A Spectrum ‘Challenge of Five’ Story
Captain Grey hated Mondays.
This particular Monday was no exception, since he was desk-bound, in the Control Centre, as acting commanding officer of Cloudbase, whilst the usual incumbent of the post was off playing roulette with Captains Scarlet and Blue in a swish casino in Kingman, Arizona.
It wasn’t at all like the colonel to high-tail it off his beloved airbase on what seemed like a bit of a whim. However, Grey mused wryly, if you’d just masterminded averting the destruction of the entire subcontinent of North America, you could be forgiven for wanting to kick up your heels a bit.
Grey had rather fancied a flutter on the blackjack tables himself, and would have been more than glad to accompany the trio as they ascertained exactly how Scarlet managed to lose five thousand credits, the Dice Club casino’s equivalent of fifty thousand dollars, in an astonishing twelve minutes. However, the empty seat in the SPJ had been filled by the colonel’s right-hand man, Lieutenant Green, leaving the Control Console manned instead by Lieutenant Sienna.
Captain Magenta had also jumped ship, on a two-day secondment to the Spectrum Maximum Security Building in New York, in order to upgrade their computer systems, and would no doubt find a way to wangle a decent meal or three from some swanky restaurant in the process. Magenta had swapped places with the infinitely-better-to-look-at Captain Violet, a statuesque brunette from Brooklyn. She’d dropped by the Control Room to say hello, accompanied by Captain Ochre, who was showing her around the base, but as luck would have it, Grey had to give his attention instead to the Chief, who was getting anomalous energy fluctuations from two of the Cahelium engines and wanted Grey’s okay to take them offline for checking.
Grey sighed. He hated desk-work as much as he hated Mondays, although he wasn’t alone in that regard, as most of the senior captains felt that way, with perhaps the notable exception of Captain Blue, who rather tended to get carried away when entrusted with the ‘top seat’.
He countersigned a pile of electronic reports from various Spectrum ground commanders. Lieutenant Gold in North Africa HQ had spotted a man who fitted the description of Captain Black and requested permission to send out a team to investigate, and Major Stone at Koala Base wanted quick approval for a new hovercraft. Turning his attention to matters on board, he replied to the Bursar’s request for an extra supply transport this week, and then the Chief reported back that the two misbehaving engines were back online.
Grey absently took the cup of black coffee that Lieutenant Sienna proffered, when a ping from his desk terminal signalled a new electronic mail message for his attention. He groaned inwardly as he spied the sender’s name. Agent Conners. Oh joy. No doubt off on one of his witch-hunts again…
After concocting a reply, which he hoped didn’t sound as terse as he actually felt, Grey returned his attention to the rapidly escalating list of ‘things to do today’. After several unrelenting hours, he was on the point of wishing for the dreaded Mysteron threat to boom out of the PA system to put an end to his misery. However, he was no quitter, and doggedly stuck to his task until, to his relief, Colonel White and Lieutenant Green finally sauntered into the Control Room. Grey stood up and gladly relinquished the command seat.
“All quiet, Captain?” White asked as he exchanged places with his subordinate.
“As the grave, sir.”
“I’m sure you’ve left everything ship-shape for me, thank you.”
Grey gave a short salute and made his way out of the Control Room, now officially off-duty. His first stop was at his quarters, where he downed a bottle of isotonic fluid from his mini-fridge, and then he quickly checked his personal console for messages.
He pursed his lips as he scanned the screen - nothing from his sister Jennifer in Chicago. She was probably still mad at him for missing the twins’ birthday party – again. He was annoyed too, but it wasn’t always easy getting shore leave exactly when you wanted it when you had a job like his. Any sort of family life often took a back seat when you were faced with the onerous task of thwarting the Mysterons.
Grey stretched his cramped muscles. He didn’t know how the colonel managed to sit at that desk every day for fourteen hours on the trot without getting complete rigor mortis.
Exercise is what I need, he thought, as he swiftly removed his tunic and sweater, and threw them into the laundry chute. He stepped into his compact en-suite and for a moment regarded his reflection in the mirror before taking a leak. He was rather proud of his mane of jet-black hair. A lot of guys his age were either balding, or going substantially silver.
Then – suddenly – his eye caught a sudden glint in the darkness of his crowning glory. He shifted, in case it was merely a trick caused by the lights. He moved closer, his mouth sagging in disbelief as realisation dawned…
I don’t believe it – a frigging grey hair!
And now, as if by cruel magic, they seemed to multiply before his very eyes. There was another one, and another, and oh jeez, yet two more over there. He twisted his head about, his eyes flicking over the mirror-image of his hair, and spied three more, shining at him malevolently, almost taunting him…
Grey by name, grey by nature…
How long had they been there? Why hadn’t he seen them before? Surely they couldn’t just have sprouted overnight, could they?
That’s what I get for being smug, he thought as his reflection stared back at him glumly. Grey was the oldest of the senior captains, but he’d always quietly prided himself on keeping fit, and he considered that he looked pretty damn good for it. He was a thirty-five year old WASP veteran with years of combat experience under his belt, and there were so many more important things to worry about in his life, so why the hell was he was getting so upset about some silly frigging grey hairs?
I really hate Mondays.
Grey grimly jogged his way along the corridors to the leisure complex on Deck C. He glanced through the porthole windows of one room and saw several ensigns and technicians pounding the treadmills and using the weight apparatus, but Grey bypassed it, heading straight for the pool. As a sailor, he needed his water fix, and aimed to swim whenever he could. However, much to his annoyance, he found that his quiet exercise session was not to be. The pool room echoed to the ceiling with shouting and whistles from the bodies in the water. Grey cursed his desperation to swim without checking the pool schedules first. He’d come along right bang in the middle of a water polo match between the flight techs and the junior lieutenants.
This really isn’t my day, Grey muttered to himself, as he turned on his heel and headed back towards the gym again. He gave a terse nod to the other occupants and then warmed up for ten minutes before working his way through the bench-presses and body-weights, taking his frustration out on the inanimate equipment. He culminated his aerobic workout by running the equivalent of a fast twenty-minute jog uphill on the elevated treadmill.
By the time he had finished, the lactic acid was burning in his legs, and he felt the sweat trickling down into his vest and shorts. He glanced at the chronometer on the wall, and thought he’d still have time for a quick soak in the hot-tub before supper.
The sauna and spa-tub area was just off the main pool, and again, he found it was busy when he wandered in. Destiny and Symphony Angels, in their regulation cream and gold swimsuits, occupied one sunken tub, sitting at the edge with their feet dangling in the water, while Captain Violet, in a costume that matched her name, sat waist-deep in the other, arms outstretched and looking very relaxed.
“Evening, ladies,” he called, walking towards them.
Symphony waved. “Hi there. We’re just about to leave, so you can have some peace.”
“Don’t feel you have to go on my account.”
“Non,” Destiny added, swinging her legs out of the water. In one lithe and balletic movement, she was on her feet. “We are turning into prunes already.”
“Yeah, me too,” Violet added. “I’ve some things to finish off before I leave. Wouldn’t want Captain Magenta to think I’ve been slacking.”
Grey waited until all three of them got out of the tubs, and then he stepped down into the one Violet had vacated. He slid into the marvellously hot water, and admired the view as the young women sauntered across to the rack on the wall for fresh towels. Grey felt his jaw muscles relax into the first smile of his exasperating day as he set the timer for fifteen minutes and he sank back to let the narrow jets of hot water pummel his sore muscles.
He finally tore himself away from the heat and languor of the tub, and rubbed himself down with one of the towels. He threw it around his neck and wandered back along to the locker area to dress. There weren’t a whole lot of concessions to gender differences aboard Cloudbase, but separate changing rooms was one of them.
The door to the women’s area was wide open as Grey walked past, so he couldn’t help overhearing Violet’s loud Brooklyn accent coming from within.
“ – who’d ever guess those uniforms could hide such a cute butt? And those abs! Wow, they don’t send the ugly ones up here, that’s for sure.”
Grey slowed, his curiosity getting the better of him. It wasn’t every day a guy had the opportunity to listen in on one of life’s great mysteries – what women talked about in the locker room. And wonders would never cease, it was sounding not a whole lot dissimilar to the guys’ banter.
“Yeah, it’s real tough, but we manage.” That was Symphony’s voice.
“I’ll bet,” Violet continued, and even from here Grey could hear her theatrical sigh. “It’s a real shame I have to go back before checking out the rest of them in the nearly buff. And if they all look like him…” She gave a whistle that would have made a sailor proud.
Grey felt himself grin. So he hadn’t been the only one enjoying the view at the hot-tubs. He was about to walk off when Violet piped up again.
“He’s a bit on the…reserved side though, I thought. Well, what little chance I had to speak to him.”
“If you’re making comparisons with Ochre, that’s a little unfair,” Symphony said. “He could talk the hind-legs off a mule.”
“I guess he was busy at the time,” Violet acknowledged.
Yeah, I sure was. Just a little matter of me making sure Cloudbase didn’t fall out of the sky! Grey rolled his eyes and shook his head. Women!
“There is nothing wrong with a quiet man.” Grey heard Destiny speak for the first time, and he froze mid-step.
He unconsciously leant closer to the wall, and crossed his fingers that no one would suddenly come along and find him eavesdropping. He could just imagine trying to explain that to the Old Man – one of his senior captains, thirty-five years old, with a handful of grey hairs, and behaving like a kid out of high school.
“Guess you all have your favourites, huh?” Violet said, obliquely.
“Now, that would be telling,” Symphony replied.
Yeah, right, that was a no-brainer.
“Oh, come on, girls, you can tell me, I promise I won’t spill the beans.”
“Perhaps there are no beans to spill,” Destiny said.
“Uh-uh…don’t believe you, girl. I’m guessing you like the strong silent type. I think you secretly have the hots for Captain Quiet-but-gorgeous-in-his-swim-trunks.”
Grey held his breath, not even realising it.
“Well, am I right?” Violet pushed.
After what seemed like an eternity, Destiny said, “How you say…it is the quiet ones who are the worst?”
Grey tried to not chuckle. Given half a chance.
“You think he’s got hidden depths then?” Violet said.
“I have no doubt of it,” Destiny replied, accompanied with – Grey thought – a decidedly wicked giggle. “He is like the volcano…a fire beneath the surface…all those emotions simmering until…pouf!”
Symphony and Violet broke out into peals of laughter.
“Burn, girl,” Violet said.
Destiny gave a short sigh, half in jest. “Perhaps.”
Outside the women’s locker room, Captain Grey leaned back from the wall and straightened up, his shoulders lifting high. Grinning broadly to himself, he headed to the men’s locker room.
Maybe Mondays weren’t so bad after all.
This is the second in a series of vignettes and short stories based on the Challenge of Five. I’ve seen the comments out there on the forum for more stories featuring Captain Grey, so I thought I’d oblige with this little piece of fluffiness on the sense of ‘hearing’. I hope you enjoy – Bradley Holden fans.
I’d like to thank Hazel Köhler for beta-reading, and Chris Bishop, for the mention of her excellent original character, Agent Conners, (don’t we just love to hate him!) and naturally, for allowing me to post all this stuff.