Camp Base, in the middle of the Australian Outback.
Captain Black is puzzled.
When he arrived, in the middle of the night, about an hour ago, at camp base, his men had informed him of quite an odd thing.
Camp base was dressed in the heart of the Great Sandy Desert, at about one hour of flight of the place the “recruits” were dropped, the precedent day. Black had thought it would have been easier then to intervene if anything should go wrong during the test. He was well aware that there’s always the distant possibility of one of the men getting gravely hurt, one way or the other, sick of attacked by some wild animal… The point of the exercise was certainly not to lose somebody while performing it.
But now, that’s different. Nothing is wrong, really, just queer…
The signal transmission from Grey’s bug was rather erratic and was moving so fast that the man surveying it has called on Black upon his arrival to show it to him on the monitor.
It was erratic, yes. As if Grey was running around like crazy, without any logical meaning. Black had asked himself if the man has not gone totally crazy.
Then he thought that it was some kind of a trick from the entire group.
What were they up to, anyway?
Black had sent a helicopter to ground zero. Exercise or not, there were no point in waiting two or three days without investigating what was happening. He wanted to know as soon as possible. And for Black, as soon as possible always meant immediate action.
Now, Captain Black is pacing around in the tent where the radio has been put up, waiting impatiently that the commandos in the helicopter call him to give him their report. He has been calling to his mind every possibility as to what’s happening. What those men over at ground zero are doing? Is poor Grey having some kind of bad time? And what if…
There is a crackling sound coming from the radio. The operator sitting before it turns to Black, who has stopped his pacing, a few feet behind him, and calls him over.
“Captain Black, I have a call from Helijet Two.”
Black gets nearer. He motions the operator to give him his place and sits in front of the radio. He hears a man’s voice coming over the radio speaker:
“Helijet Two calling Camp Base. Come in, Camp Base.”
“Here’s Camp Base. Captain Black speaking. I hear you, Helijet Two.”
“We have reached the point source of the signal, sir. It’s about ten miles front the point where we left the captives. So far, we can see anyone about.”
“Are you using the projectors, lieutenant?”
“So they must be hiding somewhere.”
“There’s not much place to hide around here, sir. The place is a barren as the back of my hand.” The lieutenant takes a second to pause, before adding: “We’re taking a look around.”
“Lieutenant, are you sure you’re at the right place?”
“The signal is loud and clear, captain. If we are to believe it, they should be right next to us! But we don’t see them anywhere.”
“They MUST be there. Look carefully.”
“That’s what we’re doing, sir. Sergeant Garvey is pinpointing the signal to its precise location, as off right now…” Black hears a sudden hesitation in the other man’s voice. Than, an exclamation comes to his ears: “… What IS that?”
“What is it you see, lieutenant?” Black asks, frowning deeply.
“Er… a rabbit, sir.” The lieutenant answers, still hesitating.
Black is perplexed. “A rabbit?”
“Yes, sir. The… the signal seems to come from it.”
“What?” Black says with an angry roar.
“The signal device… They must have slipped it on that critter, sir.”
“They would have found the bug?”
“That’s the only explanation, captain.”
“That means the trainees could be anywhere. That bug was our only direct contact with them.” Black mumbles. “Still no sign of them?”
“No, sir. We’ll continue the search. But as it is still dark, we will have trouble, since we can’t count on the big signal anymore. We will have to wait until dawn before doing a large-scale search.”
“The sun will be up in about two hours, lieutenant. You and your men stay out there. Once you get to that search, I want you to leave NOT ONE rock unturned. Is that understood?”
“Where the hell could they be?” Black muses for himself. “I’m going to hear about that one!”
“We’ll find them, sir!” The lieutenant eagerly says.
“You’d better find them, lieutenant! Black out!”
He cuts the communication and stands up, frowning, looking a bit annoyed and worried. Not for himself, though he’s pretty certain he will have the devil to pay about that, but for the recruits, who had disappeared so, without a trace, and who had gone alone in the desert. If they should find trouble, he wouldn’t be able to track them and help them.
Black glares back at the radio. He’ll have to inform the old man about that new development. Not only will he be upset to be waken up practically in the middle of the night, but he will receive bad news… And he will receive them badly.
Black can already hear him, now.
He sighs and regains his place in front of the radio, and begins transmitting.
“Calling Command Control. Come in, Control. This is Captain Black calling…”
To his surprise, the answering call comes in quickly, as he hears his commander’s British voice, wide-awake:
“Here Command Control. I’m receiving you, Captain Black.”
“Why, Colonel! I’m surprised that you should be the one to respond! Aren’t you asleep? Its still night.”
“Not up here, captain. The sun is already up. As for myself answering to you, I had relayed Lieutenant Green from his station.”
The Colonel sighs. “The poor kid’s been up for more than thirty-six hours, studying the computer control. I’d figure he deserves some rest.”
Black smiles. “I told you he was going to grow on you, he, sir?”
“It loathes me to admit it, captain… But yes, you were right about him. He’s rather efficient. I had to order him to gel some few hours of sleep. Youngsters… They don’t know their limits.”
“What about you? You didn’t get more sleep either.”
“I’ve slept a few hours. When you get my age, you don’t need very much sleep. And I’ve got plenty to worry about.” He pauses for a second, than asks, with a curious tone: “What is the reason of your call, Captain Black? If its still night for you, I would think that it’s rather important.”
“Yes, sir, it is.” Black sighs.
“Out with it, man. Tell me what it is.”
“It’s about the group we have left in the desert, sir.”
“What about them?”
“We can’t seem to find out where they are.”
Silence. That’s more frightening than any yell, thinks Black grimly.
“Are you telling me that you’ve lost them?” The Colonel says slowly.
“Er… That’s exactly what I’m telling you, sir.” Black answers, not to certain he likes the much too quiet sound of the voice in the speaker.
And then, there is an angry shout: “How can that be possible? I thought you had put a signal device on one of them and that you were monitoring them!”
“They have found the bug. And… well…”
Over Captain Black’s hesitancy, the Colonel shows himself very impatient. “Well?”
“They have put it on a rabbit.” Black explains. “We were monitoring a rabbit while they were getting away.”
“A rabbit?” The Colonel bellows. “Now you have done it, captain!”
“I know, sir. I take full responsibility.”
“That’s not nearly enough! You’ve got to find them, Black, and find them fast! You know how precious those men are for the organisation! If anything should happened to them…”
“I’m pretty sure that will not be the case.” Black interrupts. “If anything else, they proved they are resourceful.”
“That is a comforting thought…” The Colonel replies, with a cynical tone.
“Beside, they could not be very far… They’re on foot and they have no idea where they are exactly.”
“Didn’t you just say that they are resourceful, captain? How do you know they didn’t find a way to hitchhike their way out of the desert?”
“Colonel White, over here, we’re way off any ground or air traffic of any kind.”
“You mean USUAL traffic, captain. I believe you did not supervise all crafts or vehicles that might have come by, by pure stroke of fate.”
“THAT would be a long shot, sir.”
“Only one long shot of that kind would be sufficient, I think. Don’t underestimate ANY of those men, captain. You’ve done it once; they’d made a fool out of you using a hare!”
“They won’t have the chance twice. They will be found.”
“Hopefully, before they alert some proper authority. That could jeopardize this organisation security. By the way, if I were you, I’d look up for Scarlet. The way your chance is holding, you’re liable to loose him as well.”
“No way. I don’t see how he could get out of Koala Base’s brig.”
“He could… if somebody let him out.”
“Now who would do a thing like that, sir?”
“I can think of someone. Did you know that he and Destiny Angel know each other’s fairly well?”
“Yes, I did know that. I’ve read that in their records.”
“Did you manage to read up until the paragraph where they even talked about marriage?” White replies dryly.
Black sighs. “What’s your point, Colonel?”
“Don’t be impertinent, Conrad!” White responds with a stern voice. “I will let it go this time, but don’t make a habit out of it, because I sure won’t!”
“Sorry, sir. But I assure you, there is no chance of Scarlet ever getting out of the brig. I told you I have taken measures so none of the Angels could see his face.”
“Don’t be too overconfident, captain. I believe it is your one weakness. Be careful it would not also be your downfall.”
“Don’t worry too much about me. Nor for Scarlet: as soon as my men start the search tomorrow morning, I’m heading to Koala Base to check on him.”
“Be careful he doesn’t break your nose again.”
Black grins for himself. “I will, sir. I’ll call you as soon as I have some news.”
“Please, do that. White out.”
Black hears the contact being cut out. Then he sits back on his chair and looks thoughtfully at the receiver.
He had lied. In more than one way.
For starters, he hasn’t told Colonel White about the difficulties he had encountered with Symphony Angel when he had leave Scarlet to her care. So, the doubts the Colonel has just raised are perhaps not groundless.
He didn’t know about Scarlet and Destiny, and that infuriates him. It was not on the records he had originally received.
But the problem is not really there. The problem is, in fact, with ALL the Angels. They are no fools. To the contrary, they all are quite capable, intelligent women. And at least three of them have a detective mind… including Destiny Angel. If they even are to find out that something peculiar is going on at the Base, Black is not sure they won’t do something about it.
Well, there is at least one thing in Black’s favour: the Angels trust their Charlie, Colonel White, implicitly. They would not do anything without his blessing. As long as White has told them everything is all right by him, there is no risk that the Angels should intervene.
Now to the other problem at hand…
Black is not sure his men will find the recruits. Something is eating at him… Ever since the lieutenant had told him about the rabbit. As far as he knows, the captives have been left in the wild with only water. No food what so ever. They must have been quite hungry at some point. Why, then, when they had succeeded in getting their hands on a hare, did they simply let it go, using it as a decoy by putting that damned bug on it? Rabbits don’t run up plenty in these parts of the desert… That doesn’t add up at all.
There is one element missing, Black thinks. Now what could it be?
Black frowns, as he sees a little red light blinking wildly on the radio. He gets closer to look at it. What the hell is this indicator for, anyway? He doesn’t remember it ever blinking before. It must be there for a reason.
He’s about to call up the radio operator to inform himself when suddenly it hits him.
Somebody has intercepted the communication!
He stands up furiously, letting out a loud swear. The radio operator, at a few feet behind him, jumps out in surprise and comes to him.
“Is something wrong, sir?”
Quickly, Black pushes the switch off indicator. “There’s nothing, corporal. Don’t trouble yourself.”
He passes his hand into his dark hair and looks back at the radio, puzzled. If somebody has heard THIS communication between himself and the Colonel, there is a good chance that other conversations had also been spied on.
Who has done such a thing? The Committee, trying to see how things were going? The Colonel himself, testing Black’ skills? With him, it’s always possible. Black knows him far too well to not know he could very well use that sort of tricks. And he has the means. Not only he is perfectly skilled at telecommunications, but his new aide, Lieutenant Green, certainly is something of a master at it, along with a computer whiz.
And if Black is not mistaking, there even is a rather advanced device installed on the Control Command main computer, conceived exactly to intercept radio communications, and tracking down the signal to its source.
Black nearly jumps out anew when he remembers who exactly had designed the prototype for that device.
Well, here it is, that missing element that Black is looking for! He had dismissed Patrick Donaghue so quickly that it hasn’t come to his mind that he might be back… and causing him troubles.
He could be behind the disappearance of the recruits in the desert… if he had overheard their position in a preceding communication Black had with Colonel White. And Black is pretty certain he had said it.
Along with the place where Scarlet was to be send.
“Damn! How could I have been so blind and stupid?” Black mutters to himself.
Colonel White is right. His overconfidence is his worst trait… his personal enemy. He has yet to learn to control it, even at his age.
He realizes what is happening is by his fault. Magenta’s initial escape, the others’ disappearance and now…
Could they be on their way to Koala Base?
Could they EVEN be already there?
A sly smile comes across Black’s face. He has been had. But he hasn’t said his last word about it.
He storms out of the tent. “Lieutenant MacKenzie!”
The man comes quickly to him and comes to attention.
“Prepare the hovercraft for me, will you? And a course to Koala Base.”
MacKenzie is rather puzzled by this order. “To… Koala Base, sir? By way of surface?”
“You heard me. If I use the hovercraft, it’s because I want to go by surface, isn’t it?”
“Yes, sir. When do you want it?”
“Right away. And I’ll go alone.” Black looks at his watch. “The sun will be out in two hours or so. See that the search for the missing recruits are well carried on.”
“One thing important, lieutenant: I want you to maintain radio silence with me at all costs. The only exception is if the recruits are found. I want to be informed of it right away.”
“What about Colonel White, sir?”
“If he ever calls, you tell him I’m participating to the search.”
MacKenzie hesitates, and opens wide eyes upon hearing that answer. “You… want me to lie to him, sir?”
“On the contrary.” A devilish smile comes about Black’s features. “It will be the absolute truth. I’m just checking on a new lead. And unless I mess my guess, I will be the one to find those “recruits” and have the last laugh.”
* * *
At Koala Base, the “recruits” had been rather busy for the past hours.
They had taken by surprise the guard over in Hangar Two and the one standing watch in the heavy-duty helicopter. No shot had been heard, no unnecessary violence used, just as Metcalfe had promised it. The two commandos found their way to the brig where they joint sergeant Martin, who had since wakened from Svenson’s blow. None of the three men had cared to say one word. They knew all too well they were defeated and preferred to keep quiet.
Since there was only one key for the brig, it seemed safe enough not to leave anyone standing guard over the three prisoners. They would not get out of there.
What was left to do afterwards was to make sure Koala Base was entirely secured. The three security guards on post for the night were covering the entire ground, ever so watchful, being alerted by Destiny Angel to inform her if any new development should ever happened.
Becky Evershaw had surrender her post to Harmony Angel for a six hours shift, while Melody has taken place in Angel One, standing by for take off in case of emergency. Feeling rather restless, Destiny had stayed on in the Control Room; while the two remaining Angels had gone to their quarters to get some sleep. As for their six unexpected guests, they had decided to relay themselves into keeping watch in the Control room and getting some sleep too. Only Donaghue, who was working on the task appointed to him by Metcalfe, refused the opportunity to get much needed rest.
Granted, he was tired, but he had decided to see his job through first. It has become somewhat of a challenge, proving to be much more difficult that he had anticipated.
By 3.30 AM, a very tired Donaghue was still keying on his portable computer hooked up to the computerized radio controls. Rhapsody has replaced Melody in Angel Two, and Harmony has given her station in front of the radio to Symphony, while, at about the same time, Blackburn and Holden are relayed by Svenson and Fraser. Metcalfe was dozing in one of the Control Room seats, instead of going to the officer’s quarters. He didn’t want to leave the room if anything should happen.
And something happened.
At approximately 4.00 AM, Donaghue accidentally stumbled over a particular communication. He recognized immediately the voices as those he has already heard the day before and called upon Metcalfe who waked up instantly and joined him with Svenson, Fraser, and Destiny. The later, along with Symphony, identified the British voice they were hearing as that of Charlie’s.
The other was definitely Black’s.
If anything else, the communication confirms Metcalfe’s belief that all this was part of a huge test. When they heard the word “recruits”, there was not any doubt about this.
Everybody had a lot of fun hearing Black receiving a bad ticking off for having let his charges escape from him. They also take note of the confirmation that Black should come to Koala Base early in the morning. With that, maybe they will be able to prepare him a little surprise, and act against him.
During all the transmission, Donaghue was working to track down one of the two sources… namely, the one where White should be. He couldn’t trace the two of them, and Metcalfe had giving him the priority of finding White.
Since he had now this communications to work on, Donaghue had thought it would be easier to find its location. It was not really the case.
As soon as the communication was cut out, something – or someone – was scrambling the radio frequency, making it almost impossible to do any kind of tracking down.
Donaghue was a persistent fellow. He hadn’t become one of New York most notorious heads of mob gangs by giving up easily. He knew some ways to work around scrambling devices.
He started keying anew on his computer. The others, leaving him to his task and Symphony to her watch, go to the conference table to adjust their plans according to what they have just learn from the radio. One variable was left to find which could change their projects. If was now all depending upon Donaghue possible discoveries.
The last details set, pushed by his friends, Metcalfe finally accepted to get a few hours of sleep in the officers quarters, providing he would be waked at first if anything should come up. Destiny guided him to his room and, after leaving him there, came back to the Control Room and poured herself another cup of coffee.
Two hours later, the nearly sunrise finds the same group in the Control Room. Metcalfe is entering it, to find the radio station rather crowded, with Symphony always at her watch, but in the same time in quiet discussion with Svenson, while Fraser is looking with intense interest at Donaghue’s silent work in progress. Destiny Angel is still sitting at the conference table, in front of a cup of strong coffee, at the same place she had occupied previously. She seems thoughtful enough when he approaches him.
“Burning the midnight hour, dear lady?”
She looks at him, puzzled, than take a look at her watch. “It nearly six o’clock, Paul.”
Metcalfe laughs softly. “I know. It’s just an expression. I was just wondering if you had any sleep.”
Destiny waves the thought away. “I’m not really tired.” She looks thoughtfully at him. “You had gone to bed not two hours ago. Why are you up so soon? Couldn’t sleep either?”
“No, not really. Too exited, I guess.” He smiles: “As for you, I rather thought that you’d want to stay awake to keep an eye on things.”
Destiny snorts. “Right! Like I would be able to do anything to stop you men if you ever had bad intentions toward this base…”
“Don’t sell yourself or your lady friends too short, Juliette. The Committee wouldn’t have chosen you if you weren’t such capable persons.”
“They’re great girls, you know.”
“They’ve got a great leader.”
“I may be officially their leader, but they tend to follow Melody’s decisions more often then mine! Luckily, she and I generally get along well, and we have the same opinions on things.” She nods toward the group at the radio console. “How about your friends? You know them only since yesterday. I take it you don’t really know them very well…”
“Especially giving the fact that we were… separated for a while. But seeing as how they came together to try and rescue me, I would say that tends to prove they’re great fellows. Even Donaghue, for all his backgrounds.” He smiles, musing: “Well, there IS one setback, however…”
“Which is?” A curious Destiny asks him.
“Don’t tell anybody but… I think one of them is a spy.”
Destiny glances at him with an odd look. He starts laughing.
“Don’t be alarmed, though. He’s Black’ spy. Not really much of a threat. I would think he’s an observer of some sort.”
Destiny frowns. “Which one is it?”
“I have some clues about some of them. I think I can safely rule out Donaghue. He wasn’t much with us in the beginnings. As for the rest of them… I rather not get to far as to tell you more about it. I’m not really sure of anything.”
“What do you intend to do?”
“Well, nothing, really… As far as I can tell, this spy has done nothing to cause us trouble. Like I said, I think he was simply put in our midst as an observer, to take a closer look at our performance during this exercise… and perhaps to make certain we won’t get in too much trouble.” He smiles again. “I just wish I’d know for certain who he is… and I hope to find out before this story is resolved.”
Destiny screws up her eyes, whispering: “What do you think of Adam?”
Metcalfe shakes his head. “I ruled him out, too. He has the same suspicions as I about that spy in our midst.” He looks up more closely to his friend. “You’re worried about your Symphony Angel, I can tell. Well, I wouldn’t if I were you. I’ve learnt to know him a bit more than the others. He’s a pretty decent person.”
Destiny grins. “I heard them chattering about: they have a lot in common. And they have found something to dispute over: he’s graduated from Harvard, and she’s from Yale…”
“Well, if the American rumours about the rivalry between these two universities are somewhat true to form, that promises some interesting confrontations…” An amused Metcalfe retorts.
“… At aged sixteen, both of them.” Destiny continues.
“Well, what do you know? Whiz kids, the two of them…”
“I’ve got something!”
That's the eager voice of Donaghue who has suddenly called out from the radio station. Metcalfe and Destiny stand and go together to the group reunited in front of the radio. Donaghue has left his computer to bend over Symphony’ shoulder and push some buttons.
“I have found the source of Charlie – excuse me – of Colonel White’s transmission. It was rather tricky, but, but God! I’ve found it!”
“Good work, Pat!” Metcalfe tells him. “Now, where is it?”
“Give me one minute, please…” Donaghue goes back to his computer, keyed one last command, and then frowns. “Well, now that’s odd…”
“What is it?” Svenson asks.
“According to these readings, the source of the radio communication is set at about 40,000 feet… almost directly over our heads.”
Metcalfe frowns. “What? You’re sure of that?”
Donaghue nods. “Pretty sure.”
“Well, you’ve obviously made a big mistake somewhere.” Fraser says, shaking his head.
Donaghue makes some verification then shakes his head in turn. “No mistake. It IS 40,000 feet in the air.”
“Check the radar.” Destiny asks to Symphony.
The American girl nods. She makes some adjustments… then frowns, turning to her leader.
“There is definitely something up there… camouflaged in some way.” She looks over the puzzled men surrounding her. “Our radar is pretty powerful, and it hadn’t picked THIS up until I rearranged its focus, just now… It’s like somebody up there knows exactly how to foil that radar.”
“I bet it’s just that.” Metcalfe mumbles. “So, your Charlie is actually in a plane, flying over our heads?”
Symphony looks back at the radar screen. “Well, according to these readings… it’s far more too stable to be an ordinary plane. It moves, but…”
“A helicopter, perhaps?” Fraser suggests.
“I don’t think so.” Symphony looks up to the others. “Whatever it is, it’s HUGE.”
“That doesn’t make sense.” Svenson remarks.
“Doesn’t it?” Metcalfe muses. “Think about the radio message earlier… white has said that the sun had already risen for him. If he was at 40,000 feet, the horizon is much farther away for him. He has seen the sun rise long before us.”
“You think he was ALREADY over us?” Destiny says.
“Now, THAT is difficult to say.” Metcalfe pats Donaghue over the shoulder. “You’ve done a great work, my friend. Now, we will be able to make our move.”
“You still want to go on with it?” Svenson exclaims.
“Paul, the guy is 40,000 up in the air. We can’t possibly get to him! Not like that! And there’ll be no way we would surprise him!”
“I’m not giving up yet.”
“I don’t tell you to. We’ll have to revise our plan, that’s all.”
Fraser, seeing Metcalfe scowling at the thought, gives a somewhat sarcastic laugh. “My, aren’t you the impetuous one!”
Destiny smiles with amusement. “Yes, that always gets him into trouble… But it has also got him all his promotions and brought him to his rank…”
“So, unless I miss my guess, he will be general by the age of forty…” Fraser continues mockingly. “Unless he’s dead before.”
Safe for Metcalfe, the others look at Fraser with furious glances, intended to shut him up.
“Anybody has ever told you that you are not so funny, mister Fraser?” Symphony dryly remarks.
“Yeah, what a thing to say!” Svenson adds.
Metcalfe brushes their protests with a wave. “It’s all right. I’ve already heard that sort of comments before. Even from my own father.” He smiles lightly at Fraser. “But usually, they say I would be general by thirty-five…”
The others smile in turn, even Fraser. Metcalfe takes a few moments to think.
“You’re right, of course.” He says to Svenson. “We should revise our plan, now. Maybe, we should wait for Captain Black to pay us his visit over here. Let him make his move instead of us making ours…”
“You don’t sound too enthusiastic over that option.”
“No, not really. I would have preferred the other one.” Metcalfe notices Donaghue tired look and puts his hand on his shoulder. “Go get some rest, Pat. I’d say you’ve earned it.”
Donaghue sighs heavily. “Yeah! I think I will get some fresh air, first… Then I’ll hit the bunk. Wake me up if something comes up.”
“We’ll do that. In the meantime, we’ll try to figure out how to now act upon your new discovery.”
“Sorry to have burst your bubble.”
“Don’t fret about it. Now get out of here.”
“Symphony, would you care to guide mister Donaghue to the officer’s quarters?” Destiny asks her American counterpart. “I'll man the radio in the meantime.”
Symphony nods and stands up with Donaghue. He tries to suppress a yawn while they go to the door. Behind them, they can hear as the others try to decide what to do next. The voices fade away as they leave the room.
They get out of the building and Donaghue breaths deeply. He looks at the sun, which is now a little above the horizon and smiles lightly.
“So I really passed the night in front of that computer? Well, I didn’t do that since I was a kid! I feel like stretching my legs a bit… Would you care for a little walk, Symphony? That is, if you don’t mind walking with a notorious criminal.”
“I don’t mind it at all, mister Donaghue.”
He invites her toward the runway, and they walk side by side slowly. Symphony feels a little uneasy with him. He’s rather sympathetic, not at all the likes of which she would have picture a dangerous mobster.
“Minds if I ask you a question or two, Pat?”
Donaghue smiles. “Your inquisitive side wants to know a little more about the dangerous guy I’m supposed to be?”
“How did you end up as a… gang leader?”
“One isn’t born that way, you know… Well, maybe over in the mafia families, but not in my case. It was poverty, which pushed me to it.”
Symphony scoffs. “Poverty? Look how you’re dressed! You certainly don’t look like a poor man!”
“Yeah, well… I worked hard to get to that point, mind you. I was raised in a New York ghetto. My parents didn’t have anything much… They were Irish immigrants, fleeing the military dictatorship that was over Britain, in those days. I was born in Dublin, you know. Didn’t see America before I was about three.”
Symphony smiles lightly. “I thought I heard an accent.”
“Yes. That mostly comes from hearing Pop and Mom talk. Couldn’t really shake all of it.”
“You’re sophisticated enough… and you have skills to spare and education. How did you manage, if your parents were so poor?”
Donaghue shrugs. “Guess they did the best they could, under the circumstances. As for the rest… I learned in prison.”
“Prison?” Symphony repeats, frowning.
“Why, yes… They’ve got some good educational programs in the joint.” Donaghue laughs at Symphony’s concerned glance. “Don’t worry; I didn’t end up there by killing anybody. I was young and I got myself into trouble when I participated in some manifestations. There was some violence involved… Not by my doing, really, but I got caught right in the middle of it. So I ended up in jail… where I learn electronics and computerizing.”
“… Which you used afterwards for your… er… criminal career.”
“Ironic, isn’t it? That the penal system should give me the tools to continue defying the law.”
Symphony shakes her head. “You find it ironic, I, for one, find it frightening.”
“I guess you should look at it that way. All the same, the skills I have learn in jail had proven very helpful these days… Wouldn’t you say?”
“What is it exactly you’re doing with the others, Pat? Why have you been selected by the Committee?”
Donaghue sighs heavily. “Guess somebody have thought I was worth the trouble of another chance in life… Between you and me, I’m mighty glad they did choose me. I think I can do something good if giving the occasion.”
“Then I’m glad for you. And I’m sure you will do something good with your life.”
They have walk alongside the runway, toward the hangars. Strange, thinks Symphony at one point; she had not seen the security guard who had relayed Lewman a few hours ago. He should be patrolling the runway… and they should have passed him by now.
“What’s in there?”
Donaghue has stopped in front of the opened garage door of Hangar One. Symphony shrugs at his question.
“An old Spitfire, from World War 2. If you ask me, a piece of junk far worse than the one you have flown in with your friends yesterday. In fact, it can’t fly right now. But Melody and Harmony have put it into their heads that they can repair it… Well, I suppose if somebody can do it, it will be them!”
“I already know that the so-called stolen materials recuperated by Black are in Hangar Two… What about the third?”
“The Passenger Jets?” Donaghue eyes brighten. “Can you show them to me?”
Symphony hesitates: “Well… it is classified material…”
“Come on! It can be as classified as your Angels Crafts… which I have already seen.” Donaghue insists, smiling: “And it’s not like I’m some sort of stranger, now, he?”
“And you would consider yourself… what?” Symphony asks him, mockingly.
“A friend, hopefully?”
His boyish smile is so amusing that Symphony must fight hard not to laugh out loud. She gives in to his demand and shows him the way.
Still no sign of the security guard, she notices, as they walk toward Hangar Three. Now that’s becoming unnerving… And it isn’t Donaghue that worries Symphony. She has the feeling of an impending danger.
When they arrive in front of the hangar garage door, Symphony sees that it’s not bolted, as it should be. She doesn’t even have time to warn Donaghue, as he begins to slide the door open.
“Wait a minute, Pat! Something is wrong!”
Donaghue stops in his movement. Too late. The barrel of a gun appears right under his nose, freezing him on the spot.
“Don’t say a word.” An ominous voice warns. “Get in, the two of you.”
Donaghue keeps his upcoming sharp respond for himself. He takes care to stay between Symphony and the gun as they motion carefully inside the hangar.
“Close the door.” The voice orders again.
Symphony obeys grimly. The faint light inside has permitted her to see the face of their opponent.
“Lurking about in the dark, Captain Black?” Symphony calmly remarks. “What have you done with the security guard who should be on the runway?”
“He’s safe, don’t worry about him.”
Donaghue eyes the armed man. “So, this is Captain Black?” He folds his arms. “You don’t look like much without your hood, mister!”
Black smiles coldly. “Nice to see you back amongst us, mister Donaghue. I think I have dismissed you a little too quickly earlier…”
“You have underestimated all of us, Captain.” Donaghue responds, shrugging. “But then, I think you already know that… Colonel White was quick to point it to you, isn't it?”
Black screws up his eyes to him. “How much did you hear of that conversation?”
“Mostly all of it. And I was not alone.”
Black nods thoughtfully. “And you have heard the other one we had yesterday, at about twelve… the one by which you have learned where to find the others.”
“Good thinking!” Donaghue says, smiling arrogantly. “You should have been a police detective instead of a soldier.”
Black grins grimly. “Get your hands up. Turn around.”
“Don’t feel compelled to take me by my word.” Donaghue retorts, hesitant to comply.
“I said: turn around!” Black shouts.
Donaghue shrugs and, getting his hands in the air, turns his back on Black. The later comes nearer to him, all the while trailing his gun on Symphony, making sure she won’t intervene. Then he snaps a handcuff around one of Donaghue’s wrists, gets his hand in his back and orders him to gives him the other.
Donaghue frowns, while obeying. “You’re really taking this seriously, don’t you?”
He feels Black securing the cuffs around his other wrist and finds himself totally at the mercy of the man. Seeing this, Symphony finds she can no longer stay quiet.
“Don’t you think you’re pushing this a little far, Captain Black?”
“Shut up!” Black snaps angrily at her. “You and the other Angels are already in trouble enough as it is, lady!”
“I don’t have that impression, really.” Symphony cynically replies.
Disobeying orders, insubordination, mutiny, treason…”
Symphony scoffs. “Treason? Now that’s a laugh! We didn’t receive any instructions from our superior concerning your acts, Captain. I would rather think we made use of common sense by trying to find out if what you did wasn’t against regulations… and indeed an act of treason.”
Black looks curiously at her. “You didn’t receive any instructions?”
“None what so ever. Perhaps we would have been able to inform ourselves to our superior if we would have known how to contact him.”
Black sighs. “Well, what do you know… Charles has passed me a fast one… I wonder why he did that.”
Donaghue chuckles. “Maybe he wanted to see how YOU’d reacted under pressure!” For his trouble, Black slaps him over the back of the head. “Hey! What’s that for?”
“Quiet. I don’t need your input in this.”
“That’s no reason to become violent!”
“Come on, Captain.” Symphony quietly says. “We all know it’s an exercise of some kind. Give it up! It’s finished.”
“It will be finished when I say it is!” Black replies between clenched teeth. “And it’s no longer an exercise.”
Symphony frowns, puzzled. “What do you mean?
“Yeah, what do you mean?” Donaghue repeats, with an uncertain voice.
“What do you think?” Black snorts. “You have all ridiculed me… Donaghue and his friends… You, Symphony, with the Angels… Even your Charlie.” His eyes are now darting angry fire. “Think you have beaten me? Well, think again! I have not said my last word.”
Donaghue is now really worried. “Hey, mate! You’re losing it!”
“Black, be serious!” Symphony tries again.
“I am serious!” Black shouts back. He makes Donaghue swirl around and then points his gun directly toward Symphony’s head. “Deadly serious. Now obey me or I swear to God, I’ll blow your head up! And then it will be the turn of the computer genius.”
Donaghue rolls his eyes. “God! You’ve gone crazy!”
“Don’t make him angrier than he already is, Pat.” Symphony lets out a sigh. “All right, Captain. What do you want me to do?”
Black nods toward a long silver and blue plane, standing just in front of the closed garage door. Donaghue had not seen it before that precise moment.
That must be one of the Passenger Jets, he thinks.
“I’ll need a plane.” Black says. “This one will do.”
“You’ve come over here just to steal a SPJ?” A perplexed Symphony asks.
“No…” Black glances at Donaghue with an evil smile. “I needed a hostage too.”
Donaghue swallows hard. “I was afraid you’d say that.”
Symphony frowns. “A hostage… or rather a bait?”
Black smiles. “You’re very intelligent, Symphony Angel. Now I know why the Committee chose you.” He points to the Passenger Jet. “Get the wheel chocks of the plane. Now.”
Symphony moves toward the landing gear and kicks aside the wheel chocks, all the while keeping a constant eye on Black and the gun he’s trailing on Donaghue. She comes back in front of them.
“Open the hangar doors. Entirely.”
Again, Symphony obeys, sliding the garage doors to the sides. The opening is now large enough for the plane to go through it, Donaghue notes gloomily as the sun enters the hangar. He wonders if somebody will notice what’s going on.
“Now you will climb aboard.” Black says to Symphony, who has stayed to one side of the doors.
She frowns. It seems to her that one bait is not enough for Captain Black.
“No.” She quietly replies.
“Don’t be stupid, Symphony.”
“I’m not being stupid. To the contrary. I won’t get into that plane with you.”
Donaghue is really worried about what might now happen to the girl.
“Symphony, it’s you who’s making him angry, now!”
Black pushes Donaghue over to the Jet. He operates the door so it would open; then he forces his prisoner to climb aboard.
“Don’t do it, Pat!” Symphony calls out. “Don’t go in there!”
“I don’t see how I have any choice, now…” Donaghue answers with somewhat of a faint tone.
Black pushes him brutally on the floor, where Donaghue sprawls. Black climbs three of the steps, still pointing his gun to Symphony. He seems enraged.
“Come over here this instant!”
“Or you’ll shoot?” Symphony notes, still very quietly. “You won’t. I’m calling off your bluff, Captain Black.”
“I’m not bluffing, Symphony!”
“Oh, yes, you are! It’s all an act, like you did to the men, yesterday. The Committee wouldn’t have selected you if you were the kind of man to lose your nerves like that. I’m sure of it.”
Black frowns. “And you’re willing to risk your life over this assertion?”
“I’m betting on it.”
Black laughs. “Well, one thing for certain, you’ve got guts, lady!”
“You want guts, Captain Black?”
Symphony slams suddenly the alarm button over the side of the door. A siren starts wailing loudly all over Koala Base. Much to Black’s astonishment and dismay. He glares furiously at a defiant looking Symphony.
“That was a crazy move, young lady…” He points his gun quietly to her. Then sees the distressed expression upon her suddenly pale face. He then smiles. “Of course, you were right.” He pauses, then twinkles at her: “Bang! You’re dead!”
He climbs aboard the plane and closes the door behind him. Symphony, who hears nothing but the fast beating of her heart, almost fails to notice the starting of the engines. As she knows perfectly that she can do nothing to stop him from taking off, she gets out of the hangar, almost stumbling.
She steps against the exterior wall and lets out a heavy sigh of relieve. She hasn’t been one hundred percent sure, that Black was still playing a part… Well, right to the very end, of course. She almost expected him to shoot at that moment. But she’s now sure glad her bluff has paid off.
But Patrick Donaghue is still Black’s prisoner. At least, she knows he’s in no danger of being shoot at.
She sees the plane getting out of the hanger at the very same moment people begins to come out from different points of the base. Metcalfe, Svenson, and Fraser come running from the Control Room. The others, coming from farther, have left the officer’s quarters in a rush. The security guards are also all on hands.
Symphony gestures toward them, as the SPJ moves to the runway, taking more speed at the second. First to arrive near Symphony, Metcalfe stops in front of her, looking worried.
“What is it?” He points to the Passenger Jet: “What happened?”
“Captain Black happened.” Symphony answers gloomily. “He kidnapped Donaghue and has taken an SPJ to make good his escape.”
Svenson arrives at that moment. “He kidnapped Pat?”
“Are you all right?” Metcalfe asks Symphony. “You look pale…”
“I’m quite fine.” The girl replies dryly. “He tried to make believe he had gone mad with resentment. Almost succeeded at that.”
“What?” Svenson mutters.
They hear the turbo-jet engine roars as the SPJ reaches the runway and takes off. They watch as the plane flies away in the sky.
About five seconds later, another roaring of turbo engines is heard. Angel One, manned by Rhapsody angel, has just made its vertical take-off and immediately follows the track of the Passenger Jet.
“Destiny must have ordered her to go after the SPJ.” Symphony says. “She won’t let it out of her sight. Now Angels Two and Three will follow shortly… That’s standard procedure.”
Indeed, they could see Melody and Harmony running toward the remaining Angels, in order to get aboard.
“If you want my opinion, gentlemen, your test is not yet finished.” Metcalfe, Svenson, and Fraser turn to Symphony, as she adds: “And I would believe that the Angels are now being tested as well.”
“What does Black want, anyway?” Fraser mumbles between his teeth.
“Obviously, that we follow him.” Svenson notes.
“Well, if that’s what he wants, that’s what he’ll get!” Metcalfe says.
“Right! In what? Our Cessna?” Fraser replies.
Metcalfe takes a look toward the interior of the hangar and notices the outlines of three others silver and blue aircrafts. He points to them. “These are also operational?”
“Why, yes… fully!” Symphony responds, hesitantly.
Metcalfe then enters the hangar. “We requisition one!”
Svenson follows. “All right! Now we’re talking!”
Symphony is taken aback by this sudden turn of events. “W-what? Wait a minute! You’d better talk with Destiny about it!”
Fraser smiles. “It’s already done.”
“Oh yeah? When?” A sceptical Symphony replies.
“About five minutes ago, after you left with Pat. We discussed with Destiny how we would need a plane to reach your friend Charlie.”
Metcalfe opens the hatch of the SPJ and looks inside.
“How many people can get in there?”
“Seven… counting the pilot and the co-pilot.”
“Just the right number! Adam, you’ll be the pilot.” Metcalfe turns to Symphony: “Well, don’t just stand there! Go get the others! And you’re coming too, along with Juliette.”
“And I suppose that was decided with Destiny too?”
“Don’t tell me you don’t want to take a look at your Charlie?”
Symphony shuts up instantly. She begins to motion toward the Control Room. “I’ll go get the others.”
“Great!” Svenson smiles. “You’ll be my co-pilot.”
Symphony turns to shout back at him. “Not me! I’m supposed to be dead!”
Svenson frowns, as she bolts to a run. He exchanges a puzzled look with Metcalfe and Fraser.
“Now what do you think that supposes to mean?”