It was not as if he had much choice, Colonel White thought.  Really, he ought to be grateful that any of the senior staff, especially this one, asked permission before going ahead anyway.

“Another Halloween party?” he said, raising a dark eyebrow.  “The track record of Halloween events so far is… shall we say, ‘eventful’?”

Ochre remained at attention, but his heart sank a little.  The Old Man was going to refuse… but he was in for a surprise.

White nodded sharply.  “Very well, but keep it small.  And I hope this one is quieter than some of the others.”

Ochre grinned with relief, and saluted.  “Yes, sir.  Thank you, sir.”  He started to leave, but White wasn’t finished yet.

“What’s the theme this year?”

“I… I haven’t even started to think of one yet, sir.”

“In that case, I have something to suggest, if I may?”

If White had leapt up onto his desk and started to dance the can-can, Ochre could not have been more surprised.  “Of course, sir!”

White glanced down at a sheet of paper lying on his desk.  “Partners.  Partnership.”

Ochre mulled that over for a moment.  “Did you have anything specific in mind, sir?

“Nothing specific, no.  I’m sure you’re all perfectly capable of coming up your own interpretations.”

“Yes, sir.”  Ochre steeled himself for his next question – he could almost hear the others urging him on to ask.  “Uhh… will you be joining us this year?  Only, I’ve noticed that you haven’t booked any leave over Halloween yet.”

Next time, Ochre vowed, he’d send Scarlet in to ask about the party.  At least the Indestructible Man stood a chance of surviving the blowtorch-like stare that lanced across the circular command desk.

“No,” White said at length.  “I am expecting a VIP visitor for that weekend.  I will be… otherwise occupied.”

Ochre saluted again, and left at an almost-run before his commanding officer came out with any more astonishing statements.


Over the next few weeks, the definition of “partnership” occupied the leisure-time thoughts of the whole senior staff.  The party was taking shape – the first part of it would be a photo-shoot of all the costumes in the Cloudbase theatre.  Lieutenant Green had promised the use of the scenic projection facilities used by CADS to provide whatever scenery was required – within reason, of course – and Colonel White, who was in a suspiciously good mood, had offered a small prize for the best interpretation of ‘partnership’.  The smart money was on a weekend pass.