Blinding, burning, cleansing flame, sterilising the whole world. Then darkness. Pain. Hunger. Ravaging thirst. Sickness that turns bodies inside out. Then… Then nothing…
I am Rose Metcalfe, and this is the end of the world. I will be three hundred and one years old when it happens – when the last human on Earth dies. After all the advances that have been made within my lifetime; advances that have increased the human lifespan to well beyond a century, and have increased the quality of life on Earth, it will all come to an end. Unless I stop it from happening…
She turned up the collar of her thick uniform coat against the biting December wind as she gazed up at the church, elegantly moonlit on this dark, clear night. The place had been one of the few places she had been able to turn throughout her career, despite the fact that she had never been a God-fearing person. This place had been a sanctuary away from the pressures of home; somewhere she could escape from the rest of the world for a few hours, even back in the early days, when the world discovered the terrible truth about their extra-terrestrial enemies. Her secret had been passed down through the priests who had led the parish since that day, so that she never needed to fear meeting a new one and having to explain her situation over again whenever she felt the urge to leave her real life for a brief time, and speak to someone away from the military. Gravel that gleamed white in the moonlight crunched beneath her boots as she approached the sanctuary.
Father O’Connell looked up from his task of removing spent candles as he heard the doors open. A small figure in a heavy, dark military overcoat and matching boots entered and looked down the rows of pews for him.
“Welcome, Major,” he greeted her, instantly recognising her unique eyes, glowing slightly in the darkened area at the back of the church. He abandoned his box of tea lights and moved to meet the woman in the aisle. As he drew closer, and she moved into the light, he could clearly see her young face flushed with the cold, but troubled and conflicted.
“Is there anything I can help you with tonight, my child?” he asked her automatically, cursing himself even as he uttered the word ‘child’. He knew that the youthful countenance before him, framed by short jet-black hair flattened beneath a Spectrum officer’s cap, was misleading – although she looked around twenty, this woman was much older.
“I apologise for the late hour, Father,” she said, her voice betraying British roots, although she had spoken with a clear American accent when they had first met. O’Connell now knew that the accent had been affected, but he was not certain exactly what her native tongue was; although always interpreted by his Universal Translator, she had occasionally spoken in French, Russian and even the ancient Irish language that his mother had preferred to use, ‘lest it die out completely’. All had seemed to have perfect intonation too; there was no trace of the mispronunciation that the UT somehow managed to convey in its translations.
“Will you hear my confession?” she continued, oblivious to the thoughts suddenly running though the priest’s head.
O’Connell frowned for a moment. This was something that she had never asked to do before, although he knew that his predecessor had once heard her confess. Once.
“Certainly, Major,” he replied, sweeping his hand towards the ancient confession box.
“Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned,” Indigo recited with her eyes closed, recalling the words that she had learned so many years ago. She was not a Catholic, but sometimes she liked to have the counsel of someone outside the organisation and the opportunity to get things off of her chest. Father O’Connell was a wonderful listener, one of her favourites in fact. Normally she spoke with him whilst they sat in a pew, but this, she felt, required the formality and secrecy of the confessional. “It has been… um… seventy-four years since my last confession.
Seventy-four years would take it back to the early days of Father Maguire’s tenure – and before Father O’Connell’s birth! I really must stop calling her ‘child’, he reminded himself sharply.
“Thirty-six years ago,” Indigo continued, her voice shaking slightly, “I killed my father.”
Father O’Connell drew a sharp breath before responding. “Major… Rose, your father killed himself.”
“But I practically handed him the wires,” she countered. “I could have stopped him, prevented him having to do it in the first place.”
“No one has to commit suicide, Rose,” the priest argued, not unkindly. “You are not responsible for your father’s death.”
“Yes, I am,” Indigo countered her voice barely above a whisper. “If I hadn’t refused, hadn’t denied him the only thing that would make him happy, he would still be alive. And I could have stopped him.”
“I don’t understand,” O’Connell said. “What could you have possibly done; how could you have foreseen your father’s choice?”
“How odd that you should phrase it like that,” Indigo said bitterly. “One of the so-called ‘gifts’ that I have is precognition. It comes from the same sense that I have for time and temporal distortion. I don’t fully understand it and it took over two centuries for me to hone that particular ability to the point that I could gain impressions of future events – foresight, as you call it. But I never foresaw what my father did. But even without that supernatural ability, I should have known what would come.”
“What do you want for your birthday? There’s only four days left!”
Scarlet looked at his daughter. Last time she had asked that question, he had not been sure whether to ask this or not, but now he was.
“I want to die.”
“What?” Indigo’s voice shook. Her eyes widened and even her hair seemed to pale.
“I want my life back; to grow old,” he explained, urgently, not wanting her to get the wrong idea, “to retire peacefully to Winchester with a Labrador and lots of grandchildren. And then I want to die. Three hundred years is too long to be thirty-one.”
Indigo swallowed hard, opened her mouth to answer, and then closed it again, finding that she couldn’t speak.
“Rose, please,” Scarlet pressed. “That’s all I want. One last present. I’m fed up of birthdays.”
“I…” Stricken, Indigo ran from the Promenade deck, slamming all of her mental barriers into place to keep Scarlet out of her head. Fighting tears, she made her way to the Amber Room and with practiced ease she tapped into her inherited Mysteron abilities and, using a trick she had only mastered recently, disappeared from view and made it into one of the lifts to the Flight Deck.
Quickly, before anyone realised what was happening, she launched Angel Two, one of the fastest space and atmospheric shuttles in the whole sector, matched only by its sisters, Angels One and Three. It sped towards Earth and entered the atmosphere before Lieutenant Blue’s voice sounded on the comm. unit, ordering her to return to base immediately.
Swiftly she shut down the comm. unit and began to probe the internal systems of the tracking device, finding the weak point and melted the circuit chip beyond recognition. It would be simple enough to fix the fault, but it prevented the system from functioning. She also removed her dog tags and melted the one that acted as her personal tracker. The agents in Spectrum had all been implanted with subcutaneous tracking and identification devices many years ago, and Indigo thanked her lucky stars at that second that her retrometabolism had prevented her from being chipped in the same way and that she had retained her traditional dog tags.
The shuttle exited the upper atmosphere and Indigo altered the direction of travel towards Western Europe, specifically a large island.
From the still-functioning sensor system, Indigo knew that she was not being followed – Starbase had not sent anyone after her. She was safe. Of course, if anyone wanted to find her, they could. It wasn’t too hard to figure out where Indigo was headed – home.
Indigo moved restlessly around the wooded area of her family estate in Winchester, feet crunching on the hard ground. She was thankful for her Spectrum boots, and that she hadn’t been out of uniform when she had left Starbase. She did wish, however, that she had thought to bring either her coat or the keys for the house – and preferably both. However, wandering the woods in the cold suited her mood. She walked the familiar paths for what seemed like hours until she came to the lake. She still didn’t know why the lake was such a comforting sight for her – at the age of fourteen, whilst staying with her grandparents, she had drowned in it; definitely one of the least pleasant ways to die. Fortunately, Ingrid, her grandparents’ collie, had managed to drag her lifeless body from the lake and summon the help of her grandparents.
Everything had changed so much since those early days. Things had seemed so simple back then, when she was newly retrometabolic, before the horrors of the war had truly caught up with her. Life on Cloudbase was never easy, and people were lost to the Mysterons on a horrifically regular basis, but her doting father and godparents had honeyed it all for her, hidden the worst things from her. Right up until the moment she received her own colour-code, things were almost perfect. Then everything had gone downhill, and she had seen things that no one should ever have to see and done things that she would never completely forgive herself for. The war escalated into something Spectrum had never expected, and officers – friends – fell thick and fast, whereas she lived on, reviving each time she was killed in the line of duty. As she worked on honing her unique abilities in order to fight the Mysterons, she became more aware of the people around her, as if she had been given a window into their souls. Whilst she was never truly telepathic with anyone except her father, she could sense strong thoughts and emotions. And she felt every death like a knife, slicing through her very being, creating wounds that would leave scars, so unlike her physical injuries. Every time the survivor’s guilt overwhelmed her, she returned to the lake. Sometimes she swam, other times she just stood by the edge and contemplated the cool surface.
The war was long-since over now, but still a violent faction of Mysterons wreaked havoc occasionally, and every time she had to kill one of their agents, instead of releasing the tortured human soul from Hell, she relived the same event in her mind, haunted by her failure so many years ago, the agent she hadn’t been able to save.
Still, after all this time, the long years and longer decades, she felt drawn to the lake, a simple body of water that was so soothing on most occasions, and a way of venting frustration on others. With a grunt, Indigo sat down on the hardened grass edge and angrily threw pebbles into the still water.
“Why were you angry? If I am to help you, I have to understand everything. As do you.”
Indigo sighed, recognising the psychology behind the priest’s question. “I don’t know. I guess I was angry with myself for taking off like that, with them for letting me go. I’d acted like a child; taking off in a fit of pique because I didn’t like something I heard; I was two hundred and sixty-four years old, for goodness sakes! I suppose in some ways I felt betrayed too, like he wanted to abandon me, and then I blamed myself for driving him away. And I was berating myself for not noticing the changes in him that might have made me realise what he wanted me to do, if I’d paid attention. Three hundred years is too long for a human to live, even now. He had lived his life to the full and then some.
“I suppose there was a bit of hurt involved too – something that he’d said touched a raw nerve in me. He wanted to retire surrounded by grandchildren, and that was something that was never going to happen. I’ve never been able to have children because of the retrometabolism, and I doubt that I ever will. It’s just not a priority for the scientists to find a way around it. It never normally bothers me; I’m not the maternal type, but just then, when he said that, it hurt. And even now, I know that I can’t fulfil his dream. The only way it’ll happen is if he has other children, and they’re okay.
“Anyway, eventually I got my act together and went back to Starbase. The general wasn’t overly happy, but no one has had the guts to court-martial either me or my dad for a hundred years. General Claret didn’t ask why I’d left, and I didn’t tell her. Don’t think I could have faced it if she had, to tell you the truth.”
Captain Vermilion had deliberately sought Indigo out after his duty shift. No one had seen her since her return to Starbase the day before, and he was beginning to get worried. He had never seen her act as irrationally as she had - nearly three days ago, now - and he needed some kind of reassurance that she was all right, or soon would be.
Their relationship was complicated. They had bonded instantly, the massive age difference seemingly insignificant. Both were only children of Spectrum families; Vermilion had lost his father at an early age, Indigo her mother. They had first met when Vermilion was a child, then again when he was a cadet, training at Koala Base in Australia. She had been there to test some new equipment for detecting and neutralising a Mysteron threat and had joined him in the cafeteria one mealtime. She’d recognised him instantly, and he her. He could never forget those eyes. He’d stared at her as she placed her tray on the table and sat down.
“It’s always the same,” she’d laughed. “I bet you had nightmares about Mysterons for weeks after you first met me, Jonathan.”
“Jack,” he had corrected her. “I guess people look at you a lot.”
“Only when they don’t know me,” she had told him, smiling. “After a while they stop bothering, but I wasn’t on your ship for long enough for you to get used to me.”
She had looked around. “The facilities have improved since I was a cadet,” she’d noted, and then laughed. “Do you know, they made me wear blue contact lenses for weeks whilst I was here, then on every ground assignment I went on for years.”
“Why?” he had inquired, curious.
She had looked puzzled. “Well, no-one knew. Oh!” she’d exclaimed, a look of comprehension dawning. “Anything to do with the Mysterons was classified back then, Rainbow Clearance. Civilians and normal military did not know, nor were they to know that Major Scarlet was a Mysteron. The whole planet would have been in uproar. By the same reasoning, no one could know that I was half-Mysteron, not even the cadets here until they completed their training, hence the contact lenses.
“It was a different world back then. The Mysterons were a new threat, and the population of Earth was scared. If news were to get out that there were former Mysteron agents working for Spectrum, we would not have been able to function as a unit. We would probably have been shut down. The truth was only revealed when the world was ready to hear it.
“I was glad for that. It meant that I could be myself finally. No more hiding or lucky escapes from certain death, all that kind of thing.”
She had looked at her one-man audience and blushed slightly, highlighting her girlish features. “I’m sorry; I didn’t mean to ramble on at you.”
“That’s okay,” Jack had replied, enthralled. He tried, and failed to imagine a life before the Mysterons. True enough, most were no longer hostile. The two races had long ago officially put aside their differences and worked in harmony together. However, the Mysterons were an extremely long-lived race, and some could not forgive the terrible mistake made by one human man, Conrad Turner, more infamously known as Captain Black. He had turned the weapons of the exploration vehicle he was commanding against the peaceful Mysteron base in a moment of confusion and started the longest war Earth had ever seen.
That much was history, taught at school, but the woman sitting before him had lived through most of the war; was the daughter of a former Mysteron Agent, a human killed and recreated to serve as a body to the non-corporeal Mysterons, someone to do their dirty work. Her father had been alive at the start of the war, had lived life before the Mysterons, and was still alive. The idea was intriguing. The chance to discuss the world, before space travel was commonplace, where Spectrum was confined to one planet was something he had wished for, for a long time. Jack had studied the history of Spectrum and the War of Nerves at school, and researched further when his interest was piqued. But to meet the one of the two people who had actually lived it, who had seen the first space cruisers leaving the solar system at, what now seemed a snail’s pace, but then had been the fastest speed possible. They had seen the first aliens come to Earth and had known the first alien members of Spectrum.
Her eyes studied him, amused, almost as if she was able to read his thoughts.
“What makes you think I can’t?” she’d said, startling him.
“C.. can you?” he stuttered. “Can you read my mind?”
Indigo laughed teasingly. “Only when it’s written all over your face. I’ll tell you about it, if you really want to know.”
For some reason, Indigo took him under her wing and told him everything he had ever wanted to know about the War. They met for meals every day whilst she was assigned to Koala Base assisting the scientists, and they discussed all manner of things. He knew that she pulled strings to have him assigned to Starbase when he received his commission and, somehow, he found that he didn’t care. He enjoyed the time they had spent together at Koala, and their friendship continued to flourish aboard Starbase. Major Scarlet seemed to adopt him as a second child, after a brief period of unease, the cause of which Vermilion had never discovered even to this day. It was Scarlet, also troubled, who had suggested that he try the old crew quarters, and had given him a list of access codes, along with the locations of the quarters they related to.
The corridor that he walked down was only illuminated by emergency lighting, and had been abandoned for years. It had been quite a busy place once, with officers’ quarters through each of the doors he passed; back when this was Cloudbase, before it had been incorporated into Starbase. The subsequent refurbishments to the base, that had been carried out to ensure its survival in space, meant that the living quarters were relocated into one of the new sections, and these rooms, once so high up on the base, were now towards the bottom and had been abandoned for many years. There were plans for them to be upgraded to meet modern standards and used as accommodation for temporary members of staff and those who were just passing through between assignments, but the funding had not come through yet, and the whole section of the original base remained unused, although not off-limits.
Vermilion walked right to the end of the corridor and turned back to retrace his steps. This was the best point from which to start his search, as all the rooms listed as likely candidates were towards this end of the deck, starting with the first door on the left. This, according to his list, had been Indigo’s quarters from 2089 until the refurbishment. He punched in the number that Scarlet had provided and the door slid back obediently, revealing a darkened, empty room. Switching on his flashlight, he searched the interior of the small residence thoroughly to be sure, including the bathroom and sleeping area, but she was not there.
Carefully ensuring that the door was locked behind him, he looked again at his list of suspects, and matched them to his map of the deck. The next door along was that of the commanding officer’s quarters. It was listed as a last resort, only on the merits that as a child, Indigo had been close to the first C/O, Colonel White. Scarlet had had to dig into the computer archives to get the code for that lock, considering that the rooms had passed through several pairs of hands over the years. Vermilion bypassed it in favour of the next-door neighbour, the only set of quarters on Cloudbase designed for a family. It was in these quarters that Indigo had lived as a child, and up until some three months after receiving her commission, when she and Scarlet vacated the quarters in favour of the base colonel and his pregnant wife. Scarlet had given him an odd look when imparting that information, but Vermilion was more interested in finding his friend than whatever Scarlet had been thinking about at that time, although he made a mental note to look up the identity of the colonel in 2089.
He tapped the security code into the electronic lock, and the door slid back silently, revealing instant signs of habitation. A door was open to the left of the living area, through which a soft light was shining. Quietly, Vermilion made his way to that door, pausing only when he entered the small bedroom. Unlike Indigo’s barren single-occupancy quarters along the corridor, the bed was still in this room. Upon it sat Indigo, hunched up against the headrest and the wall and wrapped in a blue blanket. Her boots, vest and cap lay discarded at the foot of the bed, and she was simply staring at the lantern that she had set on the desk, apparently lost in thought.
“Rose?” he said softly, stepping into the room and laying a gentle hand on her blanket-covered arm.
Dully, Indigo raised her eyes to meet his, but made no further acknowledgement of his presence.
“Please, Rose,” he implored her. “Tell me what’s wrong.”
Life stirred slightly behind her alien eyes, and he sat on the bed beside her. Hesitantly, she began to explain where she had been, stumbling at first over her words, then more fluently as she told him what had caused her flight and poured her heart out to him as she hadn’t done for almost a hundred years.
Indigo lifted her head from her hands and looked despairingly at Captain Vermilion. Her alien eyes seemed distant, yet at the same time brimmed with tears.
“Can I do it?” she said, echoing his earlier question. “I don’t know. My only successful experiences with this have been with much younger Mysteron Agents. Dad’s… well, he’s been like this for two hundred and eighty-six years. That’s hundreds of times older than what I normally deal with. It gets harder the longer they’ve been Retro.
“It takes it out of me, it really does. That’s why I’m so scared. I think I might lose everything if I do this, and I’m not ready for that. I might not even survive. As much as I love him, I can’t do what he wants me to.”
Vermilion clasped her hands in his own and met her gaze. “Rose,” he said softly, “your father ceased to be a Mysteron Agent two hundred and eighty-six years ago. That influence isn’t there any more. I’ve seen you battle them before on their own level, and win more often than not. This is no Mysteron. Your father’s done the hard part for you. You just need to stop him from retrometabolising.”
“But I don’t know how I do that,” she whispered. “It’s just something that happens. I want to help him, but I don’t know how.”
Vermilion brushed away the tear that rolled down her cheek and leaned over to envelope her in a hug. “He wouldn’t ask if it wasn’t important,” he said eventually. “Just think about it.”
She nodded sadly. “I owe him that.”
She grew quiet, until eventually she relaxed in his arms and her breathing grew steady. Vermilion sighed softly and stretched out his long legs, contenting himself with simply holding her whilst she slept.
The priest nodded in understanding. “You were trapped between your love for your father and your fear of killing yourself, and I assume, him, in the process.”
“You’re very observant, Father,” Indigo commented dryly.
“It comes with the collar, child,” the priest said. “I know what you’re thinking before you do. So, that was the day before his birthday. What happened on the actual day?”
Indigo managed to avoid direct private contact with her father all the next day, but could not help but see the questioning glances he directed at her from across crowded rooms. She knew that there was a party planned; had had a hand in planning it, but she did not feel inclined to attend, and knew that her father would feel the same. If she agreed to his request, the process would likely take all night, and was a deeply personal experience for both participants; if she refused, he would not want to go to the party at all.
Her thoughts cascaded in her head. Her father, who had raised her almost single-handedly since her mother had died, just after her eighth birthday, wanted to experience life as he once had. He had denied himself the solace of another loving relationship after his second wife had died; very likely scared of losing another person he cared for, and had remained single. He was lonely and needed to live as he once had, as a human.
She, on the other hand, had known no other life. An unusual child due to her genetic make-up, her retrometabolism had kicked in at thirteen. She had never truly lived as a human, never experienced growing old. She had also shied away from love. She had left the only man she had ever been serious about because she couldn’t be what he wanted her to be: a doting wife who would give him the family he wanted. His infatuation with her came from the certainty that she would be there when he got home, as it were - he didn’t have to worry about her being killed on a mission. She couldn’t say the same, and had not felt secure enough to commit herself afterwards.
She wasn’t sure if she could give up the life she had and become something new, or die in the process of helping her father, for she was certain that those were the only two possible outcomes of this insane request.
Fear rose in her as there was a knock at the door. Only one person still knocked - everyone else used the door chime. She answered it through a voice command to the computer, and her father walked into the room.
“Hi, Daddy,” she said, her voice shaking. “Happy birthday.”
Scarlet stood awkwardly in the sitting area. “Have you thought about it?” he asked hopefully.
Indigo refused to meet his eyes. Instead, she stood with her head bowed, her lashes lowered, in front of the fish tank that had once belonged to her mother. “Yes,” she whispered. “I… I’m sorry, Daddy. I can’t do it.”
Scarlet looked crestfallen. “I understand,” he said softly. “It was a lot to ask.” Without making eye contact with her, he turned and left.
The next few days were torturous. Scarlet became more withdrawn than ever, and refused to speak to anyone unless in the line of his duty, and even then not to Indigo. Vermilion caught up with her on the nightshift on Starbase control deck. During the night, one Major was left in charge whilst the duty captain monitored satellite transmissions and communications. Due to bad luck, Indigo and Vermilion had drawn Christmas Eve as their night shift. Indigo was deep in thought, lost in her own little world, and absently turning a cup of coffee in her hands.
“Major?” he said, formally, remembering that he was on duty, then, “Rose?”
She snapped out of her reverie. “Sorry, what were you saying?”
“Are you still thinking about it?”
“Yes.” She paused and drew breath, which seemed to calm her. “I’m going to do it.”
When he didn’t reply, she continued. “I’ve seen what it would mean to him for me to give him back what the Mysterons took away all those years ago, and I know that knowing that he’s happy, means more to me than my fears about losing what I have. I have to do this.”
“Tomorrow,” she said, smiling. “Maybe I couldn’t give him the birthday present he wanted, but I can give it to him for Christmas instead.” She took a sip of her coffee.
Vermilion shook his head, glad that the tension in his friend finally seemed to be gone. “I can’t believe that you two still celebrate Christmas.”
She shrugged, smiling. “I told you years ago that it was a different world back then. Religious festivals were upheld fairly rigorously. Maybe not as much as in previous times, but we still celebrated Easter, Christmas, Lent and all the others. I had friends who celebrated Eid after Ramadan and others who celebrated Rosh Hashanah and Chanukah. That’s all changed now. Besides, we don‘t celebrate it like we used to, just like we don‘t celebrate our birthdays like you do.”
“When is the next official party, anyway?” Vermilion asked, picking up his own cup of coffee from where it was perched on the top of his console. Scarlet and Indigo only celebrated every twenty-fifth birthday nowadays, as they had seemed to loose meaning after a while; any other parties arranges in the intermitting years were arranged by other members of Spectrum as an excuse to let their hair down.
“This is the short wait, between his and mine,” she said teasingly. “Only eleven years until my two-hundred and seventy-fifth.”
“And you call that short?” Vermilion retorted, choking on his coffee in shock.
“Well, it’s fourteen after that,” Indigo countered reasonably. “Anyway, eleven years isn’t all that long - not from my perspective, anyway.”
“Easy to say from your side of two hundred,” he shot back, checking his board for any aberrations. “For me, it’s almost half of my lifetime!”
The sound of Indigo’s cup smashing on the floor diverted his attention from the scanner readouts. Her face was drained of colour and her eyes unfocussed.
“No,” she whispered, so softly that Vermilion barely caught it. Her chalk-white face was distressed. “No, you can’t.”
Before Vermilion could question further, she had left the control room and was running through Starbase corridors.
Indigo grabbed the railing with both hands as she skidded to a halt on the uppermost deck of the engine core. She overbalanced slightly, and lurched unsteadily over the barrier, seeing plainly as she did so, her father, three floors down, clad in his Spectrum uniform and standing much too close to the primary outlets on the generator.
“Daddy!” she screamed, using both her voice and her mind to get his attention. “Please, don’t do this!”
Scarlet looked up to her. Even from this height, she could see his handsome, young face, resigned, sorrowful, yet determined.
‘I’m sorry, Rosie,’ he thought to her, using the link that had summoned her to this place, the link that they had fought to be able to use to the extent that they now could. Scarlet’s thought carried with it the pain in his heart, and terrible confirmation of what Indigo knew she had felt before. ‘This is the only way. Goodbye, sweetheart.’
‘Daddy, please,’ she begged, using all of her power to make him hear the thought, even as his eyes closed. With his face still turned upwards towards her, he reached out both his hands and grasped the live electricity conduits. Thousands of volts ripped through his body for the second he was in contact with the current, before his muscles convulsed, making him release the outlets, and he collapsed to the floor, dead long before he hit the ground.
Every single person on Starbase felt the telepathic cry of distress and horror that came from the mind of Rose Metcalfe that moment. Psi-sensitive and non-sensitive individuals alike were caught up in her grief, although they would not realise what the cause of the disturbance was for many hours.
Jack Svenson, who had left the Control Room not long after his friend, heard the scream that echoed around the core, louder than he would ever have thought possible from the tiny woman, saw her collapse, still grasping the guardrail with all her strength, her eyes never leaving the blackened form three decks below.
Swiftly, he approached her, knelt on the deck and pulled her to him, making her turn away from the body. For long minutes, all she did was to sit stiffly in his arms, drawing choked breaths, until eventually her eyes filled with tears and she clutched to him, sobbing. Gently, he rocked her, stroking her dark hair and forcing himself not to look at the body of her father.
General Claret was not in the best of moods as she stalked towards the engine core. The alarm had sounded in her quarters the instant that there had been a power fluctuation, and after she had recovered from the intense sensation of loss she experienced for no apparent reason, she contacted the Control Room to get an update, only to receive no response at all. Instantly, she roused Lieutenant Blue and sent him up to the Control Room to take command whilst she went to meet the engineers at the core. If Indigo and Vermilion didn’t have a damn good excuse, she would have their commissions for dereliction of duty.
Lieutenant Almond was waiting for her at the last junction in the corridor before the access to the core. The chief engineer was wringing his hands nervously and refused to meet her eye.
“Do you know what caused the power failure, Almond?” she barked at him.
“Yes, ma’am,” Almond replied, very quietly. “Er, you might not want to go in there right now, ma’am – it’s still a mess, and, well, you Centaurans are known for your sense of smell…”
“What’s that got to do with anything?” Claret demanded, becoming increasingly irritated with the human. She could feel her gills begin to flush, as they always did when she was annoyed, and they prickled uncomfortably in the dry atmosphere.
“Well, ma’am, you see, there’s been a suicide,” Almond said eventually.
“Suicide?” Claret repeated in disbelief, lowering her voice so that it would not carry. “Who? Oh no, not…” She stopped speaking as she connected the dots – Indigo missing from her post, with Vermilion also gone; the intense telepathic broadcast that had almost overwhelmed her earlier, the electrical failure…
“Scarlet,” she concluded in a flat voice.
Almond nodded pathetically. Claret had to remind herself that he was an engineer, not a field officer, and resist the urge to throttle him for being so wet. The poor man was not used to death the way that the field agents and starship crews were, and he had obviously seen the burned body for himself. She remembered the first time she had seen an electrocuted Mysteron agent, and knew how Almond felt. It was not a pretty sight.
Quickly, she pushed past Almond and strode down the corridor to the engineering gantry. She could smell the stench of cooked flesh before she reached the doors to the core. She steeled herself against the distasteful odour and continued. The doors opened obediently for her, answering her earlier suspicions. On the floor of the deck, in a tangle of limbs, were Indigo and Vermilion. The young man looked up at her as she approached, a helpless look on his face.
The Christmas celebrations, as few and far between as they were in Spectrum, were cancelled as news of Major Scarlet’s death spread throughout the organisation. By midday, the news was halfway across the sector and outside of the Spectrum bandwidths, becoming more and more convoluted as it was passed from mouth to mouth. General Claret was forced to make a statement on the public newscasts, although she left the exact circumstances deliberately vague, citing an accident aboard the base. She had trouble planning the short speech because it was rare that the lives and deaths of Spectrum agents were made public knowledge. Scarlet and Indigo had been different – for longer than she could remember – their identities were not secret, as was the norm for Spectrum agents. It was rather difficult for the British aristocracy to overlook the fact that one particular title, within the peerage, had resided in the same hands for the last two and three-quarter centuries, and it did not take a genius to make the connection between this Lady and the Mysteron reconstruct who served Spectrum. The secret had come out before Claret had even been born.
In the end, Claret opted simply to say that Lady Rose was taking some time away from her duties to mourn her father, and made the polite request that she be left in peace. The piece was delicately worded and delivered precisely to any journalist who cared to record it. Only on hearing her message broadcast on the vid, later that evening, did Claret realise that her voice had trembled throughout the short speech.
“What has made you think of all this, suddenly?” Father O’Connell asked when Indigo had calmed herself.
She gave him a wan smile. “I turned three hundred in September, Father,” she explained. “It’s a big milestone, and I can see now why my father wanted me to take his immortality away. I understand what drove him to take his own life. And, of course, the war keeps me thinking about it.”
“Why is that, Rose?”
“It all started because he died,” Indigo said simply. “Whilst my father was alive, the pacifists amongst the Mysterons could keep a lid on things. Once he died, things fell apart, the Martian Civil War started, and then, just to cap it all, the Mysterons re-declared War on Earth.”
“I think you’re reading too much into the timing of the Martian War,” Father O’Connell said soothingly.
“You think so?” Indigo queried scornfully. “I was on Mars when it all broke out. I was in the government chambers with the First Minister when the insurrection happened. I fought in the Martian Civil War – I was the only corporeal being there, something that protected me. I barely escaped with my life, and that was only because they hadn’t been expecting to find me there. The Mysterons can do a lot of damage to each other, but their method of attack only works on other non-corporeals.
“The political dynamic hinged on him being alive. Those who supported the war knew that whilst the two of us lived, there wasn’t much chance of them ever winning, and a very real chance that we could find a way to defeat them once and for all. When he died, I was a wreck and they took their chance whilst my defences were down and there was no other person who could fight them on the level that we did. All because I was afraid of what would happen to me. That’s why I have to go and put it all right; put things the way they should be.”
O’Connell paused to digest the information. When he realised just what she had said, his eyes opened wide. “No! You can’t go and change history just to save your father’s life!”
“Father, we are going to lose this war if I don’t stop it now,” Indigo said firmly. “The Mysterons will succeed in their plan to eliminate all life on Earth, unless I stop it before it starts.”
“What about Spectrum’s Temporal Orders?” the priest argued. “Causality?”
“The brutal, drawn-out end of the human race?” Indigo countered. “It will happen unless I do this. I can sense it, and I’m not the only one. The decision has been made. I leave at midnight.”
“Then why did you come here?” the priest asked in desperation. “What was the point in you telling me this if your mind is already made up? You must have known that I’d try to talk you out of it.”
“I had to tell someone what we’re trying to do,” said ominously. “In case we don’t succeed. Someone has to know that we tried.”
Major Indigo strode onto the bridge of the S.S. Endeavour precisely on time, at 07:45, Greenwich Mean Time, having stowed her holdall in her assigned quarters. As expected, General Claret and Colonel Vermilion were waiting for her.
“Are you ready?” Vermilion asked her, concern evident in his voice. He alone knew that she had been to the old church and spoken to the priest there, and he knew how much it would have hurt her to discuss the subject he knew must have come up. It still hurt him to think of what had happened, what had driven the man he considered as close as family to take his own life, but Vermilion masked his own pain in deference to her.
“Absolutely,” she replied, taking in her old friend’s face. “You know, I’m actually excited.”
Claret shook her head at the look of childish glee on Indigo’s face. She had never worked out why it was that, in the most serious of circumstances, when she should be concentrating the hardest, Indigo seemed to release her inner child. Still, Indigo was the only person who could pull this off, and she was the best field agent Spectrum had.
“Is your ship ready, Colonel?” Claret said aloud, addressing Vermilion.
“Aye, ma’am, Spectrum is Green,” he replied formally. “The Endeavour is fully supplied and overhauled, our crew is assembled and at their posts. We’re just waiting for the word, ma’am.”
Claret reached out to shake Vermilion’s hand – a human gesture that she was still getting used to after forty years in command of Spectrum.
“The word is given, Colonel,” she told him. “You are cleared to leave orbit at your leisure; once I have left the ship, of course. Your mission briefing is as before.” She gave a wry smile. “Please don’t make me regret giving you a ship to run around the galaxy in, Vermilion, after all the trouble you used to cause on Earth,” she added with a wicked glint in her purple eyes. “Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.”
“Wouldn’t dream of it, ma’am,” Vermilion chuckled. “Major Indigo will surely keep me in check.”
“That’s what I was afraid of,” Claret muttered.
Indigo laughed along with the senior officers. “We’ll behave ourselves, General,” she promised.
“You had better,” Claret responded, pointing her webbed fingers warningly at the pair. “If I hear you two have been up to your old antics again, you’ll be back here so fast your feet won’t touch the deck. Now, be on your way, Endeavour, and may Fortune cast her light upon you.”
As soon as Claret had left the bridge, Vermilion settled himself into his chair in the middle of the command centre. “Major Indigo, please take your station and prepare to leave orbit.”
“SIG, Colonel,” Indigo acknowledged the order faultlessly and moved to take her seat at the helm.
“Captain Cerulean,” Vermilion continued, “are the calculations complete?”
“Yes, sir,” the scientist replied from Vermilion’s left. “The temporal coordinates are locked.”
Vermilion inclined his head towards the large African man in thanks before moving on to his next target. “Captain Wheat, has the structural integrity been upgraded according to the specifications for the temporal jump?”
“Aye, sir,” Wheat, the chief engineer confirmed. “The whole ship has been reconfigured for this mission.”
“Excellent,” Vermilion said. “The last thing we need would be for the ship to fall apart around us. Lieutenant Opal,” he continued, addressing the shimmering, but otherwise empty space beside Indigo. “Is our course plotted?”
“Aye, sir,” replied an eager voice through the radio receiver installed in the navigation console. “Our course to the singularity has been entered, avoiding the major shipping lanes and patrol routes.”
“Very well,” Vermilion concluded. “Major Indigo, take us out of orbit at one quarter light speed and continue on Opal’s course.”
“SIG, sir, one quarter light speed,” Indigo confirmed, her fingers dancing elegantly over the controls at her fingertips.
Secluded in his quarters several hours later, Vermilion studied the crew roster for the Endeavour. His assignment as its commanding officer was temporary, but he felt it prudent to at least make an effort to get to know the people that would be making this monumental journey with him. The number of staff was minimal – just enough to cover each of the three shifts. There was no excess, up to and including the fact that his First Officer was doubling up as the Alpha Shift helmsman.
The crew was mainly human, as was usual with Spectrum, with a few aliens thrown in for good measure. Two of the three scientists on board were Centauran, the exception being the section leader, Captain Cerulean; the Chief Engineer, Captain Wheat was Khameri, and the Beta Shift helmsman and navigator, Fuchsia and Cerise respectively, were a Geminian partnership. In fact, the only helmsman or navigator who was in any way Terran was Indigo, who partnered Lieutenant Opal on the Alpha Shift.
Vermilion had never served with Geminians before, although he knew that they were extremely efficient. The trouble was that they were so in tune with each other that they sometimes forgot about the people around them. They rarely left their homeworld, or, at least, they tended to travel on Geminian vessels. The ones that did leave the bosom of their race were often doctor/nurse pairs looking to expand their horizons by studying interspecies medicine. This pair were indeed a rarity, and Vermilion was looking forward to seeing them in action. Geminians were telepathic, but only with their partner, with whom they were bonded at birth in a male-female paring. They lived together from the moment the youngest was born, grew up learning the same things and always went into the same career, working next to each other. When maturity came, the partnership became mates; when death came, they died together, neither able to survive without the mental presence of the other.
Khamerus Prime was populated by two different humanoid species, both of which were known as ‘Khameri’. The two races lived side by side in harmony. Unusually, both species were indigenous to Khamerus, and so shared some similar characteristics, although there were distinct differences. One of the races had evolved in the desert areas of the planet, and tended to be tall and willowy, averaging about seven feet tall, and were bald with dark red skin and five fingers and a thumb on each of their hands; the others hailed from the more temperate regions, and were shorter in stature, averaging around five-and-a-half feet, with paler, pink skin, generally black hair and possessed a fully prehensile tail around the same length as their body. These days, there tended to be people of both species living in each environment, and intermingling was possible, although not common. Wheat was one of the rare crosses, possessing both the dark skin and extra finger of his mother’s desert tribe and the hair and tail of his father’s people.
The Centaurans were a familiar race to Vermilion, having served on Starbase under General Claret for so long. There were a great many of them in Spectrum these days, although their numbers still lagged far behind the human members, and they were an amazing species as far as Vermilion was concerned. Their diminutive stature and slender limbs meant that they did not make very good foot soldiers, but their incredible adaptability and inquisitive minds made them ideal Spectrum agents. They were an amphibious species, possessing both lungs and gills, although the former did not develop properly until the onset of adolescence. As such, all of the dwellings on their oceanic homeworld were underwater – and what magnificent cities they were. Vermilion had been lucky enough, as a young man, to go down to their capital, and he had been astounded by the almost ethereal beauty of the place. Even the Earth Embassy, which had been built specially for the air-breathing Humans, was created in keeping with the rest of the architecture – constructed of white stone, with a high roof and plenty of arches. The whole city looked as if it had been lifted out of a fairytale. He often wondered why the Centaurans left their beautiful home to join Spectrum.
The Centaurans appeared as ethereal as their cities, with skin tones of varying shades of pale purple, shifting from lilac to pale violet, and slender, petite frames with delicate facial features framed by wispy, light hair that grew darker with age. They were also telepaths, although their abilities were not restricted to one individual, but their whole race. Their brainwaves were sufficiently different from most other species that they were not able to ‘read’ them, a fact for which Vermilion had been extremely grateful for when he encountered a whole host of extremely beautiful women on their homeworld, and had entertained some despicable thoughts about several of them. The exception to this was, for some bizarre reason, Mysteron constructs, and by extension, Major Indigo. She’d joked once that it was just as well that she was perfectly capable of keeping up with a Centauran telepathic conversation, because she sure as hell struggled with their spoken language, due to some of the syllables commonly used being extremely difficult for Humans to imitate. An added bonus of this happenstance, for Spectrum, was that the Centaurans were capable of detecting Mysteron agents.
After going over the crew roster twice, Vermilion decided to seek out his First Officer and challenge her to a chess rematch. He still owed her at least three meals, but he was feeling lucky tonight.
Indigo grinned as Vermilion ran his hand absently through his hair, recognising the familiar gesture at once. She had seen him do it a thousand times, just as an old friend used to do.
“What?” he demanded indignantly, scrutinising the chess board carefully.
“Just thinking about the mission; a Svenson and a Metcalfe, fighting side by side, against the odds, to save the world. Just as it should be.”
“I don’t get you,” Vermilion said, perplexed. He committed himself to a move, and immediately regretted it when Indigo took the knight he had just uncovered.
“Oh, c’mon, Jack,” Indigo said in exasperation, toying with the piece she had just removed from the board. “You know your dad wasn’t the first Svenson to join Spectrum.”
“Yeah? What of it?” Vermilion challenged.
“You never looked him up, did you?” she realised. “I thought you would have done by now. All right then, I’ll give you this one gratis, but next time you do your own research. Right at the beginning of Spectrum, just when the first War of Nerves started, my father’s field partner was Captain Blue. They were a great team, if somewhat troublesome, by all accounts. They didn’t always play by the rules.” Indigo grinned. “Remind you of anyone you know?”
“Us, not playing by the rules?” Vermilion said innocently, moving his bishop into a vaguely threatening position. “When have we ever done anything that might be considered as outside the rules, or contravened orders, or broken every single regulation in the manual?”
“Quite,” Indigo agreed, laying on the sarcasm with a trowel. “What you evidently have been too lazy to discover is that Captain Blue is your great, great, great, great, great, great-grandfather, Adam Svenson.” She counted the ‘great’s on her fingers. “And my Godfather,” she added for good measure. She fished around in her bag and pulled out an old book. She flicked through the pages – paper pages! – until she found what it was she was looking for. She handed the book to him and tapped one of the pictures with her fingernail very gently.
“Don’t touch the photos, whatever you do,” she warned him dramatically. “You’ll get fingerprints on them if you do and damage the photo-paper.”
“Real photos? On paper?” Vermilion was incredulous. “I didn’t think these existed outside of museums!” He touched the very tip of one finger to the paper page of the book.
“Yes, well, be careful,” she reiterated. “That is me, Mom, Dad and your- God, I hate the word ‘ancestors’. Makes me feel old.”
“Rose, you are old,” Vermilion pointed out. “Is that kid you? You haven’t changed much. But…” He lifted the photo album up, tilted it back and forth as if trying to make the image perform some kind of metamorphosis, then set it back onto his lap.
“Now do you see why I remembered your face from the Europa? I couldn’t believe how much you look like Adam, eight generations later. I tell you, you could pass for him, if we ever needed to travel to the twenty-eighties.”
“And his wife looks like my Aunt Carole!” Vermilion exclaimed.
“Carole? No way! Adam’s wife was called Karen, or Symphony if she was on duty. She was an Angel.”
Vermilion frowned. “But the Angels all have names of precious stones.”
“Not back then, they didn’t,” Indigo said, her face more animated than it had been for a long time. “That only came in 2080, after my mother died and they decided that they needed a way of systematically naming the Angels. The first six were Destiny, Rhapsody, Symphony, Harmony, Melody and Prophecy. Rhapsody was my mother. Originally there were five Angels, before I was born. Prophecy was brought in as a replacement whilst my Mom was on maternity leave, but they decided that the team worked so well with six pilots that she stayed on.”
She sat beside him and turned the pages of the album back until she reached a picture of six women, wearing what were recognisably Angel uniforms, even now, three centuries later. “I knew I had one of them,” Indigo said triumphantly. “Destiny is the blonde on the left, that’s Melody beside her, then Harmony, the next ones you know, then Prophecy on the end. The photo below is the captains at the time; Magenta, Ochre, Blue, Scarlet, Green and Grey.”
She stretched across him to move her second queen onto his back row. “Checkmate,” she said smugly.
Vermilion checked the board in dismay. His king, immediately threatened by the queen, was pinned in by the other queen and a bishop. The knight that Indigo had taken in the previous move had been the only thing that would have been able to intercept the queen.
At that moment, the klaxon signalling the shift-change sounded.
“Have we really been that long?” he asked, checking his watch, then looking at the state of the table beside the chessboard. Several mugs cluttered the area, along with the vestiges of their meal, which had been a stir-fry with several kinds of Centauran vegetables.
“Go on, I’ll tidy this lot up,” Indigo said affectionately, gesturing to the pile of crockery.
“I can’t let you do that,” he argued half-heartedly. “You need to get some sleep too, before tomorrow.”
“Only a couple of hours,” Indigo reminded him, returning the chess pieces to their container. “Now go.”
Vermilion stifled a yawn. “All right,” he conceded. “Goodnight, Rose.”
“Night, Jack,” she replied.
Indigo waited until Vermilion had left before acknowledging Opal’s presence. She had seen the Mysteron enter just before he left; to her, the being appeared as a brilliant green glow, the same colour as she saw in the aura of replicants, but to human eyes, the being was invisible unless it wished to be seen.
‘How much do you remember from the beginning?’ she asked it as she piled the plates and cups onto a tray.
‘Not much,’ Opal confessed. ‘I was very young then; I’m not much older than you, Rose. One of my first true memories of the War is my mother’s death.’
Indigo, still hazy on the Mysterons’ method of reproduction, knew that her mind was translating the term ‘mother’ from something she didn’t really understand. The remark spiked her curiosity, though.
‘What happened to it?’ she asked.
‘It was killed by our own kind,’ Opal told her sadly, but with a hint of pride in the thought. ‘It helped Captain Black fight against their control, and protected him from the Group whilst he carried out his own intentions when he was directed to kidnap you when you were seven. Its protection allowed Captain Black take control of his body and to hand you over to Spectrum, instead of taking you for the Mysterons. Without its assistance, Black may not have managed to resist the Group for as long as he did.’
‘Your mother was killed for protecting me?’ Indigo asked incredulously. ‘My God, I never thought about anything like that. It never occurred to me before.’
‘The Group was very angry,’ Opal recalled. ‘Black was punished and my mother suffered torture for many days before it was executed; but its resolution to do what was right, even though it knew what the outcome would be was what convinced me that the war was truly unjust, and that I could not stand by and watch the others annihilate your mother’s species.’
‘I probably owe my life to your mother,’ Indigo thought. ‘I wish I could thank her.’
‘You already have,’ Opal responded, overlooking, as it always did, Indigo’s confused pronoun. ‘By surviving to bring the war to an end and allowing peace to come to our people, its sacrifice was not in vain. That would have been thanks enough for my mother. Please do not be discomforted by this knowledge. My mother was a martyr to the cause of peace. A great many of our people were swayed by her actions. Perhaps not initially, but the seed of doubt was planted.’
Indigo nodded thoughtfully, her eyes falling back to the photo album, still open on the table. The people in those pictures were all now long dead, and some had died at the hands of the Mysterons, but how many more people might have died if not for Opal’s ‘mother’? Would there even be an Earth left for them to save now? It certainly wouldn’t be Indigo saving it, at any rate. She remembered the incident Opal had referred to; knew that Captain Black’s mission had been to take her and transfer his own powers to her. She would have been the Mysterons’ primary agent on Earth, under their control and doing their bidding; and with the power she wielded, Indigo knew that the Mysterons could have made good on their threat to exterminate the human race.
‘I am proud of my mother for its actions, Major,’ Opal insisted. ‘Please, I did not mean to distress you with this.’
‘You haven’t,’ Indigo reassured it; ‘thank you for telling me. Shall we continue?’
There was a slight shimmer in Opal’s amorphous form that Indigo knew from long association with other Mysterons to be their way of expressing nerves. However, Opal only delayed briefly before replying. ‘Yes, of course,’ it said. ‘Have you told Colonel Vermilion yet?’
Indigo scowled. ‘Sort of,’ she said. ‘He’d only object if he knew the full details and make a fuss. It’s better off this way.’
‘If you say so, Major,’ Opal acquiesced. ‘You know Humans better than I do.’
Indigo ceased her tidying, and Opal moved forward. Its brilliant green glow surrounded her, and she closed her eyes and opened her mind to let it in.
‘Breathe,’ Opal chided her, with a hint of amusement in the thought.
Indigo hadn’t even realised that she was holding her breath, to avoid inhaling the Mysteron. Experimentally, she drew a breath; everything felt normal, and Opal did not appear to be in any distress. Then, without warning, the Mysteron joined with her, overwhelming her momentarily with senses far in excess of her own. Information flooded into her mind faster than she could cope with the influx, and it took all her strength not to pass out. Slowly, drawing on her many years of self-taught discipline coupled with some Centauran practices that Claret had taught her, she blocked out the unfamiliar sensations. Almost immediately, she felt Opal’s regret and anguish, as keenly as if it were her own. There was no longer any need for communication between them – they were as close to one and the same individual as they were ever going to get; gradually, Opal introduced its own senses into Indigo’s mind, allowing it time to become accustomed to the additional input. Suddenly, they understood the potential the Mysterons had seen in her all those years ago, the being she could have become if not for Opal’s mother and Captain Black.
Their eyes flew open, burning their characteristic luminescent green, but with an intensity she had never managed alone. The power of the Mysteron coursed through her veins, exponentially enhancing the abilities she already possessed.
Vermilion let out a deep sigh as he lowered the lights in his quarters and prepared for bed. He didn’t know why he still tortured himself by staying so close to Indigo, trying to persuade himself that the platonic friendship they had was what he wanted, that he didn’t feel for her what he once had. The time that he could have pursued anything more was gone, the physical age difference too large. At fifty-nine, he was too old to pursue a woman who was physically speaking around thirty years his junior, someone who would be forced to suffer when he succumbed to the inevitability of death. If she even felt the same way.
Enough was enough. After the mission was over, and Scarlet was alive again, he would leave quietly and stop torturing himself.
Vermilion frowned as he entered the bridge at the start of Alpha Shift. Both Indigo and Cerulean were at their stations, along with Lieutenant Bisque from Engineering and, he noted with interest, Doctor Chartreuse was also there, seated calmly one of the spare seats alongside his own. Opal, however, appeared to be missing. Of course, the lieutenant could be there, but normally it had the decency to distort the air around it to appear visible to the humanoid crew of the Endeavour. Damn the Mysteron, if it had vanished!
He looked up at the black hole on the main viewer as he made his way to his seat. They had arrived, and it was now or never.
“Is everything ready for the jump?” he asked the crew. There was a chorus of assent from the officers.
“Major, are you prepared?”
Indigo turned briefly, allowing him to glimpse her glowing eyes. “Aye, sir,” she replied, sounding oddly distorted. It took Vermilion a moment to realise that three voices had spoken in unison: one from Indigo herself and both Indigo’s and Opal’s from Opal’s speaker. “We are ready.”
We. Vermilion should have realised exactly where Opal was. The ability to make the ship time-travel to an exact destination largely relied on the Mysterons’ ability to see in four dimensions. It was an ability that Indigo shared to some degree, but not well enough for their mission to succeed, not enough to sense the distortions of the black hole that would send them back through the years. It had been her idea to enlist Opal’s help. It was one of the Mysterons who did not support the war, and was willing to cooperate and serve with Spectrum in order to put an end to it. She had never mentioned anything like this in her explanation of coordinating the manoeuvre, however. He would have forbidden it absolutely, which was why she had probably not mentioned it to him. Damn her!
“Execute slingshot manoeuvre, Major,” Vermilion responded smoothly, not letting his discomfort show.
“SIG,” Indigo/Opal replied.
Indigo drew a deep breath and closed their eyes, reaching out and feeling the gravity well of the singularity, probing the distortion in time and space that it caused. The helm responded to their thoughts, and the starship accelerated, heading ever nearer to the event horizon. One wrong move now and they were history, along with the rest of the crew.
Although they had made a show of carefully calculating forces and planning flight paths, Indigo and Opal had never intended to use them and they threw the Endeavour into the slingshot using pure instinct. They heard the bridge explode into a cacophony of shouts as they deviated from the plan, although it was probably by no more than a few feet, or a slight difference in speed; all their concentration was on getting the Endeavour through this intact and in the right time, and they stood a much better chance of doing that using the superior Mysteron fourth-dimension sense than computers and mathematical models.
“Colonel!” Cerulean shouted as the ship entered into a low and rapid orbit around the black hole. “They have entered the slingshot closer to the event horizon than calculated.”
“Damn them!” Vermilion cursed vehemently, pounding his fist on the arm of his chair. Why hadn’t he seen this coming? Why hadn’t he learned that Indigo would never change, and would always continue to do things her own way? What use was it in his outranking her if she didn’t listen to him once in a while? They had been friends for so long that he often forgot that she was different to the rest of the human race, overlooked the fact that she had luminous green eyes, telepathy, telekinesis and other words starting in ‘tele-’. The bright green rings sweeping the helm controls, however, reminded him sharply that she was not entirely human. Two rings he could have just about coped with, their presence generally being the sign that Opal was performing some task, but four interlocked rings was a little too unnerving for him, especially considering that Indigo’s eyes were shut and head leant back against the headrest, as if she were resting.
He was about to voice a question to Cerulean, but suddenly, the universe seemed to change. Cerulean seemed to be moving in freeze-frame, as did Bisque. Only the combined Mysteron being posing as his friend and first officer seemed unaffected physically by the phenomenon, the interlocking rings continuing to sweep the helm console unhampered by the time distortion for what seemed like several minutes, but could easily have been seconds, until the bridge seemed to return to normal and a sickening jolt in his stomach told Vermilion that the ship had decelerated, ever so slightly out of synch with the inertial dampeners.
“Has it worked?” Vermilion asked his officers.
“Certainly,” Indigo/Opal responded instantly. “We have arrived on schedule.”
“Confirmed,” Cerulean agreed in a shaky voice. “Scans of the neighbouring systems show planetary position consistent with December 2336. The computer will need a moment to extrapolate the exact date.”
“December sixteenth,” Indigo interjected. “Twelve hundred thirty hours, Earth GMT.”
“Exactly right, sir,” the scientists confirmed in surprise. “To the minute, according to the computer.”
“Set a course back to Earth, then,” Vermilion ordered. “Standard cruising speed.”
“SIG,” Indigo/Opal responded. “Executing now.”
“And then I want to see you… two… in my office,” he added. “Immediately. Cerulean, you have the bridge.”
“Of course,” ‘they’ replied, setting the automatic pilot and following Vermilion to a door at the back of the bridge, leading to the Colonel’s private office.
Vermilion didn’t say another word until the door was safely shut and Indigo was sat on the chair before his desk. He decided not to take his own seat, but paced the small room behind his first officer until she turned. Her face was serene, eyes glowing gently.
He wheeled on her with hard eyes. “Why didn’t you tell me what the pair of you were planning? You can’t just undermine my authority by making a decision that could have put the whole crew in jeopardy. The chain of command is there for a reason – I am responsible for this crew and this ship, not to mention this mission.”
“You wouldn’t have agreed,” Indigo said, her voice taking on an ethereal quality. “This was the only way that the journey would be successful was if we combined our abilities. The computer couldn’t compensate for the natural fluctuations in the gravity well – we could and did.”
“You’re damn right I wouldn’t have agreed,” Vermilion raged. “I would have thought that sheer common sense would have prevented you from doing something so stupid! Christ, Rose, you spend your entire life avoiding exactly what you’ve just done. Did you ever think that this could be just the chance the Mysterons were looking for to take you once and for all? What if something else sneaked into your head along with Opal?”
“There was no danger,” the being responded in the same even tone. “We both took every caution to ensure that no additional minds merged with our own.”
Vermilion looked deeply sceptical as he tried and failed to read his friend’s face. Even her eyes were different now, although he would never be able to explain the change.
“Are you even still in there, Rose?” he asked desperately, his spleen vented for the most part, and concern for his friend taking over.
“I am still Rose,” she replied. “Just as I am still Opal. I know that you do not understand fully what we have become, more than our separate components. Our awareness of the universe has never been surpassed by the Group. You are correct, Colonel: this is what the Group desired, many years ago, and with good reason. However, I do feel that it is time for us to divide ourselves, for the time being.”
With that, she fell silent and her head drooped forwards as if she was asleep. Vermilion watched, unable to look away, as the air around Indigo shimmered with Opal’s characteristic disturbance. As the distortion grew away from the tiny body and coalesced into a vague sphere, Indigo slumped in her seat. Alarmed, Vermilion leaped the few feet that separated them and checked for a pulse and breathing. Both were present, if a little ragged, and even as he checked her over, she regained consciousness. Vermilion felt his heart skip a beat as she met his eyes, dazed but back to normal. It was definitely her behind those bright green eyes now, not whatever she and Opal had become together.
“Please don’t blame Opal,” she begged him in a whisper. “I pulled rank.”
“Oh, now see, that I can believe,” he responded with a sigh of relief, pulling her closer to him, as if embracing her would make it more real for him. He only held her for a few seconds before turning towards the non-corporeal member of his crew.
“You’re dismissed, Lieutenant,” he said, not unkindly. “Please return to navigation.”
“SIG,” Opal replied through the radio receiver on Vermilion’s desk. Promptly, the Mysteron vanished through the door leading back to the bridge.
“What am I going to do with you?” Vermilion groaned. Finally allowing himself to sit, he walked wearily around his desk and lowered himself into his chair with a thump. He ran a hand through his still-blond hair as he contemplated Indigo and wondered, not for the first time, why two such opposites as himself and Indigo had remained such close friends after all this time. People had often commented on what a striking team they made when they were field partners; the tall, blond, tanned man and the tiny, raven-haired, pale woman always raised eyebrows. Only after people got to know them did they realise that their equally opposing personalities complemented each other. Whilst he looked like the last of the Vikings, Vermilion was gentle and patient, whereas Indigo, underneath decades of self-control, was every commanding officer’s worst nightmare; impetuous and unafraid of disobeying orders when she felt she was right, coupled with a quick temper that matched her late father’s in its ferocity. It was exactly those exasperating qualities that would make her an excellent colonel one day, when she allowed herself to be promoted, but Vermilion understood her reasons for refusing any further promotions, ones that would take her away from the field whilst she was still more than capable of serving.
“Put me up in front of a firing squad?” she responded, recalling something she had been told as a teenager. That incident had been before the discovery of the electron rifle, of course.
“Don’t even joke about that,” Vermilion said, scandalised. “Besides, we don’t do that these days.”
“Forgive me for asking, Indie, but there’s something else about your plan that bothers me,” Vermilion said, narrowing his eyes at his First Officer. “Something else that you’ve left hazy.”
“Oh, what’s that?” Indigo asked innocently, knowing full well what he was about to say. She knew exactly which part of the plan of action was still unclear.
“How do you plan on getting onto Starbase, exactly?” Vermilion inquired. “It’s not as if we’re going to be able to glide up to an airlock and walk on. You and I, at least, are already there. Granted, I’ve changed since then, they might not recognise me straight away, but you haven’t.”
“You’ve not changed that much,” she replied, her tone gentle, but not as if she was trying to flatter him or butter him up, preparing him for something she knew he wouldn’t like.
He fixed her with a hard stare, until she relented.
“Opal’s going to help me,” she told him. “It can teleport me from the ship to Starbase if we come to a stop just outside their sensor range. We’re lucky in a way; next year, the sensors will be upgraded, and we wouldn’t be able to pull this off. Once I’m on board, and they know where I’m from, you shouldn’t have a problem with coming on board yourself, if necessary. I don’t recommend that we do too much mingling with the crew of Starbase in this time, even though by this time tomorrow, hopefully, our knowledge of the future won’t be worth a dime.”
“Amen to that. Doesn’t mean I like your plan,” he added, “but at least you have thought it through.”
It took them another ship’s day to make the return trip, having to make similar detours as during the trip out to the black hole. They couldn’t risk coming across any of Spectrum’s ships of this era before arrival at Starbase. There would be too many awkward questions. Chief Engineer Wheat fretted over fluctuations in structural integrity caused by a malfunctioning power conduit in the field emitters. Although the fault wasn’t causing them any problems at the time, without repairs they wouldn’t survive the return journey. There was no hiding anything now, no possibility that Indigo could just go in and back out again unnoticed – they had to dock and make repairs at Starbase.
Captain Cerulean compiled a sensor report for the journey, noting particularly that the gravity field of the black hole had fluctuated during the slingshot orbit. Calculations indicated that had Indigo and Opal used the original flight path, the Endeavour would have emerged from the ether approximately a hundred years earlier than planned – if it survived at all. It didn’t stop Vermilion smarting over them having left him out of the loop, but it slightly diminished his desire to court-marshal Indigo when they got back to their own time.
A ship’s day after leaving the vicinity of the singularity, Indigo brought the ship to a stop, just beyond the horizon of Starbase’s sensors.
Major Scarlet was careful not to attract anyone’s attention as he moved through the corridors of Starbase and moved into those of Cloudbase, heading towards the very quarters that Vermilion had found Indigo in the day before. After the horribly brief conversation with his daughter during which she had destroyed what was left of his spirit, he wanted to be alone, and these rooms were the best ones on Starbase for that purpose. No one came down here any more; no one had any reason to, except him and his daughter. His mind automatically steered him to the door he wanted, and he punched in the security code without looking at the panel.
It took him a while to realise that he wasn’t alone. From an armchair that inexplicably still furnished the room, two circles of green light shone into the darkness. Even as he saw this, he felt a wave of nausea rise in his stomach. Despite his attack of the blues, so to speak, he quickly put two and two together. The presence of a Mysteron on the base pushed all other concerns from his mind, and he reached for his gun, only to find that it wasn’t in its holster. Why should it be, on Starbase?
“I’m glad you came here,” the Mysteron said conversationally, her voice devastatingly recognisable. “It was a toss-up between here and next door, and I would have hated to have to come looking for you, especially considering what I’ve just done to you upstairs.”
“What do you want?” Scarlet demanded wearily. “There’s been no threat announced yet.”
As the Mysteron spoke, Scarlet’s mind suddenly clicked that he had just seen his daughter, not ten minutes ago, alive and well. Unless the Mysterons had changed their modus operandi…
He felt, belatedly, the Mysteron probing at his mind, and he pushed her away. It occurred to him as he did so that a) he wouldn’t have been able to block her out if she really wanted to stay, and b) that gentle touch was definitely that of his daughter, and although there was something different about it, there was none of the malevolence present that he would expect from a Mysteron Agent.
“It’s not what you think,” Indigo said quickly. “This might be a little hard to swallow, but I’m from the future.”
“You’re a Mysteron,” he said weakly, still reeling from the reaction of his inbuilt detector.
“No… oh, I know what it is,” she said with dawning comprehension. For a moment, she grew very still, then, before Scarlet’s eyes, a phosphorescent green haze seemed to seep from the pores of her skin, coalescing into a free form hanging in midair as it moved away from her. The dizziness ceased immediately.
“I hitched a lift with Opal here, so that I could get on board Starbase without question,” Indigo explained, waving a hand towards the green haze. “I thought that there might be a few too many questions if I tried to come in through a more conventional route.”
Although she was making no further attempts to probe his thoughts, Indigo had completely lowered her shields and opened her mind for his scrutiny.
“I’m from the future,” she repeated. “Thirty-six years from now, in fact.”
Scarlet knew that she was speaking the truth. There was no way that she could lie to him whilst she was so unguarded. “Why?” he asked simply.
Indigo stood. The full foot separating their heights meant that she had to look a long way up into his face, but she did so without complaint and took both of his hands in hers.
“I have to repair a mistake I made,” she whispered, a smile playing at her lips. “Happy birthday.”
Scarlet’s eyes widened. “You don’t mean…?”
The smile broadened, and her bright eyes sparkled in the dark room. “Yes, I do,” she said simply. “C’mon, we’d best be somewhere less remote, just in case it all goes wrong.”
Having relocated to Scarlet’s current quarters, they sat side by side on the settee in the living area.
“Opal will keep an eye on us whilst we are linked,” Indigo told him. “It’ll raise the alarm if we get into trouble, but I don’t think we will.”
‘It never hurts to be cautious,’ Opal said, a note of humour in its thought.
“Opal?” Scarlet queried the name. “I thought that Mysterons didn’t have names.”
“It’s a colour code,” Indigo said, rolling her eyes. “This is Lieutenant Opal. It’s the navigation officer on the Endeavour.” When Scarlet didn’t say anything in return, Indigo continued, “Opal’s mother saved my life in New York, that time when I was a kid. It protected Captain Black from the other Mysterons whilst he handed me over to Spectrum.”
Scarlet only nodded. Unlike Indigo, who embraced the Mysteron part of her heritage now that the conflict was over and the peaceful faction was in control on Mars, he preferred to distance himself from the Mysterons as much as possible, and still struggled with the fact that their two races were now at peace with each other. In his eyes, the Mysterons were, and always would be enemies, but this new information did not sit well with his stereotype of the race.
Indigo could see that he was struggling to assimilate the information. “Don’t worry too much about it just now,” she advised. “Just relax.”
She reached out and gently laid her hands on either side of his face. Her eyes closed, and for a moment Scarlet studied her tranquil expression; felt her at peace with herself, as she had not been for many years. Within seconds, though, her features took on a worried look, although Scarlet barely had time to notice before something happened. Fire raced along every nerve in his body, searing pain lancing though him, and he could not prevent a cry escaping him, a cry echoed by his daughter. Her hands felt like branding irons against his face, her presence like wires in his brain. Surely this was wrong – this couldn’t be what she had intended to do to him…
As suddenly as it had started, everything stopped. An icy chill was left where there had only been flame, so cold…
Lieutenant Opal turned to the only person it knew who could help its friend. Unfortunately, when it found her, she seemed to be rather upset, and Opal hesitated. She had always appeared so strong, that it had trouble associating the hunched-up figure that was sobbing into a cushion, with Major Indigo. At first it wondered, absurdly, if it had the wrong room, as if that could be anyone other than Rose Metcalfe, but the bubbling fish tank in the corner of the room satisfied it that this was the correct place.
“Major Indigo?” It intruded quietly into her mind, so as not to disturb her.
“Go ‘way,” she said aloud, indistinctly, her words muffled by the cushion.
“Major, I need your help,” Opal insisted, slightly more urgently. “Your father needs your help.”
That got her attention. Opal felt her reach out towards her father, and realise that something had happened.
Opal explained everything in a telepathic burst of images and memories, rather than in the words that Indigo generally preferred. She was already on her feet and out of the door before it had finished. She turned from her door to Scarlet’s in a practiced move, unlocking the door using telekinesis rather than typing the code in manually.
Indigo did a slight double take when she saw herself and her father on the sofa, both unconscious. Despite Opal’s information, she had not quite been prepared to see her own face.
“Indigo to Sickbay,” she called out, activating the comm. system by vocal command. “Medical emergency in Major Scarlet’s quarters. Two teams required on the double!”
“What seems to be the problem, Major?” Doctor Mint’s voice sounded throughout the room.
“No time to explain, it’s a long story,” she said frantically, checking both casualties for life signs. “Just get the teams here.”
The med-techs arrived in no time, carrying two gurneys between them. Indigo stepped back, allowing two of them to lift Scarlet effortlessly onto one of the gurneys whilst the other two did the same with the unconscious Indigo.
“’Ere, what’s goin’ on?” one of the techs blurted when he saw the patient, whose eyes fluttered slightly. Indigo stepped up to the side of the gurney, and shielded her eyes from the bright lights above. A hand reached out to grasp hers as her double’s eyes finally opened, struggling against oblivion. Bright blue eyes.
“Did it work?” she whispered urgently.
“Yes, it did,” Indigo answered reassuringly, knowing instinctively that she was telling the truth.
Doctor Verdant hurried over to assist his colleague as the orderlies wheeled Scarlet and Indigo into Sickbay. Mint barely afforded him a glance before turning his attention to his hand-held medical scanner, which was currently pointed at Scarlet. The device whistled alarmingly and Mint hit the side of it in irritation at the obviously incorrect reading and rescanned his patient.
Verdant pointed his own scanner at Indigo the moment she entered Sickbay, and in his hurry to check his patient, he never noticed the officer who accompanied the unconscious pair. The scanner let out a piercing whistle, matching that of Mint’s instrument.
“That can’t be right,” Verdant said, studying the readout.
“No retrometabolism?” the visitor remarked. “It’s exactly right.”
Both Mint and Verdant looked up sharply at the familiar voice. Major Indigo was standing in the doorway, out of the way of the two doctors. Verdant looked back at his patient, then back at the figure in the doorway in disbelief.
“Quarantine them!” Mint shouted, coming to his senses first. “If their retrometabolism has shut down, they’re susceptible to infection.”
The med-techs obediently whisked the two patients to one of the quarantine suites. Both doctors wheeled on Indigo.
“Would you mind explaining?” Verdant demanded, arms folded.
“What is it, Blue?” Claret snapped at her aide. She had been in a foul temper ever since Major Indigo had taken off without authorisation four days ago, and there seemed little chance of it abating in the near future.
“Doctor Mint reports that Majors Scarlet and Indigo have been discovered unconscious in Major Scarlet’s quarters,” Lieutenant Blue reported timidly. “He also says that you should get down to Sickbay as soon as possible. He doesn’t want to speculate until you’ve ‘seen for yourself’, he says. Something about Indigo.”
“Nothing more?” Claret growled. “Very well, I’ll meet him there in five minutes.”
“SIG,” Blue said, moving to restore the audio connection to Sickbay when another light flashed on his board.
“General, we’re being hailed by the… the S.S. Endeavour,” Blue advised, reading his display. “It’s showing a Spectrum registry, but there’s no record of it in the computer. I’m interfacing with their computer for the registry details. They’ve only just crossed the sensor horizon, but it’s close enough.”
There was a slight pause, then: “That can’t be right!” Blue exclaimed, his dark eyes wide with astonishment. “General, the registry is showing a launch date of July 10th, 2367!”
Claret frowned. “The tri-centenary? That’s not for another thirty-one years! Who’s commanding, dare I ask?”
Blue touched a few controls. The poor young man looked utterly confused. “Colonel… Vermilion.”
“‘Something about Indigo’,” Claret repeated softly. “Things are starting to fall into place. And, of course, you never get one without the other. Well, put him on, Lieutenant.”
Claret turned to the vidscreen, which promptly came to life, displaying the familiar countenance of Vermilion, aged by many years but still very recognisable.
“Welcome to 2336, Colonel Vermilion,” Claret greeted him as her suspicions were confirmed.
“Thank you, General,” Vermilion replied with a smile after only a slight hesitation, caught out by Claret’s salutation. “I’m sorry if we surprised you.”
“That’s certainly one way to put it,” Claret said dryly. “Is your First Officer aboard Starbase, by any chance?”
A fleeting expression of concern passed over Vermilion’s face, quickly suppressed. “Yes, ma’am, she is. I apologise for her intruding, but we thought it best if she completed her mission before we revealed ourselves.”
“‘Her mission’? Is there any chance you might enlighten me as to what’s going on?” she asked acerbically.
“I’ll gladly explain as much as possible, General,” Vermilion said. “Our SIF suffered some damage during the trip, and we can’t return until it’s fixed. Could we dock at Starbase to make repairs?”
Claret nodded. Making any kind of trip with a malfunctioning SIF was dangerous. “We have some space available. I’ll get Lieutenant Blue to send details to your helmsman.”
“Thank you, ma’am,” Vermilion said politely. “I’ll see you when we dock.”
“SIG. Starbase out.”
The screen winked off and Claret turned to Blue. “I want them in quarantine,” she ordered. “They can borrow engineers if necessary, but no one from the junior staff – colour-coded engineers only. I only want Colonel Vermilion to leave the ship, none of the rest of his crew.”
“SIG,” Blue acknowledged, keying instructions into his console, thoroughly confused.
Vermilion practically ran to Sickbay, the moment that Security released him following a short discussion on the ground rules with Claret, rules he had agreed to in an instant. The nurse that he almost ploughed into did a double take before pointing him towards one of the isolation rooms furthest from the main entrance and wards. The windows of the ward were blacked out, but the door to the atrium was not locked, as it would be if there were quarantine patients in there. The door opened obediently as he approached, revealing Doctors Mint and Verdant deep in conversation, their backs turned to the observation window so that the occupants could not lip-read what they were saying. They looked up, startled.
“Colonel Vermilion, I presume?” Verdant asked smoothly, taking in the newcomer with apparent ease. “We were told to expect you.”
“How are they?” Vermilion asked. Scarlet and Indigo appeared fine, to his eyes, both reclining on beds and chatting to each other.
“They are in perfect health,” Mint answered, stealing a glance at his colleague. “Fortunately, their immune systems appear to be functional against current diseases, otherwise they would be facing a difficult time over the next few months. If it had not been,” he continued, seeing Vermilion’s blank look, “they would have no defences against any disease that has developed over the last three centuries. They would be facing an intense regime of immunisations and supplementary medication until their systems caught up, otherwise.”
“It worked then?” Vermilion pressed. “They’re both normal now?”
Any reply was drowned out by an alarm shrieking from the console behind the doctors. Indigo had leaped from her bed upon seeing Vermilion, and was now standing at the door separating the quarantine ward from this small room. Her absence from the sensors had set the alarm off. With a sigh, Verdant silenced the alarm and opened the door.
“Jack!” Indigo cried, rushing towards him, her blue eyes shining with joy. “Jack, it’s worked. Everything’s going to be all right.”
Vermilion lifted her off her feet as she approached him and spun her around. “I knew you could do it,” he said as he set her back down again. He swept a piece of her dark hair away from her eyes gently, and he saw clearly for the first time, that she was very comfortable in his arms. Suddenly, without conscious thought, their mouths met in a tender kiss that seemed to last eternity.
They broke apart at the sound of a slight cough. Scarlet was also up, leaning casually against the frame of the open door.
“I thought you said you weren’t with anyone?” he said mildly.
Indigo turned, still in Vermilion’s arms. She had the good grace to look slightly embarrassed, with a delicate blush highlighting her youthful features.
“I er… I wasn’t,” she replied.
“Paul!” Vermilion exclaimed, his face alight with happiness at seeing his friend alive and well. “You don’t seem surprised.”
Scarlet shrugged. “I’m not,” he said. “It’s obvious to anyone with eyes that the two of you are crazy about each other, even now, in your counterparts.”
“And I thought I was hiding it so well,” Vermilion said ruefully. “You sure were,” he added, giving Indigo a little squeeze.
“I thought I was,” she commented. “Maybe not, though.”
“Not to me, my love,” Scarlet told her affectionately. “You should have learned by now that you can’t hide anything from your daddy.”
“Don’t tell them – us,” Indigo said, horrified suddenly. She looked around Vermilion to ensure that the doctors realised that they were included in the request.
“They slipped out whilst you were otherwise occupied,” Scarlet said. “Don’t worry – I’ve kept my silence this long. I knew you’d figure it out eventually. Now, if you really don’t want them to find you out, I suggest that you separate.”
Something in the tone of Scarlet’s voice made the couple spring apart, just moments before the main doors opened to admit General Claret, followed by Major Indigo and a young Captain Vermilion. Claret seemed to take in the presence of the duplicates with relative ease, compared to Captain Vermilion, who flanked his Commanding Officer protectively whilst staring at his older self.
“Majors, I am told that you are both in perfect health and can be released from Sickbay,” Claret said, with what looked suspiciously like a smile. “Obviously, however, I can’t allow you, the ‘older’ Major Indigo, nor Colonel Vermilion, to freely walk the base. There would be too many questions asked.”
“I understand,” Colonel Vermilion replied. “We will confine ourselves to the Endeavour whilst the SIF repairs are carried out.”
“We need not be quite that drastic,” Claret said. “I realise that there are things that need to be said between the five of you, especially considering that there has been quite a dramatic turning point in your lives. I would ask that you restrict yourselves to the Endeavour, your quarters here on Starbase and the corridors in between – no further.”
“Of course,” Colonel Vermilion responded.
“Also,” Claret continued, “I would like to be fully briefed, as much as possible, on what has occurred. I am, therefore, calling a meeting tomorrow at oh-eight hundred hours in the main Conference room. You may all consider yourselves invited. Major Scarlet, Majors Indigo, you are all off duty until then. Colonel Vermilion, please co-ordinate your repairs with my engineers, according to the rules laid down earlier.”
“SIG.” The reluctant response was uttered in chorus by the five officers, with the two pairs of counterparts speaking in synch.
“Actually, I’ve had an idea,” Claret said with a slight smile. “I know how much you like going back to your old Cloudbase quarters, Major Indigo. I think that all those rooms are still connected to the main systems, and lighting two of them wouldn’t cause my engineers a problem. That solution will keep you on Starbase and away from most of the crew. There’s even the old conference room down there that we could use.”
The elder Vermilion looked at his first officer, seeing her shining eyes pleading with him to agree. He had to admit that he liked the idea of using those old rooms himself.
“It would be an honour, ma’am,” he replied graciously.
Claret nodded briskly. “I’ll make the arrangements and send an escort for you when the quarters are ready.” She spun smartly on her heel and left the room.
“I think we need to get some names sorted, if you’re staying for a while,” Scarlet said, slouching back on the doorframe. “We could just about cope with these two,” he indicated to the two Vermilions, “Captain and Colonel, but you two are going to be more difficult.”
“My rank isn’t worth much here, Paul,” Colonel Vermilion said. “I’m quite happy to drop my colour-code for the time being.”
“As am I,” the blue-eyed Indigo agreed. “That is, if you two don’t mind.”
“If it makes life easier,” the green-eyed Indigo replied, “I don’t mind.”
“Sure,” Captain Vermilion shrugged.
Rose woke to find the room shaking. Roused from her sleep, it took her a moment to realise that it wasn’t the room at all, but her that was moving.
“I’m awake,” she mumbled as she turned to see Jack.
Jack released Rose and helped her to sit up. “Hurry up, Rose, or we’ll be late.”
Rose frowned. “Late? What time is it?”
“07:50,” Jack replied urgently.
Rose leaped out of bed and pulled the spare uniform she had brought from the Endeavour out of her closet. “Why did you let me sleep so late?” she demanded as she stripped off her nightie.
Jack averted his eyes politely. “I thought you’d be awake,” he said. “You’re normally the first up.”
“You’re right. Why… oh – Jack, don’t be so ridiculous. You’re going to be seeing me like this a lot more.”
Jack shook his head, still not looking at her. “I can’t,” he said quietly. “You deserve a young man, someone around the age you look.”
Jack turned as he felt Rose’s hand on his cheek. “I want you,” she told him gently, but firmly. She stood on tiptoes and kissed him gently before resuming dressing at top speed. There was a delicate blush on her cheeks, and she looked slightly annoyed as her hear popped out of her polo-neck.
“I didn’t think about sleep,” she berated herself. “I should have remembered that I would need to sleep more now.”
“Let me guess,” Jack said, handing her a uniform tunic. “You went to sleep at around three or four, same as normal?”
“Yes,” she growled, sitting down to pull on her socks and boots. “There’s so much I’ll have to get used to.”
“Welcome to mortality,” Jack said teasingly, handing her a hairbrush.
Indigo pulled the brush quickly through her short hair, before discarding the brush on the bed and standing. She rubbed her eyes to get rid of the sleep deposits and glanced in the mirror.
“It’ll have to do, I suppose,” she moaned.
“You look perfect,” Vermilion told her, pulling her towards him and kissing her. He pulled away after only a few seconds and placed her cap on her dark head.
“Now, we need to go, or we really won’t get there on time.”
Rose and Jack met up with Major Scarlet just outside the Conference Room. Dark stubble shadowed his cheeks and his vest wasn’t yet done up, and he was, like them, a minute late.
“Look at you, you’re a mess!” she scolded affectionately, reaching to fasten the zipper on his vest, allowing him time to straighten his cap, which was currently at a very precarious angle. “Did you oversleep, by any chance?”
“You too, eh?” he replied with a smile, before stifling a yawn and rubbing at the bristles on his chin.
“Shall we go and bite the bullet, Colonel Svenson?” Scarlet said, opening the door and allowing the American to pass ahead of him.
Major Indigo and Captain Vermilion were already seated around the table, along with Doctor Verdant and General Claret, sitting in the centre, as the three older officers entered. The general gave them a very stern look that reminded Scarlet sharply of Colonel White. Despite the fact that Claret was a petite, purple woman, she possessed that same authoritative persona that brought grown men to heel with ease.
Swiftly, Scarlet came to attention, an action mirrored by the two temporally displaced officers at his side.
“Please accept our apologies for our tardiness,” Jack began when it was clear that he had drawn the short straw by holding the higher rank. “Majors Scarlet and Metcalfe have experienced some difficulties in adjusting to their new circumstances.”
Claret’s keen eyes studied the errant trio carefully before questioning the use of name. “Major Metcalfe?”
“Yes, ma’am,” Vermilion continued. “The major and I have decided to adopt our given names for the time being, to avoid confusion between us and our younger counterparts.”
“I see,” Claret mused. “Well, sit down, Colonel, Majors. We’re already late.”
Meekly, Jack, Rose and Scarlet took vacant seats around the perimeter of the table.
Claret fixed each officer in turn with a stern glare as her chair rotated slowly in the centre of the circular table.
“I have called this meeting in order to clarify the events of yesterday,” she said authoritatively. “I, for one, am not quite sure I understand what occurred, nor what would cause two senior Spectrum officers to break the most important of the Temporal Orders so seriously. I trust that there was a good reason, Colonel Svenson?”
“Yes, ma’am,” Jack replied briskly. “Without going into too much detail, without Major Metcalfe’s intervention, a chain of events would be set up that would lead to the eventual extinction of life on Earth.”
Claret looked deeply unimpressed. “You’ll excuse me if I need a little more convincing, Colonel. Whilst you are here, you are subject to my command, no matter who might be the head of Spectrum in your time.”
“It’s still you, ma’am,” Jack said. “However, the actual events that were to happen are not important. As long as they do not occur, then we are justified in our actions.”
‘Rosie, what did I do to make you come back and change me?’
The projected thought caught Rose off guard. She hadn’t tested her telepathy since she had lost her retrometabolism, had thought that it would have been lost along with her indestructibility. Obviously, however, she had been wrong. If Scarlet could still project, then the odds were that she could too.
She steadfastly looked at Claret. ‘What makes you think that it was anything you did?’ she projected back, ensuring that the thought was shielded from Claret.
‘There must have been something.’ The extra shielding hadn’t taken into account the other telepath in the conference room. Claret and Jack were still politely arguing, heedless of the fact that the three Metcalfes were engaged in a telepathic conversation of their own.
‘I wouldn’t have altered causality without a damn good reason,’ the younger Indigo continued.
Rose shifted uncomfortably in her seat and stared at her hands, which were clasped on the tabletop. ‘I’d rather not say,’ she thought to them.
Both Scarlet and her younger self pressed the question, and under their joint scrutiny, Rose relented. She doubted that she would have held up if Indigo really tried to get an answer from her.
‘You committed suicide on Christmas Eve,’ she told Scarlet, still not meeting his gaze. ‘Your death precipitated a civil war on Mars, which then led to the start of the second War of Nerves.’
The whole room fell silent. Scarlet and Indigo were staring at Rose, who had her head bowed and her eyes closed, looking very small and delicate next to Jack. Claret had stopped speaking and looked very unimpressed at the three Metcalfes. Following Claret’s lead, Jack had also stopped speaking.
“When you three have quite finished,” Claret said icily, “I couldn’t quite catch what you were saying, and I am certain that Captain Vermilion and Colonel Svenson didn’t, either. You all know the rules regarding conversation in staff meetings: no telepathy.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Rose said, her voice thick with emotion. Yesterday, she had been able to shut off her memories, seeing her father alive again had made everything that had occurred seem so very distant, but now it was catching up to her. That awful night seemed like only yesterday, the pain still fresh and raw.
Claret could not fail to notice. “I think we need to know,” she said, more gently.
“I know why you were keeping your silence, Rose,” Scarlet said, sounding shaken but assertive. “I don’t mind if you tell General Claret and Captain Vermilion.”
“I… I can’t believe it,” Indigo said quietly. “I don’t believe that you would ever do something like that, Dad.”
“I can,” Scarlet admitted in a hoarse voice.
Rose looked up and met Scarlet’s eyes. Her eyes were brimming with tears, but he could also see comprehension there. She understood now what had led to the events of Christmas Eve, what had driven his counterpart to take his own life.
“Perhaps I should begin?” Scarlet offered. “I know the beginning of the story.”
“Thank you,” Rose said softly.
“As you may have realised, I haven’t been myself recently,” Scarlet began, sounding slightly ashamed of his melancholy. “I have never been comfortable with the idea of immortality, and with my three hundredth birthday approaching, all I could think of was the fact that I wanted to be able to see an end to my life. Five days ago, I asked Rose to reverse the effects of my Mysteronisation and shut down my retrometabolism.”
“That was why I left Starbase,” Indigo interrupted softly. “I had to get out of here.”
Claret nodded her understanding.
“I wish I hadn’t done that,” Rose said. “I just needed some time away to sort my thoughts out.”
“It didn’t help,” Indigo admitted. “I just felt more hurt and confused than ever.”
Rose nodded. “The fact that it was bloody freezing didn’t help,” she said with a small smile.
“This is weird,” Indigo said. “I know you’re me, but…”
Rose grinned. “Yeah, I know.”
“Sorry, General,” the two Indigos said in unison.
“I did a lot of soul-searching, trying to put my fears at rest, but when Dad came to me yesterday, I couldn’t go through with it. I’ve never known how I stop the retrometabolism when I free Mysteron agents, and I’ve never been able to do that in replicants over a month or so old. The few times I’ve tried, I came out of it so weak, without actually achieving anything.”
“Over the next week, Paul got progressively more and more withdrawn.” Jack took over the story from Indigo. “Depressed, wouldn’t speak to anyone, spending all his off duty time locked up in his quarters.”
“On Christmas Eve, Jack and I had drawn the night watch together,” Rose said, her eyes unfocussed as she remembered. “Just before midnight, I sensed what Dad was about to do. He was in the core, standing next to the generator. I got there just in time to see…” She broke off, unable to form the words.
“The worst of it was,” Jack picked up the tale again after a moment of shocked silence, “we had only just been talking about the reversal, and Rose had decided that she was going to do it after all, for Christmas instead of Paul’s birthday.”
“We buried you in Winchester, next to Grandma and Granddad,” Rose continued, tears flowing freely down her cheeks. “Everything was arranged very quickly; we had a private funeral on the twenty-seventh, with a memorial planned for the New Year.
“On New Year’s Eve, I was on Mars with the First Minister when the government was overrun by the war supporters, seeing opportunity now that one of their biggest problems was out of the way and the other was… distracted. They started a very vicious civil war. Mysterons can do a whole host of very nasty things to each other when they want to, and it wasn’t exactly a walk in the park for me, either. By New Year’s Day, most of the ruling body was dead, and the peace supporters folded. I barely managed to escape with my life. Lieutenant Opal distracted the new leaders of the group mind whilst I fired up the engines of the Angel I’d borrowed for the trip – legitimately, this time. Opal came back to Earth with me, just in time for us to hear the Voice of the Mysterons declaring war again.” Rose shuddered at the memory.
“The war has been going on ever since then,” Jack said. “The Mysterons are managing to complete their threats more often than not. There is no way we’re going to win this time.”
“Opal and I saw the end, using that precognition sense – what would happen if we didn’t manage to stop the war,” Rose added, sounding much stronger now, secure in her conviction that what she had done was right. “Within a month, the Mysterons were going to set off a nuclear bomb, big enough to irradiate the whole Earth. Those who weren’t lucky enough to be killed in the initial explosion would have been living on a dead world – crops would have failed, food stocks rapidly diminish, people fighting each other to feed their families. But even if they managed to feed themselves, they would have died of radiation sickness within a year. By New Year, 2374, the Earth will be nothing but a ball of dirt, with dead plants and animals lying everywhere, with no bacteria left to rot them.
“The only way to stop it happening was to prevent the war from starting in the first place; by stopping you from dying, Dad.” Rose smiled faintly. “After that vision, causality didn’t seem to matter that much.”
There was silence. Then: “You never told me that,” Jack said weakly. “Never said how it would happen.”
“I can see why,” Vermilion said dryly. “It’s not a pretty picture second-hand.”
“No, it’s not,” Claret agreed, licking her lips nervously. “Are you certain that it has been averted? Couldn’t the fact that Major Scarlet is no longer indestructible still cause the uprising on Mars?”
“We considered it,” Rose said. “One of the factors in the uprising was the fact that Dad had committed suicide. Opal and I, along with a few other Mysteron refugees, think that even the violent factions will respect the fact that Dad has renounced what they still see as a ‘gift’, in order to live a peaceful life. They don’t understand that the human mind is not designed to cope with living for hundreds of years, so they couldn’t understand why he did what he did – they just saw it as more violence.”
Indigo had her eyes closed. Her older counterpart knew that she was searching for an answer beyond the senses of her peers, seeing things that the human mind was not meant to see; exhibiting a difference that most people could not accept about her.
“I can’t see the civil war,” she said eventually, with a smile. “The peace will continue. Nothing that you described will happen.”
Everyone knew better than to ask how she knew. It was just one of those things that they had to put down to bizarre Mysteron abilities. The clairvoyance was one of the spookier powers, though, and Indigo tended to keep very quiet about anything she managed to perceive through it, unless it was important. She knew it unnerved her friends, and for her, it brought a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘déjà vu’. She didn’t like using that particular aspect of her powers – she preferred to find things out when they happened, and not before.
“Well, thank God for that,” Rose said, laughing softly. “I’d have been really annoyed if we’d done all this for nothing.”
Claret sighed and turned to Dr. Verdant, who had remained silent throughout the relating of the events leading up to Rose and Jack returning to this time.
“Doctor, I know you have spoken to Major Scarlet and Major Metcalfe already, but I would be grateful if you could brief the rest of us on the practical aspects of their altered condition.”
Verdant stood up and glanced at both officers for a final confirmation of their consent before beginning.
“Well, General, as you know, Major Metcalfe’s actions yesterday disabled the retrometabolic process in both her and Major Scarlet. Whether this is a permanent state of affairs or not remains to be seen, considering that Major Indigo has already regained her retrometabolism before - after it apparently stopped in 2089.”
Both versions of Vermilion stared at their respective Indigos, and even Claret seemed taken aback by the remark.
“I was electrocuted,” the Indigos explained simultaneously, then flashed matching mischievous grins at each other.
“This feels different,” Rose said to the doctor. “This feels permanent. Then again, I thought it would be permanent then, too.”
“Only time will tell,” Verdant said, trying to get back on track. “For the time being, both Major Scarlet and Major Metcalfe seem to be almost completely normal Humans. Their immune systems seem to be coping with the change well, although I’m scheduling several shots to ensure that they both remain healthy. I have already sent a list to Doctor Chartreuse, so there is absolutely no chance of you getting out of it, Major Metcalfe.”
“Damn,” Rose swore playfully. Verdant was reminding her forcibly of Doctor Fawn, in anticipating her trying to avoid Sickbay for as long as they were on Starbase.
“Both of you are physically fit,” Verdant continued, “and as far as I can tell, Majors, you will both age normally now. Again, though, only time will tell whether this is actually the case. Of course, there are certain limitations now that you are not indestructible, sleep being one of these. You must remember that you need more sleep now, not just a couple of hours a night. Naturally, there will be a period of adjustment whilst you get used to a new routine, but I can see no reason not to release you both onto active duty. Only,” Verdant added, with a twinkle in his eye, “no stepping in front of bullets.”
“Well, I can’t promise that,” Scarlet said.
“Me neither,” Rose added.
Claret sighed in dismay at the irrepressible pair.
“There is one matter that we need to discuss, General,” Rose said more seriously as Verdant sat back down.
“What is that?”
“Unless we keep the chain going, we’ll have a paradox – a true paradox – on our hands. I – Indigo, I mean – will have to go to go back in time thirty-six years from now and do what I’ve done, and explain this over – to keep the timeline going, so that Dad is always alive, and the events that lead to what created my timeline can’t happen again.”
“I know,” Indigo said quietly. “I can do it.”
“I don’t think I can really refuse, can I?” Claret said with a sigh. “Knowing what will happen without your intervention, I can condone the breach of regulations. Now, are there any more issues to discuss?”
At the negative responses around the table, Claret called an end to the meeting. Doctor Verdant caught Major Metcalfe before she left and they headed out together, with Rose waving a dismissive hand at Colonel Svenson, which amused Claret greatly.
He’s still crazy about her, even after all that time, she thought as she left the centre of the table and walked around the perimeter.
Major Indigo and Captain Vermilion were ahead of the others, talking in low voices, and they missed the exchange. Major Scarlet, however, saw.
‘When will they work it out?’ Claret asked with a tolerant smile, watching Jack walk forlornly back to the Endeavour.
‘Yesterday’, Scarlet replied, perching on the edge of the next to where Claret was standing.
‘Yesterday?’ she reflected back at him.
Scarlet nodded. ‘In Sickbay, just before you arrived with our versions of them. I was beginning to lose hope.’ They lapsed into silence, contemplating what had been revealed during the briefing.
“Paul, were you really that unhappy?” Claret’s voice was tinged with sadness.
Scarlet stopped slouching on the table and stood before her, his head bowed. “Yes, I was,” he admitted in a low voice. “I thought about going down to the generator last night and doing exactly what… what I did do in their alternate timeline.”
Claret took his hands in hers. “I knew something was wrong, but I never thought for a moment that it was that bad.”
Scarlet raised his gaze slightly, from the floor to the hands that were holding his. “I tried to hide it, for Rose’s sake, but I just didn’t want to go on living like that, with no end in sight. Now though… Now I know that I will die, one day; that I’m not going to live forever…” He smiled shyly at her. “I think I can live with that.”
“Now, don’t forget that you have to come back and do this yourself in thirty-six years time,” Rose reminded her counterpart as they stood at the airlock linking Starbase to the Endeavour, five days later. “Otherwise, the chain will be broken and we’ll have a true paradox. Plus, I won’t have a job to go back to.”
“I won’t,” Indigo laughed. “Are you sure you won’t stay a bit longer?”
“I’m sure,” her future self replied. “We need to be getting back to our time. Look after Dad for me, will you? I want to see him there when I get back.”
“No problem,” Indigo assured her. “Make sure you look after yourself. Remember that you’re not indestructible any more.”
“I know.” Without a further word, the older Indigo turned and stepped through the airlock.
Vermilion approached Indigo as the airlock cycled shut behind her, closing the ship off from Starbase.
“How do you feel?” he asked her, noting the thoughtful expression on her face.
She gazed up at him, making no attempt to hide the affection in her blue eyes. “Good,” she replied. “Everything’s worked out well.”
“Better that I hoped,” Vermilion commented, taking the tiny woman in his arms tenderly. “I just wish I’d had the courage to do this forty years ago.”
“Forty years ago, I’d have run a mile,” she responded sorrowfully. “I’ve always been afraid of getting too close.”
“And now?” Vermilion asked playfully.
“Well, I’ve changed since then,” she replied, equally playfully as he bent to kiss her.
“How long is it to that black hole?” Vermilion asked when they broke apart.
“Twelve hours,” Indigo replied. “We’re travelling directly this time, instead of avoiding the traffic.”
“That still leaves us plenty of time,” Vermilion said cryptically. “Cerulean,” he continued into his comm., “set a course back to the black hole at cruising speed, and take us out.”
“SIG,” the scientist replied.
There was a slight tremor beneath their feet as the starship’s engines eased them away from Starbase.
Vermilion extended his arm courteously to Indigo. “Would you care to join me in my quarters for a meal, Major?” he asked, all innocence.
“Why, yes, Colonel,” she replied, taking his arm. “That sounds delightful.”
Vermilion was rudely awoken by Lieutenant Periwinkle’s voice sounding over the comm. Rousing from a dream, he was slightly disorientated for a moment, until the sound of gentle breathing and the warmth of another body in his bed reminded him pleasantly of the past few hours.
Careful not to wake Indigo, he slid from the bed and pulled on a robe before answering the screen on his desk.
“Yes, Lieutenant?” he said.
“I’m sorry to have woken you, sir,” Periwinkle said apologetically, her lavender eyes taking his rumpled appearance. “We have arrived at the singularity.”
A noise across the room distracted Vermilion for a moment before he answered. “I’ll be there in fifteen minutes, Lieutenant. Keep us at a safe distance from the event horizon until then.”
“SIG,” Periwinkle replied as the screen winked off.
Vermilion stood up and walked back towards the bed. Indigo was already up, and the light from the stars in his window backlit her slender figure perfectly.
“Did you hear?” he asked her as she picked their uniforms up from the floor.
“Yes,” she replied. “Nearly home.”
“Do you want to take a shower first?” Vermilion asked her.
“You mean I have to go alone?” she shot back playfully, heading towards the bathroom door and grabbing his hand on the way. “It’ll be much more fun together.”
Exactly fourteen and a half minutes after speaking with Periwinkle, Colonel Vermilion and Major Indigo arrived on the bridge. It was the middle of ship’s night, and consequently, there were only three officers on the bridge. Periwinkle was in command as the senior lieutenant, as well as performing the science officer’s duties, and she was accompanied by Lieutenant Sable of Engineering and Cadet Cinnabar at the helm. Vermilion felt rather outnumbered; in an organisation that still primarily human, despite the fact that their General was not, he was used to seeing at least two Humans in a bridge crew at any time, and suddenly found that he was the only full human present amongst this all-Centauran shift. Consequently, the bridge was very quiet when he and Indigo entered. He exchanged a glance with her, and could see that she too was amused, although not surprised. The silence didn’t seem to bother her much, either, although it unnerved him.
“Can you still hear them?” he whispered, not wanting to disturb the three officers whilst he and Indigo remained unseen from the three occupied stations.
“Yes,” Indigo whispered back. “I’ve not lost everything, you know. It’s just a normal conversation, though – nothing exciting. Oh, but that is…”
“Oh, nothing,” Indigo said with a little wave of her hand. “Girl stuff.”
Vermilion decided to make his presence known, and strode purposefully towards his vacant chair. Indigo followed close behind and took the seat to Vermilion’s right. It was, technically, hers, as the First Officer, but as she had been acting as helmsman for a majority of the mission because of her unique abilities, she had not yet had the chance to test it out. It was quite satisfactory, she determined after an experimental shuffle around, comfortable, yet not so soft that she would want to fall asleep in it. Just right for a peacetime military ship.
“Lieutenant Periwinkle, report please,” Vermilion asked the scientist.
“We arrived at the vicinity of the singularity fifteen minutes ago, sir,” Periwinkle responded at once. “The ship is at full stop, awaiting the execution of the slingshot manoeuvre to return us to our proper time. The singularity does not show any signs of dangerous fluctuation, and Lieutenant Sable advises that the SIF is at full power. There should be no problems for the temporal journey.”
“Thank you, Lieutenant,” Vermilion said. Before he could give any orders, Indigo stood, almost in unison with Cadet Cinnabar, and they traded positions, Indigo sliding easily into the helmsman’s seat whilst Cinnabar stood off to one side. As they passed each other, Vermilion was amused by the fact that Indigo, who was small for a human, was a full head taller than the Centauran female.
“Come and sit down, Cadet,” he invited her, indicating to Indigo’s vacated chair. “You don’t want to miss the show.”
“Thank you, Colonel,” Cinnabar said graciously, crossing the bridge and hopping up onto the seat. Her legs didn’t reach the ground when she sat back, but the minor inconvenience did not seem to bother her that much. Vermilion was reminded that she was still an adolescent, although already over thirty Earth years old. She would not reach full height for another year or so, round about the same time as her shock of white hair darkened.
“Ready to implement slingshot,” Indigo stated, bringing Vermilion’s thoughts back to the present.
“Very well, Major. Execute.” Vermilion still had some reservations about this return trip, but Indigo had spent the last week convincing him that going forward was much easier than going back, and she didn’t need the enhanced senses that Opal had given her to perform the return trip. What worried him was that she wouldn’t say whether or not she still had any kind of temporal sense now that she had lost her retrometabolism.
Too late now, he told himself as her nimble fingers danced over the helm, taking them into a fast, low orbit around the black hole. He was sincerely glad that the Centaurans could not hear his thoughts as they could each other’s. No sense in worrying them over this.
Colours swirled around the ship as they picked up speed courtesy of the singularity, faster than the engines of the ship could propel them. Breaking the temporal barrier seemed to go far more smoothly on this occasion than the last. Only the slight shudder of the inertial dampeners gave any indication that anything unusual had occurred; there was none of the distortion that had disorientated him on the last trip.
“Did we make it?” he asked as the Endeavour came to a stop a few light hours from the singularity.
“Planetary alignment seems to indicate that we have arrived at a similar time to the one we left,” Periwinkle said, studying her instruments.
“December 2372, definitely,” she replied, sounding a lot less certain than she had when giving the date and time on the previous trip. “Sixteenth or seventeenth, I think.”
“‘You think’?” Vermilion teased. “Not very precise, is it?”
“Sorry, Colonel,” she said, not sounding in the least bit apologetic.
“December sixteenth,” Periwinkle supplied. “Twenty-hundred fourteen hours.”
“In that case, set course for Earth,” Vermilion said. “Best possible speed. We don’t want to be late.”
“Aye, sir,” Indigo acknowledged, sounding grateful. “ETA Starbase, oh-two hundred hours at top speed.”
There was a small reception committee gathered at the airlock when it was finally opened. Vermilion and Indigo stepped out onto Starbase to be greeted by a very familiar face, although it was older than either of them remembered. Once jet-black hair had become distinguished silver, and laughter lines now creased the corners of bright blue eyes. Indigo stopped, almost disbelieving despite the events of the past week. Tears of joy welled up in her eyes as she ran forward, into her father’s arms.
“Hush, my little Angel,” Scarlet said softly, stroking her hair as he had when she was a child, whilst she sobbed into his chest. “Everything’s going to be all right.”
“Mince pie, anyone?”
There were groans from around the table.
“I couldn’t eat another bite,” Vermilion said, massaging his stomach. “I don’t think I’ve ever eaten so much before!”
“I used to be able to eat that much,” Indigo complained half-heartedly. “I guess that I still have a lot to learn about my limits.”
“You’ll adapt,” General Scarlet told her. “I remember that it took me a while to find certain things out, too. Like not being able to gorge myself on delicious food, for example. I think that retrometabolism was a blessing when it came to Christmas.”
“It certainly was,” Indigo concurred. “How the hell are you still hungry?”
Former-General Claret was peeling the foil case from a mince pie, having given up on her three human companions. “Different digestive system,” she said. “Also, this is the first time I’ve ever had Christmas dinner. I want to sample everything.”
“You certainly did a good job making it,” Indigo complimented her. “Just like I remember.”
“I wasn’t sure everything would come out right,” Claret confessed. “It’s my first attempt at anything like this.”
“It was fantastic, Lanna,” Scarlet said, giving his wife a peck on the cheek. “You’ve done yourself proud.”
“You would say that even if I’d burned everything,” she pointed out.
“True,” Scarlet conceded, after pretending to give the matter some thought. “But you’d know that I was lying.”
“I have something that I need to say,” Vermilion announced abruptly, setting down his wine glass and turning to Indigo.
“Rose, the past two weeks have been the happiest of my life. I’ve wasted so much time ignoring how I feel about you, time that I should have spent persuading you that I never cared that you were different, that we could make a go of it. I don’t want to waste a moment more.” He slid off his chair and knelt beside her. “Will you marry me?”
From his pocket he produced a small box, which he opened to display the ring nestled inside.
Indigo’s eyes sparkled as she looked at the ring, recognising it instantly. “Why, you old romantic!” she exclaimed delightedly. “Of course I’ll marry you.”
Vermilion extracted the ring from its case and slid it gently onto Indigo’s slender finger. The diamonds surrounding the central ruby shone brightly, catching the light of the candles burning low on the table. He stood, and she stood with him, gazing up into his eyes. He bent to kiss her tenderly, although he was mindful of their audience on this occasion, and reluctantly parted from his new fiancée after a few moments.
“This calls for champagne,” Scarlet declared, disappearing into the tiny kitchen for a moment, reappearing with a champagne bottle and four flutes.
“I hope that’s non-alcoholic,” Claret said half-heartedly, knowing her husband too well to expect him to pay attention to the rules regarding alcohol. She had let the wine slide, but this was going a little too far, even though she understood that it was a human custom.
“Of course it’s not,” Scarlet replied, scandalised, as he unwound the wire covering the cork. “I’m not breaking with long-established tradition. You know as well as I do that we never use non-alcoholic champagne in Spectrum. There was an… incident the one and only time it was done.” The cork popped out of the bottle, and Indigo smiled as she recalled the old story she had been told so often.
“You two have planned this,” she accused the two men. “The bottle of champagne that you just happened to have handy, this ring… Where did you find it? I thought it was lost for good!”
“It was in the house at Winchester,” Scarlet told her, handing her a flute, filled almost to the brim with fizzing champagne. “Behind one of the picture frames on the mantle in the lounge. I found it years ago and put it away for safekeeping. You were off world, on assignment, and I forgot about it when you got back. When Jack asked me for your hand, just before you left Starbase all those years ago, I asked him whether he would like to give you your mother’s engagement ring.”
“I wasn’t sure at first,” Vermilion continued, picking up the story. “But then I remembered how upset you’d been when you lost it, and I knew you’d be pleased to know it was safe.”
“And you hung on to it all these years?” Indigo asked her father. “You’re more romantic than you let on.”
“Oh, he’s certainly that,” Claret remarked. “When he proposed to me, we were on shore leave together. It was the first time I’d been to the family house, and we walked through the woods to the lake. He had a picnic of all my favourite foods, all of them fresh from Centaura, and when he asked me, he spoke in Centauran, absolutely word-perfect.”
Indigo let out a low whistle. “That’s not easy,” she said. “Took me years to learn Centauran, and I’m a linguist. The pronunciation is very difficult for us Humans, and that…” She frowned for a moment, trying the phrase out in her mind. “That’s a real tongue-twister.”
“That’s what you said when I asked you to teach me, too,” Scarlet said with a smile. “The other you, that is. It was worth the struggle, though.”
“The ‘other me’,” Indigo repeated thoughtfully. “I still haven’t quite gotten used to that.”
“Neither have I,” Scarlet concurred. “I have to keep reminding myself that you didn’t have the same life as she did. You and Jack lived through thirty-six years of hell instead.”
“I still have problems remembering that none of that ever happened now,” Vermilion agreed. “I always hated stories about paradoxes when I was a kid, and now half my life has been swallowed up in one. Not that I’m complaining – it’s great that none of it has happened.”
“Bit weird, finding photos of ourselves, together,” Indigo added. “I know things happened differently, but it’s a real reminder of how different this place is to the one we left.”
Vermilion nodded and took a sip of wine before speaking. “Is it normal, now?” he asked thoughtfully. “Mixed-species marriages? I don’t think I ever heard of one before.”
“No,” Claret said emphatically.
“It’s not common,” Scarlet added. “Lanna was the first Centauran to marry outside her species, and I… Well, I don’t have much of an option, do I? It never stopped me before.” His words could have been serious, if not for the wide grin on Scarlet’s face. “There are a few mixed couples now, mostly within Spectrum. I think we proved that it could be done, and others weren’t afraid to follow once there was precedent.”
“And your proposal was so lovely,” Claret said. “And before that, I thought that I was too old and too sensible to be swept off my feet.”
“Never,” Scarlet said smoothly. “You’re still in the prime of your life. Wait until you get to my age before you start saying things like that.”
Claret and Indigo exchanged knowing, tolerant glances. Now that she was getting over her wild elation at simply being able to see him whenever she wanted, Indigo was starting to realise that he was much happier than he had been for many years before she had changed him. The prospect of eternal life no longer hung over him, and he seemed much more alive now than he had been for the last hundred years. There was just one thing left to complete the dream that he had told her about all those long years ago.
“Actually, I’ve got an announcement of my own,” she said with a shy smile. “As I’m sure you remember, Dad, Verdant and Chartreuse kept us under close scrutiny for the week following our change, and Chartreuse has kept it up since we arrived in this time.”
“Yes, Verdant did the same with me,” Scarlet confirmed as he handed a second flute of champagne to Vermilion. “It took him about a year before he gave up on the weekly physicals.”
Indigo nodded. “Well, Chartreuse discovered something during one of those exams before we left. I didn’t want to say anything just then, and it’s still very early days, but I’m expecting a baby next September.”
“A… baby?” Vermilion stammered. “You’re pregnant? That’s…” Vermilion’s expression changed in a moment from one of shock to utter delight. “That’s brilliant!”
“A double celebration then,” Scarlet declared with a wide smile. Quickly, he found a spare champagne flute, filled it with lemonade and gave it to his daughter. Indigo gratefully traded it for her champagne.
“A toast,” Scarlet said, raising his glass. “To the future.”
The four glasses met at the centre of the table, with Vermilion and Indigo echoing the toast. In unspoken agreement, they linked arms and drank.
‘After-words’ and Acknowledgements
Well, what can I say? I’m not really sure what the original inspiration was for this story, but I know that I started writing it just after the first announcement of the Multiverse Challenge back in 2003. It’s been sitting in the back of my mind since then, until I began typing it up last month. I realised then that most of the action takes place in the week leading up to Christmas, so why not enter it in the Christmas Challenge as well?
There are some references to other stories that I have written or am writing at the moment. There is one reference to my first fan-fic, , along with several veiled hints at the rest of the story arc. I’ve tried to be as vague as possible with those so that I don’t spoil the surprise (which is, coincidently, the name of the next story in the series) that is coming… I think that the identity Indigo’ s first love is obvious from P&J (and ‘The Gift’, which isn’t part of the series), and Scarlet’s second wife is…
What, did you really think I was going to be that nice to you?
Thanks as always to Chris Bishop, who has encouraged me to write for the last five years, through my ups and downs and through my multiple exam periods. She has been my rock, and deserves all the praise she receives. Please keep up the sterling work, Chris!
Thanks also to Marion Woods, my long-suffering beta-reader, for the expert use of a fine-tooth comb, and for her words of wisdom. Any errors or omissions are my own.
I do not own the character of Captain Scarlet, nor any of the original characters I may have mentioned from time to time. They are the invention of Gerry and Sylvia Anderson, and belong to Granada Ventures at the moment. Scarlet’s parents are the invention of Mary J. Rudy, as is the engagement ring that Vermilion gives to Indigo, and are used with kind permission.
All of the other characters (Indigo, Vermilion, Claret etc.) are my own, as are the three alien species that I mention. Any resemblances that may occur are unintentional.
It took me quite a while to notice that my two main characters bear the same names as the two companions from Doctor Who 2005, probably because I named my Jack nearly three years ago, and Rose has been around for nearly five years now. I suppose I’ll just have to put it down to one of life’s little coincidences.
The character of Jack has evolved quite a long way in the last month or so – including acquiring a surname. I never planned for him to be a descendent of Blue and Symphony. He originally had dark hair and eyes (a bit like his namesake –Jack O’Neill from Stargate SG-1, who is rather dishy, for an older man), and he and Rose were not supposed to become a couple. Funny how things just seem to come out like that when you’re stuck on a long train journey with a laptop and a plug socket (thank you, GNER – before the price hike, that is).
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it!
Have a prosperous 2006.
22 December 2005 & 6 January 2006
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