Family ties

Author's note: this story is the third in my sequence of Aftershock/ English symphony and continues on immediately after the end of the latter. I have given it a PG13 rating because of the violence in the last chapter. All dates and ages are based on Chris Bentley's Complete book of Thunderbirds. The Hood's knowledge of the Tracy family is based on the way he is portrayed in the John Theydon novels.

A final word: I really get a kick out of receiving your reviews – they're the pay-off for all the work I have put in to a story. But for the benefit of other readers, please try not to give the end of this story away when you review it.

I acknowledge Carlton plc as the copyright holders of the Thunderbirds characters and my gratitude as usual goes to Gerry Anderson and his team for creating them and giving us all so much pleasure.

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1. Brothers

The airport arrivals hall was busy, as such places always are, when Virgil and Amanda finally emerged from Customs, with Virgil pushing a heavily laden trolley.

"Is someone coming to meet us?" questioned Amanda.

"Yes," replied Virgil, "but I'm not sure who – it depends whether the guys are out on a call or not."

Then Virgil heard a familiar voice. "Hey, little brother! Over here!"

"Scott!" with a yell that must have been heard the other end of the hall, Virgil let go of the trolley and dashed over to the barrier. Amanda saw her fiancé being embraced by a taller edition of himself, with slightly darker hair. She pushed the trolley towards them, at the same time noticing a beautiful, dark-skinned girl, several inches taller than herself, who was standing next to Scott, regarding the brothers with an affectionate expression.

Virgil let go of his brother and turned to Amanda. "Amanda, this is my brother Scott, and his wife Elizabeth. Scott, this is my fiancée, Amanda."

Scott took Amanda's hand. "So you're the one brave enough to take on my kid brother are you? Do you really know what you're letting yourself in for?"

She smiled at him. "Well, maybe during my visit you can tell me what I need to know."

"Yes, and if he can't think of anything, I'm sure he can make it up" said Virgil, grinning.

Amanda found herself being led towards a sleek executive jet, where the boys quickly stowed the luggage in the hold. As the group boarded the plane. Scott turned towards the cockpit and Virgil glanced after him, then looked back towards Amanda, hesitating. She smiled at him. "You can't wait to get your hands on the controls of a plane, can you? Go on then."

"You don't mind?"

She shook her head, smiling. "No, it will give Elizabeth and I the chance for a chat."

Soon the plane was in the air and heading for Tracy Island. Amanda turned to her companion. "So what's it like, being married to International Rescue?"

Elizabeth gave her an appraising glance. "Sister, that's exactly what it's like! With these boys it's family first, the organisation second, and partners third." She glanced towards the door of the cockpit and smiled to herself. "Not that I'm complaining, mind you. Coming third with a man like Scott beats coming first with many men I've known. These boys have a zest for life that is infectious – it's as if their work makes them appreciate that life is so precious that you don't waste a minute of it. Things are certainly never dull on Tracy island!"

"Yes." replied Amanda, "I know what you mean. Watching Virgil recover from his injuries was like watching someone coming awake after a long sleep."

"You certainly did a good job with him there. We were all really worried about him – especially Scott. Those two are very close. Don't let their teasing fool you – they can be fiercely protective when needed. Their grandmother and I both protested when Jeff sent Virgil to England – it seemed a very unfeeling thing to do, even if it was done with the best of intentions. But Jeff's word is law on the island and the boys never think of questioning it"

Amanda smiled. "Well, from my point of view, I'm glad he did."

Just then the door of the cockpit opened. Scott emerged and approached Amanda. "We're coming up on the island now, and as my little brother assures me he still remembers how to land a plane, I thought you might like to sit in the cockpit so you can get the best view."

Amanda entered the cockpit and sat down in the empty seat. She looked out over a brilliant blue sea to a small, craggy island in the distance.

Virgil spoke into the radio. "This is Tracy Flier One requesting clearance to land."

A gruff voice answered. "Tracy Island to TF One. Permission granted. Welcome home, son."

"Thanks, Dad. It's good to be back. See you in a few minutes. TF One out."

As the aircraft came in over the island, Amanda had a quick view of sandy beaches, the blue of a swimming pool, and a modern looking house nestling against a cliff wall, as Virgil lined them up on a runway that ran from the edge of the sea to end against a cliff wall. She supposed that on a small island the siting of a runway must have been fairly restricted. but was relieved when the small craft came to a halt well short of such a forbidding barrier. She pointed to a hangar to one side of the runway. "Is that where you keep your Thunderbird machines?" she asked.

Virgil smiled, "No, they're all hidden away. That's the 'public' hangar, where we keep our ordinary planes, like this one."

As they made their way to the main cabin, Elizabeth was looking out of the window. "Looks like your brothers are here to welcome you home, Virgil."

"No," said Virgil, grinning, "they've just come to give you a hand with your shopping."

She punched his arm. "Virgil, that's unfair!" She turned to Amanda to explain. "When I first arrived here I'd lost all my belongings, so I had to buy a lot of new stuff, and these two will never let me forget it!"

As Scott opened the door, Virgil looked down at the group waiting below. "Hey, John's still here! I thought he was due up on the station last week."

"Alan said he could stay a few days longer as you were due home. I think he wanted to meet Amanda. We're taking him back tomorrow morning." Scott gave his brother a push. "Go on, you go first."

As Virgil reached the bottom of the steps, a slim, dark figure rushed forwards, calling his name. Virgil picked her up and whirled her round. "Tin Tin! So you've forgiven me for snapping at you then, honey?"

"Of course I have, silly! I'd forgiven you that before you left home."

Virgil was suddenly conscious that Amanda was standing just behind him. He put Tin Tin down and turned. "Amanda, this is Tin Tin Kyrano. Tin Tin, this is Amanda."

The girls shook hands, then Tin Tin said "Are you really Annabelle Lee? I must have read all your books! I've been so looking forward to meeting you." and any unease Amanda might have felt towards this petite girl quickly evaporated.

Virgil felt himself being grabbed from behind. "Don't brothers get introduced as well?" said Gordon's voice. Virgil then found himself enveloped in a hug on both sides.

"Hey!" he protested, laughing, " I've just finished recovering from a set of cracked ribs – I don't need any more!" He turned towards Amanda, one arm still round each brother. "Amanda, this funny looking one is my kid brother, Gordon, and the one that looks like a pop-star is my big brother John."

After greetings had been exchanged, Scott said "Why don't you two head up towards the house – we'll bring the luggage up later."

Virgil and Amanda left the other boys loading their luggage into the back of a small electric cart and walked back down the runway and around the base of the mountain that formed the centre of the island. They passed a swimming pool and climbed a curving flight of steps towards a modern house that stood with one side against the rock wall.

At the top of the stairs a grey-haired man who bore a resemblance to both Scott and Virgil held out his hand. "Welcome to my home, Lady Amanda. I'm Jeff Tracy."

Amanda shook the offered hand. "Just 'Amanda', please Mr Tracy. I don't use my title" she said, smiling.

"Fine, Amanda it is, then. But you must call me Jeff."

An older woman stepped forward. "And I'm Jeff's mother, but please call me Grandma – everyone else does."

An older man with oriental features bowed low, his hands folded together. "My name is Kyrano. You may have already met my daughter at the landing strip. I will be serving refreshments shortly. Would you prefer coffee, Indian or Earl Grey tea?"

"Earl Grey would be lovely, thank you."

Virgil took Amanda by the hand. "Now you've met everyone here, there's someone else I want you to see. Come with me while the boys are still bringing the luggage." He led Amanda along a corridor and down some stairs, then pushed open a door. The room was chaotic – half built, or half dismantled pieces of equipment piled up on benches, chairs and in corners. In the centre of the room stood a young man wearing thick, blue-rimmed glasses with a distracted expression. He looked up. "Ah, V-virgil, you haven't s-seen my v-voltmeter have you?"

Virgil looked at him "You've got it clipped to your waist, Brains."

Brains looked down and unclipped the instrument.

"Brains," said Virgil, "this is Amanda. She's here on a visit."

"Oh, er, hallo, er, miss" said Brains, then looked at Virgil again. "I just can't seem to get this circuit right. It keeps shorting out on me."

Virgil grinned. "I'll be back to give you a hand later. I'm just taking Amanda down to the hangar." He led Amanda through to another, even untidier, room, and pressed a concealed switch. A bookcase swung away from the wall to reveal a passageway. From the look of the walls, Amanda guessed they were now walking through the natural rock of the hillside.

She turned to Virgil "Was that who you wanted me to meet? He didn't seem very pleased to see you"

Virgil laughed, "No, Brains is a genius, and without him International Rescue wouldn't exist, but when he's working on a new project he's not always on the same planet as the rest of us. He probably doesn't even remember I've been away. No," he said, as he pushed open a door at the end of the corridor, "this was what I wanted to show you. Hold on while I get the lights."

He pulled a switch and Amanda gasped. She found herself standing on a balcony in a vast cavern. Below her, a huge, green craft stood on stilts, its tail nearest to her and its nose towards a large metal door. The craft's centre was hollowed out, and a series of containers that looked as if they would fit in the empty section, stretched away to her right.

"Thunderbird 2!" exclaimed Virgil. "Isn't she a beauty?"

"You fly that?" said Amanda. "It's enormous!"

"Yes" said Virgil, "she's the largest, fastest thing in the sky after Thunderbird 1. Scott is faster but my baby has to carry all the equipment. The rescue can't start till we get there!"

Amanda smiled at the pride evident in his voice, then looked around the cavern. "This place is huge. Is it a natural formation?"

Virgil shook his head, "No, it's part natural, created by an air pocket in the magma chamber of the volcano that formed this island. The rest was carved out by the American government. This whole island used to be a base for Strategic Air Command in the twentieth century 'Cold war'. This hangar once housed a fleet of bombers, and Thunderbirds 1 and 3 are in old missile silos. The whole place was abandoned at the end of the last century, then Dad got to hear about it when he was planning International Rescue and bought it. I think he quite likes the irony of something that was created to threaten life now being used to save it."

Just then they heard footsteps in the corridor and turned as Gordon came out onto the balcony. "There you are! I told the others you'd be showing Amanda the other lady in your life!" He looked over the balcony at the mighty craft. "Well, you can see for yourself, bro, I've been looking after her for you. Not a scratch on her."

"And no whoopee cushions on the seat?" said Virgil, suspiciously.

Gordon held up his hand, "Brother's honour. I did think of tying a big bow round her nose to welcome you home, but Tin Tin. didn't have enough hair-ribbons." He grinned at Virgil, then looked serious. "I'll go over the maintenance schedules with you later, and then I can get back to where I belong – underwater! Right, come on, tea's ready upstairs, and if we don't hurry, Scott will have grabbed all the cakes!"

After tea, Virgil spent the rest of the afternoon giving Amanda a tour of the house and island. Dusk was falling as they returned along the beach. There seemed to be a lot of activity down by the pool, and a tantalising smell of cooking hung in the air. "We were wondering when you two would turn up" said Gordon, grinning. "we'd decided to celebrate your homecoming with a barbecue, but thought we might have to start without you."

Brains looked up from his chair. "Virgil! You're back!"

Virgil smiled, "Yes, Brains, I got back this afternoon. This is my fiancée, Amanda. She'll be staying with us for a couple of weeks." Brains shook Amanda's hand, but seemed to have no recollection of their previous meeting.

Amanda found herself eating a delicious meal, sitting next to Virgil in a swing chair and watching the stars come out above her. 'Yes', she thought, 'I could definitely get to like this lifestyle'.

After supper, Tin Tin showed her to the poolside wash-room, so she could clean up. As she emerged she could hear the strains of Gershwin's Summertime echoing across the pool. She looked round to see where it was coming from and realised Gordon was playing a harmonica. As she sat back down next to Virgil the tune finished and she applauded. "That was beautiful, Gordon – have you been playing long?"

"Nearly ten years now. I like the sound of the harmonica. Besides," he gave a sly grin towards Virgil, "it's easier to fit in a submarine than a grand piano!"

Hearing footsteps, Amanda turned to see Scott, who had been taking some of the dirty dishes up to the house, returning. To her surprise he was carrying a guitar. "Are you all musical?" she asked.

"Well," said Virgil with a grin, "all but Gordon, anyway."

A cushion came flying across the terrace. Virgil caught it and with a flick of his wrist sent it spinning back towards Gordon. Amanda blinked. She was still not used to the interactions between these Tracy men. Their grandmother, however, was not so impressed. "Boys!" she said sharply. "Remember we have a guest!"

"Sorry, Grandma," chorused Virgil and Gordon, then Virgil leaned back, stretching luxuriously, "Oh, but I've missed all this!"

"What?" queried Gordon, "having cushions thrown at you? You should have said – we could have flown over Lady Penelope's place and dropped a whole pod-load on you!"

As the laughter died down, Scott started to play his guitar. Amanda recognised the tune 'Cavatina'. When he finished, she noticed Elizabeth reach up and stroke the back of his neck. In return he turned his head and kissed her hand. It seemed to be a very intimate gesture, but nobody else seemed to notice.

She looked at the stars above her and turned to Virgil. "Can you see your space station from here?"

Virgil shook his head, "No, it's specially painted so it doesn't show up, but John can show you where it is."

John came over and knelt beside their chair. "You see that palm tree down on the beach?" he said, pointing. "And just to the right of it, a group of stars in a triangle? Thunderbird 5 is just below the bottom corner of the triangle."

She looked at this quiet young man, so different from his brothers. "Don't you get lonely up there for weeks on end?"

He shook his head. "Not when I have the whole world to listen to. I can hear or watch any tv or radio programme in the world, and of course there are always the stars to look at. I never tire of that."

Scott waited until John had resumed his seat, then looked across at Gordon. "You ready for this?" and started playing a series of chords on his guitar. Gordon responded with the melody, and the Beatles song And I love her drifted out into the night.

When the music finished, Jeff spoke. "John, Scott, don't forget you've got an early start in the morning." He turned to Virgil. "You can sleep in and get over your jet-lag. You'll take back officially from Gordon tomorrow afternoon."

"F.A.B. Dad," they responded, and most of the party stood up, calling their 'goodnights' as they made their way up the stairs to the house.

Virgil turned to Amanda. "So, do you think you'd like to live here with us?"

"Virgil, this is paradise!" She paused, "Mind you, I was a bit worried when I saw Tin Tin greet you this afternoon. I'm glad you had told me she was Alan's girlfriend, or I might have thought I had a rival there!"

Virgil looked at her earnestly. "To be honest, I was in love with her at one time, but then she was the only female apart from Grandma within a 500 mile radius. Not that it would have done me any good – she's never looked at anyone but Alan."

"So you don't love her now?"

"Oh, we all love her." said Virgil, with the air of someone stating the obvious. "There isn't one of us who wouldn't crawl through fire for her." he paused, glancing at Amanda "and why are you looking at me like that?"

"Sorry", said Amanda, shaking her head and smiling, "I was just reminding myself that when you say something like that you might not be talking metaphorically!"

"So you're not jealous of Tin Tin?"

"No" she said, with a smile, "from the way you've been talking today I think I've got more reason to be jealous of Thunderbird 2!"

Laughing and holding hands, they made their way up the stairs to the house.