Koala Base, in Gibson Desert, at about 700 hundreds miles from Liberty Point Mines.
The heavy-duty transporter and the one helijet that had followed it are presently landing on the runway apron of the base.
Symphony sighs as she turns off the engines. She’s tired. The return flight has been a long one. Nearly three hours without any stop over a land as barren as the back of her hand. Koala Base is situated in a really very remote place out in the outback, far from everything and everyone. There aren’t much people even knowing of its existence.
Symphony wonders what the others will think of the new arrangements of Captain Black. Rhapsody Angel, whom it was turn to manned the radio, was certainly surprised when she had contact the base for requesting the landing of two aircrafts. She had told Symphony that it was Destiny’s turn at patrol and that she would not return before at least three hours… Well, thinks Symphony, it will give me time to prepare the ground in explaining all this to her… And Destiny won’t have to see for herself the invasion of the Base by non-authorised people.
When she comes out of this flight deck, Symphony sees that the commandos travelling in the helijet have already jumped out of their aircraft to come to the transporter cargo. The access ramp is already taken down and the unloading begins without any delay. At least, thinks Symphony, they’re rather efficient. If all goes well, they would have the freight unload in the minimum of time and be on their way off the base.
Well, except for three of them. Four, counting the captive.
One of the men asks Symphony where they should transport the load. She motions the hanger just in front of them, telling him to use number two, which is presently empty. She even informs him that he would find a little motorised tractor inside, that would help him and his companions speed up the unloading operation. After thanking her, the man goes, at running pace, toward hangar number two, and the female pilot follows up with her eyes. He passes a young black woman, dressed in overall, coming out of hangar one and looking at him with curiosity.
Symphony sighs. She should have thought that Melody would be working on her old plane. All of her spare time were fuelled in reconstruction that piece of junk with Harmony. The two of them are incredible pilots, but they also are the best mechanics she had ever known. Be it men or women.
Seeing Melody coming straight at her, Symphony braces herself. Here it comes, she thinks. She could see the annoyed look in the eyes of her compatriot from the South of the United States.
“Karen, would you mind telling me what theses guys are doing here?” Melody asks pointing toward the men unloading. “You know it’s restricted area!”
“Yes, I do know that.” Symphony answers back, very gloomily. “But apparently, mister Black has other ideas on the subject.”
“What do you mean?” Melody asks again, frowning.
Symphony tells her. About Black, the top-secret equipment, the unload at Koala Base, the tank-like vehicle, the guards whom would be staying there and, more importantly, the authorisation papers Black has shown her. Melody seems very perplexed by all this.
“I thought we were supposed to be here alone for about another week or two, before other recruits begin to join us. There’s obviously been a change of plans.”
“What do you know about those ‘recruits’, Mag?”
“Not much, actually. Juliette and I have talked about it a couple of times but… About the only thing that we’ve been certain of is that Koala Base has been designed as a training camp for them. Well, and for us, of course.”
“Think theses commandos could be theses recruits?”
“Wish I could tell you.”
From the corner of her eyes, Symphony sees the last men coming out of the helijet. They’re two other commandos, with the prisoner, still with the handcuffs and the hood on his head. Melody has not yet seen them, with her back turned on them. Symphony sighs.
“I guess there is something else I’ve got to tell you.”
Symphony points to the helijet some fifty feet behind Melody who swirls to finally see.
“We’ve got a prisoner on our hands.”
“You’re kidding, right?”
Melody could see it’s not the case. She frowns deeply.
“What the hell is that all about?”
“Your guess is as good as mine.” Symphony grumbles.
“Mister Black has imposed this prisoner to you as well?” A very surprised Melody asks.
Symphony snorts. “’Mister Black’ has received a promotion: he’s now ‘Captain Black’.”
Melody mumbles. “I knew there was something military about that guy the first time I saw him.”
“Did you find him as infuriating as I have?”
“Yes, he’s quite a number.”
Melody looks at the captive and his two guards. She’s puzzled. He cuffed, she can see that, and hooded, and since he can’t see a thing, has trouble walking as the guards guide him away from the helijet.
And there is another thing peculiar.
“The prisoner is wearing a uniform.” Melody muses.
“I was coming to that. You were in the WAAF, Mag. Is that a WAAF uniform?”
“Yes, it is. Missing the jacket. Not only a WAAF uniform, but a WAAF officer uniform.”
“I was afraid you were going to say that. Well, that’s really neat. So, we’ll be keeping a WAAF officer as a captive here…”
“What has Black told you about that guy?”
“That he was a terrorist. One of the men who had stole the equipment… and that odd vehicle in the transporter.”
“Maybe he was posing as a WAAF officer.”
Melody is not leaving her eyes out of the stumbling captive, going her way, still pushed by the commandos.
“About that vehicle…” She asks to Symphony. “You said Black would come tomorrow morning to take it out of the ‘copter suit?”
“Yes. Said he’s the only one who can drive it.”
“Well, he better…”
She stops suddenly. The captive, still unable to see where he is going, has just missed a step and falls forward to the ground. The two commandos try to force him to his feet, but he resists, trying to get free of their hands. When one of the men brutally shoves him back to the ground, Symphony’s patience snaps and she goes straight to them.
“That tears it!”
Melody follows, unsure of what her compatriot will do. She herself has quite a temper, but Symphony was something of a reckless spirit, letting her feelings get the better of her judgment. Nevertheless, she stands by her friend ‘side when she puts herself between the fallen prisoner and his two guards.
“That’s enough!” Symphony says with an angry voice to the commandos. “What gives you the right to treat him like this?”
“Step aside, ladies. You’ve got no business in interfering!”
“The hell we don’t! Can’t you see he can’t walk with that thing over his head? Why don’t you take it off?”
“Captain’s orders, ma’am.” The commando who had already talked to her responds.
He is taken aback when he sees the two young women helping his prisoner to his feet, without him resisting them. Perhaps because he his afraid that they would remove the hood, or that he would brutalize them, the commando steps forward and gets his hand on Symphony’s arm, pulling her away from the captive.
“Step away from him!” He orders.
Symphony turns blazing eyes on him. “Get your hand off of me, mister!”
“You’ve heard her!” Melody says with a commanding tone. “Let her go this instant!”
“You don’t have orders to give me!” The commando scoffs.
“What’s your rank, soldier?”
“I’ve got a rank of flight lieutenant, sergeant, and since our designated leader is absent for the moment, I’m in charge of that base. Now you let go of my friend or I can assure you, you’re in for a lot of trouble!”
The man hesitates. He sighs and lets got of Symphony. Melody has helped the prisoner regain his footing.
“Are you all right, now?” She asks him.
He nods. Curious, she thinks, that he wouldn’t say anything.
“Listen, lieutenant, I would advise you to step aside.” The sergeant says. “This man is really dangerous. He almost killed Captain Black with his bared hands.”
“Well, he can’t be very much dangerous, cuffed like he his.” Melody snaps. “Now would you mind taking off that bag?”
“Sorry, ma’am. I can’t do that without the Captain’s order.”
Symphony frowns. That they had left the hood on the captive’s head for the duration of the flight, she could understand. Koala Base location should stay restricted information. But now, she doesn’t quite see why he shouldn’t be freed of it.
“What is your name?” Melody asks the sergeant.
“I’m not allowed to tell you, ma’am. Just refer simply to me as ‘sergeant’. It will suffice.”
“As I understand, sergeant, you intend on keeping this man here, right?”
“Yes, ma’am. You have a brig, here. I thought the Captain had arranged all matters with the pilot.”
Melody turns to Symphony. The later shrugs with an exasperated look.
“I didn’t have much choice, you know. That Black fellow has imposed all of his decisions on me. Including that prisoner. And since I had all authorisation papers…”
“You’re right, you didn’t have much choice.” Melody turns toward the sergeant. “All right, I’ll get you to the brig.”
She touches the prisoner’ shoulder to draw his attention. She feels him stiff, but he does not make any violent move toward her. Her eyes got a glimpse on the epaulette right next to her hand.
She nearly jumps, but then catches herself just in time.
“As for you, sir, I would advise you not to resist them.” She says. “I will see that theses men don’t brutalize you, but I will not be able to do that if you don’t behave.”
He nods his understanding, again without saying anything. Melody has now the almost certainty that he is gagged under that hood.
She turns to Symphony. “Watch the unloading. We’ll follow Black’s instructions, but to the minimum of it. As soon as the equipment is in hangar two, all these men go away.”
“Except for three of them.”
“Right. Three of them.” Melody turns to the sergeant: “Now get this: you have one guard for the prisoner, one in hangar two with the equipment, and one with that big vehicle in the ‘porter. They stay there; they don’t stray around the base. Am I making myself clear?”
“Perfectly clear, lieutenant.”
“Then follow me.” Melody addresses Symphony, one last time: “We’ll see each other’s in control room. I think we have a lot to discuss before Destiny arrives.”
“Yes, at lot to discuss indeed.” Symphony muses.
Symphony watches as Melody guides the two commandos and their prisoner away from the apron, toward the buildings on the left side of the runway. Then she sighs heavily and turns toward the still proceeding unloading operation.
The day has still a long way to go before ending, she thinks sombrely.
* * *
Melody precedes the two commandos and their captive to the brig. Since the prisoner still walks with his eyes covered, she keeps her steps a bit slower than usual, adverting any stumbles from his part. The two commandos are forced to help him, almost carrying him when they access a short stairway that takes them down into Koala Base basement. Melody watches as the three men step down the stair after her. Then she guides them through out a long corridor, then to a closed door.
She had previously gone to the control room to get the magnetic card-key needed to open the brig. When Rhapsody, still at radio control, has seen her open the cabinet to take that particular key, she had showed quite a surprise. She had to content herself with Melody’s promise of explaining everything later on.
Melody swipes the key to the magnetic lock, and the door slides open in front of her. She enters the room. She had never had the need to come here before, so she had never seen how was that brig. It’s not a big one. Only two cells, closed by heavy steels bars. In the back, another door is shut closed, sporting about the same heavy-duty lock as the cells.
“Take your pick, gentlemen.” Melody says, gesturing toward the two cells.
The sergeant points the door at the back. “If this is the isolation cell, we’ll take this one, lieutenant.”
“Aren’t you carrying your orders a bit too far, sergeant?” Melody asks him, puzzled.
The commando does not response. Melody lets out an exasperated sigh.
“Right. Be my guess, then.”
The commandos take their prisoner toward the door, Melody following them with her eyes. When they stop in front of it, she joins them to slide the magnetic key into the lock. The new door opens and the sergeant gestures to his colleague, who then takes the prisoner inside the cell. He guides him toward a small bunk, on the opposite side of the door, and pushes him onto it. The captive falls on his back, grumbling. As the commando gets out, very quietly, without a second look at the prisoner, Melody frowns, on the verge of being absolutely scandalized.
“Won’t you take off his handcuffs and that hood even when he’s in there?” As the sergeant hesitates to answer, she continues: “Let me guess: ‘Captain’s orders’, right? Let me tell you that there is a limit to following orders blindly, sergeant.”
“Sorry, ma’am. I can’t make that kind of decision. And the man is very dangerous. I don’t want him having the chance of getting loose on the Base. He might hurt you, ladies.” The sergeant extends his hand: “May I have the key, now?”
“Out of the question.” Melody answers with determination. “No key as to be held by any unauthorized people. If you need it, you come to the control room and ask for it. And be sure that you won’t have it all by yourself. I’ll give special instructions as to somebody always following that key around.”
“You make things difficult for me, lieutenant.” The sergeant sighs.
“That’s your problem, sergeant. Not mine. Do with it.”
The sergeant smiles quietly. He gives a last look at his captive who has not yet moved from its lying position. Then he closes the door and motions to Melody, who swipes the key-card into the lock.
“All right. Now I’ll stay in front of the first door to the brig. You won’t mind if we lock that door too, lieutenant?”
“By all means, sergeant.”
She closes the door and locks it. Then she looks again at the sergeant:
“And your man, here?”
The sergeant turns to the other commando. “You are assigned to the surveillance of the SPV, corporal. Make sure nobody gets near it.”
“Yes, sergeant. May I take my leave, lieutenant?”
Melody nods and the man disappears along the corridor. She hears him climbing the stair. The sergeant faces Melody again. “And I do mean NOBODY, lieutenant. That thing in there is highly classified.”
“Then you’ll understand that there are OTHER things highly classified on this base. I don’t want any strolling around… Or you will join your prisoner in this brig.”
The sergeant smiles wryly. “Oh, really?”
Melody snaps. “Don’t try my patience, sergeant. I’m in no mood for any sort of games.”
“Sorry, lieutenant. We won’t be any trouble.” The sergeant gives her another smile: “Would you do something for me? I would like to apologize to the pilot about my conduct, earlier… didn’t mean to scare her, really.”
“I’ll give her your message, sergeant.”
“Well, if she wants, I will tell her myself. But I can’t leave my post, here…”
Seeing where he’s driving at, Melody gives him a most curious stare. But the looks of it, she would swear that the sergeant has something of an interest in Symphony. Not surprising, though, as the blonde American was a most beautiful woman.
And perhaps the man particularly likes forceful and hot-headed girls…
“As I said, I will give her your message, sergeant.” Melody repeats. “But it will surprise me greatly if she’ll take the time to come here to see you.”
She turns her back on him, walks the distance to the staircase, and begins climbing the steps. The nerves of some guy, she thinks. She’s wondering how Symphony will react when she’ll learn that she has an admirer… Melody is almost certain her compatriot won’t be too thrilled about it; she has the distinct feeling that Symphony despises that sergeant.
Well, he certainly has a peculiar way of treating his captive, muses Melody.
Thoughts of the hooded man make the young Southern American frowns. She has her doubts about that one. It doesn’t feel right by her to put him behind bars, least of all in confinement. Maybe it is the uniform he’s wearing that gives her that uneasy feeling that that had been used as accomplices of some reprehensive act.
She has seen the ranks on his epaulettes. And there could be no mistake about it.
If that uniform was sported by it genuine owner, that man was a World Army Air Force colonel.
* * *
After being thrown on the hard mattress of the isolation cell, Paul Metcalfe listens carefully at every sounds coming to his ears.
First, there are the steps of the commando leaving the cell. Then a discussion between the sergeant and the woman with the Southern American accent he has heard before. The flight lieutenant, he thinks, who has promises him to see that he would not be brutalized. The sergeant is now requesting the key to the lock of the cell, but the lieutenant is adamant about her refusal.
Metcalfe hears the door closes, and then the clicking sound of the lock.
He still waits a few moments. The door must be thick, for he can uneasily hear the sound of steps going further away. Then the second door is shut after a moment. After that, nothing.
Metcalfe struggles to sit on the bunk. Magnetic lock, he thinks again, gloomily. Great! That’s not something easy to pick. If not impossible altogether. Well, before wondering about the door lock, the least he could do right now is to get a little more comfortable in his miserable predicament.
If the flight lieutenant had shown some concern about the facts that the prisoner was left with handcuffs and hood, Metcalfe himself is pretty much more upset than that. In fact, he’s absolutely furious. And that damnable duct tape over his mouth does nothing to improve his bad humour. Hell, a man could very well choke with that kind of contraption stuck on him!
First thing first: getting his hands in front of him. By getting them under his legs. That’s a bit a gymnastic he has already practiced in the pas. Evidently, he has never tried it with cuffs as tightened as closely around his wrists as theses ones. But he was willing to give it a shot anyway… even if it means wounding himself in the process.
Lying down on his back, he arches his back forward. Pulling on his arms and shoulders so he could get his tied hands as low as possible behind him. He practically hears his muscles and bones rippling and creaking under the stress. He begins to sweat profusely after longs minutes of apparently futile exertion. Then he feels the growing pain in his struggling muscles. He grits his teeth against it, lets out a groan muffled only by his gag.
He thinks he hears something snapping. He doesn’t know what exactly, but he doesn’t really care. His hands are nearly past under him. One last effort gets them behind his knees.
He sighs heavily, and stays motionless for a minute or two, in an awkward position, gathering back his strength. All right, now, one step is accomplished. Now to get his hands under his feet. The struggle begins anew, but this time, he pulls up his knees as high as possible under his chin, while pushing his arms.
Five minutes later, he slides his handcuffs wrists over his feet. With a satisfied grunt, he lets himself fall back on the bunk.
He has the impression of hearing only his laboured breathing, as he lies there for another moment. Has anybody heard him? He asks himself. He tries to regain a normal breathing and listens intensely. He hears nothing indicating him that he had stirred attention on himself. Good.
Well, he thinks, he has succeeded. His whole body is aching, he nearly dislocated a shoulder and broke a wrist, but he did it all the same. Thank you, Chief O’Ryan, he mused, with something of a fond thought about the West Point drill sergeant who had spent long hours instructing this particular trick to him and his companions, way back when… Fortunately, Metcalfe was a hardworking pupil at the time.
He sits down, groaning against the pain in his back and arms. Now he can get his hands to his face and take off that black hood.
The bag is secure around his neck by a string, which has been kept slack enough. He just has to insert one finger through it to loosen, and then takes off the bloody thing.
Finally! After hours of only darkness, he can see anew! Not that there’s nothing much to look at, he things as he glances about. His cell is a small room of ten feet by ten feet, with concrete walls, floor, and ceiling. The only piece of furniture is the bunk on which he is actually sitting, the only access, a reinforced metal door. Just over that door, inserted into the wall, is one bulb, giving a very poor light on the room.
As he gazes about the few details of his cell, Metcalfe does not lose much time to get that annoying duct tape stuck over his mouth. With impatient hands, he scraps at one corner of the tape until he lift it a bit, then he pulls on it forcefully. The operation is not painless as he feels the hairs on his face being pulled as well. He has trouble containing a yelp of pain and lets out a loud moan.
Well, he thinks, a little dazzled, that’s one more indignity he will have to settle with the swine responsible for all this.
Black, he heard his name being said. Captain Black.
His jaw a little stiffed, he works at it gently with one hand and stretches it. Then he takes a look at the handcuffs. They are so narrowly secured that there isn’t even the smallest free space between them and his wrists. In fact, his recent struggling efforts have even tightened them so closely that they have drawn a thin red line on his flesh.
He can’t get any kind of grip on the lock, Metcalfe notices gloomily. Well, he’ll have to manage with theses shackles. At least, with his hands up front, and even tied up together, he can put them to good use, if somewhat a minimal one.
He goes to the door and examines it carefully. No visible lock. So it is a magnetic one, like he had thought earlier. No way he could open it on this side. He would have no choice but to wait until somebody comes to open it for him.
Now much longer will he wait, anyway? It must be somewhere around five in the afternoon. Since five this early morning, he has not eat, or drink. He is famished and terribly thirsty… especially since that duct tape was put onto his mouth. He could also use some rest. Even a few hours of good sleep. He dares not consider using the bunk, in fear that someone may come over during that time and that he would lose the chance to act.
He has one advantage: he has the use of his hands and he can see now. His enemies don’t know yet of that fact.
His enemies… Metcalfe is now pondering about their identity. And what is this place they have taken him in? Koala Base, he has heard it called. A military name, no doubt, as there is military personnel on it.
Metcalfe thinks about the female flight lieutenant who has greed – so to tell – the commandos to that base. She seems not really appreciative of their presence here and she had formally forbid any of them to wander about the place. “There is classified things in here”, he had heard her say. He’s wondering what that could be.
Metcalfe was presented as a dangerous man, a terrorist, to the personnel of that Base. He’s wondering now what those later know exactly about him. He doubts they know the truth… Only what has been told to them. And concealing his face and preventing him a speaking may have been a way to hide his real identity to them. He was put in confinement probably for the same reason.
Nothing was less certain, anyway, as Metcalfe is prepared to regard everybody here as an enemy, until he finds out what’s really going on.
He stretches out his arms over the door and, rather with difficulty due to his shackled hands, unscrews the light bulb until it fades out. Maybe the darkness could be at his advantage, too.
He sits on the floor, next to the door, decided on waiting patiently. Whoever will be showing, sooner or later, Metcalfe is intended on surprising him…
The first one who’ll step in, he muses with blazing eyes of fury, will have hell to pay for the treatment he has endured until now.
* * *
For several weeks now, Koala Base has been working on very reduced personnel. There were the Angels pilots, of course, five of them, who have official charge of the place, with Destiny as their designated leader. Aside from them, there are six security guards, relaying themselves in patrolling the Base’s ground, on foot or in electric cabs, each having a specific sector to look after on each shift. There are also two official mechanics, who works only on day shifts, aided in their job, from time to time, by Harmony and Melody, the two only Angels pilots able to use a wrench and a screwdriver. A cook was relegated to the galley and rarely gets out of there, if only to the end of the day, when he goes to his personal quarters. And last, sergeant Rebecca Evershaw, who had the charge of the radio and radar screen, over in the control room. When she’s off duty, the Angels are relaying themselves to take over her watch. As it is actually the case for Rhapsody Angel.
Radio and radar watch was part of a necessary routine for the Angels, over at Koala Base. Neither the radio nor the radar could be left alone for even a minute. Knowing that it was necessary doesn’t prevent it from being boring, though. The radar seldom picks something up of significance. Generally, tourist planes of some sort strayed in the desert. As for the radio, its surveillance is obligatory only because Charlie could happen to call… And when he calls, it is always a priority.
When Symphony enters the Control Room, there are only Rhapsody, at her place in front of the radio and radar controls, and Harmony, sitting at the conference table, reading the paper news of the day. Symphony is in a very bad mood, having past the last hour and a half watching the invading commandos unload the equipment and bringing it into Hangar Two. When they had finished, she has made sure that only one man was staying behind and has showed the others to the helijet. One of them even had the nerves to make her sign up some responsibility paper about the equipment before the craft’s take off. That was the last straw for the young woman, who’s now feeling like tearing somebody’s head off.
She doesn’t even salute her colleagues when she enters. Rhapsody does not see her, but Harmony raises her head, sees the expression on her face, and understands instantly her present state of mind. The young Asian pilot looks curiously at her American counterpart, as she goes directly to the coffee distributor. She takes a cup on the counter nearby and proceeds on pouring herself some coffee, when she stops right away. She brutally slams the cup on the counter, making Rhapsody jump.
“All right! Who’s the one to take the last cup of coffee without refilling the distributor?”
“Not me.” Rhapsody answers carefully, wanting nothing more than to stay on the safe side. “You know I can’t drink that stuff in there.”
“Are we having a bad mood, Symphony?” Harmony asks quietly.
Symphony turns to them. “Yes, WE are having a bad mood! Along with a bad day!”
“The trip was bad?” Harmony asks again.
Symphony scoffs. “You have to ask?”
Harmony smiles congenially at her. “Then perhaps a bit of Japanese tee would help you relax. I can make you a cup from my mother recipes…”
“Or perhaps you’d prefer some good English tea?” Rhapsody quickly adds.
“No, I don’t need neither you tea, Dianne, and nor yours, Chan, thank you very much. I’d ratter prefer some strong black coffee.”
Harmony shrugs. “That won’t do anything good for nerves.”
“Especially ours.” Rhapsody mumbles.
Symphony sighs, now realizing what she’s doing.
“I’m sorry, girls.” She says with an apologizing tone. “I shouldn’t be taking it off on you.
“You don’t hear us saying anything to the contrary.” Rhapsody smiles at Symphony. “That’s quite all right; I supposed you had a rough time. Melody was here earlier. She roughly told me what happened during your mission. So… it seems you have brought back some surprises for us?”
Harmony raises her eyes from her journal. “Surprises? I love surprise!”
“Well, you won’t like those.” Symphony scoffs.
She tells her about the stolen equipment, recuperated by the commandos, that she was forced to bring back to Koala Base. Harmony’s eyes brighten at the other girl’s words.
“The equipment has been stashed in Hangar Two”, Symphony explains. “And the helijet has taken off, some minutes ago with virtually all of the commandos. Three had stay here to guard the equipment and… the prisoner.”
Harmony frowns with curiosity. “A prisoner?”
Rhapsody shakes her head. “Yes, it seems we have a prisoner. Melody has taken the key of the brig in the cabinet. He’s supposed to be down here, right now, with a guard.”
“Why anybody has not told me this already?” Harmony sighs.
“You just wake up from your night and morning shifts, Chan.” Rhapsody says. “You know how you are after your wake up call: compared to you, Karen has been a model of calm when she entered the room, a minute ago.”
“Oh! Very funny!” Harmony then muses: “Hangar Two, you said?”
“Mag has told me expressly that it’s off limit.” Rhapsody warns her. “Don’t go snooping around.”
“Since when am I the snoopy kind? I just want to know what’s going on. It’s fairly rare we have visitors, here. Not only today we received some, but they also leave us with secret equipment and a prisoner.”
“And three armed guards.” Symphony adds. “It’s the minimum Black has agreed to let on the Base.”
“Why three? Is there a reason in particular?”
“One for the equipment, one for the prisoner, and the last one for a strange looking vehicle in the heavy-duty transporter.”
“Why is it still in the ‘porter?” A perplexed Rhapsody asks.
“As far as I know, it’s as highly classified as the rest of the equipment in Hangar Two. Only Black knows how to drive it.” Symphony grins cynically: “Guess who has NOT come with us.”
Harmony raises her eyes to the sky. “Fantastic! The one day something special happens here, and I missed it… Thank you, girls, for waking me up!”
Melody enters the room precisely at that moment. The others are turning to her as she goes to the cabinet, opens it, and puts back the magnetic card-key upon its hook.
“Destiny called yet?” She asks.
“She reports a few minutes ago.” Rhapsody answers. “She was doing a last over flight south of here. Won’t be back before at least two hours.”
“Maybe we should tell her to come back right away.” Melody thoughtfully says.
Rhapsody lifts an eyebrow. “Should I call her back?”
“No, wait. What about Charlie? Has he called?”
“No. You’re expecting him to?”
“I would have thought he would have. To confirm to us the last instructions of Captain Black.”
“He’s CAPTAIN Black, now?” Harmony asks, surprised.
“That’s how he presented himself to me.” Symphony remarks. “You ever encountered him, Chan?”
Symphony looks toward Rhapsody who shakes her head. “I never had the honour.”
“Well, the honour WAS NOT mine.” Symphony sniffles. “He’s the most insufferable, full of himself, cold man I have ever met.”
“Colder than you think.” Melody grumbles.
“What’s that?” Rhapsody notes.
Melody frowns. “It’s about the prisoner. He was put in the isolation cell.” She turns to Symphony.
“Get this: the sergeant had leave him with the hood and the ‘cuffs.”
Rhapsody and Harmony get up from their respective seats and draw nearer to the two others, curious.
“A hood and handcuffs?” Harmony repeats.
Melody nods. “And I’m pretty sure he’s even gagged under that thing.” She turns again to Symphony. “Has he ever uttered a single word in your presence?”
Symphony shakes her head.
“They kept him like that? In isolation?” Melody frowns, puzzled. “Why? Didn’t you tell that… sergeant to at least free the prisoner of all those things?”
“Oh! I did. He refused. ‘Captain Black’s orders’, he said.”
Rhapsody is scandalized. “Well, he is a cold one. That’s unnecessary cruel, if you ask me.”
“I think so too, even for a dangerous terrorist.” Symphony says.
“So, he’s a dangerous terrorist?” Harmony asks.
Melody muses. “If you want my point of view, girls: I have quite considerable doubts about that ‘terrorist’ gig.”
“You’re thinking about the uniform he’s wearing.” Symphony remarks.
Rhapsody frowns. “I’m at lost here: what uniform?”
Symphony sighs. “The ‘terrorist’ is wearing a WAAF officer uniform.”
Rhapsody and Harmony exchange gazes.
“As a disguise?” Rhapsody asks.
“Rather heavy disguise, if you ask me.” Melody looks at each of the three young women waiting expectantly that she would continue. “Are your ready for this? That’s the uniform of a WAAF colonel.”
Silence follows. So heavy that they could hear a fly pass by.
“You’re certain about this?” Rhapsody asks Melody.
“Positively. I have seen the ranks on his epaulettes. And I wasn’t supposed to see that, I’m sure.”
“Oh, Hell…” Symphony almost whispers. “If he really is a WAAF colonel… We’re in for it. We could be prosecuted as accomplices in a kidnapping.”
“How could we be prosecuted for something like that?” Harmony vehemently protests. “We didn’t know who he was, when he first arrived.”
“We don’t have to know anything.” Symphony snaps. “He’s in OUR brig!”
“Calm down, girls!” Rhapsody says. “Let’s not get carried away, here. We don’t know yet who that guy really is.”
“I’d so wish we could call Charlie from our end.” Symphony sighs. “He would tell us if we’re doing all right by following Black’s instructions.”
“Well, we can’t call him.” Melody notes. “And he hasn’t called us about all this. So, maybe he knows nothing… or maybe he won’t say us anything.”
“Have I just not said not to get carried away?” Rhapsody remarks, frowning. “This is Charlie, you’re talking about! The man who has hooked up together in the first place.”
“No, Dianne.” Melody replies dryly. “The Committee has hooked up us together in the first place. We don’t know the first thing about that Charlie guy. I’ve never seen him personally. Did you?” Rhapsody shakes her head and Melody looks at the two others. “Have any of you did?” Symphony and Harmony concurred, and Melody turns again to Rhapsody: “And it’s not because Charlie’s got a distinguished British accent that makes him automatically a decent person.”
“That’s hardly fair, Mag.” Rhapsody answers, her tone rising. “Just because I happen to be British too doesn’t mean…”
“All right, now!” Harmony interrupts swiftly. “Stop it, you two, before it goes a bit too far. I don’t want to play referee here.” She turns to Rhapsody, smiling broadly: “Dianne, dear, you may be taller than Mag, but she’s a lot tougher than you are. Did you ever beat up boys for their lunch money when you were in school?”
Rhapsody scowls. “Well, as a detective, I’ve learn a thing or two about self-defence. But you’re right.” She smiles apologizing at Melody. “Sorry if I loose my temper, Mag.”
“I thought Brits were all supposed to be cool persons.” Melody replies. “I suppose that red hair of yours gets you all screwed up.” She smiles in return. “I apologize too. I didn’t want to insult you in any way. And I sure don’t want to fight with you.”
“Good.” Harmony says, cutting them off. “Because I’m the one who can both clean your clock up.”
Her two colleagues glance back at her. Harmony is the smallest of all the Angels, but they know better than to took her up to her challenge. She’s perfectly right about it: her black belt fourth Dan in judo was proofs enough of it.
Symphony sighs. “Right, now that this is settled, what do we decide to do?”
Melody shrugs. “We can’t decide anything. Not before concerting with Juliette. She’s our designated leader. “She adds, somewhat gloomily: “Even if she was designated by Charlie.” She looks up to Rhapsody, but the later don’t say anything. “Anyway, she’s the highest rank here.”
“Should we call her back?” Rhapsody asks.
They all look at each other’s, then concurred: their leader should know all about this. Rhapsody nods and goes to the radio, closely followed by all the others. She sits before it and begins sending the transmission:
“Koala Base to Angel One. Come in, Angel One. This is a priority call, Destiny Angel, please respond.”
They wait a few seconds. A heavy French accented voice then comes in over the radio:
“Here’s Angel One, calling back Koala Base. Why do you break radio silence, Rhapsody?”
“Sorry about that, Destiny Angel. That could not be help. What is your present position?”
After consulting her board’s instrument, Destiny tells her. There is a point of annoyance in her voice afterwards: “Why that question, Rhapsody? Is there something the matter?”
“You can say that again. We need you at be Base.”
“As in two hours ago, Destiny Angel.”
“That’s so serious?”
Melody then takes the communication over from Rhapsody: “You bet it is, Destiny. How soon can you be back?”
At that precise second, a crackling sound comes off the receptor; covering Destiny’s voice, another voice, a male one, takes the place with a most urgent tone:
“Mayday! Mayday! Mayday! Alpha Charlie 201 calling all channels! We’re in distress! Please respond anyone!”
The four Angels over at Koala Base exchange glances of surprise as the voice reiterates its call:
“Mayday! Mayday! Mayday! Bushwhacker Alpha Charlie 201 in distress! Respond to us, please! It’s urgent!”
Symphony frowns. “Now where’s that coming from?”
“Another tourist plane lost in the desert, maybe.” Harmony says. “That’s the fourth this month.”
“Calling on OUR restricted frequency?” A sceptical Rhapsody replies.
“Mayday! Mayday!” The voice continues, with more urgency. “If there’s anybody about, please respond! Bushwhacker Alpha Charlie 201 calling…”
Rhapsody takes the transmitter. “Calling Alpha Charlie 201. This is Rhapsody Angel speaking. We received your call. Please respond.”
“Mayday! Mayday! Mayday!” The voice continues. “Here’s Alpha Charlie 201. We’re lost and out of control. Can anybody please help us?”
“Bushwhacker Alpha Charlie 201.” Rhapsody calls again. “We hear your message. This is a private frequency. How did you get it?”
The voice does not seem to hear her. “Mayday! Please, anyone! We’re in dire need of help, here!”
“Maybe it’s due to a freak phenomenon that he’s on our wavelength.” Melody remarks to Rhapsody.
“He did say he was calling on all channels…” Symphony nods.
“Well, he doesn’t seem to hear US.” Rhapsody tries again: “Bushwhacker Alpha Charlie 201. We HAVE received your distress call. Please state your last known position and the trouble you’re in.”
“Alpha Charlie 201 calling! Mayday! Mayday! There must be someone out there hearing us! Why don’t you answer?”
Rhapsody sighs. She turns to Melody. “That settles it: he doesn’t hear me.”
“Can you get through to Destiny?”
Rhapsody pushes some buttons, amplifies the frequency, and then makes a new call. “Koala Base calling Angel One. Do you hear me, Destiny?”
“Loud and clear, Rhapsody.” Destiny’s voice replies.
“For about the last five minutes, did you receive some distress calls, Destiny Angel?”
“Constantly, yes. I tried to reach them, but they do not respond.”
“Same here, Angel One.”
“Can you get a fix on their actual position?”
Harmony gets in front of the radar screen. She receives three beeps on it. From the position given earlier by Destiny, she’s able to determine which one of the three signals is Angel One. One other is rapidly distancing away from the Base. By the references and the speed, it could only be the helijet that had leave Koala Base recently.
The third signal, weak and farther away, flying irregularly, could be none other than the distress plane.
“I have it! Full East of Angel One, at the very limit of the screen radar. Position…» Harmony calculates it and gives it to Rhapsody, who in turn relays the information to Angel One.
“Got it, Koala Base.” Destiny acknowledges. “It about at fifteen minutes full speed from my present position. Can you make up what kind of craft it is?”
“A very small one, by the signal of it.” Harmony says. “One engine, maybe. A four passengers top. Old-Cessna like.”
“Heard the expert, Destiny Angel?” Rhapsody relays over the radio.
“Right, Koala Base. I’m going in. I trust this distress call has priority over your own urgency?”
“Nothing has priority over a distress call, Destiny, you know that.”
“Thought I just heard Charlie’s speaking.” Destiny says. “I will find what I could do to help that plane. I’ll be back as soon as possible. Destiny Angel out.”
“Message well received, Angel One. Be careful out there, Destiny. Koala Base out.”
Rhapsody is about to kill off the radio when Melody stops her in her movement.
“Let the channel opened. That plane will continue to diffuse its message, and Destiny will try to contact it. Keep contact with them. Listen to any change in the communications.”
Symphony frowns with curiosity. “You think that plane could mean trouble?”
Melody sighs. “I don’t know. But with all that had happened today, with your return, I’m liable to believe nothing’s a coincidence anymore.”