by Sage Harper
It was a glorious December day; the sky was so pure blue and the air deliciously crisp. It seemed to mock the severity of the events which had occurred. Spectrum had been sent to Chicago, to foil a Mysteron threat to the city. It had soon become apparent the threat had taken the form of a bomb planted in the ‘Christkindlmarket’; had it detonated, it would have caused major devastation, a vast number of casualties and definitely ‘destroyed the Christmas spirit of Chicago, as the Mysterons has threatened. Spectrum had located the bomb with minutes to spare and defused it, but unfortunately, the Spectrum agents had failed to find another device, planted in another area of the market, which had exploded and caused considerable damage and injuries, though - luckily - no fatalities.
The clean up was well underway and people were beginning to filter back into the area. Though it was very close to dusk, and closing time for the market, it seemed the citizens of Chicago wanted to make a show of defiance to their foe, by proving that life would not be put on hold for a second longer than it had to be.
“Can’t say the Mysterons don’t take us to all the best places.” Captain Grey gave a weary smile; as he returned to Spectrum’s mobile headquarters and drank the coffee he had abandoned earlier.
He had grown up in Chicago, and the Christkindlmarket was one of his favourite things about Christmas. The whole of Daley Plaza was commandeered by a German-style market and, every year of his childhood, his parents had taken him along, with his brother and sisters. They had all delighted in the colours, sounds and scents, enjoying the merry-go-rounds, puppet shows and visiting Santa, while their parents had shopped.
With the threat over, these activities were beginning again in earnest. It made their job seem so worthwhile, if very exhausting. As this was the first break the captains had managed to take since they arrived on the scene.
“That must be totally gross.” Melody Angel wrinkled her nose. She was inside the HQ, already starting work on her situation report.
“Yeah,” Grey shrugged. “But caffeine’s caffeine.”
“Leave it; I’ll make you a fresh one,” Melody insisted, refilling the coffee pot ready to brew another drink. “You’re looking thoughtful, Brad; that’s not always a good sign.”
“Nah, I’m OK. It’s just this threat is hitting close to home - well obviously, this being my hometown and all.” He busied himself emptying and rinsing out his coffee mug.
“I keep checking the casualty lists, looking for familiar names,” he admitted. “None so far, which is a relief. But then, I remember that whoever is on the list has people out there who do care about them. I saw Ochre there too, a while ago. He must be going through the same thing, having lived in the city too.”
At that she looked up quickly.
“You saw him, where?”
“The bulletin board. That was ages ago, probably, the hours are blurring into one. Why’d you ask?”
“No reason, not really. I just thought he’d be back here by now,” she commented. “He said he was going for a walk around, to check that the restart was running smoothly. Maybe he’s just getting some food. He did say all the excitement was giving him an appetite.”
“I’m sure he’ll be fine. Rick’s a big boy. You don’t need to worry over him, Mag.”
Grey would have bet a month’s pay that there was a ‘more than platonic’ relationship between those two, but they were too smart, and sneaky, to give solid proof.
“Who said I was worrying?” she said sharply.
So he decided to let it go.
A little boy, aged no more than six, wandered vaguely in the direction of the HQ. He had sweet, roguish face, with brown hair and eyes, and was dressed in a red coat and appropriate cold weather clothing and boots. His alarming, unexpected, solitude made him look achingly small and vulnerable.
Grey noticed first, and pointed the boy out to Melody.
“Think he’s lost his Mom?” she asked.
There had been a fair few displaced children so far. The ground team had prepared for this, and set up another mobile HQ for them. That was over the other side of the plaza, though.
“Guess so. One of us should go over and bring him in, Grey replied. “Then we can radio the ‘lost kids’ place, and take him there.”
“Hey, what’s that look for?” Melody retorted.
“Well, surely it would be best if you did it? I mean you’re a chick, and chicks have maternal instincts ... You see where this is going?”
Melody shook her head firmly. “Not me, I ain’t got the slightest maternal know-how…”
The boy noticed them, and purposefully strode in their direction. He approached Melody, obviously more comfortable talking to a female. He stood quietly and expectantly, while she continued to rant at Grey.
“Hey, there little buddy, what can we do for you?” Grey said, ignoring his colleague.
“I lost my aunt,” the boy answered. “She’s looking after me.”
Melody stopped dead, and turned to him, her face the mask of nurturing concern and sympathy.
“Oh, you poor lil’, sweetie; it’s OK, you come on into the warm, and we can make you some juice, then get to finding your aunt.”
The boy hesitated.
“It’s OK,” Melody reassured him. “We’re in Spectrum; kinda like cops.”
“My daddy was a cop.”
“That’s great.” Melody smiled. “Well, I’m Melody Angel, but you can call me Mag.” She gestured toward Grey. “And this is Captain Grey … You trust us, don’t ‘cha?”
The boy nodded.
“Well then, come on inside for a while.”
He obediently followed Melody.
“No maternal know-how, huh?” Grey smirked.
“Well, I dunno, might not be so bad at this after all,” Melody answered casually, preparing a drink for their guest.
She felt a little glow of pride, but only in having achieved a goal. She had never really played with dolls as a child, and believed that children were something other (and in her opinion - crazy) people got involved with.
She had better things to do, like saving the world.
“How ‘bout you?” she said, shifting her attention back to Grey. “You got a way with kids, or somethin’?”
“Maybe, never really thought about. I do have a couple of nieces and nephews though. Guess its just practise.”
“I got a niece too,” Melody pointed out. “Maliyah, she’s nearly three.”
“Oh well, I’ve been doing this uncle thing twice as long, and with more kids,” Grey said with satisfaction.
“You never said.”
Grey dug out his wallet and pulled a picture from it.
“You want proof, fine,” he began, and showed the picture to Melody.
“That’s Abby, she’s six,” he said, pointing out the older girl. “The twins are her brothers, Luke and Levi; they’re two and a half. Those are my elder sister’s kids. And the little one is Gracie; she’s my brother’s daughter and not even a year old.”
“Alright, I believe you.” Melody rolled her eyes. “Like we don’t get enough of the ‘proud uncle’ stuff from Pat.”
“Yeah, but he has more than enough reasons to be proud; and, hey, like we can really complain.”
Grey sat down, across from the boy, and put their drinks on the table.
“So what’s your name then, Sport?” he asked.
The boy glanced up from his cup.
“I’m not telling; my Aunt says not to talk to strangers.”
“Oh come on, I’m not a stranger, you know my name.”
The boy pondered this for a moment. “Well, all right then; it’s Richard, but everyone calls me Ricky.”
“Nice name. I’ve got a friend called Richard.”
“It’s after my daddy, but he died before I was born.”
“Oh, that’s a real shame.” Grey kicked himself for such flippant words, but really what else could he say? “Where’s your mom then? I’m sure she’s really worried about you.”
“She’s dead too, she got shot … I don’t think people worry in heaven.”
Grey didn’t know what was more shocking, Ricky’s words or his matter of fact tone of voice.
“Oh, that’s terrible, my uncle died last year. It’s hard isn’t it?”
“Yeah, it wasn’t that long ago, so I can still remember her a bit. I never met my daddy, but I look just like my daddy, that’s what Mommy would say. Well, not really because he was a grown up man and stuff, but, you know.”
Suddenly the door burst open and another dark head appeared.
“Just making my regular call in,” Magenta began. “Damn, have you seen outside? It’s like … I don’t even know. I was going to say like a bomb’s hit it, but there’s not much call for stating the blindingly obvious.”
He stopped, frowned and nodded in Ricky’s direction.
“Where’d the kid spring from?”
“He’s lost his aunt,” Melody said. “So we gotta find someone who can take care of him.”
Grey was surprised by the child’s reaction, he looked as if he knew Magenta, though was surprised to see him.
“Have you guys met?” Grey asked.
“Oh yes, he came to look at my Aunt’s car,” Ricky answered.
Over Ricky’s head Grey shot Magenta a look that demanded an explanation. It was not unlike either man to have secrets, but knowing they were being kept out of the loop was never well tolerated.
Magenta gave the pair of them a long, surveying look, as if weighing up his options. Then he seemed to shrug, and turned to Ricky.
“So where’s your aunt then?” he said finally.
“I was by the carousel, she let me go on it, then she went to the bathroom. She said she’d be back soon, but that was ages ago.”
Grey sucked in a breath - that put her in the vicinity of the explosion.
“Check the casualty lists for an Eleanor Topping,” Magenta instructed.
“Does that mean she got hurt, or something?” Ricky felt panic rising up inside. When his daddy had died, mommy had been there, and then, when she’d died, his aunt Ellie had cared for him. But, if aunt Ellie wasn’t around, he wouldn’t have anyone, except Aunt Imogen, maybe, but she was horrible and probably ate little boys for breakfast.
“Not necessarily,” Magenta tried to be reassuring, but was careful not to get Ricky’s hopes up.
Had Ochre known what he was about to walk into, he would have tried to prepare himself; although, with hindsight, he had no idea how that would have been possible. So he just casually strolled back to the HQ, to be ambushed by Melody, who gave him a ‘sit-rep’ before he’d even got through the door.
“Is there anyone else who could take care of you?” Magenta gently asked the little boy.
Ochre recognised the child immediately; and felt his heart nearly rip in two as Ricky shook his head. He looked so desperately alone, that Ochre came close to blurting out the truth, but he realised that such a revelation wouldn’t be appropriate at that moment. If ever.
“I suppose he’ll have to stay with us then,” he said. “Just until we find his aunt and all.”
Ricky smiled his crooked smile and only then did Ochre truly believe in love at first sight.
“We have, well, sort of,” Melody said, then added in a low voice. “She’s at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, ICU.”
Ochre ran a hand through his hair, he had not realised things were so severe.
“The doctors are taking really good care of her,” Grey explained to the boy, “and I’m sure they’ll let you see her as soon as possible.” He gave a slight smile. “So, for now we just have to sort you out.”
“You’re totally sure?” Magenta said to the child, to clarify his previous question, though his attention was more focused on Ochre.
The child nodded emphatically.
“He said ‘yes’,” Ochre answered, “so quit it; you’re upsetting him.”
He crouched in front of Ricky.
“So, would you like to come back to Cloudbase with us for a while, ‘til you and your aunt can go home?”
“Ochre, are you serious?” Grey said, in a tone that demanded a negative response.
Ochre seem a little surprised. Of course he was serious, why would anyone question that? “Yeah, I mean …”
“Oh no,” Grey cut him off. “We are not going down this train of thought. In case it escaped your notice, Captain, we work on a military base. We cannot just take in waifs and strays whenever the whim strikes us.”
Ochre made efforts to interrupt, but, once Grey got on one of his rants, he wouldn’t listen until he was done. So they’d have to sit it out.
“We have contingencies for this kind of thing. There must be somewhere else that can take him in. So, instead of sitting around, with half-baked ideas, and making promises you can’t keep, we need to get him to the lost children place and let them do their job. Then we can get on with ours.”
“Are you done?” Ochre asked, raising an eyebrow.
Grey nodded, and stood waiting, stony-faced, for whatever response would come.
“You were saying, Rick?” Magenta looked toward his field partner.
“Thank you,” Ochre began. “Magenta and me have both been over at the lost kids place, and the triage. Pitching in, because they’re totally snowed under with all their workload. People are pouring in faster than the Spectrum ground crew can process them. Then, of course, the social services and voluntary groups have to take it from there; but they’re running low on beds for the night and everything else the kids need. It wouldn’t be fair on anyone to add to that burden; especially a kid with no one waiting to claim him. Don’t you think he’s been through enough?”
“You are completely missing my point,” Grey countered. “There are regulations and procedures that should be followed. And you don’t have the authority to override that.”
“Who died and made you field commander?” Magenta muttered.
“Scarlet,” Grey answered flippantly, stepping outside the HQ. “So don’t you worry, I’ll call the child services and sort this out.”
“They’re just going to tell you the exact same thing I did,” Ochre said evenly.
Grey came back inside, and slammed the communicator on to the table.
“You were right,” he said reluctantly, glaring at Ochre.
“Got any better ideas then?”
Grey sighed: this had ‘really bad idea’ written all over it. He could see when he was close to being beaten, but he still wouldn’t concede without a fight.
“I’ll have to call Blue, and discuss this with him.”
Captain Blue was their acting commander-in-chief. Colonel White had had a recent run of terrible luck, not limited to various badly-strained muscles as a result of pushing himself too hard whilst practicing fencing; he had then caught a cold from a visiting General. Knowing that there was no way the colonel would remain in isolation and recuperate, like the good patient Fawn dreamed of, the doctor had sent White to convalesce in a location of his choice.
White had left for London, and Fawn made the senior staff swear not to disturb ‘the old man’, unless it was a matter of international emergency. Even Grey had to concede this dilemma wasn’t quite on that level.
“Blue says he’ll allow it,” Grey said, having made the call, which had become rather heated, as Blue was also a stickler for the rules. But when they had exhausted all other possibilities, it had been an inevitable conclusion. “So long as it’s just short term.”
“Well, there you go.” Ochre was unable to entirely hide his delight.
“Come on then,” he said to Ricky. “We better swing by your place and get your toothbrush and stuff.”
Ochre took the little boy’s hand and walked out of the HQ without glancing back to notice the concerned expressions of his colleagues.
Spectrum Passenger Jet - over the Atlantic Ocean
“Thanks for doing this,” Ochre said gently. “I really do appreciate it.”
“Yeah, well it’s not like I have a goddamn choice, is it?” Magenta snapped.
The outburst left Ochre even more subdued, focusing his attention on the horizon before them as it unfurled the distance between the plane and Cloudbase.
“Dunno,” he replied, after a moment, “but thanks all the same.”
Magenta sighed. “You’re welcome.”
Forgiveness, always forgive; hate the sin but love the sinner. It’d been drummed into him ever since he was a child. Truly though, Magenta still wondered why the hell he put up with Ochre sometimes: then an in-joke, a quiet act of loyalty, or a coffee cup offered like a peace pipe, would smooth things over, and later it would all be forgotten.
“Are you sure you want to go through with this?” Magenta asked, feeling like a broken record and with the associated sense of futility.
It had been him who had coined the term ‘Rick moments’, for when something seemed like an excellent idea when you started out, but you soon ended up wondering what on earth you were thinking of. And for the person they were named after, such ‘moments’ were a reoccurring theme.
“Well, it’s not like we can turn around and dump him some place now.”
Magenta glanced toward the door connecting the SPJ’s cockpit and main cabin. Ricky was in the back, with Grey and Melody. Ochre had insisted on flying (he was a terrible backseat pilot anyway), and, with only a pointed look, Grey had insisted Magenta go up front.
It was a running joke amongst the captains that having a field partner was somewhat like being married. If that were the case, Ochre and Grey must be having an affair; they’d get along wonderfully for a spell, but their friendship would take a battering if they worked closely for a long time.
“Of course not,” Magenta said. “And I meant telling him. About, y’know.”
Ochre gave a snort of contempt. “Your Catholicism is showing,” he said, as per usual when he felt his friend was being ‘holier than thou’ (at least, by his own idiosyncratic definition). “You can’t even bring yourself to say it.”
Magenta suspected that Ochre had some half-baked notion of being a heroic figure, swooping in to rescue Ricky from his plight and making everything all better, in the same way that Magenta had believed his father did at that age. But now he was grown up, he realised, that in this case, ‘daddy’ was more liable to make everything even more horribly messed up than it already was.
“That’s because it’s not true,” Magenta found himself saying, before even he thought it through.
Ochre glared, angry and uncomprehending.
“Yes it damn well is,” he retorted. “OK, fine; we’ll go see Fawn and do a test or something, like off those trashy chat shows.”
“That’s not what I meant.”
“I’ve missed enough of his life already,” Ochre said firmly, “and I’m not going to let that chance slip away again. I’ll be a proper dad to him, you’ll see.”
“But you’re not his dad,” Magenta exclaimed. “His dad is Commander Richard Fraser, of the World Government Police Corps, deceased. Now, we can debate the metaphysics of it all later; but far as most of the world, and - more importantly - Ricky, is concerned, that man doesn’t exist any more. You, in the capacity of Rick, Captain Ochre of Spectrum, have no place in his life.”
“I thought you were on my side?” Ochre’s tone was hurt and accusatory.
“I am,” Magenta said wearily. “By trying to get some sense through that thick skull of yours. Can’t you see that this isn’t about you? You have to set aside your own ego and do what’s best for Ricky.”
“That’s what I’m doing,” Ochre insisted. “Think of your dad, and the relationship you have with him. Imagine if you could have had that, but never did, just because he got talked out of it.”
“Yeah, but my pa didn’t swan off to a new job and leave everyone thinking he was dead,” Magenta noted pointedly. “Then decide to come back into my life a few years later and make like he’d never been away.”
“It is not like that - and you know it.”
“Yeah, I do,” Magenta conceded, “but Ricky doesn’t. I know you’d never have left Alie if you’d known she was expecting. Point of honour, being that loyal; it’s one of your more endearing traits.”
“Suppose so.” Ochre thought for a moment. “Maybe it was for the best, in a weird sort of way, me being here. Otherwise, we’d never have met. And … that’d be terrible. I mean, who else would put up with my shit?”
“Is that Ochre-speak for 'you're my best friend in the whole world, and I don't know what I'd do without you’?”
“‘Cause, if so, you’re quite right - but there isn't exactly a queue round the block to put up with me, either.”
“We still friends then?” Ochre gave a shy smile, as Cloudbase loomed into view.
“We always are.”
“This is way cooler than ‘Captain Starlight’,” Ricky noted with hushed awe, in reference to his favourite TV programme, as he stood in the Control Room of Cloudbase, observing the captains’ debriefing session.
From his seat behind Colonel White’s desk, Blue gave Ricky a smile. “You like that show?”
Ricky grinned back. “Yup, it’s the best.”
“Well, yes,” Blue began. “I suppose there are some similarities between an organisation like ‘Prism’ in ‘Captain Starlight’, and Spectrum.”
Blue could understand, and even forgive, the appeal of the TV show ‘Captain Starlight’ for small children - with hindsight, he realised that even he’d watched some utter dross as a kid - though it still didn’t explain why his, supposedly mature and intelligent, colleagues found the show so enthralling.
“Scarlet’s still not out of the sickbay then?” Grey noted.
“No.” Blue gave a sigh, feeling guilty for not being with his partner; but the base needed a commander. As the Colonel himself would say; the needs of an individual can’t be put before the organisation as a whole. And Blue felt he really should stick by what White would do. He quickly composed himself. “But of course, he will be brought up to speed once he recovers. We can’t just sit around waiting for him, there’s work to be done.”
He continued with the debriefing until, about halfway through, Ricky raised his hand as if in school, and eventually captured the captain’s attention.
“Please, Captain Blue, sir,” Ricky began. “May I use the bathroom, sir?”
Momentarily floored by such a spontaneous and sincere show of respect, Blue did not answer immediately. Then he said genially, “Yes, of course. Captain Magenta, would you care to escort him?”
Once Magenta and Ricky had left; Blue turned to Ochre, with an expression on his face not unlike that seen on frazzled mothers with toddlers. “Please, swear on whatever you hold most sacred, that this will not be a repeat of the hamster debacle.”
Ochre was, of course, a very highly-trained professional; you didn’t get to the heady career highs of becoming favourite to take over as the Commander-in-Chief of the World Government Police Corps, without such skills. It was just that there were times when Ochre would have these … moods, and it frustrated Blue that he still couldn’t fully anticipate them. It wasn’t enough to worry Doctor Weiss; she seemed to think it was an understandable reaction to the stress they were under. The other captains all had their own coping strategies during times of trial, so they could empathise with, and tolerate, Ochre’s quirks. They were just small things really; being pessimistic, using humour as a defence, a certain clinginess to Magenta. The recklessness however - well, they had to draw a line somewhere and at times it almost seemed as if Ochre would decide everything was pointless, including a few minor regulations in the Spectrum rule book.
A multitude of sins during assignments could be overlooked, simply because they got results in the end, and, knowing a losing battle when he saw one, White was generally quite lax regarding fraternisation amongst the personnel on the base, in a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ fashion.
Of course, Blue had to admit to being just as guilty as Ochre in that respect, but there were, however, moments when Ochre managed to exceed even his own maverick tendencies, and Ochre’s ability to irritate people knew few, if any, bounds.
One of the more recent episodes was when he’d decided to smuggle a hamster onto the base and keep it as a pet. To his credit, he managed to keep it secret for a good while, until the hamster had escaped, and all hell broke loose. As a result, the Colonel had stepped up security measures on what entered the base, and Blue was still smarting over the confiscation of the very expensive, vintage red wine he’d tried to get as a surprise for Symphony.
“Of course it won’t,” Ochre insisted, then placed his hand over his heart. “You have my word.”
Grey rolled his eyes; but said nothing.
“As it was your idea to bring Ricky here, Captain Ochre,” Blue continued, “you are to assume full responsibility for his care. Which includes – although it is not limited to; maintaining his sleeping schedule, providing suitably nutritious foods, age-appropriate entertainment and constant supervision.”
Ochre nodded his way through this list, then, at the last point, he beamed.
“Well, I was scheduled for radar duty this evening,” he said, affecting a sigh, “but I suppose I won’t be able to do that. After all, Ricky’s needs do have to come first.”
“You are not getting out of it that easily,” Blue stated. OK, maybe he was little more ‘by the book’ than certain members of staff would have liked, and maybe he did try too hard, but that was no excuse for anyone to take liberties.
“I think what Captain Blue means,” Grey began, attempting to defuse the situation, “is that you need to ensure someone is watching Ricky at all times and that when you are on duty, you will need to make other arrangements for a suitable sitter.”
“Oh, well, why didn’t you say so?” Ochre replied, with a show of innocence. “Of course that’ll be possible. You won’t have to worry about a thing.”
“Maybe so,” Blue said, “but it’s damn hard not to with you.”
“Guess you’ll be bunking with me,” Ochre said, as he left the control room and walked with Ricky to his quarters. He looked down to his right where the boy was trotting along beside them in an effort to keep up. “You OK, Ricky?”
“Yes, I’m fine, Captain Ochre.”
“Ugh - for like the millionth time, call me Rick. That shouldn’t be hard for you to remember.”
Ricky’s face broke into a heart-warming, conspiratorial grin. “I guess so,” he said happily.
He felt very grown-up and important at the way all of these men were treating him as an equal and including him in their conversations. He wasn’t used to spending so much time with adult males and it was fun.
As they reached the door to his quarters, Magenta tactfully pulled down the handwritten ‘free boob examination, inquire within’ notice that Scarlet had put up three days previously, in retaliation for some teasing or other. Quite why Ochre had left it there in the first place was a mystery.
Ochre punched in the six-digit entrance code (it was the date the Lions had last won the Superbowl, obscure to everyone but him). Then he was as surprised as anyone to step in and discover the place was tidy, rather than the mess it had been before his left on the mission. He always felt life was too short to be all uptight like some of his colleagues, who insisted everything had to be in its place. The kitchenette was clear of the used cups he’d liberated from various sources, the bathroom presentable, the bed made. In fact, the mess was confined to the collapsible table Ochre had set up in the living room area, which was strewn with newspaper where he was painting his latest model.
Ricky stared around the room with the wide-eyed, delighted awe most people believed was only faked for Disneyland commercials. Planes were his most favourite thing ever, he had a few toy ones at home, but there must be hundreds in here.
“See, nice to know someone appreciates my models too,” Ochre said, with a satisfied nod to Magenta.
After half an hour of walking around the room showing off the models and answering the barrage of questions from Ricky, Ochre felt he ought to do something good-host-ish. So he asked,
“Hey, do you want juice, or something?”
“I’d like some orange please,” Ricky said.
“Nah, I’m good,” Magenta answered.
“I wasn’t asking you, Pat,” Ochre clarified, as he walked to the kitchenette. “You’re a big boy; you can get your own drink.”
“Yeah, but you’re quick enough to point out when it’s someone else’s turn to make coffee,” Magenta remarked.
Ochre chose to ignore that comment.
“It’ll have to be fresh juice, but, no bits though.” He spoke to the inside of the fridge rather than his companions, and then emerged with a litre carton of juice. “’cause that’s all I’ve got.”
Ochre took two mugs at random from the cupboard. Filled one full, and poured the remainder of the juice into the other mug.
Ricky watched until that point before inquiring, “Aren’t you meant to have juice in a plastic cup? I have one at home, it’s got planes on it.”
“We’re bachelors, baby,” Ochre answered, handing him the full cup. “You just take whatever’s clean.”
Ricky grinned at the realisation that he’d entered this cool, grown up world where you could make rules like that. It wasn’t much like home, and certainly not like at school. He was going to have a good time here.
“To us,” Ochre said, as father and son clinked their mismatched mugs.
“You don’t have any planes in here,” Ricky observed, as he entered Ochre’s bedroom.
“Give him six months,” Magenta said ruefully.
The bedroom was the only area of his quarters that Ochre made a concerted effort to keep tidy - presumably as a concession to his hordes of ‘groupies’, who helped him make best use of the facilities - though Magenta had to wonder how many women, on seeing the utter disarray of the rest of the quarters, would still be prepared to bed Ochre. Apparently, it was enough to keep his partner busy; judging by how Ochre’s ‘little black book’ was growing to an almost Tolstoyan length.
Ochre emptied the bottom drawer of his dresser, putting the few clothes and items which had been in there into other drawers.
“You can put your stuff in there if you like,” he said, so Ricky obliged by neatly organising his possessions.
“So, what are you going to do now?” Magenta asked.
Ricky answered the question for himself, as he had wandered back into the living room area.
“Oh, this one isn’t painted, can I paint it? My aunt lets me paint things in the kitchen…”
Ochre couldn’t help thinking of all the potential disasters which could come of this. His models were his babies, and he wanted them to be perfect; so it was rare for him to let anyone else touch them. But then he looked at Ricky, the boy so filled with hope and yearning, that he couldn’t bring himself to say no.
“Yeah, sure,” Ochre said, trying hard to sound enthusiastic, covering his wince by pulling an old t-shirt from his drawer. “But you’re gonna have to put this on first, so your clothes don’t get messed up.”
Ricky rolled up his sleeves as he returned to the sleeping area, then allowed Ochre to put the shirt on over his clothing. The sight of the little boy utterly swamped by the garment was rather comical.
“I’ll leave you to it then,” Magenta said, leaving to do his shift.
Twenty minutes after they were supposed to meet up in the cafeteria, when her shift on radar watch had finished, Lieutenant Copper put her head around the door of Captain Magenta’s office in the computer department, to find him still engrossed in work.
“Are we not going to dinner then?” she asked
At least he had the decency to look guilty.
“Yeah, sorry; it’s just the last report I need to write up. It shouldn’t take long.”
“Can’t it wait?” She hadn’t meant to get so irritated about it, but he was forever putting work first. They had only been dating for two months; surely the infatuation couldn’t have worn off yet.
“Not really.” He smiled at her absentmindedly, still focused on the relevant document.
“If you insist.”
Something about her tone made him look up; and he smiled softly, taking in her beauty. Sometimes even her stubbornness had its charms; he liked a woman who knew what she wanted and was going to get it.
“Umm, well, I guess I could do it in the morning,” Magenta said gently.
So she allowed him to close the gap between them, any possible resistance melting away he pulled her closer into a strong, protective, embrace. She cupped his face, initiating the tender passionate kiss.
“Oh, I’m sorry captain … and, umm.” Lieutenant Crimson’s cheeks rapidly turned the colour of her tunic.
“Have you never heard of knocking?” Magenta demanded, disengaging himself from Copper.
“I did knock,” Crimson insisted, “you must have just not heard me, being busy, and all.”
“Hey, come on.” Magenta’s expression softened. “I’m not mad at you, Zoe, really.”
“Of course,” Copper concurred, “it was just a simple mistake, could happen to anyone.”
Crimson knew it was a very petty train of thought; but it did seem unfair that the impossibly gorgeous Copper, who could have any man she wanted, would snag the one man Crimson had been admiring from afar. Luck of the Irish or what? Still Crimson was a professional adult, and well aware of the rules concerning fraternisation. So she wouldn’t let it affect her work.
“So.” Magenta decided to break the awkward silence, by way of changing the subject. “What brings you here?”
“Captain Ochre said to tell you it was your turn to baby-sit,” Crimson began, still flustered. “I said you weren’t to be disturbed, so he waited for a bit, but then he had to go off for duty, and …”
“Where’s the kid?”
“In the lab; Lieutenant Green is watching him.”
“Memo to self,” Magenta said, as he shut down the computer. “Get a lock for that damn door.”
Copper nodded slightly, then turned to him with a curious expression.
“I don’t know where to start,” she admitted, “but perhaps with; why exactly is there a child on the base? Who in their right mind made Ochre responsible for it? And how did you get talked in babysitting?”
“Oh, yeah, of course, you’ve been on duty since we got back.” Magenta smiled. “Right, from the top: the kid’s aunt got injured during the threat, and he’s got no one to care for him, so now that’s our job. Ochre was the one who insisted we brought him here, so he has to deal with it. I volunteered, because, well, apparently, I’m a nice guy like that. That, and I actually have a clue what I’m doing, which is more than can be said for Rick.”
“You are such a sweetie,” Copper teased. “Next you’ll be helping old ladies across the street and going to church every week.”
“Ugh, don’t mention church. It’s a very sore point with my mother.”
“You didn’t get leave over Christmas either?”
“Ah, well, I’m sure we can manage something... I went along to mass last year, on base. The chaplain does a good service.”
“Apparently, that wouldn’t cut it with Mam. To be honest though I think she’s more interested in meeting ‘that lovely girl I’m seeing’. Her words, I didn’t have the heart to correct her.”
Copper gave him a playful swat, then said; “She really does like me?”
“Sure looks that way, she has always had her heart set on me settling down with a nice Catholic girl.” He smiled that, oh-so-familiar smile. “And making lots of cute Catholic babies.”
For a moment there was an awkward silence between them.
“That wouldn’t be for a long time though, what with work being the way it is,” Magenta back pedalled, “but we can always practise.”
Copper rolled her eyes.
“I believe we have more pressing concerns right now,” she stated. “Are we going to dinner or not?”
“Sure, but we’ll have company.”
Nobody suspects the Chicago inquisition, least of all Lieutenant Green. Perhaps, if he had, he wouldn’t have bothered giving Ricky some scrap print outs and highlighters to draw with, knowing that wouldn’t hold the child’s attention compared to a captive audience.
“What are you doing now?”
“Reformatting the F drive?”
“What does that mean?”
“It means,” Green tried find a way to phrase it which would be understood “that it isn’t working properly.”
“Oh, why isn’t it working?”
“Well, you see, umm.”
“Hey, Seymour,” Magenta greeted him. “How’s it going?”
“Just fine, thanks.” Green smiled. “Ricky is a nice kid, very, umm, curious.”
Magenta chuckled at the veiled comment, and decided it was probably best to allow Green to get on with his work unhindered.
“Are you hungry, Ricky?” he asked the boy, “’cause I was going to go get some dinner, and wondered...”
“Is that your girlfriend, Pat?”
Magenta glanced at Copper stood beside him. He hadn’t realised that he’d been holding her hand, but at the question, he let it go.
“Yes,” he said casually, “this is Lieutenant Copper,”
“Oh it’s fine, he can call me Grainne.” Copper crouched to Ricky’s level and offered her hand. “It is very good to meet you, Ricky.”
“It is.” Ricky gave a winning smile. “You’re very pretty, Grainne.”
“Yeah, I think so too,” Magenta commented, “so how about we go have dinner?”
Ricky enjoyed his dinner of pizza, sweetcorn (his aunt always made sure he had a vegetable, and corn was his favourite), and chocolate cake for dessert. He tucked in with zeal, and was quiet for the longest stretch so far. On several occasions Copper suggested he use cutlery, instead of his hands to eat with. He did for the sweetcorn, but Magenta agreed that pizza really was finger food anyway. Then they all went to Magenta’s quarters to watch a movie.
“Is he asleep?” Copper whispered.
Magenta looked across at the little boy, leant slumbering peacefully against the arm of the couch.
“I think so.” He smiled. “I’ll go put him to bed.”
With Ricky held in a ‘fireman’s lift’ fashion, as he walked to Ochre’s quarters, Magenta remembered back to the last time he had done this, babysitting his niece Fae.
His sister Caitlin had been a teenage mother, barely more than a child herself, but insistent on having the baby. Ultimately she had proved to be too young for the responsibility, and Magenta had a certain resentment that his sister had been allowed to basically get everything her way, with their parents raising the child as their own, while Caitlin went on to achieve a degree and career for herself with barely a backward glance. He too had shouldered the burden, having lost count of the times Caitlin had said she would watch her daughter, but decided something more important (a lover, more often than not) had come up, so palmed her off on him.
Then he thought of why he had done it, been so willing, purely for Fae’s sake. To give her someone in life that she could have faith in; who wouldn’t lie or let her down. He could see that had paid off. Even twenty years down the line, she still came to him first, looked to him as a role model, albeit a dubious one, in certain respects though, and for the reassurance of love.
In those moments he didn’t care about keeping score; Caitlin had got what she wanted, while he had given what was needed and they all reaped the rewards.
He punched in the door code and walked through to Ochre’s sleeping area.
“Everything is going to be all right,” he whispered to the boy. Knowing full well he was asleep, but that too was part of the ritual. Years ago Magenta had read an article that such things were beneficial; that the messages got through to the child’s subconscious, so they were all the more powerful for understanding and reassurance. He had no idea if it was all true, but it made him feel better.
“Your daddy does love you,” he continued, pulling back the duvet. “So, so much. I guess some of the things he’s done are kinda questionable, but now, he’s just, well, we all are, trying to do the right thing. So, yeah, you’ve got to hang in there and know we’re doing our best. You can do that, can’t you?”
Ricky slept on, laid comfortably in the bed, the image of contentment.
‘He sleeps so well because he is loved,’ Magenta thought, remembering a quote from an old movie, tucking in the blankets and lightly ruffling his hair.
“He’s fine,” Magenta reassured Copper, as she waited in the living room “but I better wait here, until Rick gets back; but you go to bed, you look like you could use it.”
She nodded, knowing there was no point in arguing.
“What’s the matter, did you have a bad dream?”
Ricky nodded, in floods of tears.
“Hey, come on, it’s OK.” Ochre wrapped his arms around the child. “Shh, it’s alright, daddy’s here.”
Ricky was too distraught to notice what had been said, but it unsettled Ochre. He knew it was a stupid thing to say, as Ricky didn’t know. It would just complicate the situation further.
“I want to go home,” Ricky said, as Ochre offered him tissues.
“Yeah, well you can, just not right now,” Ochre explained, hating himself for it.
How could he have been so stubborn, so stupid, so selfish, to kid himself that this was what was best for Ricky? He’d just been pandering to his own ego, and now look at the mess it’d got them into. He thought of his own father, Magenta’s father, all the other good fathers he knew, and realised he would never measure up. That it was stupid to even try.
Then Ricky hugged him again, and Ochre knew that he couldn’t let the boy down again. So he did his best to shake off those dark thoughts, and tried to sound convincingly upbeat.
“But you will get to go back real soon,” he continued, “and, until then, I’ll take care of you and we can do fun stuff. In the morning, do you want me to take you up to the Amber Room? Then you can meet the Angel pilots and see the jets. Would that be good?”
“Yeah.” Ricky gave a slight smile.
“We’ll do that then … do you want me to stay here?”
So Ochre took his sleeping bag from the couch, and laid it out on the bedroom floor. Then he remembered his service pistol. He retrieved it from under the couch cushions and put it down by the head of the sleeping bag.
“Why do you have a gun by your pillow?”
“Just habit, I guess,” Ochre answered.
When his parents had divorced, the then sixteen year old Richard Fraser, fuelled by a subconscious feeling that he was ‘the man of the house’ because his elder brother was in college, and that he would need to protect his mother should they face an intruder, had stashed a spare carving knife under his mattress. Then, when he moved out and rose through the ranks of the WGPC, he kept his pistol of choice close by, despite the objections of various girlfriends. Alie had worried that it would go off in the night and hurt one of them, so, as a compromise, he’d moved it to the top drawer of the nightstand. Now only Magenta knew, and understood, Ochre’s compulsion, both of them slept better knowing there was a weapon within arms’ reach.
“James Bond does too,” Ochre noted, “have a gun under his pillow, I mean. Do you like James Bond movies?”
“I don’t know, Aunt Ellie won’t let me watch them, ‘cause lots of people get hurt and stuff.”
“Yeah, that’s probably for the best.”
“I like Star Wars though.”
“Star Wars is cool. Pat has the movie-box set, I’m sure he’d let you borrow it sometime … but, you have to go to sleep now, OK?”
“OK, good night.”
Ricky went to sleep almost instantly. While Ochre lay looking up at the ceiling, lost in his thoughts, until eventually he fell into a fitful slumber.
“Bonjour.” Destiny rushed into the Amber Room. “I’m late, aren’t I?”
“Not really,” Rhapsody said. “Symphony’s only just left. She said something about having an urgent appointment with Captain Blue.”
“I’m sure she does.” Destiny gave a wry smile. “Hello, Ricky, are you enjoying your stay?”
“Just fine, thank you.”
“We already met, yesterday,” Destiny explained to Rhapsody.
“I like planes a lot,” Ricky announced, having moved to stand by the window. “At home I’ve got one of the planes like the Seraphs in ‘Captain Starlight’ fly. It’s just a model though, and it’s not as nice as your jets. Can I have a go at flying one?”
Rhapsody laughed. “No, not until you’re a lot older.”
Ochre checked his watch.
“It’s all right,” Destiny said, “if you need to be somewhere else, we’ll watch Ricky for a bit.”
“Oh, that’s very nice, roping me in,” Rhapsody muttered.
“I thought you liked children.”
“Well, yes … I’m just saying count me out, but if you wish to play Mary Poppins, Juliette, then go right ahead.”
“Oh, dear, did someone reschedule PMS week?” Ochre whispered in French, for a certain degree of discretion. He wasn’t anywhere close to the level of bilingualism he aspired to, but persevered under Destiny’s tuition.
“Not that I know of,” Destiny replied, following his lead. “I think she’s just having a bit of relationship trouble, or something.”
“I thought we weren’t supposed to know she had a relationship that could be in trouble?”
“You know,” Rhapsody interrupted, “as half the people in the room aren’t fluent French speakers, it’s really annoying when you do that.”
“Well, if you don’t speak French, then how do you know we are?” Ochre asked.
Rhapsody gave him a withering look.
“I am familiar enough with the basics, besides, since when could you speak French?”
“I took it in high school; it was that, or Spanish, and I figured we were closer to Canada than Mexico. Got a little rusty though, so Juliette has been giving a few lessons.”
“There really is no end to her talents.”
“Oui, there are, at the threshold of the computer lab.” Destiny smirked at Ochre. “I am not the only one who struggles there.”
“Yeah, and that’s why God invented Pat.” Ochre laughed. “We had better get going - duty calls.”
“So, you don’t need us to babysit after all?”
“Nah, it’s OK, Brad’s got it covered.”
Captain Grey looked up from his laptop, where he’d been putting his degree in computer control to good use, by helping out with Magenta’s latest project, while he waited for Harmony’s shift in Angel One to finish. She had offered to give him a judo lesson. Aware that he had also made a promise to Ochre, and that their ‘guest’s’ needs ought to come before their own, he had ended up agreeing to baby-sit Ricky for a while.
“You are going to owe me big time,” he insisted, “and by big we’re talking the size of Alabama.”
Ochre gave a long suffering sigh.
“You said you didn’t mind.”
“Well, yeah, impossible as it is to believe at times, you are my friend … but that does not mean you can take advantage.”
“I would never even think it,” Ochre said with exaggerated innocence.
“Haven’t you got work to do?”
“Oh, yeah, that, well, I’ll be off then.” Ochre approached Ricky, and seemed to deliberate what would be an appropriate gesture, then settled on ruffling his hair. “I’ll be back soon, so don’t go giving Brad a hard time, ‘cause he’ll tell.”
Ricky grinned, nodding, as he watched Ochre leave.
“Are all the ladies here so nice?” Ricky asked.
“Oh, dear, has Ochre been setting you a bad example?”
“No, sir.” Ricky frowned.
He let it go.
“So, uh, what do you want to do? We could go swimming if you like?”
“Oh, yes! I brought my swimming trunks, because Pat said there was a pool. I like swimming; we have lessons at the Y. The teacher says I’m the best in my class. I don’t even need water wings any more.”
Grey smiled at the memories of his own childhood that monologue evoked.
“I used to have swimming lessons at the Lakeview YMCA,” he said, “it was my favourite thing ever; I loved swimming so much that I joined the navy.”
“So how did you end up here?” Ricky seemed baffled. “We’re not anywhere near the sea.”
“I often wonder that too.” Grey laughed. “Come on then, let’s get to the pool.”
Grey always felt most at home in the water, more so than on any dry land. So, when anyone came looking for him on Cloudbase, then the pool was usually their first port of call.
“This is a very good pool,” Ricky declared, as he sat on the side watching Grey inflate the water wings. And Grey couldn’t help but bask in some of that glowing praise.
“Make sure you stay close to the side,” Grey instructed. “This is the shallow end, but the water here is still too deep for you to stand up in. And we don’t want you get into trouble. But if you do, then just holler, OK?”
“I’ll be fine,” Ricky said casually; setting off along the width of the pool in a determined doggy paddle.
Still with an eye on his charge, Grey clambered out of the pool and walked over to the diving board. He climbed up to the highest point and executed a perfect dive. Feeling his body slice through the water as it surround him like a welcoming embrace.
“Peek-a-boo,” Grey said, surfacing in front of where Ricky was swimming, and was rewarded with a splash in the face.
“I didn’t mean to splash you,” Ricky said, apologetically. “But you did get in my way.”
“Are you trying to do a back stroke?” Grey asked. He tried to cut the kid some slack, but he could barely tell what technique was being used there.
Ricky frowned. “Uh, I think so.”
“Let me show you,” Grey said gently; then swam the slowest back stroke he could manage while Ricky watched.
“Right, now it’s your turn.”
So Ricky let go of the side, and kicked his legs to propel him along while Grey took his hands and moved them through the water in graceful circles one after the other.
“Don’t kick so hard,” Grey said. “You’re just splashing really. Keep your feet down …”
“You are being a very good teacher,” Harmony said, as she stepped out of the women’s locker room. Grey and Ricky were taking a breather.
“I could teach you a thing or two as well.” Grey smiled, realising that probably sounded less flirtatious in his head. And he certainly didn’t mean to flirt. “I mean, there’s room for improvement in everyone’s technique. Even mine.”
Harmony gave a soft smile, then gracefully descended the ladder in the water. She was about to breaststroke her way over to Grey, but stopped, frowning in the direction of the diving board.
It was then Grey noticed Ricky had gone, and with a palpable sense of foreboding he turned toward the boards.
“Ricky, get down!” he shouted, noticing the boy walking tentatively along one of the boards, thankfully the lowest.
“You went and dived in,” Ricky pointed out.
“Yes, but I’ve practised diving for a long time. It would be a very dangerous thing for you to do. So come on, off you get.”
Ricky kept walking forward.
“Richard, I’m going to count to three ...” Grey began, his panic rapidly turning to anger. And under other circumstances he might have been amused to hear himself say the words he had used so many times to Ochre in jest.
The board wobbled slightly beneath Ricky’s weight, and, startled, the boy backed away towards the ladder.
“That’s it, good boy,” Grey dared to feel the beginnings of relief. “Come down carefully.”
But in his rush to get back to safe, solid ground, Ricky slipped on a low rung of the ladder. And Grey watched in horror as the boy tumbled down, staggered, slipped on a wet tile, and dropped into the water.
“I can’t believe you’d be so stupid.”
Really though, Ochre blamed himself; the dark thoughts of the previous night returning to haunt his guilt-ridden mind. He knew these moods and the fits of self loathing they induced well; but somehow awareness didn’t bring relief.
“It was an accident,” Grey insisted, “sometimes they just happen, y’know.”
“Gee, that’s such a relief,” Ochre declared sarcastically. “I’m sure everyone who puts their lives in the hands of Spectrum will be so understanding.”
“Well, if I’m so utterly incompetent, why does Spectrum trust me to do my job, and Colonel White consider me as a suitable person to be an acting commander? And more importantly if I’m so hopeless, why did you personally allow, ask even, that I assume responsibility for Ricky?”
“Simple misjudgement of character, it won’t happen again.”
“Oh, so now this is a character assassination.”
“Look, if you were too busy to watch him you could have just said so. Or were you too preoccupied leering at Harmony in her bathing suit to be paying proper attention? … I sure hope you don’t do things like that on missions.”
“Of course not!”
“Then why make an exception?”
“It was not that bad, I only turned around for a few seconds …”
Ochre slammed his fist against the examination table.
“That’s all in takes to get someone killed. You know that as well as I do. You were in the pool, goddamit, he could have drowned.”
“Yeah, but he didn’t.”
“No thanks to you.”
“Ah, you have no idea of the childhood memories that evokes,” Doctor Fawn said genially, nodding toward the closed door of the side ward Ochre and Grey had commandeered.
“I’m sensing it wasn’t exactly what most would define as a happy childhood,” Magenta commented, as he entered the examination room.
“Actually, it was. My parents’ marriage on the other hand … they divorced when I was eight. So that was a bit of a blot on the landscape.”
“Wouldn’t know, my folks are good Catholics. Which is not to say they aren’t happy together anyway.”
“Good to know; I suppose someone has to make up the fifty percent of marriages which don’t end in divorce.”
“Yeah, but then those end in death.”
“You’ve got an uncanny way of making people feel better.” Fawn gave a wry smile.
“Yeah, but I wouldn’t want to put you out of a job.”
Magenta sat down on the examination table next to Ricky. “That’s a pretty big band-aid,” he said, “What’d you do?”
“I hurt myself, when we went swimming…” Ricky said gently, “and now Rick is really mad at Brad, and it’s all my fault.”
“No, it’s not. In our job, well, we see a lot of people get hurt; people we’re supposed to take care of, our friends. Rick brought you here so you’d be safe, but nowhere in the world is truly safe, and that makes things pretty tough sometimes.”
“Yeah, I know.”
“But you’re gonna be just fine, both of you.”
“Rick said you went down to the Amber Room,” Magenta said, changing the subject, “and that you met some of the Angels. Did you like that?”
“Yeah, it was good. I got to met Rhapsody, she’s from England. My mommy’s family is from England too. At school we’re doing a project in class about different countries, and the places we come from. I’m learning about London and stuff. I like to know these things … Where do you come from?”
“Hmm, that’s actually kind of complicated. I was born in Ireland, but we moved to New York when I was a little kid, even younger than you are now. So guess that makes me Irish, and American, all at once.”
“I think you should be Irish, that’s more interesting. I know stuff about that because my friend Connor is from Dublin.”
“What a coincidence, I was born there too.”
“I was born in Chicago. That’s where Al Capone was, and lots of other bad people too … the ones that killed my daddy.”
Magenta put his arm around the boy.
“They never found out who did it, y’know,” Ricky added. “My daddy would have figured it out, ‘cause he was the best cop in the world.”
Magenta gave a slight smile at the irony of the situation. Of course, they didn’t know, that was the whole point, a covert operation to remove Commander Fraser from his previous life and job without fear of repercussions … and now the biggest repercussion of all was sitting beside him.
“Yeah, I’m sure you’re right” he said.
With only a cursory nod toward his colleagues, Grey left the sickbay, barely containing his righteous fury. Magenta let it go, knowing it was best to allow Grey to simmer down on his own. It just wasn’t worth getting involved.
“Don’t start,” Ochre said.
“Telling me I’m overreacting, or something.”
“No, I don’t think you are,” Magenta replied, “but then it wasn’t me who just got yelled at, and maybe I’ve got a different perspective on all this. Knowing you better than most.”
Ochre gave a slight nod, placing a hand on Ricky’s shoulder.
“You feeling better?”
“Yeah, can we go now?”
“Sure.” Fawn smiled. “The injuries are fairly superficial, but do keep an eye on him, and come back if there’s any change for the worse. Especially with the bump on the head. I must say, Ricky, you’ve been my best patient for a very long time. Most of the people here just don’t know what’s good for them. Saying I fuss too much, and trying to escape. They could learn from your good example … maybe I should have a supply of lollipops or something, as a reward, but we don’t get many child visitors here.”
“Maybe you should just have them anyway,” Magenta suggested. “That might encourage us to stick around.”
“I’ll bear that in mind,” Fawn agreed. “After all, I get to see some fairly juvenile goings on from a surprising variety of people. Not mentioning any names …”
“As you’ve been so good for Dr. Fawn,” Ochre began, smiling at Ricky, “how about we go along to the mart and you can get some candy? Any kind you like.”
Ricky grinned, accepting the piggy back ride.
“Thanks for patching him up, Doc,” Ochre said. “Much appreciated.”
“Just doing my job ... But you can’t leave so fast.” Fawn called after them, as Ochre made a retreat. “I need to fill out the paperwork.”
Ochre rolled his eyes; “You, Grey and Blue could start a club. Have monthly meetings to salivate over the new forms you’ll have to fill out.”
Fawn decided not to rise to that.
“Ricky.” He began, “can you tell me your whole name?”
“Richard Fraser Topping,” Ricky said proudly. “It’s after my daddy.”
“Fraser?” Fawn queried.
“With an s not a z.” Ricky and Ochre said, almost in unison.
Fawn nodded, wrote it down.
Seeing the two of them together, Fawn couldn’t deny that the resemblance was uncanny; and it certainly would explain Ochre’s insistence on bringing the boy there, along with the captain’s recent behaviour. Ochre was known for his loyalty, single mindedness and an over-protective worrying streak, which seemed at odds with his usually cheerful disposition, but Fawn had never witnessed it to such a degree. All that aside, he felt it wouldn’t be right, as a man of science, and a friend, to jump to conclusions. But as he continued to work through the questions his hunch became even harder to deny.
“We’ll skip the bit about blood group,” Fawn said, thinking aloud. “I doubt very much you’ll need a transfusion while you’re here, Ricky, and we can always check if …”
“It’s A-negative,” Ochre answered, then stopped quickly, as if remembering something. “Or it might be O-negative. I don’t know how the whole thing works.”
“How what works?” Fawn asked, genuinely curious.
“This blood group thing, it means nothing to me. Blood all looks the same.” Ochre shrugged. “I just got a glimpse of Ricky’s medical records, when he was at the triage.”
Fawn almost laughed as his hunch was confirmed, Ochre was so obviously lying to cover up his slip up. The doctor was sure the captains thought he was an utter moron sometimes. Did Ochre really expect he wouldn’t notice that the child had the same blood group as him, and a rare group at that? The child's mother was probably O-negative, another rare type, which explained why Ochre had remembered and mentioned it.
“As I say, we will cross match. Should there be a need,” Fawn said evenly.
Ochre nodded, and then complained, with all the discontent expected of his charge, “So is that it, no more questions? Can we go now?”
“That’s it.” Fawn smiled.
Perhaps it was just his imagination, but he was sure Ochre was more than eager to leave, even by his usual standards.
‘It would have to be Rick,’ he thought, shaking his head slightly. Such an irrepressible ladies’ man would surely come unstuck at some point. Fawn did the maths and realised Ricky must have been born a few months after Ochre had departed from his previous life. A heck of a farewell present. It was commendable that Ochre was following through with his responsibilities, but a part of Fawn couldn’t help wondering if this was Ochre’s responsibility at all. Patient confidentiality loosened people’s inhibitions, and at times Fawn was quite surprised by some of the things he heard about the love lives of those on base, even the seemingly ‘nice girl’ could just be a bad girl yet to be caught. Resemblance wasn’t much to go on; perhaps ‘mommy’ just had a type, and they might just be exaggerating in their own imagination for reassurance.
Standing with the bloodied tissues, from cleaning up the gash on Ricky’s leg, in his hand; Fawn did contemplate running a DNA test. It would be simple enough to with all the lab equipment he had to hand. Surely once word got back to Colonel, and there was no doubt it would, he would probably be thinking along the same lines. So he, or someone else, would probably demand a test anyway, and forewarned would be forearmed, and for Ochre, such news would be better coming from a friend and trusted physician, than some anonymous lab.
He forced himself out of that train of thought. It would be highly unethical to do something like that without consent. They really didn’t need to know badly enough, to bend the codes of conduct like that. It would make him no better than President Roberts, with his underhand methods of undermining civil liberties. That Mysteron assassination attempt had made his paranoia even worse.
Fawn abhorred the database which had been complied with details of every American citizen, but, on rare occasions, it did make life a bit easier for those with access to the database. Not that such thoughts were very consoling either, considering how easily such access could be used for nefarious purposes.
‘Mother: Alison Margaret Topping, deceased,’ Fawn read, having accessed the file on Ricky. She was pretty, even in a passport photo, he could see why Ochre had fallen for her. ‘… poor little mite, growing up without a mother, or father’.
He continued to stare at the screen, reading, yet not comprehending, lost in his own thoughts, until footsteps in an adjoining room snapped him from his reverie. At that point Fawn made his decision, and tossed the tissues into the waste disposal. Although he knew the matter was not resolved, not by a long shot.
By Christmas Eve, Ricky’s third day with them, the second after the incident at the pool, Ochre had settled him, and, by proxy, his colleagues, into a routine of sorts; as per the advice of the child development websites he had used for research. Mid-mornings found them in the Officers’ Lounge, Ochre doing something work-related, or a passable impression thereof. Then eventually he would abandon that in favour of playing with Ricky.
“Go long, a little longer, that’s it.”
As he had done many times in the previous few minutes, Ochre took another of the small, sugar-coated, chocolate disks from the large bag he had purchased at the spectramart, and tossed it over arm. Ricky caught the candy in his mouth, and grinned.
“That’s probably child abuse,” Magenta commented, not looking up from his computer magazine. “Pelting a kid with confectionary.”
“I’m not hurting him,” Ochre pointed out, “which is more than can be said for some people.”
“How long are you going to hold that against Brad?”
“Until he apologises, then I’ll revaluate.”
Ochre wasn’t normally one for bearing grudges, most disputes would be resolved within hours, at most, but then this wasn’t an ordinary circumstance. Magenta generally refused to have any involvement with his friends’ quarrels, but he was starting to feel it might be necessary for him to mediate. Ochre and Grey were professionals; but if things carried on that way between them it might affect their working relationship.
Blue walked into the lounge, heading straight for the coffee dispenser.
“Is there supposed to be a female lieutenant waiting outside the door?” he wondered aloud.
“Short, dark hair, nervous laugh?”
“That’s probably Chava then,” Magenta said, “from the computer department; apparently, she’s interested in oceanography, and Grey’s sharing his wisdom … Well, that’s what they want us to believe.”
“Was gonna say, that’s not what I heard,” Ochre commented. “Course, it could all be an elaborate ploy, to put us off figuring out who his girlfriend really is.”
Blue shook his head. “You two are terrible, hard as it may be to believe, it actually is possible for men and women to just be friends.”
“What, like you and Karen are?” Magenta said just a touch too innocently.
Knowing it probably wasn’t in his best interests to continue arguing the point, Blue retreated to the kitchen and made himself a sandwich.
“What you drawing?” Magenta asked, noticing Ricky had gone back to his artistic project.
“It’s an angel jet, up in the sky,” he said, and now he had mentioned it the likeness was very apparent.
“Oh, yeah, so it is, that’s a good picture.”
“I can’t believe you let him go and see them,” Blue told Ochre. “You know that kind of stuff is classified.”
“Ads, just chill out. He’s a little kid, who would he spill government secrets to? … Besides photos and footage of the interceptors have been on the news before.”
“Hmm, well, yeah, maybe you’re right,” Blue conceded. “But this is a military base, not a kindergarten.”
“That’s the last time I ever let Fawn use me as a pin cushion.” Scarlet announced, as he entered the lounge.
“I’m sure he’ll be thrilled to hear that,” Blue said good naturedly.
“Well, I’m not here to please him.” Scarlet put down the paper plate he was carrying. “Anyway, I come bearing gifts of fairy bread, from Fawn; an Australian delicacy, apparently, and he claims we’ve all had terribly deprived childhoods for having never heard of it. So, he’s made up a batch and we’re to try it.”
“Buttered bread with sprinkles on?” Blue wrinkled his nose.
“Yes, pretty much.”
“I’m generally pro-sweet toppings for bread, but that sounds gross,” Blue said, though he gave a piece to Ricky, assuming a child would appreciate such things.
“Actually, it’s really not too bad,” Ochre said, having almost finished his first triangle.
“True.” Magenta took a bite. “Though I have to question the wisdom of overloading a little kid with sugar and artificial colours.”
“People get way too hung up about that kind of thing; it never did me any harm.”
Magenta started incredulously at his field partner.
“You are merely the exception that proves the rule... I truly have no idea how someone can eat that fake, canned cheese crap for years, and still be in a decent shape. Not to mention all the other junk.”
“I don’t have that much,” Ochre insisted, “a little of what you like does you good. Anyway, you could eat a perfect healthy diet all your life and still get hit by a bus.”
“Oh, yes, and Fawn was asking after Ricky,” Scarlet said.
“Why?” Ochre immediately went on the defensive. “I’ve been taking real good care of you, haven’t I, bud?”
Ricky nodded, his mouth full of fairy bread.
“I have no idea,” Scarlet admitted. “It was probably a completely innocent question. Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean everyone is out to get you.”
“Well, you can go tell him the kid is just fine.” Ochre rolled his eyes.
“I’m sure it would be more reassuring coming from you.”
“OK, I can take a hint.” Ochre rolled his eyes again. “I’ll go see him now. You wanna go with, kiddo?”
“Can’t I stay here?” Ricky asked. “It’s a long way to the sickbay, and I want to finish my drawing.”
“That’s fine by me,” Ochre said, then turned to Scarlet. “Looks like you’re on baby-sitting duty then.”
Since its earliest days as an operational base, Cloudbase had a specifically appointed ‘faith room’, which was open to anyone for spiritual activities, or simply quiet contemplation. Being generally agnostic, Ochre had felt no particular compulsion to visit the room. However, the last few days had stirred up many thoughts and emotions for him, it seemed natural to pay a visit to the most well-known father of them all.
“I didn’t even think you knew where this place was.”
Ochre didn’t look up.
“Rick, you can’t ignore me forever, y’know.”
“Actually, Grey, I’m avoiding you. I’ll get around to ignoring you later.”
Grey sat down beside him regardless.
“Is there some particular reason you’re here?” Ochre demanded, “apart from to annoy me?”
“I’m not trying to piss you off,” Grey began, “actually; I just came here because … it’s personal. Look, if you’re going to freeze me out like this I’ll go.”
“It’s a semi-free world, do what you like,” Ochre said, not taking his eyes off the stained glass window ahead of him. Watching the sunlight filter through the abstract pattern. Its contemporary simplicity was a world away from the last place of worship he’d set foot in.
They’d had a mission, somewhere in Italy, Ochre couldn’t recall where. It had been a success, so they’d been allowed to stay on the surface over the weekend before needing to return to base. Which was wonderful; until the Sunday afternoon, when Magenta went all quiet and secretive, eventually managing to sneak off alone.
Incensed at being so casually abandoned in a foreign country, Ochre had followed him through the winding streets. Eventually coming to a stop outside a church, so unassumingly set into the buildings either side you could easily miss it.
If Magenta had noticed him arrive he didn’t outwardly react; but then a church wasn’t really the place to get into a fight. So Ochre just sat down in a pew near the door, grateful for the cool and shade. He knew churches were supposed to be comforting, peaceful places; but watching his friend go through the motions of worship with quiet contemplation, Ochre felt achingly oblivious and self conscious. And it wasn’t just all the ostentatious decoration of Jesus and the saints suffering. No matter how many questions he asked, how long Magenta spent answering, with surprising patience, he would never understand what it was like to have faith, to be part of something greater than himself.
He realised that eventually Magenta was going to finish, and inevitably acknowledged him. So he would need something to explain his presence there. Looking around, he noticed the black metal rack of votive candles; he understood that, lighting a candle in the memory of someone, and liked that idea purely on its own merits.
So, with that, Ochre stood up, and walked down through the church. Dropped some loose change into the donation box and selected a candle.
‘There must be some knack to lighting these’ he thought, floundering without any matches, or a lighter; and not wanting to risk putting out another candle in the process of lighting his, in case it was bad karma, or whatever the Catholic equivalent was.
He heard footfalls behind him, and next thing he knew Magenta was beside him, having plucked a taper candle from the box beside the rack, touched the wick to a candle, then lit the one Ochre was holding, with all the ease of breathing.
Setting the votive into a holder on the rack, Ochre thought of Alie; the memory of her so vivid it was as if she was with him. And he allowed himself to savour that. He couldn’t remember what Alie’s religion had been, or even if she’d had one at all, but it didn’t seem to matter.
After what seemed an age, feeling a hand fall onto his shoulder shook him from his reverie, and he turned sheepishly to his partner.
“You wanna go get ice cream?” Magenta said. “My treat.”
Ochre smiled, nodded, and allowed himself to be led out into the sunlight.
“Look, I can’t go back and make it not happen,” Grey began, when the silence had become unbearable. “And you’re smart enough to also know that neither us can actually avoid the other. So, can we please just get on with our lives?”
Ochre gave it some thought, then sighed gently.
“I’ve been a complete asshole, haven’t I?”
“Pretty much, yeah,” Grey said simply.
“Don’t feel you have to hold back on the honesty front.” Ochre smiled slightly. “I am sorry, for flipping out. It was an accident, could have happened whoever he was with. If anything I’m glad it was you, that it was with someone who could save him ... I should have been there. I mean, that’s what parents are supposed to do. Take care of their kids, make sure they’re safe. And I didn’t. When it really mattered. I just failed, yet again.”
Such an outright confession came as a surprise to Grey. For a moment all he could do was stare at Ochre, half-expecting it to be a joke. Almost hoping it was, that he would take it back, and they could resume their lives without this burden.
“Ricky’s your kid?” Grey asked, haltingly.
Ochre turned to him then, angry.
“What are you going to do, run round the base and tell?”
“What? No. You should know I don’t do things like that …” Grey sighed. “I just figure with the way you’ve been acting, that maybe…”
“Yeah, he is; happy now?”
Grey shook his head gently. He hadn’t expected a flat, hostile reaction like this. While he knew that he wasn’t the most open of people, and often that made friendships difficult, he did consider Rick a close friend and vice versa. So, underneath the smarting at the unfairness of his treatment, he couldn’t help wondering why Ochre was freezing him out. Maybe he was doing something wrong, and letting his friend down?
“Why are you being like this?”
“I hate this place sometimes,” Ochre said, folding his arms tightly as if that would keep his emotions in. “We all have our own quarters, but we might as well not, you can never get any privacy, not really. Everyone gossips all the time, picks over everyone else’s business … I just want some space to think things over, make up my own mind, to share on my own terms. Why can’t everyone just leave me alone?”
“I know what you feel, but remember how things were with me and Heather?” Grey spoke quickly, getting the words out before they had time to linger in his mind. Wrapped up in the humiliation and betrayal he had felt, on discovering that the woman he had been so in love with, was a terrorist and had simply exploited him for her own ends.
“That is not that same.”
“Ultimately not, no. I just mean that it was good to be a bit more open, no man is an island and whatever. It’s not easy, I know, but, you’ve got good friends who will be willing to be supportive.”
“I don’t want a support group,” Ochre stated. “I just want everyone to stay the hell out of my private life.”
There it was again; Ochre clamping down like Fort Knox, the second you tapped at a sensitive topic.
“Anyway, like you’re one to talk,” Ochre said. “Ever since Ricky showed up, you’ve been avoiding me as much as I might have done to you.”
“I am not,” Grey insisted; realising as soon as the words left his mouth that they weren’t true. Not to mention he sounded absurdly childish. “In case you hadn’t noticed, this is an operational military base, and that means we tend to have better things to do than play day-care. So, sorry for not sharing all your touching Hallmark moments.”
Ochre smarted at that, but Grey disregarded it, he’d expected as much. It wasn’t his fault if Ochre was going to refuse to see the big picture, and take it way too personally when anyone dared hint they weren’t as infatuated with his offspring as he was.
“You think I’m wrong,” Ochre challenged. “To be involved with his life.”
Grey rolled his eyes.
“Have you for a minute, got beyond your own ego and realised how screwed up the kid’s head is going to be, if he finds out the truth?” he began. “Ricky can’t even decide which shoes to wear and put them on himself. So, how is he supposed to cope with finding out everything he’s been told about his dad is a lie? That the reality isn’t going to match up to any ideas he might have of this heroic figure returning?”
Grey tried to catch a breath to compose himself. “And let’s be practical here. Spectrum is not a family friendly employer, and you knew that when you signed up. You faked your own death to be here, for Christ’s sake. It’s not like you’re going to be able to knock off an assignment early to go to his little league games, or show up at parents’ evening. So, frankly, yes, I do think you’re being selfish and should just leave him to his already perfectly decent life.”
“How good can be for him to think he’s an orphan, growing up without a dad?”
“He doesn’t know any different. Can’t miss what you’ve never have.”
Ochre frowned, torn between indignation and sympathy for his colleague and the frightened, burdened child he had once been. If the gossip and late night confessions were to be believed.
He rested a hand on Grey’s shoulder.
“Brad, I’m sorry for whatever happened to make you loose faith in your dad, and that it ruined your life; but you can’t lay that on me. I’m not your dad. Everyone has to face that their parents aren’t perfect, and most of them turn out OK. So why shouldn’t we have this second chance? I know you don’t agree, and that’s up to you. But this is my call to make. So you’re going to have to trust me on this one.”
Grey gave a wry smile; “For a minute there I forgot how stubborn you are … For the record; I’m still not entirely convinced you’re making the right choice, but, as you say, it’s your life to lead. And woe betide any one who meddles in your business.”
“And that’s all I ask, really.”
“Scarlet said you went to see Fawn earlier,” Grey said, to get away from his self consciousness at having brought up his difficult past. “Did you talk to him about this?”
“Not directly. Apparently, he just figured it out, and then expected me to talk. He said about running DNA tests on Ricky, if I wanted to do that, to be sure. But I don’t need it.”
Grey was fairly sure that if he were in this situation he wouldn’t be so trusting. But then, he was apparently growing bitter and cynical in his old age; and had still done some stupidly naive things in his time. So he wasn’t going to judge.
“Good;” he said. “Does Ricky know?”
“Not yet, I thought maybe to wait until Ellie was better. Then he’d be with her, and it would be better for him, though her killing me in a total rage might not be in my best interests.”
“I doubt she would, you’re not that bad.”
“She’s going to think I faked my own death to break up with her sister! How the hell is that gonna go down? What would be the point of even trying to start to apologise? Wouldn’t you be, at least, pretty pissed, in her position?”
“Yeah, you kinda got a point there.” Grey sighed. “But you’ve also got nothing to lose. She probably will be angry, but see sense in the end.”
Ochre sat for a moment, watching a cloud drift past the porthole, then spoke:
“Do you ever think there is some big plan, with the universe and people’s lives?”
“I don’t know … it’d be comforting, that everything had a reason; but that seems a bit too simple, even cause and effect only explains so much. It’s kinda one of those ‘figure it out for yourself’ things.”
“Great.” Ochre rolled his eyes. “Well, anyway, I do know it’s all my fault.”
“Actually, from a biological perspective, it’s only fifty percent your doing.”
“You know what I mean … We could have been a proper family, Alie and me, lived in Europe. She wouldn’t have needed to work, however you slice it, she wouldn’t have broken up that stupid fight and got herself killed. But she did, all because I was so stubborn and selfish taking this job. So, now our kid has no mother and the world’s worst father, and there sure as hell isn’t anyone else to blame.”
“Well, sure, you can bury your head and beat yourself up, or you can take this second chance, give it a damn good shot. And I’ve seen you with him; you’re making a very good job.”
“What, considering I don’t have a clue?”
“No parent does, you just have to muddle on through as best you can.”
“That’s very helpful.”
“Did Fawn offer any advice? … OK, rephrase: did you let him get a word in edgeways to offer any advice?”
Ochre shook his head.
“Not really, he just said I might well have to tell the colonel about my ‘change of family circumstances’, and whatever. Not that I have to, necessarily. But I figure it’d be best if I’m going to be a part of Ricky’s life... I mean, surely he’d figure it out eventually, why I keep sneaking off to Chicago, and where half my pay cheque disappeared to. I’m not going to be stupid and hide it any more. But I just… Oh, Hell, Brad, he’s gonna be really pissed.”
“Maybe, but he’s still human too and might end up surprising you; he’ll be gone for a few more days yet, so there’s time to psych yourself up.”
“Yeah, I’ll need it. I better get back, make sure everyone is coping.”
“Did it help, talking?”
“Guess it did, thanks, Brad.”
“Anytime.” Grey smiled. “Within reason.”
“Good to know you guys have made up,” Magenta said, as he and Ochre stood at the buffet during the Cloudbase Christmas party that evening. The party had become a tradition, held in the Officers’ Lounge, and was open to everyone.
“I don’t know why they still think we don’t know about them,” Ochre said, observing the way Grey and Destiny danced together.
“Nah, me neither.”
In a split second Ochre’s demeanour utterly transformed, giving a wide smile to the young woman approaching them. “Hi, Chava, happy Hanukkah.”
Chava giggled, then beamed as Grey arrived.
“You promised you’d dance with me,” she pouted, “and I want to now, this song is good.”
“Sure, kitten.” Grey smiled at Chava. “Lead the way.”
“Kitten!” Ochre rolled his eyes. “I mean, seriously, how exactly is it flattering to be compared to some evil little fur ball, who claws everything and pees up the wall?”
“Hmm, you're not really a cat person, are you?” Magenta said, “but then I am not either … I’m gonna go talk to Crimson, she looks a bit lost.”
“Sure, see ya.”
After a moment, Destiny came to stand beside Ochre, and took a mini mince pie.
“Does Brad ever call you kitten?” Ochre asked.
She stared at him, then quickly changed the subject.
“How is Ricky?”
“He’s fine, yeah.” Ochre smiled. “Mag’s babysitting him, in the Amber Room, for some reason he likes hanging out in there best.”
“Aww, taking after papa, how sweet.”
Ochre frowned, realising what she meant.
“Nobody told me,” she clarified. “I made an educated guess, after all, how many handsome policemen named Richard Fraser can there have been in Chicago at that time, who looked just like you?”
“Hmm, guess I’ll have to postpone killing Pat then, for blabbing, I mean. He’s not so bad really, well, for a criminal.”
“Reformed criminal, but yes, I suppose he has a certain ‘bad boy’ side which is … rather sexy.”
Ochre nodded; aware she had done far more than simply admiring him from afar. For several weeks Magenta and Destiny had met up every Sunday, and at other times of the week, in their respective quarters. They may both be Catholic, but it soon became pretty obvious to Ochre that their ‘church socials’ were rather the opposite of pious. He never said anything to either of them, as they wouldn’t appreciate the thought of him prying, but privately he approved. A no-strings fling had been just what they needed at the time, and an amicable ending was ideal all round.
“See, this is why we could never date,” Ochre insisted. “I mean, you’re very cool and pretty and everything, but I know way more about your love life and taste in men than maybe I should, and frankly it scares me.”
“If you insist.” Destiny laughed. “You’re not my type anyway.”
“Thought you said you didn’t have a type?” Ochre checked his watch. “Well, it’s been fun. But I should probably get going.”
“Or you’ll turn into a pumpkin?”
“No, it’s way past Ricky’s bedtime. And I have to be up early tomorrow anyway.”
“Ah, that makes sense … sleep well Cinderella.”
On his way out, Ochre was ambushed by Belen Marquez, who until then had been talking to Scarlet.
Belen was a native of Barcelona, a Latino beauty with legs that went on forever, and who worked on the hanger deck. So the combination of attractiveness and expertise was a pretty heady brew for Ochre, and evidentially the feeling was mutual.
“Hi, Rick,” she said, “have you come over to ask me for a dance?”
He glanced across the room and noticed Destiny relax her guard a little, as she realised who Belen was actually after. Destiny was not the possessive type, at least, not in way Symphony was, but she knew well enough the difference between general flirting and making advances, and had no qualms about setting anyone straight as to who wasn’t on the market. A service she extended for all her attached friends. Ochre really wouldn’t want to be on the receiving end of that.
“Actually, no, you see …”
“No?” came Belen’s almost theatrical response, “but I thought you liked me.”
“Sure, I do,” Ochre casually reassured her. This was true, for various reasons, such as her wearing a red, satin dress which really accentuated those legs. There were plenty of guys on the base who’d kill for a date with her, hell he’d be one of them, but … “It’s just that now isn’t a good time.”
“It never is,” Belen complained. “One minute you are making those bedroom eyes at me, the next you are blowing me out.”
“Off, the expression is blowing you off,” Scarlet corrected.
“Whatever, I was not talking to you,” Belen snapped.
Ochre ignored her.
“So you don’t want me after all?” Belen grumbled.
“Not especially, no,” Ochre said. “There’s more to life than just a roll in the hay.”
“That certainly wasn’t what you have been saying until now.”
“Well, I’m saying it now; people change.”
And with that he left.
“Hey,” Melody greeted Ochre as he arrived in the Amber Room, “was the party any good?”
For a moment Ochre thought about how the night would have progressed without the kid cramping his style. He’d have no doubt ended up going to bed with Belen, which in itself wasn’t the worst thing in the world. He liked dating, and women, and had received no complaints so far. These early days, the thrill of the chase, was probably the best part. Before he did anything stupid or hurt them. He wondered if things would be repairable between him and Belen, maybe not; perhaps it was better that way, to let her go.
Then he watched Ricky dozing on one of the sofas, knowing he’d made the right choice.
“He’s a great kid,” Melody said, “you ever think about it, having a family?”
“Not really, not seriously anyway. But knowing him, and after the last few days. Yeah, guess I would like to be a dad.”
Melody hugged him.
“I figure you’ll do just fine.”
“Sure hope so.”
There was no need to say any more, the years of their close friendship allowed them to understand each other perfectly.
“We’re going to crash at Pat’s place,” Ochre explained, picking Ricky up carefully so as not to wake him. “He offered, as he’s going to make pancakes in the morning. Just hope the kid doesn’t wake up before then.”
“Yeah, and if he’s anything like my brothers were as kids, he’d be impossible to get back to sleep.”
“I can imagine, well, anyway, I better go, ‘night Mag.”
Ochre carefully crept into Magenta’s quarters, relieved to have got there before him. Even though Magenta had extended the offer, he doubted his field partner would be too impressed about being walked in on while with Copper. Not that Ochre was exactly thrilled by that idea either. As it was, the futon in the living room had just been made up as a double bed, ready for their arrival. Considering his quarters had the same standard issue fixtures and unappealing paint colour as the other senior staff quarters, Ochre was impressed that Magenta had managed to make the place so comfortable and attractive. Maybe he should ask for some decorating tips.
A sleeping bag had already been laid out for him on the sleeping area floor, and looked so inviting to Ochre after the day he’d had. He smiled at the sight of the stocking, made from a patchwork of sumptuous fabrics, hung from the end of the bed, clearly handcrafted by someone with great skill. He imagined it was the handiwork of Magenta’s mother, she was an accomplished seamstress.
As he laid Ricky down in the bed and tucked him in, Ochre glanced at the bedside clock and noted it had just gone midnight.
“Merry Christmas, sonny boy,” he whispered, with a smile.
Aware of someone else being in the room, Ochre woke with a start, but soon recognised the whispered voices and decided to pretend to still be asleep. As a child, he had felt so angry and betrayed to find that Santa wasn’t real and especially that his parents and brother had lied about it for all those years. He remembered swearing that when he had kids, he’d never deceive them like that. He almost laughed, realising that he had been playing along for Ricky’s sake the whole time he’d been there. It was just so much more fun to have that magic and innocence; he had the rest of his life to settle for mundane reality. Not that the reality was any less wonderful, in the grand scheme of things. He hoped that one day he would be able to tell Ricky the truth of the innate loyalty and compassion of his friends. Ochre felt a deep gratitude for that. And for the first time in years, he felt that joy he had as a child.
Ochre woke the next morning to sensation of small hands shoving him in the shoulder.
“Come on, wake up. Santa’s been.”
He stared blearily at Ricky, bouncing and beaming. Their first Christmas together, he wouldn’t miss that for anything.
He stretched lazily, and smiled back at him.
“I thought all your presents were back in Chicago?”
“No,” Ricky said, triumphant at outsmarting a grown up. “Santa must know I’m here, ‘cause he watches everything.”
“It’s OK, I believe you...” Ochre said, trying not to get the child’s hopes up. “I guess it must just be your big presents that are at home. Maybe he couldn’t get them in the sleigh with all the other gifts on the trip up here? Everyone else only gets one Santa gift too, and maybe some other presents from their friends.”
“Have you got me a present?” Ricky asked.
“Yeah, sure,” Ochre said casually. Well, he had the idea anyway - all he needed was some time alone to wrap it.
“Oh, good! I got you one, Pat helped me with it.”
‘You are my gift,’ Ochre thought, ‘how could any material thing possibly compare?’
“I’ll look forward to it.”
“Good, you have to get up now. Me and Pat made pancakes.”
The kitchenette of Magenta’s quarters was considerably more well used than most on base. From a young age Magenta had been taught to cook by his mother, then the years of living the high life as a mobster had honed his love of good food. His chocolate chocolate-chip pancakes had become something of a holiday tradition.
For a moment, as he emerged from the bedroom, Ochre simply observed the scene. The heady scent of cocoa filled the air, as Magenta stood at the breakfast bar frying the pancakes on a portable stove. Having turned off the highly sensitive smoke alarm set into the kitchenette ceiling; the stupid thing kept going off at random, even though Magenta never burnt anything. The background music was an Irish radio station, which Magenta often put on when he was feeling homesick or nostalgic. The Christmas carols were punctuated by laughter and gentle instruction, as Ricky was taught how to flip pancakes.
“Merry Christmas,” Copper greeted him, as she set the coffee table for breakfast.
“Watch me,” Ricky demanded. “I’m gonna do the pancake.”
“Yeah, great job,” Ochre said, having observed. It was too, a neater job than he usual made. He was probably biased thinking his kid had some kind of super talent, but for the moment was content to glow in some parental pride.
“Good of you to finally join us,” Magenta said, with good natured teasing. Then he handed Ricky a plate of pancakes to put on the table.
“He’s cute.” He grinned. “Can we keep him?”
“I hope so, sort of,” Ochre replied.
“It’d sure make Fae’s Christmas. She’s been harassing me to provide her with some cousins since probably ever.”
“She does have a point; you and Grainne would make cute kids. And, hey, none of us are getting any younger.”
Magenta rolled his eyes, as if to say ‘don’t start’. Then with the last of the pancakes cooked, they joined Copper and Ricky for breakfast.
In the rush around Ellie Topping’s home, after they had borrowed a spare key from her neighbour, to collect the necessary items Ricky would need for his visit to Cloudbase, Magenta had thought to find and collect the child’s presents. He had felt bad about going through her home in such a way. Many of his peers in high school had been pickpockets and graduated to burglary, but he could never bring himself to do that. Ironic, considering his eventual profession, but to Magenta there was a difference between taking money from a faceless corporation who wouldn’t miss it anyway - he thought of that more as a ‘redistribution of wealth’ than theft - and stealing personal items from individuals who valued and needed them. Not that what he’d done that day was stealing, as Ricky himself technically already owned all the items.
Seeing Ricky’s utter delight that morning, no one could have denied that Magenta had done the right thing. And after breakfast, they went to the Amber Room, to join the rest of senior staff and open their presents.
“You’re going to have to take it back, you know,” Rhapsody said, looking at the discarded wrapping paper strewn around the Amber Room floor later that day. “Pat and Rick made a very good job sorting out getting everyone presents.”
“I suppose so,” Scarlet said, “far better choices than the ‘inspired’ things Ochre got you girls for Valentines, anyway.”
“Oh, Paul, I can’t believe you’re still upset about that.” Rhapsody shook her head. “It was just a silly joke. Rick knows nothing is going to happen between us. Besides I don’t remember you complaining when we made use of them.”
“Yeah, bet you had some real fun.” Melody smirked
“A gentleman never tells,” Scarlet insisted, a twinkle of amusement in his eye.
“Dare we ask what you’ve done with Adam?” Melody smiled, as Symphony came over to them.
“You probably don’t wanna know,” Symphony answered, “but he’s fine, just had to run and sort something out in the Control Room … This is like the best Christmas ever, that we’ve had on base, anyway, with little Ricky around. I mean that’s what Christmas is about, kids.”
“I don’t know, you and Rick seem to have cornered the market there.”
“Paul, stop being such a misery,” Rhapsody scolded her fiancé. “It could be worse; at least nobody’s got you to wear a Santa’s outfit this year.”
“Yes.” Scarlet rolled his eyes. “That was another ‘Ochre and Magenta special’, their ‘Christmas grotto’.”
“I can’t you believe you told them off and shut it down.” Rhapsody shook her head. “Anyone would think you had something against charity fund raising.”
“You busted the grotto!” Symphony exclaimed. “And there was me thinking it was Adam who was descended from Puritans. … the grotto was a good earner too, for the Spectrum Widows and Orphans Fund. You wouldn’t believe how many of the female personnel would pay money to sit on Ochre’s knee and tell him what very naughty girls they’d been.”
“I can.” Melody laughed. “How valiant of him to take one for the team. Rick must’ve been in his element.”
“What, you didn’t pay them a visit? Not even for moral support?” Symphony giggled. “Shame on you, Mag, think of the children.”
“Moral support!” Scarlet scoffed. “As if either of those two ever needs encouragement.”
“You know there’s a lot more to Rick than just the carefree, skirt chasing exterior,” Melody stated. Scarlet gave her an odd look, but let it go.
“She’s right, I suppose.” Rhapsody shrugged. “But I’m not going on record saying that. His ego’s big enough already. Especially now that Belen Marquez is after him, and she certainly doesn’t date just anyone.”
“Actually, he turned her down,” Melody said with a hint of triumph.
“No!” Symphony’s jaw literally sagged. “Ochre passing on ‘horizontal salsa’ with a hot, single woman? That’s got to be a first in Cloudbase history … they’ve been flirting for weeks. There’s no way he’d do that, short of a total personality transplant.”
“Well it did happen,” Scarlet confirmed. “I saw and heard it myself. And anyway, why would we make it up?”
“Oh, I don’t doubt you. It’s just, the whole thing is so …”
“Out of character?” Melody suggested.
“Yes, that’s it.” Symphony sipped her coffee. “So go on then Mag, you probably know him better than any of us … what do you make of it?”
“I don’t know, Rick’s a whole lot more complicated than most people figure. So he’ll have his reasons, which I guess nobody’ll ever know.”
“I’m sure Pat would be very flattered being described as ‘nobody’,” Rhapsody teased
“Of course he isn’t.” Symphony laughed. “Anyway, has Rick suffered any head injuries recently?”
“Well, if you want my non-expert and indeed non-super-spy opinion,” Scarlet began, “I think the opportunity was simply curtailed by the presence of young Ricky. Children aren’t terribly conducive to trysts and such, or so I’m told.”
“Yeah, but Ricky slept over at Pat’s,” Melody said. “So they coulda gone back to his place, if he’d put his mind to it. And it wasn’t as if Rick wasn’t anticipating she’d make a move; quite the opposite. Still doesn’t explain the fast 180.”
“Perhaps having Ricky around is giving him a sense of responsibility in that sort of respect. If only in a ‘cautionary tale’ sense,” Rhapsody mused.
“Uh, OK, I’m the last to figure it out aren’t I?” Symphony asked. “Which y’know, wouldn’t be a surprise.”
“Probably.” Rhapsody laughed. “Oh, but don’t take it too badly. He hasn’t said anything, far as I can tell.”
“Well, he ain’t exactly denied it either,” Melody added.
“You’d think someone who’d made a career out of gathering intelligence would be more observant,” Scarlet said.
“Yeah, right, we can’t all be perfect,” Symphony grumbled, leaving the Amber Room.
“Well, done, Paul.” Rhapsody sighed. “Now she’ll be in one of her moods, probably for most of the day.”
“Oh, sorry, I must have missed the memo about how the world now revolves around Karen.”
“Ugh, tell me about it.” Melody got up and tried to find a radio station which wasn’t playing something festive. “Thing I don’t get is, that it’s totally obvious how moody and what hard work she is, and yet guys still fall over themselves flirting with her. Even though we all know her heart belongs to Blue. She’s like genius-pilot Barbie, or something.”
“Maybe that’s where you’re going wrong, Mag?” Scarlet suggested with amusement. “You’re obviously too low maintenance, for guys who must like being kept on their toes.”
“That’s absurd,” Rhapsody insisted, “anyway what about me, am I high maintenance?”
“Why do I keep backing myself into these corners?”
“Because you’re a glutton for punishment.”
“You’re probably right,” Scarlet conceded. “As for the original question, I’d say you are low maintenance, but appear high maintenance. It’s quite a good combination really.”
“And obviously your type, as I’d say Juliette is the same way.”
“Where is Juliette anyway?” Scarlet asked. “I haven’t seen her since lunch. The fact she managed to sneak out without us seeing suggests she’s perfecting her ninja moves.”
“Or that you’re just not paying enough attention.” Rhapsody put her arms around him. “Not that I mind being the only girl you have eyes for.”
“Of course you are.” Scarlet returned her embrace.
“Well, if you really do wanna know, though I’m guessing it’s not your biggest concern right now.” Melody smirked. “Juliette left with Brad, and I’m guessing they’re, uh, strengthening international relations, if y’know what I mean.”
“That’d make sense, I suppose.”
“You guys are missing a good party down in the Lieutenants’ Lounge,” Ochre said, as he entered the Amber Room with Ricky sat astride his shoulders. “Oh, yeah, and you didn’t hear this from me, but Claret and Crimson were getting really cosy under the mistletoe.”
“Really?” Scarlet said. “Last I heard she was rather taken with Pat.”
“Yeah, guess so,” Ochre replied, setting Ricky down. “Maybe she was just hitting on Claret to make him jealous, or something. Didn’t have the heart to tell her it wouldn’t work.”
“And you say girls gossip too much.” Rhapsody shook her head.
“They had really yummy cake at the party,” Ricky told her. “You should try it.”
“I might well go down and do that.” Rhapsody smiled. “So, you’re having a good Christmas then?”
“Yeah, it’s great.” Ricky beamed. “I just wish Aunt Ellie was here too.”
“I’m sure you’ll be able to see her soon,” Rhapsody reassured him.
They all glanced up, fearing the worst, as the speakers fizzed into life. The relief on hearing Lieutenant Green’s voice was palpable:
“Captain Ochre, please report to the Control Room immediately.”
“Go,” Melody said, noticing Ochre’s hesitation. “We’ll take care of Ricky.”
“OK, if this is about the punch …”
Every year, despite the best effort of the security staff, the Christmas punch got spiked, and an equal certainty was that the highest-ranking resident prankster would be prime suspect. Ochre was long past bored with the whole thing.
“I’m not accusing you of anything,” Blue said calmly.
“Good. Does that mean you’ve finally realised that I have never done that, and am not planning to either? You know it’s totally not my style, and, yeah, I might not have degrees like the rest of you, but I’m smart enough not to compromise the efficiency of the base by getting a huge percentage of the staff banjoed out their heads.”
Blue gave a slight smile on hearing the Irish turn of phrase, no doubt picked up from Magenta.
“You think this is funny?”
“Of course not.” Blue just about managed to maintain his composure. The sooner Ricky went home the better; he was a really great kid, but since his arrival Ochre had been so moody, snapping at everyone. Something had put him on edge, and Blue was kicking himself for having taken so long to realise what it was. He pressed a button on the console, and a stool rose from the floor in front of the control desk. Ochre took the hint and sat down.
“I’ve just been speaking to someone from Northwestern Memorial Hospital,” Blue began.
Immediately, Ochre felt his skin prickle and his stomach churn; he knew he should have been getting regular updates on Ellie’s condition himself, but, in the end, he had felt unable to face any possible resulting scenario. And an irrational part of him hoped that it would just sort itself out without his involvement. Whenever Ricky had asked, which was a frequent occurrence, Ochre had blithely spouted some reassuring words. Magenta had, of course, seen through it, but to his field partner’s relief had made the calls himself.
“How, umm, how is she?”
Whilst Ellie had been in the ICU, reality had been suspended for Ricky and Ochre. They had been so content to take a break from their ordinary lives, but with the now distinct possibility she had recovered, the captain was going to have to face the consequences.
“She’s still in hospital, and will be for a while longer. But she’s regained consciousness, and is asking after Ricky,” Blue answered. “I said that an officer would escort him to the hospital to visit her.”
“Are you sure that’s …”
It was then Blue started to get angry, a rare and terrifying phenomena. “Rick, I know you’ve been getting Pat to call the hospital for you. Did you seriously think this would just go away? … You have to wake up and deal with the bigger picture.”
“Right, and you really think it’s a good idea for Ricky to see her in that place, when she’s that injured? He’s just a little kid, not like us who’ve been in situations like this and understand it. I just … he should be protected from that.”
“I never really thought you’d be this selfish,” Blue scoffed. “To keep a little boy away from his home and family, just because you want to play ‘house’.”
“I’m his family.”
Blue squared his shoulders. “The matter is not up for discussion. You will leave tomorrow, and visit the hospital with Ricky. And if you don’t, you can’t even imagine how much trouble you’ll be in. And don’t start spinning some crap about being Ricky’s noble protector, kids are resilient, he’ll be just fine … dismissed.”
Once Ochre had left the control room (through automatic doors - he didn’t even get the satisfaction of slamming the door or punching a control panel) Blue rested his head in his hands and blew out a long sigh.
“I didn’t realise I could be so cold,” he said softly. “Maybe he is right; perhaps it is too soon, for both of them. It really isn’t my place to get so involved in other’s private lives”
“So you’re going to take it back?” Green asked, with a cynical tone that expressed quite the opposite meaning.
“No, Green.” Blue sat up. “You’re right, I’m not. Tough love, I guess.”
“Exactly, one day he’ll look back at this and see you did the right thing.” Green said reassuringly
“Yeah … eventually … I hope.”
Northwestern Memorial Hospital, Chicago
With a 72 hour pass, and Blue’s words still ringing in his ears, Ochre and Ricky touched down in Chicago early Boxing Day morning. They were bundled up against the cold winds, but those still seemed to slice to the bone. So Ochre called for a cab and they headed straight to the hospital.
The first time he had visited the hospital was to get himself patched up after he’d been shot during a drug bust. It was then he had met Lauren Holden. At the time she had been in her final year as an intern, working her way through medical school on a World Navy scholarship. She’d always hated that; but, as the second youngest of five, in a naval family that wasn’t wealthy by any stretch of the imagination, she’d done what had to be done. And Lauren was nothing if not pragmatic. Pretty assertive too; she’d made the first move, and second and third; which was fine by him, part of her charm really.
They had dated casually on and off for a few months, neither willing to be tied down, until she had been called up to serve as a medic in the World Navy. They kept in touch for a while, but eventually moved on, losing all track of each other until he had joined Spectrum and met Grey, who, it transpired, was her elder brother. It was a small world.
Ochre was a little disappointed not see her there. But perhaps it was for the best, he didn’t really want any more reminders of his murky past to start crawling out of the woodwork. At least he knew for sure Lauren didn’t have any kids.
He announced himself to the receptionist, asked to see Eleanor Topping, and ended up speaking to the doctor in charge of her care.
Doctor McManus had an acne-scarred face, which made him seem young, even though he was probably about Ochre’s age, and a strong New York accent which sounded so out of place. All through their small talk, Ochre had a vague sense of this Doctor McManus being somehow familiar, though he couldn’t place the association.
“Is this place always so busy?” Ochre asked, glancing around the bustling reception.
“Pretty much,” McManus answered, “especially during the holidays. They seem to bring out the worst in people. Can’t say I mind too much, it’s good to keep busy.”
“Guess you’d rather be with your family though?”
McManus flinched, awkward emotions flitting across his face.
“I don’t have family,” He said carefully “I did, but not here anyway … So the holidays aren’t really my favourite time of year.”
“Yeah, I know what you mean.” Ochre nodded.
“Anyway, she’s in room 407. I’m going that way, so I’ll walk you there.”
McManus headed toward the room with Ricky in tow, then turned and realised Ochre hadn’t moved.
“I don’t think I’m ready for this,” Ochre admitted. “I’m going to have to face this sometime. Just give me a minute, OK?”
He felt anger rising in him. He hadn’t even wanted to visit the hospital in the first place. It was too soon, too raw. He hadn’t had the time to prepare, to know what to say. Sure, his colleagues may very well have good intentions, but they had no right to start ordering and manipulating him like he was the child in this picture.
Magenta had understood, had even argued his cause, but Blue’s word was final.
“What’s going on?” Ricky asked, unsettled by the turn of events.
“It’s fine really,” Ochre reassured him. “You go on ahead with the doctor and see Ellie for a bit. I’m just going to get a drink, you want anything?”
“No, I’m all right.” Ricky smiled, and Ochre savoured that. In anticipation that things wouldn’t be this way for a long time.
She looked better than he’d expected, or worse, honestly Ochre wasn’t sure what he had been expecting. The doctors had said her condition was good, considering the circumstances. Very minimal long term damage, physically anyway. She was still hooked up to machines bleeping and humming in the background, but otherwise she was alert and didn’t seem to be in any discomfort.
“Look, Aunt Ellie, I drew you a picture. It’s of a jet, like the one we came here on it. It’s a really good plane.”
“That’s lovely, thank you, Ricky.”
“This is Rick, I mean Captain Ochre,” Ricky said, as he arrived in the room. “He’s been taking care of me.”
Eleanor Topping glanced around to him, and then looked as if she had seen a ghost, which in her opinion, she had.
“Hi, Ellie,” Ochre began, then faltered. What could he say, small talk wouldn’t cut it and he couldn’t see a way to broach the bigger issues in the right fashion.
“Rick Fraser,” she said, disbelieving. “I thought …”
“Yeah, I know … it’s a real long story.”
“So, it’s really you?”
He nodded, no sense denying it.
“I read some conspiracy theory stuff on the net,” she continued, in a low voice, while Ricky was distracted playing with the model plane Ochre had given him as a Christmas gift. “That the assassination, your assassination, was faked and then you’d joined some secret government organisation.” She gave a slight laugh. “It seemed so crackpot, I never for a minute thought it would be true.”
“It was necessary for everyone in our organisation to sever ties to their respective pasts,” Ochre explained. “But considering my, uh, high profile I was required to take more drastic measures to ensure I disappeared from the public eye.”
“Oh, really,” Ellie scoffed. “So while all this master plan was being hatched did you, for a minute, consider my sister?”
“Of course I did. Can’t you see that I did this for her? What would have been the alternative: taking the WGPC job, which I never even wanted in the first place, moving to Europe, uprooting her from everyone and everything she’d ever known. Do you seriously think us being trapped in some foreign country together, building up resentment for each other, would have been any better ….”
“How dare you presume to know what my sister would have wanted, when you never even asked her!”
“You’re doing the exact same thing. At least she got to stay and have the support of her friends and family.”
“But she never got over you. There was never anyone else, after you ‘disappeared’. You were the love of her life and you just … you just skipped off when something better came up.”
“That’s not true or fair,” Ochre insisted, though the words cut deep. “You gotta believe me, El; I was trying to do the right thing.”
“It broke her heart, to think you were dead. And you let that happen.”
“What was I supposed to do? Call her up the day after and say, ‘hi honey, see I’m not really dead, had you goin’ there for a while, huh?’... I don’t care if you believe it or not, but there are dozens, maybe even hundreds, of people out there who want me dead, and have the means to make it happen. I couldn’t risk making contact again. While there was any chance of them hurting her as a reprisal against me, I wasn’t prepared to risk her life, because they wouldn’t have hesitated.”
“I am not going to listen to this. You’re making out that what you did was some heroic sacrifice for her own good.”
“Aunt Ellie why are you getting mad at Rick?” Ricky took her hand. “He’s my friend.”
“Is that so?” Ellie’s tone dripped with contempt for the man.
Ochre approached and crouched beside the chair Ricky was sat on, so their eyes met.
“Sure we’re friends,” he said, then decided to end the secrecy. “And that’s great, I like being your friend. But you see, thing is, I’m also your dad.”
For a moment the room fell silent.
“No.” Ricky shook his head, seemed almost amused by it. “That’s not true. You can’t be. My Daddy is in heaven, with my mommy.”
Ochre blew out a sigh. He had considered so many possible scenarios, tried to prepare for them, but never that he genuinely wouldn’t be believed.
“Mommy said so, she wouldn’t lie.” Ricky’s insistence wavered.
“I know, and she didn’t,” Ochre quickly added. “She said what she thought, what everyone thought, was the truth at the time. We had to let people think I’d died, so the bad people wouldn’t try and come after her and hurt her, or you.”
“Mommy was really sad.”
“Yeah, I never meant for that to happen. But I guess it had to be that way, and at least she had you.”
“But now she doesn’t have anybody.” Tears began to well in the boy’s eyes. “She’s in heaven all on her own.”
“I’m sorry,” Ochre said, reaching for a handkerchief. “Really, you have no idea …”
“Yeah, right,” Ellie scoffed. “All you ever cared about was your own ego.”
“I want to go home,” Ricky cried, unheard over the row which promptly erupted between Ellie and Ochre. “I’m going home.”
The element of surprise gave Ricky an advantage as he ran from the room. In the maze of corridors and mass of people he was soon able to lose Ochre and the other hospital staff, as they attempted to catch up with him. Soon though, he became hopelessly lost, and attempted to retrace his steps but nothing seemed familiar. So he decided to sit down and wait for someone to come along who would be able to help him.
Eventually a doctor found him, and walked him to the reception desk with the intention of making a tannoy announcement for the lost child. As it was, they found another Spectrum officer waiting there.
“Pat.” Ricky gave a relieved smile. “I’m so glad you’re here.”
“Yeah, good to see you too kid,” Magenta said.
“He’s my friend’s son,” he explained, and that felt really strange to say out loud, but also quite liberating to be free of the burden of secrecy. “But really I’m here in an official capacity. To talk to Eleanor Topping, following up our investigation into the recent terrorist attack.”
The doctor seemed to trust him, and relaxed a little. For his part Magenta gave a winning smile, impressed, if slightly disturbed, by how easily he could craft some manner of falsehood and deliver it with such conviction.
The doctor bought it, nodded as Magenta showed his spectrum ID, and told him which room to head to.
“Yours, I believe.”
“Rumour has it.” Ochre was too relieved to give a lecture on not running off, or whatever a good parent was supposed to do at a time like this. Instead he simply allowed Ricky to return to his aunt. Then he turned to Magenta.
“What are you doing here?” he asked.
“And it’s grand to see your cheery face too,” Magenta said. “Grey sent me.”
“Really? Last time I checked, Blue was all hell bent that I had to tough it out alone.” Ochre shrugged “And certainly not have you here to hold my hand.” He frowned. “You said Brad got involved.”
“Oh, you were listening.” Magenta smiled. “Yeah, while you were gone there was a bit of a coup. But don’t worry; you didn’t miss anything dramatic or bloody. It’s just that Blue was long overdue a visit to the Room of Sleep, and he got frogmarched out by Scarlet… So, for now Brad is our big boss man; and for some reason he’s come over all cheerful, benevolent and generally ‘un-Brad-like’. So I pushed my luck, saying it wasn’t very good that an agent had been sent into the field with no backup, and he agreed. So here am I.”
“Thanks, Pat.” Ochre smiled slightly. “You’re a pal.”
He sat down, deciding it was a good idea to allow Ellie time to rest and calm down, and waited while Magenta went to the vending machine.
“So, how are you holding up?” Magenta asked with concern, once he had returned. As was expected in such a situation he’d bought tea, Ochre had always thought that was a British, rather than Irish, thing; but he wasn’t complaining.
“Just about hanging in there, I guess.” Ochre gratefully took the styrofoam cup. “The whole damn thing is such a mess. I don’t know if we’ll ever be able to truly see eye to eye … but, before you ask, I’m not going to give up.”
“I knew you wouldn’t.”
“He knows, about me being his dad. I told him. At first he didn’t believe it, then it sunk in and he got all upset thinking Alie was all by herself. Then he took off.” Ochre took a deep breath to compose himself. “I did the right thing, didn’t I?”
“You did what you had to do.”
“Those aren’t always one and the same.”
“Why the hell didn’t she tell me?” Ochre began, almost slamming down the cup. “Then I would have been able to do something, we could have made it work. Instead of missing out on so much and getting into the stupid mess.”
“You’re right, it’s not fair,” Magenta said, “but I guess Alie had her reasons, did what she thought was best at the time … life can’t always be simple and easy. Our mistakes are what really make us who we are.”
“Ricky isn’t a mistake,” Ochre stated firmly.
“Of course he isn’t. I just mean about the stuff we don’t expect, that wasn’t exactly what we’d hoped for. Like, think about it: if you’d got into the WAAF, instead of being a cop, then you and Alie would never have met. And Ricky wouldn’t exist.” Magenta shrugged. “It might seem like the end of the world now, but these things have a way of working out. When you look back and can see the big picture.”
“What if I make the wrong call, and mess this up?”
“Some good will come of it.”
“Yeah, right, you don’t know that for sure. Alie’s family never really liked me, and they nurse grudges like they’re infants in intensive care.”
“Ooh, fun, I like getting embroiled in a good grudge match. It’s home from home.” Then Magenta grew serious, and suggested, “Maybe I should talk to her? It might help for her to hear a different perspective.”
“Hmm, maybe, but this is something I have to do for myself.”
“If you insist, go on, drink your tea before it gets cold.”
Ricky was sitting in a non-descript plastic chair, which made him seem so small and fragile. He looked up from his drawing as Magenta entered.
“Is Rick mad at me?” the boy said, “For running away like that, I know that I shouldn’t have.”
“He understands; we know that sometimes people get scared and do stupid things. Even when they’re grown ups and used to dealing with bad stuff.”
Ricky nodded, accepting his explanation. Then turned back to his artwork.
“So you’re Captain …”
“Magenta.” It was habit of his, to get in there quick and tell people; it saved the embarrassment of getting called ‘Captain Pink’.
“Right.” Ellie smiled. “We’ve met before, haven’t we?”
“Yes.” He saw no sense in not being honest.
“I do remember; it was around father’s day. Ricky had made that card and you said you’d … you did give it to Rick.”
“He didn’t ask, for me to visit you,” he said. “Actually, he didn’t even know about it until I gave him the card. He did know about Ricky, but wasn’t going to get involved. It wasn’t an easy choice, but that’s what he thought would be for the best, that for him to have reappeared would have put you and Ricky at risk. So the visit was really for my own curiosity.”
“You two are close then? Well, you must be, for him to confide in you.”
“Yeah, he’s my best friend. And we’re partners too, in the good old ‘cop buddy’ movie tradition.”
“So were you a cop too?”
Magenta almost laughed at the irony of that question, but instead said, “Actually, no, my expertise is in electronics; computers, security systems, that kind of thing. I won’t bore you with the details, but let’s just say there wasn’t exactly a queue round the block of girls desperate to be my prom date.”
Ellie laughed, and Magenta thought that under other circumstances they could be friends. Though, of course, without this situation in play they wouldn’t have met in the first place.
Ellie sank back into the pillows, gave a deep sigh.
“This situation … it’s a lot to take in. I don’t know where to go from here. We’ll need to come to some decision.”
“Yeah, I get that,” Magenta reassured her.
“I already know we can’t turn back the clock and act like this never happened. Pretend it isn’t a huge thing. I just, need some time to think.”
Magenta nodded. “Look, you don’t have to decide anything right now, just get yourself better and we’ll take care of everything else.”
“Thank you …” she hesitated.
“My friends call me Pat.”
Ochre re entered the room, tossing his now empty cup into the trash can.
“Hey, kiddo.” He smiled, crouching in front of Ricky’s chair. “We’re friends now, right?”
Ochre couldn’t help noticing the guarded tone in Ricky’s voice; but he imagined that was inevitable considering the recent bombshell. So he let it go.
“Is there anything you need?” Ochre asked. “You hungry? thirsty?”
“Yes, I would like a drink, please,” Ricky answered.
“Sure, you can get whatever you like, on me. Pat’ll take you, while I talk to your aunt, OK?”
Ricky left the room, and then Ochre turned his attention to Ellie.
“Just hear me out,” He said. And she nodded, allowing him that chance to speak his mind.
“For the first few months we were stationed at a training facility in the Australian outback. Those of us who had family could only contact them by mail, and the letters had to be sent via Futura City, so they wouldn’t have postmarks or anything that’d give a hint of where we were. Guess they probably read and censored our letters too. We couldn’t leave either; going to the nearest town for supplies was like a trip to Disneyland. Not that we had much time, with all the training and team building stuff.”
Ochre sighed. “So, don’t you see, no matter how much I missed Alie -and believe me I did more than anything - it wouldn’t have been fair to have continued the relationship. We would barely ever have seen each other, or even really been able to communicate. I wanted to try. So many times I caught myself halfway through dialling her number. But I couldn’t, it wouldn’t have been fair. She deserved better than that; someone who would be there and treat her right. And I loved her enough to let her go, leave her with good memories, rather than be selfish and cling to the scraps until it inevitably fell apart. Sure, I made the choice to take the job, but it wasn’t an easy choice.”
“The thing I can’t get my head around.” Ellie said. “Is why now? I talked to your friend; he said you knew about Ricky months ago. I can understand you didn’t know about him until then, so wouldn’t have been involved before. But once you did, you just ignored us. And then next thing you’ve decided to get in the running for ‘father of the year’. It’s quite a change of tune, you have to admit.”
“I never meant to get involved,” Ochre admitted. “It was just after the funeral for, Christ’s sake, the poor kid had been through enough upheaval already. Then, as the months went on, it got even harder to find a way to start the ball rolling. He’s still just a little kid, I didn’t know if he’d be able to understand and cope. And while the immediate threat of my true identity being found out maybe isn’t as big a risk, now that so much time has passed, it’s still a concern. Seeing you together, hearing what Pat said after he saw you, I knew that Ricky had a great life already, the life you’d made for him, and I didn’t want to ruin that.”
“Let me guess; you loved him enough to let him go too.” Ellie rolled her eyes.
“It, it seemed like the only thing I could do.” Ochre faltered. “But then this threat came along. And he needed me, so I had to deal with it. To take him in and get to know him. And I do know him, love him. He’s my son after all. All the rest of my family died years back, so he’s all I’ve got. It’s like getting a second chance, to make it right again. A boy needs his father.”
“I can assure you he’s been managing just fine until now.”
“Yeah, I can see that. You’ve been doing a great job, El. I’m not asking you to forgive me …”
“Good, because if you expected that then you’re an even bigger idiot than you were five years ago.”
“This isn’t about me. Whatever happens from now on is going to have a direct impact on Ricky. And I’m sure we both agree he’s the most important person in this equation. Even while he’s been with us, he’s talked about his dad; he’s got this image in his head and he idolises that. I know that I’ll never be able to live up to it, but surely he deserves a chance to still have a parent and know all of his family?”
For a moment all Ellie could do was stare at him, the anger still steely in her eyes. She wasn’t prepared to back down any more than he was. She seemed about to say something; but Doctor McManus interrupted them.
“I’m sorry, but visiting hours are nearly over,” He said. “We need to keep the short, for the more critical care patients. They need their rest.”
“That’s fine,” Ellie said briskly. “He was just leaving.”
“Well?” Magenta said, letting the weight of that one word hang.
“Kinda early to tell,” Ochre admitted, gratefully slumping down on a chair in the corridor. “But it seemed to go pretty well.”
Magenta stared at him; and Ochre had admit even a naive child wouldn’t have been fooled by that.
“After all she didn’t kill me or anything,” He clarified, trying to lighten the mood. “I’m guessing you guys had a better time.”
“I made a plane.” Ricky smiled, holding up his artwork, a paper dart fashioned from the page of Spectrum issue notepaper. “Just like you showed me how.”
At that Ochre could only smile.
“Hey, it’s nearly lunchtime,” Magenta said, checking his watch. “How about we go get some food?”
Ochre had expected as much. It seemed that in Magenta’s mind more often than not, ‘taking care of people’ was synonymous with ‘feed them’; and naturally in a crisis he would want to support his friends. It made good sense in a way; to be well nourished in preparation for whatever battle lay ahead. Ochre could image how frustrating it must be for Pat to be partnered with someone that lost his appetite in times of stress.
“I know the best place,” Magenta added.
“Thought you said you’d never been to the city before?” Ochre said sceptically. “Besides hardly anywhere is open today.”
“Well, if I tell you it’ll spoil the surprise … so, you up for a magical mystery tour?”
Ochre smiled, understanding. The stress and emotions that had built up over the last few days, and his conversation with Ellie, seemed to settle like a heavy weight over him. He knew this wasn’t over, not by a long shot. So it was a relief to have that gesture of friendship. That for a moment he could be cared for, and to let someone else shoulder some of the burden.
“Are you coming then?” Ricky said, watching him with curiosity and concern. And Ochre couldn’t help but marvel that he could be a part of creating something, someone, who was so perfect.
“Yeah, sure.” Ochre mentally shook himself from the smog of his thoughts. Resting a hand on Ricky’s head as he stood up, the only gesture of affection he would allow himself to make.
“Pat went to go get the car,” Ricky explained, as Ochre noticed his partner’s absence.
“We better go find him then,” Ochre said, forcing himself to be cheery, but finding that around the boy it came naturally. “See what insane plan he’s come up with this time.”
And so they walked together, father and son, out into the sunlight and whatever else lay before them.
Author’s notes, credits, acknowledgements
This story was ultimately inspired by ‘Tears of a clown’ by Marion Woods. I did develop the ideas a little in my own story ‘Kith & Kin’, but, if anything, that just goaded the plot bunny. So hopefully this has been a sufficient exorcism. It has ended up being a rather different take on things than her own story ‘You belong to me’; but I’m a sucker for cute happy kid-fic.
Captain Starlight is taken from ‘More important than substance’ – by Marion Woods.
Alison ‘Alie’, Eleanor and Ricky Topping first appeared in ‘Tears of a clown’, all of which are Marion’s creations, as is Lieutenant Flaxen.
Lieutenant Copper (Grainne O’Brien) is from ‘Dangerous Liaisons’ by Caroline Smith.
All other characters are mine; and the Spectrum characters are of course courtesy of the original series.
Thank you to …
Marion; for her encouragement, useful insights, and being my long suffering beta.
Chris; for other beta reading insights, and all she does for this website and the fandom itself.
My fellow fans, who have been so encouraging.
And ultimately to my own father. Who watched Anderson shows as a boy. Then years later passed on that enjoyment to his own children, helped them to grow and achieve so much by supporting their aspirations. Even the crazy ones like writing. Of which this story is the end result. I think he made a good call.
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