Making Some Headway

Afternoon found Brains in the lab, beginning a series of tests on the object that JC had retrieved from the sea. Tin-Tin stood by, making sketches of the object, both as it was and as it must have been before its collision with the Pacific.

"Th-The metal is very dense," Brains commented into the lab's computer. "The d-density rivals that of, uh, lead." Turning to Tin-Tin, the scientist said, "I'll work on determining the chemical c-composition while you take, uh, measurements of the object. But first, s-see if you can get the duty logs from, uh, the Thunderbirds. Sally should have b-brought the black box from Th-Thunderbird Five."

"Right away, Brains," Tin-Tin said, putting down his sketch pad and calling the Thunderbird pilots to join them in the lab with the necessary recordings and sensor readings.

Jeff sat back in his desk chair, looking over the portraits of his daughters. His gaze lingered on Valentina's. He took in every detail of her features; the smooth cheeks, the bright blue eyes, the full lips stretched over the gleaming teeth in a happy smile, the long golden hair styled just so. She looked so young and vibrant and Jeff's heart jarred within him as he closed his eyes and swallowed.

I could have lost her today.

His eye moved down the row to Sally's portrait. Her black hair, so straight, gleaming in the light, her blue eyes in that firm gaze, the dimples showing on either side of the smile, which quirked up a little more on one side than the other, all combined to remind him of pictures that he saw of his own mother when she was young. His heart now swelled with pride, and he smiled.

I could have lost Val today. But I didn't. Because of Sally.

He let his gaze wander to the picture closest to his desk, to the portrait of the young woman with the model's face and the white blonde curls that framed it. Her smile was electric, and Jeff's own smile widened as he drank in every nuance of the blue eyes, the straight nose she inherited from him, all the parts of her face that were put together to create a woman whose beauty had been sought after by men from around the world.

I didn't because of Sally... and Mae.

He looked back down the row, at the picture of the chestnut haired woman who made his heart ache every time he looked at her. She looked so much like his beloved Lucille. The warm brown eyes looked back at him, and her smile, the duplicate of her mother's, lit up her face, the face that was often so filled with emotion when she played her piano or so serious when she painted or sketched.

Christa did her part to keep the island from danger.

Jeff now transferred his gaze to the portrait of his daredevil, his prankster, and sometimes, his most serious of children. Her short copper-tinted hair, so different from her sisters, proclaimed her individuality, as did her light-brown eyes and her wide cheekbones. But even though she looked different from the others, there was still a resemblance between her and her sisters, particularly with Mae. Her smile, shy but genuine, moved him to sigh in deep contentment.

And Jerrie brought back the evidence we need to figure out what happened and where this attack came from.

He nodded to himself, pleased and proud of his progeny.

I couldn't ask for more.

He let his eyes travel back down the row, and as he stopped at Mae, he suddenly remembered something.

Mae... oh yes, the pictures.

Jeff lifted his wrist communicator to his lips. "Dad to Mae. Come in, Mae."

Mae, who was in the lab with the rest of the girls, watching as Brains and Tin-Tin explored the thing that had holed her Thunderbird, jumped at his call. She exchanged glances with Sally, then answered his hail.

"Mae here. What do you need, Daddy?"

"I believe you have some items that I asked for last night?"

Mae's shoulders slumped. "Yes, Daddy. I believe I do."

"Please bring them up to the lounge... now."

"Yes, Daddy. I'm on my way."

Tin-Tin gave her a puzzled glance, but Mae didn't elaborate. Christa reached out to give her arm a squeeze, while Sally murmured, "You want us to go with you?"

Mae shook her head. "No. Brains needs you here to explain things."

"Okay, but tell us what he says and does," Sally instructed her. "And remind him that we were all in on it."

"I will if I have to," Mae told her. Then she turned and left the lab.

Without turning from her examination of the metallic blob, JC asked softly, "Do you think he'll be hard on her?"

"I don't know," Sally replied. "I hope not."

Mae went back to her quarters. She rooted around in her suite, pulling out packets of photos from the oddest places. From under her sofa cushions, behind her bed's headboard, from under her bottom dresser drawer. Finally she had gathered six more packets to add to the pile in her satchel.

Hmm. Where did I leave the disk?

She searched in her closet, putting her hands in her uniform boots, then in her bedroom slippers. She frowned, and stood up, banging her head on one of the closet's hanger rods.

"Ow!" She rubbed her head and turned, and there, the round rod threaded through its center, was the data disk she wanted. Carefully, she lifted the bar out of its bracket and slid the disk off. Leaving the closet, she added the disk to the bag, and went to meet her father in the lounge.

"Ah, there you are, Mae," Jeff said, trying to be upbeat and stern at the same time. "Let's see them."

Mae sighed as she approached her father's desk. She looked him in the eye for a long moment, then she upended the satchel on his desk. Neatly packaged envelopes of photographs spilled out, sliding over the desktop. She moved them around, dropping one to the floor by accident as she searched for the data disk. Jeff squatted down to retrieve the errant packet as she found the disk and handed it to him.

"Is this all of them?" he asked.

"All that I could remember hiding. If I run across any more, I'll bring them to you," she replied softly.

"Very good, Mae. This will not happen again, understood?" Jeff said, fixing a stern eye on her.

"I understand, Daddy. It won't happen again," a crestfallen Mae returned. Jeff put a finger under her chin and raised her eyes to his, smiling slightly

"I'm glad to hear it, Mae. You're dismissed." He leaned over and kissed her on the forehead.

Mae turned to go, her satchel clutched in one hand. As she reached the ornate grille that separated the lounge from the study, she turned around. Jeff was counting and stacking the packets.


He glanced up at her. "Yes, Mae?"

"Don't look at the pictures."

One eyebrow went up. "Oh? Why not?"

"You won't like them. And if you see them, you won't like her any more either."

"Don't worry about it, Mae. Go back to the lab and help Brains as much as you can. Then make sure you get some sleep and tell your sisters the same from me. You all had a long night last night."

Mae nodded, and left the room. Jeff held up the disk in one hand, and a packet of prints in another. He looked from one to the other, then sat down and slipped the disk into his computer. His graphics program automatically read the data and the first image came up, big and bold, on his monitor screen. His eyes widened and he slid back suddenly in his chair.

Oh. My. God.

Every eye turned to Mae as she walked through the door to the lab. Brains turned back as soon as the intruder was identified, but Tin-Tin crossed to her, taking her hand and giving it a little squeeze. He did not relinquish it until she was back among her sisters.

"Well?" Christa asked.

Mae sighed. "He wasn't too upset. Just wanted me to promise that it wouldn't happen again."

"No shouting? No cussing? No lecture?" JC queried.

"No. None of that. He did tell me that once we're finished here he wants us to get some sleep." She sighed again. "I told him not to look at the pictures."

"Why on earth did you do that, Mae?" Sally asked, looking askance at her younger sister.

"I dunno. Just didn't want to be the reason he stopped liking her, I guess." Mae shrugged.

"Well, it's over and done with and the ball is still in Daddy's court," Christa recounted, absently rubbing her arm. "I'm sure we'll find out soon enough what he decides to do about the Brit bi...."

Sally stopped Christa's next words by putting a hand to her sister's mouth. She made a significant motion with her head towards Brains and Tin-Tin. Christa nodded once, and Sally let go.

"As I was saying, we'll find out soon what he decides to do about Lady Penelope."

Brains spoke without looking up. "B-Bitch is the, uh, appropriate word, C-Christa. You needn't, uh, soft-pedal things to m-me."

"Nor to me," Tin-Tin added. "I like blondes, but not icy ones."

The girls glanced at each other, and began to laugh. "Can't put anything past these two, can we?" Sally said between chuckles.

"N-No, you can't. A-And you'd best, uh, remember it, Sally Ride Tracy," Brains answered with a smug tone.

Penelope was enjoying a quiet day by the poolside. Her porcelain skin, well slathered in sunscreen, was clothed in a tiny pink bikini. She wore high heeled sandals, with a large pink daisy positioned over the vamp of the shoe, and a wide brimmed straw hat with a bit of pink gauze decorating the band. She was reading a fat, period romance through her pink rimmed sunglasses, and she reached for the fresh lemonade that Parker brought to her from the kitchen.

"Thank you, Parker. That will be all."

"Yus, milady." With that, Parker took himself off to the air conditioned games room, where he planned on shooting a solo game of billiards, accompanied by a cold bottle of good beer.

Yes, Penelope was enjoying herself immensely. The pool area, usually a noisy and splashy place, was pleasantly deserted. Not a single Tracy daughter was on hand to spoil the sweet serenity of the day. The thought of the blackmail scheme that the Tracy girls had presented her with the night before rose in her mind, but she quickly squelched it. No matter what they did, she would come out on top and, if she played her cards right, become the second Mrs. Jefferson Tracy.

Hmm. Perhaps I could get Jeff to join me in the Jacuzzi. There's no telling what could happen in a hot tub. Especially in the absence of his bloody daughters.

She was still rolling the thought around in her mind when her compact buzzed for attention. She dipped her hand into the straw bag beside her lounger and pulled out her communicator. Opening up, she smiled to see Jeff's face looking back at her.

"Ah, Jeff. I was about to call and ask you to join me in the Jacuzzi. It's so lovely out here that I thought we could share..."

Jeff cut in. His face was impassive and his tone curt. "Penelope, please join me in the lounge right away."

Penelope was confused by the brusque tone. "Of course, Jeff. But what....?"

"I will see you in a few minutes. Jeff Tracy out." The mirror returned, reflecting her puzzled face.

"Oh, dear. And just when the sun was in the most convenient place, too." She pulled a sheer pink tunic from her straw bag and slipped it on over her head. It covered her from shoulder to mid-thigh, but was so translucent as to not be there at all. She tucked her book in the bag, and made her way up the stairs to the lounge, where Jeff awaited her.

"You girls look all in," Tin-Tin said, glancing up at Mae's face and seeing how she sagged. "You should get some sleep."

"Y-Yes," added Brains. "This chemical a-analysis will take, uh, another hour. Get some r-rest."

Sally nodded. The adrenaline from the night's activities had finally worn off and she was feeling worn out. She glanced at each of her sisters.

"They're right. I'm headed for bed," she told them, punctuating her sentence with a face-splitting yawn. "Talk to you all later." She left her stool and the lab. JC nodded to her siblings and the scientists and followed Sally. Mae gave them a tired wave, and tugged Christa's arm.

"Wait just a moment, Mae," the petite pilot said. She walked over to give Brains a peck on the cheek, a small kiss that turned into something far longer and more personal as the engineer's head turned toward her and their lips met instead.

"Goodnight," Christa said as she joined Mae and headed out to the monorail, where Sally and JC waited. Tin-Tin and Brains exchanged glances, and Tin-Tin grinned.

"I-I am informed that, uh, M-Mr. Tracy is aware of my liaison with C-Christa," Brains said offhandedly.

"And Mae told me that I had to make a decision between her and Valentina because her father now knows about my... uh... affection for them both."

"I, uh, feel like I'm w-waiting for Mount V-Vesuvius to erupt."

"Me too, Brains. Me too."

The two worked quietly for the next hour, measuring the object, trying to scrape off bits of it with different sharp instruments to see what would dent or scratch it. They heated it to find its melting point.

"N-Nothing seems to damage this metal!" Brains cried in exasperation.

"You're right, Brains," Tin-Tin agreed, frowning. "You know, it reminds me of cahelium."

Brains's eyes grew wide behind the thick lenses. "C-C-Cahelium! Of course! A-And not just any cahelium!" The scientist rushed over to the chemical table. "Oh, no!"

"What, Brains, what?" Tin-Tin cried, as he followed the genius.

Brains read off the results of the chemical analysis, then turned and locked eyes with the Malaysian. "My f-fears are now confirmed. This projectile... someone has d-discovered how to make F-Formula C30/1! The same m-material we used to build the Mole's borer. It can c-cut through any known metal, including the cahelium that w-we used to build Thunderbird F-Five!"