A/N: I'm on board with the theory that CB is a converted boxcar and is more wood than metal. Also, despite this being Broadway/US Tour CB, I like to think he still has a radio.
Also also, Control doesn't exist in my Starlight universe. These are working trains rather than toys.
Greg Mowry (with long hair) – Rusty
Jeremy Kocal/Todd Lester – CB
Jeffrey Socia/Dustin Dubreuil/John Partridge – Electra
Greaseball is the typical Elvis impersonator, Dinah is brunette, Pearl has the pink hair, Gremlin is also brunette and has twin bunches on the top of her head. For everyone else, think Broadway 1989.
Electra was not feeling well at all. He hadn't felt very good all morning but now, as he zoomed homeward through the pouring rain, he was feeling thoroughly miserable. His head was pounding, making him wince every time the thunder boomed overhead, and each bolt of lightning caused little white spots to appear in his vision, not to mention the uncomfortable prickling sensation all over his body that intensified with every flash.
He was starting to feel dizzy and disorientated. He wasn't certain if he was heading in the right direction for the yard anymore, and the sheeting downpour wasn't helping in the slightest. By this point, he couldn't even remember why he'd come up on the hill today in the first place. His mind was fuzzy and it was taking all his concentration simply to remain on the track, with the only thoughts in his head being how ill he felt and how much he wanted to get home and lie down somewhere quiet. But it seemed that the world was currently very much against him and was determined to hinder his progress, and somewhere, someone was frantically calling his name, over and over and over...
This last part didn't bother Electra as much as it should have. He was used to hearing people chanting his name – heck, he was so popular that in some parts of the world, his fans sang his name in 7/8 time, quite the musical feat – but not even he was vain enough to think that somebody would stand out in a storm on a remote hill on the off chance of him rolling by. Besides, his head hurt too much and he didn't want to think about it, so he put it down to his imagination and did his best to just tune it out and instead focus on getting back to the yard.
Another bolt of lightning split the sky, striking the ground somewhere to his right. Electra jumped, startled, and then shuddered as the excess energy made his already overloaded systems crackle. He thought he heard a faint cry of pain from somewhere, and was again momentarily confused. Had that been him? He wasn't sure; he didn't remember making any sound. But there didn't seem to be anyone else around, nor could he see any animals nearby. Maybe it was just his groggy brain playing tricks on him...
He could feel the water running down his body as he flew onward, moving forward more by instinct than anything else due to the amount of rain bashing his face and hampering his vision. This was far from being his first time outside in such weather, especially since he had taken up passenger duties at the yard to balance out his currently uncertain racing career, but he still found the persistent wetness to be extremely unpleasant. He was just glad that he was at least waterproof—
And then Electra's world exploded. A hot, searing pain shot up from between his shoulder blades and spread through to the rest of his body, sending sparks flying in all directions and throwing him forwards and sideways at the same time. Unfortunately, he landed again at the top of a steep incline and before he could do anything about it, he was rolling, falling, acutely feeling every tiny scrape and bump he encountered on the way down, until he finally came to an abrupt halt against a large knot of tightly tangled greenery that knocked the wind out of him, and everything went black.
It was some time later when Electra woke up again, letting out a low, drawn-out groan as he slowly came to. His body felt like someone had gone to town on his metalwork with a hammer, his head was throbbing like someone was using it as a drum, and his whole being was buzzing with electricity, even more so than usual. For a moment, he just lay still, listening to the sound of the still falling rain and idly wondering if there would be another bolt of lightning ready to blast him again if he dared to move. But he could no longer feel the fizzing energy in the atmosphere and, apart from the pitter-patter of the rain, there was no sound, suggesting that the storm had finally dissipated.
He lay there for a moment longer, before deciding that he didn't want to remain in the wet and that it was time to start moving. He pulled his arms under his chest and pushed himself up onto his elbows, giving another groan as he did so and hissing through his teeth as something within him popped, stinging him.
At this point, he paused to consider his situation. He still felt quite sick and he hurt all over, but at least he'd regained his senses now and could once again think straight. He was fairly sure there had been no mention of there being any danger of a thunderstorm on the airwaves this morning – Joule hated inclement weather and had made a habit of checking the forecast as soon as she woke up every day – but he couldn't be certain. He may have been the flashiest, most gorgeous engine around (and didn't he know it!), but he also had a tendency to forget things that didn't pertain to or weren't important to him.
He did, however, remember slinking quietly away from his components and the rest of the trains, hoping to find some reprieve from his sickly misery on his favourite patch of hill about 30 minutes away from the yard, where he liked to sit and sparkle in the sun. Indeed, the weather had been glorious right up until the moment the heavens tore asunder and the sky threw a massive tantrum. (He was glad that he'd left his mohawk helmet behind. He only really wore it for special occasions anyway, but it most certainly would have sagged in the rain and been plastered round his face had he been wearing it now.)
He also vaguely remembered CB rolling quietly up behind him, insisting on coming along too and attaching himself to Electra's couplings like a small, red limpet. Electra hadn't bothered to stop him, knowing the caboose wouldn't have listened–
Electra broke off mid-thought, groaning as the realisation hit him; a realisation that made the situation a whole lot worse. He hadn't been alone. CB had been with him! It had been him frantically calling Electra's name. The cry that Electra had heard had most likely been him too! And the reason he hadn't seen him in his delirium was because CB had been right behind him... So where was he now? What had happened to him when the lightning struck?
The engine pushed himself to his feet as quickly as he could, hissing, grunting and occasionally even whimpering as his body protested this treatment. He forced himself to ignore the creaking of his abused joints as he finally managed to straighten up, and immediately started to scan the surrounding hillside for any sign of the missing youngster. He'd never been overly fond of the boy, especially since the crash at the races last year (although he'd later come to accept that he himself had been more at fault for that particular crash, since it had been he who had zapped Greaseball and sent the three of them careening out of control), but neither did he want to find him hurt. Especially not right now.
He continued limping down the hill, casting his eyes about for any sign of anything red. He tried calling CB's name a couple of times but the effort made his head spin, so he was forced to give that up. He was a little surprised that he couldn't see him nearby, considering he had been at Electra's back when the engine had been hit, but he didn't take the time to dwell on it, instead focusing on finding him.
And then, as he rounded a small bend in the bank, he spotted him down below him, sprawled on his stomach out in the open. He looked so small and helpless against the vast expanse of unkempt grass, and worst of all, he wasn't moving...
Electra groaned again, not relishing the intense sense of dread that had settled in his stomach, making him feel sicker than ever. How had today gone so wrong so quickly? All he'd wanted was a bit of peace and quiet away from prying (and concerned) eyes, and instead he'd ended up soaking wet and in pain, and with a potentially injured caboose to take care of into the bargain.
He let himself slide down the rest of the bank, somehow managing to stay on his feet, and picked his way across to the boy, crouching down beside him and quickly looking him over. Apart from a few superficial scratches and scrapes from his tumble down the bank, he looked fine, for which Electra was thankful, but that was only the back of him. He reached out a hand to roll him over and yelped when a sharp jolt of electricity sparked off the small body, connecting solidly with his fingers. Normally, such a thing wouldn't have bothered the electric, with the charge being absorbed painlessly into his systems, but in his current overcharged and sensitive state, the transfer felt like someone sticking a needle into his digits. Thankfully, he was spared a second shock when he hesitantly put his hand to CB's shoulder a second time, and so he quickly and carefully rolled him over onto his back.
His heart sank. While CB's back was largely unscathed, his front was not. There were great scorch marks across much of his wooden frame, and areas of his red paint had blistered pretty badly, completely flaked off in places. A large split ran right across his chest; not deep enough to be dangerous but still enough to be concerning. One of his kneepads was cracked, and then there were the countless scratches and dents that covered his body. His hands, which had of course been clinging to Electra's couplings at the time of the strike, and up his forearms were also pretty badly burned, causing the electric to wince in sympathy. And this was just what he could see. Who knew what other damage had been done?
But what worried him the most was the fact that CB was completely unresponsive. He was breathing – Electra had already checked that – but none of Electra's attempts to wake him were getting through. Electra wasn't particularly surprised – he had been built to be able to conduct electricity and even he had been knocked out by the energy surge – but CB didn't have the circuits necessary to deal with the electrical fallout and his lack of response was not a good sign.
The engine sat back for a moment, trying to think of what to do next. What he really wanted to do was lie down and go to sleep, to rest his pounding head, but with the rain still falling heavily and an unconscious, injured youngster in front of him, he knew that that wasn't really an option. He briefly considered trying to use the radio that was installed inside CB's hat, but he quickly dropped that thought when he realised that a), he didn't know how to use it and b), it had probably been scrambled in the strike. (He knew about this second possibility because he had accidentally shocked CB a couple of months ago, making his hair stand on end and causing the aforementioned radio to go berserk. And that had been a gentle shock.) He had already tried using his mental connection with his components, but that hadn't worked either even after several attempts, leaving him unable to contact anyone.
His decision was eventually made for him when he felt the familiar fizz return to the air, and he looked up to see the storm clouds returning. Great. Just what he needed. Another round of abuse from nature itself. Well, he wanted to get home before that happened.
Heaving a sigh that quickly became another pained moan, he pushed himself up into a half-kneeling position next to the fallen caboose. Since the boy clearly wasn't going to wake up, Electra was going to have to carry him. He wasn't at all impressed by this turn of events, but he wasn't heartless enough to just leave him behind either. And besides, the other trains would probably never forgive him if he returned to the yard without him. So he gathered him carefully into his arms and, making sure he had a firm hold, struggled to his feet. He was glad that CB was so small because it also meant he was fairly light and easy to carry. Even as it was, in his weakened state, the electric could easily feel the extra weight, and he knew that he'd never have been able to manage if it had been anyone else in the grass before him.
He looked around him, trying to work out which way to go. He had lost his sense of direction some time before the strike and now wasn't sure where he was, and he couldn't make out any features of the soggy landscape that he was certain he recognised. He did, however, know that he went upwards from the yard to reach his hill, so logically he would need to go down to get back. Luckily, there was a track nearby that Electra thought went in near enough the right direction – away from the hill and downwards – and so he set out towards it with tired determination. He stumbled a little as the ground beneath his wheels went from clumpy to smooth, but he managed to quickly regain his balance and steady himself. He took a deep breath in an attempt to clear his aching head, shifted the limp caboose in his arms into a more comfortable position, and then, hoping fervently that this would take him home, set off down the tracks as fast as his wheels could take him.
Back at the yard, everyone was frantic. There had been only a very short interval between the sudden thunderstorm and the realisation that Electra and CB were missing, and everyone was beside themselves with worry. Gremlin and Rusty had both wanted to go out immediately to look for them, but Poppa and Belle had insisted that there was no sense in risking another two engines getting hurt in the storm.
Electra's components had tried contacting their master through their special connection, but they were unsuccessful (due to the amount of electricity in the air overriding his systems, Wrench suspected), and there was now a silent conversation passing between Joule, Volta and Purse as they stood together in a little cluster. The gentle-hearted Dustin was sobbing in the corner, both afraid of the storm and worried about the missing trains, with Ashley sat next to him, trying to calm him down. Flat-Top was standing guard over them both, snapping at anyone who got too close. Dinah, who had been the first to notice CB's absence, was pressed hard against Greaseball's side as the diesel tried to work out a rescue plan with Poppa, Krupp and Wrench. Greaseball had his arm around her, comforting her while making sure she was included in the discussion, a small gesture but one that Dinah was desperately clinging to as if her friends' lives depended on it. Gremlin was sat with her nose pressed against the window that faced the exit to the yard, sitting so uncharacteristically still that the casual viewer might have mistaken her for a statue, if not for the occasional puff of steam that rose from her chimney. The Rockies had retreated to the back of the main hangar and were now engaged in a friendly sparring match with Greaseball's diesel minions in order to release their nervous energy, and Pearl and Buffy were trying to calm the agitated Rusty, who really just wanted to be out looking for the absentees. (He had become firm friends with CB since the caboose had finally realised the error of his ways and been reformed, even if he was still extremely mischievous, and even Electra had started being civil to him, going so far as admitting that Rusty "wasn't bad".)
Even Bolt and Axle, the Trax twins, were here, since the storm had forced them to abandon their track maintenance.
There was a sudden loud crack of thunder from outside, causing everyone in the hangar to jump violently and eliciting shrieks from some of the more nervous carriages. Greaseball rolled across to the door and stuck his head out, coming back seconds later to confirm the return of the storm with a grim and mildly irritated expression. It was no secret that absolutely no love was lost between Electra and Greaseball (although they had come to an uneasy truce at the request of the elderly steamer), but being out in this weather was not something the diesel would wish on anyone. Not to mention that CB was out there too...
Poppa gave a dismayed groan and sank wearily down onto a bench with his head in his hands, looking defeated. He had hoped that the storm had finally abated and that they would soon have been able to go and search for the missing trains, but he simply couldn't risk anyone else in this weather. Belle quickly sat next to him and laid a gentle arm on his shoulder, silently trying to comfort him as Krupp and Wrench quietly drifted away to join their fellows. Dinah started to cry helplessly, prompting Greaseball to pull her into a firm hug. Dinah didn't cry easily (and he still felt guilty for having reduced her to tears last year just because she objected to his cheating), so it meant that she was really upset when she did, and the diesel could do nothing except hold her close.
Meanwhile, Rusty had finally broken away from Buffy and Pearl and was now skating around in little circles, pinching the bridge of his nose and muttering furiously to himself. It would have been funny if the situation hadn't been so bad, what with his rhythmic chugging and the cloud of steam forming over his head. But as it was, his distress was evident and nobody laughed. Not even Flat-Top, who usually delighted in teasing the young steamer. Having been shocked into silence by the sudden thunder clap, he had instead taken a seat beside his still-sobbing "brother" and was now slumped over, playing gloomily with his pet brick and looking decidedly uncomfortable.
An uneasy silence fell over the building, broken only by Dustin and Dinah's quiet crying and Rusty's clicking wheels. Nobody knew what to say or do, and nothing they could have done would have stopped the storm anyway. The only choice they had was to wait it out and hope that their caboose and electric engine would make it back unharmed...
And then Gremlin suddenly shifted in her chair, pushing herself bolt upright with such force that she knocked over a second chair, which fell with a clatter and startled everyone, drawing the attention of the whole room. The young engine didn't seem to notice the eyes upon her, though, instead focusing intently on something outside.
Poppa recovered from his fright first. "What is it, Gremlin?", he asked, barely daring to hope.
She didn't respond for a moment, and everyone froze in anticipation, their gaze never leaving her tensed form.
And then she exploded in unsuppressed excitement.
"Electra! IT'S ELECTRA!"
Electra felt completely numb as he rolled slowly into the yard, now propelled by nothing but gravity. He was completely spent, all energy gone, the only things keeping him going being the need to get home and the small creature in his arms. It had been a difficult journey, with his condition deteriorating at an alarming rate and CB getting heavier and heavier by the second. How he hadn't dropped him yet, the engine would never know.
He eventually felt himself come to a gentle stop, though he wasn't sure if he'd stopped on his own or whether someone had guided him to a stop. But either way, he was no longer moving. His legs were shaking and, if he had been in any condition to think, he'd have been wondering how he hadn't fallen over yet. As it was, though, he barely noticed when his arrival caused a flurry of concerned activity that made him feel dizzy just from the sound of people rushing about. He could hear them, could hear people calling his name, asking him what had happened, could feel the gentle pressure as someone checked over the boy in his arms and then the release of weight as someone took CB from him, but he couldn't focus on anything, couldn't focus on the voices. He just wanted to lie down, to sleep, his head hurt so much...
As he stood there, he started to feel incredibly heavy, but like he was floating at the same time. He could feel his body starting to relax, and his vision was slowly growing blurry. The noises around him were gradually disappearing as the feeling intensified, and his mind was beginning to feel blank and empty. He allowed himself to give in to the gentle pull that was beckoning him downwards and then, gently and without ceremony, Electra collapsed.