Bridge over troubled waters

"Scott! Look out! Rockslide!"

Virgil's shout came a split second before the shale 50 feet above Scott's head began to slide downwards. The rock, loosened by the rain that continued to pour down, came clattering towards Scott's position at Mobile Control. The equipment was sheltered by a tent, a tent that was sufficient to deflect the liquid rain, but not the heavy and solid rain now headed for it. Heeding his brother's warning, Scott jumped out of the way, into the mud outside the tent, while the slabs of rock smashed through the waterproof Penelon and onto Mobile Control. That piece of equipment sputtered and sparked as the rocks battered it, monitors finally going dark. An especially big piece of slate smashed the chair where Scott had perched just moments before.

Scott stared at the mutilated remains of his communications panel, stunned into immobility by the thoroughness of the destruction. Running footfalls splashed up behind him, then a muddy Virgil crouched down before him.

"Scott? Scott!" he shouted over the wind, shaking his brother's shoulder. Scott's shocked face turned upward to meet his brother's eyes. He blinked a couple of times and shook his head.

"I'm all right." he said, getting to his knees and then rising to his feet. One foot slipped in the mud, and his flailing arms were caught on one side by Virgil, and on the other by Gordon, who had followed Virgil to Scott's aid. Once steady on his feet, he shook his arms gently, a signal for his brothers to let go. He turned again to his ruined equipment.

Gordon looked at it and whistled. "I don't think even Brains can put that back together again."

Scott just shook his head and went to disconnect the power supply to the battered control module. Sparks still could occasionally be heard as rain fell into the still live equipment. Scott retrieved a pair of rubber gauntlets from Thunderbird One and a long rod that ended in a rubber-coated hook. With Virgil's helmet light shining on the power connection leads, he expertly disconnected them one by one, shutting down the system and making it safe to transport back into the belly of Thunderbird One. Once the power was well and truly off, Gordon began clearing the device of the rocks and dirt that had smashed it, helped by Virgil, then Scott as soon as the latter had put away his safety implements.

"Alan reports that the Thunderizer is back in the pod, Scott. I don't know about you two, but I'm ready to go home." Virgil said as the three men manhandled the mangled mess into the hold of Thunderbird One.

"You and me both, Virg." Scott agreed, wiping rain from his forehead, but smearing mud over it instead. Gordon wearily nodded his agreement.

The rescue had been dangerous from the start. A passenger bus in Nicaragua had been trapped on a tiny island of dirt when the gravel road before it had been blocked by a rock and mudslide from the unstable slate wall above the road and the road behind it was suddenly sluiced away in the days-long pouring rains, sealing off retreat.

The twenty passengers on the bus had nowhere to go, not up the crumbling rock wall, nor down the steep cliff on the other side. What emergency crews there were in this impoverished part of the country were working elsewhere, and so, as the passengers prayed for divine deliverance, the bus driver used his antiquated radio set to call for International Rescue.

Thunderbird One had been dispatched immediately, and John Tracy, doing his monthly rotation in the organization's all-important space station, relayed the particulars of the rescue to Scott en route. As he reached the rescue zone, Scott deployed the mobile camera to give him a good look at the crumbling rock face. The instability of the rock convinced him to deploy the spear-like steel rods designed for holding up large boulders in a rockslide situation. Their sharp ends buried deep into the shale, and just in time, too, as a huge piece of slate slipped from its position and would have crushed the bus had it been free to make contact.

Scott landed Thunderbird One on the road some ways down from the washed out portion and set up his mobile control unit under the tent where a portion of the rock face bulged out then dipped back closer to the road. He thought that the rock face would provide greater shelter there for his equipment.

Landing Thunderbird Two was a different matter altogether. The road wasn't wide enough near the rescue zone for the cargo carrier to land and deposit its pod. However, further down, the steep road dipped, crossing a wide grassy area, and Virgil was instructed to put his vehicle there. It meant a long climb on the hoverbikes and in the Thunderizer, but there was no help for it. It took a good extra 25 minutes for the rescue equipment to arrive, and in that time the rains beat harder and the winds grew stronger. Their rain slickers were doing their job in keeping their torsos dry, but boots were getting soaked and trousers were getting muddied just from the violent weather. It was only when Virgil, Alan, and Gordon arrived that Scott was able to formulate a plan of action.

"The winds are too strong here to winch any one down or lower the rescue capsule. That's why I opted for the Thunderizer. With some heavy duty cable and some strong mesh netting, we can build a bridge over the sinkhole for the passengers to cross on foot." Scott explained, showing them his idea on a monitor screen at Mobile Control. His three brothers looked at him dubiously. Then Alan spoke.

"That's all well and good, Scott, but in order to do this, we have to get someone over there with the equipment to ram the spikes and set up that side of the bridge. That hole is thirty feet across if it's a yard. Who's going over and how is he getting there?"

"We'll use the Thunderizer to send over the first cable, and give instructions to the men on the bus on how and where to fasten it down. Then one of us will go across on the cable, fastened in a motorized harness." The three younger brothers looked at each other again. Scott looked at them, exasperated. "Do any of you have any better ideas?"

There were a few moments when the only thing that could be heard was the wind and rain. Then Virgil, Gordon, and Alan began to collectively shake their heads. "No, Scott." "I don't." "I guess not, Scott."

"Okay. Let's get cracking."

The cable was prepared, and Scott had John contact the bus driver and translate the instructions into Spanish for him. Having done that, John succinctly told Scott what he thought of this hare-brained scheme, a harangue which caused Scott to momentarily cut off communications with the space station. When he tuned his brother back in, it was not the more nasal tones of his tall blond brother that greeted him, but the gruff voice of his father that spoke to him and bawled him out for cutting the space monitor off. Scott winced at the reprimand, and assured his commander that it would not happen again.

The Thunderizer coughed loudly and the cable sailed across the chasm. Three men from the bus came out and grabbed the end of the cable and attached it to the chassis of the bus itself for safety's sake. The other end remained attached to the Thunderizer, which backed up to take up the slack.

"Now, who's going over?" Scott asked. None of the brothers volunteered.

"Paper, rock scissors," Virgil decreed. The three younger brothers put one hand behind their backs, then Virgil counted to three and the hands came out, each making a certain shape. Alan and Virgil had their hands held out as fists, but Gordon had his index and middle fingers held like a sideways 'V'. He groaned as he saw the fists.

"Rocks break scissors. Gordon goes." said Scott. Gordon went over to the Thunderizer and pulled a harness out of its storage compartment.

"I don't want to use the motorized winch, Scott," he explained as he tested the harness before fastening it on. "If either side of the cable gave way, I'd be motoring down into that sinkhole. I'd rather use my hands and knees and shimmy over there. That way, if something happens, I'll still have a grip on the cable." Scott nodded as Gordon drew on climbing gloves.

Gordon walked over to the edge of the chasm. A torrent of water ran down through it, gathered from the hills and funneled down to this one point. He made sure his hard hat was secure, took the tool kit Virgil handed him and fastened it to his harness in front. Then he sat down on the crumbly edge of the hole, attached the harness clip to the cable, grabbed the slick metal rope with both hands and swung his knees up over it. Alan, held firmly by Virgil, reached over to tighten the strap that linked harness to clip. Then he clouted his brother's helmet gently, and Gordon began the dangerous journey across.

The tool kit, which contained a sledgehammer and heavy-duty metal spikes, weighed down his belly, and he had to compensate by tightening his back muscles. The wind and rain howled around him, shaking the cable, making it slick, trying to pry him loose. But he kept on, fastening his eyes on the bus across the way, until finally his booted feet touched the graveled surface of the road and strong hands reached out to pull him up.

Scott let out his held breath as Gordon stood and waved a hand across to his brothers. His wrist telecomm crackled to life and Gordon's face appeared, a cocksure grin plastered on it.

"Piece of cake, Scott. Piece of cake." he boasted.

Scott nodded sagely. "Right, Gordo. How would you like to come back the same way?" he quipped.

"Nah. I've given you enough gray hairs for the day. I'll come back on the bridge. Speaking of which, this weather isn't getting any better. We'd better get a move on. Gordon out."

The rest of the rescue went relatively smoothly. The netting, hung securely on several cables with hand holds for the timid, made an excellent bridge. Gordon stayed over on the other side to herd his charges to safety. One old lady was terrified of the crossing; she jabbered on in rapid-fire Spanish and crossed herself repeatedly. It was only when Alan, with his boyish good looks and his hard-to-resist blue eyes, came over and took her two hands, that she could be persuaded to venture onto the bridge. He walked backwards, speaking to her soothingly in Spanish, keeping her gaze on him as they made their way across. When she found herself on the other side of the chasm, she hugged Alan fervently and pinched his cheeks repeatedly, while thanking him profusely. Scott didn't know which made Alan's cheeks flame more; the hug, the thanks, or the pinches. Gordon crossed the bridge last, watching as another bus came up the mountain to retrieve the wet and weary passengers. Alan took the Thunderizer back down to Thunderbird Two, and Gordon was just heading toward Mobile Control when the rockslide headed for Scott's position.

Now they were headed home, looking forward to a warm shower, dry clothes, and hot food. Scott grimaced as he thought what the reaction would be to the destruction of Mobile Control. It would take weeks to replace, and in the meantime, what could he rely on? Hopefully their engineer, Brains, would have a clever solution for him.

"Thunderbird One to base. Request permission to land."

The deep voice answered, "Permission granted. And welcome home, son."