Landing was swift. For both the Angels and the Passenger Jets. The Angels had touch down vertically on an upper deck, while, following SPJ One, Svenson had taken his jet on a lower deck.
Upon getting out of the SPJ, which had been lowered down unto a hanger beneath the runway, the passengers find themselves greeted by two armed guards, dressed in black that, surprisingly enough, come to attention before them. One addresses directly to Metcalfe, recognizing him as the highest rank of the lot.
“Welcome aboard Cloudbase”, he says with an evenly voice. “Captain Black has instructed us to take you to him”.
Metcalfe grins. Black’s jet has arrived five good minutes before SPJ Two. It is not surprising that he had taken some advance on them.
“What about the Angels pilots, that had landed on the upper deck?” Metcalfe quietly asks.
“They would have been taken directly to Colonel White, sir. You should go there shortly. But Captain Black wishes to see you before meeting our commander.”
“Well now”, Metcalfe says with a grin, “We shouldn’t kept Captain Black waiting. Lead the way, please.”
The guard nods and the group follow him and his companion toward long corridors. Surprisingly, they don’t encounter anybody.
“How many people are there on board?” Metcalfe asks to the guard.
“Cloudbase has a capacity of six hundreds people, sir”, answers the man. “Right now, we are only fifty on board. Most of us civilian technicians, and security guards… We also have a couple of medical personnel.” He opens a sliding hatch. “This way to the sport hall, sir”.
“Sport hall?” a puzzled Svenson repeats.
“Captain Black is waiting for you in the gym… with your friend, I believe.”
“I have a strange feeling about this…” mumbles Symphony in the back.
“Whatever that man does”, Fraser observes quietly, “it never cease to surprise me…”
The guard leads the way, with everybody else following. Some few minutes and other corridors later, he opens a new sliding door. Making it clear he will stay outside with his comrade, he motions the guests to enter. Metcalfe goes first; the others close on his heels.
The gym is a lot larger that what would have been expected from a vessel like this Cloudbase. All sort of sporting equipment, mostly for tracks and athletics, are installed over the place. There even is a boxing ring, and a wrestling mat put up in the middle.
It’s on that mat that Captain Black is standing, waiting patiently. He has put on his black hood, concealing his face from the newcomers. Sitting upon the mat, still handcuffs, Patrick Donaghue greets the approaching group with an embarrassed smile.
“Hi gang!” He says coyly. “I was wondering when you’d come.
“You’re okay, Pat?” Svenson asks him.
“Me? Sure!” Donaghue nods toward Black. “He’s a pretty decent guy… when he’s not barking at you.”
Metcalfe eyes the still silent Black. “Why the hood, Captain Black? There’s no need for more melodramatics… Nearly the half of us already knows your face.”
“Well”, Black responds quietly, “for one, you haven’t seen my face yet, Colonel, and I certainly want to surprise you”. He pauses a few seconds. “How about a revenge, hotshot?”
“Is that why you have us been brought here?” Metcalfe asks frowning. “To satisfied your macho side?”
“Admit it. You’re dying to have another go at me.”
Metcalfe shakes his head. “Not really. Since I have kicked your sorry butt last time. I would have won fair and square if your man hadn’t punched me out.”
“To true. So come on over here, if you want to really prove you’re the best.”
“We’re on your turf, here.”
“On the contrary. I would rather think that Cloudbase is a neutral zone for both of us.”
“And what does Colonel White think about this?”
Black looks around and shrugs. “Do you see him in this room?”
“I think you like to play with fire, Captain Black”, Metcalfe says with a grin.
“Well, come on”, Black replies impatiently. “And don’t worry: I’ll make it quick.”
Metcalfe takes a step toward Black while his companions spread themselves around the mat. Black puts his hand on Donaghue’s shoulder and motions him to stand up.
“Get out of the way, Donaghue”, Captain Black says to his prisoner. “You could become a nuisance.”
Donaghue looks back at him. “What about those cuffs?”
“I’ll get to it later. If I have the time”.
“You’re all heart, Black. You know that?” Donaghue mumbles. He tries to get on his feet, but has some difficulties with his balance. Black takes him by the collar of his vest and drags him of…
…Before throwing him suddenly toward the still approaching Metcalfe, making him stumble.
Black takes advantage of the opportunity and hurls himself at Metcalfe, hitting him squarely on his already wounded temple, sending him on his back.
“Hey!” Svenson shouts angrily. “Not fair!”
“Shut up, Svenson!” Black snaps at him. “You may be next!”
“Anytime!” Svenson challenges.
Black gives a soft laugh. He approaches as both Donaghue and Metcalfe are still trying to regain their footing. He grabs the first, who’s in his way, and flings him aside, toward Svenson, who catches him with Blackburn before he could spread out on the floor again.
Black throws himself again at Metcalfe and tires another direct hit to the face. Metcalfe, half stunned by Black’s first assault, steps aside at the last possible second to get out of the way. His right fist connects with Black’s face, than he throws a hook in his stomach.
The hooded man grunts but the blows are not as severe as Metcalfe would have wanted them. Ignoring his pain, Black moves on, swiftly and efficiently. His elbow catches Metcalfe on the breastbone, making him steps back. The WAAF colonel trips over the foot that Black has quickly move behind him and falls anew on the mat.
Black has kept grasp of Metcalfe’s arm. Before the colonel could disengage himself, his opponent has forced him to turn over on his left side and has put a feet upon his right shoulder blade, keeping the arm on a twisted hold. Metcalfe lets out a cry of pain.
Svenson, who is looking over the scene with the others, grumbles. “Well, that sure was quick…”
“Didn’t you say that Black had difficulties handling Paul at that warehouse?” Destiny asks him, with a perplexed look.
“Well”, Symphony sighs, “it’s certainly isn’t the case, now!”
“It’s because Black takes advantage of Paul’s injury”, replies Fraser dryly. “Look: it’s bleeding again.”
Meanwhile, Black keeps a tight grip on his opponent’s arm, with apparently no intention of letting go. Metcalfe is desperately trying to disengage himself, but succeeds only in hurting himself.
“Once you get to know the strength of your adversary”, notes a satisfied Black, “it’s relatively easy to adjust yourself to him. Wouldn’t you agree, colonel Metcalfe?”
“I agree”, Metcalfe says between clenched teeth.
“You say ‘uncle’?”
“Never!” Metcalfe snaps angrily. He grunts when Black twists his arm a little more.
“Never know when to stop yourself, he, young man? I could broke your arm if I want to…”
Then, an angry voice comes loudly out of a speaker, making everybody jumps out of surprise.
Black looks over the speaker upon the wall. He has recognized Colonel White’s voice.
“Captain Black”, the voice continues, “let him go this instant! If you break his arm, he’ll be of little use for us for a good amount of time. Break it, I’ll break your neck. And do believe I mean it! ”
Black sighs and lets go instantly of Metcalfe’s arm. The WAAF colonel turns on his back, moaning. He sits, massaging his sore shoulder, and looks up to Black. The man takes of his black hood and glances at him with an amused look.
“I think that was a rather humbling lesson, he, hotshot?” He extends his hand to Metcalfe, who’s looking upon his face, trying to recall where he had seen it. He takes the hand and gets to his feet.
Then the name comes to him.
“Turner”, he says glancing at the man. “Conrad Turner.”
“So you still remember”, Black says, grinning. “How’s your father, Paul?”
“Er… fine, quite fine.” Metcalfe frowns. “You’re still a captain?”
“I have made it up to colonel. Though not as quickly as you, it seems.”
Destiny, who’s still standing next to Svenson, nods thoughtfully when she hears the name of the man whom, until now, she only knew as “Captain Black”.
“I was sure I knew that man”, she says. “Conrad Turner… Why, if there was only one name on the WAAF hall of fame, it will be his. The man’s a hero.”
“I don’t care if he’s to become next World President”, Svenson replies dryly. He a genuine, cold-blooded boor.”
“Yeah, that’s true”, Donaghue concurs. He raises his voice toward Black, who’s still holding hands with Metcalfe. “Excuse me? Would you mind handing out that key, now?”
Grinning, Black takes the key out of his vest pocket and throws it to Fraser, who snatches it in midair. An impatient Donaghue turns his back on him and shows his hands eagerly. Fraser takes off the handcuffs, smiling mockingly.
“Would you believe that yesterday I would rather have put these things on you than take them off?”
“Oh! I believe you! Without any doubt!” Once free, Donaghue brings his hands in front of him and rubs his wrists. “Thanks anyway.”
“Don’t mention it”, Fraser replies. “Ever”.
Then Colonel White’s voice comes again from the speaker, drawing attention from everybody:
“While this is all very interesting, I must remind you all that I’m waiting here, and that I’m about to become very impatient. Captain Black, present yourself with our guests at the Control Room.”
“On our way, sir”, Black responds toward the speaker. He turns to a silent Metcalfe and to the others. “Shall we go, ladies and gentlemen?”
He already moves toward the door when an angry voice calls to him: “One minute, colonel Turner!”
Black stops and turns back, sighing. “You can call me Captain Black, mister Svenson”.
“You promised me I would be next”, Svenson says with a rather cold tone.
Everybody looks worryingly at him. Those closer to him think it wise to step away. Black grins arrogantly and shakes his head. “You’ve heard Colonel White. He’s waiting.”
“I’ll make it quick.”
Black laughs and comes back toward Svenson, who’s standing quietly, alone now, right in the middle of the mat. He does not move a muscle as Black approaches rapidly.
“All right”, Black sighs. “I promise you won’t suffer much.”
As soon as he’s facing Svenson, he throws a rapid punch toward his face. But the blond American is no longer standing there. Bigger than Black, Svenson has move rather swiftly to the side. It is HIS fist, which connects with all his weight with Black’s face, squarely on the nose, throwing him on his back instantly.
Svenson stands over his stunned opponent, rubbing his knuckles. “Bang! You’re dead!” he says quietly to Black. And then he added with a grin: “And you can call me MISTER Blue.”
Those who have witness the quick altercation are as stunned as Black, who, flat on his back, is looking at his victorious adversary. Holden starts laughing heartily.
“One punch!” he says, “All it took was one punch! You don’t look so hot, now, Black!”
“Shut up, Grey!” Black mumbles while sitting. “One day you’ll get yours…”
“Not today!” replies Holden with a grin. He points to the loudspeaker. “The Colonel is waiting…”
All are approaching a smiling Svenson, very satisfied with himself.
“Nice move”, Symphony remarks with a knowing look. “Karate?”
Svenson shakes his head. “Lucky punch.”
“Well, anyway”, Metcalfe smiles, “you DID with this fight.” He turns to Black and presents him his hand. “What do you say, Captain Black?”
“All right. I concede him victory.” Black accepts the hand, which helps him on his feet, and then he looks grimly at Svenson. “Although you have taken me by surprise.”
“I took you by your NOSE, Captain”, Svenson replies. The same trick you used on Paul, by going to his wound. And you just assumed you could beat me easily.”
Black looks at him, touching his painful nose. He then laughs softly. “Yes, quite right. Now shall we go? If we stay much longer, Colonel white will have my guts for breakfast.”
He leads the way out of the gym, all of the others following.
* * *
The group of seven men and two women goes down other corridors, and then to an elevator that brings them up to the Tower, where is situated the Control Room… They arrives in front of a large green door in front of which is standing a young Black man wearing an uniform like they have never seen before. The pants and turtleneck under jacket are black, with a green vest and high boots on them… Upon his cuffs, he’s sporting the same rainbow S design they have seen upon the exterior of the Control Tower. He salutes them.
“Good morning, ladies, gentlemen.” The young man gives a wide smile. “I’m Lieutenant Green, communication officer, and Colonel White’s aide. He has asked me to greet you welcome onboard.”
“Thank you, Lieutenant”, Metcalfe says to the sympathetic young man. “Are the other Angels pilots nearby?”
“Already in the Control Room, sir. Waiting for your arrival.” Lieutenant Green turns toward Black. “Captain Black, the Colonel is also waiting for you.”
“How his mood, Lieutenant?” asks Black with a wry smile.
“You’re in luck, sir. He’s rather in a good one.” The Lieutenant nods toward Holden. “Commander Holden. So good to see you.”
“How’s it hanging, Seymour?” Holden replies, smiling widely.
Everybody stares at Holden.
“Seymour?” repeats Blackburn frowning. “You know him?”
“Best hydrophone operator and electronic expert I ever know.” Holden addresses Donaghue: “He’s the guy I was telling you about yesterday. The one who can give you some pointers on computers.”
“And you don’t seem very surprised to see him here”, a suspicious Svenson remarks.
“Why should I?” Holden answers back, shrugging indifferently. “He’s the best there is at what he does…”
Svenson does not seem really convinced: “Yeah, it figures…”
“This way, please, everybody”, the young Lieutenant Green says then. He opens the sliding door and the entire group follows him. They find themselves on a moving walkway that brings them inside the huge Control room, directly toward a circular electronic desk where is sitting a white-haired man, who is looking thoughtfully at them as they approach. Next to him, to his left, stand Rhapsody, Melody, and Harmony Angels, waiting as well. Lieutenant Green leaves the group to take place on a seat, facing a huge wall of a computer desk. As the walkway stops and the group spreads in front of him, the white-haired man stands up. He seems to be wearing a uniform in all way similar to that of Lieutenant Green, except for his vest, and boots, which are white as snow. Metcalfe, Svenson, Destiny, and Blackburn realise instantly that this is the man they have seen, some few minutes ago, inside the glassed tube.
“Ladies and gentlemen”, the white-haired man says, with a cultured British accent, “I welcome you to Cloudbase.”
Next to Svenson, Symphony angel gets a quick glance over the man’s face and gasps in surprise. She quickly gets herself behind the broad shoulders of his puzzled compatriot, who stares at her.
“What’s going on?” he says in a muttering tone.
“Remember when I said colonel Metcalfe’s father could cause us trouble?” Symphony whispers to him. “Well, forget about him.” She discreetly nods toward the white-haired man. “THAT guy will cause us trouble enough…”
The man seems to have noticed Symphony’s behaviour, but, at this point, says nothing about it. He looks as Metcalfe takes a step forward to address him.
“Colonel White, I take it?”
“Very observant, colonel Metcalfe”, White replies almost mockingly. “Yes, I’m Colonel White.”
“Or ‘Charlie”, for the Angels”, Svenson remarks.
“Or ‘the Great White Chief’, Donaghue quickly adds.
White sits down and gives an odd look at Captain Black who comes to stand by his right. “I told you I didn’t like your choice of codenames, Captain”, the Colonel mutters to him. He then stares at Black’s face and tries to conceal a grin. “Nice nose job, by the way… Did you have Doctor Fawn taking a look at it?”
“Didn’t have the time yet, sir”, Black mumbles.
“See to it as soon as possible.” White then addresses the group in front of him: “So, I suppose that everyone of you have a few questions to ask me, now. I’m here to answer them, as best as I can.”
“Why don’t you begin by telling us what this is all about, Colonel?” Metcalfe asks, frowning.
“Yes, that would be a good start, isn’t?” White says nodding. “Well, as you all know by now, all of you, you have been chosen by a World Government Selection Committee to be part of a new elite military organisation.”
“Yes, Colonel”, Svenson answers back. “That, as much, we know.”
“What you may not be aware of, mister Svenson, is that each person in this room has been selected to form the core of that organisation, and that you have been chosen not only because you were the best in your personal field of activities, but also because of your personality, your mutual driving and your sense of initiative. You all present the predisposition to help and ensure the protection and the benefits of mankind.”
Fraser points toward Donaghue, standing right next to him: “Even my good friend Patrick Donaghue over here, Colonel?” He asks with a mocking voice.
“Yes, Commander Fraser”, White answers back a bit coldly, eyeing him severely. “While it may surprise you, even mister Donaghue. The fact that he has came to your aid, instead of turning his back on you when he had the chance should be proof enough of his good will… Even for a pigheaded, stubborn policeman the likes of you.”
Fraser scowls, as a big grin comes upon Donaghue’s face.
“You said that we had been selected to form the core of that elite organisation, Colonel White”, notices Metcalfe.
“Yes, that is exactly what I said. As the senior staff officers.”
They all look at each other’s. That sure got their full attention, thinks Colonel White with satisfaction. “You, gentlemen, should compose the highest rank of Spectrum field agents.” White turns to the Angels: “While you, ladies, are to be the elite team of our air defence fighting force.”
“Spectrum”, repeats Blackburn. “That should be the name of that organisation, sir?”
“Yes, captain Blackburn. Like the spectrum touches all the colours of the rainbow, the Spectrum organisation should be involved in all the aspects of Earth protection.”
“Aptly named”, Metcalfe says. “Is that why we have been giving colour codenames during this exercise, Colonel White?”
He puts some emphasis on the last words. If White notices the ironic tone, he doesn’t say a word about it. “Yes, colonel Metcalfe. That is why. But, the codenames are not only for the exercise. They are to stand as part of your Spectrum identities”. White sees the confusion amidst the group in front of him. “Let me explain: the reason behind this is very important. You all have families, loved ones, friends, you want to protect. As the aspects of the Spectrum organisation will be for its members to face tremendous dangers, it will be capital for ALL of us to keep our real identities as top-secret information. Hence the particular instruction you were given when you were approached for Spectrum membership.”
Metcalfe looks at his companions who nod back at him. He turns back to Colonel White. “I think we can all understand that. But why this test? Was this elaborated charade really necessary?”
White eyes him coldly. “You’ll find, colonel, that I never do anything I don’t deem necessary. The Committee has chosen me to be Spectrum Commander in Chief, and I have every intention of doing all that is necessary to ensure that Spectrum will always be on top of things…”
Metcalfe frowns incredulously. “YOU are to be Commander in Chief?”
As White stares with an icy glance over Metcalfe, Symphony tugs discretely at the WAAF colonel’s sleeve, trying to get his attention. “If I were you, colonel”, she whispers to him, “I would be very careful not to make him angry…”
White sees Symphony’s efforts and grins devilishly “Miss Wainwright, it’s nice to see you too! Please, don’t look so afraid. Step forward. I don’t bite. Much.”
All eyes turn to Symphony who feels herself reddening violently. She steps in full view of Colonel White who nods toward her.
“If you have any doubt about me, all of you, just ask miss Wainwright.” He quietly says. “She can vouch for me… and my capacity to be leader of Spectrum.”
Symphony nods. “Yes, he can be trusted”, she says. “He’s on the level”. She hesitates to continue and White motions her to go on. “He’s been head of the USS British Section in London, for some years now… and he’s about to become Supreme Commander of the entire Universal Secret Service.”
“Almost one hundred percent right, Symphony Angel”, White grins. “As effective as ever, I see. The mistake is not yours. You couldn’t know I had recently resigned my post at the USS British Section and refused the promotion as Supreme Commander… so I could accept a job that I believe will be far more important.”
“Spectrum”, notes Holden.
“Yes, commander Holden. Spectrum.” White still sees the scepticism in some of the men’s face, notably in Metcalfe’s, and sighs before addressing him specifically: “I have notice the way you kept addressing to me, colonel Metcalfe, and I think I know what seems to be the problem.”
“Oh, you think now, do you?” Metcalfe says almost arrogantly.
“Yes. Don’t let the rank fools you. As for the colour name, a Spectrum rank serve only as to mask its wearer true self… That is one of the reasons why our uniform won’t be sporting any rank insignias. “ He turns toward Black. “Captain Black, here, as a member of the senior officers staff, has a rank equal to that of your own, a WAAF colonel. As for the rank of Spectrum Colonel, you’ll have to know that it’s the highest rank in the entire organisation, and that it can only be used by its Commander in Chief… And furthermore, that it corresponds to something akin to a five stars general”.
Following that information, Metcalfe seems rather embarrassed. He sighs lightly and then salutes the man whom he has now found to be his superior in ranks. “My apologies, sir. I didn’t mean any disrespect.”
“I’m sure you didn’t”, replies White with a faint grin. He glances at the man standing at his right. “You all know Captain Black. He acts as my right-hand man. As you have guessed, gentlemen, he was testing you during the last…”
“…Twenty-five hours, sir”, Black completes for his superior.
“Right. Twenty-five hours. As I recall, Captain, you had giving them much more than that…”
Black shrugs. “Frankly, I didn’t even give them five days… before breaking down.”
“Oh, is that so?” Fraser almost snaps at him. “Well, you have a high opinion about your own capacity, ‘Captain Black’!
“Don’t be so quick to put yourself up on a pedestal, commander Fraser”, Colonel White interrupts. “Granted, you had passed the test… I would dare to say, with flying colours. But I do believe each of you has succeeded ONLY because you’ve been able to count on each other’s. Part of this test was to find out how well you could work together. I guess we all know now how it went. You have been able to rely on each other’s personal skills… I personally commend you, mister Donaghue, for your use of that computer device of your, to intercept the communications between Captain Black and myself.”
“Er… Thank you, Colonel.”
Black grins grimly. “Naturally, you knew from the start that our conversations were spied on”, he says to his commanding officer.
“Why, of course!” White replies. “Lieutenant Green has discovered it early on. And it was quite easy to guess which one of our trainees were doing this little trick.”
“And you CHOOSE not to confide in me.”
“I found that our friends here needed some sort of an edge over you, Captain”, Colonel White says with a smile. “After all, you had the upper hand.”
“And that is why you didn’t call the Angels to confirm my latest instructions”, Captain Black almost accuses him. “Especially concerning their prisoner.”
White shakes his head. “YOUR prisoner, Captain”, he replies. “Not THEIRS. You were responsible for Scarlet… Excuse me, colonel Metcalfe.”
“That all right, sir”, Metcalfe responds with a smile. “I grow rather fond of the name…”
“Yes, well, as I was saying, Captain Black, he was your responsibility. And, no, I didn’t call the Angels for a few reasons of my own. First of all, I wanted to see how they would react facing that kind of situation. While I may not be all in agreement with the choice they made of how to settle this, I am quite satisfied that they, at least, had the initiative to do something about it, while they were left on their own.”
“Is that to say, sir”, a worried Destiny quickly remarks, “that you would not take… er… disciplinary actions against us?”
“No, I won’t. But I STILL will have a talk with all of you, ladies.”
“And what was your OTHER raisons not to intervene, sir?” Black adds.
“Quite simply, as I recall,” Colonel White responds, “I wasn’t part of this little war game of yours…”
Black frowns. “You ordered it… sir.”
“Ah! But YOU established the rules”, White points out. “Do you remember what you said to me when you were preparing all this? You asked me to trust you and to give you a complete free hand… And you especially urge me…”
“…Not to intervene.” Black sighs heavily. “Yeah, I remember. My mistake.” He screws up his eyes to White. “What was it you try to do, Admiral? Put me to the test also?”
“Don’t call me that”, White replies sharply. Then his tone softens up a little: “Why, Captain, what have gave you such an idea?”
Black is very well aware of the fact that everybody is witnessing their discussion with amused satisfaction… And the most amused of the lot is certainly Colonel White. “Let’s just say that I know you well… Colonel.” He sighs again. “Were there any other things you knew that you didn’t tell me about?”
“There isn’t much I didn’t know.” Everyone looks at White curiously. “For example, commander Fraser, when you called those officials in the civilian flight traffic, using your vast influence in the World Police to roast them about the flight path of the Angels…”
“You knew about that?” Blackburn says with surprise.
“It wasn’t really difficult, since we were monitoring all radio, phone and computer calls to Australian civilian air traffic. We were well aware that they could prove a weak link if ever a smart mouth should try to dig a little deeper that your average person.”
Donaghue elbows discreetly at Fraser’s side. “I believe he just called you a ‘smart mouth’”, he mutters to him.
“And I found rather ingenious your distressed call to draw attention of the Angels upon yourselves”, Colonel White adds. “As I believe, your craft looked the part, isn’t it so?”
“It was a total wreck, Colonel”, Destiny nods. “There was no way I would have doubt they weren’t really in danger.”
Svenson scoffs. “Not only did it looked the part, but we very nearly really break our necks with it…”
“I see”, White says with a faint smile.
“Do we have to understand that you have listen to ALL radio transmissions to inform yourself about the progression of the test, sir?” Metcalfe asks, a hint of doubt in his voice.
“Why, yes!” About all of them…” White answers. He looks toward Fraser, with an amusing twinkle in his eyes. “’The Martian have came to Earth’, commander Fraser? Really!”
“What?” Fraser says. You have heard that one? How did you do that, anyway?”
“I have to give credit to Lieutenant Green for that”, White answers. “He was a great help in the matter.”
Green, who still is sitting at his station, assisting the meeting, gives a broad grin. “Thank you, sir.”
“He has used a device quite similar to your own, mister Donaghue”, Colonel White explains. “He has improved it a bit, though. He was able to keep you from finding Cloudbase’s location before this morning… And I strongly believe you would never have found it if I didn’t tell him to let you do so.”
“That’s why the radio waves were all scrambled”, Donaghue says, nodding.
“I should have known”, Black grumbles. “Green wasn’t asleep at all when I called you early this morning, isn’t it sir?”
“No, Captain, he wasn’t”, White responds. “I couldn’t very well tell you what he was doing without you finding out all that was going on.”
“You kept me up all night, Lieutenant Green”, Donaghue says to the young lieutenant.
Green smiles with satisfaction. “All part of the job, mister Donaghue. Your computerizing tracking device is one of the best I ever work with… and against. And I think I can come up with some few tricks of my own to make it ever more effective.”
“You don’t say?” Donaghue looks at Holden. “If he can do that, he’s the wizard you make him to be.”
“I told you”, Holden says. “He’s the best there is…that is not surprising that he was selected as communication officer for Spectrum”.
Svenson lets out a heavy sigh. “Ah! Come one, Brad!” he says suddenly. “Don’t tell us you were really surprised to see him here! As if you didn’t know already!”
Holden frowns. “What are you talking about?”
“Quit playing games, please!” Svenson says back. “I KNOW you were in with Black, spying on us!”
Fraser and Donaghue both jump at these words. “What?”
“He’s a spy?” an incredulous Blackburn says for his part.
“Let’s just say he worked with Black”, Metcalfe quickly says, smiling. “As some sort of a field examiner. Isn’t it true, Brad?”
“So, you guessed, you too?” Holden answers to the WAAF colonel. He sighs. “All right, I admit it. I was keeping my eye on you, guys, following Black’s instructions. Just to make sure any of you weren’t getting into too much trouble.” He gives a faint smile. “What has giving me away? Was I such a bad actor?”
“Actually”, Svenson answers, “You were TOO GOOD an actor. Really, Brad, would we really have to believe that the Committee would have recruited a man with a sever back injury?”
“I did have a back injury”, Holden replies.
“Admit that you are healed from it, now”, Svenson adds. “If it weren’t the case, and seeing as this all adventure was nothing more than a test, I don’t believe Captain Black would have risk to injure you gravely, back there at the warehouse… You were just faking all this.”
“Well, I’ll be…” Fraser looks back at Holden in total amazement. “We were trusting you, man!” How can you do such a thing?”
“For my defence, Rick”, Holden quickly responds, “I have to say I didn’t act in any way against you, or inform Black of any of your actions.”
“Yes”, Svenson agrees, smiling. “You played along with us. Like one of the gang.”
“Well, I considered myself part of the gang”, Holden scoffs. Right to the point were I knocked out that poor security guard, remember? And even when I tried to… er… take care of Harmony.”
White lifts an eyebrow toward the mentioned Angel. “By the sound of Commander Holden’s voice, and knowing your personal skills, I take it you were the one who ‘took care of him’, Harmony?”
“I gave him quite a surprise, sir”, Harmony responds with a devilish smile. “I’m afraid some of your future staff officers need some improvement in self-defence…”
Fraser throws darts at her. “What? Well, you’ve got some nerves, lady!”
But she has a point”, White interrupts abruptly. “Which brings us to the other raison for the exercise you’ve just past, gentlemen.” He gets up and goes toward the group facing him. “I needed to know your limits. While you have proven to work well together, I do believe you all need to improve yourselves and learn much more to be members of the Spectrum organisation. You have all personal skills… You will learn to share them with each other’s. As for the rest…” White motions to Captain Black with an opened hand. “…Captain Black will be there to instruct you.”
“Captain Black?” Svenson repeats with a frown.
“You’ll find out that Captain Black has quite a lot to teach you”, Colonel White says. For starters, if all of you know how to fly a plane, he could show you some tricks that you’ll have to know about handling the SPJ… Our Spectrum Passenger Jet. And you’ll also have to learn to drive the Spectrum Pursuit Vehicle…”
“The SPJ”, Metcalfe nods thoughtfully.
“Yes, the vehicle you have seen at the warehouse”, White says. He looks at Symphony: “The one Captain Black has claimed to you was stolen, Symphony Angel.”
“It was never stolen, of course”, Black adds. “It has been planted at the warehouse just to arouse these gentlemen’s curiosity.”
“It has worked perfectly”, Svenson sighs.
White turns back to his rounded electronic desk. “The Spectrum organisation won’t be operational before a year. We still have recruitment to do, details to take care of, agents, materials, and facilities to settle around the world.” He looks back at the puzzled group. “One year, ladies, and gentlemen. That would be the duration of your training at Koala Base.”
“One year of training”, Fraser repeats. “Intensive, I take it.”
“As intensive as you can imagine it to be.” White answers. “Understand this, all of you: it will not be easy. But then again, Spectrum will not have an easy work. If we are to be the ultimate task team, we’ll have to face the ultimate challenges.
“The ultimate task team?” Donaghue mumbles. “Man, this is heavy stuff!”
“Answerable only to the World President”, White adds. “And more ‘heavy’ than you think, mister Donaghue. For some of you, that will mean giving up your present life, your job, your very identity, and even maybe your friends and family. When you’ll enter Spectrum, it will be as a new person, completed with a new identity.”
“I could hardly believe I have been chosen to be a part of this”, an amazed Donaghue says. He marks a second of hesitation, before continuing: “Colonel, please, I’m not saying that I’m not interested. To the contrary, I would say that it’s the chance I’ve been waiting all my life to prove myself.”
“Knowing what your life was, mister Donaghue, I only can say I understand what you mean. But, please, get to the point.”
“I have some things to take care off in New York, before doing any joining in.”
Fraser nods. “Yes, as do I. I must settle things with the Police Forces.”
“Understandable”, White says. “I suppose all of you have some thinking over to do. And some few things to settle with the rest of the world. Spectrum actual resources are at your service, if needed be. Regarding your joining, the final decision is all yours, naturally. But please, do remember that all this must be kept a secret from the world at large. You were already instructed to infirm your immediate family only, if you feel they should know. But if you ever think you won’t join Spectrum, do not breath a word of any of this to anyone.” He sighs. “Believe me, I would be sorry, I any of you should decide not to join Spectrum. You all have proved to be capable people. I think you all would be great assets to the organisation.”
Colonel White pauses and looks at each one of the men and women standing there, all obviously pondering upon his words. “If you want, you can all stay here for the day.” White adds. “We’ll have crafts to take you down to Koala Base or where ever you want as soon as you’ll ask for it. Take your time, all of you… If you can give me an answer today, I will appreciate it. I would understand, however, if you need more time.”
Colonel White then turns to Captain Black, who immediately comes to attention when his superior officer calls to him.
“Captain, see that our guests receive a good meal and have some rest. As I understand it, they didn’t get much for the past day.”
“I’ll see to it, sir.”
“And go see Doctor Fawn for that nose.” White produces a faint grin. “And while you’re at it, take colonel Metcalfe with you, to check on that head wound of his.”
Black grins back. “Yes, sir.”
“You can dismiss, all of you. Thank you for your attention.”
Colonel White then turns his back on all of them and, without another word, leaves them and goes quietly to an overture upon the wall, which leads him to a glass tube where a clear blue sky is apparent. Must be the tube where we first say him, Metcalfe thinks, oblivious to the fact that everybody around him is starting to move toward the exit. He becomes aware that somebody is staring at him when a hand gently touches his shoulder. He looks down to see Rhapsody’s concerned gaze.
“Found a way to hurt yourself again, didn’t you?”
Metcalfe frowns and she points out to the plaster upon his temple. “Your wound. It’s bleeding again.”
“Oh!” Metcalfe touches the wound and looks at his bloodied fingers. “Must have reopened when Black hit me earlier…”
“I told you it needed some stitches.”
Metcalfe grins back at Rhapsody. “Well, hopefully, you won’t be the one doing it now.” He pauses. “Anyway, thanks for your concern.”
“Don’t mention it. You looked rather thoughtful, just then. Having some second thoughts about joining in?”
“I don’t know”, Metcalfe responds frowning. “What about you?”
“I have taken my decision weeks ago, when I first came to Koala Base”, Rhapsody answers back with a smile.
“Have something to prove?”
Rhapsody shrugs. “Maybe that I’m more than a socialite butterfly…”
Metcalfe starts laughing. “Nobody would believe THAT from a girl who has been personally trained by Lady Penelope Creighton-Ward!”
“Are you trying to be ironic?”
From the door, Black is watching. He calls at them: “Come on, you two! Don’t you see we’re all waiting for you?”
Metcalfe invites Rhapsody to pass first, than follows behind. They both join the large awaiting group over the door, and Black takes the lead. Metcalfe brings up the rear, alongside Svenson who gives him a curious look.
“You’re all right?” The blond American asks.
“I swear, Adam, if you too are referring to that scratch…”
“Er… no. That’s not that. I was just noticing that you were, I don’t know, very quiet during Colonel White’s last speech.”
“I have a decision to make. Just like you, I recall. Or is it already made?”
“You’re kidding?” Svenson laughs loudly and shakes his head. “I just can’t wait to tell my father. I already can hear him over: I bet he will disowned me all over again!”
* * *
The Promenade Deck is a pretty secluded place, thinks Paul Metcalfe as he gazes upon the early stars showing from all around the glassed walls and ceiling surrounding him. Captain Black has told him, during his guided tour of Cloudbase, that there were to be exotic plants put in there sometime… It will only be a recreational place, probably one of the very few of the flying carrier. For now, it is very quiet and empty.
Metcalfe looks as an SPJ takes off from the lower runway deck. It takes the last of his companions, namely Adam Svenson, directly to go back to America, in order to take care of his personal business… and have a talk with his family.
The Angels have been the first to leave Cloudbase, at about noon this day. They all seem to have taken the same decision: Spectrum was to give them opportunities to prove themselves, so all of the girls would join in. The one Metcalfe would have thought not to stay was Destiny. She already finds the discipline over at the WAAF restrictive enough… Now it seems that discipline at Spectrum would be tighter still. But nevertheless, she had decided to stay.
As Metcalfe is still pondering upon the events of the last two days, he hears footsteps coming from behind him; almost at the same time, he hears a voice:
“Ah! So here is our missing friend!”
Metcalfe turns around to see Colonel White and Captain Black who had entered the room now coming toward him. Metcalfe has the sudden urge to come to the Colonel’s attention. Seeing his uneasiness, White smiles and motions to him not to bother.
“At ease, colonel. There is no need for that, now.”
“Thank you, sir. Captain Black…”
“Like the Colonel said, Paul… no need for that, now. If you ever join in, you’ll have plenty of time to call me ‘Captain Black’.
Metcalfe notices the jacket upon Black’s arm, and the cap he keeps in his hand. Black gives them to him. “It’s yours, I believe…”
“Yes, quite right”, answers Metcalfe taking the clothes. “Thank you.”
Black points a finger to the new dressing on Metcalfe’s temple. “Sorry again for that incident… I really didn’t want you to get hurt.”
Metcalfe slips his jacket on, while he smiles slightly at Black. “It was an accident. You couldn’t help it. Don’t think I’ll keep it against you.” He shakes his head, and smiles even more. “Now, the handcuffs and the duct tape, on the other hand…”
“You’re a tough customer, you know that?” Black grins.
“Same to you, here. And I must apologize too for that nose.”
“It isn’t the first time it is broken, you know”, Captain Black laughs. “And your friend, Svenson, didn’t really go easy on me either.”
“You’ve brought it upon yourself, Conrad”, Colonel White says with a frown. “Shouldn’t have brought them to the gym and then defied them…”
“You’re right, Admiral”, Black sighs. “As always.”
“How many times would I have to tell you…” White stops, noticing the puzzled look on Metcalfe’s face. He clears his throat before addressing the younger man. “I am not pressing you too much if I ask you if you have reached a decision yet, colonel?”
Metcalfe adjusts the collar of his jacket. He groans and shakes his head. “You know you’re driving a hard bargain, sir…”
“I don’t intend to let you go easily, colonel Metcalfe. I suppose you’d want to discuss of all this with your father?”
“He already knows a lot about this organisation.” Metcalfe looks White right in the eyes. “Although I have a great deal more to talk with him. Unless you think of him as a security risk.”
“Not at all… Talk to him. If I know him well, I’m quite sure he will be of good advise to you.”
“You know my father?” Metcalfe asks, frowning.
“Not as well as I’d like”, White answers. “But we have met on a few occasions. However, I have work under your grandfather…”
“No”, White says, shaking his head. “Your namesake, Paul Blake”.
“Mum’s father”, Metcalfe says with a fond smile. “I almost forget he was in the Secret Service. How was it working with him?”
“Well, even if he has his moments, he was rather a quiet man”, White says smiling back. “Not at all like you, I’d dare say.”
Black laughs. “Yes, they say Paul takes after his father.”
“Maybe so…” Metcalfe says shrugging. He looks at White: “…And maybe he can advise me. But I have always take my own decisions.”
White sighs. “I suppose it is a difficult one to make… To give up your commission. To relinquish your own ambition and promotions… in favour of more pressing duties.”
“My duties have always come first, sir.” Metcalfe almost snaps back. “I’ve never let my ambition get in the way of my job…”
“The safety and concern for others...” Metcalfe stops, seeing the twinkle in Colonel White’s eyes. He frowns. “You knew I would answer that, didn’t you, sir?”
“Call that a hunch, colonel Metcalfe.”
Metcalfe shakes his head. “I think it’s more than that, now…”
“As I said earlier today, you’re very observant, young sir.” White pauses a second. “I had to make the same decision as yours, some twenty years ago, when I was about your age.”
“The same decision?”
“Like you, I never was one to shrug off my duties… And even if promotions came rather quickly at me, I’ve always concerned myself for others’ safety. I made my decisions accordingly. Then one day I was forced to chose between a successful commission in the World Navy and pursuing my duties in a more useful, but discreet way, as a field agent in the Secret Service.”
“Well”, Metcalfe notices with a smile, “I know what was your choice… did you regret it?”
“Not one day. Never.”
“And you have made the same decision again.”
“Without any hesitation.”
Metcalfe frowns. “How successful was that commission of yours in the Navy, sir?”
“I was Admiral of the British phalange of the World Navy.”
“At about my age? Wait a minute…” Metcalfe smiles broadly, remembering how the Angels were calling Colonel White until recently. “You’re Charles Gray.”
White smiles. “I’m flattered you should know my name, colonel.”
“I’ve graduated in History, sir.”
At these words, Black laughs heartily, as White gives a moping face.
“Right!” Black says giving a pat over White’ shoulder. “You’re part of History now, Charles! That doesn’t make you any younger!”
Metcalfe, a bit embarrassed, finds the need to add quickly: “Well, it was part of contemporary History… You know, there wasn’t much thirty years old Admiral hero who decided to resigned his commission to go into a peaceful an quiet retirement.” He smiles again. “So that’s where you’ve gone to…”
“Keep that for yourself, will you? I wouldn’t want for it to become common knowledge among the other Spectrum members.”
“Doesn’t Symphony already know about this?”
“My name, certainly. And I’m sure she has a few knowledge about my past… er… shall we say misdeeds? But as she’s American and that all this is mostly part of British “Contemporary History”, as you so delicately put it, I’m quite sure she has no details of it. And she’s too much of a professional to spread gossips around about her commanding officer.”
“Right”, Metcalfe says. “I would concur with that. You’ll have a great tem, sir.”
“I’m hoping you’ll be a part of it. We’ll certainly need you, seeing as Captain Black will not be with us much longer…”
Black frowns at these words. “What do you mean by that?” He asks. “I’m the instructor, here. And I’m in for the duration. I have no intention of going anywhere.”
“Well, maybe you’ll change your mind about that. I just received something concerning you today.”
Colonel White takes a folded paper in his jacket’s pocket and hands it over to Black, who looks at it, with a puzzled look. He glances at a smiling White who then urges him to read. Metcalfe watches as Black unfolds the paper and read it silently. He sees the astonishment into Black’s face.
“Why, I’ll be… First Spectrum, and now this. This is beginning to be too much.”
“Mind if I ask what it is?” a curious Metcalfe says.
“Captain Black – or rather colonel Conrad Turner, of the Solar System Exploration Centre”, Colonel White quietly says, “has been selected to be part of the Zero-X Mission, the first manned expedition to Mars.”
“Really?” Metcalfe smiles broadly, addressing an overwhelmed Black. “My congratulations, then…” He frowns. “Should I call you ‘colonel’ or ‘captain’? All this has me a little confused…”
“Just call me Conrad, for the time being”, Black responds. He turns to White. “What make you think I would leave Spectrum for that, Colonel?”
White frowns. “You’re kidding, right? A chance of a lifetime like that, to…” He eyes toward Metcalfe. “…Be part pf History. As I have learn, the Solar System Exploration Centre had received some strange radio signals coming from Mars…”
Metcalfe’s jaw drops. “What? There would be life on Mars?”
“Not a word of this to any living being, Paul!” Black urges him. Then he turns to a smiling White: “How on earth did you learn THAT? It’s the highest classified information of the Exploration Centre!”
“Obviously”, White remarks, “not enough for me…”
“Yes, I should know you can have information from virtually any place on Earth.” Black sighs. “Well, don’t get too excited, yet. We don’t have proof that there is, in fact, life on Mars. Those radio signals can only be some freak occurrences from unknown yet very simple origins. That’s why the Exploration Centre wants to send an expedition up there. To find out what’s really going on.”
Metcalfe frowns. “And you’re telling us you won’t go? I know a lot of people who would kill for that kind of opportunity.”
“Oh! I do believe that Conrad Turner won’t go to Mars”, a smiling Black answers back. “But maybe Captain Black will.”
“What?” says White, giving a frown.
Black laughs. “You don’t know how the Solar System Exploration Centre works, now, do you? They’re planning explorations years in advance. Before this one’s preparation is through, a full year would have gone by. Time enough for Spectrum to be put on its feet and be fully operational. My duties toward your trainees would be done… and Captain Black, of the newly formed Spectrum organisation, would join the Zero-X Mission.”
“You realize that would be enormous work for you to do?” White says in protest. “Your Spectrum duties AND your preparation for this mission…”
“Since when too much work has discouraged me?” Black interrupts suddenly. “And you must agree that it would be a fabulous opportunity for Spectrum to get kissed by some spotlight by the same time… With your permission, of course, Colonel White.”
White frowns. “I’ve never been to good with spotlight or publicity”, he says. “But Spectrum will surely need to make the World well aware of its existence and activities…” He smiles. “I’ll have a word about this with the World President. If he gives his consent, you’ll have mine too. Providing it won’t take too much out of you.”
Black produces a very broad grin. “It won’t… sir.”
“Then I offer you my congratulations too, my friend.”
The two men shake hands and Metcalfe, smiling, puts on his cap and clears his throat.
“I must be on my way, now”, he says. “Colonel White, Captain Black… As you know, I, too, will have a lot to do, upon my return to Britain.”
“Would you join me on my trip back to London?” White asks him. “I’m going there in about an hour or so… Some few errands to run of my own.”
“I would like that, thank you, sir”, Metcalfe answers without any hesitation. “I believe I would have further need of your advises. It would be a chance for me to have them.”
White frowns. “Advises? What for?”
“You should know, sir.” Metcalfe smile is almost as broad as that of Captain Black’s. “I have an early retirement to prepare…”