The trip back to the house seemed lighting swift, and as black with threat as a funnel cloud. Alan rode behind Brains on one of the hover sleds, while Gordon sat behind Virgil, the lot of them whipping swiftly in and out among huge, dark trees.

Scott led the way down-slope, grim, tight-lipped and silent. He'd done nothing beyond issue a few grunted orders, yet the set of his jaw, and the volcanic spark in his blue eyes, telegraphed his mood better than shouting would have.

Perhaps ten minutes later, they were hustled off the sleds and into Jeff's office, where John had been minding the desk. Gordon hadn't much time to look around before the fireworks got started, noticing little more than Asian artwork, colorful rugs and massive wooden furniture. There were portraits, too, of his three oldest brothers and a beautiful blonde whom he vaguely recognized.

Jeff, himself, was still in Japan, smoothing over an insult to the Japanese Space Agency, whose contracts with Tracy Aerospace were worth hundreds of billions of Yen. He hadn't heard of the 'break in' yet, and as far as Scott was concerned, he never needed to. Internal matter, so to speak, but a damn sure important one.

With a short, sharp gesture, Scott indicated that the boys should take a seat on one of the large leather couches. Then, he turned and shut the double doors.

John had risen to his feet, coming around the ornate desk to join Virgil, Brains and the two boys. He held up a hand as Scott returned to the group.

"Before you let go with both barrels, Scott, I have something to say."

His older brother nodded, briefly.

"Fire away, but keep it short, John. We've got a lot to cover."

"With all due respect," John continued, his classically chiseled face remote and calm, "This was entirely foreseeable. They're boys. They're going to explore; and it was damn shortsighted of father not to bring them in on all this...," he gestured around at the office, with its high-tech monitor and portrait comms, "...before they figured it out for themselves and pulled exactly this kind of stupid-ass stunt."

Alan took deep offense at being called stupid, but for the moment all he did was clench his fists and stare at the Persian rug. He knew for a fact that he'd landed himself in trouble, again; only question was, how deep? ...and how would he later get back at them all?

Scott waved John's statement aside, shaking his head.

"Father's actions are not on trial, here..."

"Neither are Gordon or Alan," John pointed out, sounding almost bored. "All I'm saying is that they did what kids will do, given that sort of window."

Scott, fists at his hips, eyes on the floor, nodded slowly.

"Point taken, John, but that doesn't lessen the sheer risky, dumb carelessness of..."

"Scott," Gordon interrupted suddenly, fighting to keep his voice steady. He hardly knew these men, his brothers (and 'Brains' not at all), but he had to put his bit in, anyway. "... it wasn't Alan's doin', really. I had questions about th' noises, an'..." He glanced over at Virgil, who looked downcast and doubtful, "...some things that were said, an' I kept on at him till he showed me th' hangar. I'm sorry. Truly. I didn' intend to cause such a bother."

Scott gazed at him, his stare direct and hard, but Gordon never wavered. He knew very well that with this one lie, he risked throwing away all the trust, the love and welcome he'd been shown over the last week... but Alan had borne more than enough trouble, for his sake. Time to return the favor.

Scott shifted his gaze to the youngest Tracy.

"Is that the truth?" He asked.

Alan didn't quite know what to say. That Gordon was a friend, he'd accepted; that his brother would step up to the plate like this, trying to help him out, the younger boy found utterly confusing... and undeserved. He took a deep breath, looked over at Gordon, then shook his head.

"No. It was me, Scott. I was stupid, and I dragged Gordon in, too. My bad."

Scott nodded, again. He'd thought as much. Before he could pronounce sentence, though, Virgil leaned forward, clearing his throat for attention.

"Scott..., cut 'em some slack, please," said the husky, dark-haired young man. "They were skylarking, and got caught. No real harm done, is there? Remember the time Grandma caught you and me with Grandad's cigarettes, behind the stables?"

"She tanned our hides," Scott reminded him, folding his arms upon his chest. "We could've set fire to the stable, and you're up to a pack a day. Even little things have repercussions, Virgil. I'm not going to sugar-coat what they did, or what could've happened. It was dangerous, it was stupid, and it was wrong."

Ordinarily, John would have grown tired of arguing by now, and wandered off with a 'whatever' shrug. Not that he lacked will power, precisely, but he was long accustomed to letting Scott run things. Now, though, backed by Virgil, and with a new brother tossed into the mix, he stuck to his guns.

"Right. So, let's take a look at what happened, then. A couple of kids penetrated our defenses, Scott, getting close enough to Thunderbird 2 to have taken pictures, or launched a weapon, and then got out again. If they'd been enemy operatives, with a pick-up plan, we'd have been royally screwed. Maybe, instead of losing our heads, we should be grateful that it was only Gordon and Alan, and upgrade our damn security, starting with better scanning reports and some kind of ID chip tracking."

"A- and if I may, ah... may c- cut in, G- Gentlemen...?" Brains interrupted, glasses flashing reflected lamp-light as he looked around at the gathered others, "I w- would strongly recommend c- coming clean with the, ah... the boys, B- both of them. Whether th- they participate in missions or n- not, they need enough information to, ah... to defend themselves, and th- this organization, from the ignorance, c- curiosity or m- malice of others."

Scott looked from one determined face to another. Then, slowly, he relented.

"Okay. I've got no problem with the security ideas, and as far as opening up the files to the boys is concerned, cat's out of the bag and long over the horizon, anyhow." Turning to face his youngest brothers, he went on,

"Gordon, maybe I misjudged you. I know what I wanted to believe... But, you're new, and you don't know what goes on around here, or why, so I'll try to explain. This isn't a game. We use illegal high technology and stolen information to sneak in under WorldGov's nose and save lives. Yeah..., we're breaking the law, violating borders and breaching security systems, risking our necks when someone's trapped with no other hope of rescue. It's what we do. And, yeah..., one of these days, very possibly, one of us is gonna get hurt in the line of duty, or captured. Maybe me, or John... or Virgil. I dunno. But that's a risk we've accepted, and that you'll have to accept, too, if you decide to come in on this. But, we sure as hell don't need to borrow trouble, pulling stupid crap like sneaking into a hangar!"

Having said his piece, Scott lifted his arms a bit, then let them drop to his sides, the gesture one of resignation.

"Yeah. I agree with John. We should have told you earlier, and I'm sorry we didn't. But, what I need to know now is; how well can you two keep a secret?"

Gordon looked over at his younger brother, then back at Scott.

"To th' grave," he said, meaning it. "Both of us. And if th' lot of you are putting your tails on th' line, we'll pin ours up right alongside."

Scott smiled, and the tension in the room, thick and cold as roadside slush thirty seconds before, melted entirely away. The eldest Tracy son, for so many years protector, disciplinarian and stern advisor to John and Virgil, relaxed just a bit.

"Good enough. We're together; almost a whole family, again, and now there aren't any more secrets. I can't help feeling that's a good thing. Alan's got a few years to go yet, but Gordon, I'll start training you on a few of the simulators first thing tomorrow. And..., I'll take full responsibility for telling you two about the 'family business'. The rest of this, we keep to ourselves, understood? Father doesn't need the added stress."

There was agreement all around, everyone but Alan (short-changed again, in his opinion) satisfied with the outcome. They stood about for awhile, in pairs and threes, talking shop. Virgil even introduced Gordon to Brains, who was almost too shy to lift his gaze from the flow chart that John had sketched out.

At last, though, Alan grew restive. Catching Gordon's eye, he turned to go, playing it off like he didn't really care whether or not his friend came along.

It was relief and genuine gratitude that put the wide grin on his face when Gordon joined him out in the hall, grumbling,

"I s'pose, they'll be expectin' a damn permission form, next time we decide t' have a look around?"

Alan shrugged, his grin turning just a little wicked, again.

"They can expect whatever they want. I'm not filling out nuthin'!"

Meanwhile, watching Gordon depart with Alan, the three older Tracys experienced reactions ranging from thunderstruck (Virgil) to depressed (Scott). John shook his head, smiling wryly.

"Damn. 'Love me, love my dog', is it? Looks like you're going to have to lighten up on Alan, Scott."

"Sure," His older brother growled. "Just as soon as he stops subscribing to porn sites in my name."

"Could be worse," John shrugged, drifting off to rejoin Brains. "I somehow got registered for a 'Gay and Lesbian Retreat' back at Princeton. My former colleagues are a little confused."

"Ever tried smoking a cigarette that's been dipped in alum?" Virgil asked.

"S- super glue on the, ah... the lab stools," Brains recalled, wincing.

"You, too?" Scott inquired, genuinely shocked.

"Th- that is a young m -man with a great many unr- resolved anger issues." Brains replied, absently rubbing the seat of his pants.

"Issues..., stacked on problems... piled on challenges," Virgil sighed. "But it looks like he and Gordon 're a set, like it or not."

Not, mostly... but they'd find a way to deal with it, just the same.


Arriving with the sunset, someone else had come home. Kyrano made no announcement this time, as it was only his daughter, back from Tahiti... only a girl.

She came bounding up the path from the carport and across the twilit pool deck, flinging her dark blue school jacket aside and shouting,

"Bonjour, mon enfant! Which is, 'allo, little boy' for those lacking sophistication and wis..."

The girl trailed off, confused, as she saw, not just Alan, but Gordon, talking by the pool. Good manners kicked in at once, causing the girl to smile her sweetest, and turn expectantly to Alan for an introduction.

What Gordon saw quite snatched away his breath, killing all power of speech. She had large, slanted dark eyes, and skin as softly gold as an ivory carving. Her long, black hair, lively as wood smoke, shiny as volcanic glass, tumbled about her slender shoulders in mussed and swirling locks.

She was... he lacked the words, but whatever she was almost hurt, it struck him so powerfully. He'd have liked to say something clever, to bring out the secret mischief that sparkled just within her wide eyes, but all of a sudden, Gordon was painfully conscious of the facts; that he was short for his age, that his hair was red, and that he had a bloody great bump at the center of his nose.

Alan might have sensed his feelings, for he made a big show of draping an arm about the girl's shoulders, saying,

"Hey, TinTin! Welcome back. Oh... him? That's just Gordon, my brother. He's been out in Europe all this time, swimming, or something."

She extended a slim hand, smiling. After a moment of blank confusion, Gordon accepted and clasped the offered hand, then let go as swiftly as though her touch had burnt him.

"How pleasant to finally meet you, Gordon!" TinTin was saying, trying out some of her best, recently acquired, 'company airs'. "Alan has spoken of you so... frequently."

"Old news!" Alan cut in hurriedly, evidently anxious that she not tell his brother what, exactly, he'd said. (Though Gordon could well imagine.) Changing the subject whip-lash quick, the younger boy gestured toward the pool, glowing softly beside them with dozens of underwater lights.

"Hey, I got an idea! Hurry up and change, you guys, 'cause we still got time enough for a dip before grandma, like, chases us up to our rooms for the night. Come on!"

It sounded like a decent enough plan, so they headed back in. Alan's rooms, like John's, were kept neat and ready for immediate occupancy by Kyrano and a host of robotic appliances. All he really needed to bring to the island was himself. TinTin had a second, 'vacation wardrobe', as well. Gordon was the only one living out of a suitcase. Nearly a week after arriving, he still hadn't really unpacked.

The luxurious suite of rooms he'd been assigned contained depressing quantities of big, expensive furniture, the half-finished novel Jeff had given him, and the duffle bag (jammed full with clothes, a framed picture of his mum and dad... and one out-of-place blue teddy bear, close to the top). His emotions were equally shoved away, too difficult and confusing to bear examination. Maybe tomorrow, he'd decide what he felt about all this. Or the day after.

In the meantime, Gordon did the easy thing, and just got changed, pulling a short 'fast skin' racing suit out of the duffle bag (closest thing to a recreational swimming suit that he owned). Then, going to his suite's marble bathroom, he hunted about for a suitable towel, but each seemed more posh and ornately monogrammed than the last.

He nearly jumped out of his skin when a musical voice behind him said, laughingly,

"Gordon, whatever is taking so long? You don't need to bring one of these; there are pool towels by the sauna!"

Whipping around to face TinTin, the boy mumbled,

"Right. Sorry... didn' realize there was more than one sort of towel."

She cocked her head to one side, her smile losing a bit of its sparkle.

"Don't worry. You'll get accustomed to all this in no time, and then you'll forget that life ever came with plastic cups and powdered milk."

"Have you?" He asked, at once ashamed of his gaffe, and glad that he'd found someone to compare notes with. They'd something in common, it seemed.

TinTin gave him a rueful little grimace, shaking her head.

"It's not the same for me. My father is Chef here, and gardener... not Jeff Tracy. I can't afford to become too comfortable with such things. For me, they're only borrowed."

Then she smiled again, quick and volatile as the shifting colors on a peacock feather, and every bit as pretty.

"...and if we don't hurry along, Alan will explode all over the pool deck. Think of the mess my poor, hard-working papa will be forced to clean up, and take pity!"

And then, just as comfortably as if she'd known him for years, the lass reached out and linked her arm with his, drawing him out of the bathroom and back through 'Balmoral'.

They were halfway to his bedroom door when, with a female's unerring instinct for plush toys, TinTin caught sight of the blue teddy bear, and pounced, scooping it off the floor.

"Oohhhhh...! Look at him! How adorable!" She pressed the thing to her right shoulder, patting its fuzzy back like a baby's. "Was he a present? What's his name?"

That was a bit of a poser. For all Gordon cared, the bit of azure fluff could have remained nameless throughout eternity. But she was hanging on his response, her little half-smile all soft and expectant, and he had to say something, so...

"David," he replied, for want of anything more creative. And then, as she began kissing the bear's nose, "You c'n have it, if you'd like."

TinTin looked up, eyes widening.

"Really? You're serious?"

He shrugged, as if it truly didn't matter. She made an excited little noise, skipped up like a little girl, and kissed his cheek.

"Gordon Tracy, you are so sweet! I'll just go put him away, and then I'll be out directly, promise!"

And with that, TinTin darted off, the bear hugged tight to her chest. Filled with something too big and strange to name, Gordon watched her go.