Original series Suitable for all readers


Colouring the Troops


A Pre-Spectrum short story


Mary J. Rudy



       Lieutenant Mary Carlin shifted a pile of papers, still warm from the printer, to her other side as she unlocked the door to the battalion command offices. She expected to get a lot of work done today, as she usually did when the colonel was out of the office, and was pleasantly surprised that the reports she ordered the night before were waiting for her this morning.

       Once inside the command suite, Carlin dropped the papers on her desk and got straight to work, stopping only to accept a courier delivery addressed to her superior. A few minutes later, another man entered the suite. This one was clad in an officer's uniform but looked almost as young as the courier.

       "'Morning, Lieutenant," he said cordially as he unlocked the inner office.

       Carlin seemed surprised to see him. "Good morning, Colonel." She followed him inside with another pile of reports and the courier envelope. "I wasn't expecting you here today, sir. Did Captain Donahue cancel the exercise today?"

       "No, unfortunately I was the one who had to cancel." He paused as he spotted the envelope atop the pile of paperwork in her arms. "Is the post here already?"

       "No, sir. That came by special courier a few minutes ago."

       The young colonel was about to open the envelope when his telephone rang. He tossed the envelope into his mail basket and grabbed the handset just ahead of his aide.

       "Third Special Forces Battalion. Colonel Metcalfe." He listened. "It's all right, Sergeant. I'm expecting him." The handset clattered back onto its cradle as he turned his attention to Carlin. "That's the reason I'm here. Someone from World Government headquarters rang last night after you left and insisted that I speak to him today. I was hoping you knew something about it."

       "Sorry, Colonel, I don't."

       "I was afraid of that. If he's from HQ, it's probably not good."

       "Not necessarily, sir. Maybe it has something to do with the courier delivery."

       "Well, send him in when he gets here and I'll find out soon enough. I'll get some coffee on." Metcalfe closed the door behind him.



       After starting the coffee, Metcalfe headed for his private washroom where he checked his appearance in the mirror. He had just finished a quick touch-up with his razor when his intercom buzzed.

       "Your appointment is here, Colonel."

       "Very well, Lieutenant. Send him in."

       A tall, dark-haired man strode into the office. Although he was dressed in civilian clothes, there was no mistaking that he had previously served in the military--and an eventful career at that, Metcalfe thought to himself. He definitely had the military bearing only career officers seemed to achieve, particularly those who had seen combat. Yet there was something else about him, something familiar.

       "Good morning, Colonel," the man greeted in a booming voice. His accent could have been American, Canadian or even English. "My name is Turner, Conrad Turner."

       Metcalfe gave him a hearty handshake, a smile of recognition on his face. "The Commander Turner of the World Space Patrol? An honor to meet you, sir."

       "Actually, we've met before, a long time ago when I served under your father's command. You were rather young at the time, so I wouldn't expect you to remember."

       "I remember the occasion quite well, in fact. Meeting one of my boyhood heroes gave me a thrill."

       "And who would have thought that boy would one day become Colonel Paul Metcalfe, V.C. and Bar, the hero of the WAAF?"

       Metcalfe smiled awkwardly and waved the older man to a chair as a way of changing the subject. He poured coffee into two bone china cups decorated with the WAAF Special Forces insignia. "So what brings you here to WAAF Canada HQ, Commander Turner?"

       "You can drop the 'commander.' I retired from the WSP when the World Government made me a better offer as a consultant."

       "Ah, living the comfortable life of a World Military pensioner whilst collecting a World Government salary. What do the Yanks call that, 'double-dipping'?"

       "I wouldn't know. I directed that all my pension money be donated to the WSP Widows' and Orphans' Fund."

       "A noble gesture indeed. But I know you're not here to sell me a retirement scheme."

       "No, Colonel, actually I'm here to offer you a chance to get back into the field where you belong."

       Now that made Metcalfe sit up a little straighter.

       Turner sat casually in the chair, crossing his ankle over his knee. "I thought that would get your attention. You see, I know all about your aversion to desk jobs and paperwork. You're a born soldier, not a paper-pusher. And an infantry officer of your age, with two Victoria Crosses to his name, belongs out in the field with his troops, not sitting in an office with a bottle hidden in his desk drawer."

       Metcalfe stole a glance at his desk. He really did have a bottle of Scotch in the bottom drawer, a Christmas present he'd never opened. Only one person knew about it, the one who'd given it to him....

       "Did my father send you here?"

       Turner laughed. "Good heavens, no! I'm on the selection committee for Project Spectrum."

       Metcalfe stared at Turner quizzically, his curiosity hiding his embarrassment. "That's the current effort to reorganize the World Military, isn't it?"

       "That's what we want the general public to think. What we are actually doing is creating an elite world security force of the same name."

       "And what exactly will make this 'Spectrum Force' so different from all the other elite forces already in the World Military?"

       "Well, for starters, Spectrum won't be limited to the military. The organization will encompass all aspects of world security. This will include the things other non-military organizations do best, such as intelligence gathering, communications monitoring and so on." Turner sipped, then took a long pull on his coffee, his dark eyes conveying his approval of the colonel's brew. "You could say that this organization will run the 'full spectrum' of maximum security."

       "Sounds exciting." Metcalfe nestled into his chair, resting his elbow on the chair arm and stroking his chin in the pose that always invoked a comparison to his father. "Tell me more."

       "Spectrum will not be tied to any one World Government or World Military organization," Turner continued. "The commander-in-chief will answer only to the World President. Our senior staff will be made up of men and women considered to be the best in their respective fields." He paused and stared directly at Metcalfe. "That, Colonel, is where you come in."

       "Me? On the senior staff?"

       "The selection committee put your name at the top of the list two months ago."

       "And it's taken you this long to contact me?"

       "It's taken me that long to pin you down for this interview."

       Metcalfe smiled. "Well, I must admit I take advantage of every opportunity to go out into the field."

       "I don't blame you. I'd go spare if I had to fly a desk the rest of my career."

       "But it sounds like I will be behind a desk the rest of my career, if Spectrum want me for their senior staff."

       "Ah, but you're assuming Spectrum will be organized similar to the World Army Air Force. The rank structure, among other things, will be quite different from what you're used to."

       "How, exactly?"

       "For example, all senior staff such as yourself will also be field officers, holding the rank of captain."

       Metcalfe glared at him. "Mr. Turner, if you think I've come this far in my career to--to--" He searched for the vernacular. "--to pack it in and join an organization I know nothing about, with my only incentive being a three-rank demotion, you are seriously mistaken!"

       "Who said anything about a demotion? Only your title will change. You'll still retain your time-in-rank seniority, you'll still draw the same pay--"

       "The pay's not important," Metcalfe snapped.

       "--and your starting rank in Spectrum will be equivalent to your present rank, with the added bonus of going out into the field whenever you are needed." Turner drained his coffee cup and held it out for a refill as he continued. "Everybody reacts the same way as you did, even the civilians. Take the commander-in-chief, for example. He's a former admiral in the World Navy, and currently head of the Universal Secret Service."

       "Charles Gray is to head it?  Admiral Gray?"

       "The very same. When he first heard he will 'only' be a colonel, you could have heard him on the moon. But once the real meaning of the rank was explained to him, he joined up straight away."

       Metcalfe visibly relaxed and pondered the idea. Gray was the man responsible for last year's infamous housecleaning of the USS's London bureau, which until he came along was overrun with double agents and infiltrators. If Spectrum were good enough for Admiral Gray, perhaps he should give this a bit more thought. "So I would be Captain Metcalfe, then."

       "Not exactly."

       "But you just said--"

       Turner held up a hand to stop him. "Yes, I did say you would be a captain. No, you will not be Captain Metcalfe, because all senior Spectrum officers will have code names."

       Metcalfe raised an eyebrow. "Code names?"

       "That's the other thing that will make Spectrum completely different from the rest of the World Government agencies. Spectrum field agents will receive a code name based on a color of the rainbow--the other reason for calling the organization 'Spectrum.' Your everyday uniform will incorporate this color."

       "I don't know if I fancy the idea of security officers walking about in brightly-colored uniforms. You might as well hang bull's-eyes round their necks."

       "No one will know you are an officer. You know how, in Special Forces, you don't wear rank insignia in the field?"

       Metcalfe smiled slightly. More than one hapless junior officer had mistaken him, in his late twenties the youngest colonel in the WAAF, for a green recruit. "Of course. So that the enemy won't discover the mission's importance."

       "It's the same idea. The Spectrum everyday uniforms will be of a completely new design, with no insignia of rank. Instead of a collar rank badge, you will wear a color-coded cap, waistcoat and boots. Other units, such as security police, will have special uniforms as well. No one will know your exact rank or importance."

       "It still doesn't sound like Spectrum will be your usual covert security organization."

       "Spectrum's operations won't be completely covert. It's hoped that the high-profile security Spectrum will provide will discourage terrorism merely by its presence."

       "That's a possibility, but won't maintaining a high profile compromise security? The agents' families may be in danger if their identities are made public."

       "We've allowed for that. At no time will Spectrum ever reveal an agent's name to anyone but the World President. The media will be under a strict gag order for those occasions where news coverage will be permitted. We're also working on developing a high-tech solution to the problem of our agents inadvertently being photographed."

       "Excellent idea, that. But what about the photographs of the agents that have been published over the years?"

       "You mean like that one up there? I think that's an acceptable risk." Turner pointed to a framed newspaper clipping on the wall of the office. The photo in the article showed an even younger Metcalfe, as a WAAF lieutenant in full dress uniform, snapping a salute in the direction of the photographer. "That's when you got that first VC, isn't it?"

       Metcalfe nodded. "The memorial service afterward. I have it hanging there to remind me why I'm here." He glanced ruefully at the picture. "I won't bore you with the story. It must have been part of your background check."

       Turner pulled a rather thick file folder out of his briefcase and laid it on the colonel's desk. "Not only that one, but dozens of others." He smiled roguishly as he patted the folder. "Know how much money I would make if I sold this to Hollywood?"

       "They wouldn't believe half of it. I don't believe it myself sometimes."

       "I read one I'm not sure I believe. It's about a 3-year-old boy whose mummy would have died of a miscarriage if he hadn't been taught how to use the telephone."

       Metcalfe stared at him. No one knew about that.

       "You are thorough, aren't you?"

       "It's my job. I want to know all I can about my fellow Spectrum officers before I begin training them--"

       Metcalfe straightened in his seat. "Hold on, I haven't even given you an answer yet!"

       "You surprise me, Colonel. I rather thought I'd get the same reaction from you as I did that chap over at the World Aeronautic Society." He chuckled. "The poor devil started his WAS career as a test pilot, but now he's shackled to a desk in the security department. As soon as he heard he'd go back to flying aeroplanes-- it didn't matter which kind, as long as he was flying again--all he said was 'Where do I sign?'"

       "Typical," muttered Metcalfe.

       "The same is often said about combat soldiers," Turner pointed out. "I know you're not happy unless you're in the thick of the action. I think this would be perfect for you."

       "But it's not that simple for me. I can't just resign my commission and go back to doing what I like best."

       "Why not?"

       "I'd be throwing a bit more away than your friend at the Aeronautic Society, wouldn't I? A lot more is expected of me in my situation. From all the research you've done on me, you must know that I'm well on my way to becoming the WAAF's youngest general in a few years--"

       "Oh, it won't take that long."

       Turner's reply was only a hair quicker than it should have been. Metcalfe didn't miss it.

       "Do you know something I don't?"

       "Well--er, no, nothing more than the usual rumors." Turner sighed inwardly. The Special Forces Commandant had warned him that the kid would be sharp, but Colonel Metcalfe seemed to be anticipating his every move. Well, that's why we want him, isn't it? "I just meant that it shouldn't take you that long to become Spectrum's commander-in-chief. You will, after all, start your career near the top of the chain of command--"

       "--And I know of many senior staff officers who find themselves ending their careers in that same position. I really don't see where your offer affords me any opportunity for advancement."

       "Oh, we anticipate a rather high turnover rate. Spectrum senior staff, after all, will differ from their World Military counterparts in one very important way."

       "By their undertaking dangerous missions no other force would dare undertake?"

       "By their getting shot at on a regular basis." Turner paused for effect, smiling. "And that's another reason the selection committee are interested in you. Over the years, Colonel, you have proven yourself very good at dodging bullets."

       Metcalfe sat back in the chair and rocked slowly. "Well, I must say, Mr. Turner, you certainly have my interest, but I would like a little time to think it over."

       The former WSP officer stood and set his empty cup and saucer on Metcalfe's desk. "I was hoping I'd have your answer today, but I can certainly understand your wanting to discuss it--"

       Again, Metcalfe was waiting for him. "With my father?"

       "Oh, I'm sure you don't discuss every career move with him, but I assumed you might do this time."

       "Since I'll be breaking with tradition, you mean. Not becoming one of the 'Family of Generals.'"

       "Something like that."

       "I broke with tradition years ago when I went to the Point instead of Sandhurst. And my father supported my decision. All my adult life I've made my own decisions, Mr. Turner, and for the most part they have been with the blessings of my father." He stood and straightened his tunic on reflex. "You see, unlike with most military families, there is no shame in breaking a Metcalfe 'family tradition.' We look on it rather as starting a new one."

       "I admire that. It can't be easy in this constantly-changing world." Turner reached into his shirt pocket and handed Metcalfe a business card. "Can I expect your decision sometime this week?"

       "You can expect it tomorrow, Mr. Turner." He dropped the card on his desk and stretched out his hand. "It's been a pleasure to see you again."

       Turner grasped the younger man's hand and shook it firmly. "I hope to see a lot more of you, Colonel."



       Metcalfe sat in the same position for several minutes after Turner left, going over what he had said. His offer certainly was tempting, but as he'd pointed out to Turner, the idea of a "world elite force" was nothing new. This was only the latest version of it. He quickly reminded himself that the young World Government had attempted several of these reorganizations since he'd received his commission. While some had succeeded, others had met with disastrous results. Several of his West Point classmates had chosen this "fast track" to military leadership, only to cause permanent damage to their careers--and more than one had lost his life due to bureaucratic miscommunication.

       But this one was a little better thought out than the rest, he admitted. At least Spectrum were making the attempt to organize all the components of the World Government, not just the military. That in itself got his attention more than anything. How many times had his junior officers reported to him that they weren't able to get the information they needed from other World Government agencies? How many times did other countries' military units fail to provide proper mission support for Special Forces ops? If one commander--especially a brilliant naval strategist like Admiral Gray-- had charge of all the component units, surely the whole operation would run more smoothly.

       He came out of his reverie when Lieutenant Carlin knocked and entered with the rest of the paperwork. "Did it go well, sir?"


       "Your meeting with Mr. Turner." She knew her commanding officer well enough to know that the meeting hadn't gone quite as he'd expected. Something was wrong.

       Metcalfe sighed. "I can't go into too much detail, Lieutenant. Let's just say I have a big decision to make, and it's not going to be an easy one." He picked up his pen and started signing the reports, barely looking at them as he did so.

       "I understand, sir. I'll leave you to it then, shall I?"

       "Yes, thanks. I need a little time to think this one over." He smiled at Carlin as she gathered up the signed reports and closed the door behind her.

       Metcalfe reached for Turner's business card to put it into his pocket, then noticed the courier envelope still in his mail basket under it. As he picked it up, he saw it was from the Special Forces command offices and not from World Government headquarters as Lieutenant Carlin had speculated. Just that moment his intercom buzzed again.

       He punched the button. "What is it, Lieutenant?! I thought I just said I wasn't to be disturbed."

       "Sorry to bother you, sir, but I have an incoming video call for you. From your father."

       "My father?" The only time General Metcalfe used the videophone was at Christmas. What the devil does he want? "Oh, very well. Put him through." He sat back in the chair and relaxed as he waited for the connection.

       The small screen before him flickered to life, and General Charles Metcalfe appeared, seated in almost the exact position as his son. Many people remarked on seeing the two of them together that they bore almost no physical resemblance, Paul having inherited his youthful good looks from his mother's side of the family. Their mannerisms, however, were undeniably identical.

       General Metcalfe spoke first, unbridled excitement in his normally stern voice. "Paul! I am so happy I was able to reach you!"

       Paul smiled. "Hello, Dad. To what do I owe the pleasure?"

       The general seemed surprised. "How on earth can you be so calm after hearing that sort of news?"

       "What news?"

       "You're having me on, Paul. Your uncle George rang me this morning and told me all about it."

       "Honestly, Dad, I have no idea what you're talking about--" He paused. George Metcalfe, Charles' younger brother and another of the "Family of Generals," was currently posted at WAAF Headquarters. Involved with approving transfers…

       Metcalfe grabbed the envelope, tore it open and cursorily scanned the contents. Inside was a directive from the Special Forces Commandant, Brigadier General Small:


       …It is my pleasure to inform you… accepted into the next class… Command And General Staff College…


       "What the--?" Metcalfe gasped, sitting upright in his chair and rereading the document more carefully. "So that's why he was so intent on speaking to me this morning!"

       "Someone spoke to you? But you just said you didn't know anything about it."

       Paul sighed and looked at the screen, the expression on his face one that the general hadn't seen since his son's decision to enter West Point. "We need to talk, Dad."






Author's Notes:


This story has been sitting on my PC for some time.  I had actually started it way before Colonel Chris' site even existed.  It was meant to be part of a much bigger story, but the colonel beat me to it with All the Colours of the Rainbow!  In it I try to tie up another few loose ends, such as where the idea for the organization – and the name – Spectrum came from, the reasoning behind the rankless, brightly-colored uniforms and so on.  But upon re-reading it after all these years I thought it stood on its own well enough and it was a shame to keep it all to myself.  Don't be surprised, however, if you eventually see it as part of the long-awaited revision of All the Colours!  And the title?  It's supposed to be a takeoff on the Trooping the Colour ceremony...


Lieutenant Mary Carlin is my own character; she made her first appearance in Ferguson's Folly.  General Metcalfe is also my own, but he has been around a lot longer, making his first appearance in Chance for a Lifetime.  The others, of course, you all know and they're under copyright.  I'll leave the legal mumbo-jumbo to the webmaster.







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