A “Captain Scarlet & the Mysterons” novel
by Chris Bishop
Somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean, Southeast of Bermuda.
“Captain! The ’copter’s approaching!”
Charles Gray left the captain’s cabin – his cabin for a few weeks now – in a hurry. Mustn’t keep the old man waiting, he thought, coming up the ladder to the bridge. That wouldn’t look too good from a brand-new ship’s commander who had just received his commission… Especially when you are still considered a snot-nosed kid by the majority of your peers. It wasn’t easy for Gray, age 29, to prove himself in the British Navy.
It was a time of difficult conflicts around the world and that certainly gave him the opportunity he needed. As officer on board different ships, he was involved with problems in South-East Asia, and with that dispute over territorial rights in Iceland. And then came that Panama thing, where the British Embassy had been taken over by the local rebels. One hundred and three British nationals had been taken hostage, including the ambassador himself, and the ship on which Gray served at the time had been sent to try to reach the coast, then to serve as an operations centre for the rescue team. But then, the Panamanian rebels engaged the ship, and the captain was killed during the battle. As first officer, Gray had taken command. He had held on long enough for the rescue team to come back with the hostages, had even destroyed two enemy ships in the process, and then was able to bring everybody back safely to England.
That daring escapade, along with many others that had followed, had contributed to his promotion to captain with command of his own ship. At the time, some had said that his promotion was simply an indication that the British Navy was in dire need of new blood, and he was even considered too young for the job. He had let his deeds speak for themselves. Now the disrespectful remarks were few, and almost everybody considered him more than fit for command.
He was wondering now what Admiral Matheson wanted from him. The day before, he had received a coded message announcing that the admiral was coming to see him in person. That was odd, the young captain thought, and certainly not according to procedure. But then, there was so much turmoil in Britain. People were demanding that the Militarist Government step down and give up their political power. Many wanted Britain to finally join the World Government, as it should have done years earlier. These demands would not have been unreasonable, if it weren’t for the way some people were making them: riots, protests marches, those were the more benign aspects; armed uprisings, bombings and terrorist attacks were much more serious.
It was no wonder some military people, like Admiral Matheson, took additional precautions, thought Gray as he watched the helicopter descending to its pad.
Standing by the captain’s side, his first officer, Commander Jackson Bennett, was waiting as well. Bennett was a lot older than Gray, and the captain was always willing to listen to his wise advice.
“What do you make of this, Bennett?” Gray asked when the helicopter finally touched down. “What brings an admiral of the High Command to see us in the middle of the ocean?”
“Can’t be anything good, Captain,” Bennett murmured sombrely. “But it’s bound to be something highly important…”
“I suppose we’ll know soon enough.”
Gray hurried toward the helicopter, from which an elderly man, wearing the insignia of a full admiral on his shoulders, and a very large cluster on his chest, was emerging. The young captain noticed that the helicopter pilot, after shutting down his craft completely, was also stepping out. Gray gave him just one glance before saluting the admiral.
“Welcome aboard the Sir Francis Drake, Admiral Matheson. It’s an honour…”
Matheson shook hands with the younger man, grinning broadly. “The honour is mine, Captain Gray. The Drake already has a glorious history to its name… And you as well, I hear.”
Gray had to make a supreme effort not to redden. Compliments from his elders always embarrassed him. Fortunately, Matheson had turned to beckon the pilot closer. As he approached, the pilot removed his helmet. “I believe you know my pilot, Captain?”
Gray stiffened in surprise on seeing the now uncovered face of the pilot; the older man glanced at him with a twinkle in his eyes, eyes as blue as the captain’s, and, after having tucked his helmet under his left arm, gave him a smart salute. What is HE doing here? a perplexed Gray thought. Serving as pilot to an admiral isn’t his regular job… It took a few seconds before Captain Gray actually came out of his surprise and returned the salute. “How are you, Flight Sergeant?”
“Very well, thank you, Captain,” the pilot answered.
Gray smiled; forgetting protocol for an instant, he shook the hand of the man standing in front of him. “It has been a while, hasn’t it?”
“Too long, I’m afraid,” the pilot agreed. “But then again, I know how busy you are… Captain.”
Gray shook his head. “Still, a man should never be too busy to at least write to his father.”
“I believe my son would say the same.”
Gray stared at the pilot, who gave him a faint, but rueful smile. Yes, it had been a while since he had seen him, his own father, the Air Force Flight Sergeant. The man who had brought him up almost single-handedly since the day he had been born. Charles’ mother had died a couple of months after giving birth to her only son. Her husband, Alexander, didn’t know much about childcare and education, but with some help from well-intentioned aunts – mostly in the beginning – he had done his best with what little he knew.
The rest looked a lot like day-to-day life and training on a military base. It was certainly not easy being the son of a notably harsh drill sergeant, who expected nothing less than perfection and total obedience. Still, it served to form Charles’ character. He had the same volatile temper as his father, and living with him, putting up with him, had taught him to keep it in check. They often clashed, especially since the day Charles had reached the age of twelve and had decided to show his father that he also had a mind of his own, and that he was not about to let him decide what he should do with the rest of his life. Alexander wasn’t totally displeased, in fact, that his son stood up to him. There weren’t many men who would actually do that, even superior officers would often approach him with a certain caution.
As it was, Alexander actually expected his son to be able to face him without looking down. Just as he expected him to eventually join the military life. Not to become a simple sergeant, like his dad… He knew Charles had the stuff to be a high ranked officer. So he gave him the opportunities to aspire to that and sent him to receive the best education possible, in some of England’s most prestigious colleges and universities. Charles never disappointed the expectations of his father, always being the best in all academic fields… there was only one thing Alexander Gray hadn’t counted on: when the time came for his son to enlist in the Military, he chose to join the Navy instead of the Air Force.
For some time, Alexander Gray did nothing to hide his dismay and disappointment over his son’s choice of career. It didn’t last long, however, and Alexander was now very proud of Charles’ accomplishments, as he quickly climbed the ladder of success, gaining promotion after promotion, until he reached his present position. A highly renowned Navy man, commander of his own warship, which in turn had one of the most prestigious names in the British Fleet.
“My first officer, Commander Jackson Bennett,” Charles presented suddenly, noticing the man who had just arrived next to him.
“My respects, Admiral,” Bennett said, saluting Matheson.
“Jack, this is my father. Flight Sergeant Alexander Gray.”
“Oh!” Bennett squeezed the pilot’s hand. “I thought you were a drill sergeant for new recruits.”
“I re-enlisted as a helicopter pilot, some months ago,” the older Gray replied. “That was my first love, anyway… Well, not counting Charles’ mother, I mean.”
“Shall we go to your cabin, Captain?” Admiral Matheson then said. “We can discuss business there. Your father will join us. You will be able to catch up with him, then.”
Charles kept himself from blinking. Curiouser and curiouser. Since when was a simple helicopter pilot allowed to attend official military meetings between superior officers? Or maybe there was nothing official about all this. However, it was noticeable how Matheson had casually left Bennett out of his invitation.
“Of course, Admiral. If you’d follow me… Commander Bennett, take the bridge. I’ll call for you if necessary.”
“Aye, aye, Captain.”
“This way, gentlemen, if you please…”
Charles guided his father and Admiral Matheson to his cabin where he offered them coffee. He noticed how uneasy his father seemed in his presence and tried to make him as comfortable as he could. Matheson joined in with some banter of his own. Before long, the three men were tackling different subjects, most noticeably reminiscing about their respective home towns. The three had not been in England for a long time, and missed their country a lot. Charles didn’t even know that his father had re-enlisted as a helicopter pilot. They hadn’t seen each other for months.
“I knew you wanted to see some more action,” Charles said to his father, “but I didn’t know you were back as a pilot.”
Alexander scoffed. “Don’t see much action flying superior officers around… Isn’t that right, Admiral?”
“Oh, I don’t know, Alex… I expect action to be on our doorstep pretty soon…”
Charles almost frowned. It was pretty obvious his father was something of a confidante to the admiral. Since when was he his pilot, anyway?
“Speaking of action,” Matheson added, “I have something for you, Captain.”
He searched in his jacket pocket and produced an envelope, closed with the seal of the Ministry of Defence. He handed it to Charles. “I believe these are your new orders…”
Charles conspicuously eyed the envelope before taking it, not without thanking Matheson with a nod. Seeing the younger man hesitate, the admiral gave him a nod of his own. “You can open it right away. I already know what’s in it, anyway.”
Matheson took a sip of his coffee and Alexander looked down at his own cup. What’s going on here? Charles thought, glancing at his elders. He quickly broke the seal, took the letter from the envelope, and unfolded it. He began to read silently.
It took him a second quick reading to really understand the implications of the orders contained in the letter. He looked at Matheson and his father; both men were staring at him, apparently watching his reaction. He ignored his father and turned to the admiral. “Is this some kind of joke?” he asked bluntly.
Matheson shook his head. “No. No joke,” he said quietly, taking another sip of coffee. “That comes directly from the Ministry of Defence.”
“Yes, I saw that,” Charles replied, more impatiently that he should have. “But I can’t believe…” He stopped, looking back at Alexander, who was still staring at him, and hesitated.
Matheson cleared his throat. “You can talk in front of your father.”
“You know what’s in this letter?” Charles asked his father, frowning again.
“I know,” Alexander replied calmly.
Charles looked at him in disbelief; he was troubled. His father was a simple pilot; what was in that letter was certainly far too important for him to know about. How could he have learned about it? Probably from Matheson, who had said that he knew all about it, which in his case was not really surprising. But why would he have told Alexander Gray?
“I take it you’re not happy with your new assignment?” Matheson asked.
“Not happy?” Charles almost snapped, turning toward the admiral. “Sorry, Sir, and without meaning any disrespect, it can’t be serious!”
“But it is, Captain Gray. Deadly serious!”
“So perhaps I don’t understand the letter correctly.” Charles raised the paper to show it to the admiral. “The Ministry orders me to sail to the Orkney Islands, where it is believed a base has been installed by ‘rebels’. They ask me to join the search to seek out where those ‘traitors to our country’ are hidden… To seek them out, demand their immediate capitulation… and destroy them and their installations if they refuse… With extreme prejudice.” Charles spat out the last words in disgust, and then looked straight into Matheson’s eyes. “Who are these rebels, sir?”
The admiral’s glance was very quiet. “Opponents of the Military regime,” he answered. “Nothing more… nothing less.”
“Are they the terrorists wreaking havoc in England?” Charles asked.
Matheson shrugged. “I know they’re not from the same group…”
“So they may not be terrorists at all. Are they even armed?” Matheson did not respond. Charles continued: “Are they even posing a real threat to National Security?”
“Most probably,” the admiral answered. “They have ideas that may be threatening enough. And even if they’re not from the same party as those terrorists you were just talking about, what difference could it make? The Government considers all these groups as one and the same. All rebels. All traitors.”
“There is a big difference between traitors and opponents. Some of these people have very valid points…”
“Be careful what you say, Charles,” Alexander advised his son.
“YOU already know what I think about all this,” Charles almost snapped at him. “I may not have been in England for quite some time, but I know what’s going on there. I know the people have had quite enough of the Military regime. I know the majority of them want to join the World Government. Some of them have even left Britain. France and the United States have actually welcomed some of them. What’s Britain going to do about that? Declare war on the rest of the world so our people don’t try to escape?”
“Charles,” Alexander tried to warn his son again.
“I don’t know about these people in the Orkneys,” Charles continued, not even hearing him. “And frankly, I don’t much care if they are armed or not. ‘With extreme prejudice’?” He angrily flourished the paper again. “These are British citizens, for Heaven’s sake… Probably have innocents with them. Elders, women, children… and their alleged base is situated in British territory, where there’s bound to be civilians, not even aware of what’s about to drop on their heads. We can’t fight ideas with weapons. And certainly not reasonable ideas.”
“Do you realize what you’re saying, Captain?” Admiral Matheson asked him sternly. “Your words could be interpreted as treason.”
Charles stiffened. He looked stonily at the two men staring at him. His father had grown very quiet.
“I’m not a traitor,” Charles replied in a harsh tone. “I love England. But I hate what the Militarist Government is doing to it.”
“But I’m not without conscience, and that may be the difference between me and those in power. Admiral…” Charles hesitated one moment, looking straight at his superior. “…I would have thought the Government would listen to reason and heed the will of the people. Instead, it’s trying to stifle anyone whose opinion differs from it. What impact is that going to have on our image to the world at large? These orders…” - he screwed the letter into a ball - “…are garbage.”
He tossed the ball onto the table in front of the admiral. The older man looked at it quietly, then gave a thoughtful look at the young captain standing in front of him. There was still fire in his eyes.
“I take it you refuse to follow those orders?”
“Do what you wish with me,” Charles declared. “I will not become a murderer to satisfy the ego of power-hungry despots.”
“These are your last words on the matter?”
“They may not be my last words, Admiral… But I’ll stand by them every step of the way.”
Matheson looked a long time at the younger man who stood at ease in front of him, waiting for the consequences of his statement. The admiral blew out a sigh. “You were right about your boy, Alex. He has yet to learn to control his temper.”
“I’m afraid he got that from me,” Alexander replied, in a quiet tone that made Charles twitch. There was no emotion whatsoever apparent in his father’s voice. Doesn’t he care that I just put myself in deep trouble right now? Doesn’t he realize my career may well be finished and that I may be court-martialled? There is no way Matheson will overlook such blatant insubordination and disregard for direct orders…
“All right, Captain,” Matheson sighed again. “Since you feel so strongly about this… I have new orders for you. And I’m sure you realize that they might have a tremendous impact on the rest of your life.”
“I’m listening, sir,” Charles answered gloomily.
“You’ll sail this ship to the Orkney Islands, as the Ministry ordered you to…”
Charles looked in dismay at the man. Hadn’t he listened to a single word he had said? “Admiral…”
“Let me finish!” Matheson almost barked, drawing the younger man to immediate attention. “You WILL sail the Drake there, locate the rebel base… and do whatever you have to, to protect it from any attempt by the British Government to attack it.”
Charles blinked in surprise at those last words. He looked in perplexity at Matheson who nodded quietly. “You’re right. If the Militarists attack that base and kill those people, that will have tremendous impact with the World Government. It could even result in a war that nobody, with any sense at all, would want.”
Another perplexed look; Charles frowned deeply. “What are you trying to say, Admiral?” he murmured.
“Charles,” Alexander said gravely, making his son turn to him, “this whole situation has gone on long enough. Before it goes any further and becomes really bad, somebody must do something to stop it.”
“Yes, this must be resolved,” Matheson agreed. “Once and for all.”
Charles stared at the two men, with a deeply puzzled look. Something was beginning to sink into his mind, but he wasn’t sure if he should trust his instincts. “You know who those people hidden in the Orkneys are,” he said, more as a statement than a question.
Matheson nodded. “Yes, we know. It’s a coalition, formed of some very driven, but reasonable, people. They feel it is time for the Militarist regime to step down, and give the governing powers back to the people. So all these conflicts, all these tensions, in Britain will finally stop.”
“How… do you know all that?” Charles asked.
“There are members of the military amongst these people,” Matheson explained. “Civilians as well, and dignitaries of the British government.”
“Military?” Charles repeated, troubled.
“Yes, quite a few. Some pretty high ranked: generals, air marshals… Admirals.”
“Oh, my God…” Charles stared at Matheson and then at his father. “You’re in this too, aren’t you?”
Matheson nodded quietly. “Yes, we are. We’re part of the Coalition.”
“Oh, God!” Charles repeated, throwing his arms in the air. He looked down at Alexander, with disbelief in his eyes. “Father, how the Hell did you find yourself involved in this?”
“Not easily, I assure you,” Alexander answered. “It took me a long time before actually joining the cause. I had to do a lot of thinking. Your arguments often came to my mind, you know. All those discussions we used to have about the validity of Military in politics… After taking a good look at what was really going on all around me, I realized you were right about a lot of things. The military has no business in politics. The government should belong to the people.”
“Why didn’t you tell me about this?” Charles sighed.
“Do you think I didn’t want to?” His father’s answer came rather harshly. “It wasn’t just my secret, Charles. There were other people involved. All of us, especially the military, we have to live with the secret, keeping our convictions to ourselves, to escape whatever means of retaliation the Militarist regime might bring against us… and those close to us.”
“You’ve known of my feelings about all this for a long time, Father,” Charles retorted. “Why are you telling me now? You were afraid I would denounce you? My own father?”
“What was I supposed to think, Captain, when my own son has become the Navy’s most celebrated and decorated hero of recent years? Wouldn’t he be more inclined to side with his superiors in the Militarist regime, who had awarded him all these promotions and rewards, or with me, his father, who had decided to support the so-called rebels?”
“I…” Charles stopped suddenly. He sighed and sat down. “I don’t know what to say, actually.”
“Well, then,” his father said with a faint smile. “That is something unusual, coming from you.”
Charles frowned. “And I don’t know what to do. What do you want from me?”
“Exactly what I have told you already,” Matheson said. “Protect the rebel base in the Orkneys. At all costs.”
“You said it is of tremendous importance. That if this base should be destroyed and its people killed, it could start a disastrous war… What do you mean?”
“Aside from the bad image of British government it would send to the rest of the world?”
“There is something else, isn’t there, Admiral?”
A hesitant Matheson exchanged glances with Alexander. Seeing the pilot nodding confidently at him, he cleared his throat. “As I have told you, the Coalition in which your father and I are involved is composed of some very important people. Some of these people have officially made contact with the World Government to ask for its support against the Militarist Government… and eventually, bring Britain into the World Government.”
Charles’ eyes widened. “And has World President Bandranaik agreed to give his support?”
“He has, though not officially yet. He wants to make sure first that it is actually the will of the British people to overthrow the Militarists. He also wanted to know that the Coalition wasn’t some terrorist group, like those so-called ‘Freedom Fighters’ who’ve been planting bombs all around England these last weeks.”
“How did you convince him it was not the case?”
“The representatives we sent were pretty convincing. They were people whose reputations are beyond doubt. Air Marshal Weston was amongst them. Admiral McCarthy… And even some ex-Militarists, who’ve been brought into the cause, like old General Metcalfe.”
“Samuel Metcalfe?” Charles scoffed. “That old goat must be over eighty, and stubborn as a mule. It must have been an exploit in itself to convince him to come out of retirement and actually join your Coalition.”
“Old Sam Metcalfe has a son, Arthur, who in turn has three sons,” Alexander said. “The four of them are strong supporters of the cause. Fortunately, the boys are as stubborn as their grandfather. They somehow convinced him.” A smile crossed the elder Gray’s features. “I think the eldest has your name, Charles… Must be about your age, too… married, with a young boy of his own.”
Charles frowned. For a few years, his father had been bugging him about getting married and having children. The old man had grown fond of the idea of having a grandchild or two. Unfortunately for him, his son didn’t share his feelings.
“When will President Bandranaik make his support official, Admiral?” Charles asked, quickly changing the subject.
“His representatives are presently at our base…” Matheson responded. He looked Charles squarely in the eyes. “…in the Orkneys.”
“Good Lord,” Charles murmured. “If there is a British attack on that base and the World Government officials are harmed in any way…”
“Now you understand,” Matheson nodded slowly. “That’s why you must go there, Captain. There are already other British ships on their way, and they will search for that base… And unlike you, their commanders may not hesitate before actually following orders and destroying it.”
“I see why you seem so desperate for my help,” Charles mused. “Do you know how many ships there are?”
“Three ships, really,” Charles muttered. “And naturally, you want me to oppose them if it comes to it.”
“That’s why we’re asking you to go there, Captain.”
“And who’s in charge of the search operation?”
Charles, who was about to take a sip of coffee, stopped his cup halfway to his lips. He looked at Matheson in disbelief. “Renfro? You want me to engage the Horatio Nelson? PLUS two other ships?”
“Would that be a problem?” Matheson asked innocently.
“Sir, you know as well as I do that Renfro is the best commander in the Fleet. As for his ship…”
“I believe the Drake has nothing to envy the Nelson,” Matheson interrupted quickly. “Nothing, Charles. Not even her captain…” He shook his head. “The only thing Renfro has more than you is years of experience. YOU are the best commander in the Fleet, Captain Gray, despite your young age. Only you can hope to engage Renfro and come out victorious.”
“The Nelson and two other ships,” Charles continued to muse. “Those odds are…”
“Not nearly as desperate as when Captain Francis Drake actually had to face the entire Spanish Armada,” Matheson remarked, smiling.
“I wouldn’t go that far in comparison. Beside, Drake had a storm on his side.” Charles stared at Matheson. “Why me?” he asked, frowning deeply.
“Your convictions make you the only man for the job,” Alexander remarked.
Charles sighed. “I’m still not sure… I have to think about this. And it’s not the kind of decision I can take on my own. I’ll have to consult my staff.”
“Do whatever your conscience tells you,” Matheson said, nodding. “But you shouldn’t spend too much time thinking. We’re running out of time, Captain. And… be careful with your first officer.”
“He is well known to be a confirmed Militarist, with a loyalty to the Government bordering fanaticism.”
“I’ll keep that in mind, Admiral.”
Matheson reached into his pocket and pulled out another letter he handed to the young ship’s commander. “Here. You’ll find in there the co-ordinates to contact General Weston. When you have reached your decision, and if it’s the one we’re hoping for, contact him. He’ll give you the exact position of the rebel base.”
Charles eyed the letter with a thoughtful look. “You take a great risk, Admiral, handing me this information. How do you know I won’t use it against you and your cause?”
“I trust you not to betray our confidence in you, Charles. Even if you don’t give us your support.” Matheson got to his feet, promptly imitated by Alexander. “Weigh your options, but do it carefully and swiftly. I can’t tell you how important it is to take quick action…” He hesitated a couple of seconds. “Captain, I must make you aware of something: if we are successful in this, we have much to gain. Britain will finally be free of the military despotism under which it’s been kept for too long. She will probably join the World Government. If, however, we fail… the consequences on all our lives will be disastrous. We’ll be considered traitors to our own country...”
“I’ve never been afraid to face the consequences of my acts, Admiral,” Charles answered calmly. “If I do help you, it won’t be any different.”
“You are a wise young man, Captain Gray. If we are successful, and I have a strong feeling we will be, I’m quite sure you’ll have a bright future under the new order.”
Charles tilted his head to the side. “I assure you, sir, that if I give you my help, it won’t be in exchange for any reward or promotion.”
Matheson smiled and nodded his understanding. “We’ll go now,” he said. “I’m expected in London this evening, by the High Command. It wouldn’t be safe to make them wait, would it, Alex?”
“Certainly not, Admiral,” Alexander agreed quietly.
“You have a fine lad, here, my friend,” Matheson continued, addressing his pilot. “I know a lot of men who would be proud to call him his son.”
Charles felt a bit embarrassed over the compliment. He cleared his throat and gestured toward the door leading out of his cabin. “I’ll escort you to your helicopter, gentlemen.”
He preceded the two men through to the helicopter pad. Matheson shook his hand one last time before taking his place in the craft. Charles then turned to his father who was following behind.
“You really look great, Charles,” the older man said, gazing at his son.
“You look great too, Father,” Charles responded with a faint smile. “How do you find not having to bark at any more young recruits?”
“It’s done my voice a lot of good!” Alexander laughed softly. “And it’s a wonderful feeling to be back in action.” He shook his head. “You know, the admiral is right. We often had a stressful relationship, you and me… Especially when you decided to join the Navy instead of the Air Force…”
“…But it’s true, you know?” Alexander interrupted his son. “I’m really, really proud of you, and of your accomplishments.”
Charles frowned mockingly. “Are you trying to make me blush in front of my entire crew, Flight Sergeant Gray?”
“Now, that would be a really funny sight, Captain!”
Alexander came to attention and saluted his son; the latter brought his hand to his brow to respond and then hesitated; he reached for his father and hugged him in his arms, thumping his back. “It’s been good to see you, Dad.”
A bit surprised by Charles’ gesture, for he had never been particularly demonstrative, Alexander squeezed him back against his heart. “Yes. It’s been good for me too… Take good care of yourself, will you?”
“I will… And you be careful.”
Alexander nodded quietly. He broke their embrace and strode toward the helicopter where Admiral Matheson was patiently waiting. He took his seat at the helm and started the engine. The rotor began to turn, gradually picking up speed. People on the helicopter pad stepped back, including Charles who was still looking in his father’s direction. He snapped a military salute at the pilot who answered smartly. Then the helicopter lifted, and left the deck of the Sir Francis Drake warship.
Captain Charles Gray climbed up the ladder to the upper bridge surmounting the helicopter pad and then thoughtfully followed the craft as it pulled away from his ship. He was still pondering what he had just learned from the two men onboard when he noticed Bennett’s absence from his side. He saw the man below, also watching as the aircraft departed.
“So, Captain, it’s not every day we get to receive a full admiral on board, eh?”
Charles Gray glanced at the man who had approached him on his left, to address him with his very recognizable Irish brogue. Quartermaster Greg Dooley had served onboard warships far longer than Gray himself had been in the Navy. Even if there was a definite difference in age and rank between the two men, Charles had always felt friendly toward the other man, and thought of him as probably one of his most loyal crewmembers. He wondered now how deep his loyalty to the British Military regime really was. Irish people didn't have the reputation of being very fond of it, but Dooley’s service record was flawless.
The helicopter was about three hundred metres from the ship and Captain Gray was about to turn away to go down to his cabin, when the aircraft violently exploded in a giant fireball. About everybody on deck instinctively ducked down, Charles amongst them. Petrified with horror, he could only look as the wreckage of what was once the helicopter plunged down into the sea.
Total confusion now reigned on the ship. There were shouts of surprise, and murmurs everywhere. Those who had not witnessed the blast came over to find out what had happened. Charles quickly strode across the bridge, his eyes riveted on the flames spreading on the water’s surface, at the spot where the main piece of the helicopter had fallen.
“Dear sweet Mother of God!” he heard a man whispering near him. “Those two guys… They had no chance.”
Shaking all over, Charles grabbed the railing. His father was gone. In a matter of seconds, he had disappeared in a fiery explosion, at the helm of his craft. Emotions washed over the young captain as he stared in disbelief at what was left of the scene. He felt desperate and useless, to have seen it all and been unable to do anything to prevent it.
Dad… What had happened? What went wrong? Frustration took hold of him. Standard procedure demanded that any helicopter touching down on a ship should be checked by the onboard team of aviation mechanics, to make sure it was in perfect order for its eventual departure. The regulations on the Drake were no different from any other ship. And Charles was one hundred percent certain the job had been done in this instance, like in any other. Something else had occurred.
Charles’ trembling eyes then found one man, who, amidst all the confusion on the deck, was standing still in one place, looking up impassively at him. The young ship commander stared back at the man, and then understood almost instantly that the explosion was not an accident.
Captain Charles Gray had the deep conviction that Commander Jackson Bennett had somehow sabotaged the helicopter he knew was transporting two dedicated opponents of the British Militarist government.
How much does he actually know about the real reason for their presence here? Gray thought as he looked down with contained fury at his first officer. Quite a lot, by the way Bennett was staring at him, as if to challenge him.
No. Not to challenge him, Charles realized, but to warn him. It was so clear… Bennett was only the messenger. It was a message from the High Command. Not to go further. Not to get involved.
And to stop his involvement, the powers-that-be had murdered his father. Charles had tremendous difficulty keeping his turmoil, anger and pain in check as he stared back at the man. His hands squeezed tightly around the cold metal of the railing. So tightly that his knuckles turned white.
There was a time for justice and revenge, he thought, and a time for mourning. Soon, very soon. But not now.
Now was the time for duty. And if he had had doubts as to where his duty and loyalty lay before, Captain Charles Gray had no such hesitation anymore. Britain was in dire need of help and he intended bringing it to her.