Thak you so much for the response to the last chapter. Hope you like this one. Bee

Chapter Three

As he flew back to Tracy Island after collecting Penny and Parker, Scott tried to work out what was wrong with the aristocrat. They'd always been friends, then, a couple of years ago, after pretending to be lovers in order to flush out a blackmailer, their relationship had become especially close. But lately Penny had grown distant and Scott had found himself missing their regular conversations - when you spent your life surrounded by your younger brothers, the company of a sophisticated woman was something to be savoured, even if it was usually via video-link. He supposed Penny's new relationship must be the reason for her lack of contact and he fully understood her apparent desire to focus on this new man. He wasn't jealous - he knew Penny had never seen him as anything more than a friend, though there had been a brief moment when he'd thought they might become something more. If he still occasionally dreamt of that time in Penny's hotel bathroom, he was too much of a gentleman to ever mention it to her, or to brag about it to his brothers, though it had been fun to keep them guessing.

It was a long flight. Even though it took less than an hour, the fact that Penny had given up her usual seat beside him in the cockpit in favour of one in the cabin where she was currently engrossed in some top-secret MI6 files, made it a somewhat boring one for the pilot. Parker had also refused to join him, preferring to stay in his usual seat at the back of the plane. Scott was glad when he brought the jet in to land, shutting the engines down and moving back to escort Penny down the steps, only to find that she'd already got out and was talking animatedly to his father. Resignedly, Scott turned to help Parker with Penny's many cases.

Dinner was a more lively meal than it had been for the past couple of nights. Alan had taken his father's advice and there was no sulking. In fact, he chatted away quite cheerfully. It wasn't difficult for him - he couldn't deny the fact that life probably didn't get much better than this, even if he was stuck on this (glorious, tropical) island for the foreseeable future. Gordon knew better than to tease Scott about Penny with the woman herself sitting at the table, but he couldn't help making a few subtle comments that he knew would be lost on Penny but which his brothers would pick up on easily enough. He wasn't surprised when Scott ignored him, but it was something of a puzzle - and a painful one at that - when Virgil kicked him under the table, following the action up with a pointed glare that told him it might be better to drop the matter.

Since Penny hadn't visited the island for some months there was a lot to catch up on. Aside from her ongoing but as yet unsuccessful mission to track down a couple of fugitives who had been involved in the theft of the old Thunderbird Four, she had tales to tell of her social engagements in England. Ascot, Wimbledon, a dinner at the Palace... Grandma and Tin-Tin listened enthralled as Penny recounted details of the clothes, the food - and of a man who appeared to have been at her side rather regularly lately, someone she referred to as, "my dear friend, Lord Warrington-Farr", or even, occasionally, as "darling Simon". Grandma began to look increasingly disappointed and Gordon was only prevented from making some comment to Scott by the knowledge that Virgil would do more than kick him in the ankle if he did. Older brothers were no fun, he decided, not for the first time.

After dinner Jeff took Penny off to his office, announcing that they had business to discuss. "I want everyone gathered in the lounge at 10 o'clock tomorrow morning," he announced. "I have a proposal to put to you."

Penny smiled, seeming to know exactly what he was talking about, but the others were mystified and, when Jeff left the dining room without giving them any clues, spent the rest of the evening trying to guess what their father might have in mind.

Everyone arrived in the lounge in good time the next morning. Penny settled herself in a chair beside Jeff's desk, glad of a rest after having been grabbed by Gordon straight after breakfast and taken down to Two's hangar to see his new submarine. Gordon's enthusiastic lecture had gone completely over her head. It looked exactly the same as the old Thunderbird Four to her untrained eye, and she'd never been particularly fond of yellow, anyway.

Jeff activated John's portrait, then, looking at the curious faces gathered around him, cleared his throat before announcing,

"I've decided it's time to expand our operations."

"Expand?" Gordon asked. "You mean bring in new people?"

"Partly," Jeff told him. "I've been aware for some time now of the demands I'm making on you boys. Not just professionally, but personally, too. I understand how limiting life on the island can be. You've spent the last few years focusing on International Rescue, it's time you had the chance to do something for yourselves. That can't happen if things remain as they are."

"I can't say I've got a problem with getting away from here more often," Scott said, "Or with having some new faces around. But what about the security issue?"

"We have several agents who currently work for the military or in the more traditional rescue organisations," Jeff told him. "Penny and I have been vetting them and we've produced a shortlist. I'll let you boys see it later - I assure you that no new personnel will be appointed unless every one of you approves."

"How many people were you thinking of taking on?" John asked. "The house only has room for a few visitors. We'd need to build new living quarters."

"Now that brings me on to my second announcement," Jeff told him. "I've decided that, to improve response time and take even more pressure off you boys, I'm going to establish a new base."

This came as a surprise to everyone. Their father had, several times in the past, mused over the wisdom of bringing in some new personnel, but the plan had always been to bring them to Tracy Island.

"Another base?" Alan stared at his father. "Where?"

Penny glanced at Jeff, getting a nod of approval before she began to speak. "Your father has asked me to begin negotiations to buy Sir Reuben McAllister's island in the Atlantic."

"But the caves were blown up," Virgil said. "Even if you cleared them out the whole structure would be too unstable."

"Not that one, Virgil," Jeff said. "I agree it would have been perfect, but you're right, it's no good to us now."

"Not that other island?" Scott didn't sound impressed. "That god-forsaken place in the middle of nowhere?"

"Always a good spot for a secret base," Gordon pointed out.

"Indeed." Jeff hadn't expected Scott to warm to the idea, but there weren't that many places which would suit their needs and he couldn't ignore this one just because of the associations it held for his eldest son. "Now that MI5 have finished with it, it's going up for sale. There will be no link to us, of course, but since, as Scott points out, it's hardly a pleasant place to visit, it's hard to see that there will be a great deal of interest from other buyers. It's ideal for our needs."

"There are a number of underground bunkers already in place," Penny said. "Brains, perhaps you'd like to look over the details later."

"Th-Thank y-you. B-But it will t-take some t-time to r-rcreate the s-silos."

"It took three years to get this place ready," Scott reminded them.

"Well it won't take quite as long this time," Jeff told him. "We only need facilities for two 'birds."

"How's it going to work, Dad?" John asked. "You're going to park One and Two there when we're needed on that side of the world?"

"Not exactly." Jeff looked around at them again. "When I said I wanted to take the pressure off you boys, that's precisely what I meant. I intend to set up a completely separate base with its own set of Thunderbirds."

"Another Two?" Virgil didn't like the idea. His 'bird was unique, and the artist in him wanted it to stay that way. For the first time he truly appreciated what Gordon had gone through when they'd had to build another sub. He'd seen the improvements to Thunderbird Four, had installed many of them himself, but that had been a matter of necessity and the old submarine had been destroyed anyway. He didn't like the idea of another, possibly better, Thunderbird Two based halfway across the world.

Jeff nodded. "One, Two and Four."

Gordon didn't seem too pleased either. "We've only just got New Four," he said. "Do we really have to build another one? What are we even going to call it?"

"But we don't need another Thunderbird Three?" Alan asked quickly, before his brothers could distract his father any further.

Jeff smiled. "No, we don't. Space missions are rare and we can handle Five's supply runs and personnel changeovers from here."

"Good." Alan might have liked the idea of bringing in more staff, immediately seeing the advantages of having more free time, but, like Virgil, he took pleasure in the fact that his 'bird was one of a kind.

"I can see the logic in the idea," John said slowly. "But are we really going to hand over all our Atlantic missions to a bunch of strangers?"

"They'll be highly trained, John," Penny reminded him. "They won't be strangers, either. They'll be working here for a year or two until the new base is ready."

"John does have a point, though," Jeff said. "I'd prefer it if the new base wasn't completely staffed by new faces. This is a family business and I'd like to think one of you will take charge there. It's completely up to you, of course. Your home is here and I'd understand if none of you wanted to leave."

There was silence as the brothers let this idea sink in.

"My mansion is just a short flight away," Penny reminded them. "You'll be more than welcome to stay at any time." Her smile faltered for the briefest moment as Scott emphatically refused to even consider the matter.

"Not me, Dad. I've got nothing but bad memories of that place."

"I'd miss the sun," Gordon said. "And my pool."

Jeff nodded. "Virgil? It's a wonderful project for an engineer."

His middle son shrugged. "I don't know. I'll have to think about it."

"Take all the time you need. John, Alan, the same goes for you."

Alan opened his mouth to reject the proposal out of hand - he loved his tropical island life - only for Tin-Tin to put a warning hand on his arm. Confused, he shut his mouth again, wondering what was on her mind.

"Well," Jeff said. "I know I've given you all a lot to think about. I'll leave you to get used to the idea. Penny, if you'll come along to my office we can look at that report from Agent 21."

They left the room, Brains following behind, leaving the boys and Tin-Tin alone. Even though the older brothers had all been feeling trapped on the island, tied down by their commitment to International Rescue, they found themselves surprisingly unsettled by their father's announcement. There was a lot to discuss and the debate was soon raging.

"You okay?" Alan asked Tin-Tin. She'd been very quiet for a good few minutes.

"Come outside," she whispered.

The others broke off their discussion to watch them leave.

"Again?" Virgil sighed. "You'd think news like this might have distracted them for at least another five minutes."

"Hey, if this goes ahead that could be us," Gordon reminded him. There was a thoughtful silence for a moment. Suddenly the prospect of someone else manning their 'birds didn't seem quite so bad.

"What is it?" Alan asked.

"You're not going to like it," Tin-Tin warned him.

"Like what?"

Tin-Tin looked steadily at him. "I want to go."

"Go where? The new base? Why? You heard Scott, it's a miserable place. I thought you hated the rain."

"I do. But Alan, it's such a wonderful opportunity for us."

"It is?"

"Yes. You could have the new Thunderbird One. You'd be in charge of all the missions. Wouldn't you like that?"

He had to admit he would. He wouldn't miss his rotations up on Five either. But he wouldn't get to fly Three, he thought, and that was the one thing he didn't want to give up.

"What about you?"

Tin-Tin fixed him with a weary look. "Alan, I know you forget sometimes, but I'm an engineer. I'm just as good as Virgil is. But I don't get the chance to show what I can do. Not really. Here, I'm just Brains' assistant, but on the new base I'd get to run things myself."

"You want to do that?"

"Yes. Why wouldn't I?"

Alan was about to point out that just a couple of days ago it had been marriage and babies on her mind, not machines, then, with a rare flash of insight, realised that such a comment wouldn't go down well. But he really didn't want to leave this island - it was his home, the place he felt he really belonged. One thing his father hadn't mentioned, in fact, didn't seem to have even considered, was that here they had their grandmother and Kyrano to look after them. The new base wouldn't have anyone like that. It just wouldn't be the same. He didn't dare tell Tin-Tin that, though, not when she was clearly so excited.

He forced himself to smile. "You'd do a great job."

Her face lit up and he knew that for once he'd said the right thing.

"Really? You really believe in me?"

"Sure I do." He took her hand and walked her down to the beach, listening to her enthusiastic ideas as to how she'd organise everything, all the while wondering how he could talk her out of it - or persuade Virgil to take the job.

Tin-Tin tentatively broached the subject with Brains later that day. The genius considered the matter for a moment before enthusiastically announcing his support for the idea. He'd hate to lose Tin-Tin of course, but he really did think she'd be perfect for the job.

"I-I don't think V-Virgil will want t-to go," he said. "N-not without S-Scott."

"He'd miss Mrs Tracy too," Tin-Tin said. "Virgil likes to be fussed over. You know, I can't believe how supportive Alan's being, Brains. I think the fight we had scared him. He's really starting to grow up."

Brains said nothing. He'd tested the harness Alan had been wearing the previous day and found nothing wrong with it. He knew exactly what the young man had done - and why. Whilst he didn't blame him for doing everything he could to win back Tin-Tin, he still couldn't bring himself to believe that Alan was actually worthy of her. Suddenly he didn't want to hear any more praise of the youngest Tracy. He got to his feet, announcing that, since Tin-Tin had everything well in hand, he'd leave her to it for a while.

"I-I've got s-something I-I want to work on outside."

"Okay, Brains. Let me know if you need me." Still full of dreams of the future, Tin-Tin didn't stop to wonder why Brains, usually to be found cooped up inside his lab, might want to venture into the fresh air.

Brains was currently working on a number of smaller projects in addition to his new machine, including the construction of a new, improved jet pack, smaller and lighter than the ones currently in use by International Rescue, but able to keep a person in the air for almost twice as long. He'd done some limited testing in his lab, but what he needed now was to see how the equipment functioned when it was given a proper workout.

Strapping it on, he briefly considered calling Virgil or Scott to assist him, then decided against it. They'd probably be still discussing their father's plans and he didn't want to disturb them. He knew Gordon had work to do on Four and the last person he wanted around right now was Alan. So, ignoring all the safety advice he always gave any of the others when they were about to test a new device, he pushed the ignition switch and gently rose into the air as the jet pack kicked into action.

He decided that coming outside had been a good idea. He should do it more often, he thought. Not only was he giving the jet pack a thorough test, but the exhilaration of the flight had done wonders for clearing his head and letting him get all thoughts of Alan and Tin-Tin out of his system. Glancing at his watch, he decided he'd just have one last turn around the top of the volcano, then he'd go back in and write up his findings ready to present to Jeff that evening. His employer was always effusive with his praise when Brains unveiled something new, even if it was only an upgrade of an existing machine, and, being as insecure as he was, Brains always relished the feeling of satisfaction he got from proving his worth once again.

But, inevitably, although the take-off and flight had been spectacular successes, the landing didn't go quite so well. Brains wasn't quite sure what happened, but one moment he was heading towards the entrance to the labs, slowing down and losing height in as controlled a manner as he could wish for, the next, the engine cut out and instead of the gentle landing he'd been anticipating, he dropped the last ten feet and hit the ground hard.

He lay there for a moment, relieved that he'd at least been close to the ground and not going particularly fast, but, when he began to take stock of all the aches and pains that tormented his body he soon realised that, whilst he'd been lucky enough to have escaped without serious injury, one ankle seemed to be, if not broken, then at least severely sprained. He could pull himself - with some discomfort - to a sitting position, but he couldn't get to his feet. Embarrassed at the failure of his experiment but realising that he needed assistance, he put out a call on his watch.

Within five minutes everyone on the island - even Grandma and Kyrano - were gathered around him. Brains had to endure a stern lecture from Jeff as to his recklessness, unable to explain to the man why he'd gone out alone in the first place, then, once he was settled in the infirmary, had to put up with a second telling-off, this time from Grandma, as she strapped up his ankle and tended to his many cuts and bruises. Finally allowed to return to his quarters, he meekly obeyed the combined orders of Jeff and Grandma and got himself into bed, only to face further embarrassment when Tin-Tin brought him a cup of tea, not only insisting on plumping up his pillows, but placing a chaste kiss on his cheek, telling him how worried she'd been and how much she'd miss him if anything happened to him.

She laughed as Brains blushed, but, before either of them could say anything, her watch beeped and the pair heard John announce that International Rescue was needed once again.