Author's notes: this is the start of a series that I hope to be updating twice weekly over the next few weeks. I'd had the idea for a time-travel story for a while, but it took lying in bed with a dose of flu just before Christmas to see how it could be done. So if you don't like it, blame the workings of a fevered brain!

As usual, I must thank Purupuss for proofreading and making helpful suggestions, and Gerry Anderson and his team for creating the Thunderbirds characters. Regrettably the Tracys & co. do not belong to me, but to Granada Ventures. Other original characters you will meet in succeeding chapters are my own creation, but one or two belong to history. The memory processor described in the first chapter is from the John Theydon 'Thunderbirds' novel (pub. 1966)

Unlocking the past

"Is this your time machine, Brains?" Virgil, sitting in a reclining chair in the centre of Brains' workshop, watched as the young scientist entered from one of the store-rooms at the back, carefully carrying a metal helmet with wires sticking out of it.

"N-not exactly, Virgil," replied Brains as he settled the device over the other's head and began connecting the wires to leads attached to the computer behind him. "That t-term implies you would be travelling into the past. W-what we are t-trying to do is bring the past to you."

"Hang on," said Scott, who was leaning against the wall opposite his brother, "haven't I seen that thing before?"

"That's right, Scott," came to reply. "This is the device I once used to try and scan your memories. Now I will be using it in reverse, using the memory processor to insert the memories of one of your ancestors into Virgil's brain, based on the DNA I took from him this morning."

"So that's why you wanted a sample of my blood?"

Brains nodded. "Yes, it is comparatively easy to extract DNA from blood. As you know, your DNA holds genes passed down to you from your ancestors. I think I have worked out of a way of extracting the experiences of one of your forefathers from these genes."

Just the then door of the workshop was flung open to reveal the two youngest Tracys. "Have we missed anything yet?" asked Alan, pulling up a chair and sitting down where he could watch his older brother.

"No," replied Virgil, "Brains is still wiring me up to the mains. I think he's been watching too many Frankenstein movies."

"There w-won't be much to see anyway," said Brains, frowning as he concentrated on making the connections. "The thought processor will put Virgil into a light sleep; that's the easiest way for the brain to assimilate new memories. He will simply feel like he is dreaming. Hopefully, when he wakes up, he will be able to tell us his experiences."

"Let's hope it won't just be half an hour of great-great-great grandfather steering a pair of mules pulling a plough up and down a field on the Kansas farm," said Alan.

"Or great-great-great grandmother in labour giving birth to great-great grandfather," quipped Gordon.

Virgil paled at this prospect. "That's not likely, is it, Brains?" he asked.

"I d-don't think so, Virgil," came the answer. "If my theory is correct then you will get the memories that are closest to your own thought patterns. I'm pretty sure that it will be a male ancestor, at least."

This idea seemed to cheer Virgil up. "So if we had an ancestor who was a painter I might get their memories?"

"Yes," put in Gordon, "a house-painter."

"Just remember," said Alan, waving his finger in front of Virgil's face, "don't go killing any of our great-grandparents or we might not be here when you get back!"

"That c-can't happen, Alan," put in Brains. "Virgil will only be g-getting a memory of past events; he won't be there as a participant."

Scott looked over towards the door. "Should we wait for Father?"

Gordon shook his head. "No, he's got Tin Tin downloading some data for him for the new contract he's bidding for, but he wants to hear all about it when we've finished."

"So does John," put in Alan. "I was talking to him about it yesterday when we changed shifts. He said it sounded like 'genealogy without tears'."

"I'm n-not sure that's entirely a-accurate, Alan," said Brains. "This experiment will, I h-hope, give access to the memories of one of your ancestors, b-but there will be no way of knowing w-which one, except from external c-clues. Virgil will have to try and find out who, where and when he is from his surroundings."

"But it will be a Tracy, surely?"

"N-not necessarily. It could be an ancestor from either branch of the family." He tightened the final connection. "Finished. Are you ready, Virgil?"

Scott looked at his brother. "You still want to go through with this, bro?"

"I might as well," replied Virgil, waving a bandaged left hand. "Until this heals there's not a lot else I can do. I can't even play my piano!" A slip with a screwdriver while working on the Firefly a couple of days ago had left him with a gash across the palm of his hand. While not dangerous, it made operating any sort of machinery difficult so, much to his disgust, his father had made him step down from active duty until it was healed.

Brains pulled a lever, sending the chair that Virgil occupied into horizontal mode. "Close your eyes, please, and try to relax." He threw a switch, causing a soft humming sound to emanate from the machine, and looked around at his audience. "Please remain quiet for a few minutes while the machine sends Virgil to sleep."

There was silence in the room, apart from the humming. The watchers kept their eyes focussed on Virgil's relaxing features, hardly aware of the faint blue haze appearing around the helmet on his head. The humming increased in intensity, rising and falling in a regular rhythm. Frowning, Brains looked at the dials on the computer.

"That's strange," he muttered to himself, "the machine is drawing far more power than I expected for this procedure."

Unseen behind him, the blue light was getting brighter, pulsing in time with the noise. There came a sudden flash, filling the room. Brains turned to see Gordon and Alan slump forwards in their seats, and Scott's body falling to the floor.

"Ah," said Brains to himself, "that wasn't quite the result I was expecting."

A beeping came from his watch. "Brains, come quickly!" Tin Tin's voice carried a note of alarm. "Mr. Tracy's just collapsed!"

"Is Mrs. Tracy OK?"

"Yes, she's trying to revive him now. Brains, we need you."

Brains looked around at the stricken figures in his workshop, thinking fast. "Tin Tin, can you see if you can raise John on the space station?"

"John? But how will that help?"

"Because I don't think he will answer. If my theory is correct, then I think all the male members of the Tracy family are in the process of reliving their past."