a Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons short story
by Mary J. Rudy
Captain Scarlet exited through the Control Room door and stepped off the moving walkway. He nodded in greeting to another senior staff officer.
“’Morning, Captain Ochre,” he said pleasantly.
“Is he in a good mood?” Ochre asked.
Scarlet shook his head. “In a word, no. And he’s got a lot of paperwork in front of him. If you want to stay in his good books, you’d better make it quick.” He checked his watch. “Can’t stop, I’m on my way to London. See you in a few days.”
“Have a safe flight.” Ochre stepped on the belt, then pressed the intercom. “Captain Ochre to see Colonel White.”
A cheerful Caribbean voice answered him. “SIG, Captain. He’s been expecting you.” The door reopened as the walkway started up again, carrying the American captain through the Control Room to the colonel’s desk. “Good morning, Captain,” the same voice repeated, in person this time. It was the colonel’s aide, who was reading a printout at his own desk beside the walkway.
“Good morning, Lieutenant,” Ochre replied, nodding at the young black man, then looking ahead of him to his commanding officer. “Reporting as ordered, Colonel.”
“At ease, Captain.” The silver-haired Englishman seated before him pressed a button on his circular desk, and a stool rose from the floor. “It has come to my attention that we have not had a readiness drill here on Cloudbase for several months.”
“That’s right, sir. The Mysterons have kept us pretty busy.” He then frowned. “But why are you telling me? You usually spring these drills on us without warning.”
“Because you will be organizing this one. Captain Scarlet, who as you know normally organizes the readiness drills, has been called down to Spectrum Headquarters London.”
White nodded. “A few days ago Lieutenant Green uncovered some minor information leaks that occurred during the latest Mysteron threat. I need your expertise in devising some complicated riddles for our personnel to solve with the cooperation of security agencies on the surface.”
“With all due respect, sir, wouldn’t Captain Blue be a better choice for a security drill? He was head of security at the World Aeronautic Society—”
“I didn’t have Blue in mind. The security breach involved the law enforcement authorities in a major American city, and that is right up your street.” White looked puzzled. “Is there a problem, Captain Ochre?”
“No, sir, it’s just that I’ve been planning a lot of activities on base for the next few days.”
“What sort of activities?”
“The day after tomorrow’s the Fourth of July, Colonel. Since it’s been so quiet, we American personnel have been making plans to celebrate our national holiday, and I’ve been coordinating their efforts.” Ochre paused and took a deep breath, anticipating the colonel’s answer before he even asked the question. “Could the drill possibly be delayed a few more days?”
He knew it wouldn’t sit too well with the Spectrum commander-in-chief, but he underestimated White’s reaction. The icy blue-eyed stare he gave Ochre spoke volumes, however, and it was a long moment before Colonel White spoke.
“May I remind you, Captain Ochre,” White said quietly but sharply, his displeasure evident, “that Spectrum is an international security organization. That is still our primary purpose, whether the Mysterons decide to rear their ugly heads or not, and we must remain vigilant at all times. The social activities of one group of people on this base do not take precedence over our operations.”
“Of course not, Colonel. I was merely suggesting—”
“Well, I’m not suggesting, Captain. I’m ordering you. Prepare a scenario for a security readiness drill to be conducted in 48 hours’ time. Is that clear?”
SIG, Colonel. Perfectly clear. I’ll prepare a good one for you.” He rose from the stool and stepped onto the conveyor belt. “Though it may not be what you expect,” he muttered under his breath as he turned toward the exit.
Later that day, an emergency meeting was taking place in one of Cloudbase’s small conference rooms. No Mysteron threat had been declared, nor was there a “situation” in one of the world’s still numerous hotspots. Nevertheless, the occupants were still preparing for battle.
“Rick, aren’t you taking this a little too seriously?” sighed Captain Blue. He looked just as tired as he sounded, having been roused from sleep for this meeting.
Captain Ochre shook his head of brown hair. “I’m just following orders. He ordered me to plan an exercise, so I’m planning one.”
“I’m sure this kind of ‘exercise’ isn’t what the colonel had in mind.”
“Well, having a drill on the Fourth of July isn’t what I had in mind, either.”
“You make a point,” Captain Magenta chimed in, “but remember if you go through with this he’ll have your head on a platter. If you’re lucky, he’ll just court-martial you.”
“Oh, come on,” Ochre retorted. “How can he court-martial me? I’m not disobeying orders.” He smiled. “You could even say I’m doing what he always tells us to do—”
“Using your initiative, you mean.”
The occupants of the conference room turned toward the doorway at the sound of the voice.
Captain Scarlet reached his cruising altitude and switched on the automatic pilot. He was alone in the SPJ; a copilot wasn’t necessary for the short trip from Cloudbase’s current location to Spectrum’s ground headquarters, and there weren’t any passengers on this particular trip. He didn’t mind the solitude, as it was something one rarely had on Cloudbase.
He ran through his schedule for the day. Mostly routine stuff, and with any luck he’d have the evening to himself. What to do? There was that West End show Dianne had suggested he might enjoy, but he’d prefer to go with her, and she was on duty. Nor was there any point in going out to Winchester; his parents were on holiday in the South of France for their wedding anniversary. No doubt his father had assigned some poor aircraftman to look in on the dog whilst they were away. Maybe he’d visit one of his other relatives, who often complained that they hadn’t seen him for donkey’s years…
The microphone swinging down from his cap and his epaulets flashing brought him out of his reverie. He immediately answered.
“Shouldn’t you be in the Control Room, Lieutenant?” Captain Ochre snapped. “I have a lot of work to do.”
“That’s why I’m here,” he replied.
Ochre looked at him suspiciously. “You can report back to the colonel that yes, I am working on the drill.”
Green shook his head. “The colonel didn’t send me. I heard what you said as you left Control.” There was a gleam in his eye as he continued, “I thought you could use some help—”
“I don’t need any help planning the drill—”
“—planning your rebellion.” He smiled at the other faces in the room. “I know it’s not going to be the usual ‘readiness drill,’ since Colonel White’s going to cancel your holiday celebrations.”
Now Blue was wide awake. “He’s what?”
Ochre nodded. “This drill is to ‘take priority over our social activities,’” he said sarcastically.
“Isn’t he going to let us still have the festivities, like we’ve always done in the past, just scaled down?”
“Well, he didn’t officially ‘cancel’ them, Captain, at least not yet,” Green pointed out, “but I’ve just sent communiqués to all the regional headquarters that we’ll be on full red alert drill on 4th July. If does the same as he’s done the other times we’ve been on alert, he’s going to cancel everything but the athletic events.”
“So in other words,” added Ochre, “just about all the plans we made last week were for naught.”
Blue sighed. “Well, it sounds like Colonel White needs a little lesson in American history. Count me in, and I’m sure Symphony will go along.”
“I may not have been born in America,” Captain Magenta said, putting on his best Irish brogue, “but it’s been my home since I was a wee lad. Besides, did you ever know an Irishman to pass up a chance to get back at the Brits? Of course I’m in.”
Green smiled. “As long as you promise not to jettison my tea ration, I’ll help any way I can.” They all laughed.
“Who else do you think can we count on?” asked Ochre.
“I’m sure Destiny will be all for it,” Magenta said, a bit too quickly.
Blue and Ochre exchanged glances. There had been rumors going around about those two… “How do you know that?” Blue asked.
Magenta was ready with a comeback, however. “Well—you know, the French have always hated the Brits and vice-versa. And you know how Destiny loves a conspiracy.”
“Don’t remind me,” said Blue, rolling his eyes. “That last ‘conspiracy’ was enough excitement for me for a while.”
The others nodded silently. Captain Blue had had enough trouble in the Nevada desert to last a lifetime.
“Let’s stick with the Americans for a minute,” Blue said by way of changing the subject. “Grey’s on duty in the Information Center. When his shift’s over I’ll check with him.”
“And I’ll check with Melody,” Ochre added. “That’s it for the Americans, now for the others. Magenta, go ahead and talk to Destiny. I think you can trust her.” He smiled knowingly at Blue and continued, “Rhapsody, of course, is in the enemy column. What about Harmony?”
“Wild card,” noted Green. “She could go either way. I’d say keep her in the dark until the actual exercise.”
“Agreed. I suggest we spread the word around to the rest of the Americans on base. But be very careful; we don’t want the others finding out.”
“Especially Captain Scarlet,” Magenta pointed out. “He’s the one who normally runs the drills. Surely he’s got a response prepared for just about any scenario.”
“Yeah, what about him?” asked Blue. “He’ll smell this one a mile away and react before you can distribute the paintball guns.”
“Don’t worry about Scarlet,” Green said with a smile. “He’s down at Spectrum London, and won’t be back here until it’s all over. I’d be more worried about Grey.”
“Don’t you remember when you all first met, while you were on that little jaunt through the Outback? Grey had a ‘bug’ planted on him so Captain Black could monitor his—your actions.”
“You’re right!” Blue interrupted. “And any time we have a discussion, Grey inevitably takes the colonel’s side.” He paused, thinking. “Do you think we should consider Grey a Tory sympathizer?”
“Now who’s taking the ‘rebellion’ seriously?” laughed Ochre. “I’d advise telling Grey as little as possible. Keep him on a need-to-know basis.”
“SIG, Captain Ochre,” replied Blue smartly. “Right now, I think all he ‘needs to know’ is the usual rumor about an upcoming drill.”
“OK, then, that’s Grey taken care of. Let’s divvy up the task of informing the support personnel, and then we’ll plan our strategy.”
Scarlet noted that his epaulets were flashing white. That didn’t necessarily mean that Colonel White was contacting him, though. The color was widely used in Spectrum communications; messages from the Angels also caused white epaulet flashes, as did incoming messages from other Spectrum installations. He expected it was Spectrum London checking on his ETA.
“This is Captain Scarlet,” he barked authoritatively into the microphone.
“My, aren’t we official!”
“Rhapsody?!” he blurted, sitting bolt upright in the pilot’s seat. “You’re taking a risk, aren’t you? What if someone’s monitoring—”
“Don’t worry, I’m on the closed channel. The only one who can pick us up is Lieutenant Green, and he’s not in the Control Room.”
“How can you be sure?”
“The colonel told me. When I radioed to check in, he answered.” Her voice softened, to a tone she reserved only for her fiancé. “I’ve missed you.”
“I’ve missed you too, love. In fact, I was just thinking about you.”
“Good thoughts, I hope.” She paused. “Or were they naughty ones?”
He laughed softly. “All I was thinking about was that show in the West End you mentioned last week. Too bad I’m coming down to London and you’re going back up, or we could have gone to it tonight.”
“I know, awful, isn’t it? And the fact that you’re arriving on the same plane I’m departing on doesn’t help matters.” She sighed. Their working schedules allowed precious little time for them to be together at all, least of all alone. “When are you scheduled to return?”
“On the fifth of July. I won’t be away long, I’m just down there for some routine meetings with the London staff.”
“Maybe I’ll be in luck and see you before I depart from here.”
“Chance would be a fine thing. Unfortunately, I’ve got to hand-deliver something to the base commander.” He heard her sigh again in disappointment. “I’m sorry, love.”
“I’ll see you back up here then. I’d better end this transmission before Lieutenant Green comes back from his coffee break.” She puckered her lips and blew him a kiss over her communicator. “Love you, Paul.”
“I love you too, Dianne. Bye.” The cap microphone swung back up.
Captain Scarlet relaxed in his seat and sighed contentedly. It was great just to hear her voice again after so long. He hadn’t seen his fiancée for several weeks, and he hadn’t spoken to her for almost that length of time. He sat there with his eyes closed for a few moments, picturing her in his mind, until the onboard computer let him know he was approaching his destination.
The enlisted man in charge of the Cloudbase armory was surprised to see Captain Ochre early the next morning. He’d already been informed that a senior officer would be drawing practice weapons and ammunition for an upcoming exercise, and naturally he’d assumed it would be Captain Scarlet as usual. He wasn’t expecting anyone else.
“I have to see your orders, Captain,” the middle-aged sergeant insisted.
Ochre pulled a folded sheet of paper from his vest pocket. “I’m sure you’ll find it in order, Sarge.”
The balding man’s eyes widened as he read the requisition. “How much?” He stared at the senior officer. “You planning a war or something?”
“You could say that.” He smiled slightly, recognizing him. “DelVecchio, isn’t it?”
“Yes, sir,” the sergeant nodded. “I spoke to you a couple of days ago about the pie-eating contest. Did it get approved?”
Ochre sighed. “Sorry, but there’s been a change of plan.” He leaned forward, whispering, “I’m not supposed to tell you this, but the exercise is planned for tomorrow.”
“Aw, c’mon! Are you serious?”
“Yeah. Colonel’s orders. We’ll be on full red alert, so I don’t know if we’ll be doing any of that stuff anyway.”
“On the Fourth? But that’s our holiday!”
“You think I’m happy about it? I was the one organizing all the activities. Now, instead of scheduling a day of fun and games, I’ll be up all night setting up this stupid exercise!”
“You must not be too happy about that, Captain,” the sergeant noted.
“None of the senior staff is. We’re almost all Americans, remember, except for the colonel and Captain Scarlet. We were all looking forward to a little celebration, but now we feel as though the colonel’s declared war on us.” He grinned maliciously. “So—if he wants a war, he’s going to get one.”
A sly smile grew on DelVecchio’s face. “What do you have in mind?”
“Come to the base theater tonight at 2100 and find out. Spread the word to all the Americans you know, but nobody else.”
Sergeant DelVecchio snapped to attention and saluted. “SIG, Captain Ochre.”
“What seems to be the problem, Captain Magenta?”
“I—don’t know, Doctor.” Magenta staggered, then grabbed the back of a chair. “Must have been something I ate.”
Dr. Fawn motioned to an orderly. “Help him into Exam Three.” Then, to Magenta, “Sorry, Captain, but we’re a bit busy and I can’t tend to you myself at the moment. I’ll send in one of the other doctors to evaluate you.”
“SIG, Doc,” groaned Magenta, clutching his stomach.
As soon as they got into the examination room, all traces of Captain Magenta’s “illness” disappeared. He smiled broadly at the orderly. “O’Brien, my fellow New Yorker! Just the man I wanted to see…”
Major Kramer, the commander of Spectrum Headquarters London, thanked Captain Scarlet for the lecture he had just finished. “I’m glad to see we are still making progress against threats to world security in general.”
“Yes, Major,” agreed Scarlet, adjusting his uniform tunic as he left the podium. “We still have a long way to go in this fight with the Mysterons, but we’ve also come a long way overall.”
As the assembly dispersed, the pair left the conference room chatting amiably.
“Speaking of the Mysterons, any word on the electrode ray pistol yet?”
Scarlet shook his head. “The engineers are still having trouble calibrating the beam. I do have some good news on the rifle though; Research are developing a collapsible shoulder stock for it.”
“And about time!” stated Kramer. “Who the hell ever thought of that bulky shoulder harness in the first place?”
Just then a beeping sound made itself heard. “If you’ll excuse me, Major,” said Scarlet, digging into his pocket. He pulled out his personal communicator; the light on top was flashing green.
“Cloudbase?” Kramer asked. Scarlet nodded. “Right, I’ll leave you to it. Don’t forget tonight’s meeting with Wade and Conners in Intelligence headquarters.”
“I can hardly wait,” hissed Scarlet through clenched teeth. Kramer smiled as he departed, remembering that there was no love lost between the junior Intelligence agent and the Cloudbase senior staff.
Scarlet entered the empty officers’ lounge and poured himself a cup of coffee, then pressed a button on the communicator. “Yes, Lieutenant?”
“Stand by for Colonel White’s quarters.” There was a click as Green opened the channel. “Go ahead, sir.”
“Thank you, Lieutenant. That will be all.” After the audio clicked again, the Spectrum commander-in-chief spoke. “Good afternoon, Captain Scarlet. I trust all is going well down there.”
“Quite smoothly, sir. Major Kramer sends his regards.” Scarlet took a sip of coffee, then smiled. “Shall I give yours to Agent Conners? I’m meeting with him and Senior Agent Wade later tonight.”
“You may give Wade my regards, Captain. And I’ll thank you not to mention Agent Conners’ name to me unless it’s in regard to official business. I have no time for that horrid little man.”
“Don’t worry, Colonel, we all feel the same way about him as you do.”
“Thank you, Captain. Now, the reason I’m contacting you.”
“There’s been a change of plans. “You are to return to Cloudbase by 1200 hours tomorrow.”
“Are we on alert? I wasn’t notified of any Mysteron threat—”
“There isn’t one. I need you to escort a time-sensitive delivery to Cloudbase. It must arrive by noon tomorrow.”
“SIG, Colonel.” He paused and sipped again at the coffee. “Any special instructions, sir?”
“Yes. Be advised that I have scheduled a security readiness drill for tomorrow. You’ll be arriving in the midst of it.”
“A readiness drill? Tomorrow?”
“Yes, tomorrow. It’s in response to that security breach I informed you about before you left.” White sighed. “Don’t tell me you have a problem with that as well.”
“No, sir, of course not. I’m just surprised that I’m not involved this time.”
“Since the breach involved a major American law enforcement authority, I’ve given Captain Ochre the responsibility of organizing the exercise.”
Scarlet frowned at the mention of his fellow officer’s name. “Colonel, you do know what day tomorrow is, don’t you?”
“Of course I do, Captain. It’s 4th July. Why are you asking such a question?”
“Sir, it’s the Americans’ Independence Day. Don’t be surprised if Captain Ochre’s drill doesn’t go exactly the way you hope it to.”
White paused. “What are you saying, Captain Scarlet?”
“Simple, Colonel. Watch your back.” He drained the last of the coffee in his cup. “I’ll see you tomorrow at noon. Scarlet out.”
Colonel White closed the transmission with his top field agent and poured himself another cup of tea. Scarlet has a point, he mused as he added his sugar and stirred. Captain Ochre was the base’s most notorious prankster. The colonel himself hadn’t yet been the victim of any of his practical jokes – he did have one close call, though, during his recent recuperation following the Sir Francis Drake incident. Ochre had suggested the insufferable Nurse Lang as his personal caregiver, but fortunately White had heard someone else complain about her level of “care” just in time…
So White certainly knew what Ochre was capable of. And here he’d ordered Ochre to organize a drill, on just about the last day he wanted to do it… and White himself had often emphasized that besides the rule of no “live” weapons, the only other rule for the Cloudbase drills was that there were no rules…
The Spectrum commander punched the intercom. “Lieutenant Green, have Captain Grey report to my quarters.”
It took less than a minute for the requested officer to appear, as he was only down the corridor from White’s quarters at the time. “Reporting as ord—”
“At ease, Grey, at ease,” interrupted White, waving him to a chair. “I just wanted to have a chat.”
“It sounded important, sir.”
“Not exactly.” He gestured to the teapot. “Would you like some?”
“Uh, sure.” White poured milk in the cup, then the tea. “I’ll put my own sugar in, thanks.”
White handed him the sugar bowl. “I’m sure you’re wondering why I asked you here.”
Grey smiled. “I know it wasn’t for tea… Would it have to do with a rumor I heard this afternoon?”
Now we’re getting somewhere… “It may indeed. Exactly what did you hear?”
He added a small amount of sugar to his teacup and stirred, then nestled into the chair and crossed his ankle over his knee. “Only that there’s going to be another readiness drill, probably later this month after Captain Scarlet gets back from Spectrum London.”
White looked directly at his junior officer. “Is that all you’ve heard? Off the record, one Navy man to another?”
“Yes, sir, that’s all.” Grey shrugged and sipped the tea. “Then again, I’ve been too busy to notice much else, with all that’s happening tomorrow.”
White looked at him. “What do you mean?”
“We’ve got a lot going on tomorrow for the Fourth of July, sir. Every community in America, from the biggest cities on down, has a celebration of some kind. So we’ve planned a few of the favorites for tomorrow, and I’m in charge of two of ’em.” He smiled and pointed his thumb at his chest. “I’m officiating at the swim meet tomorrow morning, and then I’m calling the square dance tomorrow night if it’s still on the schedule.”
“All that? I assumed your ‘celebrations’ would be small, and of the patriotic variety.”
“Oh, we’ll have those, sir, of course. The biggest ones of all are in Washington and Philadelphia, where the Declaration of Independence was signed. But that’s just the beginning.” He took another sip of tea. “You have to understand, Colonel, that the Fourth of July is a big holiday for us. No offense to the British, of course.”
White smiled thinly. “Understood. Go on, please.”
“All the banks and offices are closed, of course, and anyone who is able to takes the day off work, because there are events all day long. It’s not just in the big cities; many communities have parades, picnics with contests and games, and just about every small town has a fireworks display after sunset.” He grinned. “That’s about the only thing we didn’t plan up here, by the way.”
“Thank Heaven for that,” muttered White.
“They’re not just for the Americans, of course,” Grey continued. “Anyone else who wants to can join in…”
White barely heard the last part of Captain Grey’s description. It was clear enough that Grey hadn’t been told of the upcoming exercise.
That in itself warranted suspicion.
Officially, the only ones who were supposed to know about the readiness drills were White, Lieutenant Green and the one in charge of the drill – usually Captain Scarlet, this time of course it was Ochre – but the senior staff always seemed to know ahead of time as well. Sometimes the officers were informed, of course, because their special skills were required, but other times it was just word of mouth… Lieutenant Green’s mouth, most likely, but that was beside the point.
There had to be a reason Grey wasn’t let in on the secret this time… Ochre must not want Grey to know…
Of course! He doesn’t want ME to know! He knows that Grey and I often discuss things. If there IS something going on, he would deliberately NOT tell Grey!
As the thought entered his mind, Colonel White suddenly smacked his hand on the table between them, causing his teacup and saucer to clink together. His action stopped Captain Grey in mid-sentence.
“Did I say something wrong, sir?”
White realized he’d startled him. “No, no, Captain. I’m sorry, I was miles away. What you said earlier made me think of something just now.”
“Something I said?”
White waved him off. “Never mind. It’s getting late, and you’ve got a busy day tomorrow, haven’t you?” He looked up at the wall clock. “I won’t take up any more of your free time. Just let me know if you hear any more rumors about the upcoming drill.”
“Y-Yes, sir, of course.” A now thoroughly confused Grey stood and put his cup and saucer on the table, bade his commanding officer good night and left.
Colonel White swirled the teapot, seeing if there was any more left, and poured out the remainder into his cup. The tea was still just hot enough to drink. He sat there for a few moments, stirring absentmindedly as he thought about his conversation with Captain Grey. But now Grey has a point as well… The Spectrum commander already knew that the Americans took their fight for independence from Britain very seriously, and that every year they commemorated the anniversary of the day they declared their independence in grand style. But he hadn’t realized the extent of the Yanks’ celebrations. No wonder the American members of staff had seemed so enthusiastic about the upcoming holiday, with all that Captain Grey had just told him… and how upset Captain Ochre seemed when we met in private yesterday afternoon and I informed him that I wanted to cancel most of the Americans’ activities, he thought. Perhaps I should have postponed this damned exercise another day or two…
Perhaps I’ve been too hasty with Ochre as well. The man’s a fine officer, and a damned hard worker. Ochre sometimes thinks himself inferior to the better-educated officers, and as a result often tries a bit too hard to prove himself – but at least not as annoyingly as Captain Magenta.
He’s probably just trying to keep the whole thing secret from me so that he will show me how capable he is… But I KNOW how capable he is! He doesn’t need to prove it to me; if anything, I just haven’t given the man the credit he deserves…
He pressed the intercom again. “Lieutenant, get me Spectrum Headquarters London.”
“Captain Scarlet again, sir?”
“No, Lieutenant. Get me the supply officer. I have to add something to tomorrow’s delivery.”
Captain Ochre adjusted his clothing and headgear one last time. This was it.
He’d spent the past two days planning strategy and requisitioning sufficient practice gear and paintballs to arm all the American personnel on Cloudbase. Those same personnel had attended the meeting last night at the theater, received their equipment and assignments, and hopefully were now in position, awaiting the pre-arranged signal.
It was H-hour.
He buzzed the Control Room three times. Lieutenant Green opened the door but didn’t start the conveyor. Captain Ochre instead strode up the walkway under his own power, followed by a trio of security guards. The center guard carried an American flag on a pole, while the guards on either side of him brandished paintball guns.
Colonel White looked up from his paperwork and stared at the quartet before him. “Captain Ochre, what is the meaning of this?”
Ochre unrolled a “parchment” scroll and proceeded to read from it. “On this fourth day of the month of July in the year two thousand seventy, we, the American members of the Spectrum organization, hereby declare our independence from British rule.”
The flag bearer approached the colonel’s desk, on the side of the Control Room where the Spectrum roundel was displayed on the wall. He removed the flag from the pole and pushed clips into four of the holes in the wall panel, then hung the flag from the clips, over the roundel.
“Ten-HUT!” barked Captain Ochre. The three guards and he saluted the flag.
Colonel White noted out of the corner of his eye that Lieutenant Green was standing, also saluting the flag. I should have known he’d be in on this too…
The other two security guards then approached the desk and leveled their guns at Colonel White. “If you’ll please come with us, sir,” one of them said.
“Coleman? Diaz? Have you both gone mad?”
“Colonel,” Ochre said, stepping forward, “they’re only following the procedure I specified when I submitted my amended scenario.” He smiled. “You did read it, didn’t you?”
No, White hadn’t. He’d read and agreed to Ochre’s original submission, which listed several possible scenarios if high-level security had sufficiently been compromised, but it had made no mention of actual infiltration by an armed enemy. So he took his thought process one step further, White realized. He’d had no time to read the amendments Ochre had delivered to him this morning and had been caught totally off-guard.
The colonel’s silence was answer enough. “Take him to the brig, men.”
“Roger, Captain Ochre.” The “rebels” had agreed that they would not use the Spectrum acknowledgement during the drill; this was another way to differentiate between friend and foe. The officers’ code names, however, remained unchanged. Not everyone on Cloudbase had high enough clearance to learn the real names of the senior staff.
“And don’t forget, Colonel White is to be treated with respect—” Ochre grinned wickedly. “—The same that you would give any deposed tyrant, that is…”
“I’ll have your commission for this, Ochre!” White yelled over his shoulder as he was escorted from the Control Room.
“For what, sir? Obeying your orders and running an exercise you approved? Following the rules I laid down on paper and properly delivered to you before the start of the exercise? When you yourself have gone on record saying that not you, but whoever organizes the exercise, sets the rules?” He laughed mockingly. “I’d like to see that hold up at a court-martial, sir.”
He couldn’t quite make out what White was grumbling as he exited through the doorway, but he was sure it was something the colonel would never dare say in front of the Angels. Colonel White was a Navy man, after all, and like most sailors he possessed an extensive vocabulary…
Captain Ochre tossed his cap nonchalantly on top of the colonel’s desk and relaxed in his chair, first fidgeting around to find the most comfortable position. Then he called out, “Lieutenant Green, activate Phase Two.”
“Roger that, sir.” Green pressed several buttons on his console.
The Cloudbase public address system crackled to life. Those cabins that had viewscreens showed a video transmission of the Control Room, with Captain Ochre seated in the command chair, the Great Seal of the United States projected on the screen behind him, and the American flag hanging on the wall to the side.
“Attention, members of Spectrum!” cried Ochre in the most imposing voice he could muster. “This is your new commanding officer speaking!”
“What the devil is he playing at?” muttered Dr. Fawn, straightening up from examining Captain Magenta, who’d come in this morning for a follow-up exam. He flipped up the reflector from in front of his face and stared at the monitor.
“We, the American members of your organization, have declared our independence from Colonel White and removed him from authority. We are currently replacing all British Commonwealth support personnel on base with members loyal to our cause…”
Senior Orderly Sean O’Brien reached under his scrubs and pulled out his paintball gun, training it on the Spectrum chief medical officer. To Fawn’s amazement, his “patient” did the same.
“Swimmers, take your marks!”
Captain Grey put his whistle to his lips and was about to signal the start of the 100-meter freestyle when the pool’s video screen transmitted Captain Ochre’s message. All those present turned toward the sound and listened intently.
“What the hell is he doing?” began Grey—
Just then several of the “swimmers” flung off their bathrobes and pool towels, revealing that they were in full uniform and armed with paintball guns. “All right,” announced Captain Blue, motioning to the men and women under his “command.” “Round up the British subjects on your preprinted list and take them down to the brig.” He pointed his gun up the ladder to the starter’s chair. “You too, Grey. Let’s go.”
“But I’m not British!” Grey protested. “I’m from Chicago, remember? Wrigley Field, the Loop, Al Capone—”
“Yeah, but you’re on my list as a Tory sympathizer. That makes you just as much of an enemy as the colonel himself.”
“WHAT?!” Grey rose from his seat, almost falling off the elevated chair as he lost his balance on the footrest.
“Remember that drill, the one I said was ‘coming up’? Well, if you haven’t figured it out yet, pal, this is it.” He waved the gun at him. “Now, are you coming along quietly?”
Grey folded his arms and stood firm. “Come and get me.” As Captain Blue reached for the ladder, Grey balled up his towel and threw it down at him.
“Threatening me, are you? Thanks, that means I can use deadly force now.” Blue aimed the gun at Grey’s chest and fired. The “Tory sympathizer” was splattered in light blue paint, the impact knocking him into the deep end of the pool.
As a spluttering Captain Grey reached the water’s edge, Blue offered him a helping hand out of the pool. “You always did make a positive impact on these drills,” he laughed, then turned serious again. “’Casualties’ report to Sickbay.”
Grey wrapped himself up in his towel, put on his sandals and padded off to the medical deck with one of the others who had also chosen to put up a fight. Captain Blue grinned and activated his radio. “Grey threat neutralized.”
The same thing happened simultaneously all over Cloudbase. Armed American personnel surprised their British, Australian, Canadian and other Commonwealth colleagues. They manned essential positions with a skeleton crew and took their “prisoners” off to the brig, or more accurately the auditorium since there were too many of them for the real brig to hold. No part of the hovering Spectrum headquarters was immune to infiltration; off-duty personnel were even rousted from their bunks and the recreational facilities.
Rhapsody Angel had just finished her duty shift and was in her quarters changing out of her uniform when Ochre’s announcement came on the PA system. She listened incredulously, then snatched her personal communicator and switched the setting to the emergency channel.
“Spectrum London, Captain Scarlet, Code Purple! Repeat, Code—” A screech of feedback emanated from the device, causing her to drop it and cover her ears.
“Nice try, Rhapsody,” taunted Lieutenant Green over the tiny microphone. “Did you really think we’d leave Communications unmanned?”
She grabbed the communicator off the floor and shouted into it. “Lieutenant, I’m ashamed of you! Where’s your sense of loyalty to the Crown?”
“Huh? Trinidad hasn’t been part of the Commonwealth for a hundred years! You could say I’m another one of the Colonials who’s declared his independence…”
Rhapsody snorted in disgust and threw the communicator on her bed, then flopped herself down next to it. It must be another of those bloody drills, she realized. So the Yanks are revolting… She smiled to herself at the play on words; that part was true enough, wasn’t it? That means I can’t trust either Symphony or Melody… but whom can I trust?
Just then, there was a knock on the door. “Who is it?” Rhapsody asked suspiciously.
A nervous-sounding voice responded. “It’s all right, Rhapsody, it’s me, Destiny…”
Destiny, of course! She’s not American! “…We’ll be safer together. Can I come in?”
“Yes, please do, Juliette. I’m worried about—”
Rhapsody’s words trailed off as the door slid open and Destiny Angel appeared – along with Symphony and Melody, the three of them holding paintball guns.
The English Angel raised her hands. No, you idiot, she’s not American, but she is French, and you know how they feel about the English…
Captain Scarlet was in the middle of a meeting with the Spectrum London field officers when his communicator beeped. He pulled it out and activated it, but there was no one there to speak to him. “Wrong number,” he quipped as he shrugged and tucked the pen-shaped device back into his pocket. He returned to the discussion of security protocols and was answering a question from Captain Russet when the conference room’s intercom buzzed.
He pressed the speaker button. “Yes?”
“Lieutenant Lennox, Communications. We’ve just intercepted a partial message from Cloudbase, sir, on the emergency channel. It sounded urgent.”
“SIG, Lieutenant. I’m on my way.” Scarlet rose from the chair. “Russet, you’re with me. The rest of you, go to your posts and await further instructions. We may have a situation on Cloudbase.”
A chorus of “SIGs” echoed through the room as the group dispersed and the two senior officers left for the communications office.
“Me, sir?” asked Russet as the pair half-ran down the corridor.
“Yes, Captain. As the most experienced senior ground officer, I value your input.”
“Danke.” Russet nodded his thanks.
The German had been one of the original Spectrum captains, assigned to London as a ground agent from the organization’s inception. He often assisted the Cloudbase officers during European missions, and in fact was the officer responsible for uncovering several major terrorist plots in the pre-Mysteron days. Colonel White had recognized his abilities and offered him a promotion and transfer to Cloudbase to serve on the senior staff, but he declined, saying his contributions to Spectrum’s counter-terrorist operations were more valuable on the ground. The truth was he preferred to be in the middle of the action, often even going out with the team members, much to White’s displeasure.
Captain Scarlet was the first one inside the communications office. “What do you have, Lieutenant?”
“Just this little bit, sir. It appears to have been deliberately cut off.” Lennox replayed Rhapsody’s abbreviated message. Scarlet frowned at the sound of her distressed voice, realizing that her calling out his name had activated his communicator as well as London Headquarters’.
“‘Code Purple’?” asked Captain Russet, interrupting Scarlet’s train of thought. “That’s not one of our codes.”
“No, Captain,” Scarlet replied, frowning deeper as he thought more about what Rhapsody said. “It’s one of mine.”
“Yours, sir?” asked Lennox.
Scarlet nodded. “It’s from one of the readiness drills I devised for the Cloudbase staff. I assigned color codes to each possible scenario.”
“Which one is Purple?” asked Captain Russet.
Russet and Lennox’s jaws both dropped.
“Mutiny?! Mein Gott!” Russet exclaimed, his face suddenly becoming the color of a storm cloud. He reached for the switch for the public address system. “I’ll get a strike team ready—”
Scarlet covered the switch with his hand and smiled at his junior officer. “You’re slipping, Captain. Don’t you remember what today is?”
Russet hesitated. “Friday?”
“No, what’s scheduled for today?”
His gray eyes lit up. “Of course! The drill!”
Lennox relaxed as well. “So it’s not a real mutiny then.”
“You’re forgetting what day it is, Lieutenant. The colonel ordered Ochre to schedule a security drill on 4th July, which as you probably know is the Americans’ Independence Day. What you may not know, being from another country, is that the Yanks take this holiday very seriously. If my days in the States taught me anything, it’s that you don’t muck about with trivialities such as nonessential ‘work’ on the Fourth.” He paused and smiled. “Knowing Captain Ochre’s penchant for practical jokes, I didn’t put it past him to have a little ‘Yankee uprising’ on this of all days. In fact, I was rather expecting something like this.” He laughed half to himself. “I wonder what he’s done to Colonel White…”
Captain Russet still wasn’t sure how to take the news. “So we do nothing?”
“On the contrary. Your gut reaction was the correct one.” Scarlet smiled again, wider this time. “Don’t you think it’s time your people had a drill of their own?”
Captain Russet’s face broke into a broad grin. He snapped to attention and executed a sharp salute. “Yes, sir!”
The Angels handed Rhapsody off to one of the enlisted men who was gathering “prisoners” from the Hangar Deck. He marched them off below decks, but pulled Rhapsody to the side before the group entered the Cloudbase auditorium. He instead shoved her unceremoniously into a smaller room.
Rhapsody started pounding on the door even before it had slid completely shut. “That won’t do any good,” a familiar voice behind her said.
“Colonel!” She spun around, and started as she saw the other occupant of the room. “Doctor Fawn! You too?”
Fawn nodded. “Sickbay apparently wasn’t off limits this time. I reckon they’ve got enough Yank doctors and nurses to handle the situation, and the robots of course have no nationality.”
“Unlike us, unfortunately,” grumbled White. “This is preposterous! Whatever gave Captain Ochre the idea to turn this exercise into the next American Revolution?”
“With all due respect, Colonel, apparently you did.”
White whirled around and stared at Dr. Fawn. “Explain yourself, Doctor.”
The Spectrum medical chief shrugged. “When Captain Magenta—er, captured me, he explained their reasons a bit. He said that you refused to consider any of Captain Ochre’s recommendations regarding the exercise, and then you cancelled nearly all of the recreational activities without notifying him, or for that matter any of the base personnel. That’s why they’re doing this; Magenta compared your actions to ‘taxation without representation.’”
“But I’m commander of this base, and I have the final say in all operational matters! Ochre has no right to do this!”
“Actually, sir, he does,” said Rhapsody, very hesitantly. She knew what the colonel was like when he was in a bad mood. “If for the only reason that he’s doing this as part of the exercise. Remember, Colonel, you’ve always said these exercises have no rules, because there are no rules in war.”
White sighed, nodding slowly. Rhapsody was right, of course. And Fawn as well, at least to a point.
Rhapsody exhaled slowly, thankful for the colonel’s calm reaction. “So, what do we do now?” she continued. “Do we just stay here and wait for the scheduled ending time of the exercise?”
“I hope not,” grumbled Fawn. “Magenta said that was midnight, and it’s not even noon now.”
“We may not have to,” replied Colonel White. “We have Captain Grey on our side.”
“Grey? But he’s a Yank!” Rhapsody noted.
“He’s American, yes, but as far as I know he wasn’t included in the planning for this rebellion. I’m sure he’ll be only too happy to help us out of this once he finds out about it.”
Fawn shook his head. “He’s not part of the exercise any more, Colonel. He reported to Sickbay as a ‘casualty’ just before I left.”
White swore under his breath. “They must have realized he’d be a threat and eliminated him as soon as possible.” He sighed. “Right, I’m open to suggestions.”
“What about Captain Scarlet, sir?” asked Rhapsody. “He’s down in London, isn’t he?”
“Yes, and in fact, I recalled him a day early. He’ll be here at noon with the courier delivery.”
Fawn snorted. “A lot of good that’ll do. They’ll just take him into custody as soon as he steps off the jet.”
“Not if my message got through,” said Rhapsody half-aloud.
White looked at her. “What message?”
“When Captain Ochre’s message came on, I attempted to contact Spectrum London on the emergency channel. Green cut off my transmission, but I think part of it may have got through.”
“Let’s hope so. Actually I think Scarlet was expecting something like this to happen, based on what he told me last night.”
“What did he say, Colonel?”
“He told me to watch my back. Now I wish I had done, or we wouldn’t be in this mess.” White sighed again. “Perhaps I should pay more attention to my senior staff sometimes…”
“Courier One, request landing clearance.”
“SIG, Captain Scarlet,” replied Lieutenant Green. “You are clear to land, taxi to forward elevator on touchdown. Welcome back.” The aide closed the transmission and smiled at Captain Ochre. “Right on time.”
“What else did you expect from Scarlet?” Ochre pressed a button on the console and spoke into the microphone in front of him. “Activate Phase Three. SPJ on forward elevator.”
“Roger that. We’re in position.” Inside the Hangar Deck control room, Captain Blue motioned to one of the enlisted men. “Markovitz, you cover the rear cabin door, but keep that weapon hidden as you go out to the plane. Remember, he can see you from the cockpit.” Blue turned his head to the deck officer and three other men behind him. “The rest of you, secure the plane and offload the cargo as usual, but keep your weapons handy – and concealed. When Captain Scarlet comes down the ladder, he’s mine.” The officer and deckhands nodded in understanding. Blue shoved a fresh clip of paintballs into his gun as they watched the elevator descend.
The flight deck elevator came to a halt, and from the other side of the transparent airlock a member of the ground crew signaled with his lighted paddles. The SPJ eased forward off the elevator; when the elevator was back in place on the flight deck and the Hangar Deck was sealed, the airlock opened and the aircraft taxied to the cargo area.
A green light came on in the control room, indicating that the air pressure had returned to a safe level. Captain Blue picked up his binoculars and peered into the cockpit and cabin. “OK, he’s alone. Move out.”
“Roger.” Lieutenant Rust, the officer of the deck, marched out to the aircraft with the log, followed by the four deckhands in the combined crew stairs/ cargo loader. As the light vehicle approached the jet, Markovitz hopped out and ran to the rear door of the aircraft.
Rust waited at the foot of the stairs for Captain Scarlet while the deckhands secured the jet and prepared to offload the cargo. When the senior officer didn’t appear after a few minutes, Rust turned back toward Blue, who waved him inside. Rust trotted up the steps and through the door of the SPJ.
When Rust didn’t reappear, Captain Blue activated his radio. “What’s going on, Lieutenant?”
“I don’t see Captain Scarlet, sir. I think he’s in the cockpit, but the door’s locked.”
“Use your override key.”
“Negative, he must have changed the code. I need the master.”
Something’s not right. “OK, be right there.” Blue pulled out his gun and grabbed the master key from the wall cabinet. He ran over to the plane and climbed the stairs cautiously.
“Over here, Captain.” The interior lights were turned off, and the Hangar Deck floodlights threw weird shadows inside the cabin. Captain Blue saw a reddish-brown tunic over by the closed cockpit door. He walked over to the officer and started to hand over the master key, when the man grabbed his arm and threw him against the bulkhead, putting his gun to the side of Blue’s head.
Blue’s jaw dropped when he saw the man’s face. “Russet?!”
“Russet looks a lot like rust, nicht wahr?” he sneered.
“You’ll never get out of here alive,” Blue spat back at him.
“Don’t be so sure.” He reached for Blue’s gun, but Blue suddenly jerked it up and pulled the trigger. Something hit Blue just as he fired, and his paintball missed Russet, splattering harmlessly on the side of the cabin.
Captain Blue looked down at his tunic, where a bright red stain had appeared, centered right over his heart.
Captain Scarlet stood up from behind the first row of seats and walked toward the cockpit door. “Good thing you’re left-handed, Russet. If you’d been right-handed you’d have been in my line of fire.”
“Yeah, and then where’d you be, Captain Scarlet, if you’d lost your backup?” Blue mocked.
“Oh, he still wouldn’t have been alone.” Russet turned toward the rear of the aircraft and shouted, “Right, boys?”
On Russet’s signal, the shipping containers in the aft section of the cabin popped open and a squad of commandos emerged. One opened the rear door and threw out a paint grenade, which exploded before the hapless Markovitz could react, showering him with the fluorescent-yellow color the enlisted men and non-color-coded officers used. Then the soldier leapt out of the door and rolled when he hit the tarmac, while another charged down the forward ladder, and the pair took out the three cargo handlers effortlessly. The rest of the skeleton crew saw the commotion and ran toward the SPJ.
“GO GO GO!” shouted Captain Russet to the rest of the squad. The soldiers poured out of the jet and fanned out, exchanging fire with the rest of the ground crew. Within minutes they were radioing in with “all clear” signals.
Captain Scarlet stood in the doorway the whole time, watching the firefight. He turned back toward Russet and nodded in admiration. “You’ve trained them well, Hans. They’re better than I remember.”
Russet beamed with pride. “Danke schön, Herr Hauptmann.”
“Gotta admire good teamwork, even if it’s on the wrong side,” Blue said from behind them. He grinned. “By the way, what did you do with Lieutenant Rust?”
Russet smiled back and jerked his thumb over his shoulder, where they could hear a muffled pounding noise from the cockpit. “Who do you think is in there?”
As Captain Russet released Rust from the cockpit and handed him off to one of the commandos, Scarlet glared at Captain Blue. “For that matter, what have you lot done with Colonel White?”
Blue’s grin only became wider. “Sorry, Captain Scarlet, but according to your rules of engagement I’m technically ‘dead,’ and dead men tell no tales. Of course, that means we can’t tell anyone you’re here, either.” He exited the SPJ and went down the steps, then gathered the “casualties” into a group. “I’ll take these guys down to Sickbay,” he called from the tarmac. You’ll have to find Colonel White on your own.”
Corporal Leroy Jackson slung his weapon on his shoulder and checked his watch again. 1225; he’d be relieved in five minutes. According to the new schedule Captain Blue handed out last night, the July 4th festivities were also to start in five minutes. Since the race he was entered in started at 1245, he’d have some time to warm up after he was relieved from his post.
Suddenly someone pounded on the door behind him again, and a voice began to shout from inside the locked room. “Guard! Guard! Let me out of here!”
Jackson answered through the closed door. “Now you know I can’t do that, ma’am,” he admonished.
“But I’ve got to go to the loo!”
The towering man shook his head and snickered. “What y’all take me for, some kind of fool? That’s an old one if ever I heard one—”
“Now you listen to me, soldier!” snapped Rhapsody Angel, so forcefully Jackson involuntarily jerked to attention. “I’ve been on duty in Angel One for the past four hours, drinking a whole flask of coffee to stay awake after another four-hour shift, and once I came off duty your compatriots grabbed me before I’d had a chance to use the facilities! So let me out before I put in my after-action report to Captain Ochre that you deprived your most important prisoners the most basic of needs!”
“Y-Yes, ma’am!” stammered Jackson, fumbling in his uniform pocket for the keycard and unlocking the door. He beckoned to Captain Magenta to accompany him into the room.
“This way, ma’am—”
Jackson’s words stopped with a gasp as Colonel White, who’d been behind Rhapsody, grabbed him from behind and put a scalpel to his throat. Magenta raised his weapon but then dropped it and raised his hands as he saw the service pistol in Dr. Fawn’s hand.
Rhapsody approached Jackson and relieved him of his paintball gun. “You’re right, Corporal,” she said sweetly, “it is the oldest trick in the book.”
Captain Magenta swore under his breath. “And you fell for it?!”
“Don’t underestimate yourself, Corporal,” said White, releasing his grip on his captive and lowering the scalpel. A relieved Jackson saw that it had been in its protective plastic sheath the whole time. “You’ve just been tricked by one of the best in the business.”
Jackson turned a sheepish smile back to Rhapsody. “I’m just glad you’re on our side, ma’am.”
“Right, you two,” said Fawn, waving the pistol at the pair, “on the floor, hands behind your heads.”
“Wait a minute!” said Magenta in protest. “The rules say ‘no live weapons’! What are you doing with your sidearm, Doc?”
“Who said my weapon was live?” Fawn smiled and held up the pistol so they could see the bottom of the handgrip. There was no magazine in it. “Gentlemen, I’m a doctor. I heal people, not harm them unless it’s in self-defense. I have no need to carry a loaded weapon as I’m seldom off Cloudbase, though I do keep my ammunition handy in case of emergency.” He paused and showed them the clip of bullets he kept in his uniform pocket. “My distaste for weapons is well known aboard Cloudbase, and just about everyone knows the only time I use my sidearm is on the range. You didn’t even think to look for it.” He grinned and nodded at the scalpel, which White handed back to him. “Fortunately for us, Captain Magenta, you also didn’t think to search my lab coat.”
“Be sure to make a note of that in your report, Doctor.” White bent down and plucked the guard’s handcuffs from his belt. “Right now we have to put down a rebellion.”
Captain Ochre drummed his fingers on the desk impatiently. “Try it again, Lieutenant.”
Lieutenant Green leaned into the microphone. “Captain Blue, report your status. Come in, Captain Blue.” He looked up at Ochre and shrugged. “He’s not answering, sir.”
“I can see that, Lieutenant. Check his radio.”
Green flipped a couple of switches. “Radio SI—uh, operating normally, Captain.”
Ochre thought for a moment. “Did you check Hangar Deck Control?”
“Yes, sir. No one answered there.”
“Dammit!” Ochre muttered. “I thought five men – not to mention the rest of the Hangar Deck crew – would be enough to handle even Scarlet!” He pressed a button on his console, and one of the five consecutive white lights glowed. “Symphony Angel, report your status.”
It took only a moment her for Ochre’s fellow Midwesterner to answer. “Mission accomplished, Captain Ochre,” she replied with no small degree of satisfaction. “We’re in control of the Amber Room. Rhapsody’s been taken to the brig, and Harmony’s on alert in Angel One. Awaiting further instructions.”
“Proceed with caution to the Hangar Deck. We’re getting no answer from the team sent to intercept the courier jet.”
“Roger, Captain. On my way.”
“Stay alert, Symphony. Hostiles may be in the area.”
Green turned back to Captain Ochre. “I notice you didn’t tell Symphony that Captain Blue was leading that team.”
Ochre smiled at his aide. “Oh, like she doesn’t know already? If I know those two, she probably helped him plan the ambush.”
The radio came to life again. “Symphony Angel to Control. The Hangar Deck is a mess, Captain.”
“Say again, Symphony?” said Captain Ochre. “What do you see?”
“No personnel anywhere on deck, but there’s yellow paint all over the place. Must have been a big battle.” Indeed, they could hear her walking around the deck, but none of the other background noises they normally heard.
“What about the SPJ?”
“Just going over there now.” There was a pause. “Doesn’t look like the cargo has been unloaded yet. Lots of yellow paint here too, including one large patch of it by the rear of the plane. Too much to be from one of our weapons—”
“You mean like a paint grenade?” Ochre interrupted.
“Affirmative. It’s that big.”
Ochre and Green exchanged glances. “I’m going inside the SPJ now,” she continued. They could hear her boots ringing on the crew ladder.
“Anything unusual to report?”
“Negative, Captain Ochre, except that the interior lights are out. There’s nothing in the passenger cabin except for a couple of empty cargo containers.”
Ochre frowned. “Understood, Symphony, and well done. Return to the Amber Room.” He closed the transmission.
“We don’t have paint grenades in our armory, Captain,” Green noted.
“I know, and according to the manifest you got from London there were no cargo containers in the cabin. Sounds like Scarlet brought some uninvited guests.” Ochre slammed his fist on the desk. “How the hell did he know—”
“Rhapsody,” murmured Green. He looked up apologetically at the senior officer. “That message must have got through to London.”
“That couldn’t be helped, Lieutenant,” Ochre reassured. “We’re required to keep the emergency channel open, even during drills.”
“So what do we do now?”
“Phase Three has to be complete before Phase Four can take place.” Ochre smiled nonchalantly as he spoke the next sentence. “We’ll just have to eliminate Captain Scarlet, that’s all.”
Green stared at his superior as if he’d just been ordered to slash his own throat.
Symphony Angel slid her card into the Amber Room key slot, but the door didn’t automatically open. She frowned and knocked on the door. “Melody? Destiny?” There was no answer, and she knocked again. “C’mon, open up, this isn’t funny. Something’s happened—”
The door slid open, but instead of either of the two Angels, a Spectrum commando greeted Symphony – with a paintball gun aimed squarely at her head.
Captains Scarlet and Russet, each with several commandos from the original group, cautiously made their way through Cloudbase’s lower decks. They had agreed that their mission had two objectives: to restore Colonel White to control of Cloudbase, and to return Cloudbase to normal operational status. But in order to do either, of course, they first had to find Colonel White.
Scarlet knew that there were too many British subjects aboard Cloudbase to fit in its brig, so he assumed that “prisoners” would be detained in one of the larger compartments below decks. As far as “casualties,” they usually went to Sickbay since the crew often sustained real injuries during the exercises. It was there he sent Captain Russet to investigate, while Scarlet and his team checked out the cargo hold.
“Russet to Scarlet.” They were using the strike team’s special communicators, which operated on a frequency difficult for even Lieutenant Green to detect, much less jam.
“We’ve retaken Sickbay. All enemies neutralized, no prisoners.”
Scarlet smiled slightly. ‘Russet’s Raiders’ don’t muck about, do they? “Good work, Captain. Any sign of Colonel White?”
“Negative. He’s not here, but Captain Grey is, in addition to Captain Blue and the others from the Hangar Deck.”
“Yes. He said he was one of the first casualties, but wouldn’t tell me anything else.”
“He’s not supposed to, Russet. You can’t get information from a dead man.”
“Of course, sir.” Russet sighed dejectedly, having forgotten that protocol. “What are my orders?”
“Instruct the Sickbay personnel you neutralized to go back to performing their normal duties. That same order applies once you get to the Amber Room; remember, Cloudbase must maintain air defense readiness at all times during the drill.”
“SIG, Captain Scarlet.” Now Russet paused. “We’ve—uh, already taken care of that.”
“Say again, Captain?”
“We’re already in the Amber Room.” Scarlet could tell from his voice that Russet was smiling. Russet was good at his job, very good, and he never missed an opportunity to show off his abilities to the Cloudbase officers. “Hostiles have been neutralized and have resumed their normal duties.”
Scarlet was only slightly, but pleasantly, taken aback. “Well done, Captain Russet! Proceed to the next deck and continue search.”
“SIG, Captain, but first let’s rendezvous in the aft rest lounge. I have a surprise for you.”
“Russet, you know I don’t like surprises. Just tell me what it is.”
Corporal Jackson’s sleeves were a little too long for the doctor, but the rest of his tunic was nearly a perfect fit. Jackson’s trousers and boots, however, were another matter, as the corporal was a very tall man… And he apparently has the nickname “Bigfoot,” Fawn thought as he test-walked across the floor of the small room. At least I can tuck the trousers into the boots, there’s room enough…
“If you’re confronted, Doctor, do try to speak as little as possible,” said Rhapsody Angel. “They’ll pick up your Australian accent from miles away.”
“SIG,” Fawn replied, in an obviously-forced “American” dialect. He winked at Rhapsody and whispered, “No worries, love.”
The redheaded Angel rolled her eyes and handed him one of the paintball guns. “Just keep your mouth shut and let this do the talking.”
Colonel White glanced back at Rhapsody. “Are you sure you’ll be all right alone with these two?” He nodded toward the two prisoners seated in the far corner of the room, handcuffed behind their backs and with medical tape wrapped around their ankles and covering their mouths.
She looked at the state the men were in and laughed softly as she draped Fawn’s lab coat over Corporal Jackson’s shivering frame. “Colonel, you underestimate me.” She patted the other paintball gun still in her hand. “Captain Scarlet’s been giving me lessons in marksmanship. Even if they get out, they won’t get very far.”
White nodded and opened the door a crack, then beckoned to Fawn that the coast was clear. “Good luck,” he whispered to her.
“You too, Colonel, Doctor.” She nodded at each of them. The pair darted out the door and down the corridor.
Rhapsody closed the door, then picked up a magazine from a table. She sat back in one of the chairs and started to read it, keeping one eye on the page and the other one on her captives. Her paintball gun rested in her lap, within easy reach.
“I’m not going to tell you anything!”
Symphony Angel sat in a chair in the center of the lounge, her shackled hands in her lap. She glared at the commando to her right, then at the officer in front of her, as if to emphasize her point.
Captain Russet gave her a thin smile. “I think you’ll change your mind in a minute,” he said, cracking his knuckles absentmindedly.
With him, it was just force of habit, but Symphony picked it up as part of his act. She sighed and rolled her eyes. “Oh, please. Is this going to be one of those ‘Ve haf vays of makink you talk’ speeches?” she said tiredly, imitating Russet’s guttural accent.
“Not at all, Fräulein. You see, I won’t be asking the questions.” He nodded toward the door, and the commando opened it.
Symphony’s eyes popped as she saw who entered the room. “Captain Scarlet!”
“Symphony!” he said, equally startled. Then, seeing the handcuffs on her wrists, he spoke abruptly to Russet, “You haven’t hurt her, have you?”
“Of course not!” replied Russet, who sounded offended at the accusation.
“Then why the handcuffs?”
Russet pointed to the commando, who had several fresh scratches on his face. “Things got a little—er, carried away.”
“I apologized for that!” snapped Symphony.
“All right, that’s enough.” Scarlet didn’t raise his voice, but the tone he used got everyone’s full attention. He looked at the commando and cocked his head toward Symphony’s hands. “Take them off.” Once the handcuffs were removed Scarlet said to him, “Leave us.”
The commando frowned, then looked to Captain Russet, who nodded to Scarlet in understanding. Russet ushered the commando out and closed the door behind him.
Scarlet turned his attention back to the American Angel. “Are you all right, Symphony?” he asked with true concern.
She nodded. “Just a little shaken. He surprised me when I tried to get back into the Amber Room.”
“Captain Ochre sent me to investigate the Hangar Deck when he couldn’t get a response from his ‘welcoming committee.’” She grinned maliciously. “So you escaped.”
“Yes, with the help of ‘Russet’s Raiders,’” Scarlet admitted. Captain Russet, observing from the other side of the room, grinned with obvious pride.
“What are they doing here, anyway? For that matter, what are you doing here a day early? Did you guys know about this or something?”
Scarlet wagged his finger at her. “I’m the one asking the questions here, Symphony.” He stood in front of her with hands on hips, casting an intimidating stare downward at the chair where she sat. “What exactly is going on up here?” he demanded. “I’m assuming this ‘exercise’ was originally Ochre’s idea, but he wouldn’t get very far without support from the senior staff. You must know something about it.”
Symphony folded her arms and shook her head, jutting out her chin as if she were a child not willing to tell a secret. “I don’t know what you’re talking about, Captain, and even if I did, I wouldn’t tell you. You’re the enemy.”
Russet muttered, “Maybe Captain Blue would have been a better choice—”
“Yeah, maybe you should ask him instead,” she spat. “He knows a heck of a lot more about this than I do.”
“I wouldn’t bet on that,” said Scarlet just as heatedly. “Since when do you keep secrets from each other?”
Symphony stared at him. She was shocked that he would make a comment like that with Captain Russet present. In reality, however, Captain Russet knew about the pair already. He’d worked closely with Captain Blue on several occasions and the subject had come up in conversation.
Scarlet was betting that Symphony didn’t know about this confidence. “Perhaps I should tell Captain Russet the little secret about you and Captain Blue—”
“You wouldn’t dare!” she growled.
“If it helps me find Colonel White, Symphony, I will. You can be sure of that.” He smiled sardonically. “Unless, of course, you prefer to tell me what you know first…”
Scarlet’s voice softened a bit. “Remember, Symphony, this is an exercise. If this were a real situation, blackmail would be the least of your worries. Remember what happened—and almost happened – to Rhapsody two months ago?”
She shuddered at the thought. Her fellow Angel had been physically abused and almost raped during the mission to rescue the drugged Colonel White. Were it not for the quick thinking of her English counterpart… Rhapsody…
“Maybe I should tell him about you and Rhapsody,” she shot back.
“Oh, I already know about that,” Russet countered. “He told me himself a few months ago.”
Scarlet gave him a sideways glance. Did I? Then he caught a glimpse of a sly wink from Captain Russet. No… Oh. Thank God for that.
The German captain’s comment had the right effect. Symphony sighed in resignation, her final card played. “OK, if I talk, what’s in it for me?”
Captain Russet stepped forward. “We’ll tell you where Captain Blue is, and you can stay with him until the exercise is over.”
“First things first,” Scarlet interrupted. “Where’s Colonel White?”
“On B Deck. Most of the British subjects are in the auditorium, but the colonel, Rhapsody and Dr. Fawn are in one of the smaller rooms down the corridor from there.”
“Right,” said Scarlet, nodding toward Russet who ordered the commando outside to open the door. I’ll meet you there—”
Suddenly Symphony bolted out of her chair and toward the now-open doorway, then rammed into the commando directly outside of it. Her momentum knocked the soldier onto his back, and she grabbed his weapon and took off at a run down the corridor. She didn’t get very far, however, as the members of Scarlet’s team were waiting for her around the corner and cut her down with a salvo of paintballs.
The Angel pilot lowered her weapon and looked down at her flight suit, watching the paint from hits in three different places drip to the floor. She turned around as Scarlet and Russet caught up to her.
“Destiny and Melody can cover the Amber Room,” she said to Scarlet, handing the paintball gun to him. “Can I at least see Adam before I go to Sickbay?”
“I don’t see why not,” he said with a wicked smile. “You see, he’s been in Sickbay ever since he tried to ambush us on the Hangar Deck. You only assumed we had taken him prisoner.”
“You were lucky, Fräulein,” added Russet. “My ‘Raiders’ don’t normally take prisoners.”
Symphony glared daggers at the pair of color-coded officers, realizing finally that she’d been well and truly had.
The crewman guarding the entrance to the moving passageway to the Control Tower first saw the white tunic and boots, then the silver hair. Then he saw one of his fellow crewmen behind Colonel White, prodding him along with his weapon, and he addressed his speech to the crewman instead.
“What are you doing here?” he asked, tiredly shouldering his weapon.
Before the “crewman” had a chance to answer, Colonel White thundered, “I may not be in command of Cloudbase at present, soldier, but at least have the common decency to acknowledge my presence and rank!”
“Y-Yes, sir, Colonel, sir!” stammered the crewman, snapping to attention and raising his hand in salute.
“In answer to your question—” White looked at the crewman’s name badge “—Wilcox, I’ve been called to the Control Room for a manual course change. Captain Ochre requested my presence personally, and the corporal is escorting me there per his orders.”
“Very well, proceed, sir—” Wilcox stopped, whirling around as the men got onto the conveyor. “Hey, you’re Dr. Fawn!” He slung the paintball gun off his shoulder and slammed his hand down on the emergency stop button.
He never got a chance to fire, however, as Dr. Fawn already had his weapon in position. But the doctor’s aim was off; the yellow paintball hit Wilcox in the head, coating his eyeglasses and blinding him.
Fawn jumped off the conveyor and grabbed the paintball gun from the floor, then quickly examined the guard’s eyes. “Sorry, Wilcox, I haven’t gone to the range lately. If that paint irritates your skin, come down to Sickbay and I’ll treat you personally.” He patted the crewman on the back and reactivated the conveyor, handing White the weapon as the pair raced up the passageway.
A paint grenade exploded at the entrance to the Cloudbase auditorium, and the two “dead” crewmen who had been guarding it threw down their weapons. Four commandos rushed through the entrance, two of the soldiers engaging the Americans on the floor, the other two racing up the steps and picking off their targets from the balcony. In no time, the auditorium was theirs.
Captain Russet and the commandos distributed spare paintball guns and grenades to several of the freed prisoners, then Russet instructed them to retake their original positions. As the auditorium emptied, Russet radioed Captain Scarlet.
“Auditorium clear. All prisoners liberated.”
“SIG, Russet. I haven’t found them yet, just two more compartments to check.” He reached the next room, but was not prepared for the sight that awaited him as the door to the room slid open.
“Di—” He stopped abruptly as he saw the two other occupants of the room. “Rhapsody!”
She smiled at her fiancé. “Looks like you received my message.”
“What happened here?”
“The Yanks aren’t the only ones with ingenuity.” The two commandos accompanying Scarlet burst into the room and hauled out Captain Magenta and Corporal Jackson. “We overpowered them and took their weapons and Jackson’s uniform.”
“Where’s Colonel White?”
“With any luck, in the Control Tower by now. He and Dr. Fawn left here about a quarter of an hour ago.”
“I’ll inform Captain Russet—”
Scarlet’s words stopped abruptly as the door slid shut, and they were alone. Rhapsody reached for his hand and stepped closer to him. “I hoped my message got through to you,” she said, smiling at him. “I should have realized it was an American prank, but at the time it seemed serious.”
Scarlet smiled warmly back at her and raised the hand to his lips. “I knew I could count on you, my lady.”
“Shouldn’t that be my line?” she asked, giggling.
He chuckled in reply and stroked her cheek. “It’s good just to see you again.”
“I’m glad it’s you rescuing me,” she whispered, edging closer to him.
Just then there was a knock on the door. “Captain Scarlet? Is everything all right in there?”
The couple sprang apart at the sound of the voice. “SIG, Captain Russet,” called Scarlet.
The door slid open, revealing Russet and his commando team. The German officer had a mischievous grin on his face. “I thought I’d better knock, after what Symphony told me,” he wisecracked.
Rhapsody whirled around and stared at Captain Russet. “What exactly did she tell you?”
“About you and Captain Scarlet, of course.”
“I’ll kill her,” Rhapsody muttered.
Scarlet glared at the ground officer. “Don’t tell me you took her seriously. You’ve heard better stories from the terrorists you’ve questioned, I’m sure.” The British Spectrum officer turned toward Rhapsody to explain. “She made up this silly little rumor about you and me to wind up Captain Russet, so she could try to distract us from our interrogation.”
“And you believed her?” asked Rhapsody sharply, glaring at Russet.
“Rhapsody, you really have to learn how to take a joke,” Russet chuckled. “I’d say I wound you up just now.”
Scarlet bowed his head and shook it, laughing softly to himself. Just so that’s all you think it is, Hans, he said to himself.
Russet cleared his throat and turned his attention to his troops to change the subject. “Well done, Raiders.” He motioned to two of them. “You, you, stay here. The rest of you, continue mop-up operations on all lower decks, then work your way up the Control Tower.”
The commandos acknowledged him and split up; the aforementioned two stayed behind while Russet discussed their assignment with them.
Meanwhile, Scarlet was counting on his fingers. “Right, so that’s all the American senior officers ‘killed’ or captured, except for Captain Ochre.”
“Don’t forget Lieutenant Green,” added Rhapsody. “He’s part of this too.”
“I thought as much,” Scarlet noted wryly. “I reckon he’d jump at the chance to put one over on Colonel White for a change.” Rhapsody snickered at his choice of words and nodded knowingly.
Captain Russet returned and stood before the pair of Cloudbase officers. “Lead the way, Captain Scarlet.”
“You can’t get hold of Magenta now?”
“Negative, Captain.” Green tapped a couple of keys. “His radio is receiving, but he’s not answering. I’m not getting an answer from anyone else in the brig, and only Angel One – Harmony – is answering my hail. The other Angels must be casualties too.”
Captain Ochre angrily snapped the page of the report he was reading. He’d gone to the Information Center and accessed the reports he’d filed after some of Scarlet’s previous drills, hoping to find some clue in them as to the British captain’s next step.
Too late. Apparently, Scarlet had already taken it.
Ochre threw the report down on the desk and swore loudly. “Well, they’ve eliminated the senior staff, and released – and probably rearmed – all our prisoners. That means we’re next.”
Green turned around to face his superior. “Remember, sir, they haven’t won until Colonel White is back in command.”
“It’s only a matter of time now, Lieutenant. Once the colonel is released he’ll march right in here and put us in the brig.”
“What makes you think he can march in here? Or, for that matter, Captain Scarlet, Dr. Fawn or Rhapsody, if one of them gets up here first?” He nodded toward the main entrance. “They have to get through the door first.”
“You changed the code?”
“No, I changed all their access codes.” The Caribbean youth grinned widely. “That’s one of the first things I did this morning, Captain.”
Captain Ochre nodded. “Good man.”
Colonel White sighed. “I knew it was too easy.” The Spectrum commander-in-chief rested his hands on his hips and glared at the locked door before him, as if he were trying to will it to open. “I should have realized Green would change the entry code.”
“Just a minute, Colonel,” said Dr. Fawn, fishing a card out of the security guard’s uniform pocket. “Let’s see if ‘Corporal Jackson’ can open the hatch for us.” Fawn slid Jackson’s card into the slot, and the hatch to the command level opened. “As I thought, sir; the lieutenant just changed your code.”
“Well, let’s get to the Control Room and see if yours still works. We know Jackson’s won’t there.” They started down the corridor.
Just then the lock behind them disengaged with a loud click. Both men spun around and trained their paintball guns on the doorway as the hatch slid open again.
“Scarlet!” White exclaimed, then lowered his voice to a whisper. “Am I glad to see you—” He nodded toward Captain Russet and Rhapsody Angel, who stepped through the hatch behind Scarlet. “—all of you.” He turned his customary hint of a smile to the English Angel. “You got through to London, I see.”
Fawn stepped forward. “I knew Rhapsody wouldn’t let us down. About time someone taught these bloody Yanks a lesson.”
Scarlet smiled. “Don’t worry, Doctor, that’s all we’ve been doing below decks.”
“Ja, Herr Doktor,” said Captain Russet. He smiled too, his gray eyes twinkling. “And Rhapsody told us you taught Captain Magenta a lesson as well.”
“Too damn right,” Fawn grumbled. “Magenta had it coming to him, after the way he stitched me up in Sickbay, if you’ll pardon the pun.”
Colonel White cleared his throat and turned to his top agent. “What’s the situation, Captain Scarlet?”
“The lower decks are returning to normal, sir. We’ve ‘killed’ or captured most of the Americans, and the British Commonwealth personnel are resuming their regular duties. All we have to do now is restore you to command.”
“Easier said than done, I’m afraid,” White sighed. “Ochre and Green have barricaded themselves in there, and Green’s changed my access code.”
“Ours too, Colonel,” said Rhapsody. “Neither Captain Scarlet nor I were able to open the hatch. Only Captain Russet’s key worked.”
“But it won’t work in the Control Room door, of course,” noted Russet.
“See, Captain, you should have accepted that promotion to senior staff,” Scarlet quipped.
“But then my Raiders and I wouldn’t have saved you,” the German countered. He added, “My men will be able to open the Control Room door, Colonel. They’re on their way up here now.”
“Right. But Ochre and Green are expecting us to come in through the front door, aren’t they?” Scarlet folded his arms and stroked his chin thoughtfully.
White wasn’t following him. “What are you suggesting, Captain Scarlet?”
His compatriot grinned and went back out through the hatch. He pointed to a sign at the top of the moving passageway, with a big red arrow pointing to a door, on which was stenciled:
THRU TO: FOAM TANKS
SPECTRUM INFORMATION CENTRE
“What they won’t expect is a flanking maneuver.” He grabbed Russet’s keycard and raced up the steps.
There were two entrances to the Control Room, the one from the command level corridor, and from the Spectrum Information Center. The corridor Captain Scarlet entered led directly to the Information Center, but Scarlet didn’t bother to go there first. He knew neither his own nor Captain Russet’s keycard would let him into the maximum-security area. But there was another way.
The door led to the absolute top of Cloudbase, to a corridor that spanned the length of the Control Tower. It was really only used for maintenance to the ventilation system or, in case of emergency, as access to the small helipad also positioned above the Control Tower. The “foam tanks” were part of a special fire-extinguishing system unique to the helipad. It was difficult for rescue personnel to arrive in a timely fashion, so in case of a crash landing the tanks would automatically dispense the foam, which served both to cushion the landing and as a fire retardant.
As far back as Scarlet could remember, he’d never seen the helipad actually used; it was just one of those things that looked good on blueprints but had no real practical use. He did remember, though, that there was a door off the helipad, with steps leading directly into the Information Center and a lift to the lower levels of the Control Tower. He hoped Captain Russet’s card would open it, as it was designated as a maintenance door, but first he had to get out to the door, which was on the far end of the helipad from the corridor access.
All Cloudbase personnel had been extensively trained in survival techniques specific to the Spectrum headquarters’ high operational altitude. They had been taught that survival at 40,000 feet was possible, without permanent damage, if they were able to reach a pressurized area within 15 to 20 seconds. That, of course, was assuming that the act of depressurization itself, such as in the event of an air crash, had not injured them.
To Spectrum’s credit, there had been only one fatal accident in Cloudbase’s history, back before the Mysterons had appeared. Senior staff member Captain Amber had been killed when the glass in the Angels’ ready room had shattered during a violent thunderstorm. Captain Scarlet was present when Amber had been sucked out of the window, and the memory of it haunted him for some time, at least until his fateful encounter with the beings from Mars a few months later. He couldn’t help but think of poor José as he waited in the small airlock on the other side of the helipad. But this was a controlled decompression, unlike the sudden one that took his friend’s life, and there was a minimum of danger.
Scarlet stepped out onto the helipad but didn’t immediately race toward the far end, as would be required of mortal men. Knowing that his unique metabolic ability would allow him to withstand the elements for a longer period of time, he ran instead to another section of the small deck, where he activated a control, then quickly headed for the access ladder to the lower decks.
Captain Ochre had just ordered Lieutenant Green to perform a security camera sweep of one of the decks when a red light started blinking on the main computer console. Just as quickly, a loud buzzer sounded.
“What the—?” exclaimed the young black man as he stared at the blinking light. “The fire alarm’s gone off on the helipad!”
“What?!” Ochre shouted over the din. “But that’s impossible!”
“I’ll check.” Green brought up a diagram of the Control Tower’s upper deck on the large viewscreen. There was no fire, according to the inactive light display, but the light representing the foam tanks was illuminated. “There’s your problem, Captain. Just a malfunction.”
“Fine, but can you turn off this infernal alarm?” Ochre shouted.
“Not without turning off the foam dispenser, and I can’t do that from here.” The lieutenant rose from his seat. “The shutoff is in the corridor—”
“Are you nuts?” Ochre cut him off. “They’re probably waiting for you right outside the door! I’d guess they set that off so you would do just that, and then they’d be able to come in here and take back command!”
“Sorry, sir. I wasn’t thinking.” Green started to sit down again, but then snapped his fingers. “I can shut it off from the other end, by the helipad access. I don’t even have to open the airlock.” He walked back through the computer banks toward the access door.
The communications officer was not prepared for what he saw once he reached the access door. There was a thick layer of foam over the floor at the bottom of the ladder, and still more oozing down from the hatch above him. “The seal must need tightening,” he muttered as he shut off the alarm, then reached for the wheel to tighten the hatch—
Suddenly the hatch popped open and Captain Scarlet landed squarely on Lieutenant Green’s shoulders, knocking the smaller man face-first into the foam on the floor. The lieutenant scrabbled for his paintball gun, which had been knocked out of his holster, but stopped as he saw Scarlet’s already aimed at him.
“Don’t even try it,” hissed Captain Scarlet, kicking the gun away from Green.
The foam-covered lieutenant raised himself with difficulty to a sitting position on the slippery floor and spat out a mouthful of suds. “How did you get in there?” he spluttered.
“You don’t need senior staff clearance for the maintenance spaces, Lieutenant,” he said, waving Captain Russet’s keycard under Green’s nose. “Any keycard will get you as far as I got.”
Green said nothing, but slapped his palm against his forehead as he realized his oversight.
“Nice going, Lieutenant,” called Captain Ochre from the Control Room. “The alarm’s off.”
Green started to reply but Captain Scarlet cut him off with a wave of his weapon.
“Lieutenant Green?” Ochre repeated. Again there was no response. Then, the voice got closer. “Is everything all right back here?”
“NOW!” shouted Scarlet into the communicator in his left hand.
The door opened on his command, and two Spectrum commandos raced into the Control Room, followed by Captain Russet, Colonel White, Dr. Fawn, and Rhapsody Angel, all firing paintballs as they ran.
Captain Ochre swore loudly and ducked behind the main computer. Miraculously, none of the paintballs hit him, though they did make an interesting yellow, scarlet and russet-colored pattern on the glass wall. While Scarlet’s attention was thus diverted, Lieutenant Green picked up his weapon and scuttled away from the English Spectrum officer.
The two commandos escorted Colonel White to his console and stood guard on either side of it. Before the colonel could sit in his chair though, Ochre sprang out from behind the computer and took out the commandos with two clean head shots. White saw the mustard-color paint impact on the commandos’ headgear and dove under Green’s desk instead. In the process he lost hold of his weapon, which skittered across the floor and landed against one of the stools around the console.
“I should have remembered you started your police career as a sharpshooter,” grumbled White.
“And I can take you out just as easily, Colonel,” Ochre taunted.
Just then a yellow paintball hit the wall, at the same position Ochre’s head had just been a half-second before. He spun around in the direction of the shot.
“Not if I can help it!” shouted Rhapsody Angel, who had come around behind Ochre. Rhapsody quickly aimed again, but did not get the shot off in time. A paintball hit her in the back just as she was about to pull the trigger.
The Angel groaned and reached behind her back, bringing out fingers covered in green paint.
“Yes!” said the Caribbean lieutenant, who had snuck up behind Rhapsody from the Information Center entrance.
“I’ll remember that, Lieutenant,” she snarled.
Then Green himself became a casualty, as he was hit simultaneously by globs of scarlet, russet and bright yellow paint from all directions.
“That’ll teach you to shoot a woman in the back!” Rhapsody said back at him.
Someone nearby chuckled, then quickly caught himself. Green spun around and discovered Dr. Fawn, who was prone inside the Observation Tube and was probably the source of the yellow paint trickling down into his boots. He didn’t gloat too long though, as Captain Ochre had also discovered Fawn’s position and scored a direct hit. Fawn hammed it up, clutching his chest and sprawling his “dead” body over the tube as the ochre “blood” ran down the glass.
That left Captains Scarlet and Russet to eliminate the last “rebel” and restore Colonel White to command of Cloudbase.
“Right,” muttered Captain Scarlet, reloading his weapon. “Let’s end this, here and now.” He waved to Russet to get his attention silently, then signaled to him to go back through the Information Center. He then motioned to Colonel White, on the other side of the glass wall, to distract Captain Ochre.
White had had enough as well. He got up from his cover and stood upright next to Lieutenant Green’s chair. “Captain Ochre!” he bellowed. “I order you to end this exercise, immediately!” He started to walk toward the command console, staring daggers at his junior officer, in clear defiance of the younger man’s “command.” “Why in blue blazes are you doing this?”
Ochre waved his paintball gun at him. “You asked me for a complicated riddle, sir. I think I’ve given you a damn good one.” He motioned toward the position where he’d last seen Captain Russet. “I even gave you some of that ‘cooperation with surface agencies’ you wanted me to concentrate on.” He smiled and shrugged as he lowered the paintball gun. “Though their intervention wasn’t my doing, of course—”
Something rolled across the Control Room floor and bumped into Ochre’s foot. He looked down and realized in horror that it was a paint grenade. He quickly kicked it back in the direction it came from, namely the observation tube connecting the Control Room with the Information Center. Captain Russet swore and ducked back into the Information Center just as the grenade exploded, turning a section of the transparent tube opaque fluorescent yellow.
As Ochre watched the grenade explode, Captain Scarlet rushed him and took him down in a flying tackle. Colonel White was right behind Scarlet; the senior officer took immense pleasure in snapping a pair of handcuffs around the American’s wrists and hauling him roughly to his feet.
None of the trio, however, noticed the second paint grenade that Captain Russet had thrown, shortly after the first one…
The German Spectrum officer came running back through the observation tube just in time to see the commander-in-chief of Spectrum and two of his top agents enveloped in a spray of yellow paint. He smiled sheepishly as he approached them, saying, “Does this mean I’m in command of Cloudbase now, Colonel?”
At least Captain Ochre was out of his handcuffs. But he wasn’t out of trouble, he knew, although he had plenty of company now. Lieutenant Green, Destiny Angel and the American members of the senior staff all stood at attention before Colonel White on the Hangar Deck. Harmony, of course, was listening in from her post in Angel One, and Dr. Fawn was watching the meeting from Sickbay on the closed-circuit TV, as he had been called down there shortly after the final showdown in the Control Room. Even though Captain Grey hadn’t been part of the “rebellion” per se, his presence was required as well, though the colonel did allow him to change into some dry clothes first.
No one knew why Colonel White had had them report to the Hangar Deck rather than the Control Room or the Conference Room. Captain Blue, however, thought it ironic that the colonel chose to stand in the middle of the paint-grenade spot at the rear of the SPJ still parked there. The other conspirators couldn’t help but notice the large stain of yellow paint on Colonel White’s usually-spotless vest, and the similar condition of Captains Scarlet and Ochre – and especially the sorry state of Lieutenant Green. But then again, a few of them were in much the same state. Two of the Angels, Destiny and Melody, were literally covered in the commandos’ fluorescent-yellow paint, and Melody even sported some on her face, in sharp contrast to her dark skin. They had apparently put up a good fight against Russet’s Raiders. Symphony had almost as much on her flight suit, and Rhapsody’s civilian clothes were spattered with green. Then of course Captain Blue had the scarlet stain on his chest. There wasn’t any question what happened to him… Only Captain Magenta, who had of course been captured rather than “killed,” and the ground agent Captain Russet had come out of the exercise unscathed.
Captain Grey finally appeared in the doorway, attired in his uniform, and hurried toward the assembled officers. “About time,” muttered Captain Blue. “The Old Man’s been waiting for you to show up.”
Grey had almost superhuman hearing, honed by years of testing submarines and their sonar equipment, and he did hear Blue’s snide remark. “Watch it, Svenson,” he whispered back as he joined the lineup. “I’m still picking light blue paint out of my chest hair.”
Ochre and Magenta both snickered at the comment, and a ghost of a smile even crossed Scarlet’s face. So that’s what happened to Grey…
But Colonel White was in no mood for levity. “As you were!” he snapped. His outburst startled everyone into silence.
White cleared his throat. “Members of Spectrum… May I wish you all a very happy American Independence Day…”
The officers and Angels exchanged glances. They weren’t expecting the colonel to actually wish them a happy holiday, especially after today’s events.
But his voice had a patronizing tone to it, almost unctuous: “I do hope you enjoyed yourselves earlier today, and that you enjoy the rest of your special day…”
This was the Colonel?
White paused and scowled. “…Because believe me, you will not be enjoying the day tomorrow, when you’re cleaning up the mess you’ve made!”
Now there was the Colonel White they all knew and loved.
The Spectrum commander-in-chief glared at them as he continued. “It may surprise you to hear that I actually wish to commend Captain Ochre, for showing his initiative and imagination in creating a readiness drill that took me completely by surprise. It isn’t too often that one of my junior officers beats me at my own game.”
A slight smile began to form on Ochre’s face.
“And before I go any further, I wish to apologize to Captain Ochre, and the rest of the Americans, for not realizing the extent of your traditional holiday celebrations. Had I known how seriously you take 4th July, I would have postponed the exercise until tomorrow.”
White paused to acknowledge the smiles and nods of his senior staff. Ochre’s smile grew wider until he caught the colonel’s glance again. The Spectrum chief spoke directly to him next.
However, Captain Ochre, you were too hasty in your retaliation towards me.” The colonel radioed the Hangar Deck control room, where the deckhands were waiting. “Lieutenant Rust, have your men offload the cargo.”
“SIG, Colonel.” Rust and the deckhands trotted out of the control room and finished the job they had started earlier in the day. The deckhands set the shipping containers down in front of Colonel White and returned to the control room, while Rust stood off to the side and behind the colonel.
“You see, Captain, you didn’t know that I had planned a little something for today as well.” White opened one of the containers and tossed a bundle wrapped in brown paper to Captain Ochre.
The American did a double-take when he opened the bundle. “Hot dogs?”
“Frankfurters to be exact, fresh from Coney Island, courtesy of Spectrum Headquarters New York. This container is full of Coney Island frankfurters, rolls and all the customary trimmings, including what Major Fanelli insisted was the ‘only’ mustard worth using on them. The other containers,” he said, pointing to the ones next to it, “are filled with fresh watermelons and corn on the cob, and non-alcoholic beer. Even if we can’t have open fires on Cloudbase, I saw to it that at least you would have all the makings for a proper July 4th picnic.” The colonel smiled sardonically. “I’d requisitioned these days ago, before I even ordered the drill.”
“Days ago?” Lieutenant Green frowned. “What did you add to the delivery last night, then, Colonel?”
“This.” He stepped over to the last container, a smaller one marked with warning signs. “Captain Grey gave me the idea.”
“Me, sir?” asked Grey.
Yes, Captain. You’d mentioned the only thing you didn’t plan was a fireworks display, so I pulled a few strings.” He opened the lid. “This container is filled with WAAF emergency flares in all colors. Not exactly ‘fireworks,’ of course, but I’m sure they’ll suffice on such short notice.” White turned toward the Angels. “Which of you will be on standby duty at sunset?”
The girls looked at each other, and Destiny and Melody finally answered in the affirmative.
“Excellent. I’m sure you’ll have no problem setting them off from the helijet.” White turned toward Rust again. “Lieutenant, deliver this container to the helijet hangar and have the crew load them on board. Lieutenant Green will submit a flight plan to you for tonight.” Rust acknowledged the colonel and departed.
As soon as Rust was out of earshot, Colonel White resumed his sour mood. “As I was saying, ladies and gentlemen, I hope you enjoy yourselves today and tonight, because first thing tomorrow morning I expect you to start cleaning up this mess. Lieutenant Green, I believe the Control Room and upper deck are your responsibility; Captain Magenta, Sickbay; Captain Grey, the pool—”
“Sir, with respect!” Grey protested. “I was the victim there!”
“I am aware of that, Captain. I am also aware that your colleagues considered you one of the ‘enemy,’ not informing you of their plans because of the possibility of your reporting them to me. We cannot be effective as individuals if we cannot work as a team. Working side by side with them here and sharing the workload will help you win back each other’s trust.”
“SIG, Colonel,” a dejected Grey said.
“Captain Blue will cover the Hangar Deck,” White continued. “Rhapsody, you and your fellow Angels are to restore order to the Amber Room, and when you’ve finished there you can assist Captain Blue. Any areas I haven’t covered will be the responsibility of Captain Scarlet and Captain Russet and his men.”
Captain Ochre shifted position nervously. There has to be some reason he didn’t mention me, and I’ll bet it’s not good…
Colonel White noticed Ochre fidgeting and unzipped his vest pocket. “I’m sure you’re wondering by now what I have in mind for you, Captain.”
Ochre nodded, not knowing how to answer him.
White pulled out his silver pen and some other small items from the pocket and placed them on top of the cargo container in front of him. “Captain Ochre, you will work with Lieutenant Green tomorrow, but as you were so effective as the leader of this rebellion, I have a very special assignment for you today.” He then unzipped the vest and took it off, then threw it at Ochre. “Since you didn’t warn me ahead of time that I would be so—er, heavily involved in this drill, I wore my regular uniform today. I hope you have something in your modeling kit that will remove paint from white suede.”
Captain Ochre looked at the vest, then at Colonel White. “Me, Colonel? The base laundry can do a better job than I can!”
“I suspect they will be rather busy today, thanks to you. Besides, my uniform deserves more personal handling than anything the laundry can offer.” White picked up one of the items that he had laid on top of the container and threw that to Ochre as well. “I even have a special tool for you to use.”
Ochre looked at the object now in his hand. “A toothbrush?”
“After your comments to me this morning, Captain, be thankful I’m not ordering you to use your tongue.”
Ochre cringed as he remembered. “It was all in the name of independence, Colonel. I humbly ask your forgiveness.”
Colonel White stood before him with his fists on his hips, the sleeves and collar of his dark gray turtleneck sweater strangely outlined in the yellow paint. “And you’ll have my forgiveness, if you have my tunic cleaned in time for the fireworks display tonight. Now I suggest you get moving.”
“Yes, sir.” Captain Ochre turned toward the exit. “You’ll have it by tonight, even if I have to re-dye the suede.”
“Just so long as you remove the yellow paint, and don’t just cover it with white, Captain. I don’t even want to see you near that picnic until you’re finished.”
“I’ll bring you a hot dog,” Grey called after him. “What do you take on it?”
Ochre grinned. “I’ll take two hot dogs, thanks, with sauerkraut, and plenty of mustard and raw onions.”
Captain Magenta whistled. “No wonder he doesn’t have a girlfriend.”
“How’d you like to go to Sickbay for a reason this time?”
Captain Scarlet laughed. “Ochre and Magenta trading insults. I’d say things are back to normal, Colonel.”
“As they should be,” the Spectrum commander said. He turned his attention back to the assembled officers. “Captain Russet, you will remain here. The rest of you, you have fifteen minutes to change into clean uniforms and report to the auditorium before I change my mind! Dismissed!” The senior staff quickly departed the Hangar Deck.
White then radioed the control room and ordered the deckhands to deliver the rest of the shipping containers. Captain Russet stood in place as he waited for White to finish. “Am I not invited to the picnic, Colonel?” he finally said.
“Of course you are, my good man, along with the rest of your team. I just wanted to thank you for saving the day…” – he shook Russet’s hand – “…and to give you some new orders before I make an appearance at that picnic.”
“Report to the Control Room, Captain Russet, and for the time being you will assume command of Cloudbase.” White smiled slightly. “You see, I’m not in a position to do so at the moment. You did ‘kill’ me, after all…”
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