Rhapsody Angel, informed by radio of the developing situation, is following the runaway SPJ from a view distance. On board, she had learnt, is Captain Black, who had just kidnapped Patrick Donaghue.
Destiny has informed Rhapsody that Angels Two and Three were not to join her right away. They were to escort another Passenger Jet, dubbed SPJ Two, for sake of clarity, which had been boarded by Metcalfe and his companions, along with Destiny herself and Symphony.
Seems like everybody is joining the fray, thinks Rhapsody.
While Donaghue’s life is not believed to be in any danger, Rhapsody had received instruction not to challenge Black’s craft, SPJ One, in anyway… She’s just to make sure not to loose it and take careful note of its direction.
Direction is strange, as it is. Black’s Passenger Jet had gone full east for a good ten minutes, while gradually taking altitude. Then it began to turn to its right… and continued to do so as if wanting to make a full circle.
Rhapsody reports to Koala Base. Evershaw then puts her in direct contact with SPJ Two, already in the air. Destiny is acting as co-pilot and navigator on board the jet.
Rhapsody gives her full report on her observations upon SPJ One.
“It’s like he’s planning to come back to Koala Base, by taking the longest detour possible… while still climbing. ” Rhapsody says, finishing her report.
The voice of Paul Metcalfe comes to her ears, over the radio: “At what height is he now?”
“20,000 feet, colonel… And still going higher.”
“What’s the speed?”
“We’re actually going at 800 miles per hour. Whatever he’s planning to do, he’s taking his time…”
“What is your distance with him?”
“300 meters, always constant.”
“Stay that way. We’re not far behind… We’ll be with you shortly.”
“Colonel, would you mind telling me what’s going on?”
“I think we’re about to pay a visit to your friend Charlie.”
“Oh!” That’s about all the comment Rhapsody is able to utter. Metcalfe tells her his further instructions: “Angels Two and Three will get into formation with you at the very moment we join you. You will take command of the Angels Pack then, and you will frame SPJ One until destination.”
“Excuse me, sir… Destination where? Back to Koala Base? We’re still climbing. We’re up to twenty-five hundreds feet, now… And I don’t see Captain Black wanting to come down anytime soon.”
“Rhapsody Angel… I believe you will be the first to find out where we are going. SPT Two out.”
In the Passenger Jet cockpit, Metcalfe, crouched behind Svenson and Destiny, respectively in the pilot and the co-pilot/navigator seats, turns the radio over to Destiny, asking her to inform Melody and Harmony Angels to accelerate their speed to 700 miles, matching that of SPJ Two, until they reach both Angel One and SPJ One. Destiny carries out his instructions while Metcalfe takes interest on the board instruments. He point to the different signals blinking on the radar screen.
“Angel One and the other Passenger Jet, right?” He says, indicating two little points.
Svenson nods, and then points to a bigger signal.
“And that thing practically over Koala Base is where Charlie is.” He pauses, thoughtful. “Wonder what kind of craft it is.” He then says. “I’ve never seen that kind of signal in the sky before… It’s really huge.”
“If it were higher, it could be some kind of a really big satellite.” Metcalfe muses. “But at this height…”
“Well, I would concurred with Symphony: it’s relatively stable, but still move at a constant low speed.”
“I have half a mind to go directly there… but I don’t dare risk it. Although Black’s jet seems to be directing itself that way…”
“… There’s no telling if he won’t change direction at the last minute and disappears over the horizon, to a new direction.”
“With Pat.” Metcalfe adds grimly. “He turns to Destiny who had just finished her communication with Melody and Harmony. “You know, your Symphony Angel has quite some nerves! Standing up like she did to Black… That took some courage.”
“Or pure madness.” Svenson mumbles. “There was no way she could have known Black was really bluffing or not!”
Destiny smiles. “I told you she was our reckless one… As a matter of facts, she reminds me of a certain colonel I know… Never quite knows the meaning of the word ‘danger’.”
“Well, you better believe Symphony learned it today.” Svenson replies sharply. “Why, that Captain Black, terrifying her like that! Wait ‘til I get a word with him!”
Metcalfe smiles. “Why, Adam! I do believe you have a soft spot for the girl! What is it, love at first sight?”
“That’s not the point!” Svenson almost snaps at him. “ The man’s a bully who needs a lesson! And I’m quite ready to be the one giving it to him!”
“That’s something I would like to see.” Destiny sighs. “In the meantime, you’d better push those engines to 700. The Angels are standing by to follow.”
Svenson nods and accelerates the jet up to the speed required. Beyond the cockpit, on each side, he can sees the two escorting Angels matching his speed, almost instantly. He shakes his head. Excellent pilots, he thinks. They were ready at the second he had speeded up.
It takes less than three minutes to reach Angel One. As on cue, Melody and Harmony leave the SPJ Two to get to their leader’s trail. Rhapsody acknowledges their presence and then contacts Destiny.
“Ready to take escort of SPJ One.”
“Go for it, Angel Leader.” Destiny’s voice answers. “And make sure he doesn’t try anything fancy.”
“He won’t.” Rhapsody then contacts Angels Two and Three: “Let’s go, girls. We’ve got serious work to do, now.”
The three fighting crafts speed up in unison, just so they would reach the runaway Passenger Jet. Angel One puts itself on top, lightly behind, while Two and Three get to each side. Not far behind, the three people in the cockpit of SPJ Two exchange a smile of contentment.
“Efficient, these girls.” Svenson remarks.
“They’re the best.” Destiny answers, rather proudly.
Behind them, coming from the cabin, where he was since the beginning of the flight with Fraser, Holden, and Symphony, Blackburn presents himself, curious as to what is going on. He sees the other crafts beyond the cockpit and smiles.
“I’ve been send in by the others as scout…” He explains. “So, we have him?”
“Not yet.” Metcalfe quietly answers.
Svenson looks at him. “What do you mean, ‘not yet’?”
At this very moment, Black’s SPJ makes a quick and evasive action downward, tilting its left wing to the side. He literally passes only inches below Angel Two, in a move so daring that it takes everybody by surprise.
Svenson does not believe his eyes. “That son of a… I thought he was caught for sure! That was a dangerous move!”
“I told you he was a good pilot. He knows the Angels are not at their full efficiency at that low speed. He takes advantage of it. “
“Yes, but the SPJ is not fully efficient either”, Blackburn retorts. “He could have grazed one of the other plane doing a move like that.”
“Who was talking about recklessness, just now?” Metcalfe asks between clenched teeth. “I believe that guy takes the cake.”
They look as the Angels try again to frame Black’s craft. The last fighter is not in place yet that SPJ One escapes again, this time speeding up a little and climbing suddenly, making a loop that takes it directly behind Angel One. Has it been armed with deadly intention, Rhapsody would have bee in a dangerous position. As it is, she doesn’t stay in front of the SPJ and quickly gets out of its way.
“What is he trying to do, anyway?” Svenson sighs.
“He’s playing with them. Trying to prove he is better than anyone else.” Metcalfe looks at Destiny: “Think your girls are up to the task?”
“Why, yes… But I’m wondering if WE will be if Black turns his attention toward us.”
“Give me that radio. And open a channel to Black’s jet.”
Destiny complies and she nods at Metcalfe when the channel is found.
“Calling Captain Black in SPJ One.” Metcalfe says into the mike. “Please acknowledge this call, Captain Black…” He produces a personal smile, before adding: “…Or the Angels will be forced to shoot you down.”
The others in the cockpit glance at him with astonishment. There is but a few moment of silence, before a response come over the radio:
“Oh! They would, now, would they?”
“Captain Black!” Metcalfe says with somewhat of a joyous tone. “So good to hear your voice without that hood!”
“Glad to oblige, colonel. Call of the Angels. I can outmanoeuvre them all day if I want to.”
“Don’t you think we have waste enough time as it is?”
“My time is my own, colonel. Let me decide if I should waste it or not.”
“And I’m betting your rules are also your own.”
“That would be a sure win, yes. What is your point?”
“I’m just trying to figure you out. When we met before, I had the distinct impression you were a soldier following orders… Now it looks like you don’t follow any orders at all.”
“Don’t try my patience, colonel.”
“And don’t try mine, Captain! Even as we speak right now, the Angels are coming to frame you down…”
Indeed, the three Angels crafts are coming closer to Black’s jet. Not only that, but SPJ Two is closing underneath it… trapping it into four ways.
“Your only way out now in onward…” Metcalfe says into the mike. “And as we all know, our plane, being an exact replica of yours, can follow you anywhere. As for the Angels, they are more than a match for your speed. You can’t go anywhere without us following you. So be kind and don’t try to get away.”
“You forget I have your friend onboard as a hostage.” Black replies with a warning tone. “Would you risk his life to get to me?”
“You and I know very well that his life is not in danger.”
“And how do you know that?”
“You’re not the kind of man who could harm an innocent man.”
Black laughs. “Donaghue is hardly an innocent!”
Metcalfe frowns. “I won’t be the judge of Patrick Donaghue’s past misdeeds… The Selection Committee thought he was good enough to make their choice.”
“That may be true…”
Metcalfe smiles. “You won’t hurt him. Even if this weren’t an exercise, you would not be capable of that… Not anymore than you’d been able to shoot Symphony back there at the hangar. Now tell me if it isn’t true.”
There is a prolonged silence. Svenson looks angrily at the radio receiver.
“He better be careful what he’s going to say…” He mumbles.
Then Black’s voice comes from the radio, sounding strangely congenial: “Why, Paul… I do believe you have grown more cunning over the years…”
Metcalfe frowns puzzled by that odd tone of familiarity he hears in that voice.
“Do I know you?” He asks Black.
“We have met some years ago, when you were just a snort nose kid.” An obviously amused Black answers. “All right! You win! I concede defeat… Be proud, I don’t do that often.” He pauses, before adding: “What is it you want?”
“You know what we want.”
“That’s not all we want. Try again!”
“Colonel White, I take it.”
“Right on the target.”
“If I do that, wouldn’t I be considered a traitor?”
Svenson impatiently grabs the mike from Metcalfe’s hand, eager to respond himself to that impertinent boar.
“Quit playing games, Black! We have quite enough of this! You’re taking us to him anyway, so why bother with all this fooling around?”
“You’re right: the game is over.” Black simply says. “So follow me… if you can.”
He pushes his SPJ forward. Not enough to let the other crafts behind. The other Passenger Jet and the Angels follow quite easily. Svenson notices Black’s jet making a swift turn and going on a closer circle, still taking altitude. He consults the radar and the other instruments.
“We’re at nearly 39,000 feet.” He points to the big signal, nearly in the centre of the radar. “And he’s leading practically right to there.”
“Do you think it’s too easy?” Metcalfe asks him.
“Don’t know. Maybe he has seen the light.”
Destiny snorts. “That would be the day!”
“I wonder who he is…” Metcalfe muses, rubbing his chin. “He said that we have met…”
Destiny smiles. “Frightening, isn’t it?”
Metcalfe waves the thought away and addresses Svenson. “When do you think we would arrive?”
“Shouldn’t be too long now…”
Blackburn, who had stayed silent behind them almost all this time, suddenly sees a white sport in the corner of his lect eye. Turning his head in that direction, he catches a sight that makes him frown. He pats over Svenson’ shoulder.
“Turn left, and climb another thousand feet or so.”
“What? Black is not going…”
“Believe me, he will. Take a look.”
Metcalfe and Destiny has already turned their heads to look up the direction indicated by Blackburn. They see a glimpse of light over a white surface… Up there is a huge man-made structure hovering thousands of feet above the Earth.
“What is that thing?” Destiny says under her breath.
Svenson has seen it too. Almost without even thinking about it, he turns the SPJ toward its direction. Metcalfe, not leaving the big craft out of his sight, takes the radio mike and makes a call with an equal voice.
“SPJ Two to Angel Leader…”
“Go ahead, Colonel.” Rhapsody’s voice says, coming from the speaker.
“Stay with Captain Black’s jet. Be sure not to lose it. We’re taking another direction… We’ll meet shortly.”
Metcalfe almost doesn’t heard Rhapsody’s acknowledgment. All eyes in the cockpit are riveted on the structure rapidly growing in front of them.
“Looks like… a carrier, of some sort.” Svenson muses, frowning.
“A floating carrier?” An incredulous Blackburn says.
“A floating carrier.” Metcalfe repeats, thoughtfully.
“That is incredible.” Destiny whispers.
The SPJ has reached the carrier, and takes a turn over it; Svenson slows down the speed to its minimum, so that everybody could look up at the craft.
It’s huge, in all the sense of the word. Over 600 feet long, 300 wide… with multiple sidelights on each side of its extended two-deck runways. The entirety of the structure seems to be supported by four engines, located by the sides, just below the craft main body level.
Also supported on the two engines of one side, along the upper runway, stood some kind of a high control tower. Svenson takes the jet up to it, so they could take a closer look.
“What a marvellous craft…” Blackburn says, with an admiring tone. “It’s ingenious.”
“How could it stays there, almost motionless?” Destiny adds.
“The technology of this thing must be high-level top secret…” Metcalfe says in turn. “I’ve never seen the like of it before.”
A mocking voice suddenly comes from the loudspeaker communicating directly with the passengers’ cabin on the back of the jet:
“Hey, guys! Take a look at that think! I believe the Martians have come to Earth!”
Annoyed, Svenson hits the intercom button: “Buzz off, Fraser! Do you know many Martians who would spell out the word “Spectrum” upon on of their crafts?”
Indeed, extending upon the exterior side of the rounded tower, the word SPECTRUM, along with a big coloured S logo under it, presented itself to the curious men and women on board SPJ Two. Some kind of a glass tube was coming out on each side of the tower, like a gigantic arrow going right clean through it. Metcalfe suddenly grabs Svenson’s shoulder and point to the tube:
“There is a man in there!”
Svenson frowns. “You’re sure?”
“Yes… I saw him. He was wearing a white vest.”
Svenson flies the jet closer to the tube. He dares not come too much closer, however, somewhat afraid, perhaps, that any vibration would cause the tube to crumble… He sees the man. Or rather, the figure of a man who is standing inside the tube. And he sees that figure quietly leaving, going back inside the tower.
“I see him.”
“I see him too.” Destiny adds.
“And he had seen us…” Metcalfe replies.
From the corner of his eyes, he sees the other SPJ coming its way, still escorted by the three Angels.
“Here comes Black. He sure took his time.”
“Maybe he wanted us to take a long look at that carrier.” Svenson dryly retorts.
“I wouldn’t think he would be that considerate.” Destiny sighs. “Maybe I should call Rhapsody to see how he behaved himself.”
Metcalfe nods as Destiny makes her call to Angel One. Rhapsody confirms that Black has been on his best behaviour ever since the angels have begun escorting his jet.
Right now, Rhapsody is rather puzzled by the enormous craft she is approaching with her team.
“What is this thing, Destiny?” She says to Destiny over the radio. “Looks like… I don’t know, a carrier, maybe.”
“I do believe it’s a carrier, Angel One.”
“Well… Is there where Charlie is supposed to be?”
At precisely that moment, static comes over the radio, cutting the communication. Another one, a male British voice that Rhapsody recognizes at once at that of Charlie’s, then replaces Destiny’s voice…
“Calling Angel One. Please acknowledge, Angel Leader.”
The British pilot does not waste her time answering: “Here’s Angel One. Rhapsody Angel speaking. I’m receiving your message…” She permits herself a grin: “… Colonel White.”
“So, you’ve found me out.” The voice continues, with a pinch of amusement in it. “In more way than one, it seems.”
“Yes, sir… If you’re in that overgrown craft we’ve heading to… We have indeed found you out.”
“I didn’t count on you before a few days, but it’s all the same… All right, I’m here to guide you for your first approach and subsequent landing on Cloudbase.”
“That ‘overgrown craft’ you were referring to not a minute ago.”
“You want us to land on it, sir?”
“Isn’t it why you came? Now, if you’d rather discuss it with your ‘field commander’…” Rhapsody hears the hesitation in the man’s voice: “… Who ever he might be…” Colonel White finishes.
Rhapsody smiles. “Colonel Metcalfe, sir.”
“Is that so? That shouldn’t surprise me, thought. You Angels and I should have a long talk about discipline and priority orders… But right now, you’d better communicate with colonel Metcalfe to ask what you should do. I’ll be waiting.”
The communication is cut off, leaving Rhapsody to ponder upon her next move. Better to follow Colonel White’s advise, she thinks, and then opens a channel to SPJ Two:
“Angel Leader to colonel Metcalfe...”
“We’ve heard your conversation with Colonel White, Rhapsody.” She hears Metcalfe’s voice says. “He seems to have opened all our channels for us to hear. What is Black doing?”
Rhapsody takes a look over SPJ One.
“He’s making his approach for his landing on the lower deck on this… Cloudbase.” She reports. “Should we do the same?”
“Yes, you should. And it would be safer to follow Colonel White’s instructions to the letter.”
“Will do, sir. Angel One out.”
Rhapsody cuts communication with SPJ Two then makes a call to the other Angels to inform herself if they’re ready. She smiles when she hears the answers.
“Angel Two ready to follow you, Angel Leader.” Harmony says. “Opening channel for instructions.”
“Angel Three calling.” The voice of Melody comes in. “Channel opened as well.”
Rhapsody then opens the channel previously used by Colonel White to call upon him.
“Angel One to Cloudbase. Ready to land upon instructions, Colonel White.”
The voice of Colonel White instantly responds to her: “Angels, the code word for acknowledgement is “S.I.G.”, for “Spectrum is Green”. You’ll learn to use it, now.”
Rhapsody smiles. “S.I.G., sir.”
She hears the other Angels giving the same signal. Colonel White’s voice takes a satisfied tone.
“Very good.” Colonel White replies. “Now as you trusted me before, you’ll do the same now. There’s no reason to worry. I know you well enough to be certain there would be no problem. But be sure to carefully follow my instructions…”
From SPJ Two, the other members of the team look as the three Angels make their approach upon Cloudbase higher runway deck. Svenson points toward the other Passenger Jet, which has now almost completed its touch down.
“And what about us?” Svenson mumbles. “Should we stay up here and fly around endlessly?”
As on cue, a voice then over the radio, much younger than White’s, and with something akin to a Caribbean accent to it:
“Cloudbase calling SPJ Two. Acknowledge this call, please.”
Metcalfe motions to Destiny to gives him her place.
“You better go back there with Steve and get everybody to strap down. I think we will land shortly.”
She nods and disappears in the back with Blackburn. Upon seating, Metcalfe takes the mike to answer the call:
“Here’s SPJ Two. I’m listening, Cloudbase.”
“I’m Lieutenant Green, sir.” The previously heard voice answers back. “I’ve been appointed to guide you upon your landing on Cloudbase. To whom am I addressing?”
Metcalfe scratches his head, wondering how he could properly respond to the inquiry. He smiles broadly.
“I believed Colonel White referred to me as ‘Scarlet’.”
“Are you the pilot, sir?”
“No, I’m acting as navigator.” He looks at Svenson. “Blue’s the pilot.”
Svenson grins. “I kinda like that name…”
“Are you to follow my instructions, gentlemen?” Lieutenant Green asks them.
“Give the word, Lieutenant.” Metcalfe responds.
“Good. Follow Captain Black’s lead to the lower deck. I will give you step-by-step instructions for landing. Be sure to follow them to the letter. The code acknowledgement call is ‘S.I.G.’ or ‘Spectrum is Green’. SPJ Two, are you ready for landing?”
Metcalfe grins broadly and looks at Svenson before giving the new acknowledgment call over the mike:
“Spectrum is Green, Lieutenant. Ready when you are...”