Written for the 2009 TIWF Forum Kiss a Brother Challenge.


Brains’ voice floated across the periphery of Jeff’s hearing. Along with the rustle of coconut palms beyond the balcony, and the sound of surf crashing on the rocks below the villa, the voice provided a faint backdrop to Jeff’s thought processes as he worked. Another of the endless distractions that he unconsciously filtered out.


There it was again. The muscles across Jeff’s shoulder blades tightened.

‘Mr Tracy?’

Jeff looked up from his paperwork to find Brains hovering on the other side of the desk, swaying slightly, as he often did when he’d trekked up the three flights of stairs from his laboratory.

‘Yes Brains?’

‘Uh…’ The young man seemed to have something serious to say. His blue eyes roved spasmodically across the desk, focussing everywhere but directly at Jeff. ‘Braman has detected an, ah, anomaly in uh, Thunderbird Five’s power output.’

‘Braman?’ Jeff slid some documents into a folder and speared his pen back into its decorative holder.

‘Yes, Mr Tracy.’ Brains’ eyes settled on the gold penholder. ‘I ah, asked Braman to a-analyse Thunderbird Five’s output profiles using the new uh, remote diagnostic software.’

‘I see,’ said Jeff, looking intently at the young scientist. ‘What did Braman’s analysis reveal?’

Thunderbird Five is outputting more ah, energy, than she is u-using. The a-atomic power cells might be about to uh, give out, or they might be ah, bleeding energy.’

‘Would Alan know about this?’ Scott asked as he wandered in from the balcony, the odour of cigar smoke wafting from him in an invisible but aromatic cloud.

Brain’s nose twitched involuntarily as Scott brought the invisible cloud closer. ‘Not unless he’s been running a-a diagnostic.’

‘How long have we got?’

‘I-I’m not sure.’ Brains’ eyes recommenced their wandering as he considered possibilities and solutions. ‘The remote diagnostic system hasn’t been properly uh, calibrated, and, I-I can’t be sure how accurate the readings are…’ Brains faltered at that point, the concerned expression on Jeff’s face finally filtering into the part of his brain he had reserved for social interaction, but he picked up the thread again when he saw Scott’s head tilt quizzically in his direction. ‘All I, uh, can say is that the ah, levels, aren’t right a-and I think Alan should get the auxiliary power unit online, n-now.’

‘Get John up here.’ Jeff looked apprehensively at Scott before turning to the microphone behind him. ‘Thunderbird Five from Base. Thunderbird Five from Base. Alan?’

‘Yes Dad?’ Alan’s portrait burst into sudden life, the static photograph of Jeff’s youngest son replaced by a grainy live image of Alan aboard the space station that orbited twenty thousand miles overhead.

‘Alan.’ Jeff was not about to waste time. ‘Brains has been testing a remote diagnostic system and he says there’s been a dip in Thunderbird Five’s power curve. Have you noticed any fluctuations?’

‘A dip? Uh…’ Alan craned his neck to look at something out of camera view. ‘Let me check the levels, I haven’t looked at them recently.’ Alan moved away from the camera, and shortly his voice could be heard faintly from the other side of the control centre. ‘No, nothing unusual here. Brains,’ he called out, ‘what do you think it is? A reactor leak?’

‘N-not a leak, A-Alan.’

‘Although something’s causing that image deterioration,’ said Scott quietly, looking uneasily at the screen.

‘Well, what then?’ Alan’s face reappeared in the portrait. ‘All levels read normal and everything is... ’

What the hell?

One moment Alan was staring at a series of gauges and readouts, the next he was plunged into darkness. He swayed disoriented for a second, then slapped his hand out to grab at the panel he’d last seen in front of him. Through the curving observation port behind him the sun reflected brightly off the Pacific below, and now that his eyes had adjusted he could see the room around him illuminated with an eerie blue glow. The panel beneath his hand, like the rest of the space station, was completely dead, and no amount of relay switching or subtle toe-jabbing could bring it back to life. A slight wave of panic washed over him and he froze for a moment, cocking his head until he heard the reassuring hiss of oxygen into the chamber. Not all the systems were out then – air was still venting into the room, and the fact that he hadn’t drifted away from the floor meant the gravity was still working.

Alan raised his wristcom to his lips. ‘Base from Thunderbird Five.’

‘Alan!’ came his father’s voice through the tiny speaker. ‘What happened?’

‘I’m not sure Father.’ Alan stared worriedly around the dead control centre. ‘The lights and coms are out, but the oxygen and gravity are still working.’ He jabbed the panel with his foot again. ‘Any idea what’s happened Brains?’

There was a pause, and Alan could hear a small and animated conversation taking place on the planet below. Finally Brains’ voice floated out of the speaker.

‘A-Alan, since It seems to be the ah, generator, you’re going to have to uh, bring the auxiliary online.’

‘Understood. I’ll get down to auxiliary control right away.’

‘But Father,’ continued John, ‘I think Alan should sit tight until Brains and I can get up there and help him get that generator going.’

Jeff looked at Brains. ‘What do you think?’

‘I-I think uh, Alan should be able to do it o-okay.’

‘The auxiliary generator has never been used,’ John persisted. ‘It might be difficult for Alan to start on his own.’

‘No,’ replied Brains obtusely. ‘I-I designed everything so that ah, one man could do it.’

John’s lips set in frustration. ‘The pressure seal on the generator door sticks. Without full power Alan might not be able to get it open.’ He turned back to his father. ‘Alan’s got oxygen and gravity and…’

‘John,’ Jeff interjected, ‘we’re not taking any chances, but I take your point. We need to replace the main power unit. So I want you and Brains to start loading Thunderbird Three and get her prepped for launch.’

‘Maybe John’s right,’ said Scott, noting the anxious expression on his brother’s face. ‘Maybe Alan should wait.’

‘There’s ah, no need Scott,’ said Brains. ‘The backup generator has a-a simple start-up procedure…’

‘… which you’ve all been drilled on numerous times,’ Jeff finished with a hint of patriarchal exasperation. He leant towards the microphone. ‘Alan? How’s it going?’

Alan stepped into the corridor, reluctant to leave the cool blue glow of the control room for the pitch dark of the satellite’s windowless interior. He gripped the handle of his torch tightly, and shone a beam of yellow light into the coal black depths ahead of him. Before this moment he would have said he could navigate the inside of Thunderbird Five blindfolded, but now he had no clue what lay beyond the control centre threshold. Was it ten steps or twenty to the bathroom? And how much farther after that was the hatch to the auxiliary control room? And… could he hear breathing? No... It was just circulating air seeping through the vents.

Cautiously he took another step. Then another. And another, the squeak of his boot heels bouncing loudly around the narrow metal corridor. Funnyhe’d never noticed that echo before now. He proceeded slowly along the corridor, the thin light of the torch shakily leading the way, until he came at last to a grey steel door. It was closed tight, pressure sealed against the possibility of explosive decompression. With one hand Alan spun the metal handle anticlockwise until he heard the hiss of escaping air, then swung the heavy metal door outward with an abrupt clang.

The backup generator was on the far side of the auxiliary control centre, across another endless void of blackness and behind another heavy sealed door. Wherever the torch shone there was a helpful slice of yellow light, a small ray of golden security that scattered jumpy uneven shadows in its wake. But outside the beam was a cold darkness, a gloom that sucked up the light and swallowed it whole, was going to suck him up next and feast upon his soul.

It was entirely irrational, Alan knew, but he’d never known this kind of blackness, and at some primal level the combined cellular memory of the entire human race relentlessly insisted he be afraid of the dark. A tremor ran through him, a chill that twisted up his spine and stood his hair on end. This was ridiculous. He was an astronaut goddammit, a graduate of the space program and a fully-fledged member of International Rescue. He wasn’t about to let a dark space station get the better of him.

With renewed determination Alan crossed the room and by the light of the torch manually popped the door seal, then grunted loudly as he tried to shift the heavy door with one hand. He jumped as his father’s voice floated unexpectedly out of his wristcom.

‘Son, are you alright?’

‘Dad!’ Alan’s heart thumped in his chest, and if his hands had been free he would have pressed them against his chest in imitation of his grandmother. ‘Dad, the door’s stuck. Hang on.’ Alan clamped the torch between his knees, and using both hands bodily shoved the door aside.

In the narrow beam of the torchlight Alan saw movement in the auxiliary generator room. He caught a brief glimpse of a single wide eye as something lurched abruptly towards him.

‘Oh my god!’ he cried, then shrieked as the intruder rushed headlong and crashed heavily against him, something cold and hard colliding painfully against his forehead. A cloud of hair enveloped his face and a pair of icy lips smacked against his own before sliding down his chin towards his chest.

The torch clattered to the metal floor and blinked off as Alan toppled downwards beneath the being. He shrieked again as he flung the creature bodily away from him and scrambled backwards across the floor. The creature fell loosely in the dark, making an uneven plopping sound as it collapsed upon the polished metal. Alan continued his awkward scramble until his back slammed up hard against the curved outer wall of the space station.

Jesus Christ! Alan’s heart hammered painfully in his chest. What the hell was that?

He was hyperventilating with fright, and he gulped loudly before sucking in his breath and holding it. After his mad scramble in the dark he was disoriented, and he had no idea where the creature was or what it was doing. For all he knew it was crouching over him right now, salivating, reaching out a claw... Alan turned his head frantically in the dark, listening for sounds, breathing, movement, anything. But there was only silence, and the deafening thud of blood, pounding in his ears.

‘Oh my god!’ came Alan’s voice through the desk speaker, followed by a high-pitched shriek and a sudden clattering.

‘Alan!’ Jeff leant urgently over the microphone. ‘Alan! Can you hear me?’

There was another shriek, and the sound of scuffling, and what sounded like a muffled sob.

‘Alan!’ barked Scott, ‘What’s happening?’

There was silence from the desk speaker.

John could feel his mouth hanging open. He looked at Brains and saw that the scientist had gone completely white.

John turned to Jeff. ‘Dad, I think…’

‘Go. Take Scott and launch Thunderbird Three immediately. Take weapons.’ Jeff turned to Brains. ‘Go with them. Assemble what you need. If you can’t get the main power back online,’ he turned back to John and Scott, ‘just get Alan and get the hell back here.’

The pounding in his ears had dimmed and Alan could feel his heart slowing, the shaking in his hands subsiding as the overload of adrenaline was reabsorbed by his system. His father’s voice emanated urgently from his wristcom, and he stealthily snapped the device off. He didn’t want anything giving his position away.

There had been no sound of movement from the creature’s direction, although in the pitch black he couldn’t exactly tell which direction that had been. He hadn’t moved for the last few minutes, and was still crouched in an awkward half-squat with his back against the wall. Tentatively he stretched an arm out into the dark space in front of his face. There was nothing in front of him. Experimentally he waved his arm towards his left, then towards his right. Still nothing. Not that that meant anything. For all he knew the creature could see in the dark and was lurking just out of arm’s reach, watching him, waiting for him to make a move.

Alan’s heart started hammering again and he could feel terror beginning to congeal in his gut. Slowly he began to straighten himself up, his back hard against the wall, one arm stretched pathetically out in front of him for protection.

Scott grimly keyed the combination of the weapons safe, swung the reinforced door outwards and turned to John. ‘Laser rifles?’

‘I guess. Depends what you think we’re going to find.’

Scott reached for a pair of rifles, then turned a piercing gaze upon his brother. ‘What do you think we’re going to find?’


Scott handed the rifles to John. ‘I was asking if you knew what’s going on.’

‘What? How the hell…? How would I know what’s going on?’

‘You just looked… I dunno… suspicious.’


Scott leaned in for another rifle. ‘For a moment there, before Alan opened the generator door, you looked worried.’

John stared at the back of his brother’s head. ‘Did I.’

Scott straightened up. ‘You did.’

Alan inched his way slowly along the inner bulkhead, feeling his way towards the door. So far he had banged a toe against a loose chair, collided with an oxygen cylinder, cut his hand on the underside of a control panel, and bruised his thigh against god knew what. He’d been feeling his way painstakingly along the wall for what seemed like forever, each stumbling collision causing him to pause and hold his breath, waiting for the creature to come rushing towards him and tear his throat out. The entire time he’d been assailed by mental images from every horror sci-fi movie he’d ever seen – green aliens, blue aliens, tentacled aliens, fire-breathing aliens, people-eating aliens, necrophiliac aliens – so that beads of sweat stood out on his brow and trickled icily down the back of his uniform. And he remembered the Spectrum transmission that John had picked up a few months ago, and how it had made his skin crawl. ‘This is the voice of the Mysterons…

Holy crap.

He had to get out of here.


Abandoning all caution Alan shuffled as fast as he could along the wall until he fell through the doorway, slamming the bulkhead door closed behind him.

Twenty-three minutes had passed since radio contact with Alan had ceased.

Virgil crossed the lounge, pausing briefly by Tin-Tin as she leant against her father for support, a crumpled white handkerchief pressed against her red-rimmed eyes. He squeezed her arm before continuing to the wetbar, where he filled a heavy-bottomed glass with three fingers, give or take, of scotch. Collecting the glass he walked back to his father’s desk, placed it squarely in front of Jeff’s downturned face.

‘Dad,’ said Virgil, when Jeff didn’t look up.

Virgil and Gordon had helped Brains load equipment and a replacement generator into Thunderbird Three. Actually, they had worked around Brains as he stood stupefied in the centre of the cavernous storeroom, clearly overwhelmed by what he had just heard. Virgil had heaved equipment into crates, listened emotionlessly as Brains related the chain of events out loud and described Alan’s terrified shrieking before the wristcom had gone dead. The narrative had been faltering, punctuated by nerves and reminders not to forget cabling or flux, and at one point had ceased altogether as Brains ran through a series of endless possibilities in his head. But one thing Virgil couldn’t get out of his own head – the thought of his little brother shrieking.

Virgil moved the glass with one finger, pushed it right beneath his father’s nose. But it was only when the deep roar of Thunderbird Three rumbled through the villa that Jeff finally lifted his head.

Where before Alan had shuffled gingerly down the dark and curving corridor, now he ran for his life, not caring how many times he collided noisily with the walls. His heart continued to pound painfully in his chest and he felt close to the verge of gibbering.

There was something else on Thunderbird Five!

How did it get in?

How long had it been aboard?

What the hell was he going to do?

Alan aimed himself for the dim shaft of blue light that spilled from the open door of the control centre, fell panting through the doorway and heaved the steel door closed behind him. He leant for a moment against it, grateful for the cold weight against his back, and then sprang forward into the centre of the room.

Okay, okay.

He had to calm down. He had a pistol in his belt – yes, it was still there – but he needed another torch. And he had to get that generator started before any other systems failed. He sucked in a lungful of air, held it until he felt his pulse return to normal.

Okay. He could do this.

Alan stepped back into the corridor.

‘Suppose Thunderbird Five has been boarded?’



‘Because of forethought and good security.’

‘E-excellent security.’ Brains emerged from the elevator, his arms overloaded with spacesuits.

‘He’s right – proximity alarms, intruder alerts, pressure sensors, meteor shields…’ John leant forward as an orange light flickered on Thunderbird Three’s telemetry console.

‘All of which require an operational generator,’ said Scott as he watched John correct course.

‘Not a-all the systems were out.’ said Brains as he surveyed the flight deck, looking for a spare surface on which to deposit his load.

‘How exactly would any of us know what was out?’

‘Alan would’ve had some kind of warning. We’d have had some kind of warning.’ John looked up at Brains. ‘We’re not going to need those suits.’

‘The possibility of an intruder i-is entirely out of the question, Scott.’ Brains appeared slightly miffed. Whether about the space suits or the possibility of Five’s security systems failing, Scott couldn’t tell.

‘We’ve had no contact with Alan for over thirty minutes. We don’t know anything!’ Scott could feel his blood pressure rising.

‘The generator has failed. It’s that simple, and it had to happen eventually.’ John sighed exasperatedly and turned back to the console. ‘Scott, I spend half my life aboard Thunderbird Five. If security wasn’t perfect – and I mean perfect – I’d never be able to sleep at night. Among other things.’

Scott stared at the back of his brother’s head. ‘Can any of us be sure?’

There was silence in the small navigation room.

‘No,’ John replied at length, looking up only when he was satisfied that Three was settled unwaveringly on course. He looked curiously at Brains. ‘We can’t. But it’s unlikely.’

Scott leant forward until his face was in John’s field of view. ‘John, we have to be prepared for anything. And Brains…’

There was a muffled thud as three spacesuits slipped unexpectedly to the floor.

Alan stood outside the auxiliary control room. The door was still closed, and he hoped fervently that the creature was still inside. Placing the torch on the floor he tightened his grip on his pistol and swung the door aside with one hand, resisting the urge to fire wildly into the black interior.

He was met with silence. No movement, no sound, and no multi-limbed alien leapt slavering out at him.

Crouching slowly to retrieve the torch, Alan aimed it into the darkness.


What was that?

Over by the generator door, something huddled on the floor.

What was that?

Alan steadied the torch, played the beam slowly over the tangled mass.

Was it moving?

He stared until spots danced before his eyes.


Was it dead?

Had he killed it?

Alan took a step forward, the rubberised sole of his boot squeaking loudly on the slick metal surface of the floor. He froze mid-stride. There was no reaction from the creature, so he took another cautious step.

The thing was lumped in an untidy heap, and the closer Alan stepped the more confused he became. In the torchlight he could see a bare arm and a pair of human-looking legs, though the body was twisted unnaturally. The torso had turned towards the floor, the pelvis faced awkwardly towards him, and a mass of long untidy hair was spilled carelessly across the floor.


Recognition finally filtered into the adrenaline-fuelled chaos of Alan’s brain.

‘Oh my god,’ he breathed incredulously.

‘Oh my GOD!’

‘Father?’ Alan’s video portrait sprang into sudden life.

‘Thank god,’ said Jeff, rising from his chair. ‘Alan, are you alright?’

‘I’ve got the auxiliary going…’

‘But are you alright?’

‘Yeah, I’m fine, the power’s on and the systems seem to be…’

‘Alan.’ Jeff fixed his youngest with a stare. ‘We were worried sick. What happened?’

‘Happened?’ Alan didn’t meet his father’s gaze. ‘Uh…nothing. Some equipment fell on me when I opened the generator door.’

‘Oh Alan,’ sniffed Tin-Tin, ‘were you hurt?’

‘And why the radio silence?’ interjected Virgil.

‘Huh?’ Alan looked from Tin-Tin to Virgil then guiltily glanced at his wristwatch. ‘Oh. My wristcom must’ve been knocked out. Er… sorry.’

‘Son, I can’t tell you how relieved I am that you’re alright,’ Jeff walked around to the front of his desk, ‘but we’re going to need to have a talk about protocols when you get back.’

‘Yes, Father.’

‘John, Scott and Brains should be with you in…’ Jeff turned to Virgil.

‘ETA eighteen minutes,’ Virgil helpfully supplied.

‘…eighteen minutes…’

‘Eighteen minutes?’ squeaked Alan.

‘…and when you’ve got the power situation under control I want you back here.’

He had eighteen short minutes.

Alan stood over the bundled heap on the floor, poked at it tentatively with one of his boots. He crouched down and gently pushed it onto its back, ran a hand over the smooth flat belly. It didn’t feel quite like latex. Apart from the coldness, the skin felt quite realistic. Like real human flesh. And oh, there was so much flesh to see…apart from a pair of white cotton briefs, the mannequin was marvellously unclothed.

With a grunt Alan turned her onto her stomach. Despite appearances she was heavy, heavier than a woman of equal size, as though she were full of metal instead of rubber. Alan parted the hair at the back of her neck. Nothing. Gingerly he lifted her panties away from her bottom.

Ah, there it was.

Embossed in gold across the curve of the mannequin’s right buttock was the word ‘Xiangsi’, and beneath that, in black indelible ink and in John’s unmistakeable handwriting, were the neatly printed words ‘Veronika Mk II.’

Alan let the panties flick back with a snap, and rolled Veronika Mk II onto her back again. He studied her face. Not John’s usual taste, Veronika had a cascade of brunette curls and bright green eyes. She was ridiculously tanned, and had been embellished with permanent eyeliner and a pair of plush pink lips. Hard rubber lips, he reminded himself, that had not too long ago collided painfully into his own. He pressed a thumb into one green resin eye, poked a finger between the firm pouted lips. He lifted her hair again, marvelling at its natural movement, slid the curls back behind her small neat ears.


Behind the mannequin’s left ear was a small green button. Alan depressed it. Nothing. He pressed it again, held it down for a few seconds. Abruptly the mannequin’s limbs twitched, and a high-pitched whine emanated from somewhere between her eyes as a processor inside her head started up. The mannequin’s eyes slid slowly from left to right.

‘My god!’ Alan exclaimed, for the fourth time in an hour.

And then, ‘My God!’ again.

He looked down at the mannequin as she lay there, her eyes rolling slowly from side to side.

‘You cunning bastard,’ he said, to no-one in particular, then leant forward and whispered into the mannequin’s left ear.

‘Hellooo,’ he said seductively.

No response.

He placed his mouth beside her right ear, and said loudly and firmly, ‘HELLO!’

The mannequin’s eyes continued to slide from side to side, and her lips parted slightly, as if she were about to say something but had thought better of it.

Alan sat back on his heels, perplexed. The thing obviously did something, but what?

He looked towards the door, then swivelled his head to glance furtively around the room. Certain that absolutely nothing and nobody was watching him, Alan leant forward, feeling hideously degenerate but dying with curiosity. He hovered indecisively for a moment, his lips poised above the lush latex pout of Veronika Mk II.

Maybe, he thought, like Sleeping Beauty, all it took was a kiss?

Alan touched his mouth to the mannequin’s. Gingerly at first, then more firmly, his blue eyes wide as he watched for signs of a response. But there was nothing. Nothing, save for the shiny green eyeballs, which continued to turn lazily in their sockets.

Scott shoved bodily at the airlock door. ‘The backup might be online, but some systems are still out,’ he called to John as he wiped sweating hands on his shirt. ‘Give us a hand.’

‘You probably broke something when you crashed into the docking tube,’ replied John drily, as he moved in beside Scott and grabbed hold of the handle.

Before Scott could retort, Alan’s blond head appeared at the clear viewport, and he signalled for them to stop. A few seconds later there was a hiss of air and the door slid neatly aside.

‘Thanks,’ said Scott, stepping through the hatch and reaching out to grab Alan in a brotherly hug. ‘You scared the crap out of us.’

‘You have no idea,’ added John, slapping Alan hard on the shoulder and shaking him vigorously before making his way back inside Thunderbird Three.

‘Truth be told,’ replied Alan, ‘I had the crap scared out of me as well.’

‘Oh?’ said Scott, stepping back to look at him properly. ‘What’s that?’ Scott pointed to the front of Alan’s trousers.

‘Huh?’ Alan’s cheeks flushed and he dropped his head forward to inspect the front of his trousers. ‘Oh.’ Thank god! A smear of dried blood crusted along his pant leg. ‘I cut my hand in the dark.’ He raised his hand to inspect the scabbed slice in his skin.

Scott tsked. ‘We’d better get the first aid kit. And what’s this?’ He grabbed hold of Alan’s chin and squinted at him.

Alan jerked his head back. ‘What?’

‘Your lip is swollen.’

‘Is it?’ Alan fingered the thickened part of his lip where Veronika had fallen against him. ‘I must’ve knocked into something.’ He was starting to get irritated at Scott’s overprotective scrutiny. ‘It was pretty dark in here, you know.’

‘Come on guys,’ said John as he and Brains squeezed past with a load of equipment. ‘We really need to get this power situation sorted.’ John stared hard at Alan. ‘Anything particular we should look out for?’

‘Like what?’ Alan replied, the roses in his cheeks flaring into sudden brightness.

Scott looked up from where he was welding a support strut. ‘I haven’t seen this thing since the day we installed it.’ He paused to remove his goggles and wipe the sweat from his eyes. ‘I’m not sure I would even have remembered where it was.’

‘It pays to know your space station,’ said Alan as he breezed into the room. ‘That way you don’t lost in the dark when the lights go out and...’ he looked pointedly at John, ‘…no nasty surprises jump out at you.’

John straightened from where he had been bent over the replacement generator and stood to his full height. ‘Where have you been?’ he inquired archly, the insulated screwdriver in his hand pointed dangerously at his youngest brother. ‘You’re supposed to be helping with this equipment.’

‘I’m injured,’ Alan held up his newly bandaged hand. ‘Plus,’ he added, when he caught Scott looking reproachfully at him, ‘with the three of you jammed in there, there’s no room for me.’

This was true. Scott slid the goggles back over his eyes and returned to his welding. John, however, continued to stare coolly at his youngest brother.

‘You should still be helping,’ he said.

‘I was.’

‘Doing what?’

‘Preparing for departure.’

‘Packing your bag, you mean.’

‘Yes.’ Alan grinned. ‘That. And I checked Three’s systems, prepped her for launch.’

‘Good,’ interrupted Scott. ‘Now how about you fetch us something to drink. And John, get back to work. Or it won’t be just Brains bunking in with you for the night.’

John glared at Alan’s retreating back. The pipsqueak was definitely up to something. He turned back to the generator to find Brains studiously soldering a connection, oblivious.

John tapped his foot against the metal sheeting of the control centre floor, the movement travelling up his leg until his whole body was vibrating with impatience. He was filled with suspicion, and a dark cloud of foreboding had settled heavily upon him. It had taken five hours to replace and test the main generator, and John hadn’t seen a sign of Veronika during all that time. Maybe she hadn’t been in the backup generator room after all? Which meant Alan hadn’t found her…but that meant…so where had he put her then? It had only been a month since John’s last rotation, and his memory wasn’t that bad.

What was holding them up?

It didn’t take this long to manoeuvre Thunderbird Three out of the docking tube. John pursed his lips. He hadn’t felt like this since he was fifteen, waiting for his father’s car – filled to bursting with his brothers – to back out of the driveway and take off down the street so he could get Marcy Mitchell around while he had the house to himself.

At last the nose of Thunderbird Three swung around to bear, the orange bulk of the great rocket passing majestically across the front of Five’s wide viewport as Brains came to stand behind him.

‘Ah, John?’

‘Just a minute Brains.’ John wanted to be sure Thunderbird Three made it all the way down the driveway, so to speak.

‘Oh. O-okay.’

John sighed inwardly with relief as the rocket slid silently by the window.

And then he saw her.

Veronika Mk II.

She bobbed lazily along behind Thunderbird Three like a voluptuous piñata on the end of a string. John could almost hear Brains’ eyes widen in the suddenly deafening silence.

That little bastard. John raised his wristcom to his lips, lowered it again in futile defeat. It was only a matter of time before the vacuum of space… oh. There she goes.

As though she had been dipped into liquid nitrogen, Veronika Mk II’s naugahyde-brown synth-skin – grown in the illegal dermafarms of Xiangsi and purchased at great cost for an undisclosed sum – froze and cracked in the icy waste of space, suddenly splintered from stem to stern and spilled out a glittering rainbow of cogs and servos. Wires and pulleys separated from Veronika’s plexiform skeleton in a bizarre dismemberment, and behind him Brains gasped audibly at the waste of good components. The sun glinted brightly from Veronika’s motherboard as it spun off into space, surrounded by the glittering shards of her smaller components, spinning, spinning, like tiny little stars.

John’s teeth ground together, and the muscles of his jaw twitched visibly. Brains caught the movement in the corner of his eye, and he took a small and wary step back.

While Brains had been tinkering obsessively with Braman back at Base, redesigning and refining his awkward copper man for the stupefaction of the Tracy household, in the uninterrupted solitude of Thunderbird Five John had been quietly taking Braman’s schematics to a whole other level.

Where Braman was hard and unyielding, Veronika had been soft and malleable. Where Braman was unemotional and dull, Veronika was warm and responsive. And while Braman could only focus on one task at a time, Veronika had been a glorious multi-tasker. Veronika could monitor the cabin pressure, track a typhoon and rub your shoulders all at the same time. And when she leant over you and the locks of her real human hair brushed against your face… ohhh. John sure hoped Alan hadn’t defiled her before he consigned her to the vacuum of space.

John sighed inwardly, and behind him Brains sniffed, lamenting the waste of effort that the spectacle before them represented. They would mourn Veronika, but there were plenty more animatronic fish waiting to be born in the sea.

They stood in silence, the pair of them, watching as Thunderbird Three hurtled lazily towards the Earth, her unexpected payload disintegrating behind her. And as the last of Mk II spun into darkness, John turned grimly to face Brains.

‘Vengeance,’ he said darkly.

‘Shall be, uh, ours,’ Brains replied.

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