Author's note: this story was written for the TIWF Halloween challenge. My thanks to Purupuss and Dickonfan for proofreading and to Gerry Anderson and his team for creating the original TB world. I do not own any of the TB characters or equipment, nor any other comic book characters or commercial products mentioned in this story
"Thunderbird One calling Thunderbird Five."
John's face appeared on the screen on TB1's console "Five here, How's it going, Alan?"
"Fine. The rescue went smoothly and the German authorities were very grateful for our help. We're on our way home now. Virgil and Gordon took off just ahead of me. I've just been reassuring Scott that I won't break his precious 'bird before I get home."
John grinned at his younger brother's soot-stained features. "Yeah, that sounds like Scott. You know he's always like a cat on hot bricks when Dad leaves him in charge. He'd far rather be at the danger zone to direct operations than do it all from a desk. But Dad will be back from his business trip tomorrow, so Scott will be bossing you all around again in person soon."
Alan rolled his eyes. "Won't he just!" Then he paused, his brow wrinkling in a frown. "John, can you do me a favour? I'd like you to play back that hoax call I received last month."
"Sure thing, Alan. Hang on a minute."
From time to time, International Rescue received hoax alarm calls. First offenders were given a telling off by whoever was on duty on the station. Any further calls from the same person were reported to the offender's local police service, most of whom were very supportive at stopping such as misuse of IR's resources. A log was kept of these calls to use as evidence.
Alan heard a click, then the voice of a young boy with an American accent.
'Calling International Rescue. Please, they need help!'
His own voice responded. 'This is International Rescue. Please give me some details of the emergency.'
The voice was breathless. 'There's a fire. A big building. There's people trapped. The children are scared. Their Mom has a baby. It's wrapped in a blue blanket, it's got fishes on. Be careful, or you'll drop it!'
Alan's voice came again. 'I need more detail. Where is this?'
The voice hesitated. 'Er, I don't know. Is there a place called Ritter?'
Alan's voice was harsh now. 'Kid, are you wasting my time? What's your name?'
'Frankie'. The boy's voice was a whisper.
'Look, Frankie, this is not a game. While I'm talking to you there could be someone who really needs our help. Don't do this again, or I'll have to contact your local police. Do you understand?'
'Yes' came the timid response.
'OK. International Rescue out.'
John's voice came over he speaker again. "I meant to tell you – I had a call from the same boy a couple of days ago. He was talking about a crash involving a Coca Cola truck, but when I asked him where it was he said he couldn't read the writing. I realised it was the same kid you'd had so passed the details on to the local authorities. They came back to me this morning. They'd been to see him. He's an eleven year old kid by the name of Frank Lennox. He's the youngest of six children who live with their mother in one of the slum districts of New York. Apparently he doesn't have many friends – just the sort who'd love to have us running round in circles after him."
Alan shook his head. "I'm not so sure about that," he replied, his tone hesitant.
"Why?" came the answer, "what makes you say that?"
"I'd forgotten all about that call until partway through today's rescue." Alan recalled the events of the last few hours. In the early hours of the morning, local time, an explosion had ripped through a 50-storey residential tower block in southern Germany; trapping people on the upper floors when the stairwells collapsed. The local emergency services did not have the equipment to reach the trapped victims, so had called on International Rescue for assistance.
Brains had recently designed a hover platform that worked on the same principle as the jet packs but could carry several people at once. Gordon had been operating the platform while Virgil flew overhead to spray dicetylene on the fire.
As the platform neared the ground with its first load of victims, many of whom had been woken from sleep by the explosion and were still in their nightclothes, Alan had left Mobile Control and moved over to help them down from the platform. Two small children were clinging to their mother's robe, their eyes wide with fright, while their mother clutched a bundle tightly to her chest.
Alan described the scene for John, and continued. "I helped the kids off the platform, then their mother handed me the bundle and I realised it was a baby wrapped in a blanket. Then I noticed that the blanket was blue, with yellow fish on it. I remembered Frankie's message, and I was so startled I nearly dropped the baby."
John gave a low whistle "Spooky!"
Alan nodded. "There's more. After all the victims were on the ground and Gordon had gone back up for the next group, I looked around for one of the police officers. I knew the town was called Ulm, but I was going to ask what the name of the district was. Then I realised I was staring at a billboard with an advert for Ritter chocolate."
"You're right. That is truly weird."
Alan gave a sheepish grin. "Yeah, Twilight Zone, or what? But keep it to ourselves, OK? I'd hate to think of the teasing I'd get from Gordon if he got to hear about it."
John nodded. "OK, bro, my lips are sealed. Safe journey now, TB5 out."
The rest of Alan's stay on the island passed rapidly and, with a mine collapse in China and an oil rig fire in the North Atlantic, the events of Germany were pushed out of his mind. It was on his last day at home, when he was in his room packing for his return to the space station, that his wristcomm buzzed.
"Alan!" John's voice was urgent. "You've got to see this!"
"Hang on," he replied. "OK, I'm putting my computer on. Patch it through to there."
Some pictures appeared on the screen, accompanied by a commentary in a language Alan could not understand.
John's voice came through his watch. "This is the evening news from Greece. They are showing an accident that happened earlier this morning." The screen showed a truck with the Coca Cola emblem emblazoned on its side. The front of the truck had smashed through a shop front. "Apparently the truck swerved to avoid a couple of children on bikes and rammed through the front of the shop. No-one was killed but there are several injuries." He hesitated. "Frankie mentioned bikes in his call, but by then I had realised that this was the same kid who had called you, so I wasn't paying him much attention. I was concentrating on tracing the call so I could report him."
The picture pulled back to show two twisted bicycle frames in the foreground. All around, shop fronts and adverts displayed their wares in the letters of the Greek alphabet.
Alan sat down on the bed, his mind reeling. "Once is a coincidence, but twice…." He looked up at the screen again, the picture frozen where John had paused it. "John, what have we got here?"
John's image replaced the news feed. "I don't know. Precognition of some sort? But why these events? There doesn't seem to be any pattern to it."
"Even if there was, would it help us? The kid doesn't know when, or even where the incident will occur…" his voice trailed off.
"And even if he did," John continued the line of thought, "we can hardly turn up at a place where something hasn't happened yet. Besides, can you imagine Father letting us launch the Thunderbirds at the say-so of an eleven year old child?"
Alan shook his head. "No way. But I'm sorry now that I chewed him out."
"Me too. And if he calls again I for one am going to pay close attention to what he has to tell us."
"Same here. OK, John, I'll see you tomorrow."
"See you then, kiddo."
John was enjoying his time back on Earth with his family. International Rescue was going through one of its quiet times and there had been no call-outs since his return, preordained or otherwise.
One afternoon he was playing pool with Scott and Virgil when his wristcomm buzzed. "John," Alan's voice had an odd note to it. "We've just had another call from our young friend."
John lifted his watch. "Hang on, Alan, I'll take this in my room." He looked across at his brothers. "Be back in a minute, guys."
Scott looked up from where he was leaning over the table. "Anything we should know about?"
John shook his head. "No, this is just something Alan and I have been working on. Private project." He hurried from the room, acutely aware of the strange glances that the other two were exchanging. It was not often that the brothers kept secrets from each other.
As soon as his bedroom door had closed behind him, he lifted his watch. "OK, Alan, I'm alone now. What have you got?"
Alan's face appeared. "This is a recording I made a few minutes ago." There was a click.
'International Rescue? Can you hear me?' The voice was timorous.
Alan's voice came in response. 'Frankie? Is that you?'
'Yes,' the voice hesitated. 'I know I'm not supposed to call you, but please, they need help. They're so frightened. The grownups are all dead.'
Alan's tone was gentle. 'It's OK, Frankie, just tell me what you know.'
'The bus. It missed the road. It's gone over the edge. It's in the water. They're all screaming.'
There was a pause then Alan's voice came again. 'Is there anything else you can tell me? Do you know where this is?'
'No. the sign got broken when the bus went off the road. There's lots of trees though. All over the place, not straight like in a park. The road bends round but the bus slipped and went down into the water. Please help them. Spiderman is covered in blood'
'Frankie, I promise you, I will do whatever I can to help. Can you tell me…'
Just then another voice was heard in the background. 'Frankie! You on that phone again? What'd I tell you? You gonna get such a whippin'!' There was the sound of a smack, a loud howl and the line went dead.
John looked at his brother. "Not a lot to go on there."
"No, could be anywhere. But I think I know what the link is. All the events involve children. He doesn't see anything that only concerns adults."
"Yes, I think you're on to something there. Can't quite make out how Spiderman fits in to this though"
Alan shrugged. "Hey, with all this weirdness going on, why not Spiderman? Maybe Batman and Robin will turn up as well!"
By the time that Alan and John exchanged shifts there had still been no sign of the events Frankie had described. It was a week after Alan had returned to the island, when the family were finishing their breakfast, that the alarm sounded. Everyone made a dash for the lounge where John's image appeared on his portrait.
"Father, we've had a call from the New York State police. A school bus carrying a load of kids on their way to summer camp has gone off the road in the Catskill Mountains. It was travelling north just off of I-87 when it ran off the road and went down a ravine. A motorist stopped and called the alarm but the rescue services are all tied up with a multiple car crash on the Interstate and have asked if we can help."
"OK, son, tell them we'll be there."
While his father was talking, Alan had shot John a questioning glance, to which John responded with a nod. Alan turned towards his father. "Dad, can I ride with Scott in Thunderbird One? Those kids are going to be pretty scared down there. Scott can winch me down to them so I can make a start on getting them out before Thunderbird Two arrives."
Jeff nodded. "Sounds like a good idea to me. Virgil, take pod 6 with the grabs. Gordon can go with you to assist. OK boys, Thunderbirds are go!"
"FAB!" they chorused, running for their respective crafts.
Once they were in level flight, Scott pressed a button on the control panel. 'Thunderbird One to Thunderbird Five. John, can I have the coordinates, please."
John's face appeared on the monitor. "FAB, Scott, patching them through to you now."
"Thanks, John, hang on a minute, will you?" Scott punched the numbers into the onboard computer and engaged the autopilot. Then, glancing between the face on the viewscreen and Alan sitting behind him in the jump seat, he said "OK, now would one of you like to tell me what is going on here?"
Alan recounted the story of Frankie's first call and the subsequent rescue in Germany, then John took up the story, finishing by playing back the latest recording.
Scott sat for a while and digested this. "So you think this kid can somehow see disasters before they occur?"
"I know it's a bit hard to swallow, Scott," replied Alan, "but look at it this way. Any information we have about a rescue before we get there is useful – however we get it."
Scott was still sceptical, even as they approached the coordinates of the danger zone. They were flying over a range of hills covered in thick woodland. A road snaked through the terrain, running through passes between the hills and on viaducts that bridged the steep valleys.
The site of the accident was easy to find. Where the road had turned to climb the flank of the next hill there was a gap in the wall and a road sign broken off at the base. A line of broken trees showed the path of the bus's fall to where it had come to rest nearly fifty feet below. It was standing almost on end, with its nose resting in a fast-flowing river. A car was parked on the road above, near the break, and an elderly couple stood looking up at Thunderbird One hovering overhead, waving their arms and gesticulating wildly.
"That must be the couple who called for help," observed Scott.
"Yes," agreed John over the link. "They told the police that they could see the crash but couldn't get down there to help."
"OK," said Alan, "guess this is where I come in." He turned towards the back of the sleek craft. "I'll go and get rigged up. I'll shout when I'm ready."
In a few minutes Alan was being winched down towards the stricken vehicle. "OK, Scott, another ten feet lower. Left-left two degrees. Down five feet more." His feet touched the back door of the almost perpendicular bus. "Three feet more. OK, hold it there!" He peered in through the scratched glass. "I can see people moving around inside. Mostly children, I think. I'm going to try and open the emergency door."
Despite using all his strength, Alan was unable to open the door by hand. Reaching in his pack, he brought out a small cutting tool and incised round the hinges and handle. Then he produced a magnetic clamp from his pack which he attached to the door. Unhitching a secondary line from his harness, he attached it to the clamp. He moved round to the side of the vehicle. "Scott, I'm clear. Retract line two by five feet." Above his head, the motors in the rescue craft whined and the door jumped free from its frame and hung in midair. Alan reached over and unclipped the line, letting the heavy metal panel fall to the ground.
"I'm in!" he relayed to his brother hovering overhead.
The floor of the bus was raised at a steep angle. He could see about two dozen children perched on the backs of seats, watching him intently, but there did not seem to be any of the panic or hysteria he had been expecting. Towards the front to the bus he could see twisted seats and metalwork, and he guessed that any victims who had been sitting in that part of the vehicle would have been severely injured or worse. He described the scene for the benefit of his brothers.
Scott made a quick decision. "Virgil is less than half an hour away. If you can get the walking wounded out, Gordon can come down with stretchers and we can lift the worst cases straight up to Thunderbird Two."
"FAB. I'm releasing my line now so you can land." Alan released the cable attaching him to the rescue craft, hooked a line onto the outside of the bus to support his weight, then turned towards the children. "OK, kids, I'm from International Rescue. I'm going to help you get out of here." He looked around. "Are there any adults with you?"
One of the girls, her eyes red, pointed towards the front of the bus. "Mr Matthews was driving but he isn't moving, and Miss Jameson keeps crying."
Alan crouched down beside her. "Don't worry, someone will be down here to look after them soon and take them to a hospital," though privately he thought, from what he could see of the driver's seat, that Mr Matthews was beyond help. Alan straightened up and picked out two of the taller boys. "If I lower you down to the ground first, can you help the smaller ones out?"
Both boys nodded and, using his rope to climb the steep surface, Alan helped them out of the bus. He pointed to where an uprooted tree had cleared a small patch of ground just above where the bus was resting. "Get everybody to wait over there."
As Alan was helping the last of the children out of the bus a roar overhead announced the arrival of Thunderbird Two. A few minutes later Gordon swung down on a line, with a stretcher pack hanging alongside him.
"OK, bro, what have you got for me?"
"One female adult, a Miss Jameson, possible head injury. One young female, broken tib & fib."
Gordon nodded, "FAB, Scott's on his way down to give me a hand. Do you want to keep an eye on the kids until we can get them back up to safety?"
"Yes, there are a few I want to check over before we move them any further."
Just then Scott abseiled down the slope, and he and Gordon climbed into the back of the bus while Alan went over to the group of waiting children. He checked each one carefully. A couple seemed a bit dazed and he made a note to report them as possible concussions, and one girl had a broken arm which he put in an inflatable splint from his first aid pack.
Alan had always got on well with children, and soon had them talking freely. "I think you are all being very brave," he said to the group. "I had expected you would all be scared after that crash."
One of the girls replied. "No, we knew we'd be OK, because we knew you were coming."
Alan was puzzled by this, then realisation dawned. "You mean the old couple on the road managed to tell you that International Rescue were on their way?"
The girl shook her head. "No we knew you were coming." She pointed to Alan. "One of the boys told us this morning, when we were waiting to get on the bus. He said you would come. The man with the yellow hair and the white sash." The other children nodded in agreement.
"Who said that?" a chill was growing inside Alan's stomach.
"I don't know his name," replied the girl. "A small, black kid. He was wearing a Spiderman T-shirt."
"That's Frankie," a boy's voice "He's in my class. Funny kid."
Alan turned to the speaker. "Which one is Frankie?" he asked, looking around the group of children.
The boy looked round. "I can't see him here. Did he get off the bus? He was sitting on the left side, just behind the driver."
Alan dashed back towards the bus and hauled himself in. He couldn't have missed anyone, he just couldn't. He made his way past Gordon and Scott, who were putting a neck brace on the semi-conscious teacher, heading towards the tangled wreckage that made up the front of the vehicle. He wrenched apart the twisted and broken seats, throwing them to one side, but could see nothing. Then he looked past the mangled body of the driver and realised his side window had been open.
He turned to his brothers. "Scott, I need help! I think one of the kids must have fallen out as the bus ran down the slope!"
The two men climbed out of the vehicle and began searching back up the trail of devastation that had been cut through the trees. Then Alan saw it. A child's foot in a small white trainer, sticking out from behind a snapped-off tree stump.
Alan bent over the small body, drawing a sharp breath as he saw the extent of Frankie's wounds. The red-clad figure that decorated the T-shirt could hardly be seen through the amount of blood soaking the fabric, and the child's breathing was rasping and laboured, indicating damage to the lungs.
"I'll go get a stretcher," said Scott, turning and running back to the bus.
Alan knelt and took hold of the small hand. "Frankie? Can you hear me? Try to open your eyes."
He was not expecting a response but to his surprise the eyes fluttered open. They focussed on Alan and the shadow of a smile played across Frankie's face. "You came." The voice was barely a whisper "I knew you would." He coughed and a thin trickle of blood came from his mouth.
"Take it easy there, Frankie. Don't try to talk. You just hang in there, and we'll get you to hospital and get you patched up."
Frankie's grip tightened on Alan's hand. "It's OK, I know what's going to happen."
Then Alan felt the grip on his hand slacken as Frankie's body gave a convulsive shudder. A small sigh issued from his mouth and the light in his eyes darkened.
Just then, Scott returned, carrying a stretcher pack.
"Scott, quick, we need to do CPR!"
His older brother bent and examined the small body. "It's no good, Alan, with those injuries to his chest there's nothing we can do." Scott looked up seeing his youngest brother's anguished expression. "He's gone, I'm sorry." He placed a comforting hand on Alan's shoulder.
His own cheeks wet with tears, Alan reached forward and closed the staring eyes that he knew would never foresee another disaster.