Summary; a rescue in England takes an unexpected turn for Scott
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This tale was sparked off by a discussion at the Brits get-together this summer. Thanks to Boomercat and Purupuss for letting me borrow ideas from their stories, also to Purupuss and Jules for their proofreading and helpful suggestions.
Standard disclaimer: I acknowledge Granada as the copyright holders of these characters and thank Gerry Anderson for creating them.
Final note: I have left the location of this story deliberately vague as there are several sites in both England and Wales that would claim to be the setting for my tale.
As the credits rolled up the screen, Scott stretched his long legs in front of him. "Well, that was a complete waste of time," he remarked. "Somebody remind me why we were watching it."
Virgil picked up the magazine lying on the floor and consulted it. "According to Kiné, it's a re-release of a twentieth century classic about King Arthur and the knights of the Round Table."
"Well, all I can say is that this was one film that should have stayed unreleased."
"Hey, it wasn't that bad!"
Scott snorted. "Fairy tales for kids."
"As a matter of fact, Scott," said John, scooping up the few remaining morsels of popcorn from Virgil's bucket, "there is evidence that the tales are based on a real person who lived back in the Dark Ages, just after the Romans left Britain."
"Yeah, I can buy that there was a real person once. But the whole mythical thing about the 'once and future king' who will return when his country needs him? What good could he do in this day and age? A sword wouldn't be much good against a jet fighter or a machine gun."
Virgil stood, stretching until his shoulders cracked, then turned towards his brother. "You're just in a bad mood because One got scratched by that piece of shrapnel on the last rescue. Come on, let's go and see if the paint's dry now. One more coat and she'll be as good as new."
Two weeks later Scott and Virgil were engaged in a game of pool when the alarm sounded. On entering the lounge they found their father in discussion with John, who was now doing his turn of duty on the satellite.
"So these cavers have been missing for over twelve hours and the authorities are concerned that they might be trapped by a rockfall?"
From his picture on the wall John nodded. "That's right, Father. And there has been a lot of rain in that part of England recently, so there's a danger that the cave system might be flooded."
"Sounds like we'll need the Mole, then," Virgil put in.
"No, Virgil," replied John. "According to the authorities, this area of limestone is very unstable. I think you'll be better off with the hand-held cutters."
Jeff turned to his sons. "OK then, Gordon. I'm sending you with Virgil. He might need an extra pair of hands. Sounds like you'd better take your scuba gear as well."
"Can I go too?" said Alan. Only two days after his return from Thunderbird 5, the youngest Tracy had wrenched his shoulder while helping a victim trapped on a cliff. Like all the Tracy men he hated being unfit and had been griping about it ever since.
Jeff opened his mouth to reply, but Scott spoke first. "You know, Father, that wouldn't be a bad idea. We'll have quite a lot to carry into these caves. Alan could stay behind and man Mobile Control.
Jeff considered the idea, then nodded. "OK, Alan, but you stay at Mobile Control, understood? That shoulder won't get any better unless you rest it."
"FAB, Dad," said Alan, a grin creasing his features. At last, a chance for some action.
In a few minutes Scott was airborne and contacting John for details of the landing site.
Whilst he was entering the coordinates on his autopilot, Alan, sitting in the jump seat, voiced the concern that was on his mind. "John, has anything struck you as odd about this call? Why do they need us? Most cave complexes usually have a local volunteer group willing to go in and rescue anyone who gets lost or trapped."
John nodded. "Yeah, I thought that too. But this seems to be the exception. Apparently the locals don't go anywhere near the place. The cavers who are trapped are some group from Germany who were visiting England on a holiday to explore caves in various parts of the country."
"What, are they haunted or something?"
John gave a shrug. "The authorities are hardly likely to tell me that. But if you do see anyone wandering around with their head tucked under their arm, just remember that you're not there to rescue them." John was always teasing Alan about his fondness for ghost stories as a teenager.
Scott made a small adjustment to Thunderbird One's trim "Alan won't be seeing anyone in the caves. He'll be sitting tight at Mobile Control, right, kiddo?" Sitting behind Scott, Alan made a rude face at his elder brother's back.
Soon the sleek silver craft was approaching the rescue site. Scott touched down halfway up a hillside topped by a radio mast. He noted with approval the arrangements that had been made by the local police, who had cordoned off an area big enough for both Thunderbird craft. Onlookers seemed to be confined to an area at the bottom of the hill, where a small cottage stood next to a car park and a road snaked away, presumably to the nearest town.
Scott smiled to himself as he helped Alan set up Mobile Control. The sky had the pale blue of an early English spring. Virgil complained that it always seemed to rain when he came to England. Maybe this time he would be lucky.
The roar of engines indicated the arrival of the transporter craft. "Mobile Control to Thunderbird Two," Alan spoke into the microphone. "Virgil, make a pass over the hill. See if Two's sensors can pick up any life signs - it might give us an idea of how deep these cavers are."
After a minute Gordon's voice came back. "I'm getting life signs, but they're quite deep. Looks like we've got a long trek ahead of us."
While the giant craft was making its final approach, Scott had a word with the local constable on duty, then wandered over to where the man had told him the entrance to the cave was located. He doubted if he would have found it by himself. The entrance was concealed by a large slab of limestone, behind which was a set of iron gates, once locked but obviously not used for some time as they screeched on their hinges when Scott pushed them open.
"You're not going in there!"
Scott turned at the voice, and found himself facing an old man, dressed in a variety of mud-splattered garments. The stranger looked like he spent his time sleeping under hedges, and frankly, smelt like it too.
"Yes, we are." Scott wondered how the old man had got past the police cordon.
At the sound of Scott's accent, the old man shook his head. "More bloody furriners! What is this place coming to, all these furriners running around? I told the last lot not to go in there. I told them!" He glared at Scott, as if holding him personally responsible.
Scott realised the old guy was, as Gordon would have put it, not quite playing with a full deck. "Well, we have to go and get the other ones out," he said, trying to explain as simply as he could.
Scott's patience was running out. "Because that's our job. We help people. We're the ones people go to when there is no-one else who can help."
Scott suddenly found himself the object of intense scrutiny. The old man's eyes, which before had seemed cloudy and confused, now seemed to be seeing right into Scott's soul. This only lasted for a second, then the old man nodded.
"Well, if you must," he said, his confused manner back again. "But make sure you touch nothing down there, you hear? Nothing!" He turned and walked away, muttering into his beard. Scott watched him go, then walked back to where his brothers were emerging from Two's pod, carrying armfuls of gear which was soon distributed amongst them.
Scott looked at his brothers. "All set? OK, let's go. See you soon, Alan!"
Scott had never seen the attraction that caving held for his youngest brother. He preferred open sky around him. At first the going was easy, but on several occasions they were forced to crawl through narrow passages, grateful for the protective overalls they were wearing. Many of the passages had water draining down the walls or dripping from above, and some were punctuated with stalactites hanging overhead and stalagmites growing from the floor.
The portable Victim-locator gave off a steady signal, leading them deeper into the hillside, until they were forced to stop by a pile of fallen rocks that was blocking the passageway.
"The signal is quite strong here," said Gordon. "I think we might have found them."
Scott and Virgil unslung the portable rock-cutters from their backs and aimed them at the rock pile. They worked together in silence, cutting a hole big enough to pass though. The work was proceeding well when Gordon suddenly yelled a warning from behind them. Scott's reaction came just a fraction too late as a lump of rock hit him on the side of the head and everything went black.