A “Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons” story for Christmas
By Chris Bishop
In all his years, Charles Grey had been confronted with many strange situations – many more than the officers under his command even realised or suspected. And when he became director of the British branch of the Universal Secret Service, he gained access to many confidential records of strange events and situations that very few people were privy to, and would even have had trouble believing in.
These experiences had made it easy for him, as Colonel White, commander of Spectrum, to accept the existence of the Mysterons, and to acknowledge the extraordinary powers they held. He had to admit that when they turned up and threatened Earth with their war of nerves, nothing before or after them proved to be more unusual – an alien enemy able to recreate a dead person to use for their own nefarious purposes had to top anything he had ever faced.
Today, however, as he sat in the Conference Room in this late afternoon with Doctor Fawn, Doctor Lavender, Captain Blue and Captain Grey, he wasn’t so sure this new situation with which Spectrum was now confronted had not managed to top even the Mysterons.
Two days had passed since the explosion of the variable mode generator in the engine room, and since then, White had read the many reports presented to him about the incident by all witnesses and people involved with what had happened – and from experts as well, including Doctor Fawn’s most unusual medical account on his examination of their unexpected ‘guest’.
White was doing his best to appear unfazed, but he couldn’t help but stare with deep perplexity at the young boy currently standing before them. He was wearing a shirt and trousers almost his right size – perhaps a little larger, but not as much as it would look too awkward. Lieutenant Beryl had managed to borrow from a Philippine technician of very small stature – an Ati from the island of Panay, so White understood – clothing befitting a boy more than any outfit that could be found in Harmony Angel’s wardrobe. The boy even had proper shoes on – sneakers, visibly used by the look of them, with dirt stains and many little spots of paint of various colours.
The boy stood rigidly on the other side of the table, looking even more solemn than the security guard that stood beside him. He was a strapping young lad; dark hair, deep blue eyes, and indeed, White could certainly recognise in this boy’s features a much younger version of Captain Scarlet. There was the same sharpness in those eyes, and the colonel could even detect some defiance in them. And perhaps, also, edginess. He looked somehow confused, but not to the point of appearing completely lost.
The Spectrum commander couldn’t help but wonder what could be going through his mind at the moment.
“What is your name, son?”
White could have kicked himself over the use of the last word. He had used it instinctively, and it was out before he could even stop himself. After all, if he had to believe the reports and all the indications regarding this boy’s identity, this was probably one of his own officers standing in front of him. Under the circumstances, the term might appear patronising.
The young man straightened himself to attention, almost to the point of bending backwards.
“Paul Metcalfe, sir,” he answered firmly.
His whole attitude made it obvious that the boy had grown up in a military environment. White exchanged glances with the four men seated at the table with him. He noticed all of them were keeping an even expression. Blue in particular was doing his utmost not to appear too disarmed by the situation. No doubt, Blue felt as awkward as White himself. Perhaps even more.
The colonel cleared his throat. “And how old are you, Mister Metcalfe?”
“I’m ten, sir.”
Ten. Only two days before, Scarlet was celebrating his 34th birthday. White leaned over the table, intertwining his fingers together, looking intently at the boy.
“Do you know where you are?” he asked.
The boy shook his head to the negative. White narrowed his eyes, and leaned his head to the side, before asking carefully:
“Do you know who I am?”
The boy kept rigid. “No, sir. Should I know you?”
White kept himself from grunting. He gestured towards the four men seated with him. “And do you know who these gentlemen are?”
Paul looked carefully at each of the men staring so intently at him. After a few seconds, he pointed first at Fawn. “He’s a doctor… I saw him earlier when I woke up at the hospital.”
“Sickbay,” Fawn corrected. “And that was yesterday evening we… first met.”
“And I know this guy,” Paul continued, pointing to Captain Blue. White noticed a flare of hope in the American officer’s blue eyes, but it was quickly smothered by the boy’s next words: “He’s the guy who got me out of that burning room, yes?”
“You remember the burning room?” Captain Grey asked quietly.
“Sure. When I woke up, there were smokes and flames all around me, and I felt dizzy. And then there was this guy.” Paul pointed again at Captain Blue. “He found me. He got me out, right?”
“Captain Blue indeed found you and took you to sickbay,” White confirmed.
“Captain Blue?” the boy repeated in confusion.
The Spectrum commander nodded. “I’m Colonel White.” He noticed with dissatisfaction the way the boy was looking at him, without any recognition whatsoever. The names obviously didn’t mean anything to him. “This is Doctor Fawn, our chief medical officer. Doctor Lavender, the head of our Research and Development department… and Captain Grey, who, like Captain Blue, is a member of my staff,” White added, pointing at each of the men in turn. “You don’t remember any of them at all?”
Paul shook his head. “No, sir.” He hesitated slightly, before adding, tentatively: “There was another man… He was in the burning room too. A black man.”
“Lieutenant Green,” Captain Blue confirmed, as White glanced at him.
“D’you all have colours as names?” Paul asked with a perplexed frown.
“Not all, but many of us,” White answered. “The members of the senior staff all have a colour designation. Those are codenames.”
“Why?” the boy asked.
“They are designed to protect our identities. We are members of Spectrum.”
White watched, hoping that the revelation would trigger something in the young man. He knew that his officers were sharing the same hope; however, there didn’t seem to be any reaction in Paul.
White frowned. “Do you know what Spectrum is, Mister Metcalfe?”
The boy shrugged. “No, sir.”
“Do you know about Cloudbase?” Grey then added swiftly.
“The lowest altitude of the visible portion of the clouds?” Paul asked. The assembled officers looked at him with perplexity and he shook his head. “My uncle George’s a pilot. Often, he takes me flying, and I sit in the cockpit with him and he explains the instruments, and –” He stopped himself, and looked suddenly worried. “He’s not in trouble for that, is he?”
“No, he’s not,” White reassured him, adopting a softer tone. “But that’s not what Captain Grey meant when he mentioned Cloudbase. He was referring to the name of this base.”
“Oh.” Paul simply nodded.
“Cloudbase is Spectrum’s headquarters,” White continued. “I am the commander of Spectrum.”
“What’s Spectrum?” Paul asked.
“Spectrum is an international security organisation. We answer only to the World President.”
“The World President, Mr. Nikita Bandranaik?”
White’s frown deepened. Nikita Bandranaik had been elected the first World President many years ago… And indeed, he was in office when Paul Metcalfe was about the age he currently appeared to be.
“None of this means anything to you?” he inquired, instead of answering. As he received no positive answer, he asked again: “How about the Angels?” He hesitated slightly and taking a calculated risk, added: “And the Mysterons?”
“What’s a Mysteron?”
The clueless expression in Paul’s face was enough to convince everyone present that the boy had absolutely no idea what this was all about. Colonel White preferred not to address the question about what a Mysteron was.
Not yet, anyway.
“So you don’t remember anything about us, then?”
Paul shrugged; it was an almost indifferent shrug. It was as if he couldn’t care less about what these men were telling him. “Should I?” he asked.
White scowled; he looked at Doctor Fawn, seated to his right. The latter permitted himself an almost imperceptible shake of the head, which conveyed his dismay. White then exchanged glances with Doctor Lavender who shrugged, without saying anything.
Discontented with their lack of answers, the Spectrum commander returned his attention to the youngster. Even more carefully than before, he asked: “Does the name ‘Captain Scarlet’ mean anything to you?”
He hoped that this question at least would stir a reaction within the boy. He was sadly mistaken; again, he saw him shrug indifferently.
“That’s another guy from your organisation?” he asked flippantly enough.
White did his best to hide his mounting frustration. “What is the last thing you remember, Mister Metcalfe?”
This time, the boy didn’t answer; he didn’t seem to understand what White meant by this question. Blue leaned over the table to address him, in a softer voice:
“Paul, what do you remember from before waking up in that burning room? Where were you and what were you doing? You remember that?”
Paul nodded vigorously. “Oh, that’s easy. I was celebrating my birthday with my family. And then, I went to bed… I had school the next day, you know.” The boy frowned, as if trying to remember the rest. “And then… I remember a bright, blinding light… And felt like I was falling. It was like a dream. I tried to wake up, but I couldn’t.”
“But you did wake up in the end,” White noted.
“Yeah… and I was surrounded by smoke and fire and debris… It was as if there had been a bombing, or something… And I couldn’t breathe properly.”
“From the smoke, obviously,” Fawn then commented, attracting attention to himself. “He’s all right now, we treated him with oxygen. That’s why you couldn’t see him before today, Colonel.”
“And you were there,” Paul said, pointing to Blue. “With that other guy. The one you called Lieutenant Green.” He frowned again, obviously trying to recall more. “That… wasn’t my bedroom I woke up in… was it?” He looked expectantly at all of them. “The fire… it didn’t happened at my home? My parents… are they okay? Was anyone hurt?”
“Calm down,” Blue said soothingly. “Nobody’s hurt, and nothing happened to your home. The fire you remember occurred here on Cloudbase. One of our generators exploded in the engine room. You were caught in the explosion, but you’re okay.”
There was obvious relief on the boy’s face. “Is that true?” he asked, still slightly doubting.
“Your parents are safe, back home,” Colonel White confirmed.
“How come I’m here?” Paul asked. “What am I doing here? What was I doing in your engine room?”
“That’s… a little complicated to explain,” Grey then said. “Especially considering all you’ve forgotten…”
“I didn’t forget anything,” Paul replied defensively.
“Well, actually –”
“I want to go back home,” Paul demanded abruptly, interrupting Grey before he could continue.
White scowled. He didn’t like Paul’s tone of voice; but he had to remember that he had a young boy in front of him now, and not an adult Captain Scarlet.
Although the boy’s attitude was fairly reminiscence of Scarlet at his worst.
“Back home? Back to Winchester?” White asked.
“Then you know I’m from Winchester?” the boy asked. Now he sounded a little suspicious.
“Yes, we know that,” White confirmed. “We know a great deal about you.” And more than you do yourself at the moment, he added inwardly.
“If you know that, that means you also knew from the start who I am,” Paul commented. “Why did you ask my name, then?”
“Well… we wanted to find out how much you remembered about yourself,” White explained. “Obviously, you know who you are. But –”
“Do you know who my father is?” Paul asked with a deep frown. “If you do, then you also know he won’t be happy with you… He won’t like that you kidnapped me!”
White snorted. “Kidnapped you? That’s preposterous! No-one kidnapped you, young man.”
“We’re all your friends here,” Blue then said.
“Friends? How can you be my friends? I don’t even know who the lot of you are! All I know is that I fell asleep in my room, and woke up here. So that must mean you kidnapped me in my sleep and brought me here – wherever this place is exactly!”
“We didn’t do such a thing,” White answered. “And… actually, you could say this place is your home, now.”
That last observation seemed to rile the boy even more. “No, it’s not my home. Send me back to Winchester. My dad’s gonna be cross with you to have taken me. He’s gonna kick your butt!”
“Will he now?” White said with a deeper frown.
“My dad knows people. You’re all gonna be in trouble.”
“Well, that would be nothing compared with the trouble we’re having
now,” White replied in a low voice. He
was unsure if Paul had heard him or not; he only noticed the angry way the
young boy was glaring at him. He
sighed. “I’m sorry, but as much as I
would like to consent to your request, I will have to say no.”
Paul looked plainly disappointed. “So you’ll not send me back home?”
“No, I’m afraid it’s impossible, lad.” White saw the glitter of defiance burning hotter in the boy’s eyes. “I’m sorry,” he repeated in a softer voice. “But you will have to stay with us for a time. Be assured that it’s only a temporary measure, until this situation is resolved.”
“What situation?” Paul asked grumpily. “What’s so special about me that you find so interesting?”
“More than you can imagine, obviously,” White replied, fighting hard not to smile. “Don’t worry, we’ll take good care of you. And I promise you, we will explain everything to you – as soon as we understand what’s going on ourselves.”
White realised that the boy wasn’t really listening to him, as he had lowered his head and didn’t seem inclined to answer. Or, if he was listening, maybe he didn’t believe him at all.
He cleared his throat. “Corporal Jarvis,” he said addressing the security guard standing next to Paul,” can you take this… young man outside for a minute?”
“S.I.G., sir,” Jarvis answered, straightening to attention.
“This shouldn’t take long, Mr. Metcalfe,” White told Paul again. “We have to discuss arrangements, to make sure your stay here will be as comfortable and agreeable as possible for you. Perhaps you’ll even find it entertaining.”
“Yeah, well… That’ll surprise me very much,” Paul groused with barely concealed irritation.
Docilely though, he followed Jarvis through the door, without even deigning to look behind him. The five men seated around the table followed him with their eyes, until he disappeared from their view and the door slid close.
“Your thoughts on this, gentlemen,” White then asked, rather abruptly. “Starting with you, Doctor Fawn. Can you confirm this is really Captain Scarlet?”
Fawn gave a deep sigh. “D.N.A. is a perfect match. However impossible it might seem, this young boy is indeed none other than Captain Scarlet.”
“I was afraid you would say that,” Blue said gloomily. But in a way, he was relieved. At least now, they had confirmation that Scarlet had not truly disappeared, as no other trace had been found of him in the search of the engine room.
“You gotta be kidding me,” Captain Grey groaned out loud.
Fawn, who was about to taste the very black and now very cold coffee he had in front of him, glared at him. For the past two days he had barely slept. He just knew he looked the part too.
“Does this look like the face of a kidding man, Captain?”
“I didn’t mean to imply anything other than surprise, Doctor,” Grey quickly defended himself. “How could this have happened, to begin with? He cannot have… reverted to a kid just like that! There’s got to be a reason for how it happened! It cannot be because he was in close proximity of that exploding generator. Those things only happen in comic books, not in real life!”
“We thought that alien invaders from Mars only existed in comic books as well,” the voice of Doctor Lavender then remarked, very stoically. “But still very recently, real life indeed proved us wrong.”
“Do you mean to say you know what happened to Captain Scarlet, Doctor Lavender?” Colonel White asked.
“I have a theory.” Lavender took a sip of his glass of water with exaggerated slowness. Noticing all eyes were turned to him, he put his glass down and cleared his throat: “For what it’s worth, Colonel, and I’m not one hundred percent positive it’s exactly what happened,” he said as a preamble, “I already discussed it with Doctor Fawn, as I wanted the opinion of another scientific mind to test if my theory had any viability. He agrees that it might actually be a possible explanation.”
“Please, Doctor,” White requested with impatience, even as he caught sight of Fawn’s approving nod. “What is this theory of yours which might explain this… fantastic phenomenon?”
“I think we can easily suspect that the tachyonic radiation is responsible for… er… Captain Scarlet’s rejuvenation.”
“Tachyonic radiation?” White said with a doubting frown. “That strange occurrence that followed the generator’s explosion in the engine room?”
Blue snorted. “You’re not even sure this thing was indeed tachyonic radiation, Doctor,” he remarked.
“Actually, that’s not quite true. You are choosing not to believe it was exactly what it was, Captain,” Lavender retorted. “That phenomenon down in the engine room couldn’t be anything but the manifestation of tachyonic radiation. Remember that the theory stipulating that tachyons might be created by anti-gravity force fields isn’t mine specifically, although I do adhere to it – especially after having seen what we saw two days ago in the engine room! Captain Scarlet received a heavy dose of that tachyonic radiation – and I believe it might have done something to his physiology.”
“Might… You got that right,” Grey grunted. “How could tachyonic radiation transform a full grown man to a young boy? It makes no sense.”
“Actually it has been theorised that tachyons, considering that they travel faster than light, could permit atoms to travel through time and space easily – and could reverse the effects of ageing, under a combination of correct circumstances.”
“You’re kidding,” Blue mumbled.
Lavender heard him perfectly and turned directly to him. “No, Captain. I’m quite serious. You saw the visual effects displayed by the tachyons in the engine room. Those little lights seemingly going in two directions, as you were seeing both the past and future reflections of the present particle?”
“I didn’t believe for one second any of that bull you served us,” Blue retorted.
“And yet, here we have a man in his mid-thirties turned into a ten year old child,” Lavender came back stoically. “Do you have a better explanation, then?”
“How about this green lightning Rhapsody said she saw, just before the last explosion?” White suggested, interrupting Blue before he could say something else. That had been bugging him for the last two days. Rhapsody’s report had prompted a full check on all the members of Cloudbase’s crew, to make sure everyone was accounted for and were exactly who they were supposed to be. Fortunately, there had not been any incident that suggested that anyone onboard could have been turned into a Mysteron agent. However, he couldn’t rule out for certain the possibility that the Mysterons might have had a hand in what had happened in the engine room.
The explosion of the generator had made one innocent victim… but no Mysteron was now roaming free onboard Cloudbase, of that Spectrum had made sure.
“Yes, could it be a trick of the Mysterons?” Blue said in turn.
“They have powers we can’t hope to comprehend,” Grey said gloomily.
“We can’t even be sure this lightning was actually a Mysteron manifestation,” Lavender said. “Perhaps what Rhapsody Angel saw was only a trick of the eye?”
“That’s a possibility we cannot dismiss,” White retorted.
“The explosion of the generator doesn’t seem to have been caused by any strange alien occurrence, though,” Grey said. “Lieutenant Beryl’s investigation on the matter mentions a tiny fault in the generator’s electronic controls. Cloudbase has been hit by lightning multiple times during the last months, and it only took one hit too many for the circuits to give up. Beryl’s team is making sure this won’t happen again,” he added, seeing White turn to him.
“All right,” Blue said thoughtfully. “The Mysterons might not have caused the generator to explode. They cannot possibly know of the fault. But for the rest… if we admit that Scarlet’s condition is indeed due to this… tachyonic radiation bath he was subjected to, perhaps the Mysterons simply made sure this would indeed happen? It wouldn’t be the first time they did that.”
“We have to admit that the Mysterons do tend to use fortuitous events to their own advantage,” White concurred. “Whatever their objectives might be.”
Lavender raised an eyebrow, obviously doubtful. “To what purpose would they have turned Captain Scarlet back to a young boy? Doesn’t seem very logical on their part… And not quite up their alley.”
“Doctor Fawn,” White said, turning to his chief medical officer. “What do you think of this?”
Fawn shrugged. “As Doctor Lavender told you, he discussed his theory with me,” he said carefully. “I do agree that the incident might have something to do with Scarlet’s condition. We would have to be blind not to realise the tachyonic bath he received and his turning to a ten-year-old right afterwards are related.”
“Ah!” Lavender said triumphantly. “You see?”
“However,” Fawn quickly added, “I also happen to think that it might not be the only factor that contributed to this strange phenomenon. Maybe an ‘accident’ like the one that just happened might have had a different outcome if it had happened to anyone else.”
“His unique condition might have caused Scarlet to revert to being a child?” a doubtful White said with a renewed frown.
“Doctor Lavender did mention something about ‘a combination of correct circumstances’ possibly reverting the effects of ageing. Thus far, we might not be sure of the Mysterons’ involvement in what happened to him, but I firmly believe Captain Scarlet’s unique physiology could have played an important part in it.”
“Whatever do you mean, exactly?” White asked with a frown.
Fawn sighed. “You know I always say that there is a lot I… that is, we don’t understand about Captain Scarlet’s unique metabolism. Mostly, he’s like any of us, but still with enough differences to make him… not entirely human. As much as I despise saying this myself, we might have yet another indication how true this assertion could be.”
“So while this unique metabolism of his,” Blue said, “when he was bombarded by that tachyonic radiation, had that surprising effect on him, a normal human being –”
“ – Might have been killed outright,” Fawn finished.
“His retrometabolism might indeed have reacted to the assault of this very unique radiation in a very peculiar way,” Lavender then said thoughtfully. “As far as we know, maybe a normal human being could have been disintegrated by the amount of radiation – tachyonic or otherwise – that Scarlet received in that explosion.”
“Lambert,” Grey said at this point. “We did find his body in that room when we searched it. It wasn’t very nice to look at. Only bits here and there. Nearly burned to a crisp.”
“Identification was only possible through dental records,” Fawn confirmed. “You were probably lucky Scarlet didn’t permit you to follow him in that room, Captain Blue.”
“That’s what he does,” Blue groused. “Always putting himself into harm’s way, so no life would be lost.”
“He does what needs to be done, Captain,” White remarked.
“I know, sir. And I also know he’s always expecting to ‘get better’ afterwards, but you can say that this time, his heroism had rather unexpected results.”
“Talked about unexpected,” Grey muttered. “Turned into a ten year old kid…”
“Why can’t he remember us?” White asked.
“I don’t know,” Fawn admitted. “I saw no sign of outside trauma, no specific injury that might have caused any kind of amnesia… And you heard him, just like I did when he first woke up in sickbay. He doesn’t seem to remember anything beyond his tenth birthday. Like it’s not only his body which returned to that age… but his mind, and memory as well.”
“So no residual memory of his adult life?” White asked.
“None that I have been able to extract so far, no. Mind you, they might be hidden very deep. It’s possible that over time, he might experience some vague recollection of his past life… like déjà vu. For now, since he doesn’t remember any of us, for him it’s like he’s in a very strange place, amongst strangers he doesn’t know. So he reacts the only way any child – or even an adult person – would, in the circumstances.”
“With mistrust,” Grey said in turn. “And confusion.”
“Confusion all right,” White grumbled. “Can we jog his memory? I mean, tell him about himself, what happened, show him pictures and records…”
Fawn shook his head. “Would he believe you if you tried? That would be far too unbelievable for him. Again, he would react like the child he is. And from my experience, if you try to convince a child that age of something he might not be willing to believe or understand, the only results you’ll have would be to turn him against you even more.”
“So your suggestion would be not to tell him anything?” Blue asked.
“Not right away, no. At least, not until we win his trust. Then we’ll see what we can do.”
“Winning his trust might be complicated.” White sat back in his chair, looking gloomy. “He’s ten, but he’s every bit as stubborn as his adult self.” He stroked his chin, unhappily. “And he doesn’t seem to like me much.”
“Oh, I wouldn’t say that.” Fawn smiled with empathy. “You represent authority, Colonel. Children that age – especially precocious children – usually don’t like authority figures.”
White scowled. “Odd. General Metcalfe told me once that his son was a relatively easy-going child in his young years. Boisterous, as you would expect him to be, but an obedient one.”
Fawn chuckled. “To his parents, maybe. But do you really expect Scarlet to have been an ideal child at ten?
White gave a low scoff. “With his propensity to always find himself in trouble? Even when he’s not looking for it – which he often does – it will always find him anyway.”
“This situation seems to be another proof of that,” Grey remarked.
“Well, I suppose it’s only a matter of time before his retrometabolism take care of this problem and he’ll return to his normal self,” Colonel White said thoughtfully. “How long do you expect for that to happen, Doctor Fawn?”
At that question, Fawn hesitated. He exchanged glances with Lavender, and Colonel White could see in both scientists’ features the same amount of concerned doubt.
“Is there something else you haven’t told us?” he asked.
“Well… Yes, there is something,” Fawn said in a low voice.
“That sounds ominous. What is it?”
“I don’t think we should count on Captain Scarlet’s retrometabolism to bring him back to the way he was,” Lavender answered.
“Not right away, anyway,” Fawn added quickly. “It seems that, as the boy he is right now, Scarlet’s not retrometabolic.”
“He’s not…?” White was perplexed. Captain Blue and Captain Grey opened eyes wide with horrified surprise.
“He’s not retrometabolic?” Blue echoed.
Fawn nodded reluctantly. “When I first examined him, I noticed a cut on his right arm that didn’t look like it was healing as it normally would with his rapid healing powers; I treated it so it would not get infected. His body is covered with bruises and cuts. And, when I took a sample of blood, the puncture didn’t heal either.”
“Maybe his powers just – slowed down?” Blue suggested.
Fawn shrugged. “Then they slowed down to a standstill. I kept a close eye on the boy, over the past two days. At no point was there any sign of rapid healing in him. He’s just a normal young boy of ten. In remarkably good health, but still not displaying any of the powers he inherits from the Mysterons.”
“So he lost his healing powers?” Grey asked with disbelief.
“How did that happen?” White asked in turn.
“The tachyonic radiation might have put a dampener on his powers,” Lavender said. “Now whether it’s permanent or not, we don’t know as yet. We’ll have to conduct tests – and pray, if you believe in that sort of things.”
“That’s a useless recommendation,” Blue replied with a deep annoyed frown addressed to the scientist. “I’m certainly not about to give up on him.”
“And neither will we, Captain, I can assure you,” Fawn replied softly. “But you’ll have to be aware that this could unfortunately take some time. You’re right, of course: we must keep positive that Captain Scarlet, as always, will bounce back on his feet sooner or later, and that he will ‘heal’ from this… condition.” He took a sip of his coffee but disgusted by the taste, put his cup back onto the table with a grimace. “In the meantime, we should do our best to make him comfortable… and make him feel as ‘welcomed’ as possible. He can leave sickbay now, so I suggest we find him a better place to stay until he’s back to normal.”
“We’re not well-equipped to take care of a young boy,” White remarked with obvious discontent. “This is a military base, Doctor, not a child care centre.”
Blue exchanged quick glances with Grey who rolled his eyes. Somehow, both men expected their commander to say exactly that.
“We can’t very well send him back home, Colonel,” Doctor Fawn replied. “That might give his parents a heart attack, if they see him in this condition.”
“I never suggested that,” White protested. “I’m well-aware that we can only keep him here on Cloudbase. I was only bringing up the point that we –”
An insistent buzzing sound coming from the control panel imbedded into the table just in front of his seat interrupted the Spectrum commander in the middle of his argument. He looked down at the panel and saw the blinking white light of the comm.link. He pressed the button.
“This had better be an emergency,” he said with irritation.
“This is Corporal Jarvis, sir,” a stressed voice answered immediately. “We have a situation. The boy got away from me.”
“He what?” White snapped. The other men seated at the table looked at each other with confusion.
“I just took my eyes off him for a second, sir, and when I looked again, he was making a run for it down the corridor and through an airlock.” Jarvis’ voice was hurried, and in the background, rapid footsteps could be heard. “I’m in pursuit now, but he’s fast.”
“Don’t let him out of your sight!” White roared. At the same time, Blue and Grey leapt to their feet. “Where is he heading?”
“Blast it… He just went into the central lift.”
“Alert security,” growled Colonel White. “We can’t have a ten year old child roaming freely in the control tower! Corporal, if anything happens to this boy, I will hold you personally responsible!”
“Lift just stopped at Level T-3, sir,” Jarvis said quickly.
“At least there’s no high security areas on that level,” Grey commented. “Just the officers’ restaurant and the Promenade Deck…”
“Maybe he’s hungry and remembers where to go?” Blue suggested. “We’re on it, sir. We’ll get him back safely.”
“See to that,” White growled.
Blue and Grey barely nodded their agreements and walked swiftly to the door. It was sliding open when Colonel White suddenly called out:
Blue stopped in his tracks and turned around, leaving Grey to exit the room. “Sir?”
“Scarlet is your partner. Until this situation is resolved, I leave you in charge to make sure he doesn’t get into other mischief! You have carte blanche to do whatever it takes. With the upcoming visit of the World President in a few days, I certainly don’t need additional problems!”
Blue left the room and the door slid closed on him. White let out a deep sigh and shook his head miserably.
“If this is the work of the Mysterons,” he groaned, “I think I’ve worked out their plans already… They want to sabotage this visit and make us look like fools in front of the World President.”
“Surely, they would have announced their intentions,” Fawn commented, feeling sympathy towards his commander.
“Bite your tongue, Doctor… The day is still young. Who knows what other catastrophe will fall upon us?
“The World President is not due for a few days,” Fawn added. “Maybe this situation will have resolved itself in the meantime?”
“Wishful thinking, Doctor,” Lavender said gloomily.
“A little constructive thought never did any harm, Doctor Lavender,” Fawn retorted swiftly, annoyed by his colleague’s remark. “And you could at least be a little more supportive. That could also be helpful.”
“General Peterson should be coming tomorrow morning, to do a preliminary tour of the base,” White said thoughtfully. “That’s standard procedure to make sure everything goes smoothly, before the World President’s official visit. I don’t suppose you can guarantee that Captain Scarlet will be back to normal by then?”
“I’m sorry, sir,” Fawn answered with a shake of his head. “I wish I could, really…”
“Never mind. Then it looks like it would be better to keep our ten year old guest out of the way, until the general’s visit is completed.”
“Surely,” Fawn protested, “you don’t expect that the Mysterons would in any way use the boy for –”
“I don’t think anything of the sort, Doctor,” White interrupted. “I’m just thinking that Peterson might not understand this child’s presence onboard. Don’t you think it might just look a little bit suspicious?”
Fawn scowled. “Actually, no, I don’t. In what way, pray tell, could it be suspicious, Colonel?”
White hesitated. “And what if the boy tells him he had been kidnapped, like he assumes?”
“Oh,” Lavender said, tutting. “That would certainly sound suspicious enough. I’m beginning to see your point, Colonel.”
“Well, I have every confidence our young guest will be found soon,” White said. “And then, we’ll have to take some special measures with him. I don’t know about you, gentlemen, but I don’t trust a young Paul Metcalfe to be any less restrained than his adult self. Especially if he thinks he’s being held here against his will.”
“Did you go to see Captain Scarlet in sickbay today?”
Captain Ochre and Melody Angel were emerging from lift A to walk into the main corridor leading to the officers’ restaurant. Ochre had picked up Melody after her stint in Angel One, and had invited her to an early dinner.
“No,” Ochre answered to the young woman’s question. “No-one was being allowed in. But I know he was well enough to get out today. He was supposed to see the colonel for evaluation.” He shook his head despondently. “Can you believe any of this?” he asked Melody. “Scarlet turned into a toddler…”
“Not a toddler, more a kid of about ten years old, according to Fawn,” Melody corrected.
“I know, I know… I remember what Fawn told us yesterday, during that briefing. “I swear, it just sounded like a massive prank. I didn’t know if I was going to laugh or take Rhapsody in my arms to comfort her… Poor girl, she was so pale, I thought she was going to faint…”
“She’s made of sterner stuff than that,” Melody retorted. “And it’s no joke, Rick. Christmas is coming, not April Fools’ Day. Besides, I can’t really see Doctor Fawn, Doctor Lavender… and especially Colonel White mounting something that big. Can you?”
“No, of course not. And Blue wouldn’t let Rhapsody in for so much distress either.” Ochre sighed. “How is she holding up since then?”
“Remarkably good, so far,” Melody reported. “As I said, she’s a tough woman… And when it comes to her boyfriend, she can take a lot more than we can imagine, I suspect. Mind you, she’s not been allowed to see him yet, either.”
“Only Blue and Grey – because of their involvement with what happened in the engine room,” Ochre said with an understanding nod. “She must be dying to see him.”
“I don’t know…” Melody said thoughtfully. “She seems torn between wanting desperately to see him and… not knowing how she’ll react when she actually does see him. She’s reassured that he’s physically fine… That is, not hurt, anyway,” she added, seeing the odd way Ochre was looking at her.
“I can only imagine what it’s like for her – her boyfriend suddenly turned into a child. How would you react, Mags?”
“You’re asking me?” Melody grinned wickedly. “My boyfriend already is acting like a child half of the time.”
“Oh, low blow, sweetheart. But then, I should have seen it coming. I opened that door very wide, didn’t I?”
“According to the gossip I heard from the nurses, when Scarlet woke up, he didn’t recognise Fawn at all. He doesn’t even seem to remember anything of his adult life.”
Ochre raised a brow. “Oh? So you listen to gossiping nurses, Melody Angel?”
“Of course… I might be a tough Angel pilot, but I’m also a normally constituted woman… Gossip is part of our life.” She glanced at him sideways. “At least, according to you, men.”
He chuckled. “Well, we like you that way – that’s how we get to learn all the interesting news.” He put his arm around her shoulders – and was rather surprised that she didn’t remove it outright. Satisfied that she would let him be this familiar with her, he continued: “You know, he won’t like it.”
“Who?” she asked with a frown.
“Scarlet. When he’s back to normal, he certainly won’t like what happened to him. I mean, those things… they’re always happening to him.”
“He does seem to attract them like a magnet,” the young woman agreed with a nod.
They were about to walk past the door of the central lift when it slid open. A young boy rushed out from the lift, without really checking where he was going, and collided with them. They looked down at him in total surprise.
“Hey, what the –” Ochre’s hand instinctively closed on the boy’s arm to hold him tight as the latter made an attempt to get away from him. With a frown of perplexity, he stared into the young face which was glaring up at him with obvious dissatisfaction.
“Who the devil are you?” the American officer blurted.
“Rick, think!” Melody then said. “It can only be –”
“Let go of me, Captain Yellow!”
Ochre wasn’t sure what baffled him the most: the voice, so young and clear, the antagonism he could hear in it, or the sudden realisation of who this boy must be.
Ochre’s hold tightened on the youngster’s arm, realising he was trying to escape him. He had trouble keeping him still.
“Calm down, kid. Where do you think you’re going like that?”
“Let me go! What do you people want with me?”
“Would you calm down?” Ochre ordered with a sterner voice. “We’re your friends and –”
“I said: let me go!”
The boy pulled on Ochre’s hand and bit it fiercely. The American yelped, and his hold loosened; taking advantage of this, the boy sent his right fist up and hit his opponent straight on the nose. The impact was painful enough to cause Ochre’s eyes to water, and he let go instinctively. The boy then kicked him in the leg with all of his strength.
Melody winced as she heard the audible sound of impact of bone against bone, and saw Ochre’s face distorted with pain, as he jumped back on his one uninjured leg, one hand reaching for his painful nose. Seeing that he had momentarily incapacitated his adversary, the boy darted to the other end of the corridor.
“Hey, wait!” Melody called after him.
He had reached the lift at the end of the corridor and pressed the opening button, turning his head slightly in her direction; the door slid open…
… Revealing both Captain Blue and Captain Grey standing in the lift.
Discovering them, the boy attempted to get away, but Captain Blue’s hand suddenly snatched him and roughly pulled him back.
With a cry of anger, the boy turned around, ready to strike this man who was hindering his escape – but Blue caught his wrist on the fly, easily stopping the closed fist from ever reaching him, and held the boy firmly, looking him straight in the face, with a stern expression.
“Now, Paul, you will calm down!” he ordered tersely.
The boy automatically stopped his antics, and froze, under the strength of the commanding voice. With eyes wide with dread, he stared up at the tall blond man who was stooping in front of him, keeping hold of both his arms.
“Captain Blue, release that boy immediately!”
It was Blue’s turn to freeze upon hearing that clear, strident voice, which caused everyone to look up. Standing in the open doorway of the officers’ restaurant, just a few meters from them, was Symphony Angel who was glaring furiously at him. She left her spot and strode purposefully towards them. She pulled Paul from Blue’s hands and stood protectively between the two of them; the American captain was too surprised to even think of reacting.
And frankly, so was the boy, who seemingly decided this young woman was a worthy protector against these men who were chasing him.
“You should be ashamed of yourself!” Symphony told Blue in a scolding voice. “Can’t you see you’re hurting him?”
Blue was beyond being stunned now. “What? I wasn’t hurting him!”
“Yes, you were!” Paul came back defiantly. “I’ll have the fingerprints of your hand on my arm for days!”
“Oh yeah? And what about what you did to me?” Followed by Melody, Captain Ochre was hobbling along the corridor towards them. His voice had taken a nasal intonation and blood was dripping from one of his nostrils. Obviously, even a ten year old Paul Metcalfe knew how to use his fists properly.
“Oh, frankly, you’re such a big baby…” To Ochre’s surprise, Melody strode past him and came to stand with Symphony in front of Paul. “He’s only a kid, and you men are all ganging up on him.”
“He escaped custody from Corporal Jarvis,” Blue tried to explain. Colonel White –”
“I’m sure Colonel White didn’t mean for you to manhandle him the way you did,” Symphony interrupted.
“Symphony…” Blue stood closer to her. He caught sight of young Paul pulling himself further behind her. He glared at his fiancée. “You do know who this is, don’t you?”
“Of course I know. I was there yesterday at the meeting Doctor Fawn held. Do you take me for an imbecile?”
“Of course not! You know he shouldn’t be allowed to run free around the base… not without the supervision of an adult?”
“Well, he does have the supervision of adults now,” Melody said in turn. “There’s certainly no need to be brutal with him.”
“You girls certainly chose a hell of a time to find your maternal streak,” Ochre groused. He lowered his eyes to Paul, who glared back and stuck out his tongue at him. “And I’m not ‘Captain Yellow’!” the American told him heatedly. “The name’s Ochre, squirt!”
“See if I care,” the boy mumbled.
“You know what, kid?” Ochre told him, pointing a threatening finger at him. “You’re asking for a good spanking, and God help me, if you continue that way, I’ll be the one giving it to you!”
Melody spun on her heel to face him, pulling Paul behind her. “If you touch him, I’ll finish the job he started on your nose!” she promised.
That took Ochre aback. He stared at her unbelievingly. “Ah, come on, Mags!” he said with exasperation. “You know I wouldn’t really –”
“I don’t like you!” Paul suddenly declared, glaring up at Ochre.
"Well, I don't like you either, so that makes us even!" Ochre growled back defiantly.
“Captain Ochre, that’s enough, you’re acting like a child,” Symphony chided him.
“He started it!”
“No, I didn’t!”
“Okay, that’s enough!” Blue’s loud intervention was enough to bring everyone’s attention back to him. Even Paul raised his eyes to the stern-looking blond American, who pointed a finger at him. “You, sir, are confined to quarters.”
“You can’t force me!” the boy challenged him.
Blue scowled. “Can’t I?”
“Blue?” Blue turned around to Grey who stood slightly behind him. “You can’t confine him to… you know… Scarlet’s quarters? I don’t think that would be a good idea.” At Blue’s inquiring scowl, Grey added, in a lower voice: “There might be stuff lying around that he might find disconcerting... Remember what Fawn told us.”
“You do have a point,” Blue said with an understanding nod. “We need a place where we can keep our eyes on him.”
“What are you on about?” Paul inquired.
“The brig sounds like the ideal place,” Ochre icily suggested without taking any notice of the boy’s question.
“Rick, the idea…” Melody glared at him. “Stop it, you’ll scare him. This boy ain’t our prisoner.”
“I’m not?” Paul asked.
“We already told you,” Blue said. “You’re amongst friends.”
“Yeah, sure… Friends who’re keeping me from going back home? I don’t trust you!”
Blue considered the boy, musing on Grey’s comments. Indeed, keeping the ten-year-old in Scarlet’s quarters didn’t seem like a good idea. At first, he had imagined that finding himself in familiar surroundings might jog the boy’s memory; but what if, to the contrary, it should somehow traumatise him?
Beside, the boy obviously needed constant surveillance, and Scarlet’s private quarters seemed a little cramped for at least two people to lodge in there for an uncertain amount of time – especially if one of those people was a turbulent and stubborn child.
Ochre’s suggestion was, of course, out of the question. And as Doctor Fawn had deemed him physically fit, sickbay would be no joy for the boy to stay in.
“I can see only one option, then,” Blue said thoughtfully.
“You’re sending me back home?” Paul asked hopefully.
Before Paul could react, Blue quickly got hold of him and picked him up from the floor, tucking the boy firmly under his arm. He turned around and walked past Symphony and Melody, and in front of Ochre, towards the central lift, taking little notice of Paul’s futile kicking and protests.
“Hey, let me go, you brute!”
“Quiet, or you’ll get the spanking Captain Ochre promised you,” Blue said sternly. “Grey, call the colonel and tell him I’ll be assigning a guest room to our young friend.”
“S.I.G.,” Grey answered swiftly.
“And I want a meeting with the senior staff in less than an hour in the Amber Room.”
“You got it, Captain,” Grey added, saluting him.
“The rest of you, follow me.”
“Symphony,” Melody asked her colleagues as they fell into line behind Ochre who was closely following Blue, “do you think Blue would really…?”
“What, spank the kid?” Symphony smiled. “Not a chance! Big Blue’s a cuddly bear at heart… And if there’s any spanking going on, I can guarantee you, it won’t be the kid who’ll get any of it.”
“Symphony, what’s keeping you over there?” called the voice of Captain Blue from up front.
“Nothing, Captain Blue,” she replied, grinning, catching the knowing smile on Melody’s lips as the door of the lift opened and the procession all went inside, one after the other.
The lift stopped at the lowest level of the control tower and the door opened to let everyone out; by the time they arrived in front of the door of one of the guest rooms, Paul had stopped his struggling, so Blue put him down on his feet. He pressed the opening button, and the door slid open in front of the still scowling boy, whom he invited in.
“This will be your quarters, Mr. Metcalfe.”
For a moment, Paul looked up at him, seeming determined to refuse to obey, but one look inside aroused his curiosity enough for him to finally decide to walk inside. Perhaps he had also realised, just by looking at Captain Blue’s set face, that the Spectrum officer was just as resolute as he was to have it his way.
They all followed behind Paul, who walked around the room, looking about with interest. The place was spacious – more spacious than any of the officers’ quarters, except maybe for Colonel White’s private suite, and was obviously designed to receive more than one guest. There was a large television screen imbedded into the wall, and a very comfortable sofa and settee in the middle of the living quarters. There was a small kitchenette in one corner, and three doors at the far end of the room.
“Those are bedrooms,” Blue said, pointing to two of the doors. “You take your pick. And the bathroom’s through there,” he added pointing to the remaining door. “You can use the TV for movies, videogames, whatever you wish. You just need to use the commands. There is a smaller TV set in each of the rooms as well.”
“Not bad,” the boy muttered, still looking around. “For a prison.”
“This is not a prison,” Blue retorted. “This is one of Cloudbase’s guest rooms. Only the V.I.P suite is better than this one.”
“And I can’t have that one?”
“No. Just be happy with what you have. Our private quarters are not as big or as nice as this room.” Plus, Blue reflected inwardly, the V.I.P. suite would be needed for the World President’s visit a few days later. Who knew if Scarlet would be back to normal by then…
Paul shrugged. “Fine, then. I guess it’s better than that room in the hospital, anyway.”
“Sickbay,” both Melody and Ochre corrected. She said it with enough grace; he, far less.
“I’ll see if I can find you some more clothes to wear,” Blue continued. “You can have all the food you want – provided it’s in reasonable quantity and it’s healthy food. We don’t do junk food on Cloudbase.”
“Fine. I don’t either.”
“Since when does Paul Metcalfe say no to a good portion of fries and a big, juicy hamburger?” Ochre whispered to Symphony, as Blue continued to show the boy around.
“Beats me,” she answered in the same voice. “I’m just wondering when Blue turned anti-junk food himself…”
“You have use of all the facilities and comforts of this room for the remainder of your stay,” Blue told Paul. “Which I hope will be short-lived.”
“You and me both,” Paul said defiantly.
“A real breath of fresh air,” Ochre said, crossing his arms across his chest and considering Paul with interest.
Paul glared at him sideways. “Hey, I didn’t ask to be here in the first place.”
“Believe me, kid, we didn’t ask for you either.”
“Do my parents know where I am, to begin with?”
“Oh, they do know you’re on Cloudbase,” Blue said, nodding knowingly.
“They sent me here?”
Blue refused to lie or to answer that question directly. “Believe me, it’s best if you’re here with us, than with them,” he simply said.
“Is there something wrong with them?” Paul asked, a little warily. “You told me they were okay… The White guy said the same.”
“They are okay,” Blue said reassuringly. “You have no need to worry about them. Or about yourself, for that matter. But you can’t contact them,” he quickly added, pre-empting the boy’s next question.
“Cloudbase’s location needs to remain secret,” Symphony said, seeing Blue hesitant to give an answer. “It’s for security reasons.” By now, she had guessed that her fiancé was reluctant to tell anything to the young Paul regarding his identity and his involvement with Spectrum. For whatever reason, she didn’t know yet – but she imagined he had good motives.
Ochre and Melody probably guessed as much as her, as they were keeping just as quiet as she was on the subject. However, when Paul turned to her to ask his next question, she was slightly taken aback:
“Are you telling me you’re keeping me here for my own safety?”
He seemed doubtful even as he spoke these words, and that made Symphony hesitate. It was Blue’s turn this time to come to her rescue:
“You can put it that way, yes,” he said, his voice still soft. “For your own safety… and for theirs, as well.”
“Okay… ” Paul nodded his head slowly, seemingly weighing this new information with sufficient consideration. “I might buy that…”
Blue tilted his head, looking thoughtfully at him. Why did Paul seem so ready to believe that explanation? It seemed far-fetched enough as it was, and yet, he appeared to accept it without too much trouble.
He didn’t press the question for now. As long as the boy stayed quiet, whatever the reasons, he was content with that.
He took a mental note to have some of the computer privileges of this room disconnected at the earliest opportunity, not only to stop Paul from trying to contact his parents, but also, so that he wouldn’t browse around Worldnet and discover that time seemingly had jumped a good twenty years ahead in the future for him. He might find that news upsetting.
“I suppose I won’t be allowed to leave this room whenever I want?” Paul asked. “I don’t know, I might feel cramped, staying here all day…”
“Oh yes, you’ll be allowed to leave this room,” Blue told him. “You’ll have permission to go eat at the officers’ restaurant, or to go to the sports hall… You can go to the pool as well, if you want. But only if you’re accompanied by your guardian.” As the boy turned an enquiring look on him, Blue continued: “Someone will be assigned to your company day and night. Now it’s obvious you still don’t trust us, and after the stunt you pulled when you escaped Corporal Jarvis’ vigilance, I don’t trust you either. We don’t want you to wander around on this base and find yourself in some critical area where a kid has no business going.”
“I suppose it’s still for my safety?” Paul challenged him.
“This is a military base, not –” Blue stopped himself. Now he was starting to sound exactly like Colonel White. He heard the barely concealed chuckles from his colleagues. He cleared his throat. “There are dangerous places onboard,” he said instead.
“Yeah. Like that exploding generator room of your, right?”
“Smart as a whip for a kid, ain’t you?” Ochre remarked with a thin grin.
“Should that surprise you that much, Captain Ochre?” Melody retorted.
“And who’s going to be my ‘guardian’, then?” Paul asked again. He pointed to Ochre. “Not Captain Yellow here, I hope?”
“It’s Captain Ochre,” Blue corrected, just as Ochre was opening his mouth to protest anew against the mishandling of his rightful codename. “And you guessed it right the first time.”
Ochre did a double-take. “Hey, wait a minute, Blue –”
“I don’t want to be left alone with that guy!” Paul protested.
“He won’t hurt you… His bark’s worse than his bite. Beside, Melody Angel will share duty with him.”
“I don’t mind, but I’m no professional babysitter,” Melody said smoothly enough. “Just so you know.”
“Since when do you like children so much?” Ochre asked her, exasperated by her lack of support.
“Since when do you think you know me enough to imagine I might dislike them?” she shot back, scoffing.
Symphony rolled her eyes. “I swear, sometimes the two of you sound like one of those old Bickersons radio recordings…”
Ochre ignored her and walked to Blue, taking him by the arm. “A minute of your time, if you please, Captain Blue…” He pulled his colleague a few steps away from the young Paul, whom Melody and Symphony instantly took under their wing to show him around the suite. Blue could see Ochre wasn’t very pleased, but he docilely followed him.
“Have you suddenly lost your marbles?” Ochre snapped in a low voice, as soon as he was sure he was out of Paul’s earshot. “You’re assigning me as that… brat’s guardian? With Melody?”
“It’s only temporary, Ochre,” Blue told him patiently. “We’ll share the duty between us until the situation is resolved. This won’t be fulltime.” He looked over his shoulder; busy with Melody and Symphony, Paul wasn’t paying any attention to them. It seemed the boy was starting to relax. “You and Melody are just taking the first shift.”
“Uh-uh,” Ochre said doubtfully. “Blue, I’m sorry to remind you, old pal, but you and I, we’re the same rank. How can you go ‘round and tell me I’ve got to do this?”
“Colonel White’s orders,” Blue said with a smile. “Think of this as a field assignment. And of me, as your field commander.”
Ochre scowled. “You’re taking way too much pleasure in this.”
Blue sighed. “Ochre, try to remember… this ‘brat’, as you call him, is one of our friends. He might not know it right now, he might not want to admit it, or even trust us, but he needs us. Desperately.”
That got to Ochre. He instantly regretted his bad temper and shook his head, relenting. “You’re right of course. You know you have my full cooperation.” He looked over his shoulder, glancing briefly in Paul’s direction. “Am I right in thinking we ought not try to force him to remember?”
“Not if you don’t want to turn him even more against us. He distrusts us enough as it is right now, and what we want is to gain his trust, not lose more of it. We have to tread carefully around him. You know how kids this age are.”
“No kidding. A ten-year-old with Scarlet’s stubborn streak? I hope he won’t stay like that too long – at least I can deal with an adult Scarlet. I can’t very well retaliate against a kid.”
“You’ll manage,” Blue said with an encouraging smile. “Tell Melody about this, will you? In the meantime, I’ll be meeting the rest of the senior staff and the Angels, and will inform them of what’s going on, and how to act around Paul. We wouldn’t want any of us to make any misstep with him. I’ll organise a rota between all of us for the guard duty. I don’t think it’ll be wise to assign other personnel to that particular assignment.”
“I totally agree with you,” Ochre said. “How long will it take before this ‘situation is resolved’?”
“I have no idea. Even Doctor Fawn can’t tell. We’ll just have to hope Paul will be back to normal soon.”
You might consider leaving Rhapsody out of it,” Ochre suggested. “It’s probably hard enough on her as it is right now.”
“She might not want to be left out of it,” Blue remarked quietly. “If I know Rhapsody, she will want to be a part of it as much as any of us. However, I’ll consider your suggestion, if there’s a need for it.
“Good. Although how you’ll manage to explain her absence away to the colonel might be a little tricky.”
Blue smiled. Ochre couldn’t know that Colonel White knew very well about Scarlet and Rhapsody’s relationship. In fact, Blue himself had learned only recently that the Spectrum commander knew that secret – which, all things considered, was much better guarded than his own relationship with Symphony.
“Don’t worry about that,” he said without committing himself. “I’ll take care of it. And in the meantime, you take good care of Paul. Keep him busy, find good ways to occupy him, so he won’t cause any trouble.”
“Put your mind at rest, Blue. And leave it to me,” Ochre said with self-assurance. “I’ll take good care of him. After all, how difficult could it be to keep a kid that age busy? I’m sure it won’t be a bother at all!”
Unfortunately for Captain Ochre, in the few hours that followed, he found out he had been slightly over-confident in his capacity to satisfy the whims of a ten year old boy. No matter how nice the American captain tried to be, the young Paul’s feeling of mistrust in him didn’t waver; on the contrary, it increased even more; in the boy’s view, the American’s friendliness didn’t ring quite true, so he was quick to imagine he was up to something. Paul made no effort to hide his feelings on the matter, and made it very clear that no attempt from Ochre to try and mollify him would come to any result.
Fortunately, while Ochre was unable to win Paul over, it wasn’t exactly the same for Melody. On the contrary, the boy grew quite attached to the Angel pilot, probably because she had taken his side against her compatriots on their first meeting. Right from the start, he liked her and showed himself much more docile with her. Ochre was fascinated to realise that the otherwise tough young woman was showing a softer side with this irritating English boy, who seemingly had nothing in common with her. She had told him she was a fighter pilot and that automatically made her interesting. She was ‘one of the guys’, and he kept asking her questions about aircraft and her experience as a pilot.
“I am a pilot, too,” Ochre then said, realising that Melody was monopolising all the boy’s attention and interest. He felt a certain level of jealousy upon seeing the camaraderie between the two of them. He knew it was ridiculous; Scarlet had never showed any romantic interest whatsoever for Melody. As a ten year old boy, that was certainly even more true.
His comment was met with the utmost level of indifference. “Yeah, so?”
At this point, Ochre gave up. He rose to his feet, under the pretext that he needed to go to the officers’ restaurant and take delivery of their dinner. He took their orders – he wasn’t that surprised to hear Paul ask for hamburgers and fries, despite his earlier claim that he didn’t like junk food – and then left them, assuring them he’d be back shortly. When the door slid closed on him, Melody and Paul were seated in the living area, and the young woman was starting to tell the boy the story of how she crashed in the South Seas and found herself stranded on an island for nearly a year. The boy was hanging on her every word.
The walk to and from the restaurant gave Ochre the time to let go of some steam; by the time he returned, he had resolved to show his best side and to win Paul’s trust.
When he entered, Melody and their young guest were still seated at the same place in the living area and he made distribution of their respective meals; Paul accepted his eagerly and started devouring it. He was obviously famished.
“I received a call from Blue while at the restaurant,” Ochre said towards the end of their meal. “We should be relieved before the end of the evening. Apparently, Colonel White wants Blue and me to be with him when General Peterson arrives tomorrow morning.”
“I know,” Melody said. “And I was designated to escort his craft back to Cloudbase. So I will be leaving early to meet his plane about halfway to base, where his World Army escort will leave me in charge.”
“Blue contacted you too?”
“No, I got the info from Magenta. While you were gone, I called him to ask for a favour and he told me all about it. He and Symphony will be relieving us tonight. They’ll stay here for the night.”
Ochre was about to ask what that favour was she needed from Magenta, when he was interrupted by Paul: “Who’s General Peterson?”
Ochre was only too happy to answer that question; for once, he had aroused the young boy’s interest. “Space General Peterson is one of the World President’s closest advisors in matters of security,” he explained. “The World President is to come to Cloudbase for a visit in a few days, so General Peterson comes tomorrow to inspect the base. He will afterwards report to the World President that it’s safe to come aboard.” He shrugged dismissively. “That’s only a formality, actually.”
“Does he know about the explosion that occurred in your engine room?” Paul answered matter-of-factly. “He might not consider the place safe after that…”
Ochre scowled. That boy was way too smart for his own good. “Of course he knows,” he said. “An incident like that can’t be kept a secret. And if the base wasn’t considered safe, he wouldn’t come in the first place.”
Paul shrugged indifferently and took another bite out of his hamburger.
Right at this moment, the door buzzed; Melody was instantly on her feet and crossed the floor. “That must be Magenta,” she said.
“Already?” Ochre was rather surprised. He didn’t expect their relief for few more hours.
Not that he didn’t welcome it.
“What colour is Magenta, exactly?” Paul asked.
That new question caused a wicked smile to spread on Ochre’s lips. “You’ll soon find out, kid.”
Melody pressed the opening button and the door slid open to reveal Symphony Angel and Captain Magenta, standing on the other side. Magenta was carrying a large brown bag in his arms; he smiled widely as he entered the room with his companion.
“Hiya, Ochre!” he called. “How’s it going?”
“Not too bad, thank you,” Ochre answered quietly. “You’re here early. What’s going on?”
“We thought of relieving you early,” Symphony explained. “So you two will have time enough to prepare for Peterson’s visit. You will probably need your rest and, as Doctor Fawn often says, the Room of Sleep isn’t always good for your health…”
“He does say that often, yeah,” Ochre agreed.
Upon seeing Paul, seated in the living area next to Ochre, Symphony waved energetically at him. “Hi, Paul!”
The young boy answered with a rather unsure wave of his own, as he still didn’t know what to make of all these strangers who were trying so hard to act so friendly towards him. He did remember Symphony as the other young woman who had stood up for him, so he was as ready to trust her as he did Melody.
His eyes, however, were not leaving Magenta, and Ochre noticed that.
“I also have this delivery to make,” the Irish captain continued, handing his bag to Melody who was still standing in front of him. “I hope this will do.” He gave a quick glance in Ochre’s direction. “I… erm… took the first one I found lying around.”
“I’m sure that’ll do perfectly,” Melody said with confidence. She eyed the contents of the bag and nodded approvingly. “Oh, yes… This looks perfect!”
“What is it?” Ochre asked with curiosity, as the three of them approached.
Melody came in front of Paul. “Just a late birthday gift for our young guest here,” she said in an innocent voice. “Or an early Christmas gift, you take your pick. Happy birthday, Paul!”
“For me?” the boy said in confusion. He took the bag Melody was handing to him. A curious Ochre was trying his best to get a glance at what it contained, without success.
“Well, you seemed bored earlier. So when you went to the bathroom, I took the opportunity to call my friend Pat and asked him to bring you this.”
“Pat?” Paul said with a furrowed frown.
“Hiya, kid,” Magenta said jovially, smiling roguishly and proffering his hand to Paul. “I’m Pat. People around here call me Captain Magenta.”
“Captain… Magenta,” Paul repeated. He presented his hand in turn, a little hesitantly, and Magenta shook it warmly. “Not Captain… Pink?” he asked with uncertainty.
That made Magenta guffaw out loud. “Oh, no… certainly not. That’s funny, isn’t it, Ochre?”
“Hilarious,” Ochre said without a single hint of amusement. He had expected more of a reaction out of Paul – the kid making fun of Magenta’s uniform colour, calling him names, whatever – but he proved to be a total disappointment. He pushed himself to his feet and walked towards the counter. “I’m getting some coffee. Anyone else want some?”
“Yes, put some milk in mine,” Melody said distractedly.
Magenta took the seat Ochre had vacated. “Magenta is more like a purplish red colour,” he explained, in an exaggerated Irish brogue. “I’m Irish, so I would have preferred green, but, hey, the colour was already taken. What could I do? It could have been worse…” He pointed to Symphony. “You already know this charming lady, don’t you?”
“We met earlier,” Symphony said. “But I didn’t have the opportunity to present myself properly.”
“Symphony, right?” Paul said with a large smile.
Hope flared in Symphony’s heart. “You remember that?” she asked with an upbeat tone.
“Sure… I heard the big blue guy calling you that earlier,” Paul explained, and Symphony did her best to hide her disappointment. The boy didn’t take any notice, as he returned his attention to the big bag on his lap. He put it on the floor at his feet and fished into it with both hands.
Ochre had reached the counter and had taken a couple of mugs from the cupboard. He was starting to fill them with the coffee he had brewed earlier, and was looking distractedly at what was happening in the living area. He noticed the conspiratorial glances between Magenta and Melody, and wondered what it could be all about, when he finally saw the huge box Paul extracted from the bag.
“Cool!” the boy said with excitement in his voice. “A model aircraft kit!”
Ochre froze on the spot, upon recognising the box as containing one of the unmade model aircraft he knew should have been in his quarters. He became livid, staring unbelievingly, as Paul excitedly turned the box in his hands, checking the colourful drawings, graphics and text covering its surface.
“A 2045 F-100 Hawkcraft… A World Government craft, right? It looks like a fun model to make too!”
“You like making model kits, Paul?” Melody asked.
“Yes, I do… I don’t do them often, ‘cause I don’t always have time. But it looks like I’ll be able to do this one, since I’m stuck here with you guys. Thanks, Melody!”
“I’m glad you like it, sweetie.” Melody caught sight of Ochre who was glaring at her with angry eyes, rooted on the spot by the counter, a half-filled cup of coffee in one hand and the coffee pot in the other. He looked ready to explode. She excused herself with a gracious smile and left her seat.
While Symphony took her place and joined Magenta in helping Paul open his box, Melody walked purposefully towards the furious-looking Ochre. He was looking daggers at her, but she made a show of not appearing too bothered by it. In total silence, he put cup and coffee pot onto the counter, and opened the door to the nearest bedroom. She preceded him inside and he followed, closing the door behind him.
She turned to him. “Now what is it, Rick?”
“It’s your doing, isn’t it?” Ochre said between his teeth. “That was your idea to give the kid one of my models?”
She sighed. “Look, Rick… He’s a kid, he was getting bored. I thought it would be a good way for him to pass the time while he’s cooped up in here. So I called Pat, and asked him to go to your quarters and get one of your unmade models.”
“Melody,” he said, forcing his voice to remain calm – and failing miserably, “that model… is a World Government F-100 Hawkcraft…”
“That’s what Paul said.”
“… Diamondback Fighter, from 2045,” Ochre finished in a strained voice. “The first fighter aircraft officially commissioned by and for the World Government.”
“Oh, I think I remember that one,” Melody said thoughtfully. “I think I flew in one of those.”
“You probably flew the Mark III model,” Ochre retorted between his teeth, trying hard not to lose his patience. “This one is the Mark I… And that particular kit they made of that craft is one of the rarest models to exist on the planet at the moment. It’s a limited, 10th anniversary edition that was released in 2055…”
“Really?” Melody said pensively. “Oh. I hope it won’t cause too much confusion if Paul notices a date on that box, then…”
“Melody, it took me two years to get my hands on that model!” Ochre suddenly exploded. “Do you know how much it cost me to get it and how difficult it was to have it shipped to London HQ, so it could be sent here to Cloudbase? And you go and give it to that kid!”
“Lower your voice. He’ll hear you. “
“He will ruin it!”
“You don’t know that,” Melody retorted sternly. “And stop being such a kid.” she sighed deeply. “Rick, a good friend of ours is in trouble… Whether or not it’s obvious to you, or even to him, that’s the simple truth. Now I don’t plan to let him down in this moment of need. That model kit is just a trifle compared to what Paul’s going through right now. Are you really telling me you consider it so important that you wouldn’t sacrifice it for the wellbeing of your friend? If that should help Paul regain his trust in us…”
“You could have chosen a better way to do it,” Ochre mumbled, calming down. “At least, you could have called me, instead of Pat.”
“When you left earlier, you didn’t look too happy. I thought it was better to leave you alone for a short moment and not bother you. Beside, you’re so attached to your models. I didn’t think you would agree.”
“I might,” he grunted. “I would have chosen another model, instead of that one…”
“Rick… It’s only a toy.”
“It’s not a toy,” Ochre protested. “It’s a highly collectable –”
“ – And overly glorified toy,” Melody interrupted him. She smiled sadly when he looked down reluctantly at her. “Rick, come on… it’s for a good cause.”
“A good cause, yeah…” Ochre sighed. “All right… maybe he won’t ruin it then. I might… help him with it.” It was a struggle for him to even suggest it. “If he wants, of course.”
“That might help smooth things between the two of you,” Melody said, encouragingly.
“Yeah, you might be right…” He smiled, and she was happy to see he was becoming reasonable. “Anything to stop him from calling me ‘Captain Yellow’,” he added with a chuckle.
There was a beeping sound coming from his epaulettes, which flashed white. Swiftly, he answered the call he knew came from Colonel White and the mic on his cap lowered to his mouth.
“Yes, Colonel?” he said into it. “Yes, sir… I’m coming over… Melody Angel? She’s with me right now, I’ll tell her… See you right away, sir.”
His mic returned to the visor of his cap and he turned to Melody. “It seems there’s been a change of plan. Peterson will be arriving at oh-seven hundred hours tomorrow morning instead of ten.”
“Oh.” Melody nodded thoughtfully. “Then it means I’ll be leaving to meet his plane in the middle of the night.”
“Should have guessed Blue’s instructions earlier meant some changes,” Ochre commented. “We have to go to the Control Room now. We’re needed for briefing.”
“Right,” the young woman said, straightening up. “Let’s take our leave of our guest then, and be on our way.”
“Gladly,” Ochre said morosely. “I’m looking forward to be doing some normal Spectrum stuff. That babysitting business is absolutely killing me.”
“Welcome to Cloudbase, General Peterson.”
It was early the next morning and Colonel White, flanked by both Captain Blue and Captain Ochre, had gone down to Cloudbase’s hangar to personally meet with Space General Peterson, whose jet had been just been lowered down by the lift from the runway above where it had landed just a few minutes before.
The general was one of President Younger’s closest security advisors; of all of the members of the World Cabinet, he was the most sympathetic and convinced supporter of Spectrum’s cause. It had been because of Peterson’s intervention and because of his insistence that, a little more than a year before, Spectrum had received the exclusive mandate to fight the Mysteron menace and be given all the leeway and budget necessary to do the job properly. He approved any project or development that might improve the organisation’s work throughout the globe and help in its war against the Mysterons. Spectrum having always met his expectations, Peterson had never regretted his decision to endorse every decision made by Colonel White, backing him even against the World President himself, when it became necessary. Colonel White had always been grateful for the general’s helpful influence and for his constant, unwavering support.
Peterson was also one of those rare people outside of Spectrum who knew of Captain Scarlet’s unique abilities, and who actually defended his presence within the organisation in those early days when officials were wary of him. General Peterson and Colonel White had known each other for almost as long as both men had been working in the World Government, and had always maintained a friendly relationship towards one another. The general had trusted in his old friend’s arguments in favour of the young man and again in that case, Peterson had no cause to regret his decision, as some time later it happened that Scarlet had saved his life, as well as those of the World President and Colonel White.
“It’s good to see you, Colonel,” Peterson said, shaking the colonel’s proffered hand. “It’s been a while, hasn’t it?”
“A while indeed,” White said with a thin smile. “Since our little misadventure in Kenya, actually.”
“Yes, exactly.” The general chuckled, a little nervously. “And this time, I believe we won’t run the risk of seeing the roof flattening us like pancakes!”
“I trust you had a good flight?”
“Yes, very good, thank you. You know, each time I visit your Cloudbase, I can’t help being in awe. She’s quite a sight in the sky. Such a technological marvel… I do envy your command, Charles. I’m really tempted to ask the World President to hand it to me.”
“Well, then you’ll have the Mysterons as well, Brian,” White reminded him.
“Mmm…” Peterson nodded and seemed to give it some thought. “In that case, I reckon you can keep her, then.”
“You’re too generous.” White turned to his right. “I don’t believe you ever met Captain Ochre, one of my staff officers?”
“I don’t think so, no. Captain Ochre…” Peterson presented his hand, that Ochre shook warmly.
“Although, I do believe I was in the selection committee that chose you… Commander Fraser, right?”
“You have a good memory, General,” Ochre said with a smile of thanks.
“And you have a reputation that precedes you, Captain.”
“And I think you remember Captain Blue?” White continued, turning to the man at his left.
“Of course. How are you, Captain Blue?”
“I’m well, General, thank you,” Blue answered shaking the general’s hand. “It’s always a pleasure to meet you. Have you done any hunting lately?”
Peterson grimaced. “As you probably recall, I do all my hunting with cameras now,” he said. “I’ve got a beautiful shot of a family of Bengal tigers living in the wild that I took last summer, while in vacation in Nepal. Beautiful animals, still an endangered species, I’m afraid. If only the human race had been more considerate of the beasts we share this planet with in the past, we would not have to fight and try to save so many species even today.”
“Too right, General.”
“If you would follow us, General,” White said, gesturing towards the exit of the hangar.
“Of course, Colonel,” Peterson said, walking with the three of them. “Captain Scarlet will not be joining us?” he asked then, looking around, as if he almost expected the English officer to appear suddenly from behind one of the many craft housed in the hangar.
White hesitated. Because of the World President’s upcoming visit to Cloudbase, he had been duty-bound to inform the proper security officials of the accident in the engine room; that was standard procedure, as they would want to insure that the president’s safety wasn’t at risk. However, the consequences of that accident for Scarlet was another question; his current condition wasn’t a security risk for the president as such, and so, the Spectrum commander didn’t see any reason to mention it. In his view, this was a private matter for Spectrum only, and he preferred not to have anyone outside of Spectrum putting their unwanted nose where it did not belong.
“Captain Scarlet is… off base, at the moment,” the colonel said casually. He didn’t like lying outright to Peterson, but quite frankly, he couldn’t think of any other explanation he could give. Besides, technically speaking, a ten year old Paul Metcalfe wasn’t exactly Captain Scarlet.
“Ah, that’s a shame,” Peterson said. “I like that young man. Especially considering how he saved all our lives in Kenya. I was rather looking forward to meeting him again. But I guess, even an indestructible agent needs to take some time off once in a while, doesn’t he, Colonel?”
“Perhaps I’ll be a suitable replacement then, General,” Ochre offered, smiling.
“I’m sure you’ll do very well, Commander… I mean, Captain,” Peterson said amiably. “Ah, Colonel… I trust the recent problems you had with your engine room are now under control?”
“Specifically, the problem was with our main variable mode generator,” White explained. “And yes, it’s all under control now. We’re running on full power and Cloudbase is stable.”
“So I see. There wasn’t any risk of Cloudbase falling from the sky, if I understand correctly, then?”
“In this case? No, that would have been very unlikely,” White said with confidence. "It would take much more than one failing generator for that to happen. Cloudbase’s automatic safety measures insured that as soon as a problem presented itself with the faulty generator, all its functions were taken over by a secondary unit.”
“It’ll stay that way until the main variable mode generator is replaced,” Blue added quietly. “The repairs should be completed in the coming weeks.”
“If you wish, I can personally show you the extent of the damage,” White suggested. “It looks extensive, but it’s restricted to only a small section of the engine room.”
“I’d like to see, yes,” Peterson accepted. “If only to see your repair crew at work.” He smiled. “I’ll be then more capable of judging their efficiency and then reassure the World President that there is no risk of him dropping from the sky. Not that I had any doubt, of course,” he quickly added, noting White’s raised eyebrow.
White thanked him with a new smile. “We appreciate the vote of confidence, General. Captain Blue, Captain Ochre… Take over from me in the Control Room until ten thirty, when we’ll meet again at the general’s assigned quarters.”
“This way, if you please, General…”
“You’re very good at this, Paul.”
Symphony Angel was looking in awe at Paul’s work, set on the table of the living area. The boy had been working on his model for a few hours the evening before, before going to bed very early. The day had obviously been long for him, and he had fallen asleep right away, completely exhausted.
That had made Symphony and Magenta’s work easier, and there didn’t seem to be any indication that Paul would want to try and leave his room during the night – as Ochre had suggested he might attempt to do. Blue had entertained the same suspicion, based on the boy’s stunt the previous day, when he had escaped from Corporal Jarvis’ surveillance, and so he had advised Symphony and Magenta for one of them to ‘keep watch during the night, just in case’. Although they had done as they had been told, it had been a needless recommendation; Paul had slept through the entire night, without even stirring once, and it had been an uneventful watch.
Adam was being ridiculous, Symphony finally came to the conclusion. There was absolutely no reason to worry about Paul attempting to run off during the night. Where in Heaven would he have gone to? We’re in a freaking hovering aircraft.
Immediately after getting up, and as he was having an early breakfast, Paul had been checking on his model, making sure the parts he had glued the previous evening were neat and ready for the next steps. The cockpit was slowly taking form, and Paul was currently busy trying to fit the tiny pilot into his seat. Seated on the other side of the boy, a coffee set on the table in front of him, Captain Magenta was checking the plans, comparing them with the many pieces spread in front of them.
“I never realised you had such talent for model making,” Symphony continued, delicately taking the small engine that Paul had put aside the evening before, and checking it more closely. Wow, such tiny details… No wonder Ochre’s so fascinated by this…
“How would you know that?” Paul asked with curiosity. “You don’t know me that well, do you?”
“Mmm, you may be right. I may know a lot about you, but obviously, I don’t know everything about you.”
“He’s certainly very patient with that,” Magenta commented in turn. “You know, I daresay, he’s almost as good as Ochre himself.”
Paul raised his eyes to him. “He’s so good at making models, then?”
Magenta chuckled. “Oh yes… Second to none. At least, according to him.” He took the engine Symphony was handing him and examined it. “I bet he’ll be impressed by your work.”
Paul shrugged. “It’s a nice model,” he said. “It’s fun to make. Do you think I’ll be able to keep it when I go back home?”
“Of course, if you like it that much,” Symphony said. “Why not?”
“I’m glad you like it,” Magenta said. “I’ll be sure to tell Ochre. It was one of his.”
“I do prefer real planes, though,” Paul commented. He put his piece onto the table to let the glue dry and sat back onto the sofa. He turned to Symphony. “I meant to ask… You have the same uniform as Melody. Are you a pilot too?”
“I am. Melody and I are part of the Angels squadron. We’re fighter pilots.”
“Yeah… Melody told me. You see much action?”
“How come I never heard of you? ‘Cause you’re a secret organisation?”
Symphony hesitated. “Something like that,” she said without committing herself.
“The Angels’ craft are the best interceptors in existence,” Magenta said in turn, causing Paul to turn to him. “And our Angel pilots are the best there is.”
“Really?” Paul asked, opening wide eyes.
“Oh well, we do our best,” Symphony said.
“You kidding?” Magenta retorted. “You and the others saved our hides more than once, Symph… There’s no denying your talent. Accept a compliment when you receive one.”
“You’re stationed here, on Cloudbase?” Paul asked. “Are there many planes here?”
“Well, aside from the Angel interceptors, we have passenger jets and helijets, and…” Magenta frowned. “Say, what did they tell you about Cloudbase, exactly?”
“Nothing much,” Paul said, a sulky expression on his face. “Only that its location must stay secret…” He sprawled down onto the backrest of the sofa. “And that’s the reason why I can’t contact my family.”
“They didn’t tell you anything else?” Magenta insisted. “For example… Did they tell you that Cloudbase is a hovering carrier?”
Paul opened wide eyes at him and sat up straight. “You’re kidding! A hovering carrier? Really?”
“I’m not kidding,” Magenta said, chuckling. “And yes, really. A hovering carrier.”
“Up in the air?!”
“Way up in the air. 40,000 feet, to be exact.”
“Way cool!” Paul exclaimed, very excited. “That’s… over the clouds, right? Is that why it’s called Cloudbase?”
“I believe that might be the reason, yes.” Magenta pointed to the nearest porthole. “Didn’t you check outside already?”
“No, I didn’t think of checking… I didn’t think it was that interesting to begin with. Beside, it was almost dark when we got here yesterday.”
“Well, if you do check now,” Magenta suggested, “you’ll only see the sky, as far as the eye can see.”
He had barely finished speaking before Paul was already up and striding towards the porthole; Magenta and Symphony followed him with amused eyes and watched as he stood in front of the porthole to look outside.
“Is that wise to tell him that much?” Symphony whispered to her companion. “Blue told us to be extra careful with what we might tell him…”
“Which concerns him directly, yes,” Magenta agreed with a nod, his eyes still set on Paul. “He might not believe about anything we might say about his adult life… It would be too unbelievable and he might think we’re trying to trick him.” He looked directly at Symphony. “But what could be wrong in telling him about Spectrum and Cloudbase? On the contrary, wouldn’t that be helpful to him?”
“Hey, I can see part of the base! And the clouds below!” Paul turned to face them. He looked even more excited than before. “Is that a runway down there?” I see a plane at the very end of it!”
“That’s Angel One,” Symphony informed him. “There’s a pilot at the helm at all times. That way, she can be airborne at a moment’s notice, should there be an emergency.”
“She? All your pilots are girls?”
“All our fighter pilots are girls,” Magenta specified.
“Can I go to the runway?” Paul asked, returning swiftly to them. “Please, I want to see that plane closer! Where are the other planes? Are they on the runway too? I can’t see very well from here!”
“Slow down,” Magenta said, laughing. “You can’t go on the runway, Paul.”
“Awww…” Paul looked disappointed. “I should have known you would say no…”
“And for good reasons,” Magenta quickly said. “At this height, nobody can go on the runway… Not without a protective suit, a harness and breathing gear. It’s very cold, very windy and the air pressure makes it very difficult to breathe.”
“Oh.” Paul nodded his understanding. “I haven’t thought of that.”
“There are no other craft on the runway, anyway,” Symphony added in turn. “Only Angel One. The other craft are stored in the hangar underneath the runway.”
Paul’s eyes lit up. “Under the runway? Inside the base? So that means we can go there?”
“Well…” Symphony hesitated.
“I don’t know…” Magenta said cautiously.
“Oh please! I want to go!” Paul begged them. “I’m going crazy cooped up here! I can’t make models all day long! And your Captain Blue said I could go out of this room, so long as my guardian comes with me! I think that for now, that means the two of you, right?”
“I… guess,” Symphony said, still unsure. She exchanged glances with Magenta. “What do you think, Pat?”
“Can we leave this place then?” Paul asked insistently. “Can we? Please? I’ll be good! I won’t cause any trouble! I promise!”
“In that case… How about not just the hangar?” Symphony suggested. “We could take you around the base… Those places you can visit, that is?”
“That would be great! I’d like to see it all, yes… But I do want to see the hangar and the planes!”
“That might be possible,” Magenta said thoughtfully. “But you’ll owe us one.”
“Anything you want!” Paul exclaimed.
“I will remind you of that later on,” Magenta said. “Mmm… I might be getting soft… But all right, then. I don’t see anything wrong with a little visit. As long as you’re being good.”
“Yay!” Paul impatiently ran to the door. “Let’s go right away, then!”
“I hope we won’t regret this,” Symphony said with a sigh at she pushed herself to her feet. Magenta shook his head and followed her.
He was already starting to wonder if it was indeed a good idea to begin with.
“You were right, Colonel White. The damage does look extensive.”
Standing with Colonel White in the Engine Control Room, General Peterson was gravely looking down at the portion of the Engine Room where the damage was very obvious; the surface of the floor and a wall had been blackened by the recent fire, and there was still the remains of the opened up globe of the generator, which looked like a distorted broken egg in one corner. The rest of the debris had been thoroughly cleaned up, though, and there was a crew already working on the repairs, under Lieutenant Beryl’s direct supervision.
“It’s a wonder Cloudbase didn’t suffer more than it actually did,” the general added quietly.
“That’s because she’s been designed to endure such setbacks and remain operational throughout,” Colonel White commented. “Remember she was built in space, General, before she was brought down into the Earth’s atmosphere. If she can withstand re-entry without a problem… then she can survive almost anything.”
Peterson nodded slowly. “Captain Black used to say that Cloudbase was the most outstanding achievement of technology ever built by man… and that if he had to choose the one thing in his life that he was the most proud of, it was to have contributed to her design and construction.”
“It was his magnum opus, most certainly,” Colonel White agreed with a nod.
“I hope he someday finds peace,” Peterson added in a low, respectful voice. He turned to the Spectrum commander. “Were there any casualties in this accident?”
White sighed. “One death, unfortunately. Harold Lambert, a technician who had been with us for the past thirteen months. Four other men suffered minor injuries, including my aide, Lieutenant Green. They will be returning to active duty in a day or two.”
“A shame about that technician, really… ”
“All we can do now is to make the repairs and insure the fault that caused that disaster will be corrected,” Colonel White continued. “At least, this way, we’ll make sure that such incident will not happen again and that there will be no other victims because of it.”
Peterson nodded thoughtfully. “And I’m sure your technicians will make a very good job of it, Colonel.” He nodded towards the exit. “Shall we continue, then? Is it possible to go down and see the repairs up close?”
“By all means, General…” White gestured towards the exit. “I’m sure Lieutenant Beryl will be more than happy to give you any information you might want to know about the work in progress.” He checked his watch. “By the way, I’ve given instructions for your quarters to be ready for you earlier, so I’ll be taking you there after our visit to the Engine Room. That way, you’ll be able to settle yourself. Your baggage has been taken from your passenger jet directly to your room. Ah, and Captain Ochre and Captain Blue should be waiting for us there. They’ll be escorting you to the officers’ restaurant, if you feel like a little meal.”
“Thank you, Charles. I do admit I’m famished. Very considerate of you.”
“Then afterwards, Captain Blue and Captain Ochre will take over from me, and continue the tour with you. I’m afraid I will have to leave you to them… I have some duties to attend to in the Control Room. I might see you later, towards the end of the afternoon. If you don’t mind, of course.”
“Of course not, Colonel. I know the weight of command too.” Both men entered the lift and exited the Engine Control Room to reach the next level.
Paul Metcalfe was seemingly having the time of his life; guided by Captain Magenta and Symphony Angel, he had visited a good part of Cloudbase, starting with the Promenade Deck, from where he had the best view possible of the runways, as well as an impressive take-off of the three Angels, which had been sent on patrol around the base’s perimeters. Then the two Spectrum officers had made a tour of the Control Tower, visiting the restaurant, the officers’ lounge and the officers’ pool, and had taken the long way down one of the escalators to Cloudbase’s main body, to take him to the recreation rooms, sports courts and the cinema hall. Following that, they took a lift down the Amber Room, which was currently vacant; finally, for the boy’s last treat, they took him to the hangar.
The hangar was huge, and Paul showed himself suitably impressed. There were three complementary Angels craft stored at the very end, with one currently in maintenance, and he was allowed to approach it near enough to stroke the fuselage. He barely listened to Symphony’s explanations of the five Angel pilots’ rota, sharing duty in the Amber Room and Angel One, and how it was extremely rare for the five of them to all be in flight at the same time – except under very extraordinary circumstances. He was rather more interested in the technical descriptions given by Lieutenant Coal, chief engineer of the aircraft maintenance division, who was only too happy to satisfy the curiosity of this young and impromptu visitor. Surely, if this boy he knew nothing about was in the company of two of Spectrum’s finest, then it was perfectly safe to give him all this information.
“He does look like Captain Scarlet,” he commented at some point, addressing Captain Magenta. “Is the boy related to him?”
Magenta simply shook his head, refusing to answer the question directly.
They walked in front of the two stored Medicopters, the only Magnacopter owned by Spectrum, and then the three Helijets; Paul was allowed to quickly look inside one of them, before they continued their visit. They walked in front of a series of silver and blue airplanes, larger than the Angel interceptors, with one of them set on a lift, obviously ready to be taken to the airstrip above.
“… And this one is what we call an S.P.J. Short for Spectrum Passenger Jet.”
Paul stood in front of it, obviously in awe. “It’s beautiful,” he said. He noticed a white aircraft, standing on the other lift, right next to the S.P.J.
“And that one, what is it? It looks different from the others.”
“That’s because it’s not one of ours,” Magenta said. “That’s a World Army Passenger Jet. Probably the one which brought General Peterson to base this morning.”
Paul nodded thoughtfully. His interest was now all back to the S.P.J. “Can we go inside and look at it?”
Symphony hesitated. “I think it might be about time we return you to your quarters,” she started. “There’s really not much to be seen…”
“Oh, come on,” the boy protested. “We’re here already… You wouldn’t take me back while we’re so close to it, would you? That would be too cruel!”
She nodded slowly. “That would be cruel, you’re right. Captain Magenta?”
He relented, if somehow a little hesitantly. “All right, but quickly, then. It’s almost lunch time.”
And without waiting for them, Paul dashed towards the S.P.J.
“He’ll get us in trouble,” Magenta muttered. “We really should make this quick.”
Symphony nodded in agreement and the both of them joined their guest. The single guard by the S.P.J.’s main hatch let them through, without asking questions, and they entered the S.P.J. They went through the security airlock and found themselves in the passenger cabin.
Paul looked around with curiosity; he seemed somehow disappointed.
“You see,” Symphony told him, “it’s much like any passenger jet you can imagine… And probably had been into.”
“Yeah, my uncle George pilots similar craft,” Paul admitted. “He’s in the British military. ‘Cept, this one’s roomier… and there’s less seats.”
“Not exactly,” Magenta explained. “Come over here.” He gestured to Paul and took him to a panel embedded in the wall, next to the lock. “You see these buttons? This is the beauty of the Spectrum Passenger Jet. You want more seats? You press this button here… And seats will emerge from the floor and fix themselves into place. You can adapt the number of seats according to your need. In normal times, the S.P.J. is a seven seater – not counting the pilot and co-pilot in the cabin. But you can easily increase the number of seats to fourteen.”
“You can also make this space into a conference room as well,” Magenta continued. “And also, you have various panels that can be installed, with those same buttons, and separate the passenger cabin in three different compartments.”
“Including a storage room?”
“Well, we do have storage room back there,” Magenta explained, turning around and pointing towards another door beyond the hatch they had gone through. “You also find the galley and toilets over there… And access to the lower part of the S.P.J.”
“No holding cell for bad guys, then?”
“We have a holding room in the back as well,” Magenta said with a chuckle. “You’re right, Spectrum would need one of those.”
“How about the cockpit?” Paul asked, his eyes bright. “Can I visit it?”
Magenta exchanged glances with Symphony. They had gone this far, so there was little point refusing this last request.
“Of course,” Symphony said. “But you touch nothing, right?”
“Of course not!”
Paul preceded the two Spectrum agents into the cockpit; Symphony invited him to sit in the pilot’s seat – “Your uncle never let you take this place, did he?” – and sat in the co-pilot’s seat herself, while Magenta took the radio operator’s seat behind her.
“I don’t suppose you pilot these planes often, if you’re a fighter pilot, Symphony?” Paul asked, turning to the young woman.
“All of us, Angels or colour-coded officers, need to pilot a S.P.J. at one time or another,” Symphony answered. “So I’m well-acquainted with this one.” She looked at the control panel in front of them. “Are you in luck,” she said, pointing at a section of the panel. “This is brand-new equipment that was installed only a week ago. Oh… This must be the plane that Blue and Melody need to test this week. That would explain why it’s on the lift.”
“What is it?” Paul asked.
“The new onboard computer slash autopilot,” Magenta explained from the seat behind. He smiled roguishly. “The Angels have decided to call it Georgina.”
“Georgina?” Paul asked with a frown. “Like the Famous Five character?”
“Actually, like the female version of George,” Symphony said with a chuckle. “You know how an airplane autopilot is often referred to as George? Well, Georgina is much smarter.” She pressed a button. “Computer?”
“Voice recognition activated,” a mechanical voice answered. “Symphony Angel, Angel Squad pilot. Awaiting instructions for flight plan and take-off authorisation.”
Paul opened eyes wide with astonishment. “Wow!” he whispered.
Symphony was very pleased with his reaction. “Cool, isn’t it? That’s a new security feature. It’s on testing mode right now, and they’re still making adjustments to it. Once activated with a security code, the new computer will only take instructions from an officer with proper authorisation… authorisation which has been previously entered into its databank. Of course, for take-off procedure from Cloudbase, the authorisation has to be backed from the Control Room. But once out of Cloudbase’s… erm… jurisdiction, the pilots are masters onboard. They could set a course, and then let the plane fly itself to its destination.”
“They could also use a code to lock down the plane on arrival, when they need to leave it unattended,” Magenta added. “This way, a non-authorised person wouldn’t be able to use it.”
“Way cool,” Paul breathed out. “And does this plane land itself when it reaches its destination?”
“Voice recognition activated,” the mechanical voice then said, causing everyone to turn towards the speaker. “Captain Scarlet, Cloudbase staff officer. Awaiting instructions for flight plan and take-off authorisation.”
Everyone stared at the control panel. Magenta and Symphony couldn’t believe their ears; as for Paul, he frowned in incomprehension. “What’s going on?”
“Probably some malfunction in the voice recognition programming,” Magenta quickly said, rising from his seat. “We told you it’s a brand-new system, and it’s still going through some adjustments.” He exchanged worried glances with Symphony, and then gently took Paul by the arm. “Come on, we really ought to take you back to your room.”
“Aww… Already?” the boy moaned. He got up, if reluctantly. “Can’t we continue the visit? You haven’t showed me any of the other interesting stuff… Like the Control Room you mentioned, Symphony, and the Engine Room, and –”
“They’re really no places for a kid your age,” Magenta said, gently pushing him towards the exit. “Beside, if we take you there, don’t you think we’d get into trouble with our commander?”
“Yeah,” Symphony added swiftly. “We already stretched your visit much more than really is comfortable. Tempting fate more than we have would be just a little too risky.”
She followed behind Magenta, glancing with uncertainty at the control panel, and wondering how the devil the computer had been able to recognise Captain Scarlet upon hearing the young voice of Paul Metcalfe.
“We’ll just be in time to meet with Colonel White at the door of General Peterson’s room,” Captain Blue told Captain Ochre, checking his watch as the both of them rode Lift B back from the Control Room to the lowest level of the tower. “They must be on their way right now.”
“Mmm… I hope the visit has gone smoothly this morning,” Ochre said sombrely. “Do you think Cloudbase’ll pass muster? I don’t know, but the general wanting to see the damage in the Engine Room first thing seems to be a sign he might be worried about something.”
Blue shrugged. “It’s the colonel who asked him if he wanted to see the damage by himself,” he reminded his colleague. “And that was a very good tactical move, if you ask my opinion. That way, he shows Peterson what we have nothing to hide.”
“Do we?” Ochre asked morosely. “Or maybe you have forgotten a certain little boy who is currently driving everyone nuts onboard Cloudbase?”
Blue clicked his tongue with annoyance. “Stop that, Rick. Paul isn’t driving anyone else nuts but yourself and you know it.”
“What do you mean?” Ochre protested.
“Melody’s been telling me about Paul being on his best behaviour with her, but not getting along with you,” Blue said with irritation. “She put it all down to some childish behaviour of yours.”
“Oh, come on!” Ochre sighed, rolling his eyes. “I swear to you, I tried hard, but the kid can’t stand me! I swear, Scarlet is taking advantage of this situation and is getting back at me for all those pranks I played on him. Are you sure he doesn’t really remember and he’s not pretending?”
“Oh, now you’re being ridiculous… You were unhappy with that assignment from the very beginning and you let that get in the way of your job!”
The lift had reached its destination and the door slid open in front of them. Both men got out and Ochre stood in the hallway, facing Blue with anger. “Now see here, Blue, if you think that best friend of yours is quite unable to be a total brat when he puts his mind to it, I can assure you, you probably don’t know him as well as you say you do. He’s a –”
“I say, what’s going on here?”
Ochre stopped his diatribe instantly upon seeing Rhapsody Angel walking their way down the corridor, with a furrowed brow. He cleared his throat and turned to her, forcing a smile on his lips.
“Oh, hi Rhaps. What’re you doing around here?”
She stopped in front of both men and eyed them with curiosity. Obviously, she was wondering what the object of their dispute was, but she also had something else on her mind. “I went to see Paul,” she explained, showing the book she was holding. “I thought that maybe I could give him back the birthday present I gave him three days ago. Maybe it would please him and raise his spirits a bit, seeing as it was his favourite book as a child…” She chuckled nervously. “… And seeing as he’s a child once more…”
“He didn’t like it?” Blue asked, scowling. He was concerned. This whole situation couldn’t be easy on the young woman, he suspected. And seeing as she had not given the book to Paul, he imagined that he probably had either refused it or ignored it.
“Actually, I didn’t have the opportunity to give it to him,” Rhapsody explained uneasily. “He wasn’t in the guest room where he was supposed to be assigned.”
Both Ochre and Blue felt suddenly apprehensive, hearing these words.
“He wasn’t there?” Blue said in a low voice. “What about Symphony and Magenta? It was their turn of duty with him.”
“They weren’t there either. The room was completely empty.”
“Now where’s that brat?” Ochre muttered.
“Hang on, Ochre,” Blue told him. “If Symphony and Magenta weren’t in there either, then it must mean they’re with him. They –”
Right at that moment, the airlock leading to the escalator slid open and they heard clear laughter coming from the other side. They turned around just as Paul Metcalfe stepped through the opening; Captain Magenta and Symphony Angel were right behind him.
Paul stopped in his tracks. His eyes grew wide at the sight of Captains Blue and Ochre looking straight at him with bewilderment – and apparent displeasure.
As for Rhapsody Angel, her blue eyes were even wider than his, and she found herself rendered almost speechless upon seeing this ten year old boy whom she knew could only be her fiancé.
“Oh… my… God…” she was able to gasp.
“Oh no…” Paul breathed out. “Not you two…” And suddenly he dashed down the corridor, in exactly the same direction Rhapsody had come from. “You won’t take me alive!” he cried out.
“Paul!” Symphony called after him. “Don’t –”
“Hey, kid, stop –” Ochre muttered a curse, and sprinted after the fugitive. “What did I tell you, that kid’s a menace!”
“Ochre, wait –” Blue groaned. He took off, almost bowling Rhapsody over – and took a second to mutter an apology – and disappeared round the corner, just after Ochre.
“Blast,” Magenta groused, emerging from the airlock and coming over to Symphony in the hallway next to Rhapsody. “And everything was going so well…” He excused himself and went after his two colleagues.
“Are you okay, Dianne?” Symphony asked in concern, noticing how pale Rhapsody had suddenly gone. “You look like you’ve seen –”
“A ghost?” Rhapsody offered, shaking her head mechanically. “No… That’s not quite what I saw… I… I wasn’t quite prepared for that, despite what I’ve been told…” She leaned against the wall. “I think I need a very stiff drink…” She looked at Symphony. “What just happened? Where were you with him, exactly?”
“He was bored, we gave him a tour of Cloudbase,” Symphony informed her. “Everything was going fine, until… Well, until he saw Blue and Ochre. I could wring Big Blue’s neck for scaring a child that way!” she griped.
“I just think Paul was caught unawares and panicked,” Rhapsody murmured, trying to make sense of it all. “You can’t blame Blue for that. Oh my, this is getting a bit much…” She gave a low chortle and then pushed herself from the wall. “If anybody’s looking for me, tell them I’m sick.”
“And where are you going?” Symphony asked with concern as she entered the lift.
“To Paul’s private quarters,” she answered bleakly. “To get that stiff drink. I know he’s got a bottle of malt and I know where he stashes it. In his present condition, he can’t drink it.” The door started to close. “But I could certainly use it.”
“So, General Peterson,” Colonel White asked as he and his guest left Lift A and started down the long corridor towards one of the V.I.P. rooms, “would I be too bold in asking if Cloudbase is making a good first impression thus far?”
“It does seem to me that everything is under control,” Peterson said with a slow nod. “Your crew did a thorough repair job and clean up of the sections affected by the accident. Although I didn’t quite understand all these specifications given by Lieutenant Beryl regarding the corrections his team are making to the generators, to insure that such an incident will never happen again.”
White chuckled. “Don’t worry, General. You were not the only one. I admit I didn’t understand most of his explanation either – and I’m supposed to be technically savvy. But now that you seem satisfied that everything is fine…”
“You have to admit, Colonel, that the Security Council had some reason to be concerned about this accident. And some of us were actually wondering if it was indeed an accident. And you know how fretful the World President is over the whole business about the Mysterons… And not without reasons, considering the previous attempts they made against him already. Seeing as the World President was to come here for an official visit, it seemed like the Mysterons could have… engineered the whole incident to get to him once again. What if they had taken over the entirety of Cloudbase for that sole purpose?”
White raised a brow. “Well, maybe I can have myself and the rest of my crew submitted to a Mysteron test to put your mind at rest, General?”
Peterson waved his hand dismissively. “You don’t have to go to such lengths…”
“On the contrary. And if it reassures you, we already have made such verification, with exactly the same concern in mind.”
“Yes, straight after the incident in question. All those who had been involved with it have been checked since then. So you have nothing to worry about. That’s standard procedure, as a matter of fact. Fortunately, there wasn’t anything to worry about. Mind you, the Council’s concern could have been justified. If Cloudbase had been taken over, I would indeed have been Mysteronised as well. And all of my staff, for that matter.” White marked a pause. “We also do regular tests onboard, just to be on the safe side.”
Peterson nodded quietly. “Always the over-efficient one, aren’t you, Charles?”
“One cannot take enough safety measures, General,” Colonel White replied. “I should know – I had to deal with uncomfortable situations before in the U.S.S. At the time, I could only rely on a chosen few, and couldn’t trust anybody else. Things are even worse when it comes to the Mysterons.”
“You and your organisation are doing very well. We can only commend you for your efforts, Colonel.”
“Thank you, General. I’ll be sure to tell my staff that their work is appreciated.”
“And as far as I’m concerned, Cloudbase is probably the safest place you can find on Earth. What you just showed me down there is proof enough of it. And I’m sure that the rest of the tour will only serve to confirm that assumption. I’ll tell that as well to the World President.”
“Thank you, sir.”
Peterson nodded again. “I see no reason to worry about this incident in the Engine Room more than is really necessary. Or to cancel the World President’s visit because of it. So you should expect him his visit. Possibly tomorrow, as scheduled.” He smiled mischievously. “Although, I’m not sure you will consider this good news or not.”
White shrugged. “What makes you say that, General?” he asked innocently.
“I know you don’t much tolerate civilians around this ‘military base’ of yours. Especially politicians coming to stick their noses in your business…”
“The World President isn’t any ordinary civilian,” White remarked. “Or politician, for that matter. And I do realise that sometimes it cannot be helped. Especially when the said politician happens to be your boss and the one handing over the money that permits this organisation to run.”
“Which is why you tolerate the World President’s presence.”
White offered a smile. “Something like that… But you’re right, of course: I do prefer to do my job quietly, without any meddlesome civilians around…”
Peterson chuckled again. “And that probably includes me, doesn’t it, Charles?”
“Oh…” White put on an expression of mock hurt. “I’m sure I can certainly make an exceptional effort in your case, General.”
“Come back here, you squirt!”
Both men had just walked past the turn of a corridor when the loud shout resonated behind them, making them both turn around in puzzlement – in time to see young Paul Metcalfe pushing open the door of a maintenance corridor and racing straight towards them, just as Captain Ochre appeared in the opening looking none too happy. Colonel White frowned at the scene, watching as Ochre, followed by Blue, gave pursuit to the boy.
Paul wasn’t even looking where he was going, too busy to look over his shoulder at his pursuers who were gaining on him. As the boy passed by him, Colonel White only needed to extend his arm to catch him on the fly. A surprised Paul stopped in his tracks and looked up to find the Spectrum commander glaring down at him with irritation.
“What are you doing here?” White seethed between his teeth. “Don’t you know you can’t run in these corridors?”
“Paul!” Ochre and Blue arrived right in front of the two superior officers. Turning a displeased and accusatory glare in their direction, White gave them custody of the boy. Behind them, through the still-open maintenance door, he saw Captain Magenta appear.
“We’re sorry, sir,” Ochre offered, trying his best not to lower his gaze.
“Exactly what is going on?” White growled.
“Sir. This was my fault, Colonel.” Captain Magenta was coming their way and his words attracted everyone’s attention. He stood in front of the colonel. “The boy was getting bored in his room. I thought it would be a good idea to take him for a visit around the base.”
“Oh, you did, did you?” White said, his jaws clenching. “…And he slipped through your fingers, I see.”
“He is a slippery one, sir,” Ochre commented, smiling uncomfortably and ruffling Paul’s hair in a playful fashion. The boy glared daggers at him, and brushed his hand away in annoyance. “You can’t blame Captain Magenta for losing him, sir.”
“Actually, Colonel, he behaved himself perfectly.” Magenta looked sideways in Ochre and Blue’s direction. “I think he panicked when he saw Captain Ochre and Captain Blue, as we were taking him back to his place.”
“For whatever reason?” General Peterson then asked with a curious frown.
“Well… maybe he was under the impression he wasn’t allowed out of his room,” Magenta said.
“He had no reason to be afraid,” Blue commented. “I did say he could go out, as long as he was supervised by an adult.”
“Well, boys will be boys, Blue,” Magenta told him with a grateful smile.
“What a strapping young boy this is,” General Peterson said, looking down at young Paul. He noticed the way Ochre was keeping his hand on his shoulder. “Is he your son, Captain Ochre?”
Ochre opened eyes wide with something akin with horror. “My son? Er… no, General.” Thank God, he added inwardly. Blue and Magenta had trouble suppressing the same amused smile; by the sound of Ochre’s voice, it seemed there was no worse fate for their colleague.
“He reminds me of someone,” Peterson continued, rubbing his chin thoughtfully as he examined Paul with attention. “Have we met before, lad?”
“No, sir – I don’t think so,” the boy answered.
“Perhaps it is your father I know,” Peterson continued. “Is he stationed here on Cloudbase?”
“No. He’s –”
“Paul is just here on a visit,” Blue quickly answered before the boy could add another word.
“More like I’ve been kidnapped,” Paul muttered under his breath.
“Now, Paul,” Ochre said, laughing nervously, patting playfully on the boy’s cheek. “That’s no kind of joke to make, you know…” He smiled awkwardly, addressing Peterson. “Kids… They say the darnedest things…”
“It’s true, I can’t go wherever I want,” Paul protested. “You saw how they chased me?”
“Well, Cloudbase is a secure military base,” Peterson reasoned patiently. “I’m sure it’s for your own safety you can’t go everywhere you want to go.” He frowned and turned to White. “I must say, Charles – knowing you, I’m rather surprised you would allow this lad to be up here. Any particular reason why you did? Not that it’s any of my business, mind you…”
“Yeah,” Paul then said quickly, much to Ochre, Blue and Magenta’s horror. “Do tell him, ‘Uncle Charles’.”
“Uncle Charles!” Peterson said triumphantly. “So this boy is your nephew, then? I thought you didn’t have any family, Colonel.”
White glared down at Paul. He shook his head. “I don’t. This boy’s not my nephew… He’s the… son of a friend of mine.”
“Am I?” Paul asked almost defiantly.
“Why don’t I take you to the restaurant and give you some ice cream, Paul?” Magenta then said, pulling the boy away from Ochre’s hands as White addressed him another withering look.
Ochre caught the ball on the rebound. “Sure, good idea – that ought to keep him busy… Uncle Magenta will get you lots and lots of ice cream…”
“I don’t want ice cream,” Paul retorted.
“Oh yes you do… Come on, be a good boy… You’ll get yourself in trouble if you continue that way. And me at the same time.” Magenta smiled awkwardly and nodded to both White and Peterson. “Colonel, General… We’ll get this rascal out of your hair.”
White sighed deeply. “Please, Captain.” He watched as Magenta turned Paul around and, keeping his hands firmly on both the boy’s shoulders, steered him down the corridor. “Captain Magenta?” he called after him. He watched as the Irish captain looked over his shoulder. “Be sure to report to me when this boy has had his ice cream,” the colonel added ominously.
Magenta’s shoulders sagged. “S.I.G., sir,” he said, the words catching in his throat. He knew right there he was in trouble. He turned around and kept going with Paul.
White kept watching them go, with an icy stare, until they disappeared from his view. He then shook his head in apparent dismay, while Peterson smiled almost roguishly.
“He seems like quite a handful.”
“Oh, he is,” Ochre said, nodding in agreement. White glared at him, silencing him on the spot; Blue had the very good sense to keep quiet. He knew the signs perfectly well. The colonel was totally livid.
“You don’t know the half of it,” White muttered under his breath, answering Peterson’s comment.
“Frankly, Charles – I didn’t know you liked children at all. I’m still wondering why you allowed that small boy’s presence onboard…”
White hesitated. “Well – actually, General, in his situation, we didn’t have much of a choice. There was a Spectrum operation, which left the boy on his own, without the supervision of an adult, so I needed to make a last minute decision, for his own safety. It really couldn’t be helped.”
Colonel White felt like an idiot; however the words came out, they didn’t seem to make any sense at all. He felt like one of those horrid politicians who would string long, nonsensical sentences one after the other for the sole purpose of distracting their interlocutors from learning the truth they sought to keep from them. He didn’t want to commit himself, nor to lie openly to Peterson. But frankly enough, he failed to see exactly what he could actually say that would make enough sense to cover the truth behind the presence of this meddlesome boy on Cloudbase.
But fortunately enough, Peterson didn’t press on, and simply nodded thoughtfully, as he watched the direction in which Paul Metcalfe had disappeared with his guardian.
“It’s nice to see you giving some time to the lad,” the general said. “It’s even more remarkable, when you consider he isn’t a relative of yours.” He looked at White. “I assume you’re close to him and his father, then?”
“Well… Yes, you could say that,” White answered, almost like an automaton. “The boy is like… family, if you can say that.”
“When you don’t have much family, you got to stay close to the little you have. Even more so when it’s not real family.”
White didn’t wish to extrapolate on that subject and simply smiled somewhat forcedly.
“Take the World President, for example,” Peterson continued, seeming on a roll. “The poor man… he works so hard, he doesn’t even have time to give to his own children. You know he has two children, don’t you, Charles?”
“I… Yes, I read that in the newspaper,” White said, a little unsure.
“The little one, Sahra… she doesn’t seem to mind that much… Maybe she’s too young to realise. But the older one, Daniel…” Peterson shook his head sadly. “Since his mother passed away, he’s the archetype of the rebellious teenage boy. Always getting in trouble. He’s got a chip on his shoulder the size of Futura City and keeps reproaching his father that he doesn’t care about him… That his work is more important than even his children.”
“I can sympathise,” White commented. “I might have made the same reproach to my own father, forty years ago…”
“You thought he should have given you more of his time?” Peterson asked.
“He was a military man and thought only of his career. Or so I thought at the time.”
“Then maybe Younger should give his children more of his time as well…” Peterson said, thoughtfully.
“President Younger is a very busy man,” White said. “It must be difficult for him to actually find quality time for his children.”
“Mmm… Difficult, but not impossible,” Peterson said, stroking his chin.
White smiled awkwardly. “Personally, General, I wouldn’t hazard for one minute giving advice to the World President on how to raise children.”
“Of course, you wouldn’t,” the still pensive Peterson retorted. He seemed to come out of his fugue and turned directly to White. “I’d like very much to see those quarters that have been assigned to me, Colonel,” he said in an upbeat tone. “This meeting with that friendly boy has just given me an idea that I’d like to suggest to the World President. I would need to contact him right away, if you don’t mind.”
“Of course, General,” White answered, slightly taken aback by Peterson’s sudden request. “Captain Ochre will be taking you to your room right away, then.”
“Thank you, Colonel.”
“Captain Blue, you’ll come with me. You’ll be joining the General later for the rest of his visit.”
“S.I.G., sir.” Blue had the foreboding impression that Colonel White intended to bawl him out regarding the near-miss fiasco almost caused by Paul’s meeting with the general. However, as they both left General Peterson and Captain Ochre, and he followed his commander down the corridor towards the nearest lift, he realised there was something else in his mind that bothered him as well.
“I don’t like it, Captain,” White said in an undertone. “I don’t like it at all.”
“Sir, I think the incident was only due to an odd set of circumstances. I don’t think we ought to blame anyone for young Paul’s –”
“Yes, this is a matter for concern, Captain, but that’s not all that’s bothering me right now,” White interrupted suddenly.
“No? Then what is it, sir?”
“I’ve known General Peterson for a long time, Captain. A very long time, indeed…” Both men entered the lift and White pressed the button for the Control Room level. “I just know when that man has some fishy idea in his mind… And I’m almost sure that when that idea takes form, and I learn what it’s all about… I won’t be happy at all.”