“And the fifth angel sounded, and I saw a star fall from heaven unto the earth” (Revelation 9:1)
Captain Scarlet grabbed for the edge of the building as he toppled from the roof. A bullet, lodged securely in his chest had thrown him off balance, dangerously close to the edge. The white-hot pain had distracted him for long enough that he had fallen.
He knew not why, or whom he had been fighting, just that his clutching fingers brushed the smooth walls, but found no purchase. There was a scream, and he was falling… falling… falling…
Scarlet awoke in a cold sweat. Again. His hands shook as he turned the illuminated face of his alarm clock towards him. 02:47. He’d been asleep for barely an hour. Silently, he got up and moved into the main room of his quarters to pour himself a glass of water. He picked up the full plastic tumbler and moved to an armchair. He sank down into the soft cushions and focussed his gaze on the illuminated fish tank next to him. The motions of the fish and the gentle bubbling of the filter always seemed to calm him, and eventually the dream faded from his mind, leaving behind only a distinct sense of unease.
He nearly dropped his tumbler in shock when someone perched on the padded arm of the chair and put an arm around his shoulders.
“What’s wrong, Paul?” his wife Dianne, Rhapsody Angel, asked softly.
Scarlet shook his head. “Nothing, Angel,” he replied distantly, watching a particularly large angelfish swimming in the tank.
“You had another nightmare, didn’t you?” Rhapsody absently brushed her fingers through Scarlet’s dark hair in a soothing motion.
“The same one?”
Scarlet nodded silently. Even though his dream was a distant memory now, it was still that – a memory. He could still remember his fear, the feel of the air rushing past him as he fell, the pain of the bullet wound. Every sensation.
“Yes, Angel?” Scarlet replied, matching his wife’s soft tone.
“Is it… is it the Car-Vu?”
Scarlet closed his eyes. It was the same question he had been asking himself, over and over again for the past few weeks. The building he’d been falling from certainly seemed familiar, but he could never remember what it looked like when he awoke: the finer details slipped through his fingers like sand.
“I don’t know,” he answered quietly. “I wish I did.”
Rhapsody nodded her understanding. It had been twelve years since the events that had changed her husband’s life forever, but she knew that he had no memory of what happened following the car accident that had first claimed his life. Recovering those memories would mean that Scarlet could finally put that time behind him and move on with his life.
“Come back to bed, darling,” she coaxed, standing up and readjusting her robe. “Even you need to sleep.”
“I’ll be there in a minute,” Scarlet said, distantly.
Rhapsody pursed her lips, but refrained from speaking. She knew better than to question her husband when he was in this state of mind. He needed time alone to think about himself and what had been done to him. He would be okay again by morning, and she was tired and on duty on an early shift in Angel One. She kissed Scarlet’s cheek gently and returned to bed.
Scarlet stayed up, thinking about nothing and everything, until he realised that it was nearly half past four and there was no point in going to sleep now, so he quietly dressed and gathered some of his civilian clothes, ready to be packed in preparation for his shore leave, commencing that afternoon and lasting two weeks.
He was just contemplating whether to go for breakfast or not when his seven year old daughter, Rose, trailed through the lounge area on her way to the bathroom.
“Hi Daddy,” she mumbled sleepily without looking at him as she entered the bathroom.
Moments later the toilet flushed, water splashed into the sink, and Rose reappeared.
“You’re awake early,” she said, sounding much more alert now.
“I know. Go back to bed, sweetheart,” Scarlet answered her.
Rose shook her head. “I’m not tired,” she stated. Briefly glancing at the clock above the fish tank she added, “It’s oh-five-hundred. There’s no point.”
“Okay,” Scarlet sighed, bowing to her logic. She would only be woken again in half an hour in order to go to breakfast before the duty shift started at 0600h. She really didn’t sound sleepy either. There was no pleading or persuasion in her voice, no hint of fatigue. Scarlet studied her carefully, checking for any other signs of ‘unnaturalness’.
Scarlet had very little need for sleep, averaging about two or three hours in a normal night. His body simply didn’t require as much rest as a normal person.
He had already been reconstructed by the time Rhapsody had become pregnant with Rose. Seemingly, their little girl had shown no signs of any Mysteron powers, but occasionally something made Scarlet stop and think. She always knew, without seeing, if he was nearby, and there was her broken arm that had taken only three weeks to heal. Every bump, scrape, cut and sickness had healed quickly, but not quickly enough to be thought of as retrometabolism. Was this something else to add to the list?
Probably not, he reasoned eventually. Rose had been sent to bed early so that she would be ready for the holiday.
“Daddy?” Rose said softly, noticing her father’s apparent lack of enthusiasm.
Scarlet looked into the girl’s big blue eyes. They seemed to be questioning him. Rose was much more at ease with Scarlet’s nature than her parents. That could have been put down to a lack of comprehension, but Scarlet suspected that she understood a lot more than she let on.
“Daddy, it’s not this that matters to anyone,” she said wisely, running a small finger along Scarlet’s forearm. He shivered when he realised that it was exactly the same spot as his last injury – something she could not possibly have known. “It’s here and here,” she continued, pointing to his head and his heart. “You’re a good guy, Daddy. You can’t worry about what the Mysterons made you do.”
Scarlet picked up the little girl and hugged her tightly.
“I know, Rosie,” he whispered before setting her down on the floor. “How about you go and get dressed and we can pack your suitcase before breakfast?”
Rose nodded and ran off to her room. She was rarely allowed off base, and so every opportunity was special. It was no wonder she was excited.
Before Scarlet had even gotten the chance to collect a suitcase, Rose had reappeared, seemingly fully dressed. In her haste, she had buttoned her blouse wrongly. Scarlet sighed indulgently and sorted out the mess.
“Did you put your knickers on?” he asked, remembering the tricks he had often used whilst dressing quickly at her age.
Rose nodded proudly, but Scarlet quickly spotted her bare feet.
“Back you go,” he said, tickling her toes. “You know what Colonel White says about wearing shoes.”
“‘You have to wear shoes outside your quarters. It’s a Health and Safety issue,’” she quoted, mimicking the colonel’s upper class British accent with surprising accuracy before running back to fetch shoes and socks. Scarlet followed and took some underwear from her drawers. As the girl started to pull outfits from her wardrobe, Scarlet heard Rhapsody’s alarm clock sound and his wife’s accompanying groan of displeasure.
Scarlet entered the bedroom and reached atop the wardrobe for the suitcase he would be taking with him that evening.
“Paul?” Rhapsody said, moving around him. “Would you get Rose up?”
“She’s already awake,” he replied, catching hold of the suitcase as it fell. “We’re just packing.”
“I wish I could go with you,” Rhapsody said mournfully, “but with Harmony and Melody both ill, it’s not fair to leave the others.”
“I know,” Scarlet said softly. “I wish you could come too, but I’ll just have to meet you in England next week, when they’re back on their feet.”
“Promise?” Rhapsody enquired, a small smile on her lips.
Scarlet dropped the suitcase and swept his wife into his arms. “Dianne, my love, it wouldn’t be the same without you.”
“Good answer,” she said, allowing him to kiss her.
Several hours later, Scarlet collected Rose from her Computer Science lesson with Captain Green and swung by the Amber Room to find Captain Ochre sitting watch there alone. He informed them testily that Rhapsody was in Angel One, and Destiny had gone to the hangar deck five minutes ago. And that he was not looking forward to his long, boring, cramped, lonely shift in Angel One one little bit, that Scarlet was a lucky so-and-so for managing to escape and that he was seriously considering not handing over the note that Rhapsody had left for them. Scarlet winked at him as he ushered Rose (who was somehow carrying the note) out, towards the hangar and their waiting plane.
Later on, Rhapsody was sat in the Amber Room, flicking through a magazine. She threw it aside, unread, and picked up another. Five minutes later she threw that aside too.
“What is it, Rhapsody?” her best friend, Symphony Angel, asked finally in annoyance.
“I hate it whenever she leaves Cloudbase,” Rhapsody said mournfully, picking up a newspaper. “Especially when I’m not there with her.”
“Oh, Dianne,” Symphony said, sympathetically. “Rose is with Paul. They’re fine. What’s gonna happen to them in New York?”
Rhapsody absently drummed a pen on that morning’s copy of the New York Times which, despite Symphony’s reassurance, reported the finding of a body in a city dumpster. “I know,” she sighed. “I just can’t shake this feeling of dread. What if they decide that this is the opportunity they need?”
“They won’t,” Symphony said, moving closer across the settee and squeezing one of Rhapsody’s hands. “I know that the circumstances weren’t great when Rose was born, and they tried to get onto Cloudbase a couple of times when she was younger, but honestly, when was the last time they tried to get her? Maybe they’ve given up interest, or maybe they’ve realised that she’s not what they thought she might be, or whatever. There’s not gonna be a problem now. You wouldn’t be sending her to school in September if there was going to be any problems.”
“I suppose you’re right, Karen,” Rhapsody replied, returning the squeeze. “Besides, I’ll see them next week, won’t I?”
“Atta girl. You’ll see them in Winchester if I have to fly you there myself,” Symphony said confidently. “Even if we have to drag the Cherubs up here…”
Captain Scarlet smiled as Rose stood at the door to the cockpit of the SPJ that Destiny Angel was flying. It wasn’t that the girl had never been in a plane before, but the few trips that she had been allowed to take to the surface had taken place when she was younger and she had tended to sleep right through the flight. Now, at the age of seven, she was insanely curious about everything and simply wanted to know what her Aunt Juliette was doing.
He could scarcely believe that in two short months, she would be going away to school. The schooling system that had been set up by the agents on Cloudbase worked well enough, but it was a strain on his colleagues to fit in the tutoring sessions around their duty, and whilst everyone said that it was a pleasure to pass on their knowledge to such a willing student, Scarlet and Rhapsody no longer felt it fair to impose on their lives any further. And, he suspected that some of the imparted knowledge would not be found on any school’s curriculum – such as how to hack into the Cloudbase mainframe. As the Mysterons did not seem to have taken much of an interest in Rose as had been expected, Scarlet, Rhapsody and Colonel White had arranged for her to attend a boarding school in England this coming term. Cloudbase would seem quiet without her, though, after all this time.
When she passed through the door, Scarlet sighed and called out to his daughter. “Rose, stop pestering Juliette and come and sit down.”
When he received no reply, he stood up and headed for the cockpit himself. He could hear Destiny and Rose chattering away in French, as was normal for them. Upon reaching the door, he could see that Rose was sat in the previously vacant co-pilot’s seat, studying the instrument panel under Destiny’s direction.
“Rose, what have I told you about bothering people when they’re on duty?” he scolded her, adopting the same language as she and Destiny were using.
“You should not be so harsh, Paul,” Destiny said. “Rose is not ‘bothering me’. Living on Cloudbase, it is only right that she should learn how to fly a plane sometime. I am happy to teach her how to read the instruments.”
“Don’t encourage her, Destiny,” Scarlet told the French pilot. “She doesn’t need it. Besides, seven is far too young to learn how to fly.”
“Papa…” Rose moaned, her bottom lip quivering.
“I invited her to sit down, Paul,” Destiny said in no uncertain terms. “She is not bothering me, and I am pleased to be able to teach her. Please, Paul. I do not have lessons with Rose any more, unlike the others; I would like to show her this.”
Scarlet looked at Destiny, who seemed downcast. He looked at Rose, on the verge of tears. His heart melted - he had never been able to refuse his little girl anything, and he had not realised how much Juliette felt left out of Rose’s life. Unlike a majority of the senior Spectrum Agents, Destiny was not one of Rose’s teachers, having preferred the social life at university to studying. Destiny had taught the girl French, practically from birth, and had been so successful that their lessons had stopped some time ago. Perhaps it was time for them to start again: Rose was starting to lag in her reading and writing skills.
“Very well,” he sighed. “Just so long as you don’t actually let her fly this thing, I suppose there’s no harm in it…”
Rose’s face brightened up considerably, and Destiny smiled.
“Thank you, Paul,” she said. “Of course, I will allow Rhapsody to teach Rose to fly properly. I would not take that away from her.”
Scarlet nodded, before turning to his daughter. “Now, if Destiny asks you to go back into the main cabin, you must do so. Don’t pester her.”
“Non, Papa,” Rose replied sweetly, turning her attention back to the altimeter.
Scarlet sighed and left Destiny to her lesson. Settling back down in his seat, he pulled a book from his bag and opened it at the marked page.
“Très bien, ma petite alliée,” Destiny said conspiratorially to her co-pilot. “You did that wonderfully. Your father was never able to resist a woman who is upset.”
Rose giggled. She liked living on Cloudbase very much, but there were so many rules that she was supposed to follow. Aunt Juliette had long ago taught her how to get around her father, and therefore most of the rules, by becoming ‘upset’ and threatening tears. It worked quite well with most of her uncles too and she employed it to great effect when she was being set homework. It didn’t work on Aunt Karen though, who set lots of homework, and even more if Rose complained. It wasn’t that she didn’t like learning, but doing homework meant that she had less time to do fun things like watching movies, reading or playing cards or chess in the Officers’ Lounge. The Officers’ Lounge was one of those places that she wasn’t really allowed to go to, but Colonel White, her beloved Uncle Charlie (except that she couldn’t call him that) had stopped telling her off for being there, and had told her that as long as she went back to her quarters during an emergency, and did not distract the officers whilst they were working, she would be allowed to stay.
But this September, she would be going to school on the surface. It meant that she would not be living on Cloudbase anymore, but she would meet other children, and would be able to play with them instead. It would be a new adventure for her, and she was almost more excited about that than her upcoming vacation.
The journey to the surface was uneventful; Destiny did not allow Rose to take control of the plane, much to Scarlet’s relief, and the two Metcalfes said goodbye to the Angel pilot at New York before borrowing a car and heading for their hotel. Their plans were simple: they would spend the coming week sightseeing in New York, then catch a commercial flight to London and spend a week with Scarlet’s parents in Winchester, where Rhapsody would be joining them. No strict rules to bind the child to an adult world, no distractions, no Mysterons. This was going to be a perfect holiday.
Scarlet liked this hotel, having stayed at it on several previous sojourns to New York. Magenta had suggested it initially as somewhere low-key but still with a certain level of standards with both the rooms and the food. Scarlet had worried initially, all those years ago, that it might be well-frequented by the mafia, considering the source of the recommendation, but his concern had turned out to be unfounded, and he had returned again and again, normally with Rhapsody, Blue and Symphony, whenever the girls wanted to do some serious shopping in the Big Apple.
Scarlet reclined on the luxurious double bed and allowed himself to relax properly for a moment.
“Daddy, Daddy! Where shall we go first?” Rose demanded, bouncing onto the bed beside him and shattering his peace. “Can we see the Statue of Libty? Uncle Rick says it’s a big, green lady but I think he’s teasing me. Ladies aren’t green.”
Scarlet struggled to stop himself from laughing – it was a perfectly reasonable observation, and she couldn’t possibly begin to grasp the reason the statue was green.
“No, he’s right – the Statue of Liberty is a big, green lady,” Scarlet confirmed. “We can go and see her tomorrow, if you want.”
Rose frowned. “Can’t we go now?”
Scarlet did laugh softly at that point. “Rosie, it’s nearly night-time. Don’t you want to get some sleep?”
Rose shook her head. “Not tired.”
Scarlet sighed. “Okay then, how about this? When it gets dark, we can go up to the roof and look at the city. Until then…” He pulled a travelling chess set out of his bag. “Why don’t we practice, so that you can beat Uncle Pat when we get back to Cloudbase?”
Rose nodded eagerly, and helped him to set the board up.
Next morning, Rose frowned across the water at Liberty Island, having clambered up the quayside railings for a better view.
“It’s a silly colour for a lady,” she announced.
A couple of passers-by looked scandalised, whilst Scarlet was still trying to do his utmost not to laugh.
“It’s just what she’s made out of, sweetheart,” he said. “She’s made of copper.”
“Copper’s not green,” Rose said stubbornly. He should have known better, really: Lieutenant Copper’s uniform was certainly not green. Born and raised in Spectrum, Rose knew more colours off the top of her head than he did.
“It goes green when it gets old.”
Scarlet smiled and squeezed her shoulders gently. “Yes, sweetheart, like bread.”
Rose frowned. “So, is she furry?”
He sighed. “No, sweetheart, she’s not. They shave her to stop that.” In retrospect, he probably should have tried to explain it properly last night, rather than somehow finding himself in this ridiculous situation.
The frown deepened. “Even her hair?”
“Probably. It does seem a bit silly, that, doesn’t it? We can go on a boat and see her closer, if you want.”
Rose shrugged indifference, and they went for ice cream instead. Scarlet was grateful, as it distracted Rose from the furriness (or otherwise) of Lady Liberty.
“You told her what?!”
“I know,” Scarlet said, sighing. “I admit, it’s probably not the best thing I could have told her.”
“You don’t say?” Rhapsody said, scathingly. “You shouldn’t confuse her, Paul.”
“She's not confused,” he countered; “she understood perfectly that copper goes mouldy when it gets old...”
There was a deep sigh on the other end of the radio. “But it doesn't get mouldy! You'd have been more accurate if you said that it gets green rust!”
“That didn’t occur to me at the time. Her mind was going with ‘mould’; I just went with it.”
“She's seven years old!” Rhapsody replied. “What you actually did was decide that you’d be lazy and just go along with her explanations.”
“Seven-year-old logic is difficult to dispute,” Scarlet sighed. “It wasn’t the best decision I’ve made all day. I thought you’d find the idea of having to shave fuzz off the Statue of Liberty funny.”
There was a moment of hesitation in which he knew his wife was picturing it. “I suppose it is quite amusing, when you put it like that,” she said, a small quaver in her voice. “How was the rest of your day?”
The next day, Symphony found a note waiting for her in the Amber Room. Opening it, she immediately recognised Rhapsody’s elegant handwriting. The message was simple, yet curious: ‘Meet me in my quarters after your shift.’ Symphony frowned. Whatever could Rhapsody have planned?
She soon found out. Upon reaching the Metcalfe’s quarters, she found Rhapsody sat amidst a pile of classical movie discs and nail varnish.
“It’s so peaceful without them,” she declared. “I’ve had a bit of a clearout, and found all these films. It’s been so long since it’s been just us girls…”
Symphony smiled. Rhapsody seemed to have bounced back from her dejected mood and seen the lighter side of having such spacious quarters to herself for a change. She had cleared away Rose’s toys and given the place a good clean, by the smell of things. As she sat on the sofa, Symphony noticed a suspicious bottle on the table.
“Wine?” she enquired.
“It’s non-alcoholic,” Rhapsody explained. “Now, do you fancy ‘Casablanca’ or ‘Bridget Jones’s Diary’ to start off with? And just wait until you hear about Paul’s explanation for why copper goes green…”
“THIS IS THE VOICE OF THE MYSTERONS. WE KNOW THAT YOU CAN HEAR US, EARTHMEN. WE HAVE BEEN WATCHING YOUR FUTILE ATTEMPTS TO FIGHT US, AND WE GROW WEARY. WE INTEND TO TAKE A GREAT WEAPON AND TURN IT AGAINST YOU. WE HAVE NOT FORGOTTEN.”
“Well, it could be any number of things, Colonel,” Captain Blue said immediately, the moment that Colonel White had sought opinions on the matter of the threat. “The Mysteron gun does seem the most likely target, or they could be referring to a nuclear weapon.”
“Well, that narrows it down,” Ochre grumbled, not in the best of moods.
White sighed. “It is a rather ambiguous target, isn’t it? Captain Blue is correct. Lieutenant Indigo, ensure that every Spectrum base checks its complement of Mysteron guns, and doubles the guard on them until further notice.”
“SIG, sir,” the young Russian communications officer said efficiently, already typing the commands into his console.
“Captain Magenta, Captain Green, I’m sending you to WAAF headquarters, to ensure that their nuclear weaponry is properly secured. Grey, Blue, Ochre, search for any other targets that the Mysterons may be referring to,” White continued. “We cannot afford to be taken by surprise with this.”
“SIG,” the five captains said briskly.
“Should I recall Captain Scarlet?” Lieutenant Indigo asked as the senior officers filed out.
“I don’t see any reason to interrupt his furlough at this juncture,” White said. “I am certain that the other captains can cope without him this once – they are perfectly capable officers, after all.”
“This is useless!” Ochre complained, for the sixth time, many hours later. “I mean, what couldn’t it be? We’ve got nuclear weaponry all over the world; half of it pointing at Mars! We’ve got Mysteron guns at every Spectrum base.”
“This does have a ‘needle in a haystack’ feel to it,” Blue agreed, “but they’ve given us less to go on before now. We’ve got to keep looking.”
Grey scratched his earlobe nervously.
“I hate to seem callous,” he said to the others, “but has anyone thought that the target might be Scarlet?”
“I don’t think ‘callous’ even begins to cover that!” Ochre said. “God, and you say I’m insensitive.”
“Actually, he’s got a point,” Blue admitted. “We do tend to use Scarlet’s ability to heal as a kind of weapon against the Mysterons, just by sending him on kamikaze missions. How many times have we only thwarted one of their plots because he did something that we couldn’t?”
“I can’t believe you two!” Ochre exclaimed righteously. “You’re thinking of Paul as some kind of… thing. You’re thinking like… like…”
“Like Mysterons,” Blue finished. “Yes, we are. I think Grey’s on to something.”
White listened to Grey’s theory stoically, his face giving no hint of his thoughts towards either the idea itself, or of Grey for having thought something so terrible about a friend.
“It is plausible,” he agreed. “Your reasoning is sound – the Mysterons most likely do think of Scarlet as a weapon that we use against them, as they once used him against us. Lieutenant Mauve, please contact Captain Scarlet.”
Mauve touched several controls on his board, frowned, and tried again.
“I can’t seem to raise him, sir,” he said eventually. “His communicator is offline.”
“That is highly irregular,” White said sharply. “Are you certain?”
Mauve pressed more controls, which only served to irritate White. The Colonel had gotten used to having Green there, who not only would have re-checked the line before reporting the fault, but probably would have been able to tell White precisely what the problem was. These two new officers, Indigo and Mauve, just weren’t up to Green’s standard yet, which was infuriating.
Finally, Mauve nodded. “I’m sure, sir. I’m not getting any error messages from the comm., so it’s either so badly damaged that it can’t send an error report, or the battery has expired.”
“Let us hope that it is simply the latter,” White said, turning back to the senior officers. “Captains Magenta and Green appear to have everything under control with the WAAF, and the electron rifles are all securely contained by our ground forces. Therefore, the three of you should retrieve Scarlet as quickly as possible and return him and Rose to Cloudbase.”
Scarlet was glad of his accelerated stamina after a week of following a suddenly hyperactive seven-year-old around Central Park Zoo, the American Museum of Natural History and the Empire State Building. On the very last day, he took her back to the hotel’s rooftop, from where they had observed the city on the first night.
Rose tried to lean closer to the edge, wriggling out of her father’s arms.
“Hey,” Scarlet said, laughing, “you’ll fall off if you go any further.”
She slipped back and sighed happily. “I like New York,” she stated.
“I like it too, but we’re going to Granny and Grandpa’s tomorrow,” Scarlet reminded her gently as he set her back on the ground. The moment he released her, Rose stiffened and her face darkened.
“They’re here,” she said, barely above a whisper.
“Who’s here, sweetheart?” he asked.
“Them,” she said, her eyes wild with fright.
It was at that point that he started to feel a little nauseous, and he realised exactly who Rose meant – the Mysterons. Bastards. He couldn’t even have a normal holiday with his daughter without them causing trouble. More worryingly, Scarlet didn’t have a clue whether they were after him, or her.
“Okay,” he said, taking her hand and trying to keep his voice calm, “let’s get out of here and call Spectrum.”
He walked quickly to the elevator and pressed the call button. He tried not to groan as his Mysteron-induced sickness increased in intensity as the lift car made its inexorable journey upwards. He looked at the stairs. They were the only escape, but Scarlet knew that Rose would never be able to run down them fast enough to escape anyone, let alone a Mysteron agent. He scooped her up in his arms and headed for the stairwell, relieved to find his symptoms lessening slightly as he moved away from the lift. Rose didn’t make a sound, but Scarlet could see the fright in her eyes. His daughter knew, or at least had some inkling, of the reason that her holidays to the surface were limited even more than her parents’ shore leave allowed for. It was still feared that the Mysterons were interested in her because of her heritage.
Scarlet pushed open the door to the stairwell, but halted as Rose shook her head.
“Not that way,” she told him. “He’s coming that way.”
Scarlet frowned and back-peddled to the lift. Perhaps he had been wrong about the agent coming that way, and he was starting to trust her instincts about the Mysterons more than his own. She had sensed the agent before he had, and his sixth sense was, after all, far from perfect.
“Rosie, are you sure?” he asked as his nausea became worse again.
The little girl’s eyes flickered between the stairs and the elevator. “Oh, Daddy, I don’t know,” she moaned. “I’m scared.”
He kissed the top of her head gently. “It’s okay, sweetheart, I won’t let them hurt you.”
As the lift approached the roof level, Scarlet recalled a pile of old crates piled against the back of the lift shaft. Quickly, he secreted Rose behind them.
“Stay here, sweetheart,” he said. “Don’t come out, no matter what.”
Rose nodded, her eyes huge and bright with tears. He hated to leave her, but there was no way that Scarlet would let a Mysteron find him here, right in front of his daughter’s hiding place. Instead, he stationed himself right in front of the elevator doors, wishing that he was armed with something other than his radio.
The radio! He could at least alert Spectrum to the danger. He pulled the pen-like device from his pocket. His heart plummeted when he saw that it was off. The battery had gone flat, although he was certain that he had charged it just before leaving Cloudbase. Yes, he had used it to speak to Rhapsody in the evenings, but not that much, surely? Could it be faulty? Or, even, a Mysteron-induced fault? That seemed the likeliest explanation.
On the edge of his hearing there was the distinct sound of a helicopter. Surely it was too much to hope that it would be Spectrum, coming to his rescue?
“Looks like you guys were right,” Ochre said urgently as he and Blue screeched to a halt in front of the hotel. “That was Black who just went in there. And Helicopter B30 is reporting sighting a man on the roof matching Scarlet’s description.”
“He always did love that view,” Blue said. “Come on – there’s no time to lose.”
The elevator doors opened and Scarlet found himself face to face with an armed Mysteron agent. His heart sank as he recognised the hotel’s bellboy. What was his name again, Tim? No, Tommy; always such an efficient, gentle young man who, as he recalled, was engaged to be married. Two more lives ruined by the Mysterons. Tommy advanced on Scarlet, who stepped back, deliberately away from Rose’s hiding place before planting his feet firmly and standing his ground before the Mysteron agent. Tommy laughed coldly at his defiance and nausea swept over Scarlet again.
“Where’s the girl, Scarlet?” the Mysteron asked, glancing around, but keeping the gun trained on Scarlet.
“What girl?” Scarlet asked, trying to sound genuinely confused.
“Don’t play games with me, Earthman,” the agent growled. “Or perhaps you want me to kill you in front of her?”
Scarlet, distracted, hadn’t noticed the second Mysteron agent appear from the stairwell until he heard a voice behind him.
“Where is she, Scarlet?” the new man inquired coldly.
Scarlet froze, recognising the voice of this new agent instantly. A slow, cold, inhuman voice.
“Black,” he said, barely above a whisper, turning to face his former colleague. “Do you really think I’d tell you?”
“Very well,” Black said, “I shall find the child myself.”
Scarlet swallowed and willed himself not to glance over towards Rose’s hiding place. Black turned away, in precisely the right direction, and had barely taken a step before the Spectrum officer cried out: “No!”
Black turned his head to look at him. “So, she is here,” he observed. “This would be much easier for everyone if you cooperated, Scarlet.”
“Very well.” Black turned his back again, and Scarlet lunged at him. Tommy fired almost instantly, sending the Spectrum captain staggering backwards. Before he could fully comprehend what was happening, he tripped over the low wall surrounding the open roof of the hotel. He grabbed desperately for the edge, but to no avail.
Black felt a surge of triumph as he heard the child’s muffled cry. Really, that had been too easy. He started towards her, but as he advanced, he began to feel disorientated, nauseous even. Perhaps this was what Scarlet felt in the presence of Mysterons; what the humans naïvely called his ‘sixth sense’. How unpleasant. And how impressive for such a small child to cause the reaction in Black – the potential she had!
There, those crates – it was where he would have hidden her, if he were in Scarlet’s shoes and, as he moved closer to that location, the disorientation and nausea grew worse. She was certainly hiding there. She could not be permitted to escape his clutches this time, no matter how badly she was affecting him. Spectrum agents were in the vicinity; he had to get her to safety, away from this place.
Rose watched in terror as Captain Black stalked towards her. He must have heard her, even though she’d tried to keep quiet when her daddy fell. She hadn’t been able to help herself – they had hurt him very badly, this man and nice Tommy who gave her sweets when Daddy wasn’t looking. But, Black looked sick, and he stumbled several times in the last few metres. He placed a hand onto a crate near her head and she scooted further back into the shadows, trying to keep as small as possible.
There were footsteps clattering up the distant stairs, a muffled curse that sounded like Uncle Rick. Spectrum was coming to rescue her: if only they could get there quicker.
“Rose?” Black said, his voice hoarse.
She cowered further back.
“Rose, I know you’re scared,” he said. “And you should be scared of me, but right now you need to trust me.”
He sounded funny, not like he had earlier. And he didn’t ‘feel bad’ now either. Maybe she could trust him, maybe… maybe he wasn’t Captain Black at all, but the other man she was once told about. Maybe he was…
A bark of laughter forced its way from Black’s lips before he could stop himself. He couldn’t think of a nickname he deserved less but… to have called him that meant she understood, even though he didn’t. Jeez.
Her head peeped out from the stack of crates and he crouched before her. She’d grown so much in the two years since he had last seen her – growing more and more like her mother every time. Tears streaked her face, although she wasn’t crying at the moment. He brushed them away gently. Just then, there was a gunshot from near the stairs, and he was glad he was blocking her view, especially when he heard the distinctive whine of an electron rifle: no child needed to see that.
“Spectrum is here, Rose,” he said softly. “You have to go with them before my masters try to make me hurt you again. Do you understand?”
The little girl met his eyes and nodded. Hell, she really did: they were right about her – she comprehended so much now, when she was just a little kid. She was going to be magnificent one day, and he had to make sure that it was Spectrum that benefited from that. Even if she never reached her full potential with them, he couldn’t let the Mysterons have her. Even if that would save his own life; he couldn’t begin to imagine how much he was going to be punished for this ‘transgression’.
Black stood and held out his hand. “Come on,” he said.
Captain Blue turned as he heard his goddaughter call “Uncle Adam!” to see her walking towards him, clutching Captain Black’s hand.
“Get away from her, Black!” he roared, raising his pistol. His heart leaped into his mouth, seeing Rose so close to Black. And she seemed fairly content to be with him, despite having had every single Spectrum agent explain, with photographs, that he was a very dangerous man and she should shout for help immediately if ever she saw him.
Black said something to Rose that neither Blue nor Ochre could make out, then he let go of Rose’s hand. She hesitated, and at his reassuring nod, she ran to Blue. He picked her up immediately, breathing a sigh of relief that she was safe, knowing that Black was covered by Ochre.
Black walked forwards a few steps, then stopped. He held out his hands to show that he wasn’t armed.
“Adam,” he said. Blue blinked in surprise by Black’s use of his first name, and his soft, strained voice. “Get her out of here. She’s important to them.”
Blue looked at the child in his arms, his best friend’s little girl. How could she… Oh, no, it couldn’t be…? Not her, surely?
Oblivious to Blue’s inner turmoil, Rose kept her eyes firmly on Black, chewing on her bottom lip in a way that made Blue think she was concerned for him, rather than about him.
“Why should we trust you, Black?” Ochre snapped. “You’ve done nothing but deceive us since the war started.”
“Please, just get her out of here,” Black pleaded, sounding worse than before. “I don’t know how long I’ll be…”
Blue’s epaulettes chose that moment to flash grey.
“Not a great time,” he said as his mic dropped down. His eyes didn’t leave Black.
“I’ve found Scarlet,” Grey informed him.
Black looked ashamed. “I’m sorry,” he said quietly. “Paul went over the edge.”
“Was that Captain Black?” Grey asked, shocked.
Rose suddenly gasped in surprise and said: “Bye, Uncle Conrad.”
A pained expression marred Black’s features. “I hope I earn that name some day,” he said as he vanished from sight.
“Dammit, yes, it was but he’s gone now. You know what to do.”
Rose squirmed awkwardly in Blue’s arms and he set her down. She was getting big and heavy now, too heavy to hold for long. Immediately, she shot towards the stairs. The two captains exchanged confused glances before shouting “Scarlet!” simultaneously in realisation and setting off in pursuit.
Blue and Ochre, despite their obvious advantage over the child, did not catch up with Rose on the stairs, and emerged into the crowded lobby.
“D’you think she went back to her room?” Blue said softly, aware of the attention that his and Ochre’s brightly coloured uniforms were drawing to them.
“Maybe,” Ochre replied, casting an experienced eye over the crowd of conference-goers in the reception, who appeared to be milling about, chatting to each other.
He noticed a small figure emerging from the other stairwell, next to the hotel entrance, and bolt outside.
“There she is!” Blue called out to him. “She changed stairs to avoid us.”
Too bloody clever, kid, Ochre thought as he pushed his way through the crowd after Blue.
They had to get to Rose before she found Scarlet: Ochre knew that Scarlet and Rhapsody were always very careful about what they allowed Rose to see concerning her father’s abilities. As much of a joker as he was, Ochre, like most of the Cloudbase staff, thought the world of Rose, and was proud to be one of her ‘uncles’. He didn’t want her to see Scarlet dead any more than her parents did. He and the other Spectrum officers could comprehend the fact that it wasn’t the end, but personally, Ochre didn’t relish the idea of explaining it to the kid. Someone else could have that job, many years down the line, thanks very much. He might just take the job of explaining about wandering off, and ‘stranger danger’ to her though; something she had never had to worry about on Cloudbase. He’d seen far too many missing children cases over the years, and he was not about to let anyone add Rose Metcalfe to that list.
Whilst finishing off his task of taping off the area around Scarlet’s broken body, at a sufficient distance that no one would be able to make out his features, Grey was distracted by his epaulettes flashing golden and his cap microphone dropping into place.
“Grey,” panted Ochre’s voice, “Rose has escaped. I reckon she’s coming to find her dad.”
“Right,” Grey replied calmly. “I’ll keep an eye out for her.” He attached the coloured tape to a bicycle rack on the wall of the hotel and scanned the perimeter of his fencing. A small but inevitable crowd of rubberneckers was gathering at one edge, trying to see what had happened. A few were pointing, not at the body, Grey noticed, but at a small girl who had ducked under his barrier and was running towards him. Grey raced to her in an attempt to catch the girl before she could reach Scarlet, but it was too late. Grey watched in horror as Rose knelt by her father’s side and stroked his hair.
“Rosie?” Grey said gently, so as not to startle the child.
“Does Daddy always look like this when he dies?” she asked, her voice trembling slightly but otherwise calm.
Well, I’ll be damned, thought Grey. She does know.
“No, Rose, not always,” Grey told her, pulling her slightly away from Scarlet. Her hands and knees were slick with his blood. Grey pulled out his handkerchief and wiped at the girl’s hands.
Ochre and Blue soon arrived and cleared the crowd with the assistance of Spectrum New York’s ground forces. Grey gently picked up Rose and carried her to the SPV, leaving Blue and Ochre the distasteful task of picking up Scarlet’s shattered body. It wasn’t something that Grey had ever gotten used to, and he wondered how Blue coped with it on such a regular basis. Grey recalled being told once that Blue prayed every time Scarlet died. Grey wished that he had the faith to do that.
Finally, Blue and Ochre finished moving Scarlet to the other SPV and had arranged for the ground forces to deal with the dead Mysteron agent on the roof.
“Who gets to go with him?” Ochre asked bluntly, wiping his hands on his trousers and praying that Blue would take the body. However, he realised with a start that if that were to happen, he and Grey would have to cope with Rose in the other SPV; she would doubtlessly be full of questions. Neither was an appealing prospect.
“I’ll stay with Paul,” Blue said finally. “I’m more used to it than you. You go with Grey and Rose. He’s got her settled for now. We’ll meet up at the airport.”
“Rhapsody’s gonna kill us,” Ochre moaned to Grey as they drove to the airport.
“We’ll just explain it to her,” Grey said calmly. “I’m sure she’ll understand.”
“Yeah, right,” Ochre scoffed. “Rose wasn’t supposed to know!”
“I did,” Rose chimed in helpfully.
“What?!” Ochre was stunned, and turned to stare at the young girl. The SPV swerved, and he looked back to his monitor quickly.
“I always know when Daddy dies,” she said, as if it was the most obvious thing in the world.
“Who told you, Rosie?” Grey asked, hugging the child on his lap tightly. “Is it your mommy, or someone else?”
Rose shook her head. “No, no one,” she told him. “Mommy sometimes tells me that Daddy’s been hurt, but I always already know.”
“I’m sorry, Paul,” Blue said to his insentient friend. “She saw you. Couldn’t be helped – she pulled a fast one on us. She’s getting more and more like you the older she gets, God help us all. She’s taking it pretty well, all things considered, but perhaps it hasn’t sunk in yet. Unless, of course, she knew; I wouldn’t put that past her. She always seems to know whenever you’re around. And them. You should have seen her with Black – all that work we did to get her to recognise him, and the first time she sees him, he’s ‘Uncle Conrad’. Typical, isn’t it? I wonder why? I can’t see them loosening their hold; not whilst he’s on a mission.”
He hesitated, gathering his thoughts.
“Black said she was important to the Mysterons,” he began hesitantly. “Maybe he was wrong, maybe he was lying, but what if he wasn’t? Rose trusted him enough to take his hand, so maybe I should trust him about that. What if she is special? What if the threat was about her, not you? God, that’s almost impossible to think about, isn’t it? But, buddy, what if I’m right? ‘A great weapon’ she sure ain’t – not right now, anyway… But maybe, one day… I can’t think about that, either; it’s just too horrible. That poor kid – she’s never going to know a life outside of Spectrum now, is she? What’s this; three? Four times they’ve tried to get her?
“As for you, it’s not like you not to charge the battery in your communicator. Real useful that was, not being able to warn you that you were in danger. I suppose I’d better call them, let Dianne know you’re both safe. She’s going to kill me when we get back, isn’t she? And I won’t bounce back like you do.”
With a reluctant sigh, he contacted Cloudbase and updated Colonel White as to the situation.
“Has Rose seen her father?” the Spectrum commander asked.
“Yes, sir,” Blue said with a sigh. “She escaped our custody and went to find him. She seems to be okay; she’s in the other SPV with Grey and Ochre at the moment.”
“The child was bound to find out one day,” White said. “She is quite mature enough to understand.”
“I hope so, sir,” Blue responded. “Sir?”
“What is it, Blue?”
“The threat, sir,” Blue said cautiously. “I think it was about Rose, not Scarlet.”
“Indeed?” White mused. “Are you certain?”
“No,” Blue admitted, glancing over at the crumpled form of his friend before continuing: “but I think Scarlet was killed because he was in the way. The Mysterons didn’t seem particularly interested in ensuring he wouldn’t come back.”
“That is most troubling,” White said. “You and I will have to discuss this once you are back on Cloudbase.”
“SIG, sir,” Blue said with a heavy heart.
Less than fifteen minutes later, Blue had rendezvoused with the others at the New York base and transferred their two charges onto a prepared SPJ, ready for the return to Cloudbase. Grey volunteered to continue with his babysitting duties and, right that moment, Blue was more than happy to let him field the awkward questions that were bound to be flying around the cabin. He therefore volunteered himself as pilot, and Ochre agreed, only because of Blue’s fearsome reputation as a back-seat pilot.
Rose’s eyelids began to droop almost as soon as they were in the air, a fact that greatly pleased her two guardians. Once she was fully asleep, Ochre took the opportunity to check on Scarlet, who was travelling in a small side cabin, out of Rose’s sight.
“How is he?” Grey asked softly.
“Still dead,” Ochre replied in a grumbling tone as he re-entered the main cabin. “R&D should invent something to check this for us.”
“Funny you should say that,” Grey said. “Scarlet was telling Blue and me just before he left a few days ago that Doctor Fawn’s suggested something similar, to measure his rate of recovery. I’m sure it wouldn’t take much of a modification to alert us when he starts breathing.”
“The sooner, the better,” Ochre groused as he returned to his seat. “He’s a real mess right now; it’s making me kinda queasy just looking at him.”
“Ochre!” Grey hissed, indicating to Rose.
“She’s sound asleep,” Ochre pointed out. “I wouldn’t say something like that if she could hear me – what am I, insensitive?”
White had been expecting Rhapsody’s visit. Her transit time from Angel One to the Control Room was impressively short on that occasion – an improvement of almost ten seconds on the previous best, set by Symphony when Captain Blue had been injured.
“Please, Colonel,” the pilot begged as she screeched to a halt in front of his desk, “tell me what’s happening?”
White pressed two buttons on his console, firstly causing a stool to rise from the floor and secondly dropping the privacy screen between them and Lieutenant Mauve. Rhapsody perched on the edge of the stool, her fingers not quite releasing their death-grip on her flight helmet.
Rose stirred in her seat and opened her eyes to stare straight at Grey, who was seated across from her. As he met her eyes, she smiled and nodded slightly, before falling asleep again, her head inclined just ever so slightly towards the compartment where Scarlet lay.
Frowning and unnerved by the sudden realisation that the child sat sleeping in the chair opposite was not entirely human, Grey called out to Ochre to check on Scarlet’s status.
“Well, he was dead about a minute ago when I checked,” Ochre responded, moving nevertheless. “Hey, wait, he’s breathing now. How did you guess?”
“I didn’t,” Grey replied, dryly. “Rose did. I’m sure she did.”
“What do you mean?” Ochre asked, coming into view. “How could she have known?”
“She woke up, just now, smiled and went back to sleep,” Grey said. “It must have been that. How, I don’t know: you’ll have to ask Black next time you stop and have a chat.”
“It wasn’t like that,” Ochre said sharply. “He was human. Looked like hell too.”
“That was probably the best opportunity we’ve had in years to get rid of him.”
Ochre’s eyes blazed with anger. “Could you have done it in front of her?” he hissed at his comrade, indicating to the sleeping child. “Shot her ‘Uncle Conrad’?”
“You’re kidding?” Grey looked stunned, his accusative mood evaporating in light of this news.
“Wish I was,” Ochre said, slumping back into his seat. “I heard her clear as day. Who the hell taught her that?”
“No idea,” Grey said, “but I can’t believe it would be any of us.”
“Me neither, but she’s picked it up from somewhere.”
“Maybe Black himself?”
Ochre shook his head. “He seemed as surprised as we were; said he didn’t deserve the name.”
“Well, he’s got that right. And I’ve noticed on the photos that he’s been looking worse and worse for a while now.”
“Maybe Scarlet and Blue have been right all along and he’s still human,” Ochre mused. “That would explain why he’s aging when Scarlet isn’t.”
“Yeah, it would,” Grey agreed. “I wonder if he knows what he’s doing, then? At least Scarlet has the luxury of not remembering what they made him do, which was practically nothing compared to Black.”
Ochre fell silent, deep in thought. Sure, he had never really liked Black, even back at the beginning of Spectrum, but no-one deserved that.
The plane was barely in the hangar when the hatch was released and Rhapsody threw herself into the cabin.
“Rosie!” she cried, hugging the little girl fiercely. “Are you all right?”
“Yes, Mommy,” Rose said. “I was scared for a bit, but then Uncle Conrad saved me and it was okay again.”
“Uncle… uncle…” Rhapsody stuttered, releasing Rose in shock. Ochre could see her mouthing the word ‘Conrad’, trying to understand what Rose had said. He wasn’t sure that he understood, and he had been there.
“Captain Black was there,” he offered. “He didn’t seem to be under the Mysterons’ control.”
Rhapsody nodded wordlessly, eyes wide as she tried to assimilate the disjointed information she had received about the events on the roof of the hotel as well as what she was being told right now.
“He was fighting with them,” Rose explained. “He was winning for a bit, too, but then they took him back.” She frowned suddenly, the way Scarlet did when he didn’t agree with an order. “They were going to hurt him. They didn’t like that he helped me.”
“I’m sure they didn’t, my darling,” Rhapsody said soothingly. “Now, you go back to our quarters with Captain Ochre whilst I talk to the others, okay? I’ll be there as soon as I can.”
“Okay,” Rose agreed, slipping out of her seat and taking Ochre’s hand. The look of relief on Ochre’s face was unmistakable as he all but fled the scene.
“Paul’s fine,” Blue said to Rhapsody as he emerged from the cockpit and pointed the med-techs towards the back of the plane, where Scarlet and Grey were. He made sure that Ochre and Rose were out of earshot before continuing: “He’s taken a fall and a bullet, but he regained vitals about half an hour ago. He’ll be on his feet in no time.” He stopped the moment he realised that his forced cheerfulness wasn’t putting Rhapsody off in the slightest. He thought that she might actually be calm after hearing how she had spoken to Rose, but he’d been wrong. She was mad as hell; blue eyes blazing, fists clenched, the air practically crackling around her.
“I can’t believe you let her see him like that!” Rhapsody screamed at him. “Hell, Adam, I thought you had more sense than that! You know how we feel about this!”
“I…” Blue started to reply. The med-techs scarpered as quickly as possible behind Rhapsody’s back. Blue had never seen them get Scarlet out of a plane so quickly before.
“I can’t believe that you let her out of your sight! You know what she’s like – she’ll go to any lengths to find her father and you let her go!”
“She’s only seven years old! She’s not ready to face something like this!”
“Dianne!” Grey shouted. Rhapsody was so shocked that the tirade of abuse she had been about to hurl at Blue never managed to make its way past her vocal cords.
“Now,” Grey continued calmly, “if I might draw your attention to what Rose said about Black for a moment, you might be able to put some perspective on this.”
Rhapsody frowned. “What has that got to do with anything?”
“Dianne, she just told you that Black was fighting the Mysterons off, then they took him back over. She knew that; no one told her. Hell, I didn’t even know that until just now.”
“Me neither,” Blue added helpfully. “She also knew that they were about to teleport him away before they did it.”
“And…” Grey picked up the thread, “she knew the moment that Paul regained his life-signs, even though they were at separate ends of the plane, separate cabins even. Dianne, Rose is not stupid, and she is very perceptive when it comes to the Mysterons and her father. She knows that he dies and comes back to life; she says she knew before this happened, and I believe her. Honey, she knows everything, and look at her: she’s the same, happy little girl she always was.”
Rhapsody started to tremble as tears welled up in her eyes. “Oh, God,” she choked as Blue enveloped her in his arms. “She’s just a little girl. She shouldn’t have to deal with this.”
Blue guided Rhapsody to a seat and held her as she sobbed into his shoulder.
Blue eventually palmed Rhapsody off on Symphony and set out for his meeting with Colonel White. These little meetings were cropping up more and more regularly these days and whilst he knew that it was good that the colonel trusted him, confided in him, Blue got the distinct impression that White was grooming him as a successor or, at the very least, an official second in command and he wasn’t sure that he liked that. As flattering as White’s faith in him was, the camaraderie between him and his fellow officers was certain to change if he suddenly outranked them.
White was standing in one of the observation tubes when Blue entered the Control Room.
“Ah, Captain Blue. How is Scarlet?” White asked as the younger man approached.
“Well on the way to recovery, sir,” Blue informed him, stepping into the tube. “He should be up and about soon enough.”
“And the rest of the family?”
Blue shrugged. “Rose seems to be okay and Rhapsody’s shocked and still pretty upset about it, but you know her – she’ll get over it. I left her with Symphony.”
“Did you tell Rhapsody of your concerns?”
“No, I didn’t want to scare her.”
White nodded. “Quite right. There is no sense in alarming any of them without due cause. Tell me, Captain; what led you to your conclusion?”
Blue gazed out at the clouds, turned orange by the setting sun. “Believe it or not, sir, it was Captain Black. He was right there, as human as ever. He told us that she was important.”
“In what way?”
Blue sighed. “I have no idea; he didn’t get a chance to tell us more than that before they teleported him away.”
“Do you know why Captain Black was himself?”
“I have a theory,” Blue said softly. “It’s pretty unbelievable, and if I’m right then I really don’t like it, but…”
“You wonder whether it was young Rose’s presence that was protecting him from Mysteron control?”
Blue stared at this commander, surprised that the same idea seemed to have occurred to him too. “You don’t think it’s crazy, then?”
“Not after all you’ve told me,” White said. “It’s an interesting, if disturbing, supposition. Not one that I would be keen to see tested in the near future, at least.”
“No, sir,” Blue agreed readily. “And that’s something else – even if I’m wrong and this threat wasn’t about her, even if Black was wrong and she isn’t particularly important to the Mysterons, she is to us and the Mysterons can still use her against us. We’re all far too close to that kid to ever let anything happen to her.”
“Yes,” White growled. “This is precisely the reason I did not want families on this base. If that girl had been anyone else’s child…”
“I know, sir,” Blue said. “But she isn’t, and there’s a good reason she lives here.”
“A fact that has become all too evident,” White said with a sigh. “Even if you are wrong, and I pray that you are, we cannot take the chance of sending her away.”
Blue shook his head. “It’s all she’s talked about for about a month. I hope she understands.”
“She will have to,” White said. “However, the threat is passed for now…”
“You know how the Mysterons work, Captain: they have failed this time and will no doubt turn their attention to something else. For the immediate future, whichever of them was the target is safe,” White said with a sly smile. “And I see no reason to alarm Scarlet’s parents by not having them turn up as scheduled, especially since Harmony and Melody are well again. What do you say?”
“Perhaps they should have a discrete escort, just in case,” Blue suggested, keeping his expression carefully neutral.
“Of course, Captain,” White said. “Is there anyone in particular you had in mind?”
“Someone the elder Metcalfes are familiar with, obviously. Anyone else would arouse suspicion.”
“Obviously.” White’s eyes were twinkling with amusement. “I suppose that you and your wife should begin packing immediately. The weather forecast is excellent for next week.”
Blue snorted. “I know England too well, sir, and your definition of ‘excellent’ weather is different to mine – I’ll be taking my sou’wester.”
White chuckled as Blue left the Control Room.
Scarlet awoke in Sickbay to a crowd: sat in his usual spot by the bed was Blue and, beside him, in a second chair, sat Rhapsody Angel who was holding Rose tightly in her lap. All three were beaming at him.
“Daddy!” Rose cried joyfully, reaching out for him. He leaned over and, with Blue’s assistance, he pulled her up onto the bed and hugged her tightly.
“The big secret’s out,” Blue said in response to Scarlet’s questioning look. “Apparently, someone was keeping a secret of her own, too.”
Scarlet’s gaze turned to his daughter, who shrugged nonchalantly.
“You all think it’s weird when I know things,” she said in a soft voice, “so I didn’t tell you.”
Scarlet gave her another tight squeeze. “You can always tell us anything, my little Angel. Anything at all, even if it’s weird.”
Some time later, Colonel White appeared in the doorway.
“Am I interrupting?” he asked, seeing the four of them happily chatting about the zoo.
“No, sir,” Blue said quickly, getting smoothly to his feet. “I need to be going anyway. Rose, why don’t you come with me? I hear that Magenta is looking forward to a chess rematch.”
Rose grinned. “Okay. I’m going to kick his fanny this time.”
“Rose! What did I tell you about that word?” Rhapsody scolded.
“Not to use it in the UK,” Rose said immediately as Blue helped her off the bed, grinning madly.
There was a short pause, then: “I suppose I did. Go on, and make sure you do beat him.”
Blue shepherded Rose out of Sickbay.
Scarlet’s eyes narrowed. “Why do I get the feeling that was set up?”
“To some extent, it was,” White admitted as he took the newly vacated seat. “Captain Blue is well aware that there are certain things that need to be discussed.”
“What do you mean, sir?” Rhapsody asked.
“Based on his interaction with Captain Black, Captain Blue has suggested that the latest Mysteron threat might have been directed at Rose,” White said. “I see no reason to dismiss his concerns.”
Scarlet’s shoulders slumped. “He’s right: they were after her. She was the only thing they were interested in. I was in their way.”
“I hardly think I need to say this,” White said bluntly, “but Rose cannot ever go to school.”
“I know, sir,” Scarlet replied. “It’s just too much of a risk. We’ll have to arrange a tutor for her; we can’t keep relying on our friends and colleagues. Rose will be so disappointed.”
“I suspect that she will understand, considering the events on the surface,” White said.
“What do they know that we don’t?” Rhapsody asked desperately. “Rose is harmless – she wouldn’t hurt a fly. She’s certainly not some kind of weapon, as that threat said. She can’t be.”
“We may never know,” White said kindly. “The Mysterons are bound to know more about Rose than we do; including the potential she may or may not have. All we can do at the moment is to keep her safe. Now, about your furlough…”
He really is an old softie, Scarlet mused as he climbed aboard the SPJ the next morning along with Blue and Symphony, bound for Winchester. According to Colonel White, they were going as a guard, just to make sure that the Mysterons didn’t try anything again, but Scarlet suspected that it was firstly for his and Rhapsody’s peace of mind and secondly to give Blue and Symphony some time off without an official furlough.
Whatever White’s reasons, Scarlet was determined that this week was going to be one to remember for his friends and family. As for him, he wasn’t altogether convinced that the Mysterons would give up on Rose so readily; he would be on his guard the entire time, ready to defend his little girl, whatever the cost to him.
This has certainly been a long time in coming: I referenced this tale in my last submission, way back in 2006! It feels good to finally have it finished, and I hope you have enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. As fun as it is to write Rose as a child, I think I’ll have to let her grow up a little, and get on with producing a sequel now. It’s in the pipe-line, I promise.
The title is taken from the book of Revelation. It’s the idea of revelation itself, rather than Armageddon that prompted the particular choice. That, and the ‘fifth angel’ made it seem particularly appropriate.
Many thanks to Chris Bishop, who not only puts her all into hosting this community, but has also beta-read this story and patiently gone over all of my revisions with a fine-toothed comb. I’m a tweaker, though, so any errors or omissions are my own.
Thanks must also go to the Scarletinis, who have welcomed me back to the community with open arms. You’re all wonderful.
4th August 2012
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