The challenge was

"The Tracy brothers are granted a well-earned night off and go clubbing on the mainland. Any mix of characters can be involved, but I would like Scott and Virgil in there at least. And make it as fluffy or as dramatic as you like. :)"

which I translated to

“Alan persuades Scott and Virgil to spend their night off somewhere they’d never have chosen for themselves.”

Thanks to Fran Lavery, whose challenge it was.

I don’t own these characters. I write about them for fun.

Thanks to my husband for beta-reading.

Keeping Up Appearances

“I don’t know why he wants the stupid company so bad anyway,” Virgil grumbled. “They haven’t been a major force in decades.”

“That's why you’re reading Father’s notes. Preferably out loud, unless you want to be the one doing all the talking.”

Virgil muttered something unintelligible, but returned to his rendition of the relevant pages from his father’s ‘companies I wish I owned’ file.

Only Virgil could have read ‘Annual Turnover’ in such a way as to accurately convey ‘I’m the second man in a one-man cockpit, I’ve had three hours’ sleep, and I don’t want to be here.’ Scott sympathised, but unless they were to let their father down, there had been little choice.

They’d received the call just an hour ago. Jeff Tracy, in Seattle negotiating the takeover of a once-worldbeating software company, had woken in the middle of the night with violent stomach cramps and vomiting. Nothing serious, just something he’d eaten - but he’d be out of action for a couple of days. The talks were at a delicate stage and couldn’t wait - and Jeff had been adamant that Alan, in Seattle with him to observe, wasn’t to do it. He wanted Scott. In Seattle, fully briefed on the situation, before nine a.m.

It would have been impossible for anyone else. Even for the pilot of Thunderbird One, it would have been impossible without a second person to scan through the documents, show him the relevant parts, be there in the meeting to fill in the gaps. The first two could, at a pinch, have been done over the radio. The third should have been done by whoever had been shadowing Jeff in the discussions, but that man had been Alan.

Gordon and Virgil had tossed for it, and Virgil had lost. Now he was perched uncomfortably alongside Scott's pilot's seat, doing his best to reconstruct his father’s reasoning from notes never intended to be understood by anyone else.


They screamed into the Tracy Aerospace testing facility fifty miles east of Seattle just barely on schedule. It was fortunate that it was not currently in use – officially – and that they had an IR agent on site. TB1 was rapidly tucked away in an apparently derelict hangar, and within ten minutes Scott and Virgil, now both suitably attired for a high level board meeting, had transferred to a more conventional jet and were speeding down the runway.

“Where are we going? Boeing Field?”

Scott glanced sideways. “Yes. Our man’s arranged a car.”


Virgil considered his wristwatch. “Let’s hope it’s a fast one. The meeting starts in forty-one minutes.”


“Don’t fret – it’s no distance from the airport. What’s Alan going to do, start without us?”


“That’s what I’m worried about, yes.”




They made it to the hotel with a whole five minutes to spare, to find Alan not quite dancing impatiently on the front steps. “Come on, guys – Mr Welsh, he’s not the patient type.”


Scott handed off the keys to the valet. “Thank you. Alan, he’s here already?”


“Yeah – and not happy that he won’t be dealing with Father.”


Virgil raised his eyebrows. “This could be going better.”


“It’ll be fine.” Scott headed for the doors. “Alan, can you make the introductions?”


His youngest brother snorted. “Yes. And negotiate the deal, if you like.”


“The last time you were in a board meeting, I had to keep you quiet by drawing pictures of rockets,” Virgil chortled.


Alan drew himself to his full height. “That may be the last time you were in a board meeting, Virgil. I, on the other hand – ”


“Save it for later.” Scott stopped at the elevators, and indicated for Alan to take the lead. “We can’t afford to argue. This will be every bit as hard as a rescue.”




“Thank you, Mr Welsh, it’s been a pleasure doing business with you.” Scott put every ounce of his professionalism into making it sound genuine, and the other man returned his handshake with the friendliness he’d hoped for.


“Never thought I’d be this side of a takeover deal. Certainly never thought it would be this civil. A pleasure doing business with you too, young man. You can tell your father from me, he could do a lot worse than put you in charge of his new acquisition.”


Alan managed to wait until they were alone before sighing dramatically. “Man, I thought he’d go on forever. Did you ever meet anyone so boring?”


“He only wanted the best for his people.” Scott groaned. “I knew I shouldn’t have let him persuade me to have that second glass of wine. We could have flown right back home tonight. Do you think the hotel has rooms? I forgot to ask – and we should leave Father to recover in peace.”


“I’ll go check.” Virgil had got as far as picking up the receiver when he realised what the gentle chinking sound was.


Alan, wearing an annoyingly smug expression, was dangling two room keys temptingly. “The hotel’s nearly full – there’s some conference in town. I managed to get two decent rooms, though. A single and a twin. So, who wants to share with me?


“I thought so. I’ll have the single, then. What are we going to do?”


“Do?” Scott gave him the jaded look of one who’s spent the entire day thinking on his feet.


“Do. As in, not sit in a hotel room all evening.”


“Sitting sounds good to me.”


Alan looked abashed. “I’m sorry – you guys have had a hard day. Maybe we should just get room service, and you two can have an early night.”




It wasn’t until the door had shut on Alan and the rest of the world, and Scott had collapsed full length on the nearest bed with a sigh, that Virgil’s tired brain finally analyzed what he had heard.


“You. He said ‘you’.”


“What?” Scott propped himself up on one elbow.


“ ‘You two can have an early night.’ The cheek!”


Scott groaned. “You’re right, he did. Do you think we’ll get away with a movie?”


“Let me see what’s showing.” Virgil sat down at the computer and started typing, while Scott closed his eyes and tried to relax enough to stop seeing columns of figures to three decimal places.


Alan arrived five minutes later, having found his own room and divested himself of meeting clothes, and Virgil gave up on the computer with a scowl.


“Such a good piano recital tonight – and it’s sold out! If only I’d known we’d be here. But there’s an exhibition at the Kucera. ‘The revival of post-modernism.’ How about it?”


Alan’s horrified expression was priceless, but he recovered quickly enough. “Post-modernism – pull the other one, Virgil.”


“No? How about the cinema?”


“I vote cinema,” Scott put in. “Good and dark. I’d like to be anonymous for once.”


“Well,” Virgil considered his list, “there’s Peter Jackson’s King Kong. I hear it was highly thought of in its day.”


Alan made a face. “Retro special effects.”


Murder on the Orient Monorail. It’s described as ‘a re-imagining of the classic tale’.”


“Some things should be left well alone.”


Beyond the Mountains of Madness. Set in the nineteen-thirties, this epic, continent-spanning adventure will –”




Virgil sighed. “And there’s Star Trek 23: The End of Everything.”


Despite enjoying Alan’s commentary, Scott couldn’t resist a snigger. “Like they’re ever going to stop milking that one.”


“The odd numbers all suck.”


“Seventeen wasn’t bad –”


“It was horrible. It just happened to flatter the Air Force.”


“Okay, then, Alan.” The exasperation showed in Virgil’s tone. “You come up with something better.”


“Starting with food.” Scott was perusing the room service menu, with the tired expression of one who could barely tell what language it was written in. “What on here’s worth eating? Please tell me this isn’t where you ate last night.”


Alan shook his head ruefully. “Father wanted to show me the takeout he and his pals used when they were in training up here. What I had was great, but he had something different. The doctor said he’d make sure it was investigated, in case it turned out to be more than just too much spice.”


“Good.” Scott lay back and closed his eyes again. “Virg, order something for me. Right now, I’m too tired to think.”




Twenty minutes of sleep always worked wonders. Scott opened his eyes to a particularly delicious aroma, and the muted sounds of an immaculately dressed waiter setting the table for dinner.


“Now that smells good,” he offered.


“I chose right, then.” Virgil put out a hand, and he accepted being hauled to his feet.


“Mr Tracy, sir – do you want me to serve?” The waiter had finished, the table was a work of mathematical perfection, and he was now hovering politely, clearly unsure quite who he should be asking.


“No, thank you. We’ll call when we’ve finished.” Virgil pressed what would doubtless be a handsome tip into his hand, and the man vanished as silently as he had worked.




“So, Alan,” Scott pressed as they finished up what had been a most excellent meal, “what did you have in mind?”


“Well, I thought we might go clubbing.”


Scott choked on his last mouthful. “You’re too young.”


“Not since last month. Twenty-one now, remember?”


“Oh, he’s not too young for clubbing.” Virgil smiled sweetly. “You hold him down, I’ll get the blunt instrument.”


“No, I’m serious. Do you know what it’s like at these places?” Scott fixed his youngest brother with what he hoped was an authoritative stare. “Media. Girls looking to pick up a man with money. People who will recognise us as Jeff Tracy’s bachelor sons the moment we walk through the door. It’s not as simple as you think, and I don’t feel like being the floor show tonight.”


“Twenty-one, Scott. Not fourteen.” Alan was all offended Tracy now. “I learnt a thing or two from the other drivers – and I’ve had ID which says I’m twenty-one ever since Father started IR. I suggest we go to the Vogue. If you don’t know what it is, look it up. I’ll come round at nine-thirty, you can come with me or not. I’d like you to come.”


“Oh, man.” Virgil sagged back in his chair as the door shut just short of a slam behind Alan. “Do you know what this Vogue is? I can’t say I fancy it.”


“Oh, Alan. The naivety of youth.” Scott fired up the computer and navigated his way to the information he needed. Stopped. Stared for a while, and finally burst out laughing. “Virgil, we have to do this. If only to see Alan’s face when we go along with it.”


Virgil shifted so that he could see the screen, and his face fell. “Oh, no, Scott, you can’t be serious. That’s the last place we should take him. There’ll be drugs, and gangs, and –”


Scott chuckled. “You mean you never went – well, all I can say is, you led a quieter life at college than I did.”


“I spent my evenings doing more productive things than…that.”


“You know what Alan’ll say if you don’t come. Repeatedly.” Scott considered his brother’s face. “Why don’t you grab some sleep while I sort some things out?”


Virgil nodded, still apprehensive. “I guess I need it. And you’re right about Alan. He’d never let me live it down.”


“And that would never do.” Scott considered a moment, then picked up the phone. “Room service? This is Scott Tracy, in room 503. I appreciate it’s late, but I urgently need a few things…”




Virgil didn’t hear another sound until the door clicked shut and Scott tiptoed across the room, laughing to himself. He yawned and stretched, sitting up. As usual, Scott had been right. He felt a lot more human.


“What’s so funny?”


“Well, we’ll see in half an hour or so.” Scott threw something at him, and Virgil caught it reflexively.


“What’s this?”


“Dress code. Put it on now, or you’ll smudge your face later.”


Virgil held it up, and groaned in horror. “You have to be kidding. It looks like one of Tin-Tin’s more risqué outfits.”


“You’ll be one of the crowd. Trust me, Virgil.”


“But it’s…it’s…lacy! I can see right through it!”


Scott, busy mixing something particularly black, looked sideways at him. “Stop making a fuss. You should be glad it’s not fetish night.”


Virgil groaned again, but it seemed that this was unavoidable. He stripped off his shirt and replaced it with the flimsy black horror, flinching as he caught sight of himself in the mirror. “I’ve never worn anything this awful. But I still think we’ll be recognised.”


“Don’t worry, I’ve done this before. Nobody’s going to recognise either of us. Now shut your eyes and keep still. It’s been a while, and you’ll look silly if I get it crooked.”




“There. What do you think?”


Virgil opened his eyes expecting the worst, and that was more or less what he saw in the mirror. But it was straight, at least – and Scott was right. Nobody was going to recognise him. He wasn’t even sure he would recognise himself.


“Very, uh, black. Now, hand the brush over, and show me where you copied it from.”




“I’ve seen your artistic endeavours. This,” he indicated the careful black triangles above and below his eyes, “is copied. Now, fair’s fair. I’m going to paint you.”


Scott sighed in resignation, and turned the computer towards his brother, before shutting his eyes expectantly.


“Beginner’s guide to Gothdom – interesting website, this. Not so sure about the designs. Dull. Dull. Impractical. Way too girly, even for you – no, sorry, I was joking – ah, now that’s more like it.” Virgil put a hand over his brother’s eyes. “No way – I didn’t get to see beforehand. Turn round and put your shirt on – how come I’m the only one wearing transparent mesh?”


“It looks much better on your overdeveloped chest muscles.” Scott worked his way into something considerably more substantial, but still way outside what either of them would normally wear. Purple velvet, with silk trimmings which would have been outdated a hundred years earlier. Virgil firmly shut his mind to the knowledge that Scott had apparently once considered this a normal way to dress for a night out, picked up the paintbrush, and made his first deft stroke.


Painting a face wasn’t so very different to painting on canvas, he decided – and there was a major simplifying factor. Everything was black, the only subtleties being in the pattern. Virgil saw no reason why he should be the only one wearing lace.


He’d just finished when there was a tap at the door and a call of “It’s Alan.”


“Come in! You can open your eyes now, Scott.”


“So, are you coming…” Alan’s jaw dropped visibly as he caught sight of his brothers’ faces, and still further as he took in what they were wearing.


Scott had been right – this was most definitely worth it.


Alan himself had gone for a more discreet look – although this still involved copious amounts of black eyeliner and mascara. The most astonishing thing, though, was his hair colour.


“I don’t envy you when Grandma sees that,” Scott commented.


“It washes out.” Alan had more or less got his jaw back under control. “But I must take a photo of your face. That’s truly amazing.”


“What?” Scott turned and for the first time saw himself in the mirror. “Oh – well, I guess I asked for it. Virgil, if rescuing ever gets dull, you can always take up face painting.”


“I may do just that, next time Father throws one of his employees’ family parties.” Virgil surveyed his handiwork. “Although maybe I should use a few more colours.”


“I think a pack of grade school Goths would be fun,” Alan said.


“Their parents might not. Now, are we going or not?” Scott was putting on his coat at the same time, leaving no doubt as to what his own plans were.




“Maybe it’s full?” Virgil suggested forlornly as their cab pulled up outside a door notable for its lack of queue.


“This early, on a Wednesday? Not likely.” Alan bounced out of the cab and over to the pair of exceptionally large and well-dressed gentlemen lounging against the wall, who politely ignored him. “See?”


“Do we have to?” Virgil groaned. He could already hear the deep pounding of music – or at least he presumed it was music – and his imagination was running wild on just how loud it was going to be inside.


“Pretend it’s a hostile environment. You only have to survive for a couple of hours. I even brought your earplugs. Now let’s go have a good time – or at least pretend to.”




With Brains’ special earplugs, it wasn’t as bad as he’d anticipated. Virgil considered himself both gifted and well-educated when it came to advanced technology – but every one of Brains’ inventions was an instant reminder of just how wide the gulf between gifted and genius was. Brains had explained this one to him, several times. He still didn’t understand how it worked. It just did. The technology to switch rapidly from blocking loud noises to allowing quiet ones through had existed for decades, but Brains’ variant did both simultaneously, without distortion.


‘Pretend it’s a hostile environment.’ Right. Looking down the steps, he listed the equipment he’d like to have. Principally, nose plugs, and possibly also night vision goggles. Infra-red would have been overwhelmed by the sheer volume of overheated humanity gyrating on the dance floor. And this was allegedly a quiet time?


Alan didn’t appear to consider the environment hostile, or, at least, he was very good at faking it. Every inch the confident extrovert, he was headed down the steps, nodding to people he’d surely never met before. Virgil was once again forced to push aside his mental image of Alan as ‘just a kid, really.’


Scott, too, had headed straight down until he’d realised that Virgil was no longer alongside him. Now he’d turned and was considering him, still standing uncertainly at the top of the stairs. “If you hate it that much, you don’t have to stay. Get a cab back. I’ll tell Alan you felt sick. You’ve played along this far, he’ll stay off your back.”


Virgil was sorely tempted. But he didn’t have anything else to do tonight, and he’d slept just enough to take the edge off his tiredness. And this was a situation he knew nothing about – and Alan did. Scott might say Alan would let it drop, but Virgil knew better. When Scott flew with Alan, Alan was in charge, busy, and in an entirely different cabin. Virgil, on the other hand, spent hours in the same cockpit as Alan, with his younger brother bored and talkative in the passenger seat behind him. Virgil could only imagine the one-sided conversations he’d be subjected to for the next decade or so. It wasn’t worth it.


“I’ll be fine. You go relive your college days. I’ll prop up the bar.”


In fact, it wasn’t a bad place for people-watching. Virgil worked his way to the front, made himself popular with the barman by relaying information to the group next to him (‘they’re out of Russian vodka’) ordered a pint of mineral water, and hovered next to the stool he thought most likely to be vacated. He was right.


It took him a while to pick his brothers out in the crowd, especially since Alan no longer had his shock of blond hair. Eventually he found him, largely by listening for the sort of admiring female laughter which Alan always aimed for. He had a brunette on one arm and a – blue? - on the other, and appeared to be having a wonderful time. Virgil watched him for a while, amazed. Was that really supposed to be dancing? It did seem to be roughly what everyone else was doing, although there was a wide variety of styles. None of them made him inclined to leave his seat and join in.


Scott wasn’t involved in the dancing, having found himself a corner to lurk in. There was one person of indeterminate sex engaging him in earnest conversation, but he was missing his usual trail of adoring females. Maybe the lace had been a little too much. Then again, Scott had said he wanted to be anonymous tonight.


Virgil sipped on his water – he didn’t know whether he’d need to fly first thing tomorrow morning, so alcohol was out – and wiped the sweat from his forehead. Man, it was hot in here, and getting worse. That list of equipment for hostile environments should definitely have included a thermal suit – the sort that kept you cool. He’d never have admitted it out loud, but right now he was very glad for the well-ventilated nature of his shirt.


He was distracted from watching Scott, now chatting with a couple of guys whose haircuts screamed ‘military’, by Alan’s blue-haired friend arriving alongside him and holding a frantic, cross-purpose conversation with the barman about flavours of cocktail and how many she was buying for. Virgil sighed inwardly and went back to his role as interpreter. He was fairly sure this was one use of his earplugs that Brains hadn’t foreseen.


She finished her transaction (only one cocktail, but two slices of lemon) and leant against the bar next to him. “You have better hearing than I do. Thanks.”


“That’s okay.”


“Are you here alone?”


Oh, great. I’m being chatted up by a girl with blue hair who’s spent the past hour dancing with Alan. Virgil shook his head, and remembered to shout. “I’m with that guy down there in the middle. The one you were dancing with.”


She frowned. “He said he was with Lace Guy in the corner.”


“Yes, him too.”


Her eyebrows went up, but she struggled on with the conversation for just long enough to make her escape not seem too strange. Virgil didn’t see any particular need to enlighten her as to the nature of his relationship with Scott and Alan. Having her decide he wasn’t a suitable target for romance suited him just fine. She headed back out into a dance floor now even more crowded than before, implausible though that seemed, and Virgil went back to people-watching.


Alan was now barely visible, in the centre of a crowd all doing…something. Whatever it was, they seemed to be enjoying it. Personally, he felt that dancing should bear some relationship to the rhythm of the music, but he guessed he must just be old-fashioned.


He’d lost Scott completely, but eventually spotted him at the other end of the bar, also on the water. The military guys were still with him, and the gestures were unmistakeable. You could always trust Scott to find someone to talk flying with, even in a place like this.


“Hey, you’re new!”


Virgil resisted the urge to run for the door. The music he could take. He was used to the Stygian gloom by now – though grateful for the earplugs; he’d have hated to be trying to lipread in this much noise and this little light. But why, oh why, would any twenty-one year old girl clad in three inches of fishnet and a few scraps of velvet think that someone sitting alone nursing a glass of water, obviously years older than her, wanted to be chatted up? If those wretched triangles had some deeper significance, he’d have to think up some suitable payback for Scott.


“I’m with someone.”


“I don’t mind.” She’d had too much to drink, Virgil realised, doing his best not to look straight down the cleavage she was dangling temptingly in his face. Slipping away wouldn’t be a problem – but would mean giving up his seat. And he’d never get it back. The club was now packed. If they let anyone else in, the dancing might have to become synchronised, or nobody would be able to move at all.


“He’s with me.”


Virgil almost didn’t recognise the syrupy tone, and only a last-minute flash of ‘I painted that’ saved him from hauling off and landing a right hook on the jaw of the man possessively draping an arm round his shoulders.


“Time we went?”


“And how.”


“I’ll get Alan.” Scott shouldered his way back into the seething mass, as the girl turned her back on the pair of them. Her ‘what a waste’ would have been quite inaudible to anyone else.


Thank goodness, Alan also seemed to have had enough. There was almost no discussion before the pair of them headed for the steps to the exit, and Virgil gratefully climbed off the stool and pushed his way though the crowds to join them.


Outside the queue to get in was not inconsiderable, and as the three of them went out they were instantly replaced by three scantily clad young ladies. The bouncers were a lot less relaxed now – the queue was orderly, but noisy, and growing rapidly.


“One advantage of leaving early,” Scott was saying to Alan, as another cab pulled up in front of them to deposit four more wannabe Vogue-goers, “is that everyone else is still arriving.”




“No waiting for cabs.” Scott danced round the back of the vehicle, opened the far side door, and climbed in while the previous occupants were still paying.


“Hey! I’ve got clients waiting in the center of town!”


“What luck! We’re staying at the Hyatt.”


“Oh…” As usual, the name of the most prestigious hotel in town did the trick. “Of course, sir. That’s right on my way.”


As they pulled up outside the hotel, Scott prodded their youngest brother. “Hey, Alan! No dozing off now.”


Alan glared. “I wasn’t asleep.”


“Of course you weren’t. Anyway, that was a good choice. Nice place.”


“Friendly,” Virgil contributed. “Pleasant atmosphere.”


“We’ll show you what a real Goth club is like when you’re a little older, but that one was very tame. Just what we needed for some relaxation.”


“Yes,” Virgil added, struggling to keep a straight face. “Maybe you should take Father, if he’s feeling better tomorrow.” He had to stop there, before hysteria got the better of him. Scott was paying, leaning forward in a way Virgil was almost sure was to keep his face out of Alan’s line of sight, and he took the only other available option, heading hurriedly up the front steps towards the lobby. From the alacrity with which Scott followed him, he was fairly sure he had been right.


“Night, then.” Alan turned right as they exited the elevator, Virgil and Scott stopped at their door, and as he swiped the card through the lock Virgil became aware that Scott was bent almost double and struggling to breathe.


He threw the door open, grabbed Scott by the collar, dragged him through the door and kicked it shut behind them.


“Couldn’t you have waited twenty seconds? He would have heard you!”


Scott waved both hands helplessly, and collapsed on the bed, laughing too hard to speak, and Virgil gave up on his own self-control, sat down beside him, and joined his brother in helpless hysterics.


It was several minutes until he would have even considered trying to speak, and Scott took even longer to calm down.


“Oh, man, that was classic. Do you think he bought it?”


“I think so.” Virgil wrapped his arms around aching ribs. “I couldn’t look at his face. ‘Tame’ – Scott, whatever did you get up to at college?”


Even under the makeup, the flush was visible. “Well…”


“You never did that before, did you? I can’t believe I thought you were an old hand!”


“Not quite right. A bunch of us went to a Goth club at college once, more or less by mistake.” He smiled ruefully. “It wasn’t my scene then, either. Although it’s not nearly so bad with earplugs.”


“You do realise Alan will expect us to take him somewhere hardcore now?”


“I plan not to have the opportunity for a long, long time.”


“I’m with you on that.” Virgil surveyed his brother, flat on his back and eyes closed. “Aren’t you going to change for bed?”




Well, each to their own, Virgil thought as he got ready. Personally, he never slept properly in his clothes.


He’d made it as far as cleaning his teeth before a final, unpleasant thought hit. Virgil stuck his head out through the bathroom door and considered the small pile of items on the shelf in front of the mirror. No, he hadn’t remembered wrong. Something rather important was missing.


“Uh – Scott?”


His brother opened one sleepy, black lace-outlined eye. “Yes?”


“How were you planning to take this makeup off?”