There's Snow Business Like the Rescue Business
Crunch. Scrape. Toss. Repeat. Virgil stood up straight, trying to realign his vertebrae.
"If I fired up Thunderbird 2 I'd get this cleared in thirty seconds," he muttered quietly. Scott grinned and glanced at him.
"Fire up Thunderbird 2 and you'd clear everything in a quarter mile radius including a couple barns and a grain silo," he replied.
Snow was falling lightly on the two brothers as they tried to clear a path through a drift from the farmhouse to a barn. They were taking a vacation from International Rescue and visiting friends in Kansas. Aunt May and her husband Grant weren't technically their Aunt and Uncle and, in fact, May was only a bit older than Scott. She had lived on a neighbouring farm and the Tracy brothers had been in and out of her family's house when they were young. After Lucille's death she had tended to mother the boys when she could and so they had teased her by calling her 'Aunt' May. After her marriage she had got her own back by ensuring that her children had called Scott and his brothers 'Uncle'.
It was mid-winter at the time of their visit and, after a heavy snow fall, Virgil had offered to use the huge snow cleaning tractor to make it easier to move around the farmyard. Unfortunately, the tractor would not start. Virgil was equally pleased at the thought of a couple of hours getting covered in grease trying to find the fault but May had insisted that he shouldn't get involved in such nasty, dirty work. She sent him outside with Scott and a couple of shovels instead. Still, he was enjoying the chat with his big brother and, considering the huge plates of meat and potatoes he was being fed, could use the exercise.
After another ten minutes of shovelling they could see they were making progress. They were interrupted by two of May's children, Matty and Pete, aged 11 and 8 who had come running up.
"Come in the house!" yelled Matty, skidding to a halt and throwing himself happily into the pile of snow that Scott had cleared.
"Mommy says there's hot chocolate and cookies when you're done," added Pete, attempting to copy Matty's spectacular jump but tripping and ending up flat on his face in the snow. Matty's mocking laughter echoed in his ears as he struggled to his feet.
"We're almost finished," said Scott. "Tell your Mom we'll be there in a little while."
"Come now!" asserted Matty.
Virgil straightened up again. "We want to finish the job."
"Can we help?" asked Pete.
"Something tells me we'll get this done a lot quicker if you don't," chuckled Scott. "Why don't you guys go and build a snowman or something?"
Matty kicked sullenly at the snow. "We built three already."
"Go sledding then," suggested Virgil.
"Done that," said Pete. "We're bored now."
"Anyway," added Matty, "Mom says we're not allowed to play in the snow unless we bring Sam with us and after ten minutes he starts crying and saying he's cold, it's stupid."
"He's so stupid," agreed Pete. Sam was Matty's and Pete's five year old brother.
"He's not as old as you two," replied Virgil. "Cut him some slack."
"We always used to take Uncle Gordon and Uncle Alan out to play when we were your age," said Scott, straight-faced.
"And it was real fun and we never complained," said Virgil equally solemnly.
"That's not what Uncle Alan says. He says you were mean," protested Pete.
The two men caught each other's eyes and couldn't help laughing.
"You are big, fat, stinking liars," said Matty and threw a snowball at Scott. Scott had never backed down from a fight in his life and by the time the four had had a snowball fight and finished clearing the snow a good half hour had passed.
They went into the kitchen where Aunt May was cooking lunch and Sam was sitting at the table finishing his milk and cookies. As the four entered laughing and joking he immediately put on a sulky face.
"It's not fair, Mom said you weren't to go out and have fun without me and you've been ages," he protested to his brothers.
"We've been helping Uncle Scott and Uncle Virgil," said Matt importantly.
"But you went without me!"
"Okay, what would everyone like to drink?" Aunt May smoothly moved the conversation on.
"Soda," said Matty.
"Juice," said Pete.
"Tea would be good," said Scott.
"Coffee, please," said Virgil.
Aunt May put her hands on her hips and surveyed them all. "Good, it's hot chocolate all round then," she stated, not intending to take any nonsense.
They all sat around the table and Virgil entertained the children by making a cookie disappear and then reappear from behind Scott's ear. Scott entertained the children by making cookies disappear. When they found they were not reappearing the boys realised that he was just eating all the cookies and hurried to catch up.
After the snack Virgil and Scott went into the sitting room. Scott sat in a comfortable chair and picked up a newspaper. Virgil made the mistake of sitting on the sofa and all three boys promptly jumped on top of him.
"Tell us a story, Uncle Virgil," said Matty.
"Yay! Uncle Virgil story!" said Pete.
"I was going to take a nap," began Virgil but at the sad expressions on his nephews' faces he capitulated. "Go on, then. Someone get me a sketch pad and a pencil."
"I want a rescue story." Sam prodded Virgil to get his attention.
"Better make it an International Rescue story. He loves them," suggested Matty.
"Well..." Virgil was caught out for a second. "Nobody knows a lot about how they operate but I guess I might be able to come up with some sort of action rescue story if I imagine really hard." A noise that sounded suspiciously like a chuckle-turned-into-a-cough came from behind the newspaper.
Shortly after with Matty on one side, Pete on the other and Sam on his lap, Virgil began a story. He couldn't always put into words the ideas in his head so he drew pictures as well and the boys were soon wrapped up in the story.
"Once upon a time there were….two brave hero rescuers. They fought fires, they saved people from earthquakes and pulled people from avalanches. They were friends and the older one was called Brad and he flew a really fast rocket that looked a bit like this." Virgil drew a design that was not entirely different from Thunderbird One. "The younger one, who was called Bill, was much more handsome and flew a slower but much better equipped aircraft." As Virgil sketched he glanced at Scott who looked askance. Whether this was because of the fact that Virgil was sailing a bit close to the wind with regard to International Rescue's anonymity or because of the 'handsome' crack he wasn't sure.
Virgil's drawing of Bill's craft was quite technical and soon the boys got restless and started to argue.
"I do to draw better than you," shouted Pete.
"I read better than you," replied Matty.
"You are so boring," said Sam to no one in particular.
"Sit still, Sam, I just need to get this bit of fuselage right." Virgil sounded impatient.
"Everyone hates me. You're all mean!" Sam wriggled off Virgil's lap and ran from the room.
"Okay, guys, calm down. Let me tell you about the time that Brad and Bill went to rescue some people from a collapsed mine."
Virgil continued his story and drawings. Scott was still reading the newspaper when he noticed Aunt May pop her head into the sitting room a couple of times looking harassed.
"Everything okay?" asked Scott, his sense for danger suddenly prickling down his spine.
"You've no idea where Sam is, do you?"
"Uh…no, he was here a while back. Want me to help you look?"
"Would you?" Scott and Aunt May took a look around the house but Sam was nowhere to be found. They finished in the kitchen.
Well, here's a clue," said Aunt May pointing to the plate on the table. "Some cookies are missing."
"The door looks like it's not been closed all the way," said sharp-eyed Scott. He opened the door fully and noticed a set of small footprints heading away from the farmhouse. "A regular Alan, that one," he smiled, "Makes sure he has food before he runs away!"
But Aunt May was not smiling. She looked more worried than ever. "I hope he hasn't. I mean, he knows the farm really well and it's okay for him to run around because he knows the place and he knows how to stay safe. But when it's been snowing, it looks completely different. What if he gets lost?"
"Well, if he's like his Uncle Alan he should find his way back by the next mealtime," chuckled Scott. He instantly regretted that as he saw the still worried look on May's face. "I'll go and find him for you."
"Oh no, Scott, that's my job."
"Oh no, that is definitely my job! What I mean is, little brothers is something I'm expert in. Cooking lunch for seven is what you're expert in. Let's go with that."
Scott grabbed his coat and boots and headed out with Aunt May's recommendation that Sam 'would probably be hiding in a barn' ringing in his ears. The footprints did indeed lead to one of the barns and Scott went into the gloomy interior and shouted out Sam's name. There was no reply so he made a thorough search. There was still no sign of the little boy which puzzled Scott as the footprints had lead only to the barn and not away from it. He started to look for another exit and eventually found a small door in one corner. He ducked through and found more steps heading into the distance.
"Short-cut, huh?" muttered Scott as he trudged on. He decided to quicken his pace. The snow was still falling lightly but it was starting to fill in the footprints.
Virgil was now engrossed in his story, as were his nephews.
"And then Brad and Bill could hear shouts. They must be quite near the trapped men. They revved up the power on their digging machine and hoped it would go faster. 'It's not quick enough,' said Brad. 'Don't worry,' said Bill, 'I can adjust the turbo-nuclear valve and get a bit more power.' 'Thank you, Bill,' said Brad, 'Everyone thinks I'm the hero of this outfit but really it's you.'
Virgil smiled at his tale. He was enjoying this. Good thing Scott wasn't in the room to hear it.
Sam, walking through the snow, was beginning to feel really cold. When he had left the house he hadn't had a plan but now he decided that he would go somewhere where he would be appreciated. He had always been impressed by International Rescue when he had seen them on the news. He would go and find them and then and then ask for a job. Matty said that no one knew where they lived but big brothers said stuff like that to stop you from having fun. He had already walked for at least 100 miles. He would see their big building soon.
He came to a wooden fence which was easy to slip through. Beyond was a road. Quite a few large trucks had been along it and he walked in the tyre ruts for a while. Then he remembered his mom saying that you shouldn't walk in the road so he set off across a field again. The snow was smooth and pristine and he enjoyed making footprints in it like the first man on the moon. He took a cookie from his pocket and munched it. He was walking towards a line of trees and that was his objective for now. He bet that when he got to them, International Rescue's base would be in sight and he wouldn't have far to go. Wouldn't his brothers be jealous when he came to visit them in one of the big rescue craft?
As he reached the trees, the snow looked like it continued seamlessly. He walked forward, looking for an International Rescue sign, when the snow seemed to disappear beneath him and he found himself falling. Branches scratched his face and then a dreadful pain shot through both his legs. He stopped and, as his senses returned, he realised he had fallen into ice cold water but, fortunately, only up to his knees.
What Sam had not known as he had been walking was that the line of trees on a neighbour's farm marked an irrigation ditch. In summer, water was sent through it to irrigate the crops. In winter it filled up a bit from the rainfall. A storm the week before had sent a shower of branches and twigs across the ditch. When the weather had turned cold a thin layer of ice had formed on the stream and then the snow had covered up the ditch, the ice and the branches.
Sam had actually walked less than one and a half miles, rather than the 100 it felt like. Scott followed his trail until the road. Then he lost the footsteps amongst the tyre tracks. He sighed with irritation. Yep, Sam was definitely turning into an Alan. He walked up and down for several minutes trying to find which way Sam had gone. Eventually he found what he thought was a trail heading away across the field but he couldn't be sure as the falling snow had virtually covered the footprints. He followed a little way but all he could see ahead were acres and acres of white with no little boy anywhere in sight. It was unlikely that he could have walked quickly enough to get so far that Scott wouldn't be able to see him. Scott sighed again. This was like looking for a needle in a haystack. It was cold and the snow was getting heavier. He was beginning to share Aunt May's anxiety. Time to call on a little technical backup. He pulled back his coat sleeve to reveal his wrist comm.
"Scott Tracy calling Thunderbird 5. Come in, John."
Virgil was drawing expansively over the sheet. "The mine was collapsing. Bill managed to pull the last of the miners to safety at the final moment. It wasn't long before everyone was back on the surface. The mine chief shook Brad by the hand. 'Thank you for everything.' 'Oh, don't thank me,' said Brad, 'Bill was the one who did all the hard work. If it wasn't for him, we'd all be dead.'"
"What do you think, guys?" asked Virgil, grinning.
"Okay, I suppose," said Pete.
"Not very realistic," remarked Matty and Virgil's grin faded.
Sam was shivering violently, knee deep in freezing water. He had been trying to pull himself out of the ditch but he couldn't find anything he could get a grip on to haul himself out with. He had tried to climb but his sneakers kept slipping. Now he couldn't feel his feet at all. He didn't seem to be able to coordinate his mind or his body to do anything at all.
His adventure to find International Rescue had gone badly wrong. Now, desperately feeling the urge to sit down despite knowing it would be in icy water, all he could do was pray that somehow International Rescue would know he was in trouble and would come and find him.
John knew better than to keep Scott waiting when he called.
"Thunderbird 5 receiving. How's the vacation, Scott?"
"We've got a lot of snow."
"Yeh, you've got a weather front over you that's not shifting until it's dumped a whole lot more of the white stuff on you. I should stay inside and catch up on your shut-eye."
"Now that sounds good. Trouble is, I've got a little-brother problem."
"What's Virgil done now?"
Scott chuckled. "Not Virgil, Sam. He's gone for a walk in the snow and I'll be damned if I can find the little guy. It's getting pretty bad out here. Any chance you could get a fix on me and see if there's a kid-sized hot-spot nearby?" He noticed from the screen on his wrist comm that John had already started hitting buttons before he'd even finished his request. He waited and it was only a short while before John replied.
"North west of you about 100 metres. If it is Sam you want to hurry it up as it's losing heat quickly. Just follow the arrow!"
As if by magic, a luminous green arrowed appeared on the edge of the circular dial of Scott's wrist comm and pointed north west. Scott used it to navigate himself in the right direction. It was a feature that had helped him get out of dark, smoky environments on several occasions. As he got nearer his destination he started to shout for Sam and stopped to listen for a reply. He thought he heard a little voice but wasn't sure.
"You should be almost on top of him now, Scott."
Scott slowed down, puzzled. He could see some trees and…then he saw where the snow had fallen in.
"Sam!" Cautiously he approached the hole. He could feel the snow shifting beneath his feet.
"Uncle Scott!" came a feeble voice.
Scott immediately took in the situation. He had to get Sam out of the water as soon as possible. He grabbed a stick and thrust it forward. "Grab it, Sam."
Sam could barely raise his arms enough to hold the stick but Scott was afraid to go nearer. If he ended up in the water too then he would lose his value as a rescuer. He cajoled and pleaded with Sam who finally managed to coordinate himself to reach the stick. It took three goes but finally Scott pulled Sam out of the stream and onto the snow beside him. The little man was shivering hard and he looked practically blue.
Scott felt precisely one second of anguish for Sam before his training kicked back in. "Sorry, kid, I just gotta get these wet clothes off you." Fortunately Sam was too weak to argue and Scott ripped off every last item of Sam's clothing. Then he pulled off his own coat, sweater, t-shirt and vest. He wrapped Sam up in the warm clothes, except the t-shirt which he put back on himself. Then he picked Sam up, and hurried back to the farm. John was offering help but Scott decided that speed was of the essence and he could walk quicker than any emergency vehicle could reach them.
Fortunately, the physical exercise kept Scott warm as he hastened through the snow. Soon he burst into the farmhouse kitchen and Aunt May looked up from the stove. For a moment she couldn't register what had happened and then she realised that Sam was in the bundle of clothes in Scott's arms.
"Sam!" She rushed over, horrified. Scott was used to dealing gently with shocked people but would also need the help of this one.
"Aunt May!" he said firmly. She glanced up at him and he fixed his eyes on hers. "Warm blankets, warm milk, warm porridge and the doctor in that order. Got it?"
Aunt May was not used to being talked to so forcefully by Scott but something in his manner convinced her to obey him and she nodded and then hurried to get what Scott had requested.
"Virgil!" Scott started to walk towards the sitting room. Virgil, who had been relaxing on the sofa, was instantly by his brother's side, Scott's tone of voice telling him there was a big problem. Scott rattled off information.
"It's Sam. Found in water underneath snow drift. Mild to moderate hypothermia. Let's get him on the sofa and warm him up."
"FAB," replied Virgil automatically, forgetting where he was. Seeing the effort in Scott's face he took Sam from him and into the sitting room. He laid him carefully on the sofa. Pete and Matty crowded around.
"What happened?" asked Pete, fear in his voice at seeing his little brother looking so still.
"Sam fell in a ditch. We just need to get him warm," replied Scott, calmly, watching as Vigil gave Sam a once over, trusting his brother to take over for a moment.
Virgil didn't want the kids around at that moment. "Look, guys. Matty, could you get some of Sam's pyjamas and socks and Pete, go get Uncle Scott another sweater."
The boys rushed off as Aunt May came in with the blankets. Soon Sam was wrapped up well and starting to become more alert. Scott and Virgil managed the situation until it became less critical and gradually let May and her mothering instincts take over. By the time the doctor arrived, Virgil and Scott were sitting relaxed in armchairs drinking coffee and watching Aunt May bustle around.
The doctor examined Sam thoroughly. He finally looked up at them all. "Well, he's obviously had a big shock but I think he's going to be fine. No permanent damage although I shall check him again tomorrow. You two did exactly the right things," he said, looking at the two Tracys.
"Well, it was Scott really. He was the hero," replied Vigil, with a sigh and muttered "as usual" under his breath.
"I got a bit of medical training in the Air Force," said Scott, dismissively.
"Sam, you should thank Uncle Scott," said Aunt May, returning to being a stern mom now Sam was out of danger.
Sam tried to sit up a bit. "Thank you, Uncle Scott," he said. "It's just…."
"Just what?" asked Scott.
"Well, I wish you'd left me to be rescued by International Rescue."
There was silence in the room for a second and then Scott stuttered out an amazed "Sorry!" while Virgil had to turn away so no-one could see how hard he was laughing.