She picked up her pen, the new grey Lamy, with the fine gold nib and the blue/black cartridge. Time to get started. Opening the pad of paper she had purchased only yesterday, she began.
She had been pestered to write this. It had been hard to start with, but then it had come to her.
This was how it had to be. There were some who wouldn’t like it, but, who was to say that they were always right? She concentrated, thoughts flowing from her mind as swiftly as she could put them down.
The new pen left elegant lines of calligraphy on the unlined, expensive paper, and words flowed surely and easily as befitted a person of her experience and age and wealth.
Reviews? Who gave a damn.
The only review that mattered was John’s.
‘Not again,’ John Tracy was dragged from his satisfying, dreamfilled sleep into his waking life. He groaned with dismay as he realised what was happening.
It was her. Again. Why did she do it? Was there some perverse pleasure to be gained from tormenting his brothers and him? John had no idea what he had done wrong, but here he was, awake, and waiting for whatever was going to happen to him. Completely at her mercy, unable to do anything to alter the course of events.
It was as if he was a puppet in her hands, his every move controlled by her.
She grinned and put the pen down. It had been a while now since she had visited this world and she was quite excited to be back here again, to explore the Tracy universe. Ed Straker had taken up far too much of her time recently, although she had thoroughly enjoyed chronicling his adventures.
And others enjoyed reading about him as well.
John waited patiently, while she thought and planned, running through different scenarios and scripts in her mind. He was not overly concerned for his own safety; he knew that, as one of the less important characters he was unlikely to figure heavily in her overall plans.
In a way he felt rather privileged that she had decided to feature him in her next short story. He knew that she was a relatively competent writer, with good spelling and vocabulary skills, although her punctuation could be slightly problematical sometimes.
She did have some clever and intriguing plot ideas as well, and her visual imagery was pretty good. After all she had known and loved all the family since that day when they all appeared for the first time on the BBC.
John remembered that day so clearly. It had seemed so peculiar, suddenly being in black and white instead of the coloured world in which he lived when the TV switched off. He and his family had stared at each other, puzzled and bewildered by the strangeness of the grey world that they suddenly found themselves inhabiting. It was such a relief when the TV programme ended and colour flooded back into their world, washing over them like a rainbow wave.
Oh yes. She knew them well. And he waited as she marshalled her thoughts.
She paused, thinking about John. In a way he reminded her of Ed. Tall, slender and blonde, with a secret strength that many people never suspected.
It was about time that John had some real happiness she thought, and her pen returned to the paper, moving fluidly across the page.
John looked out of the huge expanse of viewports in TB5, studying the stars. He wished that he had access to Hubble. It would have been so exciting being able to study the universe and the myriad galaxies that Hubble had discovered. But he was stuck here for the next two months, with only his own telescope to help in his studies. John was now half-way through his PhD in Astronomy and was a making good progress in his thesis on the Effects of Cosmic Strings on Hyperspace Bubbles. Of course it helped that he was on his own here, with access to the world’s computer networks. But Hubble would have made things so much easier.
(Thank you, John thought to Lightcudder. I always wanted to get a doctorate)
(My pleasure, she thought. What else is there for you to do stuck up here all alone with no company?)
And then he noticed the bright object out beyond Low Earth Orbit. It was not an asteroid; it was travelling at too slow a speed for that, but also it had a very high magnitude of minus 15. That was incredibly bright. It was not a SHADO Lunar Shuttle, he knew that much.
(Hang on a second, John thought, should I know about SHADO?)
(Yes John, it will all be explained in the next TB/UFO crossover story, she told him)
(Oh good, he thought, I’ll look forward to that! I enjoyed the last one, even though I wasn’t in it.)
He studied the object, and then recognised it; the returning NASA Ares craft, on its maiden flight to circumnavigate the moon and photograph the far side with magnetic resonance cameras. It had a crew of two as he recalled. He had been so engrossed in his thesis that he had temporarily forgotten the flight. He hadn’t paid much attention to the launch when it occurred some days ago, either.
He called up the mission specifications on his computer, reading them carefully and checking the details.
Something was wrong.
The craft, Arethusa, was off course. By a considerable margin.
John checked again.
Yes. At its current heading, it would miss the envelope for Earth Orbital Insertion. It was coming in at far too shallow a trajectory and at such a slow speed that it would simply bounce off the Earth’s atmosphere and out into space where it would head on a long curving trajectory through the system. It almost seemed as if she was drifting in space rather than being under the control of her pilot.
‘International Rescue to Arethusa. Come in Arethusa.’ He used a tight-beamed signal designed to focus on a single object. That should get through to the ship.
But there was no response. He tried on all frequencies, all wavelengths. Nothing.
It was quite worrying. He called up HQ.
‘Dad. The Arethusa is approaching EOI but is on too shallow a heading. I can’t raise her. Something must be wrong and there’s too little time for TB3 to get up here to help.’
(Surely not, John thought. TB3 is pretty quick you know.)
( Look John, she told him sternly, who is writing this story? Do you want Alan to have all the fun?)
(Oh. Sorry, John answered, I’ll shut up then shall I?)
( Good idea she replied, smiling to take the sting out of her words)
John plotted the course of the Arethusa, and calculated its speed. Yes, there would be sufficient time to effect an interception of the Arethusa; if he hurried. He contacted Tracy Island again and requested that TB3 be sent up to retrieve the astronauts from 5 when John had rescued them.
Quickly he pulled his spacesuit from its storage unit, clambering into the bulky garment and struggling to fasten it up without someone to help. He fitted the EVA pack, checking that it was fully charged and working, then picked up his helmet with its gold mesh visor.
Stepping into the airlock, he started the evacuation cycle, before putting his helmet on and locking it into position.
Air supply; check.
Interactive computer display; check.
Temperature control; check.
All systems fully operational.
The airlock finished its cycle and he felt his suit stiffen in the hard vacuum of space as the door opened. Holding the EVA controls he starfished to face the approaching Arethusa, then, guided by his helmet’s interface with the computer, he squeezed the throttles. A burst of power from the jet pack propelled him across the hugeness of empty space…..
(Hey, space isn’t really empty, John complained.)
( Look John, this is a story for non-specialists. Just because I have a Masters Degree in Space Sciences doesn’t mean that everyone else has, she answered slightly tetchily.)
… towards the brilliantly silvered and streamlined spaceship. As he got nearer he began to see the signs of damage from meteorites; small holes pockmarked the once sleek sides and the booster engines were askew with sections missing. No wonder she was off course. It was a miracle that she had survived so far considering the severity of the damage.
He noticed that the communications array was also smashed. That was why he had been unable to raise the crew.
He hoped that the integrity of the hull had not been compromised.
As he approached her, he could see that the Arethusa was venting something; oxygen, or perhaps water. It was difficult to tell. A bright plume of sparkling gas erupted from the side of the craft, creating a mini constellation of ephemeral stars that flickered briefly and died.
(Nice phrasing, John thought.)
(Thank you she replied. I’m quite pleased with it myself.)
John delicately worked the controls, making minute adjustments to his velocity and pitch so that shortly he was floating just alongside the Arethusa, his speed matching hers exactly. He reached out and touched the hull, his fingers, in the cumbersome and restrictive gloves, struggling to find a purchase on the sleek metal.
He managed it at last, grasping a small roughened lip that protruded slightly from the edge of the access hatch. Once he had secured his position, by means of his magnetic boots, he was able to move across to look through the viewport into the main cabin of the craft.
His heart sank. Both crew members looked as if they were unconscious, and he could see no way to get to them, other than open the hatch. That would kill them both as their blood boiled in the hard vacuum of space. A thoroughly unpleasant way, if fairly rapid, to die. If only they had put their helmets on.
They were both suited up, but without helmets it was hopeless. He nearly pushed himself off to head back to 5, but he knew that he had to try to do something to save them. He thumped on the viewport, hard; his heavy gloved fist meeting the toughened Perspex of the screen. He could not hear any sound,..
(Well. Doh! John thought; it’s space, there’s no atmosphere to carry the sound waves.)
(I know that silly, she glared at him, but it adds to the ambiance of the story. Now please shut up, you’re distracting me.)
But he could feel the vibrations through the gloves. He watched the two crew members, hoping that one of them would stir and realise what was happening. They were both still breathing, so the hull had obviously not been breached. He suddenly realised that he was in close enough contact to try the suit radios. If he shouted loudly enough, there was a possibility that his voice might be heard through the radios in their helmets. It was worth a try anyway. He had nothing to lose. He changed his suit radio frequency to match theirs and then he yelled as loudly as he could.
And he was rewarded by the sight of the woman beginning to stir.
He continued to yell as she gradually became aware of her surroundings, her hand moving up to her head as if in pain. He stayed fixed in place, hoping that she would recover enough to realise that she needed to get suited up properly if he was going to save her, or her fellow crew member.
Someone was groaning, was in pain and she tried to help them, but she couldn’t move properly. Her head was sore and she suddenly realised that she was the one groaning. It was very bright and her eyes hurt as she tried to open them, tears blurring her vision as the sharp acidic colours bored into her brain.
Wincing, she tried again, slowly, squeezing her eyes closed and only opening them fractionally. That was better. Her head hurt though, pounding with pain that hammered against her skull as if it was trying to force a way out. She groaned again, even though it did not help to alleviate the pain. She felt as though she was going to be sick; violently, thoroughly sick.
(Oh no, not sick in space. I’m not going in there if she’s sick. Globules of vomit floating around? No thankyou!)
(Wimp. Come on John, do you want to meet her or not? – Tell you what, I won’t make her sick. That’s because I am really quite fond of you. If it had been Alan here…. well, vomit wouldn’t have been the worst thing he would have had to deal with, let me tell you!)
She swallowed, and gradually as her eyes opened and she began to re-orientate herself, the nausea receded.
She remembered what had happened. She was on the Arethusa. With her Mission pilot. They had been on the far side of the Moon when it had happened. The sudden, unexpected, unforeseen meteorite storm that had devastated the communications array, and had irreparably damaged the engines.
The Arethusa was a hulk. Useless, out of control, out of communication, out of planned trajectory. They had been hit by one final meteorite that had slammed into the spaceship and had knocked them both out.
At least she recalled seeing the meteorite heading on a direct collision course for them, and then……. nothing.
So where were they? And what was that noise?
She looked up, and was startled to see the figure at the viewport. An astronaut? How did that happen? Where the hell were they?
She grimaced as she tried to move towards the viewport. The air in the cabin was stale and thick, and she could hear a faint voice shouting in the background. That was the noise that had first alerted her.
She looked around. There. It was coming from the helmet.
Carefully, her long dark hair floating in the weightlessness like long tendrils of seaweed in the gentle ocean currents, she bent down and picked up her helmet, slipping it loosely over her head,.
(Long hair, loose in space? Is that wise?)
(Possibly not, but it looks good! Dark hair okay with you John? Or would you prefer her to be blonde?)
(Dark is fine with me, thanks; dark brown with chestnut glints perhaps?)
(Consider it done!)
John noticed that her hair was dark brown, with chestnut glints that reflected the lights in the cabin. Long enough to hang freely over her shoulders and tangle in delicious waves down her back, even though her spacesuit helmet was covering her face.
‘Hello?’ her voice was soft and hesitant. A rich, dark voice, like the sound chocolate would make if it could speak.
Suddenly John was overcome by an almost paralysing shyness (Sorry John – shall I change that bit?)
(Yes please, it makes me sound stupid)
John, master of calm reassurances, answered her. ‘My name is John Tracy from International Rescue. I need you both to put your helmets on and prepare to evacuate the Arethusa. You are heading on a path that will take you out of Earth orbit, and we don’t have very long to get you to safety. I can open the hatch and get you back to Thunderbird 5, but you must suit up first. Can you do that? Give me a thumbs-up if you understand.’
She nodded at him and clenched her fist, raising one thumb as much as was possible whilst wearing space suit gloves.
‘Excellent. Get your crewmember’s helmet on him, and then finish suiting up. I’ll open the airlock from out here when you are ready.’
The short trip back to TB5 was relatively easy. John simply towed both crew members behind him as he navigated his way across the space between the two spacecraft. He had left TB5’s airlock ready and open to be recycled and it was a straightforward job to get inside with his precious cargo, close the hatch and then let the airlock re-pressurise. Once inside the safety of TB5, he relaxed and helped the woman to unsuit.
He noticed that she was as tall as he was, and as slender, with deep brown eyes. He smiled at her reassuringly before turning to her unconscious crewmember and unfastening the man’s helmet. It was best to leave him suited up, John decided, in case he had any injuries that could be exacerbated by getting him out of the heavy suit.
The woman looked around the spacious control room. ‘This is really unbelievable,’ she said in awe. ‘Do you run this place by yourself?’
John shrugged deprecatingly. ‘Well, I’m usually the one on duty here. I quite like it, but it does get lonely sometimes. I do get back to Earth every few months or so.’ he said defensively.
She smiled at him, aware of his loneliness and solitude. ‘It’s a fabulous view though. I would never get tired of simply looking out at Earth. It is so perfect.’
He moved towards her, so that he was standing next to her looking out at the huge expanse of blue and white planet rotating majestically outside. There was nothing to be said.
Then he saw it. The bright red arrow of TB3 moving towards them. Coming to take the Arethusa’s crew home to Earth.
He would have done anything to delay this moment, to be able to spend more time with her. He didn’t even know her name.
And then she spoke. ‘Do I have to go back? Can’t I stay here with you for a while? I would love to spend time getting to know you.’ And she looked at him, her eyes level with his, her lips….
(Can this next bit be private please? John thought to her)
(Okay John, but just remember, Alan is on his way in Three!)
A short time later Thunderbird Three docked smoothly with 5, and Alan helped John transport the still unconscious astronaut into the spaceship for the journey home.
Alan was a little perturbed that the other crew member was determined to stay on board with John, but Jeff Tracy had agreed to her remaining for a few days. She was going to help John to map the thousands of items of space junk that were so hazardous to space traffic. It was a huge task and John would need considerable assistance. Jeff could not spare anyone from the family and the astronaut, Susan, was happy to help John. More than happy.
Lightcudder paused in her writing. Hmmm. Several plot errors, several factual errors as well, but it had been fun to write.
And surely that was the main point? She hoped some readers would appreciate the story, but it didn’t matter.
John appreciated it. She hoped he would review it for her, and not take too much notice of the mistakes.
After all there had been huge plot errors in the original stories, and no one seemed to complain about those. Those overgrown crocodiles for example, Sun Probe as well.
John Tracy smiled and settled down under the covers, his hand reaching out to the woman sleeping beside him. He had got off lightly this time.
He wondered why?
Perhaps it was because she had always admired John Glenn, perhaps it was because she liked tall, strong, slender men with blonde hair. After all, she was fixated on that other character Ed Straker.
John wondered how Ed managed, coping with her and her obsessions. He felt a deep pity for Straker, especially as he was real person. John, now, being a puppet, didn’t feel pain like real actors did; in fact he sometimes wondered what pain actually was. The most uncomfortable thing that happened to him was having his interchangeable heads swapped over, or perhaps when they unscrewed his arms to change his costumes.
It didn’t matter. She had given him a good story with a short exciting incident, in which he got to be the hero for once, and a very happy ending. He looked forward to developing his relationship with Susan.
John just hoped that Lightcudder would not intervene. She had a tendency to do that. Unfortunately.
Of course it didn’t help that she had such a difficult life. John didn’t think he could have coped with what she had had to deal with over the past year. No wonder so many of her stories were dark and violent.
But she could write! And if he was lucky she would keep him in her own personal website so that he could re-live this little adventure over and over and over again whenever he wanted.
Lightcudder put down her pen. Finished. Another interesting idea completed successfully. Enough of the Thunderbirds for now. Ed Straker and UFO beckoned. A bit of love, loss and romance- what fun!
And maybe a shower scene especially for one particular reader.
Although there was always Alan Tracy to torment.
Perhaps she should do him next, before Ed’s descent into hell. Ed could wait. Ed would always wait for her. They understood each other.
With a malicious smirk she picked up her pen and started;
‘Dad, I’ve got this really nasty rash.’ Alan moaned.