This isn't the story I expected to be posting next - I'd been working on some pre-Thunderbirds stories - but the Muse insisted and I'm not foolish enough to argue! It's not a sequel to 'Perfect Cousin' although it's set not long after and makes some references to events which took place in that story. One thing the Muse did agree on though, was that it's time for something a little lighter...

Tracys, Thunderbirds, etc don't belong to me.

Chapter One

The email was both unexpected and unwelcome. Brains sat back and considered it for a moment. Not that he was wondering how to respond - far from it. There was only one possible answer and that was an emphatic 'No'. But the fact that he'd received the offer in the first place puzzled him and he found his thoughts drifting back to a time he'd rather have forgotten.

Brains had been fourteen when he'd met Marcus Ivins. The young genius had been taken under the wing of a Cambridge professor and, since coming to live with him, he'd been given free rein to attend any classes which took his interest. Once he'd completed all the Science courses he'd turned his attention to Engineering, joining the final year students in the certainty that he'd soon know even more than they did. Brains lived to study but even so, despite the praise lavished upon him by his guardian and his teachers it wasn't a particularly enjoyable life. He liked being at Cambridge but he was lonely. Other students were wary of him, intimidated by his age and his intelligence and more often than not put off by his problems in communicating. In those days he'd been even more socially inept than he was now and his tentative efforts to make friends had never met with any success.

The Engineering class was no different. As usual, many students were simply in awe of him, but a few resented him, angry at the fact that a boy who had never studied the subject before was showing them up within weeks of his arrival. Marcus, who had been the star student before Brains came on the scene, hadn't taken at all kindly to his presence. He might have been one of the most intelligent people Brains had ever met, but he was also one of the most spiteful. Undeterred by the knowledge that Brains' guardian was one of the most influential men in the university, he'd gone out of his way to make the boy's life a misery. Experiments were tampered with and notes rendered unreadable after coffee was spilled over them. Brains had immediately guessed who had been responsible but Marcus had denied any involvement and his friends had backed him up, making the most of their greater height and bulk as they surrounded the boy, challenging him to report them. As they'd anticipated, Brains had been too intimidated to fight back or even to ask his guardian or one of his tutors for help and from then on the bullying had escalated. Marcus was the worst of the offenders, mocking Brains' stammer and doing everything he could to shatter the boy's already fragile confidence. As a result Brains had withdrawn completely into himself. He spent even more time studying, turning his attention to Computing and ending up with two degrees at the end of the year, top of the class in both, much to Marcus's fury.

Brains hadn't seen the man since he'd graduated and he'd never regretted the fact. He doubted his rival had missed him either, which was why the email had come as such a surprise. After a cautious greeting, Marcus had apologised profusely for his behaviour all those years ago, begging forgiveness and admitting that he'd always felt guilty about his treatment of his young classmate and wanted to make amends for his past misdeeds. He'd concluded by asking Brains to consider coming to work with him on some apparently spectacular but unexplained project at a private research facility, well-funded and even more well-paid.

Brains didn't care what the project was, he simply wasn't interested. He sent a quick reply, acknowledging Marcus's apology – too little too late, he privately thought, whatever the motivation behind it – and refusing the offer. He assured the other man that he was happy where he was. Funding and wages weren't a problem and there was no prospect of him moving on.

It wasn't the first job offer Brains had received over the past few months. Since the unwelcome publicity he and Jeff Tracy had received following the attempt by a long-lost Tracy niece to infiltrate both Tracy Industries and International Rescue – although the press knew nothing about the latter, much to everyone's relief – Brains had found himself in the public eye, his contributions to TI's fortunes becoming clear and attracting the interest of many of Jeff's competitors. He'd never considered any of the offers though, despite their promise of a fresh start. Instead he'd retreated to Tracy Island, throwing himself into his work. He hadn't left the island since the New York police had finished with him and, quite frankly, he wouldn't care if he never left it again. Although his abilities and inventions had been praised by each and every journalist - hence the numerous offers of employment - there had inevitably been considerable focus on his appearance, his stammer and his lack of confidence and social skills. He'd been portrayed as the hapless victim of a scheming girl, easy prey for someone so beautiful and cunning. The whole thing had been utterly humiliating and he didn't think he'd ever really get over it. Not that he was the only one. It had been a tough few months for everyone as the family – and Brains considered himself a member of the family now more than ever - tried to come to terms with what had happened to them. It hadn't been easy but things finally seemed to be getting back to normal and Brains knew he wouldn't be going anywhere.

"I told you he wouldn't go for it." Marcus Ivins swung round on his chair to face the woman who stood frowning at the side of his desk as she read Brains' email. "I made his life hell for a year. He'd have to be desperate or stupid to want to work with me again and he's clearly not either."

"Well, since he rejected our initial offer it was worth a try," she told him. "After everything the press said about him I'd hoped he'd be a little easier to persuade. But since the grovelling apology didn't work it looks like we need to think of some other way to tempt him over to us."

"I don't see why you want him anyway," Marcus said, trying but not quite succeeding to keep the whine out of his voice. "I thought you were happy with my work."

"Oh we are," she assured him. "But you know what Sir Reuben's like. He only wants the best. And you lied to us, Marcus. You told us you were the best in your year."

"I was!" Marcus protested. "The kid wasn't officially on the class list. He doesn't count."

"Oh, I think he does. Degrees in Engineering and Computing in less than a year? At fourteen? He's clearly better than you, Marcus. Just think yourself lucky the boss wants him to work alongside you. He could just get rid of you right now. After all, it's probably your presence stopping Hackenbacker from joining us."

"Sir Reuben wouldn't sack me, Sahara. I know too much."

"There's more than one way to get rid of an unwanted employee," she smiled, enjoying the nervous swallow which greeted her words.

"I-" Marcus's response was cut off as the door was flung open and a young man burst through, clearly agitated.

"What's wrong, Freddy?" Sahara asked.

"He's lost it. Seriously. I swear, the man's finally gone crazy."

"What did he say?"

Freddy McAllister glanced at the computer screen for a moment before shaking his head and turning away. "Forget that guy for now. We've got some serious work to do. I need everyone focussed on this."

"On what?"

He laughed. "You're going to love this one. Uncle Reuben's decided he wants to copy some of International Rescue's technology. He wants us to steal a Thunderbird."