expecting a quiet workshop get more than they signed on for.
Catherine Rees-Lay for the beta, Rosie for the idea, TIWF for
giving it to me in a challenge, and SkyWench for the save.
Feedback: Public or private, kudos or critical, whatever suits
the hat you're wearing at the moment. I've given and received
both. Any problems not pointed out will be repeated in future
The day was bright and sunny,
the precursor to what they hoped would be many more, and the
end of a wet, windy, and altogether unsatisfying winter. Some
icy patches hung on in the shade, but nothing to get excited
about. The scenic caves would be re-opened for the tourists by
the end of the month.
The building was sufficient
to the needs of the day, with work tables and well-fingered
geologic samples pushed to the sides. Sixteen chairs were
arranged in a loose semi-circle, with one chair, table and
easel at the front. Several books of short stories were on the
tables along the walls, waiting to be read by people looking
for a story to tell.
The workshop facilitator
bypassed the introductions and started the first story of the
Back in the days when the world was young, there were two
brothers, Douglas and Nyle. Douglas went out of his way to
help people. Nyle concentrated on collecting wealth for a
Outside, a squirrel ran from
one tree to the next, landing on an old maple bearing the
scars of years of maple sugar demonstrations -- an
occupational hazard of growing too close to the main
One day, the two brothers were talking. Douglas told of how he
had helped an old man plant seeds so he would have enough
grain for the winter. Nyle said he should have spent the time
planting his own seeds. "I have five acres of wheat, and in
the fall I'll have enough flour to last all winter. I hope you
don't expect me to give you any."
Larry ignored the weather and
the wildlife, instead cursing the guy at head office while
steering the rig around another tight corner on the dirt road.
Sure the road's plenty big enough to get the rig in, he says.
Just use the new GPS system and you'll be fine, he says. North
on Victoria and
the first right past Thake's Line. This ain't a road --
The GPS chose that moment to
declare him three miles off course.
Better call David, see if
he's got a better map of the area. Owe him a beer after this
one, make up for teasing him about his collection.
"North on Victoria, second
right past Thake's Line," said David.
"First right. That's what
head office told me."
"No, second right. First's a
tiny little thing, barely a line on the map, goes to a natural
gas line monitoring station and the nature center for the
"Might be enough room to turn
around in the parking lot."
"Hope so. Backing up ain't an
option. What about the busses?"
"They park in the big lot on
the other side of the main road."
The three cars in the parking
lot half-filled it. The monitoring station was on the far side
of the lot, just beyond the path to the nature center. Barely
room to swing a cat, let alone turn a rig filled with
And the only option he had.
Another time, Douglas told of how he had harvested apples for
a widow with a sick child.
Nyle scoffed, saying he should have spent time harvesting his
own apples. "I have enough apples in my cellar to last all
winter, and then some," Nyle said.
"One day, you will regret not doing more," replied Douglas.
Pull forward, turn left,
shift into reverse. Steer the trailer hitch -- move it left to
make the trailer go right. Easy, let the trailer find its own
way across the frozen ruts. Stare into the mirror and snug up
close to the fence around the monitoring station.
Douglas ignored his brother, concentrating instead on
shoveling out his neighbors and helping to fill the community
ice house. Nyle filled his own small ice house.
Brake. Slide. Splinter. Bend.
The old sugar maple never saw
it coming. Nor did the people in the center. Stunned silence
reigned as the building jerked off its foundation blocks and
the walls buckled. The front door was confronted with flames;
the back door was warped too badly to open. Plaster fell from
Alan considered the chess
board again and chose a move at random. He knew Virgil was
trying to help him stave off the boredom of manning the
station, but this wasn't working.
"Something just came up. Can
we put the game on hold for a bit?"
"What does it look like,
"Uh, not quite sure, Father.
I'll let you know."
"Should I call in the others,
just in case?"
"Doesn't look like it, but I
really should check it out."
Alan waited until the
connection was closed before wiping his brow. Try and tell a
little white lie to spare his brother's feelings, and end up
lying to his father. Not good.
He peered at the screens and
reset the sensitivity, looking for something that would merit
quitting the game. Not that Jeff wouldn't understand why he'd
lied, but he'd look all disappointed and ask Scott if there
weren't another way he could have handled the situation
without actually lying.
Chatter from a diamond mine
in northern Canada; small cave-in, everyone reported safe, one
fellow in bad condition but the rescuers all working calmly.
IR would probably get in the way more than help.
Something exciting over in
Queensland. Mass destruction, panic, alien invasion. He
listened until the commercial break.
Bit of a noise from
California. Richter 3. Driver panicked and knocked over a
utility pole; local firefighters extracted her as Alan
Maritime Canada bracing for
Storytelling seminar in
Ontario fell down a hole in the ground after a natural gas
explosion. Local rescue operations hampered by the soft
ground. Gas still burning, nearest cut-off valve not working.
"TB5 to Control."
"Come in, Alan." Jeff's
"Looks like we're needed,
near Georgian Bay, Ontario. Collingwood. Sixteen people
Alan gave the details, trying
not to picture himself as one of the victims.
"Have they asked for our
He had to be honest. "Not
"Well, keep monitoring the
situation. It does sound like something we would help with,
but we can't step in before they ask."
This was the worst part of
the job. Listening to the rescue operations and the local
radio station simultaneously, straining to hear the magic
words, hoping he wouldn't miss them.
"If only International Rescue
would come." Jeff had already been through this one. A wish
was not the same as a request.
"I'm sure International
Rescue would be able to save them." Again, not a request.
"Anyone know how to contact
International Rescue?" Close enough.
"TB5 to Control."
"Come in, Alan."
"Collingwood, Ontario's asked
for help. I'm sending the details now. Sounds like the fire's
the bigger problem."
Forty minutes later, Scott
approached the edge of the city.
"What's the local rescue
"Main operations is channel
"Collingwood Fire Department
from International Rescue. Come in Collingwood."
The line opened with static,
then a voice. "This is Chief Bader, Collingwood Fire and
Rescue." Scott sometimes made a game of predicting how the
locals would react based on their initial reaction. This one
"Can you meet me at the main
parking lot? I don't want to set down in the trees. Bring a
pickup truck with you."
"Yeah, ok." Yes, disbelief,
and a bit of coolness. Bader was not the one who called for
"Save the thanks till the
rescue's over. And make sure that no cameras go near any of
Scott set his ship down just
past the turn off. The man who came up to him was dressed in a
uniform, not rescue equipment, and wore the name tag Bader.
The man just behind him was also in a uniform, but had the
look of many years wearing the equipment. His name tag read
"We really don't need you --"
"Thanks for coming."
Scott waved at TB1's open
hatch. "I've got to get this stuff as close to the scene as
possible." VanBurren nodded and waved to the driver in the
pickup. Scott handed the men gear and supervised the transfer
while they talked.
"I've been following radio
reports, but didn't get all the details."
"Sixteen little old ladies
and a driver," said Bader.
VanBurren elaborated. "Fire's
stable, but the rock's getting pretty hot; stone doesn't like
that, tends to crack. Lots of spring melt-water soaked into
the area, too, and you can guess what happens when it
evaporates. The explosion opened up a new sinkhole, and the
cab's hanging down it. Driver's trapped. Sixteen people in the
nature center. We're spraying the building down with water to
keep it cool. They're safer in there than out here."
Scott nodded. "What about
letting the gas burn out by itself?"
"The nearest cut-off is too
far away. There's a lot of gas in the pipe between here and
They reached the edge of the
safe zone and unloaded the equipment at Scott's direction. His
first call was to Virgil and John in TB2. "Broken pipe looks
like a blow-torch," he added. "Most of the flame is aimed over
the back of the truck. The poles it was carrying are pretty
much burned by now, so we don't have to worry about them
falling. We'll start by rescuing the driver, then get that gas
line capped. The building's got sixteen people in it, but they
don't want to open it up until the fire's out."
"ETA fifteen minutes, Scott."
"FAB, Virgil. I'll have Bader
clear the roads. It'll be a bit of a hike from the landing
John got out of his seat and
went to the pod bay to do the final checks on the FireFly, get
into his firesuit and strap in.
"Ready for landing, John?"
John pictured the landing
stages as he felt the shocks and rumbles through the frame.
TB2 settled, released the pod, then rose on its legs. Virgil
joined him when TB2 was secure, getting into his gear while
John drove over the dirt road to the fire.
Scott came over when they
reached the scene. "They need to get the driver out before
capping the flame. Looks like pretty standard stuff, but the
local crews can't get their climbing and cutting equipment
past the fire to the cab. And watch out for the rig shifting.
All that heat can't be doing the rocks any good. And there's
water in the cracks, turning into steam. Makes them explode."
Virgil and John drove the
FireFly through the flame. On the far side was the hole with
the cab hanging down. As Scott had said, nothing unusual. They
fastened a heat-resistant safety line to the FireFly and John
slid down it with the cutters. Virgil followed on another line
with the Decetylene spraying everywhere to keep them cool.
Twenty minutes later the unconscious driver was strapped to
the backboard and safe in the ambulance.
VanBurren arrived at Mobile
Control. He nodded at the rescuers splashing their faces with
fresh water. "We're ready to blow out the flame."
Normal procedure was to
create an explosion just past the end of the pipe, to
temporarily remove the oxygen from the area, literally blowing
out the fire, then bolt a cap to the collar on the pipe. This
was the most dangerous time, when the gas was still flowing.
"Okay, then. We'll stay out
of the way and let you work."
VanBurren spoke into his
radio. A large "whumphff" sounded and the breeze shifted. A
cheer went up from the sidelines as a team of locals moved in
with cap and equipment.
The three brothers were
shutting down Mobile Control when another explosion rocked the
"What the --"
Seconds later John and
Virgil, still in their firesuits, were back in the flames,
rescuing the workers. At the ambulance one of the workers
talked around the oxygen mask. "Pipe ... warped. Need ... new
"Probably ... need to ... cut
off ... two feet."
Scott asked, "What about the
gas? The cutter will reignite it for sure."
The worker managed a shrug.
Scott looked at his brothers.
They'd be the ones taking the risk. "Maybe we should leave it
burning. Constant flame versus risk of explosion. Your gear
should handle the heat for long enough to cut the pipe and
attach a new collar."
"Sounds like the better
option, Scott," John confirmed. Virgil nodded.
"We have a spare collar at
the station," suggested VanBurren.
The heat was bearable, but
the surface was treacherous. Heat-cracked stone slid under
their feet as Virgil and John juggled the cutting equipment
around, over, around and under the pipe. By the time they
returned to Mobile Control, VanBurren had the collar ready.
Scott looked at his brothers.
Sweat was pouring down their faces. John drank water like it
was going out of style; Virgil was only slightly more polite
"What's the temperature over
"Nothing the suits can't
"I didn't ask about the
"We'll handle it."
Scott watched while his
brothers drove back into the flames, collar firmly held in
FireFly's hydraulic arms. I should have insisted on taking
a turn out there.
Another thirty minutes and
the collar was welded on. John and Virgil returned for the
cover. John started to object when he saw Scott in his
firesuit, but Virgil simply nodded. "John can hold the cover
with the FireFly while Scott and I bolt it on. It'll be faster
Scott loaded the explosives
into the back of the FireFly while his brothers changed oxygen
They set the explosives and
returned to safety. In a replay of the previous hour, the
flames went out. Only this time, it was a small craft with a
helping hand painted on the side that carried the cover to the
pipe end, and two International Rescue members who wielded the
brass, sparkless tools.
Virgil directed his brother
over the radio. The gas tried to push the cover away from the
"Angle it ten degrees, so the
gas goes up," Scott suggested.
John did as asked and the two
men put in two bolts, loose, but not loose enough to shake
"That's it, John. Push it
John extended the hydraulic
arms by the millimeter, listening to Virgil's calm
confirmations for things he couldn't see. At last, the gap was
closed, the pressure of the FireFly's arms holding the cover
completely over the pipe end.
A wrench dropped from
"Back to the FireFly,
"I'm fine, Scott."
"No, you're not. John, your
Grumbling slightly, Virgil
did as told. Well, at least it's not as tricky as holding
TB2 over a rescue site.
Scott and John tightened the
rest of the bolts. Another thirty minutes and it was done.
Virgil released the cover and his brothers climbed into the
Rescuing the storytellers was
well within the capabilities of the locals. Scott decided not
to force the issue. Leave Bader some pride and all that.
Besides, his own team still had a long flight ahead of them.
He left Mobile Command set up till the end, just in case.
VanBurren checked with the
hospital and confirmed that the driver's injuries weren't
life-threatening, "But another hour and he'd've had it."
The "little old ladies"
turned out to be 15 women ranging from late teens to
mid-seventies, with two men amongst them. Severe heat stress
and one broken ankle, but otherwise going to be fine. Three of
them forced their way though the crowd, clutching their oxygen
masks, to the men in blue.
"All in a day's work, Ma'am."
As they packed up, Virgil
stood next to Scott. A chipmunk chattered from the edge of the
parking lot, come back to see what had happened.
"Remember the stories Mom
used to tell us?" Virgil asked.
"Yeah." He looked at the
chipmunk. "How the Chipmunk Got Its Stripes."
"The Loon's Necklace."
"Anansi and the Tiger."
"Tracy Boys -- Super Heroes."
"Looks like she got that one
Research Note: The explosion
and capping method is my own pitiful interpretation of the
method used by Red Adair out west, and in Kuwait. Quite the
guy, and quite the organization.