Not in service

"Has anyone seen Gordon this morning?" asked Bekkah as she and the children came to breakfast.

"No, Bekkah. I haven't," answered Virgil. "Do you need him?"

"Well, we need to finish up the inner hull inspection as soon as possible." She shrugged as she sat down. "Tin-Tin and I can do it if he's not available."

After breakfast, she set the children to cleaning their rooms, and then put in a video for them to watch. "After I finish the hull inspection, I'll be back to play, okay?" she promised.

"Okay, Mom." Chell had her attention on the video rather than her mother. Bekkah sighed, then she left. Television, she thought, the opium of the masses.

Tin-Tin was already there when Bekkah arrived. Together, they worked on the keel hull, where Tin-Tin's petiteness gave them an advantage. When it was finished, they started on the topside hull, where Bekkah's comparative tallness served them well. After having collected their samples, they left Thunderbird Four, closing things up after themselves. Then they busied themselves at the worktable. Bekkah produced a powerful microscope from her equipment duffel, and placed it on the table. Then she pulled out a large black case, full of test tubes and chemicals.

"Which do you want to do, Tin-Tin? The chemical analysis or the slides?"

"What exactly are we looking for, Bekkah?"

"What caused the flaking we saw on the inner hull, and what makes up the flakes," Bekkah explained. "Our questions are: is this corrosion or is it something else? If it is corrosion, what has caused it? Salt water from the sea, or fresh water condensation inside the inner hull? If it isn't corrosion, what is it?"

"Oh! That's the direction you are taking. Very well, I'll do the slides."

They worked together in silence, each spotting the other on what they found. Bekkah dictated all their findings in the open file she had created. Every so often, she would say, "Computer, save file". Tin-Tin watched her approvingly. Here was a very meticulous scientist, as meticulous as Brains.

Tin-Tin stretched and yawned. She consulted her watch. "Oh, my! It's four in afternoon already!"

Bekkah blinked at her owlishly. She had just finished with the last of the samples, and she said so. "We make a good team, Tin-Tin. This went twice as fast as I expected." She viewed the window on the screen. "Wish I had better news to tell Mr. Tracy." She stretched, and began to put things away.

"There's one more test I want to do, just to confirm what we've seen today. But we'll need Gordon for that." She turned to Tin-Tin with a puzzled expression. "Is Gordon usually as morose as this? Virgil said the family was worried about him."

Tin-Tin sighed as she put the microscope away. "No, Bekkah. He's usually a happy, carefree person. An awful tease and a practical joker to boot." She smiled faintly as she spoke of him. "Of course, he takes his work very seriously, but usually he is a lot of fun to be around." She looked up at Bekkah, "As long as you aren't the butt of one of his practical jokes, that is."

"How long has he been so... down?" Bekkah asked.

"Since Brains's accident, I think. Definitely since the rescue in the Andes," Tin-Tin replied. "I wish there was something I could do to snap him out of this."

"So do I, Tin-Tin, so do I." Bekkah zipped up her equipment duffel and stowed it in a locker she found in the launch bay. They moved the table back to where they found it, and closed up pod four. Bekkah shouldered the microcomp, and they left for the villa.

Bekkah showered and changed into regular clothes. She had promised her kids some playtime, and she was going to keep that promise. She took them down to the beach, where they could walk through the surf. They picked up flat stones, and tried to skip them across the breakers. Terry found lots of pretty shells, and put them in the water-filled bucket he carried.

They found a hermit crab who seemed to be looking for a new house. Terry took the biggest of the shells out of his collection, and put it down in front of the crab. The tiny crustacean ventured out of his outgrown shell, and explored the new one as they watched. Finding the shell to be to its liking, it promptly took up residence and abandoned the old shell. Which Terry picked up and put in his bucket. The whole exchange made the little group giggle.

"Nice swap, huh, Mom?" he commented. Bekkah ruffled his blond hair, which had become lighter from days in the sun. Chell's hair was also sun-streaked, and even Joey's hair was going back to the rusty color he had when he was born.

"Mom! Look out there!" Joey pointed towards the sea. "Cumulonimbus clouds!" Sure enough, tall thunderheads were massing in the distance, their tops sheared off flat by the winds aloft. Thunder rumbled and lightning flashed.

"We'd better get inside, gang. Looks like this storm is coming fast." They turned and headed back to the villa. On their way, they met Gordon, also headed back to the house.

"Mr. Gordon! Look what I found! A hermit crab used to live in it." Terry dug the shell out and handed it to Gordon, who looked it over perfunctorily, and handed it back.

"Nice shell, kid," he commented.

Terry looked a bit hurt. All of the other brothers, starting with John, had insisted on being called "uncle". Except Gordon. He barely tolerated the "Mr. Gordon". He seemed to barely tolerate the children at all. From Tin-Tin's talk with her, Bekkah was beginning to get an inkling of why.

Bekkah hurried the children along as the winds began to pick up. Gordon kept pace with them, then slowed and stopped while he consulted his watch. Bekkah could hear Scott's voice come over the telecomm, and then Gordon sped up and raced to the house. As Bekkah entered the house, she could hear John's voice giving instructions in the lounge.

Virgil stuck his head out and saw her. "Could you step in, Bekkah?"

"Sure, Virgil. Kids, go get ready for supper." The children moved down the hall, taking backwards glances at their mom. She smiled encouragingly, then Grandma Tracy came out of the kitchen, saying, "Where are my helpers?" Their eyes met, and Grandma gave Bekkah a quick nod while she shepherded the children into the kitchen.

Bekkah entered the lounge without knocking. John was conferring with Scott; Alan was already headed for Thunderbird One.

"Virgil, Gordon, take Thunderbird Two and pod four. That ship is taking on water and but Thunderbird Four's lasers may be able to repair the rip in the hull."

Before Virgil or Gordon could move, Bekkah spoke up. "If you are taking Thunderbird Four, you will need to install a piece of equipment for me. It's for a test that we need to put Thunderbird Four through. We might as well do it while she is in use."

Scott dismissed her demand. "We don't have time for that, Bekkah."

Bekkah stood up straight and took a deep breath before she spoke. "You will make the time, Scott. Or I will ground Thunderbird Four."

Scottstared at her, shocked at her audacity. Virgil and Gordon froze, and Gordon paled.

Scott spoke, his voice soft in volume but hard as steel.

"You don't have the authority."

She could see the brothers closing ranks against the outsider. She had expected this, but not so soon. She looked over at Tin-Tin, who turned away from the scene. No help from that quarter, she thought. She lifted her chin and looked at each of them.

"Would Brains have had the authority?"

At the mention of Brains's name, Scott remembered just why Dr. Rebekkah Barnes was working with International Rescue. To fill in for Brains.

"Yes. He might."

Bekkah spoke again, unafraid. "If he would, then I do. If not, I'll take this to your father. Right now."

Scott took a breath, and blew it out. "Okay. Where is the equipment? Gordon can install it en route."

"In my duffel. I'll get it while Virgil and Gordon prepare for launch." She bolted from the room and sprinted for the only foot path entrance she knew to Thunderbird Two's bay. It was a long run, and she was gasping and wheezing when she got there. But she ripped open the duffel's zipper, and found the compartment where the telemetry transponder resided. Then she raced over to pod four. Gordon was standing on the open pod door, in his wet suit, waiting for her. She gulped some air, and held the transponder out to him.

"These two wires are for your depth gauge." She showed him the wires, red and blue. "These two for your distance gauge. They will report telemetry about what you are doing to my microcomp. Then I'll have the data necessary to finish Thunderbird Four's hull work-up." He took the little box, and stepped back into the pod. The door closed, and immediately, Thunderbird Two slipped down over the pod. The magnetic clamps clipped into place and Thunderbird Two trundled out to its launch pad on the air strip. She moved out of the way, and whispered, "Good luck. Godspeed."

Bekkah had supper with the children. Scott didn't eat with them, nor did Tin-Tin. Kyrano took a tray into the lounge for them. Bekkah left the microcomp open and the telemetry flooded in. After the first few moments, she turned away from the screen and tried to ignore it. To take her mind off of the rescue, she sat with the children in their quarters and started reading a new chapter book to them. This had been a nightly ritual for many years, but had been abandoned as the reading levels of each child increased and their interests diverged. She thought about choosing Robert Louis Stevenson's Kidnapped, but then thought about her own recent ordeal and decided against it. Instead, she chose Jules Verne's Around the World in Eighty Days. They had started it five years ago, just before Terrence's death, and had abandoned it then.

The children got into their pajamas, and snuggled down on the floor with her as she read. By now the storm had moved in, and the rain and wind lashed at the windows of the Round House. It was cozy there together, but all too soon it was bedtime. She tucked each child in as she hadn't had a chance to do for a week, talking with them quietly while they drifted off.

Once Chell had fallen asleep, Bekkah went to the tiny kitchenette and made herself a small pot of strong coffee. Then she turned her face toward the air strip where Thunderbird Two would land. She kept glancing at the telemetry to see if it was still coming in. It was. She stood there sipping coffee for a long time, until a soft chime told her that the telemetry had stopped. She put in her ear piece and said, "Computer, save file and close." Then she packed up the microcomp and got dressed for work again.

She hustled down to the lounge, and went in. Scott was standing in front of the desk, conversing with John. "How did it go?" she asked Scott.

Scott looked at her, his face weary. "It went okay. Gordon was able to repair the damage, and the ship was able to use its pumps to regain floatation. Thunderbird One is nearly here."

"ETA on Thunderbird Two?" she queried.

"Twenty minutes."

With that, she turned and walked down to Thunderbird Two's bay. She opened up her equipment duffel again, and pulled out a particular instrument. It looked like a garden claw, with four sensitive prongs at the end of a triangular read-out pad. Like the fissure detector before it, this moisture meter had digital readouts. With it, she hoped to discover if the fissures she had detected earlier were letting moisture in through the hull, and how much. Coupled with the telemetry, it would tell her a great deal about the condition of Thunderbird Four's hull.

She heard the rockface begin to slide open, letting in the wind and rain. She paced around to stay awake. Finally, a dripping wet Thunderbird Two backed into the spot she had left hours before. Bekkah gasped, awestruck by the grace with which the body and engines of the craft lifted from the floor, leaving behind the pod. She could hear the hydraulics lock into place. She strapped on her toolbelt, grabbed her little bag of marker buttons and hurried over to pod four. Immediately she opened it up to see the little yellow craft, wet and slick, with seaweed clinging here and there. She climbed up, opened the hatch, and climbed in the sub to begin her arduous task.

Physical findings

"Wake up, Bekkah," Virgil said.

She wasn't asleep under the control panel, but his sudden appearance in Thunderbird Four's cockpit made her start, sit up too quickly, and bang her head on the underside of the panel.

"Owww!" she complained. She gave Virgil a dirty look. "I wasn't asleep," she growled. She slid out from under the control panel, and started fastening the bulkhead back in place. Virgil watched. She gave him another look. "Either help or get out of my way."

"You've been down here all night. Your kids are wondering where you are. It's lunch time." Bekkah's stomach growled as if to confirm his statement.

"I have one more place to check. If you'll help me with the bulkhead panel, I can get it done in five minutes. Then I'll quit for the day, promise."

"Sounds reasonable. Where is it?"

Together they opened up a spot just to the left of the pilot's seat. Bekkah managed to fit her bulky figure into the hole, reaching up almost to the front viewport with her moisture meter. To her dismay, not only did the instrument come back with an extremely high reading, it came back with an actual drop of sea water as well.

"Ugh. Reading at point 18, 0.40. Visible moisture observed." She pulled and pushed herself out of the small space, and rolled over. Virgil helped her replace the last bulkhead. She straightened up, stretching and wincing at sore muscles and bruises.

"Computer, save file and close." She removed her microcomp link, and stuck it in her pocket. Then she followed Virgil out of Thunderbird Four. She picked up the microcomp and took it with her as she left the hangar. Virgil closed pod four up, and they walked along in companionable silence.

"So, does this mean that your investigation of Thunderbird Four is complete?" Virgil asked.

"No," she answered. "It means I'm finished with the hull for the time being. I still have to check the air circulation systems, the wiring harness, the controls and their software, and especially the reactor and the motors. But the hull is the most time consuming, so I like to get at it first." She turned to him with a rueful smile. "Just wait. If I get to do this to Thunderbird Two, you'll be cursing my existence by the end of it."

Virgil was shocked by the thought of this thorough an examination being performed on his massive craft. "How long would Thunderbird Two be out of commission?" he asked warily.

"I wouldn't take her out of commission. At least not for the hull. The condition of her hull is less of a danger to you. For Thunderbird Four, the hull is the difference between life and drowning. If her hull goes, she goes." They had reached the kitchen, and Joey got up from his place at the table to run and give his Mom a big hug and a kiss, one that ended up in a splattery buzz on her cheek. She laughed and buzzed him back, then settled down to a sandwich and chips. As she ate, Grandma Tracy gave her a tongue-lashing for not taking care of herself.

"Young lady, you need some sleep. The children and I are going to bake some cookies while you take a long nap. Jeff will be home tomorrow, and will want to see you looking refreshed. After that nap, you are going to eat a good dinner. Then, and only then, can you go back to your work."

Bekkah nodded and said, "Yes, ma'am" at all the appropriate places. After lunch, Chell whisked her plate and cup away, and the boys began to tug on her hands and arms, forcing her to go with them.

"That's right, children. You drag your mommy to her bed and tuck her in." Grandma Tracy egged the children on. They met with Tin-Tin in the hall. She looked down at the floor, and not at Bekkah.

"Hey, Tin-Tin. I haven't had a chance to go over the telemetry and moisture measurements from Thunderbird Two last night," Bekkah explained while being shoved down the hall, her daughter pushing while her sons pulled. Tin-Tin looked up and turned around to face Bekkah.

"Give it a look for me, please? Help!" she said, "I'm being hijacked by a bunch of unsavory pirates!" This sent the children into giggles. Tin-Tin and Bekkah locked eyes. Tin-Tin nodded. Bekkah yelled, "Thanks, Tin-Tin!" as she was unceremoniously dragged into the family's quarters.

A few minutes later, the children emerged, giggling and tiptoeing down the corridor. Tin-Tin, who had found the microcomp, snagged Chell's attention as the kids made their way to the kitchen.

"Chell, could you set this up for me? I've watched your mother do it, but she uses her wireless interface and it isn't here." Chell sent her brothers down to the kitchen without her, and she and Tin-Tin took the microcomp to the lab. Chell showed Tin-Tin the mini keyboard and how to access the files her mother had designated for the telemetry and moisture results. Tin-Tin thanked her, and was soon immersed in the data. As she read on, she grew more and more alarmed. Finally she sat back from the screen. Jeff Tracy is not going to like this. Not at all.

Solutions of a sort

Bekkah slept through dinner. When she woke, she found her three children, dressed in pajamas, having another chapter of Around the World read to them by Tin-Tin. Tin-Tin pointed to a covered tray in the kitchenette without missing a word from the story. Bekkah found a portion of the night's meal, still warm. She brought it into the living area, and sank down onto the floor to sit with her children. She listened as Tin-Tin's Malaysian accent brought an exciting nuance to the story of Phileas Fogg. The chapter came to a close, and Joey said, in his cutest, most wheedling voice, "Please read us another chapter, Auntie Tin-Tin." Bekkah's eyebrows went up at that title. When did that happen? she wondered.

"No, children. It's time for you to go to bed." Tin-Tin's statement was met with a chorus of "Aw!" But they kissed their mother, and gave hugs to Tin- Tin, and padded off to bed obediently.

Bekkah took another bite of her dinner. She shook her empty fork at Tin- Tin. "So you're Auntie Tin-Tin, now, hmmm?"

"Well, the boys have become honorary uncles. Why shouldn't I be an honorary aunt?" Tin-Tin's smile faded. "I am sorry about last night. The boys are like brothers to me and it seemed like I would be siding with you against them if I said anything. But I was glad to see you insisted on running the test. Especially when I saw the telemetry that came in. And the results of your moisture testing. Will you show me how to use whatever device you used?"

"Certainly. No problem. And it's okay about last night. I knew I would come up against them as a group sometime or other. Maybe this will show Scott that I am as serious about my work as he is about his."

"He was certainly muttering under his breath something about 'stubborn women' while we ate last night." Tin-Tin chuckled at the memory.

"Well, now that your new honorary niece and nephews are sound asleep, let's grab some ice cream and head to the lab. We need to put that data in order before Mr. Tracy gets home tomorrow."

Tin-Tin's hand flew to her mouth. "Oh, but Brains never lets people eat in the lab."

Bekkah looked at her mischievously. "What he won't know won't hurt him. Or us for that matter." She turned at the door to beckon Tin-Tin along. "If you are honorary aunt to my kids, that means you and I are honorary sisters. So let's do something sisters would do: pig out."

"Sisters? I've never had a sister before..." Tin-Tin said, as she followed her newly-minted big sister down to the kitchen.

Two hours later, the ice cream bowls were empty, and the data was coming together. Bekkah shook her head at what the pairing of telemetry, moisture measurements, and fissure detection showed her.

"This is very bad news..."

"...Thunderbird Four is no longer watertight," Bekkah told Jeff Tracy the next day. Kyrano had swapped places with him in Singapore, as Brains had been moved from the hospital to a rehabilitation center for physiotherapy.

"What do you mean, no longer watertight?" Jeff asked grimly. His sons were gathered in the lounge, listening incredulously to Bekkah's claim. Tin-Tin stood behind her with a solemn face.

Bekkah opened up the screen of the microcomp, put her wireless link in her ear, and spoke. "Computer, open Thunderbird Four graphic file." A three-dimensional image of Thunderbird Four appeared on the screen. It slowly rotated, showing all sides of the vessel in turn. The Tracy men moved in closer to see it better.

"Using the original specs you gave me of Thunderbird Four, I had the computer select three places in each of the six sides of the vessel where it would be easiest to access the inner hull through the bulkheads. You see them marked here on the computer schematic. Using a cobalt/tungsten light scanner, we determined that there were many minute fissures in the outer hull. Computer, pan in to point two." The computer, like a zoom lens, focused in on a point from the starboard side of the sub, bringing to light a spiderweb of fine lines. Gordon nodded; he had seen this before.

"Once we had determined this was a problem, we went inside to look at the inner hull and see if the problem was to be seen in there." The 'camera' moved up and into the hatch, behind the bulkhead where point two was located, and focused on the inner hull. The lines here were not as numerous, but were covered with a whitish, dusty-looking stuff.

"We found that in most instances, there were nearly as many fissures to be found on the inner hull as on the outer. We also found a white dust on the inner hull, and occasionally some brownish flakes. Through chemical analysis, we determined that the white dust was the product of corrosion from the molybdenum steel, and that the brownish flakes were from the paint on the outer hull. The corrosion was salt-water based." The brothers looked at each other with mounting apprehension. Jeff sat stonily in his chair.

"Two nights ago, Thunderbird Four was taken out on a lengthy rescue mission. It was in the water for three hours and 20 minutes, and dove to a maximum depth of 100 meters. Before this, the vessel had been dry-docked for some days. Using a moisture meter of my own design, I went over each of the 18 points originally designated by the computer. I found fresh moisture at every point. Computer, post values of moisture measurements." The inner view was replaced by the slowly spinning three dimensional view, with a red number posted by each of the brightly colored spots.

"The values you see posted range from 0.019 to a high of 0.40. At the last spot, actual moisture was seen adhering to the moisture meter." A cursor moved in to show point 18, near the main viewing port." Bekkah turned to Jeff. "I believe a faulty port gasket may be partly to blame here."

"ISO ratings for acceptable moisture seepage range from 0.004 to 0.01. Obviously, much more moisture is seeping in through Thunderbird Four's hull than is normally considered safe." She turned her eyes on Gordon. "Though, with the job that Thunderbird Four is meant to do, no water seepage at all would be highly preferable." She sat back. "Thus, I judge that Thunderbird Four is no longer watertight."

There were several moments of silence. Then Virgil spoke. "What do you think caused this, Bekkah?"

Bekkah sighed. "I think it's caused by several things, Virgil. First of all, Thunderbird Four is at least 8 years old, and has been in service continually for 7 of those years. She has taken a lot of punishment, from ramming the Mars Space Probe nose cone to being hit by minimissiles." Bekkah had taken the time to read Thunderbird Four's action logs. "She has been battered about by compression surges, and by rough seas. She has been taken to greater depths, and stayed there longer than was forseen in her design." She smiled. "Hiram is a bit of an idealist. I don't think he forsaw some of the enemies you have developed over the years, or thought that any of the Thunderbird craft would ever come under attack. There is also a slight possibility that you got an inferior batch of steel. I haven't done any metallurgy studies as of yet. Even if I did, it wouldn't make much difference. The damage would still be there."

"What are your recommendations?" Jeff finally asked.

"I have two. First is a long range plan; build a new Thunderbird Four. If we do, depending on how quickly materials are ordered and supplied, it will be four months at least before Thunderbird Four Mark 2 would be in service."

Scott interrupted. "We can't be without Thunderbird Four for that length of time! We depend on it!" He looked to his father for support.

Bekkah eyed him calmly. "I know that, Scott. That's why I also have a recommendation that would keep the current Thunderbird Four going until the Mark 2 could be completed." She looked around the room. "Depending on what I find as I continue Thunderbird Four's physical work-up, I suggest that she be sprayed with a special waterproof coating to cut back on moisture seepage and to seal the fissures that have already developed. There is a company in Germany that makes such a coating for marine vessels. I recommend two coats of it, to bring it to a thickness of 1 cm." She sighed again. "I think it will hold for perhaps 6 months. But it is contingent on the rest of the vessel being in good shape." She looked sharply at Scott, then Gordon. "And it will mean limiting Thunderbird Four's rescues to a depth no deeper than 150 meters."

"Tin-Tin, what do you think?" Jeff asked his, and Brains's, trusted assistant.

Tin-Tin straightened up, looked Jeff right in the eye, and said, "I agree with everything Bekkah has told you. I have seen her work, and I have seen all the data she has collected. She is telling the truth."

Bekkah went in search of her children. She needed their warm hugs and support right now. Her meeting with the Tracy men had been nerve-wracking, the hostility almost palpable. They did not want to hear what she had said. And now they were in conference, and she was on the outside, like the outsider they still perceived her to be.

She found the kids in the kitchen, under Grandma Tracy's watchful eye, coloring or reading. "Hi, kids. Hi, Mrs. Tracy."

"Hi, Mom!" Chell greeted her mother brightly. Bekkah noticed that she was reading a new mystery story.

"So, Chell, were you right about who was the thief in the book you were reading?"

"Yeah, Mom. It was the cheerleading captain. Just as I thought."

Bekkah chuckled, and joined Joey at the table to color with him.

"Who does she think she is?" Scott fumed. "She threatened to ground Thunderbird Four if we didn't do what she wanted. Then she turns around and tells us it isn't safe to use Four. Like we don't know our own equipment."

"I don't know, Scott," countered Virgil. "She has a lot of experience in just this sort of thing. And diagnostic equipment much more advanced than what Brains has been using. I have to wonder: we rely on Brains for all our own gear, and he has been fantastic in providing it. But maybe we have been keeping him from developing the kind of gear he needs to do his job efficiently."

Alan spoke up. "I'm afraid I missed Bekkah's ultimatum last night. But she seems very demanding. Her standards are very high. 'No water seepage at all would be preferable'. Is that an attainable goal?"

The three Tracy men went back and forth about Bekkah, their arguments going around in circles. Their father listened, but kept his own counsel.

"Enough!" shouted Gordon. His brothers were shocked into silence, and his father looked at him thoughtfully.

Gordon looked at them in turn, anger smoldering in his eyes. "This lady is a professional. And she is doing what she does for our good. We asked her to join us. But where is she now? Is she here, part of the discussion? No. We pushed her out of the room so we could talk about her behind her back." He turned to Scott. "Scott, I know you are sore because you think she usurped your authority. But you blew her off. She made every effort to get us going as quickly as she could. She ran full speed down the longest route to the pods, and had given me the equipment she wanted installed seconds after I got there. Took me all of three minutes to hook up. And she showed us a very scary scenario. My Thunderbird not watertight? Gives me the shivers to think about it. And I got the shivers every time she showed me all those fissures in Four's hull." He shuddered. "She is thinking about how much we depend on Four. She gave us an option that helps us now, and one that looks to the future." He shook his head. "High standards, Alan? I wish ours were as high."

"Calm down, Gordon. You've made your point," Jeff told him. He looked at his sons. "I've been thinking a lot lately about the scientific part of our operation. Especially how we have been treating Brains and Tin-Tin. We may love them as brother and sister, son and daughter, but do we respect them? Do we consider their part in our mission as important as our own? Looking at it objectively, I'd have to say no. I see that we treat Tin-Tin as a delicate little flower, and Brains as... well... a nerd. Now we are faced with a woman who expects to be treated like the professional she is, and with the respect her work and education have earned her. Not the kind of woman we are used to dealing with." He gave his sons a rueful grin. "Virgil has brought up a good point, too. Dr. Barnes has developed these tools of hers out of her own work needs. We've kept Brains and Tin-Tin so busy with routine maintenance and repairs that they've had no time to develop equipment to help us do it." He shook his head. "To think, I paid for Tin- Tin's technical education and I've reduced her to taking letters. Shows just what an old fogey I am."

"Bekkah seems to be rubbing off on Tin-Tin, a little anyway," Alan admitted. "I don't think she would have been so bold in supporting Dr. Barnes before now."

"Yes. I noticed that," Jeff agreed. "Wonder what brought that about."

In the kitchen, Tin-Tin looked at the family group, quietly enjoying each other's company. Bekkah caught her looking, and gave her a grin. She got up from the table.

"Well, little sister. Shall we beard the lions in their den and hear them roar?"


"Shall we go in to see what the Tracys have decided to do with all our data?"

"Oh. Yes. Of course."

"Bekkah, Tin-Tin, we've decided to go with your recommendations." said Jeff. The two women looked at each other and grinned. "Please expedite the rest of the work-up on Thunderbird Four. In the meantime, I'll get hold of that company in Germany and order the sealant. Even if we can't put it on Thunderbird Four, we'll use it elsewhere. Do you have an idea of how much we need?"

"We calculated the area of the hull's surface in meters squared. Here are the figures." Tin-Tin handed Jeff a slip of paper.

Jeff looked at the slip, then at Tin-Tin. "This is for two coats?"

"Actually two and a half. Planning for human error." Tin-Tin smiled. "We will also need the equipment to apply the sealant."

Jeff frowned. "None of us have any experience working with this substance."

Bekkah spoke up. "I have some experience. I had to work with it as an ISO agent."

Jeff nodded. "Okay. Let's get this project underway. But before you leave..." Jeff got up and opened the safe behind his desk. "I think you two need these." He pulled out two telecomm watches, and held one out to each woman. "Sorry that they aren't your style; Brains only put the telecomm equipment in men's watches."

"Thank you, Mr. Tracy," Bekkah said as she accepted the watch and put it around her wrist. It was a bit loose, but not as loose as Tin-Tin's was on her wrist. The watch slid down to the middle of Tin-Tin's forearm.

"Now get going, the two of you." Tin-Tin was out the door and Bekkah was leaving when he called to her.


"Yes, sir?"

"It's Jeff. Just call me Jeff."

Bekkah smiled and left the room.

"Scary woman, that." Jeff commented while he looked up that German company.

Views from afar

Jeff called Brains that night and reported to him what Bekkah's findings had been. Brains was shocked at the news about Thunderbird Four's hull.

"M-M-r. Tracy. C-c-could you have T-T-Tin-Tin do a-a-a metallurgy study on the h-hull? I'd really l-like to know about the quality of th-the, uh, steel we got."

"Sure, Brains. I'll have Tin-Tin do it as part of Thunderbird Four's workup. What do you think of Bekkah's explanation of why these fissures are all over Thunderbird Four?"

"I-i-it's very possible, uh, M-mr. Tracy. Very possible. I hope, uh, Bekkah's solution to the p-problem will work."

"Well, you have got to get yourself back to one hundred percent, Brains, before these women take over!" Jeff grinned at his engineer. "I'll bring Bekkah's recommendations for Thunderbird Four when I visit again. I think you'll be impressed."

"I'm s-s-sure I w-will, uh, Mr. Tracy."

The Hood had been lying low after his aborted attempt at kidnapping Dr. Barnes. He went over his botched plan over and over again in his mind. It would have succeeded, if not for the intervention of those two on the motorcycle! Where did they come from? What was their game? Is there another player out there that wanted Dr. Barnes' knowledge of International Rescue's secrets as much as I do? He didn't know for certain, and so kept from harassing International Rescue until he did.

His spies and agents, however, were still busy throughout the world, bringing him news of the Tracy family. When a cargo plane left the United States for Tracy Island full of home furnishings, he surmised that they were for Dr. Barnes' family. That meant she would be staying for some time. When the order went out from the desk of the CEO of Tracy Industries to Rinocot in Germany for marine sealant, he was puzzled, but filed it at the back of his mind. Of course, he knew whenever the Thunderbird vehicles showed up around the world. Well, he would be patient. The results of his patience would be worth it.

Tin-Tin and Bekkah worked quickly on the rest of Thunderbird Four's examination. Tin-Tin went back and got the maintenance records to compare how the vessel was faring from the last time she was checked. Bekkah went back to the shakedown mission and compared from the very earliest logs. They were both very pleased at what they saw.

"There are one or two wiring issues, places where we see some corrosion. The interior bulkheads are in good shape, as is the guidance system. Propulsion is working at full capacity. The auxilliaries, like the laser and the mini-missile tubes, just need a good cleaning to bring them back up to near mint condition. Ventilation is good, the hatches seal well, and the decking is in good shape. I'd like to upgrade the communications system to make it hands-free. The reactor is in excellent shape; less than 0.0001 degradation from original start-up," Bekkah reported. "In fact, I'd recommend moving the reactor from Thunderbird Four to the Mark 2. It will save two to three weeks of work down the line."

"Excellent news! You've done fantastic work, ladies," praised Jeff. "The Rinocot order arrived at one of our Stateside Tracy Industry plants yesterday. A cargo plane should bring it here within the next 48 hours." He grinned at both of them. "I think you both deserve a day off. Take off tomorrow. Do something fun with your kids, Bekkah."

"Mr. Tracy, when are you going to see Brains again?" asked Tin-Tin.

"In a week or so, Tin-Tin."

"We'd both like to go see him, if that's okay with you."

Bekkah nodded. "Tin-Tin tells me that he needs some major cheering up. Maybe the two of us can get him moving on his physical therapy."

"I think we might be able to spare the two of you for a couple of days. The boys and Grandma can keep track of the children." Jeff grinned at Bekkah. "I've never seen such well-behaved kids. My boys were terrors at this age, especially Virgil and Gordon."

"They are still getting acclimated, Jeff, getting to know the place and you all. Wait until they feel comfortable here! The gloves will be off then." Bekkah grinned back.

At that moment, Joey burst into the room, followed closely by his older sister.

"Mom! He's got my book!" Chell cried. "Make him give it back!"

Bekkah put on a stern face. "Joseph Stuart!" Joey heard his formal name, came to his mother, and looked at the floor.

"First of all, where are your manners? You ran in here without knocking. You know what we talked about when we first came. Knock before entering." Bekkah used a firm, quiet voice, and made the boy look her in the eye. "Second, whose book is that?"

"Chell's." He was looking at the floor again and sounded miserable.

"Do we take other people's things without permission?"

"No," he whispered.

"So. What do you need to do?"

Crestfallen, Joey walked over to his sister, and handed her the book. "I'm sorry, Chell." He gave his sister a hug.

Chell looked angry still, but returned the hug and said, not too graciously, "I forgive you."

Joey made as if to leave, but a word from his mother stopped him.

"Joey, there's someone else you need to apologize to."

Joey turned around, and with some trepidation, went behind Jeff's desk and said, "I'm sorry for busting in, Mr. Tracy." He hugged Jeff around the middle.

"Well, Joey. Apology accepted," Jeff answered. Relieved, Joey skipped to the door, but on his way he stopped to give and receive a quick hug and kiss from his mother.

"C'mon, Joey." Chell gathered her brother up and they left.

Bekkah turned to Jeff. "See what I mean? The gloves are off."

The next day dawned bright, fair, and warm, and Bekkah's children, early birds all, tugged at their mom to get her out of bed.

"You've got the day off! What are we going to do today?" Terry asked excitedly.

"I'm going to sleep in," Bekkah grumpily informed him, as she turned over and pulled her quilt over her again.

"Aw! Mom!" her kids whined. She sighed deeply.

"Oh, okay. Let me get showered and we'll get some breakfast in us. Then we'll go to a tidal pool that Mr. Gordon showed me when I first came here."

"A tidal pool! How cool!" Terry was beside himself with happiness. "Just think of all the creatures we will find there."

"That's if they don't hear you coming and run away," teased Chell.

"That's enough. Now scram so I can get showered." Bekkah shooed her kids out.

Within a half hour the children and Bekkah were sitting down to breakfast. Virgil was there, reading a magazine.

"Good morning, Barnes family!" he greeted them with a smile. "What are your plans for this glorious day?"

"We're going to a tidal pool!" answered Terry.

"Really? Have a good time there." Virgil addressed Bekkah. "Are you going to the one on the other side of the island?"

"Yes, Gordon took me there when I first came."

"You might want to take a lunch. It was one of our favorite places to picnic."

"Good idea. Can you help me make the lunch? I don't know where things are in the kitchen."

"Mom, I do. I'll help you," piped up Chell. Between the two of them, they put together some peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, grabbed some juice and some chips, and put them in a sack for carrying.

"Joey, go get your school backpack. I think that will do to carry this lunch." Joey obeyed quickly.

"We need hats, sunscreen, and Band-Aids, too. Terry, that's your department." Within minutes, the expedition was fitted for travel, much to Virgil's amusement. Terry had his shell bucket, Chell carried a Frisbee, and each Barnes family member had a towel. Virgil noticed that the children had bathing suits on; Chell had a light shirt and shorts over hers. But he couldn't discern whether or not Bekkah was wearing one.

"You do realize that since we are south of the equator that this is the middle of winter here," he drawled.

"Yes. I do. But it's a whole lot warmer today than it has been recently and we are going to take advantage of it, Bekkah retorted. "Okay, kids. Let's go!"

Bekkah was blessed with a keen sense of direction, and she led her children unerringly to the tidal pool she had visited before. There the children splashed in the quieter waters and Terry went looking for "critters". Each thing he found, from mollusk to a tiny brine shrimp, was duly admired then returned to the pool. Bekkah and the children played Frisbee on the beach, with Joey being the most accurate of throwers. The game was stopped, however, when Chell let it fly and it sailed out beyond the breakers that vigorously washed the sand.

"I'll get it!" called Terry.

"No, Terry. You don't know how to swim. And the surf is a little too rough for you kids to be out in it." Bekkah shrugged her shoulders. "I guess we lost the Frisbee."

"No. I'll get it," came a voice from behind her. Gordon was there, taking off his sandals and shirt. He dove into the waves and swam strongly to fetch the toy, then body-surfed his way back to shallower waters. He walked up the beach and handed the disc to Joey, then approached Bekkah.

"I'm surprised you found this place again," he commented.

"I've got a good sense of direction," was her answer. She left the Frisbee game to her children, and sat down on her spread out towel. Gordon sat next to her on the sand.

"That boy of yours knows a lot about the sea. I thought he was interested in astronomy," Gordon said. His comment made Bekkah wonder how long Gordon had been there.

"He does, and he is. He's keenly interested in all of the natural sciences. But he's especially fascinated by the sea and its creatures. Always has been. Astronomy is a much more recent love." She looked fondly at Terry. "You should see him and his best buddy, David. Two peas in a pod. Both fair-haired and about the same size, even though David is a year older. And love of science? Whew! That's all they talk about sometimes."

"What about your youngest? Is he into science?"

"Not really. He'd rather build things. Or use a computer."

"Your daughter?"

"Cats and horses, as is appropriate for this age. Plus she loves to draw. All of them do. Take after their father in that regard. They are all highly imaginative, too. Get that from their father."

"What happened to their dad? I don't think you've mentioned it."

Bekkah sighed, and tears sprang to her eyes. She wiped them away, and favored Gordon with a rueful smile. Then she took a deep breath.

"Sorry about that. I still get emotional when I talk about it." She looked off to sea. "Their dad was an artist, a graphic artist. Funny, talented, gentle, patient. He could put me in hysterics with just one funny word." Her gaze shifted to the sand. "He had a client to see in London to wrap up some business, then he was off to San Francisco to meet with a new client about a big project. He called me before he left London to say hello, but I wasn't home, so he left a message." The tears came up again, and this time she didn't wipe them off. "He never made it to San Francisco. He flew on Fireflash and it went down in the ocean. 600 dead, and my husband among them."

Gordon remembered the incident. After a second Fireflash plane went down, International Rescue was called in, and he had been the one to cut the engines from that second plane and rescue the pilots. Then International Rescue offered to fly on a third Fireflash to see if they could find the problem. When the same pattern of trouble occurred, he had been winched into the starboard wing, where he had been surprised to find a saboteur had cut the EPU wires. The saboteur jumped from the plane, possibly wounded by shots from Gordon's gun. And Gordon had put the ends of the severed cable together with his bare hands to keep the plane from following its two predecessors. He had told his brothers that it was like repairing a fuse, but actually the electricity coursing through the wires had coursed through him, too, and hurt. Plus, he had walked away from the incident with several burns on each hand. Now, as he remembered, he unconsciously massaged the scars on his left hand with the thumb of his right.

Bekkah noticed, and took his left hand in her own, scowling at the scars. "How did you manage to do this to yourself?" she asked, turning his hand this way and that to see them better.

"In the line of duty. I put a couple of hot wires together to restart an engine." He left it at that.

"Not the smartest thing to do," she scolded him mildly.

"But the most effective. Especially since I was 30 seconds from crashing and drowning." He remembered one big mistake he and Scott had made; leaving the access hatch to the Fireflash wing open. Had the plane hit the water, the wing would have filled with water quickly, and he would have either been fried by the electricity or drowned. And there would have been no one to save Scott and Captain Hansen.

A plaintive voice interrupted his thoughts. "Mommy, we're hungry. Can we have lunch now?" Chell pleaded.

"Sure, Chell. Get Joey's backpack and we'll eat." Bekkah turned to Gordon. "Join us? I made plenty of PB&J sandwiches. This lot will eat like a football team if they are really hungry."

Gordon accepted a sandwich and a flask of juice. The tide was ebbing, and more and more beach was being uncovered. This delighted the children, especially Terry, as they could find little puddles of sea water left behind, and sometimes creatures would be left in those puddles. Anything they found was put in Terry's bucket, then shown to Bekkah and Gordon, and finally given a ride out to where the breakers now foamed to be placed back into the sea.

"Look, Mom! Another chocolate chip sea star!" Terry brought his prize over to display it. "You didn't get to see the first one I found." Bekkah looked into the bucket, and sure enough, inside was a sea star that sported brown bumps, like chocolate chips, on its back.

"Cool, Terry! Really nice!" she gushed.

"Would you like to see it, Mr. Gordon?" Terry asked tentatively. Gordon nodded.

"A nice specimen, Terry. You'd better put him back now, though."

Terry beamed at Gordon, then turned and ran back to the waves and dumped the sea star carefully back into the water. There was a roar overhead, and Thunderbird One appeared, shiny in the afternoon sun, streaking off toward the northeast. The watch on Gordon's wrist beeped, and as he looked at it, the face of his father appeared.

"We need you as double-crew on Thunderbird Two, Gordon. Virgil will pick you up as he flies over."

"F-A-B, Dad." Gordon got up, brushed the sand from his legs and swim trunks, and picked up his shirt and sandals. "You'd better get your kids together and wrap them up in towels. Thunderbird Two's jets kick up quite a bit of wind."

Bekkah's watch beeped. She turned her arm so the inner part of her arm faced her. Jeff's face appeared.

"Sorry to shorten your day off, Bekkah, but we need you back here at base," he told her.

"Be there as soon as possible, Jeff." She gathered her kids together and started back to the villa. She had them wrap themselves up in their towels to shield them from the fierce wind kicked up by Thunderbird Two's hover jets as it came over the Island and dropped a rope ladder to Gordon on the beach. He stepped onto a rung and began to lithely climb up as Thunderbird Two began to move slowly out to sea. She watched until he had made his way up through the hatch, then the rope ladder that remained was pulled in, and Thunderbird Two gained speed and was gone. Then she turned and hurried her children back to base.

Sticky situation

The rescue was a fairly routine one; a cable car full of sightseers stalled out over a scenic canyon. It was an old wooden cable car, so the magnetic grapples could not be used. Virgil lowered Gordon with a super-strength cable to hook on to the pulley. He got it fastened just as the cable car's own support gave way. The car swung through the air a bit, and Gordon lost his footing for a heart-stopping second, but he was himself fastened to the rescue cable, and was able to pull himself to safety. Virgil carefully lowered the cable car to the top of the mesa from where it had originated, and where local emergency equipment waited for the passengers.

Back at the villa, Alan and Tin-Tin joined Jeff and Bekkah in the lounge as the rescue unfolded. Alan and Tin-Tin had gone fishing for the day off the coast of the Island, and came back windburned and with several fish for Grandma Tracy to prepare.

At Bekkah's insistence, Virgil sent the rescue capsule down for Gordon, and winched the rescue cable up separately.

"He may have bruised or broken ribs from that slip," was her reasoning. Which was true. Upon his return, Scott and Virgil both made him go to the sickbay, where Tin-Tin appraised his injuries.

"Just bruises, Gordon, but deep ones. You need to let them heal." She bound them with long strips of gauze and soft pads. "You need some extra rest tonight, so straight to bed after getting something to eat." By this time, it was three in the morning, and everyone was exhausted. For the first time in weeks, Gordon fell into his bed, and slept without dreaming.

The next few days were quiet. Bekkah and Tin-Tin went over the post-rescue maintenance on Thunderbird One and Thunderbird Two the day after the rescue. When that was complete, they got everyone to help them prepare Thunderbird Four and move it to the repair bay. They erected a tent-like structure around the vessel to contain the sealant they were about to spray over her. Magnetic grapples held her off the floor so her keel could be sprayed first. Scaffolding was built up around her so that the workers could get each surface. Ports and hatches were covered so that the sealant wouldn't be sprayed on them. While the preparation was going on, the sealant arrived, along with the equipment necessary to apply it. Bekkah noted with satisfaction that there were four containment suits, complete with renewable air supply. When wet, the sealant was harmful to humans, especially to the lungs. She determined that no one would be breathing this stuff on her watch.

Two days after the rescue, they were ready to put the sealant on Thunderbird Four.

"Gordon, you are on watch." Jeff told his fourth son. "Virgil, you join Bekkah, Scott and me in the repair bay. Alan, you've got the transmission towers to check today. Tin-Tin, have you finished that metallurgy testing? Brains wants to see the data when we go visit with him."

"I'm almost finished, Mr. Tracy," Tin-Tin informed him. "I am heading back to the lab to complete the work."

In the repair bay, everything was set up. There were two high-pressure sprayers and tanks of the sealant to attach to them. Everyone put on a containment suit, but before they put their helmets on, Bekkah gave them each a comm link like her own to her microcomp.

"These are set to a different frequency than my microcomp is, so you don't have to worry about turning it on or making it crash." The men chuckled. "Constant contact is imperative. These are not the most effective sprayers. The person with the spray wand has the full/empty gauge, but in order to give a good coating, someone has to change the tank before it gets to the empty stage. Otherwise, the sprayer will clog. As you can see, there are two lines to the sprayer from the tanks. One tank is at the end of each line. There is a valve in the middle where the two lines feed into the sprayer. Once a tank is nearly empty, the second person on the team must push the valve over very quickly, then change out the empty tank. So if you are spraying, keep an eye on that gauge. We'll probably do this several times before the whole thing is coated. And we must be snappy about it; our air supply is limited to four hours." Her tone grew very serious. "In no way must you touch or inhale this sealant while it is still wet. Once it is dry, it will be safe to touch, but not until then. It will take a full 24-hours for the sealant coat to dry. Today, we will cover it to 0.5 cm, which is quite a bit. We start with the keel and work our way up." She put on her containment helmet, and her air mask. The men did the same, and they could hear her tell them through the comm link, "Ready gentlemen? Start your engines."

Virgil worked with Bekkah, and Scott worked with his father. Holding the sprayer up to reach the keel from below was tiring work, and Bekkah's arms ached from it. More than once she bumped into Scott from behind. She kept half an eye on the gauge, and when she felt that the time was right, she told Virgil to change the tanks. She didn't look around to see if he did, she just kept sweeping the wand back and forth. After about 30 minutes, she moved to the port side.

"Scott, you work on the starboard side. I'll take port." It was easier to do the sides than it was the bottom, and she swept the wand in grand, wide strokes. Again, a tank change. It was hot in her containment suit, and sweat poured down. Think sauna, she joked to herself, and chuckled out loud.

"What's so funny?" Virgil wanted to know.

"Think sauna," she replied.

There was a beat, and then it dawned on him. He chuckled along with her.

One hour later, and another tank change, there was sufficient coating on the port side to suit Bekkah, and she moved down to do the more difficult aft portion. This required more than the wide strokes she had used before. She had to get into some nooks, and avoid getting sealant in the jet outlets. Scott moved down to the bow, and did that section. He had it easier because the light bar had been removed and the launch tubes for the missiles and the laser port were well protected. Another tank change, and she was nearly done. Virgil moved the tanks up on the scaffolding as she climbed another level to above the craft. She lay down on the scaffold that jutted out over the top of the sub like a diving board. She made sure she was tethered to the metal part of the scaffold by a built-in safety belt. From here she could reach the top easily, but her arms were tired, and the sprayer wand weighed them down. Still, she worked on.

Scott joined her on top but on the other side. They started from the middle and worked their way back to their respective scaffolds, avoiding the covered airlock hatch as much as possible. She signaled Virgil to change the tank again. Suddenly, she began to feel giddy and saw spots in front of her eyes. She shook her head to clear it. Scott noticed the motion and looked over at her.

"Bekkah?" he asked.

"Dizzy," she replied.

"Air tank reading?" he asked.

"Don't know," she replied faintly.

"Virgil. Check her air tanks."

Virgil climbed up behind her to read the gauge on her tank. "Nearly empty, Scott."

Jeff spoke. "She should have more air. Scott's tanks are still one quarter full." He turned his head toward Bekkah. "Bekkah, let Virgil take over. He just changed the tank so he can finish without another tank change. Get down and get out of here."

Bekkah shook her head. Part of her knew she wasn't acting right, part didn't care.

Virgil turned off the sprayer, then disconnected her tethers, and pulled her bodily off the scaffold. She was getting weaker by the moment. Jeff also got down, while Scott continued to work, and brought another air tank. He connected it swiftly. He hoped that none of the airborne sealant could get into her lungs.

"Breathe, Bekkah. Breathe," he coached, as he helped her down off the scaffolding. Virgil watched them go, and then climbed back up to finish the job.

Once outside the work area, Jeff quickly removed Bekkah's helmet, then his own. His face was full of concern when he saw that she was pale and bluish around the lips. He laid her down gently on the floor.

"Gordon!" he called into his telecomm. "I need a medikit down here, pronto! And an oxygen mask!"

"F-A-B, Dad," came the reply. In moments, Gordon was sprinting across the floor toward his father, medikit slung over his shoulder, and oxygen tank in hand. Jeff used a smelling-salt pellet to bring Bekkah around, gagging and coughing. Then he put the oxygen mask over her nose and mouth. Together, they removed her containment suit. She leaned up against Gordon as she regained her color and her equilibrium. She heard the sprayers stop, and moments later, Virgil and Scott joined the rest of the group outside the repair bay, removing their helmets.

"Is she okay?" asked Virgil, concern on his handsome face.

"I will be, if the room stops swimming," she answered him.

"Let's get her back to the house." Jeff stood, and stripped off his containment suit. He and Gordon supported Bekkah between them as they slowly walked toward the elevator and the monorail.

Later, Gordon came back and picked up her air tank and examined it with experienced eyes. He squinted at the accordion of clear plastic that led to the face mask. Then he walked off with it toward pod four and his own scuba gear.

Bekkah was promptly taken to the sick bay, where she was kept on oxygen for another half an hour. Then she was ordered to bed for the rest of the day.

Gordon brought the air tank to Jeff in the lounge. "I checked it out. It has a slow leak, here in the tubing."

Jeff's face clouded in anger. He made a call to Rinocot. "Yes. This is Jeff Tracy, of Tracy Industries. I want to talk to your company's president..."