By Sage Harper
“Ads, okay, this is a totally hypothetical scenario here, but if someone was to have a pet on the base; like say a hamster, and if that hamster, ermm, escaped… do you think the colonel would rip his head off?”
Captain Blue looked up from the newspaper. “Yours or the hamster’s?”
“Mine,” Captain Ochre muttered, swirling his toe on the rug. His companion didn’t even blink. “Look, I brought Squishy in here this morning. For a change of scene, you know; let him have a little wander around. I turned my back for like, five seconds. And then he’d vanished.”
Blue raised an eyebrow.
“Honest!” Ochre snapped, before tearing at the cushions and peering behind them intently.
“Rick, just calm down; we’re the only ones who’ve been in here today. He can’t have got far, and certainly not out of the Officers’ Lounge. After all, the hamster only has little legs.”
“He has a name, you know.”
“Yes, but it’s a stupid one. There is no way I’m going to go round the base yelling that.”
“Okay fine, just help me look.”
After a quarter of an hour or so the door opened. Ochre was still engrossed in his search.
“What’s he looking for?” Scarlet asked, with that pityingly concerned look usually reserved for the mentally disturbed on his face.
“His hamster; it answers to Squishy,” Blue explained.
“How the hell did he get a hamster onto the Base anyway?” Scarlet snapped. “Spectrum regulations forbid personnel adopting companion animals. Probably because stupid things like this happen.”
Seeing the look of anguish on Ochre’s face when he glanced up, Blue knew where his loyalties lay.
“It’s a bit late for that now, Paul. Of course it was a dumb thing to do, but Rick really cares about the hamster. Go easy on him; he’s upset.”
“Well, good luck; hamsters can be a pain. My cousin had one and it got stuck behind the washing machine for a week,” Scarlet added rather tactlessly.
During Scarlet’s entrance Blue had watched the doorway carefully to check Squishy didn’t escape. That would just really make their day, having to comb the whole base for such a small animal. So he was the first to notice Rhapsody and Symphony coming in.
“What are you doing?” the latter inquired.
“Staying well out of this,” Scarlet retorted. “Of all the idiotic things Ochre has done, this just about tops the lot.”
Ochre carried on regardless of the criticism. He was waving around a piece of dried fruit and attempting to cajole Squishy from wherever he was hiding. Blue was also searching and, as a good friend, Symphony also launched into the search with gusto. She started scouring the kitchette of the Officers’ Lounge. Rhapsody decided the best thing she could do was keep out of the way and watch with bemusement from her perch on the counter.
After a while she asked, “While I’m here shall I make everyone coffee?”
It was a rhetorical question; so without waiting for the answers, she fired up the coffee pot and dipped into the packet of cookies Symphony had pulled down from the cupboard in her search.
“Look, I’m sure Squishy will turn up. He’s probably just freaked out by us all being here. Seeing as you and Rhapsody are of no help, why don’t you go?” Blue told his field partner pointedly.
“I’m helping; look, I’m making you all coffee,” Rhapsody defended herself. She put down the cookie she had been munching and poured the drinks. Then she glanced back.
Her reaction was surprisingly undramatic. With widened eyes, Rhapsody simply put down the coffee pot and backed away, before uttering in a low voice, with only a slight tremor to betray her distress, “There’s a rodent eating my biscuit.”
Sure enough perched on stubby hind legs, a tiny creature fixed two black button eyes on her, then blithely continued munching away. Its cheeks already beginning to bulge with stockpiled crumbs.
“Somebody do something.”
Being the nearest, and hearing her colleague’s plea, Symphony quickly went over to the rescue.
“Oh, Squishy, there you are,” she said, scooping up the animal. “You have been very naughty running off like that. Your Daddy was so worried about you,” Symphony cooed, taking her charge over to his now very relieved guardian.
Ochre petted his companion, scolding and comforting by turns.
Suddenly the tanoy system burst into life and Lieutenant Green’s voice filled the room.
“Captain Ochre, please report to the colonel immediately.”
“Well, how‘d it go?” Symphony asked.
She was sitting on Ochre’s bed watching Squishy asleep in his little hamster house, apparently exhausted after his ordeal.
Squishy’s home was rather impressive, it had, in a previous life, been the aquarium housing the Amber Room’s ill fated tropical fish (by a joint effort the Angels had managed to overfeed them) and was now filled with all manner of hamster junk.
“He yelled, in that super dignified way. Told me I had flagrantly violated regulation blah-blah something. Though I think the colonel was most mad about me letting him loose. Majorly irresponsible, could have damaged something – is what he said.”
“Very true, Squishy could have got hurt.”
“I think he meant Spectrum equipment.”
“Of course.” Symphony rolled her eyes.
“Never did get round to thanking you, for helping find him and stuff. It was great how you just understood how important it was. To everyone else it was just a hamster, but you knew better.”
“It’s okay. I grew up on a farm, remember. Animal loving just goes with the territory. And he’s so sweet anyway. I’ve got rather fond of the little guy.”
“Yeah, well he won’t be here much longer.”
“You really didn’t think this through, did you?”
“Erm, no not really, I just walked past this pet store and saw this hamster, and it looked at me all cute and stuff. So what could I do? Just bought up a load of supplies and brought him home. The guards were cool, I have my ways of persuading them. So yeah, that’s how Squishy turned up. Adam knew about him all along. He’s been great, got me the tank in the first place.”
Symphony nodded; Blue had been eager to take the tank of their hands. They hadn’t thought anything of it, back then.
“So, the colonel wants him off the base.”
Ochre nodded gravely. “Worse, says we have to…” he continued in a whisper, as if Squishy would understand, “put him to sleep.”
Symphony looked aghast.
“He can’t do that! Squishy is a living creature, with feelings and rights. Yeah, okay we’re trained to kill people, but not animals. They don’t deserve it.”
“Thanks for the support, but I’m not sure White will be swayed,” he said, going over to the aquarium and checking on its occupant.
“Just one more thing; what on earth possessed you to name him Squishy?”
“After the bit in the old movie, ‘Finding Nemo’: ‘his name will be Squishy and he shall be mine, and he shall be my Squishy’.” He shrugged. “Just thought it was cute.”
“It is adorable. I had a hamster once, called Elmo. I watched way too many ‘Sesame Street’ reruns as a kid.”
After a while Squishy woke up and happily played with his ‘Dad’ and new ‘Auntie Karen’. Symphony only left when she was due back on duty. Her parting from the hamster was reluctant; as if she sensed it would be the last time they spent together.
Captain Blue rubbed his eyes, and went to drink from his coffee cup, only to find the contents were cold. Well, this was it, after several hours they’d reached the end of the line. Blue sat, trying to figure out how he could carefully word these findings when the time came to inform Ochre.
Basically, Squishy was a goner; Symphony’s passionate plea for his life had fallen on deaf ears. Blue had been more pragmatic, but even he had been unable to find a practical solution.
He opened up the instant messenger icon on his PC screen; it had insistently been demanding his time for a while but Blue had been busy. The messenger program was one of Magenta’s installations, born of a regulation forbidding the use of other programs and just to see if he could.
Blue only used it with friends on the base (he and Grey once conducted an entire conversation from their respective quarters because neither could be bothered to go next door to talk in person), and his sister and youngest brother who had been allowed onto the network after countless security checks. Blue assumed this caller was the latter, probably asking him for more money (which he suspected his financially feckless brother would never pay back). To his surprise he realised it was his sister Rebecca. She didn’t use a computer often, for various complicated reasons; not least because it was bad for the environment, though in the interests of her hobbies and livelihood she maintained a website.
Tree fairy: About freaking time, Ads. I need to ask a favour.
Boston Blue: Sorry, gave all my spare change to the ‘keep Pugsley in food and DVDs fund’.
TF: No not that. You’re good with computers and stuff. So could you explain how to upload pictures on to my site?
TF: Yeah, I keep forgetting. We aren’t all geniuses (or is it genii)
BB: No idea, yeah alright I will email special ‘dumb blonde’ instructions.
TF: *cyber slap* Bet you couldn’t organise a protest against a major fast-food corporation.
BB: True, how’d it go?
TF: Twenty signatures and no arrests. So a good day over all. Pugs came along too, bringing my total of converts to 12. I’m going to take over the world!
BB: you’ll never take me alive!
TF: Ha ha I have my ways.
Whilst this was a pleasant diversion it wasn’t helping solve the present problem. Blue was still wracking his brains, believing that there must a solution, he just hadn’t found yet. Then he remembered a conversation he’d had with Scarlet the previous day. It was a long shot, but they might as well try it.
Boston Blue: Beck, are you still taking in every waif and stray that swings by your place?
Tree Fairy: I’m trying to cut down, but yeah pretty much. How come?
BB: Friend of mine needs to rehome a hamster. Our CO found about it and flipped. No pressure or anything but you’re our last resort.
TF: What if I say no?
BB: He dies.
TF: Is this a sick joke?
BB: No way, it’s against the rules so he’s gotta go. Either to a civilian home or hamster heaven.
TF: OMG they can’t do that, hamsters are living creatures with rights and everything.
BB: Yeah that’s what Karen said, didn’t wash with the old man.
TF: He he, I like your girlfriend.
TF: I’ve got nothing for him, but sure.
BB: It’s okay, Squishy (the hamster) has loads of stuff.
TF: Aww that’s such a cute name, when can you drop by.
BB: Tomorrow afternoon I guess.
TF: cool, what’s you’re friend like?
Blue smiled, trying to think how to encapsulate Ochre into a few words.
Boston Blue: Tall, dark, great guy if a bit of a jerk.
Tree Fairy: Mmm just my type. Bring him along too.
The Spectrum saloon cruised through the Boston neighbourhood. It was a slightly run down district, but the Victorian houses still held a dignified charm.
“What if she doesn’t like me?” asked Ochre, with uncharacteristic nervousness.
“She will; Rebecca’s a sweet girl,” Blue reassured him. “Anyway, what matters is she likes Squishy.”
“Very true. I’m still surprised White is letting us do this.”
“Yeah well, I guess Karen got to him after all. And really he’s not that heartless.”
Blue stopped the car, then parked it in the tight space left outside one of the houses.
“Sure, well a third of it.”
Blue lead Ochre down the steps to the basement apartment.
“It’s a bit damp in the winter, but otherwise okay. The garden’s all theirs.”
“Very apt,” Ochre said, noting the blue front door.
Blue rolled his eyes and knocked.
They were a little surprised as the door was opened, not by Rebecca, but a boy in his late teens. He was barefoot, dressed in jeans and a black T-shirt promoting a tour by a band the captains had never heard of. He looked, to Ochre, like a younger, stockier version of Blue.
“Is Rebecca not in?” Blue asked.
“Nah, we’ve run out of milk, so ...” He noticed the other Captain. “This your friend?”
“Hi, I’m Adam’s brother; you must be Captain… umm.” He tried to guess from what he’d seen of the commissioning ceremony photographs his mother had put in the family album.
“Ochre, but you can call me Rick.”
“Only if you call me Pugsley.”
Ochre raised an eyebrow.
The young man smiled. “Real long story, which I just might tell you sometime. You guys want some coffee?”
“Not if it’s as bad as Adam’s.”
Pugsley laughed. “Nah, my coffee’s okay; it’s toast I ruin. Come on in.”
“How you finding it, living here?” Blue asked his brother.
They were in the kitchen, the largest room of the apartment. It was slightly old fashioned looking but clean and functional. The captains sat at the small table, beneath a large pin board, watching their host prepare the drinks.
“Kinda miss cheeseburgers, but it’s okay, I guess. Better than at home anyway.”
Ochre sensed that behind that remark was a whole complex situation, though he knew it was best not to pry. Judging by their interaction, and other comments Blue had made previously, he and Pugsley were close and similar in many ways. It wouldn’t surprise Ochre to find the younger Svenson was also a ‘black sheep’ in the family.
“So when’d you move out?” Ochre asked, to make conversation.
“Just before college started. I’m doing journalism and computing, which Dad isn’t particularly ecstatic about.”
Ochre’s hunch had been right.
There was some slight clattering across the wooden floored lounge. Pugsley whistled, and a grey raggedy- looking mutt, who bore a passing resemblance to a Scottish deerhound, came to the kitchen door. He looked fearfully at the men and came to stand close to Pugsley.
“‘s alright Zephyr, they’re not gonna hurt you,” he reassured the dog.
“Zeph is real nervy around guys,” Pugsley explained. “His previous ‘guardians’ were assholes to him. We saw him in the centre and as no one else would take him on, we did.”
“That’s good of you,” Ochre said.
“Yeah, Rebecca takes on strays; him, several cats that just stop by for food, three rats, two chickens.” Pugsley grinned. “And me, I guess.”
The door swung open, amid cheery greetings from a female voice. A woman in her late twenties, blonde and blue eyed, dressed in a halter neck top and jeans, glided into the kitchen laden down with heavy-duty paper bags.
Zephyr perked up and enthusiastically greeted the new comer.
“Aww, hey Baby,” she said, crouched down in front of him “Did you miss me, huh? Mommy missed you, too. Look what I got you.” She pulled a rope toy from one of the bags.
With Zephyr content she stood up and grinned at her guests.
“It’s nothing personal, I always greet animals first. They make such an effort.”
She extended a hand to Ochre. “Hi, I’m Rebecca.”
“Great to meet you, I’m Rick,” Ochre said, taking her hand, she had a good grip, firm but still gentle.
“So where’s Squishy then?”
They led Rebecca through to the lounge, where the aquarium (now hamster home) was placed on the coffee table. As by then it was early evening, Squishy had woken up, and was wandering around trying to make sense of the vastly different scenery.
“Oh, he is just beautiful.” Rebecca crouched in front of the glass and gently talked to the hamster. Before reaching in and plucking him out. Squishy took it incredibly well.
“He likes you,” Blue noted.
“Yeah Beck has a magic touch,” Pugsley said.
“Seems you do as well,” he added, noticing that Zephyr was happily stood by Ochre.
“Well I guess we better be going,” Ochre said, bracing himself for the goodbye.
“Oh you’ve hardly been here long, can’t you guys stay for dinner?”
Blue looked to Ochre, who nodded. “Sure.”
“I am very impressed,” Blue announced during their flight back to Cloudbase.
“You behaved. Not one mention of ‘tree huggers’, you didn’t pick a fight. Heck, you even ate vegetarian food without a single complaint.”
“Course I did, figured as she was taking on Squishy it was the least I could do.”
“Oh, it was more than that, and you know it.”
“I have no idea what you are on about.”
“Really? … You don’t think she’s a great girl?”
“Who happens to be pretty?”
Ochre looked a little uncomfortable; sure Blue was a friend but this was his kid sister they were talking about. It probably wouldn’t be wise to be too honest. “Well, I guess, never really noticed.”
Blue laughed. “Yeah right; you just drooled over her through the whole of dinner.”
“Alright, fine. I like her, and yeah, she’s pretty, but nothing’s going to come of it.”
“Yeah, I believe you. I could imagine her with Brad though. As he’s got involved with all those campaigns to save marine habitats; and they’d probably look cute together, don’t you think?”
“Yeah, sure. We should introduce them sometime.”
After a while Ochre spoke again. “Actually, I’m more impressed that I didn’t cry… don’t laugh.”
“I’m not going to. It was emotional; Squishy has been a big part of our lives, even if it was only for a little while. Look, don’t worry; you’ve got Rebecca’s email address. She’ll tell you all the stuff he’s getting up to.”
“I know, but it won’t be the same without him around. Rebecca will look after him really well though; she really cares about animals and stuff. So he’ll be all right.”
“Yeah,” Blue replied, resting a hand on his friend’s shoulder. “You both will.”
I make no apologies for the PC pro animal rights stance/language. It has been a deeply held conviction of mine for a very long time.
Whilst Squishy the hamster is entirely fictional, many years ago I did have a hamster. Though she crossed the rainbow bridge [to hamster heaven] in 1997, her memory still lives on.
The characters of Rebecca and of course the animals, are my own creations. As is Pugsley, my very first original character from back in the day. The others I’ve just borrowed from the series.
Thanks to …
Everyone on the forum here who responded to my thread and got the story going in the first place.
Marion, for the beta reading
Chris, for everything else.
Any comments? You can contact the Spectrum Headquarters site