"No... Dad. There's not... not enough air. I couldn't get through the door...I'm locked out... from the rest of Five." He rasps, aware of how his limbs are trembling. "I think my ribs are broken, maybe my shoulder too... the... spare O2 tanks are too far away, I can't reach them again, and I think... they were all damaged when it hit. I think... my tank is leaking..." the black spots are dancing in John's vision again, from the effort or the pain he's not sure. The oxygen warning on his visor is now flashing red. 9% and leaking fast. "I've only got a couple of minutes worth left. F...Five at a push."
"No..." the word slips, loose and horrified from between Jeff's Tracy's lips, "No..." The man changes in seconds from firm field commander, to terrified Father. Jeff is white and shaking with wide desperate eyes and scrunched, dark brows as he realises that Three is never going to reach his son in time.
"Three's oxygen main supply is damaged beyond what I can fix here." John is gasping; his face paler than Jeff has ever seen it and no, no, no, this can't be happening, not his boy, not his John... "The artificial gravity is shot and I'm having trouble with communications too." There's a beat a pause where all Jeff can do is stare at his son's face as static crackles over it, then a soft, weak, "I'm sorry Father" tumbles from John's lips and that's the straw that breaks the camel's back. Jeff's eyes are watering, his hand reaching out to cup the pale curve of his son's holographic face.
"No, No, No, Johnny. It's ok. You've got nothing to be sorry for. You're going to be ok Johnny, please..." Jeff's voice shakes and even as he says it he knows it's not true. He hasn't felt despair like this since Lucy died, not even after Gordon's hydrofoil accident.
"I'm not going... to make it, Dad." John seems startlingly calm, almost resigned, as he smiles weakly at his Father. "Just... do something for me ok?" Jeff nods his agreement, unable to trust his voice, but willing to do anything at this point for his boy. His poor, precious boy. "Bring my body back to Earth, Dad. I don't... I don't want to drift as space junk. I..." John takes a breath, "Bring... bring my body back home."
"Hey, hey, hey, don't talk like that Johnny, kiddo, please." White noise crackles along the system and John thinks, for a long moment that he's losing the signal, but then another voice interrupts on the line, and John finds his face breaking into a small, tired smile.
"Thunderbird Three to Tracy Island. This is Scott." And of course it was, because there he was, his brother's face in the background of his Father's call.
"Scotty?" The young astronaut rasps and feels a stab of guilt and pain as his older brother's face lights up as he spots him. John's good hand reaches up to skitter tremulously over dials to try and bring Scott up in a hologram of his own.
"John! Oh god I almost thought you were..." and there's Scott's face, hovering, worried above him; big and familiar and comforting.
"No... Scotty," and John doesn't know how to break it to him, doesn't know how to explain how his lungs seem to be burning inside of him, "I'm... there's not enough O2..." his voice is as scratchy as an old man's, and Scott winces in sympathy.
"Well yeah but you can just slap on another tank right? You'll be fine." And his brother's smile is so bright, so warm; it's more painful than all the feeling in his whole body to kill that smile.
"My... ribs are broke. And something in my shoulder's gone. I can't... I can't reach the tanks." John can feel his body shutting down around him. The whistle of escaping air high and hissing hurts his ears. His head is pounding and his vision is having trouble focusing again.
"Thirty eight, Johnny, just thirty eight minutes. Give us that. We'll be there in thirty if we have to, just hold on." Scott's face is still warm and determined and how is John going to get him to understand that this time, this time the golden boy is not going to be able to save them all. His Father is quiet and pale in the background, his holographic face tight with regret and sorrow. John has to push away the absent thought that wonders if that's the face his family will all be wearing at his funeral. He can't even imagine it on little Alan's and that breaks his heart all over again. He'd been too young when Mum had died, too little to understand that death meant the person you love isn't ever coming back.
"I... I don't think I can." His vision is starting to grey out dangerously again, and John struggles to focus his eyes, desperate to keep sight of his Father and brother for as long as he can before... "Scott? Don't let Alan see... my body. Or Gordy, if you can help it. I don't want them seeing..." and Scott, brave unflappable Scott chokes at that, his face screwing up with what looks close to agony as he realises.
"Sure. Sure Johnny," and it's almost a sob, "anything you want kid... anything you..."
"Tell them I love them. I love you all..." John chokes, the glass feeling in his throat seems to have forced its way down into his lungs and he can't seem to breathe right around it. He's already asphyxiating and he knows it. He can taste blood in his mouth. He's unsure if his vision is on the fritz or if it's the weak communications link. Scott's anguished face is swimming before him.
"Look after them Scotty." and if these are going to be his last words, he'd better make them good ones, "Tell... Tell Allie to be good for Dad and don't let Fish's... Gordy's... pranks get out of hand. Keep an eye on Virgil, don't... don't let him brood over the... piano and tell... tell Dad not to worry 'till he's greyer than he already... is, and get... Oh..." John's voice breaks as the world flicks out around him. It's not a gradual decline; it's sudden, like a light going out. His head lolls limply back, like a puppet with its strings cut.
John never sees the struggling communications system cut out completely, falling into crackling static. He doesn't hear his Father and brother's voices mingling with screams of his name as they are cut off. He never catches his last glimpse of Scott's frightened, tormented face as it disappears from the screen.
John Glenn Tracy is just simply... gone.
Author's Notes: aaaaand chapter two is up! Poor Johnny, he's really not going to catch a break in this, is he. Next chapter will have Scott and Alan. :)
Drop me a review to let me know what you think! It's always great to hear from you! :)
Edit: Oh and I'll mention that I got a review for this chapter asking why the depressurization didn't kill John instantly, so I figured I'd answer that here, encase anyone else was wondering. Survival in space, as proved by animal testing and a few human accidents, is quite possible for several minutes; chimpanzees tested apparently lasted up to 3.5 minutes. The main problem is that the air in the person's lungs expands, ripping the tissues up if the person has not exhaled fully, and that the water in the skin begins to evaporate, slowly causing swelling (which, when re-pressurised disappears pretty quickly). I did take a little bit of liberty as to how quickly John would have probably fallen unconscious, however as the author I can blag that Five was depressurizing very slowly through the breach, as John's 'bird was trying to maintain the wrecked life systems. That and he's a Tracy - they're stubborn. :)
You're all stars! :D x