10

That evening, Jeff Tracy called his sons to the office. They filtered in haphazardly, Scott first (punctual as ever), followed a few minutes later by Virgil, who came in wiping motor oil off his hands with a rag (he'd been down at the marina, attending to the yacht and speed boat). Next John showed up, Cindy's laptop tucked beneath one arm. There was another sticky note attached to its case.

Gordon and Alan came in together, slightly late, looking flushed and sneaky. Scott gave them a long, level stare, silently promising a pair of matching broken necks if they'd unleashed more devilment in his direction. He supposed he'd find out, probably much sooner than he wanted.

When all were present, Jeff surprised his five sons by bidding them make themselves comfortable, and keying shut the office doors. Mystified, they looked at one another for cues, then did a laughably poor job of trying to appear relaxed; sitting at the edge of their seats, or standing, birch-stick straight, against the paneled walls.

"Boys," Jeff began, returning to his desk. "I need to speak to you. With you." He started to take a seat behind that great island of polished tropical wood, then changed his mind, came out front, and leaned against the desk's edge, instead.

"I... want to..."

He stopped, shook his head with a rueful little laugh, and tried again. "Boys, when I first brought you to the island, after Brains designed and built the Thunderbirds, and my dream was just a few pilots short of being realized..., it never occurred to me to ask whether you wanted to leave everything and bring all this to life. Let's be honest," he raked a hand through his grey hair, brown eyes drifting from one confused face to another. "I didn't really care. You were my sons; employees, with a few special privileges. I threw you into this, risked your lives, and never asked what you thought, or wanted. Well... recent events have made me take a good, hard look at myself, and what I've seen... I haven't much liked."

Clearly nervous, their father rubbed his hands together. Then, after a deep breath, he pushed on. "So, now I'm asking, if it isn't too late..., do you want to keep flying for me, or would you like to go back to what you were doing before? I promise, you won't be cut off, whatever choice you make. Scott, if you want to return to the Air Force, I have more than enough friends among the Joint Chiefs of Staff to get you reinstated, with full rank and back pay. Virgil, the land in Wyoming, Kansas and Colorado is yours. Papers are already drawn up. Your grandfather would have wanted it that way, and I know that's where your heart is... for a couple of reasons." For a moment there, a brief mischievous sparkle had appeared in Jeff's eyes. Then he grew serious again, and turned his attention to John,cold and remote as a marble Apollo.

"John... I think, in some ways, you and I are the most alike, but the least compatible. Whatever you decide to do there, if you want it, a new space station will be built. You can go back to college and finish that PhD, if you like, or join me in the corporation. You'd make a hell of a Research and Development officer. Up to you, son."

Now his attention shifted to Alan and Gordon, seated together by the fireplace. He smiled a little.

"You two still have school to finish, which no doubt thrills you to no end." Their soggy-coffee-ground enthusiasm left little doubt where the youngest Tracys stood on the education issue. Jeff went on, saying, "But afterward, the possibilities are what you choose to make of them. Alan, I know what cars mean to you, and I'll buy whatever it is you want to drive... after you turn eighteen, and have a two-year safe driving record." The baby-faced blond groaned, slouching crossly back in his seat. This wasn't what he'd visualized when 'Santa-Dad' started handing out the presents.

"Gordon...," Jeff, aware that this was perhaps his riskiest offer, gazed very directly into his second-youngest son's hazel eyes. "You're free to go. You can return to Europe, to the swim team, but I'll have you guarded, night and day, by as many operatives as I can post in one spot at one time. Given what's happened this month...," (Had it been only three and a half weeks? To Jeff, it had seemed like a heart-clutching eternity of fighting and desperation.) "...What's happened to you, I've got to keep you under surveillance. The most I can promise is that you won't see them often, but they'll be there, as will I, if you need me. Other than that, you can go on, with my blessings, to win many more medals. I'll be cheering for you... For all of you"

There. He'd said it, freeing his sons to follow their own desires, whatever the personal cost. Now, his request.

"I do hope, however, that at least a few of you might choose to stay. International Rescue will go on, one way or another, but I must admit... What we've built together won't be the same without you; your courage, your heart and your strength. The Birds don't fly without the right men at the stick. And... um, I've already found them." He gave a short, gusty sigh, and looked around at the boys. Waiting.

They glanced at one another, shifting stance uncomfortably. Scott spoke first, his blue-violet eyes deadly serious.

"Well... I can't speak for the rest, Sir, but I've got nothing more important to do. The Air Force was a career. This is a mission, and I'm proud to be a part of it. Thunderbird 1 still has a pilot."

Virgil nodded soberly, saying,

"I'll need the odd leave time to keep the ranch and farms in shape... and, uh, attend to a few other things... but I can't imagine ever turning my back on any of you, or Thunderbird 2, either. So tear up the want ad."

John, his face completely impassive, said simply,

"I'm in."

Alan hesitated, looking at Gordon, then ventured,

"You're kidding, right? Saving people is, like, totally cool. What else am I gonna do at fourteen? Drive a race car? When Thunderbird 3 is still up for grabs? Not even! I mean, who else is gonna let a couple of kids drive big, powerful machines and carry pistols? Right, Gordon?"

The auburn-haired boy glanced at Alan, whose expression was almost pleading. He thought of TinTin, and the mysterious assault she didn't seem able to discuss. Well..., someone had to keep those two out of trouble...

"I'll need time to go to trainin'..., swim meets, an' the like." He told his father. "No panic about the schoolin', though. That you can keep, an' welcome to it."

Jeff Tracy laughed aloud, more pleased than words could express.

"I guess Thunderbirds are go, then. Welcome aboard."

They shook hands on it, Jeff fetching his special bottle out of the locked safe to toast the rebirth of International Rescue. Glasses were raised, the molten lightning tossed back (not without some coughing and choking on Alan's part), and pledges made.

Jeff was just about to pour another round, when a sudden, beeping alarm went off. An alert. 5 had detected a serious cry for help, somewhere in the Middle East. As their father called up the details, giving his sons their marching orders, Gordon turned to Alan.

"Is it always like this, around here?" He asked, very quietly.

Alan opened his mouth to reply, then shut it again. Thinking for a second, he grinned and said,

"Yeah... pretty much. You get used to it."

Then, it was time to go.