An edited reunion.

HOMECOMING

1

Tracy Island was in sight, at last; a lush green jewel in the vast Pacific, dominated by an ancient volcano whose dark crags kept watch over a mighty secret. Not that the pilot of Thunderbird 1 was much concerned about secrets, just then. Blue eyes tensely narrowed, Scott Tracy circled the island in a low holding pattern, watching Thunderbird 2's slow, labored approach. His mind was racing, considering options for every possible scenario.

If there was another attack... If the rising wind nudged the big cargo lifter out of line with the runway... If Virgil somehow overshot, or came in too low... Anxiously, Scott hit the comm,

"Virge, watch your attitude," he said sharply, "You're a little steep. Might want to get her nose up and add some power."

His younger brother replied drily, a touch exasperated,

"Thanks, Scott. Really. I'll keep that in mind."

In the cockpit of Thunderbird 2, Virgil Tracy lined up with the cliff side runway, giving his young co-pilot occasional, muttered instructions. They had so very little steering rocket left, versus a gusty, screaming wind that was the last vestige of Tropical Storm Miguel. Had to get this right the first time, Virgil knew; they wouldn't be able to adjust course for a second pass, and the short runway dead-ended in a hangar carved from the living rock. There was absolutely no margin for error. Setting his jaw, Virgil concentrated fiercely on keeping his guidance lights green, following the beacon straight down the line. Gordon had another worry altogether, having their last, unscheduled thump-down still rather on his mind.

"Virgil...?" The auburn-haired boy ventured.

"Yeah," Virgil grunted,brown eyes riveted to his instruments. Flaps down... nose up... wheels down and locked... request permission to land...

"What 're we to do... if we fall short, I mean?"

The pilot snorted. "Plan 13: Roll down the window, stick your arm out, and flap," he replied.

It wasn't that funny, but for some reason... probably breaking-point tension and lack of sleep... it tickled the hell out of Gordon. He cracked up, which set Virgil off. Too distracted now to mind his instruments, Virgil brought Thunderbird 2 in by feel alone, setting her down as gently as a leaf skimming the surface of a pool.

"B-beautiful, Virgil!" Brains enthused, when 2 finally rolled to a stop, her broad green nose pushing just within the open hangar doors. "You, ah... you've never d- done better." He had absolutely no clue why the pilot was laughing so hard, nor what he meant by,

"Got an extra aerodynamic boost at the end, there, Brains. New landing procedure." Then, more tiredly, "Putting this girl to bed and coming on in, Base. We'll see you inside."

"Ah..., FAB, V- Virgil. Good to have you h- home."

Meanwhile, breathing a deep sigh of relief, Scott increased his altitude to five thousand feet, switched to vertical flight mode, and prepared to bring his own Bird in. She pivoted smoothly in midair, his gimbal-mounted seat remaining steady while the great silver rocket re-oriented herself around him. The island disappeared from view, replaced by a sky as pure and cloudless a blue as he'd ever seen.

"Island Base from Thunderbird 1. Request permission to land, Brains."

"A- absolutely, Scott. Welcome, ah... welcome back!"

"Roger that, Buddy," The oldest of the Tracy brothers responded, smiling warmly.

Far below him, the pool drained explosively, then rumbled out of sight beneath the mansion. Unlike Virgil, he was coming in backward, guided by beacon, threading Thunderbird 1 into her hangar through a relatively small opening in the pool deck. Not quite as difficult as landing Thunderbird 3, but close.

He forgot everything else but the heads-up display, keeping the blinking dot that represented 1 within its narrow targeting circle through a hundred instinctive, feather-light steering adjustments. The navigational guidance system murmured softly in his ear,

"Five thousand feet... four-thousand, five hundred feet... four thousand feet..." And so on, keeping Scott apprised of his altitude.

She touched down at last with a bass thud, the screaming roar of her engines magnified to ear-shredding levels inside the confines of the basalt and steel hangar bay. Overhead, the pool slid back into place, shutting out sunlight and concealing his Bird's lair. And all at once, about ten-thousand metric tonnes of pressure lifted off of Scott's heart. Home safe, all of them; mission accomplished. He shut her down, then sat for a moment in vibrating darkness, eyes closed, listening to the click and buzz of his instruments, the lowering grumble of the engines. Once or twice he'd actually fallen asleep that way, feeling Thunderbird 1 settle herself around him as the maintenance robots closed in and took over. Not this time, though. This time, he had a very, very important rendezvous to keep.

Out in the hangar bay, Cindy waited impatiently, unable to stop a certain amount of hyperactive bouncing.

'He's back, he's back, he's back...!' She wasn't playing any games; she loved Scott, she knew it, wanted him to know it, and couldn't wait to see him again.

Brains had let her in, having got over most of his shyness and suspicion by now. After all, you could hardly repel two separate invasions with someone, and not extend them at least a little trust. So, she was there on the catwalk, standing well out of the blast radius, when Thunderbird 1 came roaring down like a giant silver piston thumping into its chamber. She watched, open-mouthed, as the great rocket descended by crawler deeper into the bay, thenwas locked into place. A set of enormous mechanical access gantries unfolded from the hangar walls, connecting to the sleek craft with hoses and wires, and... Cindy squinted just a little, leaning out over the guard rail. Robots? They scuttled across the hangar bay, on and under the gantries, began swarming the Bird in waves. It was like a fast-forward nature video, the kind where ants reduce a dead animal to mere bones in seconds. Only, the robots appeared to be maintaining the craft, not consuming her.

As the engines' thunder died to a low grumble, then a steamy hiss, the Bird was polished, upgraded, repainted and refueled. Cindy looked on, amazed. Technology like that existed nowhere else on Earth, and there were many, many people out there who would kill, literally, to possess even a fraction of it. International Rescue, in fighting to save those who otherwise would have perished, had set themselves up as a target for those who'd use their technology to dominate, extort and control.

She felt a cold breath of premonition just then, what her mom would have called "someone walking over her grave". Could they defend a secret like that forever? Cindy hugged herself, willing the handsome, brave, all- important young man in that monster of technology to hurry the hell up!

It seemed to take forever, but at last Thunderbird 1's outer hatch slid open. A walkway extended itself from the boarding platform to the hatch, and Scott stepped forth, looking bone-weary, and slightly rumpled. Spotting her, he smiled, then made a swift, 'stay back' motion with both hands. It being too noisy in the hangar for talk, he pointed around at the ceiling and walls, indicating the electric eyes and humming laser weaponry that guarded Thunderbird 1.

Right. She could wait a few more seconds, Cindy supposed, if it meant avoiding a down-to-the-bone, permanent tan. Then Scott crossed the last few feet, and Cindy literally leapt into his arms, laughing, crying and kissing everything she could reach. Quite beyond speech, Cindy was unable to make her declaration in words. Instead, she gave him three quick kisses in rapid succession, over and over, trusting that he'd get the message. He did.