"Wait, Mr Tracy, wait!"
Scott paused, one hand on the ladder to his Thunderbird's cabin, and tried hard to marshal his face into something approximating a smile. The voices, and the twin patter of the children's feet pursuing him heedless of their father's frustrated call, warned him of company a second or two before a tug on his sash announced its presence.
"I almost forgot, Mr Tracy!" Tony raised a small face towards his saviour, his eyes wide with pleading. "I just wanted to ask you one more thing."
The last thing Tony and his brother Bob asked ended up sending Scott on an impromptu ride down their Heath-Robinson-inspired 'launch tube' and straight into the weather station's midden. The detritus had sloughed off from Brains' stain-free fabric but, even so, enough of an odour lingered to sour both the warm air rising to Scott's nostrils and his attitude towards these two young fans.
"Say, fellas, it's been fun and all, but I really do need to get back to Base."
"Tony, Bob," Mr Williams arrived on his sons' heels. "Mr Tracy has been very patient now
"But we just wanted to know, Dad," Bob protested. Raising a hand, he pointed up at the craft towering above him and the nose-cone that tapered to a slender point. "How come Thunderbird One's nose is red?"
Scott blinked, his face adopting a practised expression of neutrality as he thought fast.
"Tony says it's just like Dad's go-faster stripes," Bob confided, his tone pouring on all the scorn a nine-year-old could muster for his foolish younger brother. "Just to look exciting and cool. But I reckon it's probably something really technical. Right, Mr Tracy?"
Mr Williams had backed off a step. The man rolled his eyes in good-humoured sympathy, but saw no harm in leaving Thunderbird One's pilot to answer this parting question. Scott half turned away. He gave the ladder an unnecessary tug to seat it firmly in place, and straightened his sash with another before fixing the boys with a stern look.
"We've got a really smart engineer, and he always has a good reason for doing things." Now, if only Scott could work this one out. He paused, nodding to himself. Being right or wrong was important at a rescue, but being confident in your answers even more so. "You know it's smart to wear bright colours when it's getting dark, don't you? So your dad can see you and fetch you home. Well, it's just like that."
Bob's eyes opened wide. "And you'll be able to see it through a blizzard and everything."
Scott's eyes swept the arid Australian landscape, and then turned down to the two awed faces gazing up at him. He was willing to bet neither boy had ever seen a real white-out blizzard.
When you can't see your hand in front of your face, a flashing neon sign wasn't much help, let alone a shiny red cone. He smiled a wan smile, waving to Mr Williams as the man towed his sons back out of thruster-range, and climbed up to the cabin. It was the work of moments to settle into his seat and launch Thunderbird One towards home.
He could fly the Thunderbird with his eyes closed. Usually that was relaxing, in the quiet after a mission. Today he could have done with a bit more of a distraction. If nothing else it would get his mind off a question that he'd simply never stopped to consider before.
Just who had decided on the crafts' colour schemes? And why just why was Thunderbird One's nose-cone bright red?
"I always thought it was some kind of special coating. You know, to help with the supersonic stuff," Alan shrugged.
Dismissing the question without a second thought, he turned to strike out for another length of the pool. Gordon, sitting on the tiled edge, frowned after his brother, and not just because of Alan's lazy, inefficient strokes.
"That doesn't make sense, right? If it was, it would have to be red on the wings too. And doesn't Brains bake that stuff into the metal anyway?" He glanced up at the loungers, getting a shrug from Scott and a nod of affirmation from Virgil. Gordon shook his head. "Yellow's kind of traditional for submarines, and it's pretty good for visibility, so I guess I know why Four is the way she is. But I know for a fact that Thunderbird Three's only red because Brains knows it's Alan's favourite. It's not like the colour's all that important in space."
Virgil raised an amused eyebrow. "You know that for a fact?" he repeated.
Gordon grinned. "Deep-sea testing in Four could get pretty dull. Playing truth or dare with Brains kind of helped pass the time."
"And that's the best question you could come up with?"
"Well, I hadn't known the fella long. I figured it was a safe place to start."
Alan was on his way back across the pool now, and Gordon slipped into the water, tracking his brother with his eyes. The moment Alan touched the wall, Gordon pushed off, laying down the challenge to an impromptu race.
Virgil rolled his eyes at the sudden flurry of splashes as Alan caught on and struck out a body-length behind. He settled back on his sun lounger, reaching for the magazine he'd let fall. A deep and frustrated sigh from Scott made him pause in mid motion. He eyed his eldest brother in a mixture of amusement and mild concern.
"Are you sure you didn't get a knock on the head from that launch chute? You seem kind of worked up over this colour thing."
"It just doesn't make sense." Scott bit off the words, his brow creasing into a deep frown he'd hidden from his younger brothers, and he saw Virgil's confusion morph into something more like understanding. Scott Tracy wasn't a man who liked disorder or unknowns in his world at least not beyond the compartment he set aside for them. As much as he enjoyed the rough and tumble of life at home with four brothers, International Rescue wasn't the place for it. The rescue organisation was the place in his life for the order and discipline he'd learned in the air force. He had that in common with his father; both preferred the organization to run along clear and almost military lines. Scott Tracy might not understand everything that made the Thunderbirds run, but the fact of them - and the day-to-day operations of International Rescue - were tangible and understandable, things that fell entirely within his grasp. Until this.
Sighing, Virgil sat up a little straighter.
"Alan might be right. Could it be something to do with the radar, or the electromagnetic field generator? Those are both in the nose-cone. Maybe something to do with reflectivity?" His voice trailed off into the same dubious scepticism written clearly across Scott's face. He shook his head, thinking back to those early days, before Scott had left the air force to join his family's effort. "I'm pretty sure the colours were on most of the designs early on, before Dad and Brains first showed them to us. I argued a bit about Thunderbird Two. Camouflaging something that big would be pretty tough if we ever had to go to ground, without it being dark blue into the bargain." He tilted his head, thoughtful hazel eyes gazing into the past. "Dad signed off on One pretty much without a word. Red nose-cone and all."
"So why, Virg? Brains always has a reason. You know as well as I do it's not a special coating friction, radar or otherwise and I'm pretty sure it's nothing to do with low visibility." Thunderbird One had flashing spotlights that could be deployed for that, and a beacon that was tuned to their wrist-communicators. In situations where anything less was needed, the hundred-foot-long rocket ship was kind of hard to miss, however it was painted. He gazed inwards, summoning an image of his Thunderbird before his minds' eye and looking seriously at it for the first time in years. "Grey and blue I can kind of understand it's not like we want to catch the eye every time I pass overhead, and those colours are a better disguise for One than green would be. So why, when the ship's meant to blur into the clouds, do I carry around a bright red nose?"
"Uh, I'm guessing this isn't the time to make clown jokes?" Two glares, one from chestnut brown eyes, the other from steely blue, gave the newly-returned Gordon his answer. He raised both hands in playful surrender, his lips sealed.
Alan heaved himself up beside his brother with a splutter and a splash, finishing his double-length of the pool respectably close to Gordon's heel and in time to hear that last comment. He ran a hand back through his blond hair, combing out the excess water, and gave an exasperated, if somewhat-breathless, sigh.
"Brains is in his lab, isn't he? Look, if it bothers you that much, Scott, why not just go ask him?"
Why not just ask him?
Scott hesitated, hand raised to knock on the door of the lab and heard the words play in his memory.
They were easy enough for Alan to say. At twenty-years-old and with a frankly prodigious mind hidden behind his innocuous mask, the youngest of Scott's brothers had yet to fully grasp that some questions were hard to ask, and some answers better not to know.
Gee, Brains, I've been flying this supersonic rocket for three years and I've only just noticed it's got a minty colour scheme. Want to tell me why?
Yes, that was going to go down well.
The door had swung open in deceptive silence, leaving Scott's hand poised to knock on the tall forehead and broad-rimmed glasses of Brains himself. He let his hand fall in a hurry, his expression a grimace of apology. It was several seconds before he realised that Brains was still waiting for an explanation, looking as bemused now as Scott himself.
"Right, er, Brains. How are you?" As compared to how he'd been at breakfast? It was a dumb question, and Scott pushed on before the engineer had time for more than a nonplussed hesitation. "I've kind of been meaning to ask..."
Well, this was going well. For a change it was Brains waiting with an encouraging expression, and International Rescue's fearless, quick-thinking field commander struggling to find the words he needed. Scott shook the thought away, shifted his stance and put a firm note back into his voice.
"I've been thinking... Thunderbird One's looking a little the worse for wear, and it might be time for a repaint."
That got a reaction. Brains' confusion was replaced by focused attention, his hand coming up to nudge his glasses higher onto the bridge of his nose.
"You've noticed scratches in the paint? Chips? Where? Is the surface beneath is damaged? That could cause micro-turbulence. Where on the craft, Scott? At supersonic speeds... this could be serious."
"Ah, no!" Scott raised a hand, warding off the flurry of rapid questions. "No. Nothing like that." He gritted his teeth. "I was just wondering if we had enough paint in stock if it was needed. The red on the nose-cone, for instance. If it's a special formulation it might take a while to order in, and if there was damage and we needed a repaint in a hurry..."
"It's just ordinary, ah, paint, Scott." There was a note of accusation in Brains voice now; a mild reproach for the alarm Scott had caused him. "The surface enamel beneath is the truly, ah, complicated formula." The engineer frowned, head tilted quizzically to one side. "You know that."
"Yeah, I guess I did." But... ordinary paint? An exasperated sigh escaped Scott. He ran one hand back through his dark brown hair, frowning down at the shorter man in front of him. "So, I gotta ask: why red?"
The words burst out of him with the force of machine gun fire. Brains was driven back a pace or two by the sheer intensity of them. The engineer flushed, his eyes shying suddenly away. His hand came up to take his glasses and polish them nervously on the hem of his shirt.
"Well, ah... I thought go-faster stripes would be, ah, over the top, but the red nose-cone..." Brains reclaimed a step, peering up at Scott. He replaced his glasses, his blue eyes suddenly seeming impossibly large and shining with the same hopeful expression as young Tony Williams' a few hours before. His voice too took on that high-pitched and unspoken plea for approval. "Don't you think, ah, it looks kind of... well... cool?"
Out of the mouths of babes...
Scott nodded, turning away without another word. It was an answer. Brains always had a reason for what he did. That didn't mean it had to be a good one.
Alan had claimed Scott's abandoned lounger, Virgil had taken refuge from their younger brother's aimless chatter behind his magazine, and Gordon was floating on his back, sculling across the pool with lazy strokes of his hands and feet. The three were a picture of relaxation, but that didn't stop all three faces turning at the sound of Scott's footsteps on the tiled patio.
"Well?" Gordon asked.
"Special design feature." Scott shrugged, strolling on past and heading up to the lounge without stopping. "Too technical for me."
And if Alan and Gordon exchanged sceptical looks, if Virgil gazed after his retreating back with an expression of open speculation, well, so be it.
Scott slipped past his father's desk, spinning through into Thunderbird One's hangar with a practiced movement before dropping his arms from the lamps and folding them across his broad chest. From the gantry, Thunderbird One filled his entire field of view, her elegantly tapered nose-cone vivid in the spotlights from above. Head tilted to one side, he tried to imagine the scarlet paint replaced with silver-grey, with blue or even simple white.
Hidden in the dim hangar, alone with his craft, he let a slow smile creep across his face. He'd never say it out loud, never in a thousand years.
But yeah, sometimes the obvious reason was reason enough. And he had to admit it did look kind of cool.