This story was written for the Tracy Island Writers' Forum 2014 'Christmas with a difference' challenge. Our brief was to show the Thunderbirds characters (or one of them) having a very different Christmas. Something happens to take them out of their normal traditions entirely, and they have to make the best of it – or maybe they simply experience a completely new way of celebrating the season. The more unusual or unique the situation, the better.

My thanks to Tiylaya for her proofreading skills, and the Gerry Anderson and his team for creating the characters that have endured for fifty years.


Breaking with tradition

Plans for the craft they were calling Rescue Four littered the bench. So immersed was Brains in his latest creation that the discreet tap on the door of his laboratory barely registered. Another, slightly louder tap was followed by the gentle tones of Kyrano.

"Your lunch is here, Mr Brains."

"Th-thank you, Kyrano."

There was a pause, then Kyrano's voice came again. "Are you quite certain that this is all you want? The Tracys are just sitting down to their Christmas meal."

"Th-that's fine, thank you, Kyrano."

"Enjoy your sandwich, Mr Brains."

Unlike the Tracy boys, who seemed to stomp around the house in steel-shod boots, Kyrano's tread was soft, but Brains thought he heard the swish of the manservant's robes as he turned away from the door.

Brains removed his glasses and started polishing the lenses, something he always did when he was distracted. The calendar on the wall behind him might say 25th December, but he really didn't 'do' Christmas. Not because of any Scrooge-like feelings of antipathy towards the event, but simply because the celebration had long ago lost all relevance to him. He could barely remember the Christmasses with his own family, before the tornado had ripped through his Michigan home, leaving him an orphan. Christmasses at the orphanage had been an awkward affair of forced joviality. The carers seemed determined to make sure all the children were included in the festivities, whether they wanted to be or not, and the presents they handed out had been donated by well-meaning benefactors with no knowledge of the recipient.

His happiest Christmasses had probably been the years he had spent at Cambridge after he had been adopted by Professor Hackenbacker. Together they would make the most of the quiet period after the students had returned to their homes, wandering along the banks of the Cam in the late afternoon sun. Muffled up against the cold, they would listen to the voices of the Kings' College choristers' echoing across the water before returning to the professor's cosy rooms for a warming cup of hot chocolate and a discussion of the latest mathematical theories

But that was in the past and since the professor's death Christmas Day had been just another day like any other as the young man immersed himself in his latest project.

Replacing his glasses, Brains glanced once again at the plans spread across the worktable, and the others labelled 'One', 'Two and 'Three' pinned to the wall above him. His life had been changed earlier this year when he had been approached by Jeff Tracy. The billionaire businessman explained that he had heard Brains' lecture a few years earlier in Paris. At the time he had been forming plans to found a secret rescue organisation, and was now ready to turn those plans into reality.

This was all Brains had ever dreamed of; to be given the chance to create the biggest, fastest and most powerful machines on the planet, knowing they would only be used for peaceful purposes. He was happy to leave his old life and move to Tracy Island where the machines would be constructed.

However he was less than happy when he first met Jeff's sons. These five handsome, athletic and extrovert examples of manhood were all too reminiscent of the testosterone-laden bullies at the orphanage whose idea of fun was to pick on the nerdy-looking kid with the thick spectacles. It had taken quite some time for him to come to know the Tracy boys as individuals and be able to relax in their presence, though he still had a tendency to flinch if one came bursting in to his workshop.

John had been the first one he became comfortable with; the quietest of the clan, their shared interest in electronics and communications gave them a common ground. Virgil, with his engineering degree, had come up with a few practical solutions for turning his designs into reality - those forward pointing wings on Rescue Two looked wrong, but the simulations had shown them to be remarkably effective.

Scott was an echo of his father in drive and determination, and a natural leader. Gordon had turned out to have a surprising talent for chess, an interest apparently developed during an extended hospital confinement. Brains enjoyed playing against him when he wanted to give his mind a rest from work. Alan, with his mercurial nature, he'd found harder to get to know, though recently he had discovered that the young man was keen on motor racing and knew a great deal about car design and experimental fuels.

The young scientist pushed himself up from his stool and unlocked the door. He knew that if he didn't bring in the tray now, he would become immersed in his work once again and probably forget about eating and the untouched condition of his meal would be remarked upon.

The tray was standing on a small table in the corridor outside, covered by a cloth. Lifting the fabric, the first thing the he noticed was the sprig of holly that decorated the top of his sandwich, but then he spotted another innovation. Normally Kyrano would supply his trays with a paper napkin, but this time there was a small square of folded white linen under the plate. Unfolding it, he could see that it had been edged in blue and embroidered with a capital 'B'.

He recognised the handiwork immediately. A few days earlier, having forgotten to stop work for supper, he had gone into the kitchen to find a snack and come across his employer's mother sitting at the kitchen table with a sewing basket open in front of her while her fingers were stitching a piece of white cloth.

The Tracy matriarch had looked up. "Oh, it's you, Brains," she had said with a smile. "I was just finishing the napkins I've been making for my son and grandsons. I don't know why I try to hide them as it's a family tradition that they all have new ones every year when they sit down at the Christmas table."

As he stood there holding the square of fabric, Brains gradually became aware of another sensation. Kyrano must have left the door open at the far end of the corridor and the aroma of cooking was drifting down the passageway. Sniffing the air, he could detect the smell of roast turkey and ... was that? ... yes! ... chestnut stuffing. He inhaled deeply, the scent bringing back long-forgotten memories of his childhood; first of stirring the mixture in a bowl for his mother, and then sitting around a table decorated for Christmas, watching his father carve the turkey.

Still holding the napkin, the young man felt himself being drawn along the corridor towards the main living area, even as the analytical part of his mind flashed up information on how the olfactory bulb was part of the brain's limbic system, making connections associated with memory and feeling.

The buzz of conversation and clinking of plates drew him to the partly-open door of the dining room, and here he hesitated, looking in on the scene. Individually, he could now cope with the members of the Tracy family, but en masse he still found them daunting, and it felt wrong for him to intrude on a private gathering.

Just then, Virgil looked up and spotted him in the doorway. "Brains! You've come to join us!"

Brains held up the napkin and looked at Mrs Tracy. "I, er, came to, er, say thank you."

The older woman beamed. "You're welcome, dear. It only seemed right; you're one of the family now." She looked at her grandsons. "Boys, make some room at table."

John shuffled along the table. "Here, you are, Brains, you can sit next to me."

"Great," said Gordon from the other side. "You'll be able to tell us how you are getting along with my new submarine."

Scott brought another chair up while Alan fetched mat and cutlery, then the whole family looked at him expectantly..

Brains felt the last of his reluctance evaporating as he took his seat. Maybe it was time to start having a different sort of Christmas after all.

- The end -

Merry Christmas to all from myself, Brains and the Tracy family