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T-Minus 7 Hours

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I can’t stop looking at the clock. I should be in bed by now but I just can’t shut down, can’t unwind. Whether the others are asleep or not, I don’t know. I sent them ages ago, telling them we need to be at our peak for the mission tomorrow but sleep is very much my enemy right now.

I look up at the major fire hazard that is the notice board in my room. There’s literally not even a square millimetre of the corkboard visible beneath the small forest of paper pinned to it. Charts, diagrams, checklists, timetables, schematics, you name it, it’s probably up there somewhere. Afterall, this is the biggest mission we’ve ever undertaken, the most important one. Tomorrow at oh-eight-hundred we launch Brains’ latest project. Our own Zero X, designed for the sole purpose of bringing our dad home. And that’s why I pace, unable to settle. I keep going back to the checklists: we have done all we can, right? Back to the schematics: can I see anything that could lead us into difficulty? Back to the timetables: surely we’ve timed it all right…

I stop pacing and stare at the board, at those sheets of paper that seem to be glaring at me. Could it be that hidden somewhere in those equations there’s a single digit wrong, a point out of place, a square where there should be a cube?

I scrub my hands tiredly over my face. I’m utterly exhausted from not being able to rest the past few nights. As D-Day approaches, our own deadline day, sleep has been evading me more and more. I drop onto my bed, falling backwards and staring at the ceiling as if the plaster might hold the answer to all my questions.

I throw my hands down either side of me, the duvet protesting with its soft puff of contact as I sit up again and look at the illuminated clock face on my bedside table. How dare it be three minutes past one? I was sure it was barely ten-thirty last time I checked. Less than seven hours to go then. I look up at the board again before standing up. I can’t stay in here, I need some air.

Padding on bare feet across the room, I open the door and slip quietly down the corridor towards the stairs that lead to the main living area. I descend and look around: the balcony where Virgil paints, the sunken seating area where many a meeting have been held recently, Dad’s desk… Without really thinking about it, my feet carry me over to it. I had been planning on going down another level to grab a glass of water to take outside, to sit on the edge of the pool and let the cool night air maybe soothe me towards slumber. Now, I find myself sitting at the desk. The leather of the chair creaks as I ease into it, the ball joint beneath squeaking as it rocks back slightly under my weight. I lean forward again and run my hands over the desk top, the curves of the indentation that forms the central seating point.

A sigh escapes my lips as I lean back in the chair again, my feet pushing me from side to side so I rotate left to right and back until my eyes come to rest on a small cabinet. I’ve always known it was there, of course, but I don’t often acknowledge it. Tonight I do. Tonight I rise from the chair and approach it, opening it and withdrawing a bottle of single malt and a small glass tumbler. It’s not often that I drink, normally wanting to maintain a clear head should a call come in, but I feel like tonight, just the one won’t hurt. In fact, I’m hoping it might even help me sleep.

Metal scrapes against glass as I twist the lid off, glass clinks against glass as bottle meets tumbler, that telltale glugging sound of liquid pouring. It all sounds so loud in the silence of the living room. I decant a small measure as I return to the desk, putting the bottle down beside me as I sit back down. Another loud sound, glass on wood, but no one has come to investigate. Maybe they were all lucky enough to get to sleep at a reasonable time. Or maybe the sounds are just quieter than they seem to me in what feels like the silence of space.

Elbow on the desk, I rest my head in my hand, my fingers threading into my hair as if it’ll hold my head up for me. I’m so tired and yet still unable to stop thoughts going round and round. I just want to sleep, but I’m so scared something will go wrong. There, I admitted it. I’m scared. I take a small sip of the golden liquid, the scent invading my nostrils as I lift it to my lips.

What if something does go wrong though? With the launch? With the flight? What if we can’t find him? What if something happens to one of my brothers? I take another sip as if hoping the flavour will burn away the thoughts. Before I realise it, though, the glass has been drained. True, I’d only poured the smallest measure, but I hadn’t realised I’d gone through it so quickly. I can feel the last of it running through me, like it’s warming me from the inside.

Pushing the chair back with a scrape - yet another noise that causes me to flinch at the suddenness in this deep silence - I return the bottle to the cabinet, closing the doors on it before heading downstairs to the kitchen to wash the glass.

I turn and walk to the terrace, looking out over the patio. The chill in the air has me rolling my shirt sleeves back down before crossing my arms. The pool is gently lapping against the sides, the moon reflected in broken shards on its surface. I look up at it, feeling a smile tug at my lips. That was Dad’s home away from home once upon a time. A home I’d witnessed destroyed by a meteor shower that almost claimed the life of his best friend. But we got him home safely, all because we followed instincts Dad had passed onto us. We would get him back, we had to. Brains has never yet made a machine that’s failed, so why shouldn’t I trust this one? Afterall, most of it is made up of our Thunderbirds. I trust my Bird, she’s never let me down. Ok, well she has a couple of times, but those weren’t her fault. This will work.

I keep telling myself this as I return to my room, my feet slightly heavy as fatigue finally starts to feel less like exhaustion and more like that wonderful feeling you get as you doze off. This will work, this will work. By the time I get back to my room and change into my pyjamas, even the paper that flutters on the wall from the draught created by the swinging door doesn’t deter my mood. This will work. It has to.

And tomorrow morning, well, later on today, we launch to bring our Dad home.