By Chris Bishop
“A Snowball’s chance…”
Doctor Fawn assigned a private room to the Mogwai, where they played with whatever they could get their paws on – papers, pencils, books, plastic bottles, whatever had the brightest colours attracted them the most. They were a noisy bunch when they were all chattering about, and so in an attempt to keep them quiet, Fawn had a TV set installed for them. The biggest one he could find on Cloudbase. It did attract their attention, and for a little while, they were a little quieter, sitting in front of the television and watching whatever was displayed on the screen. They weren’t that difficult to please – they would watch anything – but they obviously had a marked preference for anything that had bright and vivid colours and loud sounds.
The fascination for the Mogwai quickly spread through sickbay. Nurses and doctors, curious about them, found the time for a quick visit to check on them, and see what they were all about. Female staff, most noticeably, found them cute, without any exception. It was also interesting for Fawn to note that not one of the visitors seemed to have ever seen Mogwai – or heard about them - before. Not even a nurse who came directly from Shanghai could remember any reference to the small creature in Chinese culture – not even a mythic one. Which didn’t surprise Harmony in the least, since she had not heard of them herself before receiving her cousin’s letter and being confronted with Gizmo – even though, apparently, the small animal had been in her family for some generations.
Mogwai were still a total mystery; so far, research on Worldnet had not turned up any satisfactory explanation of their existence. Neither had Fawn’s tests; he still couldn’t relate them to any other species on Earth. It was as if they had literally fallen from the sky at some point in history, the knowledge of their existence being closely guarded by a very small number of people so well and so jealously that they remained a total secret to an unsuspecting world at large. Fawn did, however, discover that their physiology was quite unique. And each discovery made the Mogwai even more outlandish than before.
Fawn was busy in the laboratory, examining the last blood sample he had taken from the Mogwai when new visitors came to see the creatures.
“Hello, Doc. How are our little fellows doing today?”
Fawn gave a sigh, leaving his microscope to turn on his seat and address the two Spectrum officers who had entered his lab. Captain Grey and Captain Ochre were standing in the doorway, each carrying a sports bag, and watching at him expectantly. The doctor threw his pen onto the counter.
“Oh, they’re fine. I suppose you came to get a look at them too?”
“That easy to guess, uh?” Ochre asked with a broad smile.
Fawn rolled his eyes. “Do you have any idea how many curious onlookers have come in since I received these little creatures yesterday? First, it was the doctors and nurses, then personnel from all over Cloudbase. That’s without mentioning the Angels and some of the other captains who come to visit them – fairly regularly, might I add. You two are the last of the senior staff to come.” He left his seat. “If you’d care to follow me...”
Fawn walked out of the lab, followed by the two captains; he guided them to a remote private room and opened the door. The three men entered the dimly-lit room, which had been adapted for the Mogwai’s needs. They were seated on a large, thick duvet spread out on the floor. Gizmo and Midget were installed in front of the TV set, watching a show about car chases, while Snowball and the three others were playing a little further away with pans and cans, beating on them with sticks in a less than harmonious way.
“I had to restrict access to the Mogwai,” Fawn explained as the door slid closed behind him, and Grey and Ochre, fascinated, slowly crouched to get a better view of the small animals. “Not only because it was hindering my staff’s work, but also in case seeing so many strangers would distress the Mogwai. Fortunately, as it turned out, they are very sociable creatures. They don’t seem in the least disturbed by so many visitors.”
“The Angels didn’t lie,” Grey said with a smile. “They are rather cute. Which is the one Harmony received?”
“Gizmo is one of the two sitting in front of the TV. The larger of the two,” Fawn explained, pointing to the two small creatures in question. “He’s the quieter one too. He doesn’t seem to like playing with the others. We called the smaller one with him Midget. He seemed to have attached himself to Gizmo. Maybe because he senses he’s their ‘father’ or something…” He waved to the other, more turbulent Mogwai. “The others don’t seem to feel the same toward Gizmo, however. Most of the time, they ignore him. Snowball seems to have become their natural leader. Scarlet refers to the others as ‘The Three Stooges’.”
“I thought he had given them the Marx Brothers’ names,” Grey retorted.
“Frankly, Captain Grey – I doubt if Captain Scarlet knows the difference between the Marx Brothers and the Stooges.”
Ochre chuckled. “That’s Scarlet for you. No movie or television knowledge whatsoever…”
Fawn raised a brow. “I’m rather surprised you didn’t come sooner, Captain Ochre. Knowing you, I fully expected an earlier visit from you – considering that you’re the one who delivered the box containing the first Mogwai from the courier plane to the Amber Room…”
Ochre grimaced, as he and Grey stood up to face the doctor. “The Angels told you that detail, huh?”
“How could you let that one slip by you?” Grey asked, elbowing his fellow officer. “You’re getting old, Ochre…”
“I’m younger than you,” Ochre retorted. He nodded toward Fawn. “I would have come sooner, Doc… But duty got in the way. So when Grey suggested that we drop in for a quick visit on our way to the pool…” He lifted his bag to emphasise the point, “…I thought it was a good opportunity.”
“You didn’t hear anything coming from that box, Captain?” Fawn asked.
“Not a peep,” Ochre answered with a shrug. “How could I guess there was an animal in there?”
“Mmm… and the Angels told me there weren’t any ventilation holes in it, through which Gizmo could have breathed. I don’t understand how he was able to survive the trip from China to our HQ in London, and then from there to Cloudbase. It must have taken days.”
“That sounds impossible,” Grey noted with a frown.
“It should be impossible. But obviously, that animal did it.” Fawn sighed again. “Well, I guess that’s a new mystery to add to their account… There’s so much about these ‘Mogwai’ that I don’t understand. Least of all, their way of procreating.”
A banging sound and a sharp yell coming behind made him turn towards the TV set. Gizmo and Midget were still sitting in front of it, but there also were two of the other Mogwai. Gizmo was rubbing the side of his head, moaning miserably, with Midget obviously busy trying to comfort him and the two others cooing with what sounded like laughter. There was a pan lying on the floor at their feet, right next to Gizmo.
“Oh, for God’s sake, what happened there?”
Fawn rushed to Gizmo, followed by both Ochre and Grey, and the three men crouched down next to the little animal. The way he was glaring at the two laughing Mogwai was an indisputable accusation of what had happened. Ochre put down his bag and picked up the pan, before grimly looking over at the TV screen, where there was a fist-fight going on.
“No fair, guys,” Grey said to the still laughing Mogwai. “You could have hurt him badly with a trick like that!”
“They’re obviously easily influenced,” Ochre remarked. “Much like small children. TV violence… that could be a bad influence on weak minds.”
“Hey! I grew up with that kind of show!” Grey protested.
“He has a cut, but it doesn’t seem too serious,” Fawn remarked, while examining a small wound Gizmo had behind one of his large ears. “I’d better put some iodine on this, to make sure it won’t get infected.” He picked Gizmo up and carefully stashed him under his white jacket, and stood up, while a protesting Midget was hanging on to his boots, as if unwilling to let his friend go.
“Easy, little fellow… I won’t hurt him. I’ll bring him back to you as soon as I’m done. Grey, would you get him off me? I have to go and I can’t run the risk of stepping on him – or dragging him all the way into the corridor.”
Putting his bag down, Grey reached for the still agitated Midget and gently unhooked him from Fawn’s boot. He held on to him, much like a small baby, while Fawn left the room, the door closing on him, with Gizmo hidden under his vest. Ochre was glaring at the two Mogwai who were still obviously laughing their heads off.
“Bad boys, bad!” he snapped at them. “I can appreciate a good joke as much as the next guy, but what you two did was mean!”
“Easy, Rick,” Grey said with an amused smile. “They probably don’t understand.”
“If they are laughing so hard, you can damned well be sure that they do understand, Brad,” Ochre muttered.
Grey put down the now calmer Midget onto the duvet, sighing. “You’re such a big kid, arguing with animals… Come on, let’s check on that little fellow and then move on to the pool.”
“Right,” Ochre said, rising to his feet with Grey, both of them picking up their bags. “Or we won’t have any time left before we’re back on duty… We still have some preparations to make for the Halloween celebration. Have you talked to the colonel about it?”
“Sure did – but he wants a full review of exactly what you’re planning to do. I don’t know why, but he told me he doesn’t want to have any surprises from you during that little party of yours. Almost his exact words.”
“Why is he so suspicious?” Ochre noted with an almost offended expression. “Doesn’t he trust me?”
“Quite frankly, Rick?” Grey grinned broadly, pushing the button for the door to open in front of them. “I don’t think he does.” Both men prepared to leave and turned one last time to look into the room. The three Mogwai in front of the TV were looking expectantly at them, still gibbering. “Be good, boys. You’ll have your friend back shortly.”
With that, Grey and Ochre left the room, the door sliding shut behind them.
They failed to notice that two of the remaining Mogwai were now missing from the duvet where they had been playing minutes earlier…
* * *
“Hi, Edward. We heard there had been some kind of accident with Gizmo?”
In his laboratory, Doctor Fawn snorted disdainfully on hearing the voice coming from behind him. He was leaning over Gizmo, still treating the cut behind his ear.
“Nothing that antiseptic and a few stitches won’t take care of, Captain Scarlet.” He glanced over his shoulder to watch as Scarlet, followed by Captain Blue, entered the room. “Don’t tell me Ochre and Grey called you and that you ran all the way down here when you heard the news!”
Scarlet looked at him in confusion. “Actually, one of your nurses told us, as we were looking for you,” he explained. “What’s this about Ochre and Grey?”
Fawn shrugged and turned to his small patient. “They were here when the incident occurred. You just missed them by a couple of minutes. They came to check that Gizmo was all right, and went on their way to the pool.”
“Glad to hear everything is all right, though.” Scarlet approached and looked down at the examination table, where the small Mogwai was seated; the latter didn’t seem too traumatised by the fact that Fawn was carefully stitching the base of his ear. “Hi there, Giz!”
“Hi, Paul!” The Mogwai’s voice was jovial enough; he smiled broadly at the sight of his tall red-clad friend. Blue, standing next to Scarlet, chuckled.
“Don’t let the colonel hear you calling him that, Gizmo,” he said, jerking his thumb in Scarlet’s direction. “That could cause you a whole lot of trouble…”
“Gizmo in trouble?” Gizmo seemed to inquire, tilting his head to one side. At which Fawn protested slightly.
“Now, keep quiet a minute or two more, Gizmo,” the doctor reprimanded gently, but in a stern voice. “It’s almost done now.”
“What exactly did happen, Doctor?” Blue asked.
“Apparently, Gizmo was attacked by one of the other Mogwai.”
“Attacked?” There was an alarmed tone to Scarlet’s voice. Then he growled, “Snowball?”
“No… one of the Three Stooges. He hit him with a pan. I don’t know why, but apparently, they thought it was a very funny thing to do at the time. They couldn’t stop laughing.”
“At least that’s what it sounded like, Captain Blue. I asked one of the nurses to remove any dangerous objects from the room. If they start hitting each other, it may cause some trouble…” Fawn straightened up, looking down with satisfaction as his handiwork. “Now, then, Gizmo. As good as new.” He moved to pick up the small animal and his hand accidentally brushed against the lamp set on the side of the table. As a precaution, he had pushed the light away from Gizmo, so the Mogwai wouldn’t be touched by it. As a result of his unintentional gesture, the lamp moved, and the light hit Gizmo straight on. There was a loud shrilling cry from the Mogwai as his eyes opened wide with pain and horror. He seemed fly off the table, like a streak of light – and an astounded Scarlet found himself holding the shivering little animal, who had literally jumped into his arms as if looking for his protection.
“Hey, Doctor, be careful!” he automatically told Fawn off. “You know that these creatures are sensitive to light!”
“No kidding,” Fawn mumbled. He killed the light instantly and motioned to Scarlet. “Put him there. I want to examine him.”
Gently, using comforting words, Scarlet put the Mogwai down onto the examination table, and Fawn leaned over again to check on him. He shook his head after a moment. “Pupils are dilated, but there doesn’t seem to be any damage… Hold on, there’s a little bit of singed fur here.” He pointed to a little dark spot marking the otherwise snow-white part of Gizmo’s coat. The mark was no bigger than his thumb. “Well, they are sensitive to bright light, that much is right,” Fawn remarked. “And that was only a brief exposure. I can only imagine what a long exposure would do to them…”
“What strange creatures these Mogwai are,” Blue noted sombrely, his eyes not leaving Gizmo who seemed to have grown calmer now.
“They’re getting more mysterious by the minute,” Fawn agreed. “I’ve examined many samples of blood taken from each individual. They’re nothing like any other blood samples I’ve encountered before. They’re as unique as you are, Captain Scarlet.”
“Are they really?” Scarlet replied, raising a brow.
“Actually, I should say that Gizmo is as unique as you are,” Fawn corrected. “The other five Mogwai share a similar kind of blood – even Groucho, who was born from one of them. As for Gizmo – even though he is the parent – his blood is different. I still have to make further tests, but… there is definitely something peculiar about him.”
“Could that be the reason he doesn’t seem to get along with the others?” Scarlet asked. “They sense he’s different from them?”
“Could be. Midget is the only one who seems to like him. Although his blood is similar to the others.”
“Or maybe it’s him who doesn’t like the others, for whatever reason,” Blue pointed out, still looking meaningfully at Gizmo. “He really seemed to have taken a liking to you, Scarlet.”
“We ‘unique’ types have to stick together,” Scarlet grinned, gently patting the small Mogwai. “Isn’t that true, Giz?”
“Is true!” Gizmo replied, as if he had understood the question.
“What a pair!” Blue grinned back, exchanging a mocking wink with Fawn.
“Excuse me, Doctor Fawn?” The three men turned around to see one of the sickbay nurses hovering in the doorway. She was the nurse whom Fawn had instructed earlier to remove the pans and other objects which could be used as weapons by the Mogwai. She was showing all the signs of being very uncomfortable.
“Yes, what is it, Nurse Lawford?”
“I’m sorry to interrupt you, Doctor,” she started awkwardly, “but it looks like there’s two of the little creatures missing from the room where we put them.”
Fawn blinked. “Missing? You mean, they’re not in the room anymore?”
“That’s what I mean. I looked around with another nurse… if they’re hiding in there, they’re hiding very well.”
“They didn’t take advantage of the open door to get out?” Fawn asked. He was concerned that, considering the obvious sensitivity of the Mogwai for bright light, the missing specimens would get hurt if they were wandering around in sickbay – or anywhere on Cloudbase, where there was plenty of bright light around.
“No, doctor, I’m certain of that.” Nurse Lawford answered his question, shaking her head. “We made very sure that nothing would get through the door.”
“Where can they be?” a puzzled Blue asked. “Surely they can’t have gotten far…”
“That’s the last thing we need,” grumbled Scarlet. “Launching a grand scale search for those missing Mogwai...” He paused a second, as a thought suddenly came to his mind, and turned to the nurse. “Which ones are missing?”
“The white one, Captain,” she answered. “And one of the three bigger specimens.”
“Snowball,” Scarlet snorted. “I should have known he would be the one causing trouble…”
“You just don’t like that one,” Blue retorted. “Because he bit you.”
“No, it’s my instinct telling me that one is trouble…”
“Trouble,” confirmed Gizmo.
“With a capital ‘T’. See, even Gizmo agrees.”
“Yeah, and I will give credence to a animal we know nothing about and who, as far as we can tell, probably doesn’t have a brain larger than a dog’s…”
“All right, that’s enough,” Fawn protested irritably, seeing Scarlet getting ready to defend his furry friend. “We have better things to do than argue amongst ourselves. Now, how did those Mogwai get out of that room, without suffering from the bright light in the corridor? If we figure that one out, maybe we can find out where they are…”
“The last time I saw all of them together, Doctor,” Nurse Lawford pointed out, “was before Captain Ochre and Captain Grey’s visit.”
“I was with Grey and Ochre when they went into the room,” Fawn remarked. “And all the Mogwai were there. Then I had to leave with Gizmo, because…” He stopped suddenly, as realisation dawned on him. He looked up at Scarlet and Blue. “That’s when they got out.”
“Into the corridor?” Scarlet said with a frown. “Without protection from the light?”
“Ochre and Grey each had a sports bag with them,” Fawn continued quickly. “They put them on the floor when we went to check on Gizmo. Our missing Mogwai could have stowed away in those…”
“They would have done that?” a doubtful Blue asked.
“Don’t underestimate their intelligence, Captain Blue. They were looking for a way out of the room all day. They might have seized that otherwise unhoped-for opportunity…”
“Where are Ochre and Grey now?” Scarlet asked.
“Well, they told me they were going to the pool.” Fawn’s jaw literally dropped as he pronounced those words. He went pale. And Scarlet and Blue with him. “My God! The pool!”
“Oh no!” murmured Scarlet.
“Oh no!” repeated Gizmo. His expression was a perfect mirror of the humans surrounding him.
“Nurse Lawford, take Gizmo with you,” Fawn ordered the nurse, rushing to the door, followed by Scarlet and Blue. “Keep hold of him, don’t put him with the others right now, and for God’s sake don’t let him or any of the others wander away!”
“Y-yes, doctor,” the nurse answered, accepting the small animal Scarlet hurriedly pushed into her arms.
“Scarlet, Blue, come with me, quick, to the pool. Try to contact Grey and Ochre, and see if the missing Mogwai are with them. We have to get up there before something catastrophic happens!”
“Oh, I have a bad feeling about this…” Blue muttered as he lowered his cap microphone to make the ordered call. “I have a horrible feeling about this…”
* * *
While running all the way to the sports centre, situated on Deck B, just above sickbay, Scarlet and Blue were unable to raise either Ochre or Grey. There was a fair chance that, if they were already at the pool, they had discarded their caps and maybe even their uniforms, so their personal communicators would be automatically disabled. By the time they came to that realisation, the two captains were rushing up the stairs leading to the storey above, with Fawn following a few metres behind – while he was in good physical shape, the Cloudbase medical chief was a long way from equalling the captains’ peak of fitness. It was no use him trying to keep up with them, so he simply followed, as quickly as he could.
When they reach the top of the stairs, Blue stopped in front of a wall-mounted intercom and punched a number into it, in a last attempt to contact Ochre and Grey, while Scarlet continued towards the pool.
“Captain Ochre! Captain Grey!” Blue barked, his voice reverberating through all the speakers in the sports centre. “This is Captain Blue! This is an emergency! Contact me immediately!”
He waited a few seconds, but there was no response, and that both irritated and worried Blue at the same time. “Ochre! Grey! Please, acknowledge! Use the nearest intercom! I’m on my way to the pool!” He left the intercom just as Fawn arrived by his side and together, they rushed behind Scarlet.
The latter had arrived in front of the door leading directly to the pool, when finally the voice of Captain Grey was heard through the speakers: “This is Captain Grey, acknowledging Captain Blue’s call…”
Scarlet used the intercom next to the door. “Grey, why didn’t you answer before?” he called angrily into it, his message relayed only to the room on the other side. “What is it?”
“We had a… small problem,” the voice of Grey answered from the small speaker.
With an impending sense of doom, Scarlet pressed the opening button and the door slid open before him, just as Blue and an out-of-breath Fawn reached him. They nearly barrelled into Grey, whom they found standing in the doorway, with an abashed look on his features. He was soaked from head to foot, still in his uniform, but without his tunic and boots.
“We have been busy,” he explained apologetically.
“Busy?” Scarlet repeated with perplexity. He brushed Grey aside and entered, with Fawn and Blue in tow, and took a couple of steps into the large, dimly-lit room. “What could possibly have… happened…”
He stopped in his tracks; his jaw hit the floor and he opened wide eyes at the sight offering itself to him. Behind him, he heard Fawn’s gasp of surprise and Blue’s muttered curse.
All around the empty pool, was a multitude of little brown and white creatures, oblivious to the presence of the three men who had just entered to discover them. All too busy playing happily with each other.
Mogwai everywhere… cooing, singing, chattering, doing what Mogwai did best.
And seated on the floor, in the middle of them all, was Captain Ochre, as soaked as Grey himself was, with a sulking and defeated expression on his grim face, ignoring all the noise around him as if it didn’t affect him at all.
Scarlet slapped his forehead in complete disarray.
He was already hearing Colonel White’s yelling…
* * *
“HOW many are there?!”
Scarlet fought not to roll his eyes. He knew that his angry commander had heard him very well the first time.
“One hundred and four, sir. Counting the previous six.”
“ONE HUNDRED AND FOUR?!” Up until now, Colonel White had tried to remain as dignified as possible as the official reports from his officers had slowly revealed the situation to him. Ochre and Grey were still dripping wet as they stood to attention in front of him, and it was all Blue could do not to openly laugh. And it was no laughing matter at all – at least in White’s point of view. Now it was too much even for him to stay calm. He jumped to his feet, slapping the top of his desk. The sound resonated through the entire control room. All the captains automatically straightened themselves – especially Ochre and Grey. Lieutenant Green, who had wisely retreated to the other end of his computer, lowered his head and pretended not to be there. As for Doctor Fawn, seated on the lone stool next to the colonel’s rounded desk, he was hanging his head, and holding it as if he had a terrible headache.
“We are lucky there aren’t more of them, Colonel,” Scarlet continued stoically, as White rounded his desk. “If not for Captains Ochre and Grey’s speedy action…”
“If not for these bloody fools, we wouldn’t be STUCK with ONE HUNDRED AND FOUR blasted little furry creatures to begin with!” White exploded, cutting off Scarlet’s protests. He came to stand before Ochre and Grey and – if possible – they stood even more rigidly. More than that, and they will bend backwards, Blue observed.
“Tell me at what point exactly you realised you each had one of these creatures in your bags,” White said between clenched teeth.
“When we opened them, sir,” Ochre answered truthfully.
“And not for one instant, did you realise that your bags were a little heavier than before you arrived in sickbay?”
“No, sir,” both Ochre and Grey replied.
“And not a sound from the bags either?”
“The Mogwai were very quiet, sir,” Grey said. “It was as if they wanted to go there and didn’t want to be found out. When we opened the bags in the locker room, they… made a run for it.”
“Before we realised, they were dashing out of the locker room and toward the pool,” Ochre continued. “They’re incredibly fast on those little feet of theirs, Colonel. We were unable to catch them. Well… not before they were actually able to jump into the pool.”
“And then what?” White snapped angrily.
Ochre closed his eyes and sighed. “We removed our tunics and boots and jumped in to get them out of the water as soon as possible. We’d heard about the effect water has on them.”
“But it was already too late,” Grey pursued. “By the time we put the two Mogwai on the floor… there were furry balls popping out of them…”
“Yes, all right,” an annoyed White interrupted. “I already know how that happens…”
“There were so many… All we could do is keep them away from the water and remove the balls that had already fallen into the pool. As quickly as we could. But there were so many, there was only so much we could do, Colonel, it was almost impossible…” Grey sighed in turn, lowering his head. “I’m sorry, sir. We blew it.”
White’s eyes burned hotter with barely contained anger; he huffed his frustration and turned away, muttering to himself. Grey and Ochre briefly exchanged a miserable glance. There was no way to know now how the colonel would react and what he would do to punish them.
“Under the circumstances, I believe you did your best.” White’s words took everyone aback. The Spectrum commander turned on his heels to face them. Frustration was still obvious in his stern face, but he was obviously calming down by the second. “I should assign you to clean up after this mess, gentlemen – by cleaning up these creatures’ own mess…”
Blue nearly strangled himself forcing the laugh down his throat when he heard that; he had the good sense to keep as straight an expression as he could. Grey and Ochre looked pale and very uncomfortable at the thought, but they were relieved to see White waving the thought away.
“But that wouldn’t serve anything or anyone. Right now, we have to make sure that it will never happen again.”
“Yes, sir, Colonel White, sir,” Grey and Ochre agreed heartily.
“Those… one hundred and four Mogwai…” White grimaced, pronouncing the number, as he turned to Captain Scarlet. “They are all accounted for, I hope?”
“Yes, sir. None of them is missing. They have been… herded into the auditorium.”
“We have put security guards in charge of surveillance,” Blue added. “They won’t be able to get out of there without being spotted.”
“Are they all in the auditorium?”
“Not exactly, no,” Doctor Fawn then intervened, causing White to turn to him with an annoyed look. “I asked to keep Gizmo in sickbay – along with the three others who are still there and Snowball, who we found amongst his… new-found friends. AND with two of those, as well. I still want to perform a few tests.”
“Snowball, yes…” White mumbled. “Well, it would appear, Captain Scarlet, that your instinct was right about that little pest.”
“Doctor, make sure that those creatures can’t leave sickbay from now on,” White said, turning to Fawn. “I don’t want any more of those creatures running freely around Cloudbase.” He gave a loud huff. “One hundred and four Mogwai… I’m sure Harmony’s cousin won’t agree to take the whole tribe… Have we been able to reach him, Lieutenant?” he added turning to Green, seated at his station.
“Er… Still nothing, sir,” Green answered, a little awkwardly. “Spectrum Intelligence is still trying to identify at which Shaolin Temple he’s residing. Apparently, the Temple is reluctant to provide an accurate list of their members… There’s a lot of ‘Brother Huangs’ amongst the monks.”
“Keep Spectrum Intelligence at it,” White growled. “Make it top priority.”
“And if any of those loudmouths at SI should inquire about the reason why we’re interested in a monk of the Shaolin Temple, tell them it’s classified,” White continued, returning to his seat. “I won’t have Agent Conners sticking his big nose into this… I’m not going to give him the satisfaction of being able to make a laughing-stock of Cloudbase staff.” He sat down slowly at his desk, rolling his eyes upward. “One hundred and four Mogwai…” he repeated in an irate tone. “Now how the bloody hell can we get rid of them?”
Snowball knew that the Mogwai were meant to be stronger.
And his instinct was telling him that, in order to get stronger, they needed to eat… His stomach was always crying out in the middle of the night, demanding nourishment right then and there, and he just knew that this was for a special purpose. Because all the other Mogwai were like him, and fervently wanted to eat, long after the sun had set – after midnight. They were all crying for food, but the humans were ignoring them. They would not accede to their demands. Snowball suspected that they had a good reason for that.
The humans feared the Mogwai, and didn’t want them to grow stronger.
That was because of Gizmo… Somehow he had warned the humans off. He had told them not to feed the Mogwai during the night.
Snowball HATED Gizmo… he wasn’t like the other Mogwai. He didn’t want to be fed after midnight, and was the only one not to cry for food. He had the humans’ trust and they liked him – much more than they liked the other Mogwai.
Especially that red-clad, tall, dark-haired man they called Scarlet.
Snowball hated Scarlet even more than he hated Gizmo. He didn’t like the way the human looked at him – as if he suspected that the white Mogwai was up to something. And indeed, he was right. Snowball had found a way to trick the humans. All of them.
Before he had been taken away from the auditorium, Snowball had given his instructions to the others. They considered him to be their leader, so they had listened to him with utmost attention. They would do as they were told.
It was a simple and easy plan.
The humans were feeding the Mogwai regularly – only, they were making sure they didn’t give them anything after midnight. Mogwai were ravenous creatures, so they normally ate everything they were given right away. Snowball had instructed the others not to eat all they received – but to hide some of it – and wait. Wait until after midnight. Wait until their stomachs cried out and demanded food. Wait until they were unable to wait anymore.
And then the Mogwai would eat – and would become different – stronger.
He and the others in the sickbay room would do the same, of course. He had already explained his plan to them. There was just one small problem…
He had his eyes on them all the time, checking Snowball more precisely, obviously suspecting something, like his human friend did. He posed a threat. He was a spy for the humans. He might alert them. Ah, to get rid of Gizmo would make things so much easier.
It could also provide – a diversion.
That’s when Snowball conceived his second plan… and conveyed it to the others.
* * *
Fawn had put in long hours for the last few days, trying to learn more about the Mogwai, and up until now, had not been able to find out much about them. That was probably what made them so interesting, to the point that he couldn’t stop studying them. For Fawn, it was a curiosity very similar to the one he had felt when he had started studying the Mysterons’ capacities – and Scarlet’s case in particular. Both cases were a constant and undying source of scientific fascination – and Fawn, first and foremost, was a man of science, coupled with being a damned good doctor.
It was late in the evening, when Doctor Fawn came to see the Mogwai in the room where they had been left, bringing Midget back with him. As soon as the little Mogwai was put on the floor, he broke into a run and went to join Gizmo, who, as usual, was seated a short distance from the others, watching the show on the television. No matter that the older Mogwai didn’t seem to get on with the others, he still enjoyed watching the same shows as they did. Actually, Fawn assumed that whatever was presented on the screen, they would like watching it. Of course, they had their preferences, depending on their personalities. Gizmo, for example, would get absorbed in anything involving music – but he had also sat through an old action-packed war movie the night before – so engrossed was he that he didn’t even notice that the other Mogwai had fallen asleep long before the movie finished.
The following morning, Gizmo had only the name ‘Rambo’ on his lips. Fawn felt certain that it wasn’t the first time the Mogwai had seen that movie – and that he would happily watch it a thousand times more.
Gizmo was glad to see Midget come back, and welcomed him accordingly, moving over a little bit on the cushion he was sitting on to make some room for his smaller companion. Midget was the only one of his peers with which Gizmo got on; the little Mogwai was, indeed, very similar in character to Gizmo. He was gentle, playful in a quiet kind of way, and affectionate. He liked human company. Not like the other Mogwai.
“All right, little fellow,” Fawn said with a warm smile at the delightful scene of Gizmo and Midget cuddling together, “I think that will be all for you today…” His words apparently went unnoticed, as the two Mogwai were already enraptured by the show. Fawn glanced at the TV with curiosity, just in time to see the words “Quincy, M.D.” appear on the screen. Another one of those old medical show re-runs, he reflected inwardly.
“Well, whose turn will it be this time?” Fawn looked around at his feet. He needed one of the new Mogwai, born the same morning at the pool. He had personally found two whom he knew he would easily recognise. One of them had a dark patch of fur on the top of his head. He found it, seated right in front of the TV set, completely absorbed in the show. “I think you’re elected, ‘Quincy’,” Fawn declared. He crouched down to take the small animal in his arms. The latter protested loudly and put on a struggle, but he was evidently no match for Fawn.
“Hey! Calm down, little one! I won’t hurt you. I just want to do some tests on you… See how different you are from all your ‘brothers’ – or ‘fathers’, whatever.”
Fawn walked out of the room with the Mogwai still protesting. Snowball followed him with mean eyes, until the door closed. Then he turned to his three companions, seated with him. They whispered for a time in low tones, now oblivious to the show on the television.
Gizmo was watching them with attention, suspicious of their behaviour. Experience had taught the older Mogwai that he should distrust the majority of his peers; he knew they were trouble, and forever up to something bad. And amongst them, there was always one, worse than the others, more malevolent and cruel – hating humans and wanting to hurt them. One with a strong enough personality, who would become their leader. And it was always through that leader that trouble came. Snowball was that Mogwai.
Gizmo tried to look inconspicuous, turning his attention to the TV screen, but still watching the conspiratorial Mogwai with interest. He saw Groucho leaving the small group and walking toward the filing cabinet leaning on the wall. Gizmo followed him with his eyes, and watched as the Mogwai patiently climbed the cabinet.
Once on the top, Groucho was able to reach the air vent. Gizmo saw him push the grating slightly ajar and slip into the opening. Gizmo gasped in surprise; the other Mogwai had probably unscrewed the grating previously, at some time during the day. They were planning another escape – and Groucho was the first one to go.
Well, he wasn’t going to go anywhere without surveillance!
Gizmo left Midget’s side. The small Mogwai was already so engrossed in the show that he didn’t seem to notice his companion leaving him.
Gizmo slowly started climbing the cabinet. He didn’t look behind, and hence didn’t noticed the way Snowball was staring at him, screwing up his eyes, a faint smile on his pursed lips.
Gizmo slipped inside the vent, silently following Groucho.
Behind him, Snowball watched him disappear, and chuckled evilly. From under the duvet he was seated on, he brought out the food he and the others had hidden from the guards. The other Mogwai gathered around, smacking their lips with anticipation.
Snowball looked up at the time displayed on the TV set’s clock.
* * *
After what seemed like an eternity, the trail for Groucho brought Gizmo to a new, darkened room. He stumbled out of the air vent and fell to land with a big huff on the surface of a bed. He shook his head, protesting against the high step and looked around with curiosity.
He was in a relatively large room, where six beds, covered with gel-like mattresses, were set in two rows, each attached to an electronic panel built into the walls against which they were resting. There were sets of projectors embedded in the ceiling, with multicoloured lights moving in quiet motion, at the rhythm of a relaxing, humming sound. The lights were set very low, so it didn’t cause any trouble at all to Gizmo who looked around with some kind of awe in his big eyes.
Unbeknown to Gizmo, he had ended up in the sickbay auxiliary Room of Sleep.
He jumped off the bed to the floor and explored, looking around with curiosity and some worry. There was no trace of his quarry so far, but he had a feeling Groucho could be hiding somewhere in this place.
He head a faint sound coming from one corner of the room. He turned around, his ears erect, listening intently. He heard the whisper of a Mogwai’s voice.
He wasn’t surprised that his call went unanswered and that now he could hear only silence. Gizmo gave a grunt of annoyance and walked towards where he had heard the voice. He would find Groucho, and whether he wanted it or not, the other Mogwai would come back with him to the room where he would stay quietly and not cause any more trouble.
A sound coming from behind made him stop – like something falling to the ground and a gasp in a small voice. Gizmo turned around to see what it was.
Then there was the sound of running feet and when Gizmo turned once again, it was to see the door slide open and closed immediately. He rushed to it, suddenly sensing that there was something afoot. He reached the door but even though he was able to jump to touch the controls, the ‘open’ button refused to work.
The lights overhead became brighter and started flashing in a more rapid motion.
Gizmo looked up in growing concern and shivered, suddenly realising he had walked into a trap.
He gave a loud, terrified squeal.
* * *
Doctor Fawn was busy analysing a blood sample from his new Mogwai when he heard hurried footsteps approaching the door, and a voice calling his name. He turned from his microscope in time to see one of the security guards assigned to the Mogwai’s surveillance skidding to a stop in the doorway.
“Doctor! We have a problem! One of the Mogwai has crept into the Room of Sleep and activated the lights mechanism!”
“How did he pass you, if you were keeping watch in front of their room?” Fawn asked with a deep frown. He left his stool, grumbling with annoyance. These Mogwai were hard to keep in place. The minute he took his eyes off them, they got into trouble. He had to find a way to minimise their movements.
He left the room, following the guard, the door sliding shut behind him. The Mogwai he had dubbed ‘Quincy’ was looking rather grim in his cage, where Fawn had temporarily put him, and was glaring daggers at the closed door. He didn’t like the bars enclosing him, that restricted, too-small place. It was undignified.
The Mogwai growled. He hated Fawn for having locked him up that way. He would find a way to avenge himself… That he promised.
His eyes fell on the three small oranges the physician had left on his desk, and the Mogwai grunted approvingly; his hunger had grown, in the last few minutes, and had transformed into a craving. He licked his lips, as his small hands went through the bars and struggled to reach the fruits.
His fingers closed on the nearest orange and pulled it inside the cage.
The Mogwai devoured it greedily, zest, pulp and seeds, without any distinction, the juice spilling on his coat.
The clock was showing 03:15.
* * *
It was pure coincidence that Captain Scarlet and Captain Blue arrived in sickbay two minutes later; they had been sharing the late evening duty shift in the Control Room and had just been relieved by Captains Ochre and Magenta. Scarlet had insisted on paying a visit to Gizmo, and Blue had reluctantly agreed to follow – he was more eager to find Symphony, who had just left her duty shift in Angel One at three. But Scarlet had somehow managed to convince him to come with him; Blue knew his friend had grown attached to the little Mogwai, but more than that, he was convinced that Scarlet considered himself somehow responsible for what had happened to Gizmo. If not for that first glass of water, the other Mogwai would never have been born in the first place. That was taking responsibility to the extreme, Blue reflected, but he knew that nothing he could say would convince Scarlet to the contrary. So he simply let it slide.
As soon as they walked into sickbay, both Scarlet and Blue realised that something was happening, when they saw Fawn exit his lab, to follow a security guard almost at a run.
“Is something wrong?” Blue asked.
“One of the Mogwai is trapped in the sickbay Room of Sleep. Don’t ask me how he got in there.”
Scarlet and Blue followed suit. Fawn and the guard stopped in front of a door, at the end of the corridor; the doctor pressed the button, but nothing happened.
“I tried earlier,” explained the guard. “The controls wouldn’t respond.”
Blue crouched in front of the controls and examined them. The steel panel covering them was loose, and a few wires were showing from underneath. Blue sniffed; he could definitely detect a burning smell coming from behind the panel.
“Short-circuit, maybe,” he noted, getting to his feet.
“Short-circuit?” Scarlet repeated dubiously. “Why does that panel looks like it’s been removed and badly put back?”
“An explosion inside might have dislodged it,” Blue suggested.
“Or the Mogwai tampered with it to get inside,” Fawn retorted. He was still standing in front of the door and was looking through the porthole to see inside. The lights he was seeing were a good indication that the Room of Sleep systems had been powered up, as the guard had told him earlier. He grunted with humour. “I’m sure he must be regretting his curiosity… Those flashing lights must not be comfortable for him… Ah, here he is. I can see him.”
Scarlet came up next to Fawn and looked too; he could see the little Mogwai, standing in the middle of the room, between the two rows of beds, frozen into place by the fear of the bright and coloured lights flashing all around him, and trembling. He didn’t seem sure where he should be going to escape.
The Mogwai half-turned toward the door and Scarlet’s eyes opened wide when he recognised him.
“What?” a surprised Fawn repeated, looking through the porthole again. “Are you sure?”
“Yes I’m sure. Gizmo’s right eye is surrounded by a patch of white fur. He’s the only Mogwai with that distinctive mark. That’s Gizmo.”
“My God…” murmured Fawn. “Indeed it is. How did he get in there?”
“Never mind that. Those lights are getting brighter. They might hurt him!” Scarlet punched the intercom button and shouted into it, hoping that, unlike the door controls, it would work.
“Gizmo! Can you hear me?” Through the porthole, he saw the ears of the Mogwai moving, and Gizmo looking around to search where the familiar voice was coming from. “The door, Gizmo! Look at the door!”
Gizmo turned around and saw Scarlet’s face through the porthole; the Mogwai’s face seemed to illuminate with hope. He began to babble profusely, in that language that nobody – except perhaps Harmony – could understand. Scarlet shook his head.
“Hide yourself, Gizmo. We’ll be getting you out of there in no time…”
But Gizmo shook his head, and continued to talk, as if protesting loudly.
“Hide from the lights!” Scarlet shouted again, irate that the Mogwai would not obey. “They’ll burn you! Do as I say, Gizmo! I’m coming to get you!”
Gizmo seemed to shrug it off then he turned to walk towards of one of the beds set against the wall. Figuring out the Mogwai had finally understood and was obeying him, Scarlet turned to the control panel. He pushed the button, just in case it would now work.
“No go,” Blue commented. “Maybe we can force the door open?”
“Those doors are magnetic, that might be difficult,” replied Scarlet. “Let’s check under that panel first.”
It was rather easy to remove the plate, as it came loose almost as soon as Blue put his fingers around it to pull it off. A mass of tangled wires and circuitry appeared before their eyes, some of them burned and melted, and still smoking; a smell of burned rubber escaped through the open panel.
“What a mess,” murmured Scarlet. “I wonder what happened for it to be in such a state?”
“There’s two loose wires,” announced Blue. “Those red ones there? They look like they belong to each other.”
“They do indeed,” Scarlet said. “Maybe that’s what caused the short-circuit…” Cautiously, he reached out to the bare end of one of the wires, taking good care not to touch anything else. He barely grazed it.
A violent flash exploded from the control panel and he yelped, removing his hand, and stepping backward under the electric shock he had felt. There was a stinging pain in the tips of his fingers, and the rest of his hand, right through his wrist, felt numb. Blue was immediately by his side.
“Careful!” the American captain urged, looking in concern at his friend’s injured hand. “You know what electricity might do to you! What did you do?”
“Nothing!” Scarlet heatedly defended himself. “That blasted thing simply…”
Another flash, more violent than the previous one, interrupted him and flames erupted from inside the panel. A loud sizzling sound was heard coming from the wall and suddenly…
All the lights in the Room of Sleep flashed to full, blinding intensity, accompanied by loud explosions. The wall trembled and the door to the room was shaken off its support, the porthole window cracking and shattering under the violence of the blast. Everyone threw themselves against the wall to avoid the flames emerging from the opening. The first seconds of surprise past, Scarlet opened eyes wide with dismay, staring at the smoke coming out through the porthole and the slight gap that had now appeared between the door and its frame.
He jumped to the door, followed by Blue and the two of them struggled together to pull it open. It slid grudgingly, grinding as it did. It took a few seconds. When the space was sufficient enough to let him through, Scarlet slipped into the room.
The built-in fire extinguishers in the walls and ceiling had already started spraying their foam by the time the captains had been able to open the door, so most of the fire had already had been taken care of. The smoke in the room wasn’t very dense, so they were able to see the total devastation in the room. Walls and floor had all been blackened by the intensity of the flames. Some of the beds were still burning, their electronic devices sizzling. The lighting systems were completely destroyed, cables hanging loosely from the shattered ceiling. Pieces of wreckage were lying everywhere.
Captain Blue and Doctor Fawn had entered in turn. With a portable fire extinguisher, Blue was taking care of the remaining small fires, while Scarlet was searching around, turning over everything that was lying on the floor, hoping – without really expecting – that Gizmo had somehow survived the explosion.
“Gizmo?” he called, looking with hopelessness at the surrounding devastation. “Gizmo, where are you, little fellow? Answer me!”
Scarlet turned around at the sound of Blue’s low call. His colleague had just turned over the ruins of a ceiling panel he had just extinguished. Fawn and Scarlet approached, and looked down at what the American captain was grimly looking at.
There was only a small heap of ashes and crisp remains, half burned brown and white fur, and a small bit of what had been a Mogwai’s ear.
The first moment of horror past, Scarlet turned away with a revolted scowl. That was all that was left of his little friend.
Fawn shook his head with sadness. Blue gave a deep sigh, and tactfully covered the grisly remains with the half-burned board. “I’m sorry, Paul,” he offered to his English colleague’s back. “Sometimes weird accidents happen and…”
“Accident?” Scarlet repeated sourly. He turned a grim face to his friend. “Are you sure that was an accident?”
“Come on… what else could it be?”
Scarlet didn’t have time to answer, before a security guard presented himself at the opened door. He first looked around with dismay at the destruction in the room, before clearing his throat and addressing Doctor Fawn. “I’m sorry… I… I think there’s something the matter with the Mogwai we’re keeping in the auditorium.”
“What, again?” Fawn said with a deep frown. “Don’t tell me that more of them have escaped?!”
“Uh… no… at least, I don’t think so…” The guard shook his head. “I don’t know what the problem is, but I think you’d better come and see…”
* * *
“They're in what?”
“Pupal stage, sir,” explained Doctor Fawn patiently. “As strange as it may seem.”
Colonel White scratched his head with mystification. He had been dragged out of bed only twenty minutes earlier by Doctor Fawn’s urgent call and, only taking the time to put on a robe, he had gone directly to the auditorium. Doctor Fawn was already there, with Captain Scarlet and Captain Blue. For them to decide to awake him in the middle of the night, White was certain that there must be a good reason. They had reported the incident involving Gizmo and already, his instincts told him that something suspicious was going on…
But he wasn’t quite prepared for what he discovered in the auditorium.
He thought he would find the Mogwai there; either asleep, or watching some television programme or other on the large screen in front of them. Instead, the Mogwai had disappeared. Well… not quite. They were still there… But they weren’t quite themselves.
In each of the auditorium seats where previously a Mogwai had sat, was a large, cocoon-like thing.
Chrysalis, Doctor Fawn had explained. They were big – bigger than the Mogwai had been, hard and sticky to the touch, viscous and absolutely disgusting. None of them similar to the others.
“I can only theorise,” Fawn continued, as White was looking at the cocoons with confusion. “But… it looks like it’s the same process as for butterflies. They entered that phase to transform themselves.”
“Into what?” asked White, raising a brow at his medical officer.
Fawn shrugged. “That’s anybody’s guess, sir. All I can say is this. When Corporal Brody came to fetch me in sickbay and brought us here, I found exactly the same thing you’re seeing now. First thing I did then was call back to sickbay to ask how the Mogwai there were doing.”
“Nurse Lawford went to check. Apparently, the Mogwai had been very quiet tonight, and she already suspected something was afoot. She found them all curled up, and in what looked like a catatonic phase. She was unable to wake them up. And when she touched them, she noticed that something sticky was covering their fur. I went back to check.” Fawn sighed. “I still don’t know how, but all of them, even the one I was keeping in my lab for tests, had started secreting a kind of sticky fluid that would eventually lead to the formation of the same kind of pod surrounding these others,” he explained with a wave of his hand. “Apparently, during that period, the Mogwai will stay unconscious… that is, until the changes within the cocoon have been completed. Then, they should emerge… and we will see what kind of butterflies they might be.”
“Any idea what triggered this… metamorphosis?” White asked with a frown.
“Oh, yes… I have a pretty good idea.” Fawn fished in the pocket of his jacket and presented what remained of a chocolate wrapper. Then he indicated similar pieces of paper, lying everywhere on the auditorium floor. “They ate after midnight,” Fawn offered simply.
“I thought I gave specific instructions not to feed them after midnight,” White almost growled. He couldn’t think that anybody would dare disobey his orders.
“They weren’t fed after midnight,” a grim-looking Captain Scarlet retorted. “They fed themselves. These Mogwai are clever. They hid the food they were given during the day and waited until the right moment to eat. They wanted this to happen.”
“Speaking like an expert, Captain?” White asked, a little sourly.
Scarlet suppressed a frown. “No, sir. Speaking with my instinct. We took all the precautions necessary concerning the Mogwai. They foiled our every move. They wanted to multiply – they found a way to water. They wanted this metamorphosis – they took the steps to make it happen . They are more intelligent than we gave them credit for.” He nodded slowly. “It might be only instinct guiding them, but I’m sure they’re doing all this for a reason.”
“I hate to agree with Captain Scarlet,” Captain Blue said in turn. “But… I fear he’s right. Whatever may come out of those pods – we have to be careful. We may be in for a big surprise.”
White frowned. Those Mogwai will cause me nothing but trouble, that much is true…
“Right,” he finally agreed. “We’ll keep the pods under surveillance, then. Twenty-four hours a day, until they hatch. Here, and inside sickbay.”
“Two of them are unaccounted for,” Fawn then noted, a little hesitantly. “We discovered that there’s only four cocoons in the sickbay room where we were keeping Snowball and the others. There should be two more. Now, unless some of those pods had stuck together to form only one…”
“You mean there might be two Mogwai running free on Cloudbase?”
“Or two pods lying somewhere else, if those two had eaten after midnight.”
“Where was security during that time?” White almost barked.
Fawn sighed. “Sorry, sir, but it would seem that all the commotion due to that… accident in the Room of Sleep caused enough confusion… Confusion that those two Mogwai took advantage of to get away.”
“Clever little pests, indeed,” White muttered. “I want them found, as soon as possible!”
“Yes, sir,” Captain Blue agreed quickly. “I’ll put security on it immediately.”
“Captain Scarlet?” Colonel White turned to his young compatriot. The latter nearly snapped to attention when his commander addressed him. “Someone will have to tell Harmony about her Mogwai,” White pursued. “And since you had grown attached to the little fellow…”
“I will tell her, sir,” Scarlet agreed with a brief nod. No emotion was apparent on his face, but White knew he probably was feeling bad about the death of Gizmo. He would not show it, and he would probably be able to comfort Harmony appropriately when he told her the news, if it should come as a shock to her.
White turned to face Fawn again. “I take it your research hasn’t turned up any results so far concerning these creatures… and what we might be expected to find when these pods hatch?”
“None so far, Colonel. But Captain Magenta wants to make a thorough search on Worldnet tomorrow. He said he might have found a lead – but he didn’t have the time to dig it out properly until now.”
“Well, tell him to do dig it out!” White grumbled with bad humour. “I want some results. I hate to be left in the dark when facing an unknown situation.” He turned around. “I’m going back to bed. And PLEASE, try to keep everything quiet for the next two or three hours? All these disruptions because of these Mogwai are becoming really tedious…”
“Still here, Captain?” Doctor Fawn said, walking toward Magenta who was still working at his computer station in sickbay. “It’s been hours, since this morning… You should give it a rest.”
Captain Magenta sighed, and turned from his computer screen to face the physician who had entered the room. Behind his visitor, beyond the doorway, he could peer into the laboratory that Fawn had just left, leaving the door open. Magenta could see the pod, in the middle of the examination room – a shapeless heap of a greenish-brown crust surrounding the creature that was metamorphosing inside. Magenta detached his eyes from the grotesque vision to smile gratefully at Fawn.
“Tired of seeing me invade your sickbay, Doc?” he asked with a short laugh.
“Just concerned that you’re exhausting yourself with work,” Fawn retorted, rolling his eyes. “You should leave now. And get some rest. Better yet, get your mind off it all. Go to that Halloween party with the others and have some fun.”
Magenta chuckled again. How in Heaven Rick had managed to convince the colonel that the Halloween party should still take place, despite all the recent events on Cloudbase, was beyond his comprehension. That would just be another exploit to add to Ochre’s already impressive record…
“I will in a few minutes, Doc. Right now, I think I’ve found something interesting concerning the Mogwai. Is Harmony here?”
“I’m here.” The quiet voice at the doorway attracted both men’s attention and they turned to see Harmony enter. “I asked Lieutenant Tuscan to cover for me in the Amber Room with Symphony and came right away when you called me, Captain Magenta.”
“Thanks for coming,” the Irish captain said, welcoming her with a sympathetic smile. “How are you feeling?”
She shrugged, trying to look indifferent. “I am holding up,” she said quietly. “Gizmo was a gentle little creature. I didn’t get to know him very well, unfortunately, and I’m certain that this is my greatest loss. I just have to see how Captain Scarlet reacts to Gizmo’s death to be sure of that. I think he feels more than I do. As for me, I’m trying to cope with the fact that I lost something that was so very precious to my family.” She smiled, almost uncomfortably. “I must sound like a callous person, I’m sure…”
“No,” Magenta reassured her with a smile. “I know you better than that. I know you feel for the little guy’s loss, but you won’t go as far as saying so openly. That’s … very traditional of you.”
She reddened. “Captain…”
He laughed. “Come over with Fawn and see what I found,” he said, quickly changing the subject. For that, Harmony was grateful. She was a very private person and speaking of her inner thoughts and emotions made her feel very uncomfortable.
With Harmony standing on the other side of the captain, Fawn leaned over the latter’s shoulder, and looked down to read the large title spread across the computer screen Magenta had been consulting all day.
“ ‘Gremlins: the night that shook Kingston Falls. The truth behind a so-called mass hysteria’. What’s the link with our little furry friends, Captain?”
“That’s a book, written by a former industrial artist turned anthropologist in his later years, called William Peltzer, in 2010. The word ‘Mogwai’ appears all over it. At least two thousand times.” Magenta browsed around the very long article, choosing a few selected passages that he showed to the doctor. “It was mentioned in a short article and I was lucky enough to find the whole book in the international online library service. It recalls the events leading to a case of reported mass hysteria – which struck an entire little town in the United States during Christmas 1982.”
“That’s nearly ninety years ago,” Fawn said, furrowing his brow. “But I still don’t see…”
“Wait. I’ll explain and it’ll become clear: for Christmas that year, Peltzer’s father gave his son a small, cute, furry creature, that he had bought in a Chinese shop in New York. There are small details concerning the purchase that indicates that the animal in question wasn’t really intended to be sold in the first place, but the young grandson of the owner’s shop seemed to need the money. So he smuggled the animal out of the shop and sold it to Peltzer – and mentioned to him that there were three rules that he had to follow in order to take care of the creature.”
“A Mogwai,” Harmony said automatically, reading the print on the screen. “Oh… the name of that shop’s owner… That’s Uncle Lee.”
“And that’s not all that attracted my attention,” Magenta added. “Look at the name Peltzer gave to the Mogwai.”
“Gizmo!” Harmony exclaimed. “But… that’s impossible! That would mean that he was at least ninety years old.”
“Mmm… Maybe even older,” Fawn said hesitantly. “As a matter of fact, I was unable to figure out how old he was. Is there a photo, Magenta?”
“No photo of the actual Mogwai of that era, no. But there’s this.” Magenta pressed a key and a black and white drawing appeared, that made his two companions gasp. “Drawn by William Peltzer himself.”
“That is Gizmo,” Harmony agreed. She had recognised the white patch of fur around the right eye. And even beyond that, even considering that Mogwai were very similar to each other, there was something in Gizmo’s outward attitude that set him apart from the others. The Angel pilot nodded thoughtfully. “Mogwai are supposed to have a long lifespan…”
“Apparently, they can live many centuries,” Magenta confirmed. “Or at least, that’s what the book says.” Fully aware that the others were staring at him sceptically, he pressed a key, jumping to another passage of the book. “After the events in Kingston Falls in 1982, William Peltzer returned Gizmo to his original owner. Then, he returned to a normal life, but what happened that winter developed within him a growing interest in Mogwai that never truly left him. He started researching them and eventually, after many years as a successful artist, decided to branch out. He became an anthropologist, and his research into the Mogwai eventually took him to China, where he believed they originated. It took him years to find every little bit of information he could on the Mogwai and to bring it all together in a single study. By his own account, it became an obsession, costing him his private and family life. He probably became the only full-fledged expert on Mogwai that ever was, but here’s the snag: people thought he was some kind of loony.”
“I’ll say,” the practical Fawn remarked with a renewed frown. “I’m seeing it, and I have trouble believing it. What else is in this book? What were those events in 1982 that led people to believe that Kingston Falls was the site of a mass hysteria? I don’t know about you, but that makes me feel a little nervous…”
“What is a Gremlin?” Harmony asked in turn.
“First things first,” Magenta said, turning his chair to face his two companions. “I’ve got to explain the findings of Doctor Peltzer first.” He blew a deep sigh, as if preparing to make a long speech. “There are two kinds of Mogwai. The minority Mogwai and the majority Mogwai. Gizmo is what is called a minority Mogwai. That doesn’t mean that, physiologically, he’s that different from the other Mogwai, no. Within him are the genes to create others just like him whenever he gets wet and breeds. After it is born, a baby Mogwai will grow to adulthood in about ten minutes… Even if a baby is wet, it won’t give birth to another baby because it has to be mature to do so.”
“Which is a good thing,” Fawn remarked. “Or Grey and Ochre would have had a lot more trouble when they got those baby Mogwai out of the pool the other day. They would still be at it…”
“The trouble with Mogwai is that if they can produce other Mogwai after getting wet, there is only about a one in a thousand chance that the baby Mogwai will be a minority Mogwai – like Gizmo is. Minority Mogwai are gentle and kind, and they love being around humans and to be cuddled by them. Majority Mogwai hate minority Mogwai because of that. Maybe they think they’re sickeningly sweet… For, you see, majority Mogwai are wicked, and malicious… and can only think of doing mischief. Even – or rather especially – if it means causing destruction, pain and suffering around them. They simply do not care.”
Harmony and Fawn exchanged worried glances. “That’s why Peltzer called them ‘Gremlins’?” the Angel finally asked.
Magenta scratched his cheek, thoughtfully. “Well, that’s the other thing about these creatures. That’s what Peltzer called them after their metamorphosis… You’re a pilot, Harmony, so you know that a ‘gremlin’ is what war veterans called whatever problems they had with their planes – electronic or mechanical…”
“I know that, but…”
Magenta sighed anew. “For whatever reason, when a Mogwai eats after midnight, a chemical reaction in its body starts a metamorphosis,” he explained. “Even if it is a minority Mogwai. The fact is, however, that a minority Mogwai will avoid the metamorphosis at all costs. While a majority Mogwai will do everything in its power for it to happen. We all know how it goes now. How the Mogwai will find itself in a cocoon, while the metamorphosis occurs… And what they will look like is…” Magenta marked a pause. He turned to his screen again and pressed a new key to search for a specific image. He found it. “Here. This is a Mogwai after metamorphosis is complete. A ‘Gremlin’.”
Fawn and Harmony leaned over the captain’s shoulders and stared at the new drawing the screen was displaying.
“Holy sweet Mother of Jesus,” Fawn exhaled in a slow, muttering tone.
“Ugly thing, isn’t it?” Magenta replied grimly.
Harmony was staring at the horrible creature displayed on the screen. She couldn’t stop a chill running through her veins.
“That… thing looks dangerous,” she remarked.
“Why do you think they thought the events in Kingston Falls was a case of mass hysteria?” Magenta replied. “The same thing that’s happening here happened there. Gizmo became wet, and gave birth to new Mogwai. Those Mogwai turned into these things and they gave birth in turn, to full grown Gremlins… who, during the night, spread all around Kingston Falls causing all sort of trouble – and even death.” He pointed to the image on screen. “These things are deadly. They go everywhere, are incredibly fast and intelligent, and want nothing other than to cause chaos. They do not care about anything, any life – even their own.”
“And how much time does it take before metamorphosis is complete?” Fawn asked with a frown.
“Peltzer wasn’t really sure. He figured about twelve hours… Maybe more, maybe less.”
Harmony opened wide eyes. “And how much time has passed already since the Mogwai went into their cocoons?”
Fawn went pale. “We’re almost out of time, then. We have to alert security at the auditorium, and do something about those pods before they hatch and it’s too late.”
He reached for the comm.link set on the desk next to the computer and punched the code for the auditorium. He barely waited for the acknowledgement call to bark into it: “This is Doctor Fawn in sickbay! Close and lock all accesses to the auditorium immediately. This is an emergency! I repeat: emergency! Close and lock all accesses to the auditorium right now!”
He didn’t receive the answer he expected; instead of the voice of the sergeant in charge of surveillance at the auditorium, he heard a cackling, almost maniacal laugh that sent a shiver up and down his spine. In the background, there were indistinct sounds of chaos: other, muffled laughs, cries, noises of things being broken, high pitched voices, talking gibberish… and then horrified and painful yells, as someone finally tried to answer him:
“This is Sergeant Bertram at the auditorium! The pods have hatched! S.I.R.! There’s horrible creatures everywhere! We can’t contain them… We’re trying to get out… We need help! S.I.R.! S.I.R.!”
Then there was another painful scream and the same laugh as was heard previously, this time louder. Fawn paled and turned panic-stricken eyes to look at both Harmony and Magenta. They were in the same shocked state as himself.
“I think, Doctor, that we’re already out of time,” Magenta stated, reaching for the comm.link himself. “We must contact the Control Room right away and tell them…”
He was interrupted by a crackling sound coming from the other room and they went rigid. They all turned around and looked beyond the doorway and into the lab – to see the ugly, green surface of the cocoon sitting in the middle of the table cracking open with a sickening sucking sound – and a thick smoke emerging from it. Magenta slowly rose to his feet, to stand between Fawn and Harmony; the three of them had their eyes set with ill-fated anticipation on the opening pod.
They saw a clawed, green-scaled hand appear in the crack. Magenta swallowed hard. He quickly stepped out of the room, and into the corridor to press the button to close the lab door. It slid closed and he locked it, before turning to Fawn and Melody, who had joined him in the corridor.
“The other pods, in the room where we keep the Mogwai,” Fawn then realised. “Maybe they’ve hatched, too…”
“Right,” Magenta replied with a grim nod. “I’ll go check. Harmony, alert the sickbay personnel. Doctor, go to your office, call Control Room, give the alert…”
The three of them separated; Magenta quickly strode toward the room where the other Mogwai had been kept, drawing his sidearm. The security guard at the door stood to attention upon seeing him.
“Open that door!” Magenta bellowed. “And be ready to shoot!”
He could see by the look on the guard’s face that the latter didn’t quite understand what it was all about, but he obeyed nevertheless, and drawing his pistol too, pushed the button. Magenta braced himself, getting ready for whatever they would find.
The room was totally dark, with absolutely no light shining into it, save for what came in from the corridor. Magenta looked around at the four huge cocoons covering the floor.
They were all ripped open and empty. But the transformed Mogwai were nowhere to be seen. A quick survey of the room made Magenta realise that they were gone: the grille on the opening of the air vent, just over a filing cabinet, had been torn open… The creatures had escaped that way.
“They have hatched too,” Magenta murmured, his eyes opening wide with horror. “And they’re out!” He turned to the security guard. “Secure the place, and gather all personnel! Tell them to hide, as quickly as possible.”
“Hide from what, Captain?” the guard asked, rolling puzzled eyes. Surely, his superior wasn’t afraid of four cuddly little bear-like creatures…
“You’ll be sorry if you ever find out, Corporal,” Magenta retorted, grabbing the other man’s arm. “Do as I say!”
A frightened shriek made itself heard from the other side of sickbay and Magenta almost jumped; looking in that direction, he went pale. “It’s started… I’ll go see. Get going, man!”
The man ran off to obey his orders and Magenta took off in the direction of the screams. Fleeing nurses passed by him, fear splattered on their faces, running as fast as their legs could carry them, almost oblivious to his presence; he had to catch up with one of them to ask what was going on.
“Monsters!” she explained, gasping for air and eyes wide-opened with panic. “Ugly monsters! They’re all over the place! They attack people!”
“Get to cover!” Magenta ordered around. “Keep yourself out of their way! They’re dangerous!” He left the nurses to run, and went a few more steps. He saw Harmony coming his way, breathing hard.
“Everyone is hiding,” she informed him. “But the Gremlins are…”
“… Everywhere, I know.” He heard a maniacal laugh suddenly echoing from ahead, and then the sound of running feet, just above their heads. He and Harmony looked up. “They’re in the air vent…”
“They could get everywhere they want that way,” Harmony murmured.
The lights in the corridor started flashing and went off. Magenta caught the Angel by the arm and looked around. “We’d better take cover too…” They were close to Doctor Fawn’s office and went there, looking behind them to make sure they weren’t followed. Magenta closed the door behind him, and locked it. He then ordered the light to full intensity. It refused to obey, and only the dim red light of the emergency system came to life.
“They got to the lighting system,” the Irish captain muttered. “Of course, they’re vulnerable to bright light. That would be their first move.”
“Captain…” Magenta looked over at Harmony, who was searching around the room with her eyes. He wondered if she was looking for Gremlins, which might have possibly entered the room. He discovered it wasn’t the case when she turned an alarmed face to him.
“Where’s Doctor Fawn? He was supposed to come here...”
“Let’s hope he’s hiding somewhere,” Magenta replied, lowering his cap mic. “Right now, we have to contact the Control Room… Fawn might not have had time to do it… We have to alert all Cloudbase personnel that Gremlins are on the loose on base.”
* * *
Colonel White had decided to take a much needed – if somewhat short – break on the Promenade Deck, savouring with much delight the cup of tea he had made himself, and admiring the view from the window. He had brought a book with him. It wasn’t that often that he had time to read properly, but once in a while he would make himself take the time. It wasn’t too well-known that he loved mystery and suspense novels – and this one he had put on the table was on the best-seller list in London. He was nearly at the end. He was hoping to find out who the murderer was before he had to go back to his shift in the Control Room.
He sat down comfortably and opened the book with a satisfied sigh. He had only read one page, and was beginning to get engrossed in the suspense, when a very recognisable sound made him raise one brow and look up through the large window. He saw Angel One being catapulted from the runway and shooting into the air, like a bright white arrow. He frowned. Now, there was no scheduled patrol today… Had something happened in the Control Room without him being notified?
He shook his head. No, if there had been an emergency, he would have been called down to his station. That wasn’t the case. Probably just a routine patrol, that’s all, he tried to convince himself. I must have forgotten… Although, it wasn’t that often that he would forget something like that… He had to admit, however, that with the problems caused by the Mogwai’s presence and the little amount of sleep he had had recently might have confused him.
He tried to go back to his book, but he was unable to relax completely. He couldn’t shake the nagging feeling in the back of his mind that something was up.
Another sound reached his ear; faint, almost indistinct, but this time not familiar at all. Again he raised his head from his book and listened carefully, looking around. It was coming from somewhere quite close – from somewhere inside the Promenade Deck. They were… munching sounds, he realised with perplexity. As if someone was eating, and not being very discreet about it.
He put the book down, carefully not making any sound. Now, he couldn’t conceive that a human being would eat that way. It sounded more like an animal devouring its prey than anything else.
He silently made his way through the Promenade Deck, cautiously searching. Then, he found it. Hidden under a bush, a darker green than the surrounding plants. He pushed some branches away and looked down, a deep frown forming on his brow.
That was one of the Mogwai pods.
So. This is where one of them came to form his cocoon, White reflected grimly. The two missing Mogwai had stayed unaccounted for since the discovery of the other pods, and that despite the fact that security had been searching for them. They might not have checked the Promenade Deck so thoroughly, obviously, but, White reflected, this pod was very well hidden. It blended perfectly into the bushes. Still, here it was, found now. But one was still missing, and the colonel could only imagine where it could be. He was just hoping that it would be found too, eventually.
But at the moment, that wasn’t what was concerning him the most.
The pod he was presently looking at had hatched.
It was eviscerated, covered and surrounded by a viscous, yellowish substance. The interior was distinctly visible, and he could see that the cocoon was now nothing but an empty shell, its dweller having left it – and very recently, if he was to believe the gooey footprints he was seeing going away from the pod.
The Mogwai – or whatever creature had been inside the cocoon – was now out.
White’s frown deepened; although barely distinguishable, he couldn’t at all recognise the footprints as being those of a Mogwai. They were too big, too widely spaced, to begin with. He made a step forward, in order to follow the tracks, and discover what manner of creature had escaped the cocoon.
He suddenly stopped in his tracks when he heard the eating sound again. Closer, immediately to his left. He turned in that direction and his jaw virtually hit the floor when his eyes saw the transformed Mogwai.
It was bigger than he expected. Much bigger, at least three or even four times the size of a Mogwai; long, thin arms and legs had replaced the short limbs of the original cuddly animal; extended skeletal but obviously strong fingers were adorned with razor-sharp claws, and the feet had similar sharp talons. The bi-coloured fur had completely disappeared; in its place was a brilliant, green and yellow, armour-like, scaled skin. The head was particularly hideous, with its dark, brilliant, evil eyes sunk under thick and heavy eyebrows, and a huge mouth, festooned with two rows of very long and pointy teeth.
The only things left, to give any indication that this creature had been a Mogwai before, were the large, flag-like ears, which, although covered with scales, were about the same size as those of the Mogwai, and which moved in a similar way. For the rest… there was nothing in this new animal that would urge a human being to take it in his arms in a cuddly embrace. On the contrary – any ordinary person confronted with such a repulsive and dangerous-looking creature would feel the very reasonable impulse to walk away as far as possible from it.
It was crouched on a garden table, eating away the young growths torn from a nearby blue cedar bush, which was already half destroyed by the obviously voracious appetite of the creature – who wasn’t exactly being refined about it, as there were bits of already chewed stems and leaves, mixed with a disgusting yellowish slobber, all over the table’s surface. White’s frown of revulsion at the sight changed to one of complete outrage when he saw the creature finally sniff with disdain at the injured bush – to turn its attention to a small tree, covered with new buds of white roses, which was barely an arm’s-length away from it. The creature reached for it and drew the large pot closer, and White could hear it licking its lips in anticipation of what it might consider a very satisfactory meal.
Surely… the thorns will surely deter him from…
The first white rose disappeared into the huge mouth, under White’s horrified eyes.
The second rose was torn from the tree, the scales on the creature’s hand apparently protecting it against the surrounding thorns. Colonel White’s anger rose and he saw red; he walked with a decided step toward the creature. “Get the bloody Hell away from my roses, you repulsive monster!”
The creature turned around; so quickly that it nearly took White by surprise. He had not realised he was already too close to it when it lashed at him with a vicious growl. He stepped back just in time to avoid the razor-sharp claws ripping his throat. His eyes met those of the creature, which then seemed to shine with the same amount of anger he was feeling himself. White stepped back again, not letting the creature out of his sight for one second. It jumped onto the ground and started walking slowly his way, snarling, displaying his two impressive rows of sharp teeth.
“Who do you think you’re trying to frighten?” White mumbled.
A second snarl was the answer to White’s question. The creature sprang up at him, feet first, talons extended; White evaded them with a swift sidestep. He found himself driven to the wall, not far from the door leading out. His hand instinctively reached for the large security flashlamp that was hooked onto an embedded casing right next to the door. He snatched it off its hooks just as the creature was pouncing at him again; White used the heavy lamp handle exactly like a club and swung it, hitting the creature in midair and diverting the course of its leap.
With a growl of angered pain, the wild beast rolled on the floor, back onto its feet and turned around, snarling at his human opponent. Too late. White had activated the powerful lamp and was aiming the light directly into the creature’s eyes. The latter howled and scowled in pain, stepping away.
White wasn’t even surprised to hear the creature talk. “That’s right, ‘bright light’…” With a satisfied expression on his face, White smashed the heavy lamp into the creature’s face. That had a rather odd result, as he witnessed the face being destroyed into a gooey, jelly-like substance – as if the light from the lamp had melted the skin and even the skull beneath, as quickly as warm sunshine would do to ice cream. The creature’s cry was brief as it fell to the floor, at White’s feet. He watched as it shook with convulsive spasms for a few seconds, before stilling itself. The colonel shook his head in disgust.
“If Mogwai are sensitive to light, then it was a good bet you would be as well,” he spat angrily at the dead body.
He looked down at his lamp and shut it down, grunting. Now, I’m all for exercise during break, but that’s more than I would like… He went to the table he had occupied previously, to retrieve his cap, put it on and activated the mic to call the Control Room. If the pod up here has hatched, then the others on base must have done the same, or will do soon, he reflected. Those creatures are dangerous. They must not be allowed to run freely on Cloudbase.
He had no answer to his call. Only static. He tried again, with no more result.
An impeding sense of doom hit him, and he rushed to the door.
And – just to make sure that another transformed Mogwai lurking about the Promenade Deck would not get to it and finish the job of the first one – he grabbed his precious rose tree in passing, without even slowing his pace.
* * *
When Captain Scarlet entered his quarters, he was feeling rather dejected. He had just left the officers’ lounge, where, much to his annoyance, he had been witnessing Ochre and Blue hanging up decorations in preparation for the scheduled Halloween party that same evening. Scarlet thought the party was out of place, especially in view of recent events on base, and he wasn’t too keen to participate. Instead of imposing his bad humour on the others, he had then pretended a headache, excused himself, and had left them to their preparations.
Removing his cap and throwing it down onto the low table in his living area, Scarlet let himself fall onto his sofa, with a big huff. He wasn’t really angry with Ochre and his idea of a party – Rick had been preparing this for days. He realised his American colleagues just wanted to do something to take their minds off the usual Spectrum business, so they could all relax – and probably Colonel White thought it was a good idea, since he had given his approval – and had seen no real reason to cancel it, even considering what was presently happening with the Mogwai. Well, maybe Scarlet would also join in the festivities himself, under normal circumstances, but right now he didn’t feel like celebrating at all.
I never considered that Halloween was an occasion to rejoice, anyway, he thought, trying to convince himself. A holiday to celebrate death, really… He pressed a button on his remote control to power up the TV and sat down comfortably. After a few seconds of zapping through the channels, he sighed deeply.
That wasn’t the real reason why he was feeling so unhappy and he knew it.
We shouldn’t have that party in the first place. Not now, anyway. Not with all those… chrysalises everywhere – not while we don’t know what is going on inside them and what will become of the Mogwai they contain.
He grunted with annoyance. That was but an excuse. The colonel himself couldn’t see any reason why that party shouldn’t take place. There were security guards watching the pods who would report any change in them. That should have put Scarlet’s worries to rest, but it didn’t. He was still feeling uncomfortable about those pods.
Still, it wasn’t the reason why he was so miserable.
Metcalfe, you’re nothing but a sentimental fool. You’re thinking about Gizmo. You’d grown stupidly attached to the little chap, and you liked him a lot. And you miss him, you bloody ninny.
He sighed, his eyes distractedly set on the screen before him, his attention drawn to the channel he had stopped at.
The Wizard of Oz was playing.
Scarlet grunted. Of course, he reflected. We never got to finish it before this whole mess with the water started. Must still be held in memory…
A faint sound caught his ear. He listened intently, straightening up. What could that be?
It sounds like… singing, but…
The sound stopped and Scarlet kept listening, but heard nothing more. He prepared to sit back again on the sofa, thinking he might have imagined it.
And the song started again; there could be no more doubt about it.
It was the first notes of ‘Somewhere over the Rainbow’, hummed in a very sweet voice.
Scarlet stared at the screen, but it was obvious it wasn’t coming from there. He turned on his seat; the sound seemed to originate from the bathroom. And there was no mistaking a voice that cooed like that.
“Gizmo?” Scarlet was on his feet before thinking how improbable that possibility could be, and rushed to the bathroom door. He pushed the door open to find himself welcomed by a small, almost frightened voice:
“Bright light! Bright light!”
“Lights down, twenty percent!” Scarlet called urgently; the computer automatically registered his order. Scarlet entered fully into the bathroom, eyes wide with disbelief.
Sitting in the sink, a couple of comfortable towels serving as bed and blanket, was Gizmo, batting impish eyes at him, and moving attentive ears in his direction. The smile he offered was one of warm welcome.
“Hi, Paul,” he said, his voice now calm.
“Gizmo! You’re alive!” Elated, Scarlet moved to take the small animal in his hands and lift him from the sink. Gizmo giggled, apparently tickled by the way his human friend was handling him. Scarlet took him back into the living area, looking down at him with a dubious but overjoyed expression on his face.
“How come you’re alive?” he asked, eyeing Gizmo suspiciously, gently putting him down onto the low table and crouching in front of him.
“Wizard?” Gizmo asked, pointing to the television screen, with obvious hope in his small voice.
“Maybe later, Gizmo,” Scarlet replied, in an urgent but still gentle tone. “How did you escape? We thought you were dead…”
Maybe he did die, he thought inwardly, unable to push the suspicion away from his mind. I should be careful… what if he is a Mysteron duplicate now?
But his sixth sense had not registered anything wrong with Gizmo. Not that it was always reliable, he knew that. There had been nothing but burned fur in the Room of Sleep – nothing left of Gizmo. In all probability, the Mogwai should be dead.
“Not Gizmo.” The words coming from the small animal stunned Scarlet. He looked at the Mogwai with plain doubt in his eyes. It was as if he had actually answered him.
“Bright light… not Gizmo,” the Mogwai reiterated, as if trying to make a point.
“What are you trying to say?” Scarlet asked with a frown. “That was not you in the Room of Sleep?”
Gizmo shook his head. Scarlet groaned in exasperation. I can’t believe I am having a conversation with an animal… who might very well be a Mysteron!
Damn. Harmony did say that Gizmo was capable of forming coherent phrases. And he had shown himself able to express his feelings with words… Why shouldn’t he be capable of thought processes too? He was still suspicious – and still not willing to accept this theory.
“Was it another Mogwai who died in that room, Gizmo?” Scarlet asked. The Mogwai nodded this time. Scarlet frowned. “Who?”
Scarlet nearly kicked himself for what he was doing now, and how stupid it would look if someone was to open the door and find him like this. It looks like I’m talking to blasted Lassie, he admonished himself. Can I TRULY expect him to tell me what happened?!
“Midget.” Scarlet stared at Gizmo with disbelieving eyes. The small Mogwai’s ears drooped, and he looked very sad. “Midget… Bright light…Bye-bye…”
“Well, I’ll be…” Scarlet suddenly looked grim. Now it was starting to make sense…
There was nothing left but a mass of burned fur in the Room of Sleep, he repeated inwardly. Nothing left to properly IDENTIFY Gizmo, yes…
“There were two Mogwai unaccounted for,” Scarlet reflected out loud, in a pensive tone. “Or rather, two cocoons less than the amount of Mogwai we were supposed to have. Could one of those missing Mogwai be Midget?” He looked at Gizmo again, distractedly playing with one of his paws. “I should still test you with a Mysteron detector,” he mused. “Just to be on the safe side. And then, if you’re cleared, we might try to figure out exactly what happened in sickbay… how you got stuck in the Room of Sleep and why the controls weren’t working properly when we tried to get you out. And why everything exploded…”
“Snowball…” The quiet voice of Gizmo attracted the man’s attention again. The Mogwai was still looking down, in much the same sad way he had expressed earlier. But this time, there was another expression in his big eyes. Something resembling fear. “Snowball trapped Gizmo…” he said in a very faint voice.
“Snowball trapped you in there?” Gizmo nodded. Scarlet grunted. Well, yes… that was a possibility. “Why?”
“Yum-yum…” Gizmo patted his belly. But this time, Scarlet was unsure what he was trying to say. Seeing the perplexed expression of his human friend, Gizmo started speaking his fast-paced Mogwai language. It was all gibberish to Scarlet and his frown deepened. He knew the language was based on Mandarin, and he knew a little Cantonese himself, but, despite the similarity between the two languages, he couldn’t make out anything the Mogwai was saying. It was still too different, and the flow was too fast. He gave a sigh and rose to his feet.
“I have to get you down to sickbay,” he said finally. “Have you tested by the detector – and see what Fawn can make out of all this. Obviously you haven’t formed a cocoon, not like the others…”
“Cocoon?” Gizmo repeated in an obviously questioning tone.
“That happened when the others ate after midnight,” Scarlet found himself explaining, almost despite himself. “They turned into those cocoons, and they’re probably metamorphosing right now as we speak…” He frowned. Was he getting finally senile, saying all this to an animal – who was looking up at him with a dumbfounded look, obviously not understanding what he was saying? He grunted with irritation. “Never mind that,” I should call Control to let them know you’re here.” He activated the comm.link but to his surprise, received nothing but static. “Odd…” he murmured. He reached for his cap, put it on and the mic swung down before his mouth. Through the speakers of the cap, he could only hear crackling sounds… Curiouser still… It wasn’t all often that all communication systems would be down at the same time… But nevertheless, it was the case now.
Remembering how Snowball and one of his Stooges had escaped from sickbay a couple of days before, Scarlet suddenly had an idea. He went to fetch his sports bag from the drawers under his bed and came back, unzipping it as he did. He put the bag onto the table, and then Gizmo into the bag, adding a towel so the Mogwai would be more comfortable. “Seems like there is a major problem with the radio. We’ll have to get down to sickbay by ourselves, Giz, and tell them about you…” He smiled weakly as the small animal raised his curious wide eyes to him. “I doubt you are a Mysteron – but I do hope you’re not and that you won’t explode on me on your way down…”
“Gizmo, good boy,” the Mogwai replied with an affirmative nod, obviously not having a clue what it was exactly Scarlet was telling him – but apparently sensing that the English captain was concerned about the general behaviour of his small companion.
“Yes, well… You stay in this bag until we reach sickbay. Not a peep out of you while we’re in the corridors.”
“Okay.” Gizmo disappeared into the bag, pulling the towel over his head and Scarlet, satisfied that the Mogwai appeared to want to obey his instructions, zipped the bag closed. Then he put the shoulder strap on, and adjusted it so the bag wouldn’t bump around during the short trip to sickbay – which wouldn’t be very comfortable for Gizmo. He didn’t even consider going to the Control Room – no doubt, he reflected, Colonel White wouldn’t be too happy to see him bring a ‘potential Mysteron duplicate’ there. And until they could be sure without the shadow of a doubt that Gizmo was indeed… well… Gizmo, it would be a better idea to keep him out of view. Not to mention the fact that he had to be kept away from bright light, anyway…
Scarlet opened his door and stepped out of his quarters, to walk down the corridor toward the lift. He stepped inside, and pushed the last button. He felt the motion of the cabin as it started its forty-five-degree descent into one of the Control Tower pylons toward the walkway inside one of the engine nacelles. It was a long way down, but always a fast, smooth ride, and Scarlet waited patiently for the cabin to reach its destination.
He heard Gizmo starting to quietly hum ‘Somewhere over the rainbow’ in the bag. He frowned and looked down.
“Quiet,” he ordered. “Didn’t you promise you wouldn’t make a sound?”
Scarlet thought he heard the Mogwai answering that he was sorry, when the cabin came to a sudden and rather brutal halt, which made him sway on his feet. He caught himself on the wall.
“Now what’s going on?” he muttered.
A quick look at the level indicator told him he had not reached his destination yet. They were just about halfway down.
The lights went out. It took a few seconds before the emergency lighting system came into operation. The cabin was then filled with a faint, red-hued light. The English captain looked around in puzzlement, and pressed the control buttons for the lift to continue its course. Up or down, none of them would work.
“Don’t tell me we’re stuck in here,” he grumbled.
“Stuck?” the muffled voice of Gizmo repeated from the bag.
“Keep calm, Giz,” Scarlet replied quietly. “We’ll get out of here soon.” He tried his cap mic again, but it still wouldn’t work. Neither would the comm.link of the lift cabin controls. All he was hearing was loud static. He tried the cabin emergency phone. It was independent of the standard comm. systems and he was hoping it would work normally. He was relieved to hear a tone and then the very distinctive sound indicating he had a line.
“This is Captain Scarlet,” he said in a stern voice. “I’m stuck in Control Tower Lift B. There seems to be a breakdown. I’d appreciate it if you would get me out of here as quickly as possible.”
He waited a few seconds, hearing only silence at first. Then, a slow, raucous voice made itself heard, speaking his name, very slowly, and with a slurred tone.
He frowned. He didn’t appreciate this kind of joke in the least. And he didn’t recognise the voice, although he felt for sure it was a disguised one. No normal human would have a voice like that.
“Who’s there?” he asked angrily. “Is that you, Captain Ochre? I know it’s Halloween, but if this is one of your annoying pranks, I don’t like it one bit. You’d better get me out of here fast!”
Only a high-pitched laugh from the same voice answered him. Despite himself, Scarlet felt a shiver running up his spine. There wasn’t only one person laughing at the other side of the line. But many. And the laugh was so loud that even Gizmo heard it. The small animal had found a way to undo the zip from the interior of his bag and was now peering out at Scarlet with what seemed like a concerned look.
“Oh no…” Scarlet heard the faint murmur of Gizmo and looked down to see the tiny head who had emerged from the bag. He was about to reprimand him when there was a sudden jerk from the cabin. That threw him down against the wall, and he nearly let go of the phone.
Scarlet had hardly realised that it couldn’t be Ochre, nor anyone else playing him a joke, and that his situation was a serious one, when he felt the cabin suddenly sliding down the lift-shaft. The brutal motion threw him to the floor. They were descending at high speed, as if there weren’t any cables now to control their descent.
The cabin would crash any second now, when it reached its destination.
“Hang on, Giz!”
Scarlet tried his best to protect the Mogwai from the impact. It was so violent that the cabin walls, despite the high-density metal from which they were built, were nearly crushed like the sides of a cardboard box. All the electrical systems sparked out, and electrical cables and metal plates fell off in pieces through the ripped roof. The doors had been torn, and were now half-opened onto the catwalk that had been Scarlet’s previous destination.
The English captain was lying in the middle of the wreckage, stunned by the impact, his mind dazed. His right arm and head were hurting; he felt blood trickling down the right side of his face. He coughed, and blinked several times through the smoke and dust.
“Gizmo?” he slurred, trying to get to a sitting position. “Are you okay?”
He heard the Mogwai cough faintly, and uneasily reached for the bag, to open it. Gizmo was shaking his head, much like a small dog, to remove the dust from himself. He looked up at his human friend. For what it was worth, the Mogwai didn’t seem to have suffered at all. He simply looked more annoyed than anything else to find himself so dusty.
“Paul okay?” the small voice asked with what sounded like a tone of concern.
Scarlet offered a faint smile. “I’ll be okay,” he said, blowing a sigh. The intake of breath sent a sharp pain through his torso and he grunted. Great… A concussion AND broken ribs. I’ll be lucky if my lungs are intact… He pushed himself up, very clumsily, supporting himself against the half-destroyed walls of the cabin. Once on his feet, he swayed. He was barely able to see straight. His concussion was more serious than he thought.
“I’d better get out of this trap,” he murmured to himself. “And… take it easy, before going anywhere.”
He made his way out of the cabin, pushing the doors open in order to do so, and stumbled, nearly out of breath. He noticed how unusually dark the catwalk was, with only the red emergency light lighting the way – and no alarm horn ringing to announce the accident that had just happened, as it should be. There was definitely something going wrong around here, and Scarlet was starting to wonder what exactly it could be. All of this, added to that taunting voice he had heard on the cabin phone, had the feel of sabotage.
Electric cables were hanging down from the ceiling of the catwalk, apparently having been damaged by the crash. Scarlet started walking dazedly, cautiously avoiding the fizzling cables so as not to get electrocuted. He moved away from the cabin and toward a nearby comm.link, hoping, without really believing it, that it would work. He needed to alert security. He needed to contact sickbay and the Control Room, to tell them what had happened.
“That crash was no accident, Gizmo,” he told his small companion, whose head was now out of the sports bag, watching with obvious unease as they made their way through the damaged walkway. “No more an accident than what happened to you in sickbay, I would bet…”
Scarlet had cleared the cables and had nearly reached the comm.link panel when he heard the guttural laugh behind him; he turned on his heels, that simple movement sending a wave of dizziness through his head, and saw three dark silhouettes standing not that far away from the destroyed cabin. Scarlet’s hand automatically searched for the gun in its holster, but he realised with dismay that he didn’t have it anymore – he probably had lost it in the crash.
Scarlet saw the silhouettes moving slightly towards him, but keeping well out of the way of cables that separated them from him; he could swear he heard an animalistic growl emitted by one of them, and that made him frown. A flash from two sizzling cables coming in contact with each other permitted him to get a better view of his opponents. He froze, and his eyes opened in disbelief when he was able to make out the outlines of three, very horrible, scaled creatures, standing upright, and baring teeth and claws at him.
Two of them were dark green, and the other was a pale, dirty beige.
Scarlet saw the ears. And instantly knew what he was facing.
“Mogwai…” he murmured.
“Gremlins,” Gizmo corrected from the bag. And his voice was trembling with obvious terror.
Scarlet glanced down at his little companion, but didn’t have time to wonder, as he heard a snarl coming from the three creatures on the other side of the sizzling cables and raised his eyes to stare at them anew. The pale one was holding a gun.
And was raising it in his direction.
“Scarlet, Gizmo… bye bye!”
The growling, menacing tone was enough to convince Scarlet that the creature knew how to use the gun and had every intention of pulling the trigger. He could do nothing to reach for the weapon without risking electrocution from the cables; neither could he avoid the shot. He turned, presenting his back, using his own body to protect Gizmo, still in the sports bag, hoping that the demon holding the gun had a bad aim.
His hopes disappeared in smoke when he heard the shot and felt the pain as the bullet tore into his flesh. Then there was the terrified squeal of Gizmo, filling his ears.
The second shot was the last thing he heard and felt as he fell face-first on the floor.
* * *
Lieutenant Green had the nagging impression that things were far too quiet. He couldn’t put his finger on it, but there was something in the atmosphere, something telling him that disaster was going to strike soon. He couldn’t know what of course… Maybe it was because it was Halloween night, and that strange things could happen on Halloween night. Green wasn’t a superstitious man – despite the fact that he came from the Caribbean Islands, where superstitions played an important part in the lives of many people. Seymour Griffiths wasn’t amongst them; he was a highly practical young man, who would rather embrace the way of pragmatism and logical explanation rather than put his faith in mythical nonsense and fallacious beliefs.
So far, he didn’t have a precise opinion about the Mogwai – the way they were multiplying, or why they seemed allergic to light, and why they had gone into a state of cocooning when they had a small snack after midnight – it sounded so silly to him… What he knew was that habitually, when a creature went into a chrysalid state, it was to undergo a metamorphosis – and that the changes occurring during a metamorphosis like that were normally dramatic. He was wondering what the Mogwai would look like after they hatched from their pods.
His ever-inquiring mind was curious, and he would have loved to see the first cocoon open. He knew Doctor Fawn regarded the Mogwai – and everything that surrounded them – as an oddity, while Colonel White found they were nothing but an annoying distraction, even if he would concede that they were rather unusual.
It had been a few minutes since the colonel had been gone for a break on the Promenade Deck; Captain Grey was on his way to the Control Room to temporarily replace their commander, but had called in to report he would be delayed; apparently the lift leading to Control was experiencing mechanical problems.
“It’s rather slow to arrive,” Grey explained. “I wonder what’s going on…”
Green made a check through his controls. He frowned. “The escalator is also not working”, he noted. “I’ll call Maintenance to find out what’s going on. I’m sure it will be repaired quickly.”
“I’ll walk up the stairs, in the meantime,” Grey announced. “I shouldn’t take long…”
Green’s smile broadened. “You sure you can make it?” he teased. “Should I launch Angel One to pick you up?”
Grey’s quiet laugh was heard over the radio. “I can manage, Seymour. It’s hardly an S.I.R. situation! See you in a moment.”
“S.I.G., Captain Grey.”
After acknowledging Grey’s call, Green had turned to his communication console to contact Maintenance and find out if they knew about the problems and if they were presently repairing it. The first thing he noticed was that some of the indicators on his console were blinking erratically. Then, there was a flash of sparks coming from the transparent panel in front of him. He frowned in perplexity, as he looked up. Was he dreaming or did he just see two eyes, distorted by the thickness of the glass plate, watching him from the other side? He pressed a button and his seat slid the short distance remaining to take him to the end of the console, where he stopped it and began to rise to his feet, wanting to check what it was he had seen on the other side of the panel.
A beeping sound made itself heard on the communication panel and, without taking his seat back, Green returned to check who was calling him.
“Lieutenant Green,” the voice of Magenta suddenly cut in, with an edge of urgency in its tone, “Put the base on red alert immediately! S.I.R.! Spectrum is Red!”
Green frowned with perplexity. “Captain, what is happening? What…”
“The pods… The cocoons have hatched! The Mogwai have morphed… Gremlins… They’ll be all over Cloudbase! We’re in terrible danger! Put the base on red alert!”
“Gremlins…?” Green repeated, opening unbelieving eyes. “This is Halloween night, Captain. Is this a joke?!”
“Do I SOUND like I’m JOKING?!” came the urgent answer. “Alert the colonel… Close all airlocks to stop them spreading around the base.”
The communication suddenly cut off. Green was still unsure if he was the victim of a very sick joke – it was Halloween after all, and Captain Magenta was often the accomplice of Captain Ochre in playing pranks on his fellow officers – but he couldn’t help feeling unsettled by the insistence he had heard in the Irishman’s voice. And then, the contact had been lost, as if someone was stopping Magenta from giving the alert. No, it isn’t a joke, Green decided quickly. Not even Ochre and Magenta would go that far…
He reached for the alarm button…
That was when a loud growl, mixed with what sounded like an evil laugh made itself heard. Something jumped from behind the panel and pounced onto him with all the swiftness and strength of a wild animal, and threw him backwards with such force that Green was projected a few feet away from his previous position, and sent flying onto the colonel’s round console. His back bent and he grunted.
Green opened his eyes wide with horror and mystification at the horrible creature now standing on him, at the ugly scaled face with those sharp fangs, so close to his own face. It was only the reflex of lifting his arm that saved Green from having his throat ripped out, as the incredibly large mouth, aiming for his neck, closed down onto his forearm instead. The lieutenant cried out in pain, and desperately fought to push the creature off him with his free hand.
From the corner of his eye, he could see another one of those creatures jumping on his now vacant seat and riding it all the way down his console. His eyes were widened with complete shock; never in his wildest dreams or his deepest nightmares would he have conceived ever encountering this kind of monster, which filled the most mythical and darkest tales of his people.
Demons…Gremlins, Magenta had said. Attacking Cloudbase. He couldn’t believe it. And yet here he was, with one of them standing on his chest, its talons tearing into his thick tunic and painfully grazing his skin underneath, its teeth driven into his forearm, while he was trying to keep its claws from striking him – while another of those creatures was wildly playing with the controls of his station.
He felt complete dismay when he saw the Gremlin pushing a particular button on the communication panel.
“Launch Angel One…”
Green’s gasped in astonishment. The Gremlin had talked – with a high-pitched, growling voice, and with words that were definitely human…
“S.I.G.,” came the voice of Rhapsody Angel over the speakers, in answer to the order. Green nearly whimpered. She had been so eager to answer the call, that she didn’t even recognise his voice. He struggled to free himself. He had to do something…
Rhapsody was calling back to report. And Green, fighting to free himself from the creature, couldn’t reach the controls.
“Rhapsody Angel in Angel One… Nothing to report but empty sky ahead and around Cloudbase. Everything is safe within a 20 mile radius.”
“No…” he whispered.
In desperation, he pushed the Gremlin away from him and succeeded in getting to his feet. He rushed to his controls and pressed a button on it, making the seat slide at its highest speed to the other end of the console, taking the second, surprised Gremlin away from the communications panel. Green quickly leaned over the controls, just as Rhapsody’s voice made itself heard again, through intense static:
“Cloudbase Control, do you copy? This is Angel One calling…”
Green fiddled nervously with the controls. The Gremlin had already made a total mess of them. He finally pushed the radio button to contact Angel One and shouted into the mic, to make sure she would hear him over all the interfering sounds:
“S.I.R., Rhapsody Angel! Return immediately to base! Repeat: return immediately to base! Gremlins onboard! Launch order has not…”
He was cut off in the middle of his rushed explanation when the two Gremlins jumped on him simultaneously. He yelped, as sharp claws hit him and he let go of the console to fall to the floor, again fighting one of these ugly creatures for his life.
Through a haze, Green could see the other Gremlin taking his place in front of the mic and beginning chanting mockingly, as if to taunt Rhapsody, who was no doubt listening to it all on the other end.
He felt his strength ebbing, and the foetid breath of the creature getting closer to his throat.
He saw the large green doors of the Control Room sliding open and Captain Grey striding in… and stopping in his tracks, totally flabbergasted by the scene presenting itself to his eyes.
“What the Hell…”
His hesitation lasted only a second and he rushed forward to Green’s aid.
“Captain, look out!” croaked Green.
His warning almost came too late as the second Gremlin, hidden by the back of the chair and whom Grey had not noticed, so taken was he by Green’s deadly predicament, jumped off the seat and towards the newcomer. Grey caught it in mid-air, keeping the huge mouth and sharp claws as far away as possible from himself.
The new, angry voice made its way through Green’s fogging mind; he recognised it instantly and it gave him hope. His eyes caught sight of Colonel White, who had apparently just come back from the Promenade Deck, and who, standing over his aide and the Gremlin, was looking anything but happy. The Gremlin let go of Green to snap at the colonel. The latter didn’t bat an eyelid and flashed a powerful light from a electric lamp right into the creature’s eyes, making the latter squeal with obvious pain. Then a violent kick sent the Gremlin literally flying off Green and across the room. It crashed down on the floor with a sickening thud, half of its body exploding under the impact.
“Leave my people alone and get OFF my bridge!” White growled furiously.
In the meantime, Grey had successfully grabbed his own opponent by the feet. Despite the creature’s incessant attempts to free itself, Grey held on tight, and literally swung it with force against the nearby wall, smashing the skull against it. It opened up like an overripe pumpkin. With a look of repulsion, Grey let go of the now limp body.
“How gross,” he grunted, wrinkling his nose at the sight of the two dead creatures lying around the room. “Where do those things come from!?”
“You really don’t have an idea, Captain? Those are the transformed Mogwai!” White was helping Green to his feet; the young man was shaken, and was obviously suffering from cuts and bites inflicted in the attack, but he was alive, and otherwise well. “Will you be all right, Lieutenant?” the colonel asked in concern.
“The cocoons,” Green wheezed as his commander was helping him to his seat in front of his station. “They have hatched… Gremlins…”
“Gremlins?” Grey said with a frown similar to White’s.
“Captain Magenta… called from sickbay… just before I was attacked…”
“You should go to sickbay,” White interrupted.
“I’ll… I’ll be all right… Just need to catch my breath…” Green turned to his station. “Angel One… They launched Angel One…”
“They launched Angel One?” a confused Grey repeated.
“Oh, my God…” gasped Green again, looking with obvious horror in his eyes at the data transmitted to him by his controls. “Angel One has crashed…”
END OF PART 2