End of hiatus! Happy as peaches and pie to be writing alternate universe Thunderbirds stories, again.

Cold as Ice

In the years that followed the Mysteron invasion, International Rescue got fairly well off the ground… more or less. More, because an exhausted and battle-scarred world was in desperate need of heroes. Less, because the glitches kept coming, and in some cases multiplied. It was no easy task to incorporate alien technology, living machines and five strong-willed sons into a seamless, productive whole. Not while simultaneously running a vast multinational corporation and starting a second family.

Jeff Tracy managed by delegating authority; letting Al Jenkins handle the daily ins and outs of Tracy Aerospace just as Scott (his dark-haired eldest son) managed IR's various missions. There had been several notable successes, including the Sea Base Delta rescue (away in the murky depths of the Mediterranean) and the defusing of a massive ion bomb on San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge (though Alan nearly lost an arm on that one). There were also a number of draws, if not outright disasters. Jeff didn't like to recall what had nearly happened in far off Alaska, because he'd come so terribly close to losing Virgil, Gordon and the whole wretched Discovery Adventure crew (still combing the world for shards of green energy).

That seemingly everyone on Earth had been watching... via internet feed, cell phone videos and hovering news choppers... only made matters worse. Near tragedy, played out in public, was that much harder to bear. They'd survived, though, and learned from the experience; that was the important thing. So much for International Rescue's early attempts to do good and avoid arrest. Here and now, there were challenges enough.

For his own safety, John Tracy had been placed in ultra high orbit, aboard a shielded space station parked at distant L5. In this position, the former astronaut was near enough to monitor events and offer advice, yet mostly out of harm's razor-sharp, pitiless way. Or so they all hoped. His computer interface implant and facility with living machines had made him a constant magnet for trouble; Jeff's second-born, most stubbornly brilliant son. Thankfully, the others were a good deal closer to home.

Scott had resigned his commision as an Air Force officer again, after distinguishing himself in battle with the treacherous Mysterons. His unfailing courage and resourcefulness made Jeff deeply proud. Then there was Virgil, the calm and big-hearted outdoorsman (never yet married, but definitely looking). Next came Gordon, the gallant sailor and athlete… and Alan; at twenty-one years old still in search of himself. They'd turned out rather well, despite having an extremely busy executive father. But Jeff didn't intend to leave things to chance and his elderly mother, any longer. He meant to learn from previous mistakes and do better with his sixth child, Richard (Lord Pemberton).

Still, intentions were one thing, reality another. Especially when the news began to emerge of trouble with Earth's dense nickel-iron core. It seemed monstrously unfair, having just beaten back a deadly invasion, to have the planet itself fade out on them, now; that its pulse, like an old, tired beast's, was slowing to a stop.

The predicted results of this slowdown were catastrophic beyond reckoning, making the permanent colonization of Mars and the Moon seem increasingly attractive. Violent storms and deadly radiation were prophesied, as were flooding and wide-scale famine. Lady Murasaki made frequent television and internet appearances, urging the people of Earth to stay calm and keep functioning.

In the meantime, there were some few dreamers and madmen who claimed that they could repair the problem, and one official government attempt to do so. Most of the dreamers eventually set aside foolishness and began saving up for a berth on the proposed colony flight to Mars (scheduled for launch whenever a joint Spectrum/ military mission retook the Red Planet… if that was even possible). Several madmen wound up in prison, having broken into the WorldGov general assembly to present their schemes. But a few of these plans were actually workable; involving the deepest mines and trenches known to man, a series of mighty lava plumes, four huge plasma generators and a lot of luck.

International Rescue's involvement (despite every good reason a wealthy family could have to stay away from such dicey proceedings) came about because two of those government repair missions went all at once terribly wrong. There would be four attempts, in all, with teams boring down through the crust in an abandoned diamond mine, the Marianas Trench, Africa's Grand Rift Valley and the sinuous Mid-Atlantic Ridge. All of these places plunged deep. All terminated at immense, deadly wellsprings of magma; hot enough to be ionized and to conduct great beams of plasma straight to Earth's cooling and settling core. That was the plan, anyhow. Nobody's fault it didn't work out precisely as outlined.

Jeff hadn't held out very good odds, and only with misgivings agreed to Lady Murasaki's private request for backup. He didn't like it, but the world president was a friend. He could not refuse her, though agreeing to rescue the restart teams, should they run into difficulties, was bound to lead to trouble. Still…

"Speed up work on the Mole, Brains," he ordered his chief engineer. "Double or triple her shielding. Whatever you can think of that she might run into, plowing through the crust, make her resistant to. Then I want you to contact everyone you know who's ever worked on a drilling machine or operated mining equipment. Get their ideas and worst nightmares, and use those, too."

"Y- Yes, Mr. Tracy," Dr. Hackenbacker agreed. They were standing together on the balcony of Jeff's home office, with the hissing, murmuring ocean before them and a brisk salt wind in their faces. "I'll, ah… I'll get r- right on it. NASA has m- mined the Moon and Mars q- quite extensively in the past, and may have, ah… have s- some ideas."

Jeff nodded absently, big hands clenched tight to the silver-bright balcony rail. Just at that moment everything he'd fought for and built, his corporation and family… the whole flawed, beautiful Earth… seemed incredibly precious to him. Squinting into late afternoon sunshine, watching the ceaseless twitching of that jewel-blue sea, he said,

"Brains… I want our sons and my granddaughter to have a chance to grow up. Here on Earth, not on Mars or the Moon, crowded into some last-ditch refugee hellhole."

A moist breeze fluttered at both men's figures; mussing Jeff's clothing and thick, iron-grey hair as well as the engineer's lank brown growth and loose lab coat. They scarcely felt it, being occupied with other thoughts and deeper concerns.

"M- Mr. Tracy," Brains assured him, "We've, ah… we've been th- through an awful lot together. W- We'll come through this, too. I, ah… I guarantee it."

Jeff tore his gaze away from the restless Pacific to look at Hackenbacker. Then Tracy senior, arguably the most powerful businessman in all the world, smiled a little. Rusty and tentative, maybe, but there it was.

"Call me Jeff," he said, extending a hand as though they'd just been introduced. "After all these years and inventions, Brains, you've more than earned the right."

Hackenbacker clasped the proffered hand and pumped it briefly, almost too shocked to speak. His eventual,

"Th- Thank you… Jeff."

…was more of a dry mouthed rasp than a statement, though it sufficed for the moment. Nice enough, but all of this was before that blind gambler, Fate, tossed her dice and rolled snake eyes.