Summary: Brains doesn’t do well living alone.
Fandom: Thunderbirds TV-verse
Characters: Brains, John Tracy
Original publication date: February 23, 2021
Notes and disclaimer: It’s comic book canon that Brains met John during university and Brains met Jeff at a conference in Paris. The prompt came from the AllUnwritten community on LiveJournal.
I didn’t create them; Gerry and Sylvia Anderson did. I don’t own them, ITV/Granada does. I’m just writing about them.
“No man is an island.”
Even if he lives on an island.
Especially if he lives on Tracy Island.
There’s always someone around, even when the Tracy sons are out on a rescue. Mr. Tracy is here, directing them from the lounge. Mrs. Tracy is likely in the kitchen and if Kyrano isn’t there with her, he’s out in the garden. Sometimes Tin-Tin is in the lab with me. There’s never a time I’m totally alone. Never a period when there’s no one to turn to if I need someone.
This is a good thing. I get enough time to think and work. Enough quiet to satisfy me. Enough time to get immersed in whatever I’m creating or whatever repair I need to make. But I can’t stay alone for long.
I did once. After I finished my third PhDdoctorate, I rented a two-bedroom apartment. One was to sleep in and the other—well, let’s just say it became a workroom for me. I had enough money to live alone, money I made from various patents I’d sold. Living by myself seemed to be a good idea. I could eat when I wanted, sleep when I wanted, and work the rest of the time.
That’s exactly what happened. I ate when I wanted—when I ate at all. I slept when I wanted—after days going without. I worked the rest of the time.
Now I’m usually a bit of a clean freak, at least as far as my workspace is concerned. But I was so absorbed in my newest invention (a water desalination plant for the single-family home) that keeping the place clean wasn’t a priority, nor was shopping for groceries. The place smelled and vermin began to show up.
My landlord was not pleased.
When he showed up, scowling, I had no idea what he was talking about. He dragged me into the kitchen.
“Take a good hard look. I’m opening a window!”
I have to admit I was gobsmacked at the mess. Dirty dishes everywhere. Pots filled with mold. Glancing into the fridge, I realized it was bare, except for a tub of wrinkled round fruit that had been blueberries and a half-gallon of milk. I really hadn’t noticed; I was too much in my own head to actually see what was in front of me. I also realized I’d been eating cereal for several days straight.
“Do you see what I mean? The flat upstairs is complaining about the smell and the flat downstairs is having trouble with bugs!” He shook his head at the kitchen mess. “What are you doing all day?”
I would have shown him but he didn’t seem to be the type to be interested. “I-I’m inventing s-something.”
He rolled his eyes. “Oh, you’re one of those. The science geek who can’t get out of his own head long enough to see the world.” His lips drew into a flat line. “Are you a student at the University?”
“I w-was. I finished my Ph.D. in M-May.”’
“Even more reason to be a hermit. You don’t have any classes to attend or office hours to keep.” He shook his head. “The guy upstairs is the same, Has his telescope out every night. I’ve had to chase him off the roof more than once! Can you imagine what would happen if he fell! The insurance premiums would go through the roof!”
As the landlord went on about the upstairs tenant, I began clearing the sink. The dishwasher, fortunately, was empty and I wondered when I had last run it. I bunged as much as I could inside, dropped in a soap tab, and started it on heavy-duty.
“Well, that’s a start.” The landlord stuck a finger in my face, “You have a week to get this place cleaned up and to take care of the critters, too! I wouldn’t be surprised if the owner will want to raise your rent after this!” He stalked to the door. “I’ll be back on Monday to inspect it. It had better be spotless!”
He left, just about slamming the door behind him. I stood in the kitchen and sighed. “Better make a list. Prioritize.”
Three days later, I was nearly done. While working, I dictated notes on my design when I thought of changes but I stayed out of my lab. My clean cupboards and fridge were full after a sizable grocery delivery. Laundry, another task I’d let go too long, was washed and dried, waiting for folding, I even cleaned the bathroom, which made the whole apartment smell of bleach.
As I worked, I caught glimpses of both insect and mammalian pests. Setting out poison bait or traps was anathema to me; even small creatures deserved to live. So, I started researching other means of ridding all three flats of the vermin without killing them. I finally decided on small ultrasound units. The units would plug into the outlets and drive the vermin from the building. I even ordered units for the basement.
The basement was the easiest level to do, there was no one to talk into letting me into their apartment. Talking with others, especially those I didn’t know, was my most hated chore. But this needed to be done as part of cleaning up after myself. I brought the critters in, I had to get the critters out.
With a deep breath, I knocked on the first floor’s door. There was a long pause. I raised my hand to knock again and a voice came from the electronic peephole. “Who are you and what do you want?” The voice sounded old and quavery.
“Uh, I-I’m Hiram H-Hackenbacker. I live uh-upstairs. I’m here to get rid of the bugs.” I held up one of the ultrasonic plug-ins. “I don’t have to c-come in; I can g-give you the devices and t-tell you how to use them.”
The door opened. The woman wasn’t as old as I thought she’d be. Her hair had more dark in it than silver, and she glared at me through rimless glasses.
“So, you’re the one responsible for the roaches and mice?” Her voice was nowhere near what it was before; it was deeper and had a definite Southern drawl to it.
“Y-Yes, ma’am. I’m s-sorry for letting things get so bad. I promise it won’t happen again.”
“You can come in.” She stepped back and I entered. “If they’d been Palmetto bugs, I wouldn’t have blinked. But these are German roaches. They multiply like… well, faster than rabbits.”
“Palmetto bugs?” I plugged a unit into an outlet behind the front door.
“Big roaches.” She held her fingers roughly one and a half inches apart. “American roaches. They grow big. Easier to find and kill.” She followed as I made my way to the kitchen. “What have you got there?”
“Ultrasonic pest d-deterrent.” I plugged one into an outlet above the countertop. ”I looked into it qu-quite thoroughly. These should drive the pests from the building.” I moved to the second bedroom. “I’ll p-put one in each room and t-two in the kitchen.”
She folded her arms. “Won’t that drive them into the basement?”
“I’ve b-been down there already.” In the bathroom, I put the final unit then stood and gave her a slight smile. “I didn’t get your n-name.”
“I didn’t give it.” She took the unit out of the bathroom outlet. “I’m going to take a good look at this. I don’t know you and, though I don’t doubt this is on the up and up, I’ll admit I’m a bit paranoid about my security.” She brandished it. “For all I know, this is something to listen in on whatever I’m saying and doing here.”
My mouth dropped open. I had never known anyone quite as paranoid as this woman seemed to be.
“You mean you didn’t think of that when you went looking for this pest solution?” She chuckled and shook her head. “Another clueless nerd. Just like the guy on the third floor.”
I left her flat totally nonplussed. Did I really not understand people? Was I really a clueless nerd? Well, I’d cop to the ‘nerd’ but clueless? Thinking over my recent behavior, I began to think she was right.
Now I found myself outside the apartment on the third floor. I almost didn’t knock, afraid this encounter would be more of the same. Taking my courage in both hands, I finally knocked.
“Be right there!”
I had no idea if the young man (by the sound of his voice I thought him to be young) looked through the peephole or not. But it was just a minute before he flung open the door.
“Oh, it’s you!” He was blond, with a lock of hair nearly covering one eye. And, yes, he was young, roughly my age. He wore jeans and a NASA t-shirt. He also looked vaguely familiar. “Come on in!”
“Do we know e-each other?” I asked as I entered.
“Well we haven’t formally met,” he said, taking my box of devices from me. “But we had a class or two together. Professor Chronotus’s course on the history of space travel, I think. And Dr. Liz Shaw’s class on nanotechnology.” He put the box down on a coffee table and extended a hand. “John Tracy”
“Ah, Hiram Hackenbacker.” I recognized him now. He was one of Jeff Tracy’s sons, a genius by all reports, and itching to follow his father into space. I shook his hand firmly. Here, perhaps, was someone I could talk to.
“So what do we have here?” John pulled out a vermin repeller. “Ultrasonic repeller?” He shot me a glance. “Are you the source of the smells and critters?”
“The landlord thinks so and, sadly, I concur.” I took the device from his hand and found that outlet behind the door. “I have been cleaning my flat up and hopefully the vermin will depart if each flat has some of these.”
“Why didn’t you just call an exterminator?” John was fiddling with his phone, taking a picture of the devices and doing something with the photos.
“That would kill the creatures.” I shrugged. “Even things like this deserve to live.”
John stared at me for a moment then nodded. “An unusual philosophy. I like it.” He gestured for me to enter the kitchen. “I could tell you were cleaning. The smell of bleach in the bathroom was pretty obvious.” He leaned up against a clear, clean counter as I chose an outlet for the device. “Plus I saw you taking trash bags out to the dumpster. That’s how I knew you were the one who lived beneath me.” Folding his arms, he asked, “Have you met Ms. Parsons on the first floor?”
“Ah, yes. She acted very strangely, She thought these devices could spy on her,” I brandished one, moving to the bathroom to place it in an outlet there.
John laughed. “Paranoid Parsons! When I moved in, she thought I would be reporting her to my dad.” Before I could ask why he continued. “He owns the building. He figured it was the best way to ensure I had a secure place to live while I’m at university. It also gives him or my brothers a place to stay when they visit.”
“I see.” I stepped into the second bedroom and stopped. The room looked more like an office than a bedroom. An impressive, state-of-the-art telescope sat on a tripod near the window.
“There’s a Murphy bed built into the wall over there. When my family comes, I work and live in here while they take the bedroom.” John followed me to the outlet I’d selected. “What do you use your second bedroom for?”
I stopped, looking at him quizzically. “Why do you want to know?”
He shrugged. “Just curious, I guess. Ms. Parsons keeps calling me a nerd. A clueless nerd, to be precise. You seem like someone I could get along with.”
I smiled. “She called me that, too. Mentioned that you were the same. I’d like to have someone to talk to, someone intelligent.” I put the last device in place. “Actually, I’m using it as a design lab.”
“Oh! That accounts for the stink!” He guided me out of the office.
“No. It wasn’t that.”I rubbed the nape of my neck and looked down. “The stink was from neglect, I’m afraid. I’m not working on anything chemical; I’m an engineer. I’m trying to develop a system for desalination that could be used in a single-family home.”
“Really?” John’s eyes widened. “That’s a great idea! How far along are you?”
I could feel my face flush. “About halfway, I think. Coding is complete, as is a basic schematic. Testing to scale will be difficult. I obviously can’t do that in my apartment. But in concept, yes. I believe I have it.”
“Wow! Can I see what you’ve got so far? My younger brother, Virgil, is an engineering student at Denver Institute. He’d love to talk with you.”
This was getting complicated. How deep did I want to get in with the Tracy family? “I’ll think about it.” I indicated the office with my head. “What are you working on?”
“My Ph.D. in laser communication. I’m also writing a primer on astronomy–at least, that’s what my publisher calls it. My dad has had a lot of input, especially with his journeys to the moon and founding the lunar colonies,”
“I remember your father’s lecture in Professor Chronotus’s class. Very informative.” I took that moment to glance around as if checking my work. “Well, that seems to be it. Let me know if you have any more trouble. I’d like to see if these work properly. The science behind them seems sound enough…”
John could tell I wanted to leave. “I’ll let you know if there are any issues.” He walked me to the door. “Can I come down and see what you’re working on sometime? I don’t have to drag Virgil into it but it’s a great idea and I’m really interested. Believe it or not, my dad has an island chain. Small atolls, mostly, but one of them is large enough to live on if he could find a way to produce potable water. There’s some available, but not enough for a household,”
Jeff Tracy might have use for my invention? Didn’t see that coming. And I wanted a friend. John here might be one. “Sure. Let me give you my mobile number.”
We exchanged numbers. “I need to go. Still have some cleaning to do and laundry won’t fold itself.”
“Heh. I gotcha.” John held open the door for me, “Great to finally meet you, Hiram.”
“Nice meeting you, too.”
The door shut behind him and I headed down the stairs, empty box in hand. I shook my head. John seemed as eager to make a new friend as I was. He must be lonely so far away from his family.
Suddenly, what he said about his father’s atolls sparked an idea for my project! I hurried down the rest of the stairs, unlocked my door, and headed straight for my lab. I had to get this down before my train of thought derailed!