A useful skill

Author's note: I acknowledge Granada Ventures as the copyright holders of the Thunderbirds characters and thank Gerry Anderson and his team for creating them. Also thanks to Ste for the idea for this story, and Purupuss for proofreading.

"Thunderbird One calling Thunderbird Two and base. Am flying over the danger zone now."

"FAB, Scott," came his father's voice over the speaker. "How does it look?"

Scott looked down at the devastation below him. The small village in the northern Indian foothills had probably not been much to look at before. Now, with a mudslide from the recent monsoon covering almost half the village, it didn't look any better. Over to one side of the damage he could see a group of people standing, looking up at his craft, and a couple of vehicles parked nearby. They had left him enough open space to land and a small figure was waving its arms to gesture him down.

He described the scene to his waiting family as he touched down.

As Scott climbed down the ladder from the cockpit he was met by two people. A young women with Caucasian features, dressed in khaki with a red cross stitched to her jacket, held out her hand. "Thank you so much for coming. I'm Liz Donaghue, I'm with the Red Cross working in this area." Her voice had an Australian accent. She indicated the man standing next to her. "This is Raj Betal, he's the mayor of the village."

Scott shook hands quickly then asked them to brief him while he set up Mobile Control. Moving beneath the centre of his craft, he swung open the hatch under TB1 and pulled the lever that would drop the Mobile Control unit to the ground. There was a light drizzle still falling so he thought he might as well use his ship as protection.

Once everything was connected he touched a button. "Mobile Control to Thunderbird Two. Are you receiving me?"

"FAB, Scott," Virgil's voice was brisk and business-like. "I'm just crossing the coast now. Expect us in twelve point five minutes."

"FAB, Virgil. Land south-west of the site, next to One. We have about thirty people unaccounted for, which is our first priority, then there's the levee wall upstream of here that is going to need shoring up to prevent the village from being flooded again. The good news is that the Red Cross are here to run a first aid station, and we seem to have plenty of helpers to dig out the victims once we find them. I'm going to get started on that now. I'll try to have everything ready for you when you arrive."

"FAB. Be with you in ten point two minutes."

Scott reached up into the hold of his aircraft and brought out a long, thin bundle. He looked round and called "Ready? Come on, then!"

The watchers on the ground saw a dark shape fly out of the hold and land on all four feet on the ground. It was a large black dog, wearing a blue cloth across its back, decorated with the IR logo. Though not an immediately recognisable breed, the animal was similar in size and shape to an Alsatian, and looked at Scott with intelligent eyes.

Scott unwrapped the object to reveal a bundle of stakes with flags and a piece of equipment that looked a bit like a metal detector. He looked up at Liz. "Want to help?"

She nodded, "Yes, of course."

He nodded. "OK, I'll show you how we work, then you can carry on and I'll do the other side of the mudslide with the heat-sensor." He looked at the mayor. "When we put a flag in, tell your people to start digging. Even if they can't get the victims out, at least they can get air to them until we can bring up the heavy rescue gear." He turned to the dog. "OK, this is your big moment, pal. Go do your stuff."

The dog ran across the mud, its sharp nose close to the ground. It paused, quartering back and forth to find the exact spot it wanted, then gave a short bark. Scott ran up and planted a flag, then turned to gesture to a couple of the waiting villagers, who hurried forward.

After the dog had done this a couple of times, Scott left Liz with some of the flags and went to check another part of the mudslide.

They had covered about half the area when the dog paused at one spot, cocked its head on one side as if listening, then gave a series of high-pitched barks and started digging frantically with its front paws. Scott dropped his equipment and ran over, snatching a spade from one of the workers. The dog was scrabbling at the ground as Scott moved in to help. Their combined efforts had cleared the earth a few feet down when Scott saw a small shoe poking up out of the mud. He used his spade to loosen the earth around the figure until he was able to grasp both legs and pull. There was a sucking noise as the mud released its grip and Scott found himself holding the body of a small boy, his face caked with dirt, unmoving. The dog gave small whine and licked the child's face, but there was no response. Scott wiped the mud from the boy's nose, and reached his finger in to clear the mouth. Once he was sure the airway was clear he covered the child's nose and mouth with his own, blowing gently. He laid the small figure on the ground and pressed the chest with his fingertips, trying not to put too much pressure on the heart inside the fragile ribcage. "Come on!" he whispered to the still form, "Don't give up now!"

The small figure convulsed and started to cough.

Liz picked the boy up and ran towards the first aid tent, where she was met by a bedraggled woman, tears streaming down her face. Scott watched the scene, then turned to the dog. "Good call there." The dog thumped its tail in response.

A roar of engines overhead indicated that Thunderbird Two had arrived, so once Liz had returned, Scott went over to Mobile Control to co-ordinate the rescue.

It was a couple of hours later that the dog trotted over to Mobile Control and flopped down beside it. He looked up at Scott, his tongue hanging out.

"Sorry, did you want a drink?" Scott asked. He retrieved a bottle of water and a plastic bowl from a locker in Mobile Control, poured some in for the dog then took a swig from the bottle himself.

He was just putting the bottle away as Liz approached.

"Well, that's everyone accounted for now," she said. "Seven fatalities, but it could have been a lot worse. We've got eleven casualties needing hospitalisation – would you be able to take them for us?"

Scott nodded. "Of course. All part of the service." He touched a button on Mobile Control. "Calling Excavator. Got a young lady here who needs you to do an ambulance run for her. Any idea how much longer you'll be, Virg?"

Virgil's voice issued from the speaker, over the sound of heavy engines. "Just finishing shoring up this levee, Scott. Another ten minutes should do it. I'll let you know when I'm back at TB2."

"FAB."

Scott looked at Liz, who nodded to show that she had heard. "I know you must have heard this a hundred times before, but we are so grateful for your help here today. I'm sure the casualties would have been a lot worse without you."

Scott gave a sheepish grin. He always found this part of a rescue to be embarrassing. They did their job, heck, they even got a kick out of doing it most of the time, and people still wanted to thank them. "Glad we could help" was all he could think to say.

Liz looked down "And of course, we have to give a big thank-you to you as well." The dog looked up at her, his tail thumping the ground.

Liz glanced up at Scott. "Is it OK if I stroke him?"

Scott shrugged. "I'm sure he won't mind."

Liz bent forward and extended her hand for the dog to sniff. "What's his name?"

"Er, Sirius."

"Hallo, Sirius. You are a handsome fella, aren't you?" She crouched down beside him. "I love dogs. I've got two at home."

"Where's that?" asked Scott, watching as she stroked the dog's neck, running her fingers through the silky fur beneath his ears.

"Hobart, Tasmania. Well, it's my parents' home, really." She laughed as the dog licked behind her ear. "Hey, that tickles! I'll be seeing them all next month as my tour with the Red Cross ends then and I'm going back home. But they aren't as good-looking as you, gorgeous," she continued, looking the dog in the eye. She chuckled as he licked her face again.

Scott watched in amusement. "I think you've made a hit, there."

Virgil's voice cut in at this point. "I'm back at Two now. Have the patients sent over."

"FAB, on the way now."

Liz stood with reluctance. "OK, I'd better go and arrange the transfer. Thanks again for all your help." She gave the dog a last pat then turned and left.

Scott looked down at his companion. "Should I have asked her for her phone number?"

The dog looked up and grinned as only a dog can.

ooooOOOOOoooo

John opened one eye and glanced at the clock. It was still very early, but the rumbling in his stomach was not going to let him get back to sleep. He stood up, stretching to get all the kinks out of his back muscles, and turned towards the bedroom door. As he padded down the hallway in his bare feet he listened carefully, but could hear no signs of life from any of the other rooms.

He entered the kitchen and made his way over to the refrigerator. He stood with the door open for a moment, trying to decide what to eat, then reached past a plate of raw mince to retrieve a grapefruit from a bowl at the back of the shelf. He picked up a carton of orange juice in the other hand and turned to the workbench, closing the refrigerator behind him with his foot.

He was just slicing up the grapefruit when he heard footsteps coming up the path towards the outside door. The door opened and there was a laugh.

"Morning, Johnny-boy. You'd better be careful Grandma doesn't catch you going around like that!"

John turned to see Scott standing in the doorway, his T-shirt streaked with sweat from his morning jog. He then glanced down at his own naked body and grinned. "Yeah, well, it's hard to get back in the habit, y'know?"

Scott grinned in reply. "I can imagine." He watched his blond brother spooning brown sugar on his grapefruit and continued, "I suppose you'll be wanting me to take you up to TB5 this afternoon?"

"Yes, please, if you're not too tired from yesterday."

Scott shook his head, "No, I'm fine. How about you?"

"Me? I'm feeling great." John held up the orange carton with an inquiring look, and at his brother's nod, poured two glasses and handed one over. "I'll call Alan later this morning to tell him we'll be coming." He picked up his glass and bowl and turned towards the door. "I'd better take these back to my room, just in case Grandma or Tin Tin are up early. I'll check on my emails while I eat. See you!"

John made it back to his room without encountering any other members of the family. He put his breakfast down on his desk and switched on the computer. While it was warming up he picked up a pile of blankets from the floor, rolled them up and stuffed them in the laundry basket.

It had been summer of the previous year that he and some old college friends had decided to go on a walking holiday in the Romanian mountains. They had enjoyed some lovely walks in the breath-taking scenery, and the weather had been kind to them. One day they had come back to their camp to find a stray dog sniffing around their food supplies. They had chased it off, but not before John had been given a nasty nip on the ankle. When he had developed a fever later that month, Brains had first suspected rabies, though the tests proved negative. It was only a couple of days later when the full symptoms appeared that they realised what had happened.

It had taken all John's considerable powers of persuasion to convince his father to let him stay on as a member of International Rescue. Really, there was not much difference now. He and Alan had to arrange their shifts by the lunar rather than the calendar month, so that he was always at home for every full moon. Alan grumbled at having to do a couple of days more than his fair share, but Alan always grumbled, so that was nothing new. And the advantage was that on occasions like yesterday, he was able to use his new skills for the benefit of International Rescue.

As John logged on to his emails, he idly wondered if it would be possible to trace Liz Donaghue. He rather liked the idea of meeting her again. She had smelt so good. He wondered if she would like him as much in human form as she had as a dog.