Past into present

Virgil struggled, desperate to free himself and return to the surface, at the same time holding his breath and squeezing his eyes tight shut, acutely aware of how poisonous the river water would be.

A stinging blow to his face made him gasp, but instead of putrid water he found he was inhaling cool, clean air.

"Relax, Mr Virgil. Just breathe normally. The danger is past."

Virgil opened his eyes and looked up into Kyrano's wizened features. He sat up, his chest still heaving, as Kyrano's grip on his arms relaxed. He looked around to see Scott sitting hunched forward on the floor, shaking his head as if to clear it, Brains leaning over Gordon and Tin Tin helping Alan to a sitting position.

"What's been going on? Did you guys get that memory too; Brunel, the tunnel?"

Gordon sat up, "No, I heard Krakatoa explode; it was awesome!"

Scott climbed to his feet, bracing himself on the wall for support. "I was flying a Spitfire." Though still clearly shaken by the experience, Virgil could see the gleam in his brother's eye.

Brains looked around as the Tracy boys all got up, Gordon and Alan both still a little unsteady. "I think a h-hot drink is required after a shock like that. You n-need to get your blood sugar levels up. Kyrano, c-could you oblige?"

Kyrano bowed. "Of course. Would you like me to bring it down here?"

Scott shook his head. "No, that's OK, Kyrano, we'll meet you in the lounge."

"Y-yes," added Brains. "I th-think Mr Tracy is going to want an explanation…and an apology."

"Dad got involved too?" asked Alan. "I wonder what he saw."

Brains reddened. "I'm a-afraid so."

Gordon put his arm round their friend's shoulders. "Don't worry about it, Brains. I'm sure he found it as fascinating as the rest of us did."

As the group entered the lounge, they found their father in conversation with John. Both wore a familiar, slightly bemused, expression.

"Hi there, John," Virgil waved at his brother's picture. "Don't tell me you got caught up in this as well?"

John nodded, his face full of enthusiasm. "You'll never guess who I met!"

"Sit down, boys," said Jeff, taking up position on one of the sofas. "I think we all have stories to share."

oooOOOOooo

The sun was nearly touching the horizon, and the table in the lounge strewn with empty coffee cups and plates by the time they had finished exchanging their tales. Brains had finally stopped apologising for the unexpected results of his experiment, and now a heated debate was raging.

"I tell you, Brains, it was far too real to be a memory," said Gordon. "We had full sensory perception – I could smell the air and feel the ash under my fingers."

"Yes, and we were in control of our movements too, " said Scott, thinking of the way he had manoeuvred his aircraft.

"If we did actually go back into our ancestors' lives," mused John, "then wouldn't our actions have become part of the memories that they have handed down to us?"

"Th-that's an interesting theory, John," replied Brains, "b-but not something I am comfortable with. If I had thought there was any chance of your influencing the past, then I would never have started this experiment. It would be too dangerous."

"But did we change anything," put in Virgil, "or did we just do what our ancestor would have done at the time? I know my actions were part of history. Isambard Kingdom Brunel was injured when the Thames Tunnel breached during construction. Because of that he went to Bristol to convalesce. While he was there he entered a competition to build a suspension bridge, and this was the start of his career. The contacts he made while he was there led to him winning the contract to build the railway to London, and go on to build his steam ships."

"I'm sure my ancestor would have done the same as I did, too," said Gordon. "Anyone hearing that bang in conjunction with the ash that had been raining down would have wanted to put as much distance between themselves and the source as possible. Letting the porpoises guide them to safety is something sailors had been doing for centuries. The only difference was that I knew why I was doing it."

"My suggestion was a known fact too." John's voice came form the wall. "Eighteenth century silk-weavers even used punched cards to enter their patterns on their weaving looms, just as the early post-war computers did."

"You're OK as well, Scott," said Virgil, turning to his brother. "You may have got the idea from me, but I remember reading that some of the crack fighter pilots were able to divert the flying bombs in that way; that's what gave me the idea for dealing with Rick O'Shay's satellite in the first place."

Scott shook his head. "No, Virgil, that can't be right. From the way the other pilot was talking, this must have been one of the first flying bombs they'd seen. No-one had done what I did before."

"Hang on," said Gordon, his brow wrinkling as he worked this through. "Scott got the idea from Virgil, and Virgil got it from the wartime pilots, but they got it from Scott." He paused and looked up, "so, who thought of it first?"

Apart from telling his story, Alan had been uncharacteristically quiet throughout the whole discussion. As his brothers turned towards him, he reddened. "Uh, I'm not sure about my ancestor. I know the names of most of the land-speed record holders, but I don't remember this Lockhart guy. Should he have died in that crash?"

"Well, it's easy enough to check," said John, turning towards his console on the space station. "Frank Lockhart, you said?" There was a patter of keys then John scanned the screen. "Here he is. Frank Lockhart, racing driver. Born in Cleveland, Ohio, 1908, died …uh…" He paused and looked at Alan. "died Daytona Beach, Florida, 1928."

There was a collective gasp from the listeners and Alan paled.

John carried on reading the entry. "Yes, it says his car went out of control and he was thrown out, killing him instantly."

Alan shook his head. "No, that's not what happened!"

"Hang on, there's more." John was scrolling through the entry. "Apparently this was his second attempt at the speed record that year. It says here 'in an earlier attempt he lost control of the car and the vehicle ended up in the sea, where it was pulled ashore by onlookers. The names of his rescuers are not known'."

"That poor guy." Alan was visibly shaken, and Tin Tin grasped his hand to comfort him.

Virgil looked across at Brains, his brow wrinkling. "What I'm not sure about is whether Victor survived the flooding of the Thames tunnel. We know Brunel did, but maybe we should check the list of fatalities?"

Brains shook his head. "N-no, Virgil, V-victor would have to have survived, in order to p-pass on his memories. It was you who f-felt you were drowning, not him. Unlike your brothers, your transition back to the present was not a smooth one."

Jeff put his hand on his son's shoulder. "I think we'd all like to know what happened to the people whose memories we shared." Jeff touched the frame holding the sampler that his mother had earlier retrieved, at his request, from her rooms. "I wonder if the woman who gave this to Jethro made it to California, and what happened to her. I never even asked her name," he added, his voice soft.

He looked up at his sons. "I've decided I'm going to employ a professional genealogist to find out more." He looked around at the faces of his sons. "I don't know about the rest of you, but I've found this a humbling experience, knowing how our ancestors thought and felt. It's a sobering thought that saving people's lives is obviously something in the Tracy genes!"

Just then the phone started to ring. Jeff pressed the button, his mind still on the past. "Jeff Tracy here."

"Hello, darling." Lucille's face smiled at him from the screen. "My plane has just touched down at Auckland. Could you send one of the boys to pick me up?"

The end

(I'm mean, aren't I?)