The ghost hunters
My muse has been absent for a long while, but now she's back. Standard disclaimer; I acknowledge ITV as the copyright holders of Thunderbirds and would like to thank Purupuss for her proofreading and helpful suggestions, and Gerry Anderson and his team for the inspiration.
"Sometimes I think Halloween should be banned altogether." Alan glared around the flight deck of Thunderbird Two before continuing his tirade. "Look at us; International Rescue are having to travel halfway around the world to rescue a bunch of kids who must have gone past Heaven-knows-how-many warning notices to break into an abandoned mine on a 'ghost hunt'. And if that wasn't stupid enough, they then set off an explosive they made from fireworks that blocks off their retreat. Kids that age shouldn't be handling explosive material!"
In the pause that followed this outburst, Virgil glanced at the screen in front of him that showed the faces of Scott and John, saying nothing but raising one eyebrow.
It was John who broke the silence. "Alan, do the words 'Colorado' and 'rocket fuel' ring any bells with you?"
Alan turned bright red. "That was a scientific experiment! I just got my calculations wrong."
"Maybe," replied Scott over the chuckles of his brothers, "but you were sixteen - only a year older than the oldest of these 'kids'. However they got themselves there, these youngsters are in trouble, and the local rescue services can't get to them, so they've asked us. That's what International Rescue do."
"Besides," cut in Virgil, "it will give Gordon a chance to test his new underwater drilling machine."
"Yes, it's worked well enough in trials, but the sea-bed off the Cornish coast will be ideal for the first field operation. John, have you managed to find any maps yet?"
"I've got the local authorities going through their archives; hopefully they should have come up with something by the time Scott gets there and he can send it to you."
"I should be landing in thirty minutes; I'll get back to you then. Thunderbird One, out."
John's prediction proved correct and the occupants of the flight deck soon found themselves looking at a 3-D projection showing a network of tunnels.
Gordon gave a low whistle. "This place is an absolute maze. You say it's over 200 years old?"
"That's right," came Scott's voice over the radio. "I've been talking to the local police constable; his son Jack is one of the boys down there. He said the mine operated from the early 1800s until the end of the 20th century."
Virgil nodded. "We learnt about Cornish tin mines at engineering college; they were the first places to use steam engines. They needed the power to operate the winding gear that lifted the ore out. Many of them were built like this one, with the entrance at the top of a cliff, a shaft dropping down to sea level and tunnels that extended under the sea bed."
John's voice came again. "I'm projecting the location of the youngsters' cell phones onto the map." A fuzzy orange glow appeared.
Gordon traced it with his finger. "In that case I suggest we drill here," he said, pointing to a spot on the sea floor. "It's about a mile from where they are, so shouldn't take too long to reach them."
Just then a chime came from the control panel and Virgil resumed his seat in the pilot's chair, thumbing the switch to disengage the autopilot. "We're approaching the coast; you two had better get down to the pod."
It was not often that Alan travelled in Thunderbird Four. Despite his astronaut training, he could never get used to the moment of free fall when the pod was released from its parent craft and the impact as it hit the water, and wondered how Gordon put up with it. The pod rose and fell with the waves as the door opened, framing an overcast night sky. He felt the ramp tip upwards and the kick as his brother fired the engines and they slid down into the inky black water.
Gordon circled his craft around to face the open door of the pod. "I'm ready, Virgil. Lower the Teredo onto the ramp."
Virgil's "FAB" came over the radio, and through the gloom Alan could just make out a large stubby cylinder descending from the roof of the pod. Gordon pressed a switch and lines shot from the front of his craft, attaching themselves to the nearest end of the cylinder.
"Got it, Virgil. Proceeding to drill point."
Towing the cylinder, the submarine descended beneath the waves. Alan peered through the windows at the gloom outside. "Any good sea life around here?" he asked conversationally.
Gordon nodded. "Yes, the Gulf Stream comes past here, so the water is rich in nutrients. You find seals, basking sharks, sometimes even the occasional turtle. I doubt if you'll see anything now, though; we'd have scared them all away when we hit the water." His fingers danced across the controls. "Coming up on the drill point; yep, LIDAR scan shows a cavity beneath us. Get ready to drop the Teredo."
Alan sat with his fingers poised over a second set of controls as Gordon turned his craft to face the cylinder, watching his screen and making small adjustments to his position over the sea bed. "Now!"
A stream of bubbles erupted from the far end of the cylinder as tanks flooded, turning the object on end. It hit the sea floor, raising a cloud of sand. Gordon released the guide line and backed away. "Fire clamping bolts."
Four more clouds erupted around the base of the cylinder as bolts were driven into the surface, anchoring the machine to the sea floor. A ring of red lights on Alan's control panel turned green. "Seal complete."
"FAB. Thunderbird Four to Mobile control and Thunderbird Two. We are about to enter Teredo to commence drilling."
His brothers' responses came over the speaker as Gordon lined up the airlock on the side of his craft with a matching one on the cylinder, connecting them with a tube. As he closed the inner airlock behind them, Gordon couldn't help a feeling of pride as he looked around the latest of International Rescue's fantastic vehicles. The need for an underwater equivalent of the Mole had been obvious for some time, and he, Brains and Virgil had come up with this design. It had been Gordon's idea to name it after the worm that could bore into the hulls of wooden ships, secreting its own tunnel as it went. In this case there was an additional feature; as the drilling machine bored through the sea bed, the outer casing filled with air behind it to equalise the pressure and prevent water from entering the borehole it was creating.
The noise made by the drill made conversation difficult, and Gordon made a mental note to ask Brains if there was any way of improving the insulation in the cabin. Fortunately, it was not long before the drill pierced the roof of the mine and came to a halt.
"Teredo calling Mobile Control. We have arrived at our destination and are leaving the machine."
It was John's voice that answered. "Teredo from Thunderbird Five. Scott's having trouble receiving you through the rock so I'll be handling communications from here and will pass on any messages. I'll send the co-ordinates of the rescuees to your watch so you can home in on them. Good luck!"
The two Tracys exited their vehicle into a dark and silent world. The roof was low, forcing them to stoop and their torches reflected off rock walls along a passageway that seemed to stretch away into infinity. Their footsteps echoed as they walked and they found themselves talking in low voices.
Alan played his light along the walls. "I'm guessing this is an old part of the mine; these walls look like they were cut with hand tools, not machines." They passed the dark mouth of a side tunnel and he dropped the beam to illuminate the floor, covered in a layer of fine dust. "See? No footprints. I bet we are the first people to walk along this corridor in a hundred years."
They were approaching a point where the passages split in two. Gordon raised his watch to see an arrow pointing from the centre of the dial towards the left hand passage. "Looks like it's this way."
Alan hesitated. "Are you sure? I thought I saw a flash of light down the other corridor a moment ago."
Gordon's torch shone on the floor. "I can't see any footprints going that way, but we can double check. John, do we turn left here?"
John's voice issued from his watch. "Yes, that's correct. You should find the passage starts to slope downwards soon; it will be taking you to the lower levels. You've got about another half a mile to go."
"FAB, left it is." Gordon looked at his brother. "You must have seen your own beam reflecting off a piece of mica or something."
The path did indeed slope down and it soon became obvious that they were entering a more recent part of the excavation; the ceilings were higher and the walls smoother. At one point the workings opened into a larger chamber, supported by pillars of rock.
"We should be getting close now," Gordon checked the face of his watch again. "I think I can hear something."
They stood still and, sure enough, there came the faint murmur of voices, and a few sobs.
"I think we've found them." Gordon raised his voice. "Hello there, this is International Rescue. We've come to get you out!"
There was the sound of movement and cries of relief. They rounded a bend in the passage and Gordon's torch picked out a group of five figures clustered around one dim yellow light. As their rescuers approached the group clambered to their feet.
"In- International Rescue?" One young girl raised her tear-streaked face. "Thank goodness! We thought we were never going to get out."
"Yes," said a boy, his face pale and eyes wide. "We thought our torches were going to give out and we'd be left in the dark for the ghost to get us!"
"Well, we're here now. Is anybody hurt?"
"Not hurt, no," said another girl. "Just c-cold."
"And hungry!" added the smallest of the boys. "We must have been down here for hours!"
Alan crouched down beside the group and started handing out foil blankets and snack bars from his backpack. "So, what's the story about this ghost? Has anyone ever seen one down here?"
The tallest boy nodded. "My grandfather was a miner at the end of the last century, just before the mine closed. He used to tell me about the ghost of the old foreman, from way back in the nineteenth century, who used to patrol the corridors making sure none of the miners got left behind. They used to say that if you were lost you would see Old Jacob carrying his lamp."
A second boy shook his head. "I still say there's no such thing as ghosts; your grandfather was just trying to wind you up."
Gordon straightened up. "Well, never mind ghosts; we're here to take you back to the land of the living." He raised his wrist. "Gordon to Thunderbird Five. We've found the missing children; they're all OK. We'll head back to the surface."
"FAB. I'll let Scott know; I'm sure their families will be relieved to hear it."
The tallest boy paused. "Are we going to be in trouble?"
Alan snorted. "Let me guess; you're Jack? Your father is the policeman?"
The boy nodded, hugging his blanket around him for comfort. "He'll probably have me doing community service for the next ten years!"
Gordon gave him a sympathetic pat on the shoulder. "Just remember, it could have been worse. If International Rescue hadn't picked up the call from your phone, no-one would have known you were down here." He turned to Alan. "I'll take the lead; you bring up the rear and make sure we don't lose anyone on the way out."
The party proceeded in single file back along the passages, the rescuees still huddled in their blankets. They climbed the slope leading back to the older level, but as they reached the top, Alan glanced down the side turning.
"Gordon, that light is there again!"
Gordon paused and came back to his brother, shining his own torch into the opening. "Are you sure? I can't see anything."
"Yes, look, up there on the side of the wall!"
One of the girls gave a small scream. "It's the ghost!"
Ignoring this, Alan lifted his watch. "Alan calling Thunderbird Five. John, could you check out the passage to the left of where I'm standing now. Can you detect anything there?"
"Hang on a minute, let me zoom in... No, the passage only goes about 200 yards, then stops at a dead end."
Alan looked at his older brother with a pleading expression. "I want to check this out. I know you're going to think I'm crazy, but, please, I've got a feeling about this. I'll be five minutes, max. I can catch you up before you reach the Teredo."
Gordon was torn; logic decreed that they should not split up, but he knew how tenacious his younger brother could be when he got an idea in his head, and realised he'd have no peace if Alan didn't get his own way. "OK, but keep in contact with John at all times." He turned to the youngsters. "Right, you lot; keep close behind me. Jack, you bring up the rear; I don't want anyone getting lost."
Alan watched them walk away then turned towards the dark mouth of the passage, raising his wrist. "John did you get all that?"
"FAB. Receiving you."
"I'm entering the side passage now. I can see the light ahead of me; it's not steady, it sort of bobs along about head height. That's strange..."
"What is it?" John's voice held a note of anxiety.
"I'm coming to a corner here. I thought I saw something, just for a moment... a shadow cast on the wall; a hunched figure, bulky, holding a lamp."
"This is beginning to get seriously weird."
"Yeah, I know; if i'm wrong, you can all have a good laugh at me later." There was a pause. "Now there's another corner."
"You should be reaching the end of the passage soon."
"Yes, you're right. The way is blocked by a pile of rock. Hang on, the light's still moving. It's going up the rock pile. Oh, I see, there's a small gap at the top. I guess the rocks must have settled over the years. I think I can squeeze through."
"FAB." Alan climbed the rock pile and managed to insert his body through the gap between the top of the rocks and the roof. The fall turned out to be several yards deep but with a bit of wriggling, he made it to the end of the pile. He paused to catch his breath. "OK, I'm through; climbing down now."
As his boots touched solid ground, Alan swung the beam of his torch around this new part of the tunnel. The light illuminated what looked at first glance to be a bundle of rags; it was only when he swung the light back for a second look that he realised what he was seeing.
John heard a sharp intake of breath. "Alan, what is it?"
"I've found some bodies; two, no, three people. They must have been trapped by the rock fall." Alan played the torch across the pathetic huddle, picking out details. The dry air of the mine had mummified the corpses, turning the skin on their faces yellow and pulling back the lips from the teeth in a grotesque parody of a smile. Then he realised the scale of the central figure against those on either side and when he spoke again it was hard to keep the tremor from his voice. "John, judging from the size, two of them must have been children."
"Children were employed to work down mines in Britain in the early 1800s."
Alan gazed down at the small figures, huddled on either side of the adult. He tried not to think of them sitting there in the dark, waiting for the rescue that never came. His hand reached into his backpack, emerging holding a stubby cylinder. He gave the object a twist and set it on the ground. "I'm setting off a locator beacon so the authorities will be able to find this spot. Hopefully they will be able to give these poor souls a decent burial at last." His words were directed at John, but as he spoke, his eyes were fixed on the spot of light that was holding steady on the wall. The light bobbed up and down once, then winked out.
As Alan straightened up and made ready to leave, he recalled Scott's words earlier. International Rescue were there to help the people others couldn't reach; that's what they did.
No matter how long it took.