A ‘Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons’ story for Christmas
By Talia Gray
The heat haze distorted the figures closing in on him. Scarlet narrowed his eyes against the sun’s glare and shifted his position slightly. He had to focus. They were trying to goad him, to cause him to make the false move that could be his undoing. His partner was almost twenty yards away, powerless to help him, unable to change his position. He looked at the receding back of Johnson, his chief tormentor, who, glancing casually over his shoulder, was preoccupied in spinning the dark object in his hand. This man was a master at what he did – Scarlet had faced him several times before and had survived by the narrowest of margins. Suddenly the figure stopped and turned. He gestured to several of his men, bringing them into a more attacking position. He smiled - a cool, calculating smile – then began to run toward Scarlet. As his pace quickened, Scarlet’s grip on the handle of his weapon tightened and his whole body tensed in anticipation. He could sense some of the men near him now, ready for the kill, but kept his eyes on the man speeding toward him, and at the object held in his left hand. With a sudden movement, he hurled the object toward Scarlet, die-straight and true. Scarlet responded instinctively and, with a fluid movement, drove the ball away past his partner and down towards long on. He ran immediately.
‘Yes!’ he called to his partner, who needed no second bidding. The two crossed and grounded their bats at opposite ends.
‘Looking!’ he heard his partner yell as he turned for a second run, and he set off again, a swift backward glance telling him that the fielder was in close pursuit of the ball. Damn – it would be a close one! Focus! The remaining 17 yards seemed to lengthen and his partner seemed inordinately slow. Scarlet’s ears were filled by the sound of the opposition urging the fielder on and, ahead of him, he saw the wicket keeper move in close to the stumps ready to receive the ball. As his partner hurtled past him, with a half-muffled ‘Shit!’, he knew it was going to be close. Very close. Just over ten yards to go. He had to do it. He just had to! The wicket keeper raised his hands to receive the ball and Scarlet saw it streak past him out of the corner of his eye, the sudden realisation that he might not make it flashing before him. The wicket keeper fumbled the catch, the ball jumping in his gloved hand. Scarlet thrust his bat forward, grounding it over the popping crease a fraction of second before the wicket keeper whipped the bails off the stumps. The fielders whooped with delight and turned to the square leg umpire, who had been scrutinising the wicket with an eagle eye. He straightened up slowly and, seemingly unperturbed by the frenetic appeal around him, gave an almost imperceptible shake of the head. Scarlet let out his breath in a hiss of relief and the wicket keeper, a lad named Maxwell, grinned at him from behind his face guard.
The Christmas Twenty20 cricket match at Koala Base was a tradition that had its origin soon after the beginning of Spectrum. The cadets played the officers and staff with variable results: some years favoured one side over the other by a huge margin; on other years, the teams were very well-matched, leading to very tight contests. This was one such year. Scarlet and Blue were at Koala, leading a training session on active field work, and somehow, Scarlet’s prowess as a batsman had leaked out among the senior staff. Jumping at the chance this afforded, especially following the previous year’s heavy defeat, they’d twisted his arm and, before he really knew it, Scarlet was on their team, batting at number 5. In his younger days, when in the first XI at Winchester, he’d participated in some bitter matches, and he’d even had the honour to have trodden the hallowed square at Lord’s. However, that was then – a long time ago, as he’d tried to explain to the Commanding Officer of Koala Base. Despite his protestations, however, Major Stone remained resolute in his determination to have Scarlet on the team, and so it was that he now found himself at the wicket. He’d not played in a proper match for years and knew he was rusty. Still, now that he was out here, the years seemed to fall away and he had to admit that it did feel good – the adrenalin pumping through his body, and the familiar feel of his bat in his gloved hands, the sweet sound as he executed the perfect cover drive. His bat, an aged Warsop Stebbing, was more like a talisman to him; old and well-battered, it was the very same bat with which he’d hit the winning runs for Winchester back in ’56 taking them to the top of the university league table. As he twisted it round in his gloved hands, he could see the autograph of his then hero, Derek Knott, in faded letters high up on the shoulder. He and the bat went back a long way together and it was more usually to be found in a corner of his quarters back on Cloudbase. He loved the feel of it, its weight in his hands. Perfect. His lucky bat. An old friend.
Although out of practice, he was doing well – thirty-five runs, to be precise – and was currently engaged in a tenuous partnership with his seventh partner, the number eleven – a nervous lieutenant named Johan Pietersen. Scarlet smiled to himself behind the cage of his face guard and readied himself for the next ball. This was the final over and the staff required six more runs to win with nine wickets down. It was going to be very close, with only five balls remaining in the innings.
Johnson started his run-up again and Scarlet waited, trying to read him for any suggestion of delivery. Again, the ball flew from the bowler’s hand at an incredible speed, but this time it pitched short and, with a tremendous ‘crack’, Scarlet pulled it away easily down towards the midwicket boundary. With a gap in the field in that position, the two batsmen only crossed once before the umpire signalled the inevitable four runs. As he made his way back to the crease, the delighted yells of the staff still ringing in his ears, Scarlet examined his bat carefully. He’d felt it, as well as heard it, and knew what it meant – that ominous sound which had filled him with concern as soon as he’d struck the ball – a death knell. His heart sank. Yes, there it was. Running the length of the blade, from the toe right into the sweet spot was a fissure. He swore under his breath and, raising his bat up, gestured to one of his team mates to bring him a replacement. All these years he’d cherished it and now this damn match was to finish it.
The standby bat arrived and, with great reluctance, Scarlet relinquished his own. The replacement felt strange in his hand; the balance was not quite right for him and he tried a couple of practice forward defensives and a sweep to get the feel of it. No. It just wasn’t the same and he knew it. He hated other bats.
Johnson delivered again – a bouncer, and Scarlet ducked to let it fly over his head. Another ball wasted. The next ball was a Yorker – and all Scarlet could do was to block it this time. Damn! That was the last thing they needed at this stage. Two balls left – three runs to win. The field had been dropped back to prevent two runs and boundaries and Scarlet scanned around, looking for possible openings through which to drive the winning ball. He twirled the bat in his hands, trying again to get the feel of it, to familiarise himself with it.
Johnson came in again and Scarlet readied himself. As the ball left the bowler’s hand, he saw where to guide it and swung the bat in towards it to drive it over cover. Whether it was the strangeness of the bat, a lapse of judgement, excellent bowling, or a combination of all three, he didn’t know, but he edged it, the ball flying off into the hands of the diving Maxwell. The cadets went wild and both Maxwell and Johnson were embraced madly. Scarlet looked down at the borrowed bat in bitter disappointment, cursing the ill-luck that had deprived him of his own. Pietersen clapped him on the shoulder to commiserate.
‘Never mind, Sir,’ he said in his clipped South African tone, ‘bit of bloody bad luck there, that’s all. Johnson’s a demon when he gets going. You had a bloody good innings to last as well as you did against him. I’m just pleased I didn’t have to face him.’ He grinned, adding, ‘Can we count on you for next year?’
‘It’s kind of you to ask, Pietersen, but that would depend on where I’m sent. It was only by chance that I happened to be here at the time of the match.’
‘Oh, I wouldn’t say that chance had much to do with it, Sir. The CO’s got influence in high places, if you catch my drift. I gather that he and Colonel White go back a long way. The cadets slaughtered us last year; we couldn’t let that happen again.’
‘You mean the colonel...?’
Pietersen just grinned as the two of them were swallowed up in the sympathetic praise of their team mates on the boundary.
‘Fine innings, Scarlet!’ exclaimed the jovial Major Stone. ‘We almost had them that time! You certainly got them worried. Our honour is restored for another year. Damn shame about the bat though, got the feeling it knocked your form.’
Scarlet grimaced and nodded mutely, seeking out Blue from the crowd. He found him waving and made his way over.
‘Hey buddy, bad luck out there!’ grinned Blue, clapping him on his shoulder. ‘I still haven’t a clue what it’s all about, though,’ he added. ‘It’s so damn complicated. Baseball, now, that’s much easier to understand...’
‘... and lacking in any degree of subtlety!’ quipped Scarlet in return, laughing.
‘Watch it! Do I have to start lecturing you, Paul? Let’s say we’ll just agree to differ, shall we? Of course, if you like, I could give you a crash course in all the major league greats, especially the Red Sox, but I’d have thought you’d have been up on the current table anyway.’
‘I never really took to it, Adam. I followed a bit of the league when I was at West Point, but only because my friends at the time were so keen. No, cricket and rugby – those are my two and always shall be.’ He turned suddenly as a young cadet came running up with his broken bat. ‘Thank you,’ he smiled, ruefully, turning the blade over in his hands. ‘Dammit, why did this have to happen?’
‘Your special bat?’ sympathised Blue.
‘Yes – my father gave it to me when I made the first eleven back at Winchester. We took the shield that year... played the final match at Lord’s. He was so proud of me. It’s been with me ever since... My lucky bat. Not so lucky today though – I just couldn’t get used to the feel of the other one. I suppose that’s my just desserts for muffing that catch.’
That had been Scarlet’s fault entirely. Earlier on in the match, when the staff team were fielding, proceedings had been slow for a while. Scarlet had been feeling the heat down at deep extra cover, his mind not on the game. In fact, he’d been more concerned about just what the hell he was going to get Rhapsody for Christmas; he hadn’t a clue and, with only a few days to go, time was fast running out. He’d been startled out of his reverie by the shout of ‘Catch it!’ but by then it was too late; he’d made an attempt to reach it, but it had skimmed his fingertips, painfully so, ending up running to the boundary. Had he caught it, the outcome of the match would probably have been very different.
‘It’s one heck of a spread they’ve laid on. I went in to check during the game and...’
‘So you’re telling me you didn’t watch the whole thing? Adam! I’m very disappointed,’ Scarlet commented with mock severity.
‘Oh, come off it, Paul. In small doses it’s bearable but, jeez, the whole thing? Well... I watched your batting anyway. Well... most of it. It’s just that...’ he added with an apologetic shrug of his shoulders.
Scarlet grinned back at his friend. ‘C’mon, ‘he said, ‘I’ll grab a quick shower and get changed and then let’s see just what they’ve got for us. I’m starving!’
The after-match celebratory meal was laid out in the refectory, thankfully air-conditioned against the December heat. Great branches of Monterey pine and eucalyptus (either stuck into pots or hung from the ceiling) were decorated with baubles and tinsel, and, over by the main entrance, stood a large fibre-optic tree. On each table stood a little arrangement of Christmas Bush as well as a measured supply of beer and wine. In the background, the strains of various Australian Christmas carols could be heard.
At one end of the refectory were a line of tables weighed down under a huge assortment of culinary delights: there was a small table for those with a hankering for a more ‘Northern Hemisphere’ cuisine, with a couple of roast turkeys, carved by chefs at the table, with an assortment of roast potatoes, pumpkin and various other hot vegetables; for those who fancied a meal more suited to the heat, there were salads, cold ham, cold turkey, and, fresh from the barbeques outside, crayfish, snags and a seemingly endless supply of king prawns. Needless to say, the ‘cold’ table was by far the more frequented. The dessert tables bore trifles, pavlovas and great bowls of fruit and, again for die-hard traditionalists, there were puddings steaming in the kitchen. Blue and Scarlet joined one of the queues of people, ready to collect their meal from the main course table. Scarlet suddenly found himself staring at a particularly odd-looking crustacean – it appeared to be staring straight back at him. Somewhat unnerved by its baleful gaze, he asked one of the cadets what it was.
‘It’s a Balmain Bug,’ the cadet answered him.
At the word ‘bug’, Scarlet’s face blanched visibly and the cadet grinned. ‘Try one. They’re bloody good! It’s a bit like a rock lobster. There’s a fella here whose dad has contacts in the fishing industry. He gets them flown in from Sydney each year.’
‘Right... thanks... I, er... I might try one a bit later.’ Give me a Mysteron, any day, he thought to himself. As he made his way back to his table, his gaze was caught by the Christmas cake – a vast affair - sitting by itself on a separate table. Well, it was more the decoration on the top that intrigued him: Santa’s sleigh drawn by... not reindeer. No, in this instance, kangaroos. Six of them. White. He thought suddenly of one of the songs that had been playing earlier - ‘Six White Boomers’ - and the penny dropped. Too hot for reindeer out here, so ‘boomers’ – kangaroos – instead. He didn’t think he’d ever get used to the idea of a Christmas in summer – it seemed all wrong, somehow. Blue certainly found it peculiar, being used to a good snowfall over the winter months; for him a white Christmas had been a dead cert when growing up. On Cloudbase, since there were no apparent seasons, the incongruity of a scorching hot Christmas just didn’t occur.
Ah well, I’m certainly not complaining, he thought, and, sitting back down next to Blue, he attacked his plate with gusto.
The tarmac shimmered in the heat and dust devils danced crazily through the scrub at the far side of the airstrip. Scarlet raised his arm to shield his face from the sun’s glare as his eyes tried to adjust to the sudden contrast. The lecture theatre had been cool and subdued, the antithesis of this oven. At forty degrees Celsius, its heat slammed him in the face. Beside him Gregory Maxwell, the same young Spectrum cadet who had caught him out as wicket keeper the previous day, seemed quite nonplussed by it all; he was used to the harsh conditions at Koala Training Base. Scarlet grinned at him, remembering himself in the same position many years ago and wondered how he could have ever forgotten just how damn hot it could get during the full height of the Antipodean summer. They’d been lucky during the match yesterday – there’d been a breeze to lower the temperature and besides, he’d been wearing loose, cool cottons. He shifted under his body armour, feeling a trickle of sweat begin its damp, ticklish path down the back of his neck. Too late, he reached behind him to try to stop it before it seeped under his body suit. Damn! He’d feel that itch right down his back soon and there was no way he could scratch it.
‘Will you be speaking to us again soon, Sir?’ asked Maxwell. ‘It was so interesting. I’d not realised that field agents could be given such challenging missions before. How do you know what to do... how to prepare? And how about the Mysterons, Sir? How d’you know if someone’s a Mysteron?’
Scarlet smiled down encouragingly at the eager face. Maxwell had been allocated the task of escorting him to the Hummingbird; he had all the enthusiasm of the typical, idealistic twenty year-old. Somewhat overwhelmed to have been picked, he felt gauche and tongue-tied at such close proximity to an officer of Scarlet’s reputation. His pleasure at been chosen, however, did not stem purely from his personal pride at being able to speak to this legendary officer but also from the cachet this would give him among his peers.
‘We teach you as much as we can – there’s a wide range of training programmes and enrichment schemes, but when you’re out there, experience counts for a hell of a lot. We always send new officers out on field missions with at least one experienced officer. Anyway, you’d never be sent on a mission that was known to carry a greater than standard degree of risk until we were confident that you could handle yourself appropriately.’
‘I’d love to visit Cloudbase, Sir. I’ve looked at all the schematics and know about the different departments. D’you think there’s a chance I could be seconded there for some experience?’
‘You never know, Maxwell. It’s certainly worth putting in a request if you’re that keen. Placements come up for you next year, don’t they?’
‘Yes, Sir. Late July. We’ve all heard quite a bit about all the new equipment they’ve brought in – the upgrades for the old SPVs and SSCs. We’ve seen the Hummingbird, obviously. How do they handle?’
‘I have to admit to being quite sceptical at first – when one’s used to one particular thing, it’s hard to change – but... well, I must say I’m impressed. The Cheetah’s a dream to drive; for sheer, raw power, it beats the SSC hands down and it boasts a good arsenal as well. As for the Rhino... although I found travelling backwards in the SPV somewhat disconcerting at first, I’m so used to it now that this feels strange. It’s one hell of a tactical response unit though – highly responsive, fantastic off-road performance and armed to the teeth! Given the choice between the two... I hate to say it, but I guess I’d now have to go with the Rhino. You know about the VTOL deployment aircraft, of course. It gives us access to anywhere in the world for a Rhino or Cheetah. It can’t deploy from Cloudbase at present, but there’s talk of some changes to be made to accommodate it properly.’
‘Hey, don’t forget the Raid Bike, Scarlet!’ said Blue joining them from one if the hangars. ‘Now THAT is something else. I agree that the Cheetah’s amazing to drive, but nothing beats launching off the edge of the flight deck into freefall. Besides, the Bike’s speed and road-holding are second to none. I know that Ochre would agree with me there - he’s always itching for any opportunity to take one out. Yup, I reckon that that’s the one for me.’
‘Oh, the Cheetah can easily match it for pace, but I’ll give you the road-holding.’
‘You’re just biased because it matches your uniform, Paul,’ replied Blue, laughing.
‘How do you find the new uniforms?’ Maxwell asked. ‘Aren’t they hot in this climate?’
‘Surprisingly comfortable, I guess,’ said Blue. ‘Of course, blue suits the design far better than red,’ he added, casting a mischievous glance at Scarlet.
‘I’ll let that one go, Adam,’ retorted Scarlet with a grin. He turned back to Maxwell. ‘I thought they’d be hot at first, but the suit’s fully breathable and resists high temperatures; in fact it’s quite cool to wear as there’s some kind of temperature compensator built in. The armour’s incredibly light as well. Movement’s easy. The only problem I can see at present is just how to scratch my damn back!’
Deep in conversation, they rounded one of the numerous outbuildings on the airstrip. These buildings were a mixture of hangars and surveillance bunkers, the latter bristling with a myriad assortment of masts and satellite pickups. Although ugly to look at, they had one redeeming feature. Shade. Gratefully, they passed between two of the hangars into the comparative darkness. At the other end of the shade corridor, the Hummingbird was waiting. They moved out into the brightness once more and they had to squint against the sudden glare. Blue climbed onboard and began the pre-launch warm up. As the rotors began to turn lazily, Scarlet turned to Maxwell.
‘Thank you, Maxwell, and I may see you around Cloudbase come July.’
‘Thank you, Sir.’
Scarlet settled into his seat, a backward glance at the bat stowed safely behind him. ‘Okay, Adam, let’s go home.’
‘This is Hummingbird one-niner to Koala Control Tower. Requesting permission for take-off.’
‘Control Tower to Hummingbird one-niner, you are cleared to go. Have a good journey, gentlemen. Over.’
‘Roger that, Control Tower. Thanks. Over and out.’
Once airborne, they settled into cruise flight and Blue relaxed at the controls. ‘Have you thought any more about what you’re getting Dianne yet?’
‘Are you kidding? That’s how I let my mind wander when I dropped that catch. I’m totally stumped. It’s hard at the best of times but this time... no. I would love to be able to take her away, but I’m not due any leave for a while yet. I was chatting to one of the chaps back at Koala and he was saying how amazing Sydney is, especially at New Year. I know she’d love to go to the Opera House – she’s mentioned it before… anyway, that’s out of the question. How about you? Do you have something for Karen yet?’
‘Sure. I fixed that a while ago. Hey,’ he added as Scarlet groaned quietly in his seat, ‘I’m sure you’ll come up with something, Paul. You always do.’
‘Oh, I can usually think of things. It’s whether or not she’ll like them that I’m worried about.’
Had Scarlet been privy to just how much Rhapsody was agonising over her present to him, he may have been less worried.
In the Amber Room, Christmas preparations were almost complete: Melody and Harmony were busy linking paper chains, the garish colours somewhat incongruous against their flight suits. They were on standby, Destiny being on station in Angel One, and Symphony and Rhapsody were dressing the tree together. The Angels had already put a small number of personal presents beneath it, and their next task would be to dress the tree in the Officers’ Lounge and to put the token presents under it – one for every member of the senior staff on Cloudbase. The provenance of these particular presents was supposed to be unknown; however, it was commonly understood, but never openly suggested, that they were from the colonel – a gesture that was much appreciated. In other areas of the vast base, personnel from the different ‘departments’ operated their own ‘Secret Santa’; with such a huge complement of staff aboard Cloudbase, this was found to be the only manageable system for the exchanging of such tokens.
Whilst attaching the glittering baubles, Rhapsody and Symphony were deep in discussion over the difficulties of choosing presents for men.
‘... and so it was only because I overheard something he’d said to Pat that I had any idea what to get him,’ Symphony said. ‘It’s so difficult, and I’m hardly the most organised of people.’
‘At least you’ve bought his. As for Paul... well, I have absolutely no idea whatsoever and time’s running out. Erm... what did you get for Adam, anyway?’
‘Oh no!’ Symphony grinned. ‘You’re not getting round me like that, Dianne Simms. I know it’s tough but you’re not pinching my idea.’
‘Rumbled!’ Rhapsody laughed back. ‘If you have any inspirational thoughts, though, you’ll throw them my way, won’t you, Karen? Please? I’m so desperate now. I have something in the pipeline, but the time’s not right for it yet. If all else fails, my final option is to package myself up in a box for him to unwrap, but I don’t think that would go down too well with the colonel. Now,’ she added wistfully, ‘what I would really like is to have some time away with Paul. The last time we’d finally managed to combine our leave, it was cancelled at the last minute – remember?’
‘Gee, that’s right, I do remember. Oh, that was such bad luck. When’re you likely to have combined leave time again?’
‘I’ve checked the rota and it won’t be for the foreseeable future, anyway. I’m due some just after Christmas, but Paul’s not,’ recalled Rhapsody, gloomily. ‘It’s such a shame. There’s the Boxing Day cricket match at the MCG and, to top it all, Casolla is singing ‘Turandot’ at the Sydney Opera House just before New Year – I would have loved to have gone.’
Symphony raised her eyebrows in puzzlement at this revelation. ‘Erm… ‘who’ and ‘what’?’
‘Oh, you must know of her? Great soprano? Her ‘Mimi’ was incredible. She’s been hailed as the new Rossi but I’m not so sure. I think she’s more like Miller in her performance…’ Rhapsody trailed off as she caught sight of the bemused look on her friend’s face.
‘You know, I haven’t the foggiest idea what you’re on about, Dianne. Cricket and opera….’ Symphony shook her head in amusement, stifling a mock yawn.
‘Ah well, I can but dream,’ replied Rhapsody, wistfully. ‘In the meantime, I shall have to make the most of our time together on Cloudbase.’
‘Oh, you’ll find a way – Paul’s resourceful. As for presents, I’m sure you’ll think of something, don’t you worry.’
Little did Symphony realise just how prophetic were her words to be.
‘Colonel, Sir. I have Captain Magenta on the comm. channel. He’s at the facility now.’
‘Ah, good. Put him through please, Lieutenant.’ Green pressed some buttons on his console, transferring the link to Colonel White’s desk. ‘Go ahead, Captain.’
‘Yessir. Forensics have confirmed the body to be that of Major James Sanderson. Single gunshot to the head. According to the preliminary autopsy report, he’s been dead about eight hours. Captain Ochre is over at his apartment right now.’
‘How does that tie in with the incident at the research facility?’
‘The security guard clearly remembers Sanderson entering the base at twenty-one thirty hours; that’s two hours after he was supposed to be dead. He checked through security with no problem – hand print and retinal scans. He’s then seen driving away at...’ Magenta scrutinised his notes, ‘twenty-two hundred hours.’
‘I see,’ said White, his brow furrowing. ‘Are the project supervisors absolutely sure that the device has been stolen?’
‘They’re in no doubt about it, Sir. Sanderson was one of the few personnel with security clearance for this particular project. We assume that he entered the laboratory with one of the techs, but all security footage taken during this time has been jammed in some way.’
‘How is the laboratory technician, Captain Magenta?’
‘He suffered a nasty blow to the head, Sir. He’s still recovering and not particularly lucid yet, although he is clear about who slugged him.’
‘That’s right, Sir.’
‘Gather as much information as you can about this, Captain. I will send Captain Ochre over to you once he has finished. I don’t like the way this is going one little bit. It looks suspiciously as though there is Mysteron involvement; unless the autopsy report on Sanderson’s time of death is flawed, I can think of no other explanation for his appearance at the research facility after his death. I shall speak to the Head of Weapons Research there to glean as much information as I can on the CyberPulse. One thing I am quite certain about – in the wrong hands it could be extremely damaging. Very well, Captain. That is all for now.’
‘Lieutenant, put me through to Captain Ochre.’
‘Yes, Sir.’ There was a slight pause as the link to Ochre was established. A light flashed on the Colonel’s console and Ochre’s voice was heard over the comm. link.
‘Captain Ochre, what is your current status?’ asked Colonel White.
‘I’m here with the doorman, Sir. He confirms that Major Sanderson left the building at round about twenty fifty hours this evening. He wasn’t alone however. He’d had a visitor a short while beforehand. They left together.’
‘Is there any security footage of the visitor at all?’
‘Negative, Sir. The security cameras developed a fault at the time. I have checked them both, but the image is just static.’
‘Hmmm,’ pondered White, ‘the same occurrence has happened to the cameras at the facility. Captain, was the doorman able to supply you with a description of the visitor?’
‘Only a vague description, Sir. He wasn’t paying that much attention – visitors are normally logged on camera, so there was little need. What he does say, however, was that he was dressed in dark clothes, had dark hair and looked very pale and drawn. That’s what stuck in his mind the most. He gave his name as…’
There was a pause as Ochre’s muffled voice could be heard in the background.
‘Er… yes, Sir. Sorry, Sir, I just needed to confirm the name the visitor gave to the doorman. He said it was… er…’
‘Well, spit it out, man!’
‘He said it was… Charles Gray.’
There was a pregnant silence as White gritted his teeth, repressing a retort with a snort. Green hid a smile as the colonel set his face again and cleared his throat.
‘Hmmm. I see our friend likes a joke. From the doorman’s description, he sounds very much like Captain Black. If so, that would explain the discrepancy in the time of death and last known sighting of Major Sanderson. The question that arises now is not so much what do the Mysterons want with the CyberPulse, but where are they intending to use it? Have you examined his apartment yet?’
‘Yes, Sir, but there was nothing out of the ordinary at all. There’s very little in the way of personal items – just the bare minimum.’
‘I suspect we would be wasting our time in turning over the room any further. Very well. Captain Ochre, you should rejoin Captain Magenta at the Fort Halstead facility and return to Cloudbase. The next move is now up to the Mysterons. It is now a waiting game.’
‘Yes, Sir. Ochre out.’
‘Excuse me, Sir,’ Green said, turning to the colonel, ‘but what kind of device are we dealing with here?’
‘I know very little about it, Lieutenant. They have kept its design highly classified. Even Spectrum has not been apprised of its capabilities. What I do know, however, is that it is based on EMP weaponry combined with a new type of technology.’
‘Electromagnetic Pulse Weapons? I know they knocked out key electronic systems during the Atomic War – the effects were devastating. Surely, though, most sensitive buildings are shielded from their effects these days – Faraday cages and EM gasketing are built in as standard, aren’t they? I know that Cloudbase is fully shielded.’
‘That is the case, yes, but with respect to this particular weapon, it is quite possible that normal shielding would prove fairly ineffective.’ Colonel White paused for a moment, brows knitted, before turning to Green. ‘Lieutenant, kindly establish a link for me with the Head of Weapons Research at Fort Halstead. Let us see just how much information they are now willing to divulge on this particular piece of hardware. We need to know exactly what it is we’re dealing with here.’
‘Yes, Sir.’ A pause as Green spoke to the professor’s secretary then turned back to White. ‘The professor is in a meeting with the facility CO at present, Sir. His secretary said...’
‘I don’t care if he’s closeted with the King!’ the colonel retorted. ‘Tell his secretary to put me through to him immediately.’
After a short delay, a very flustered voice was heard over the communication system. White smiled without humour.
His concerns as to the potential misuse of the CyberPulse were well-founded. As he was apprised of its full potential by both Professor Sinclair and Colonel Alexander - the Head of Weapons Research and the facility CO, respectively - his brow darkened perceptibly.
‘I am aware that the CyberPulse is capable of inflicting damage on a wide scale, Professor - it targets electronic systems, does it not?’ White stated. ‘With regard to that, what defences do we have against it?’
‘Well, at the moment, Colonel, our options are very limited,’ replied the professor in a strained voice. ‘The CyberPulse was designed specifically to overcome conventional EMP shielding.’
‘That being said, surely there must be some way of negating its effects? How similar is it to the original EMP weapons?’
‘There are some similarities, yes, but one has to understand that the device from which the CyberPulse’s generator was reverse-engineered has bestowed its own, um... unique properties on it.’
‘This is the alien technology housed at Area Fifty-One, I presume.’
There was a pause at the other end of the line while this disclosure was digested.
‘Er... yes, Colonel. May I ask how you came to know about that particular aspect of the project?’
‘Suffice it to say, Professor, I have my own sources of information. Now, perhaps you could explain to me exactly how the CyberPulse works?’
‘Oh, yes, of course. As you have already surmised, it utilises the general idea of traditional EMP weaponry, thus it targets electrical devices. Its fundamental difference, however, lies in the type of pulse produced by the new hybrid generator - it will disable any safety protocols and build up a cumulative feedback loop within the system. Left unchecked, this would cause a complete, extremely rapid electrical overload leading to the destruction of that particular piece of equipment.’
‘With the danger of an accompanying fire, I presume?’ added the colonel.
‘That is the intention, yes. The EMP weapons were designed to shut down electronic systems by means of electromagnetic induction. The aim of the CyberPulse is not merely to shut them down, but to cause maximum collateral damage at the same time. Any electrical device connected to a source of power would be a target, from something as benign as a television or radio, to a complex military computer system or control system in a nuclear installation.’
‘So, civilian as well as strategic targets, then?’
‘That is an option, Colonel,’ came Colonel Alexander’s gruff response. ‘It would be a last resort, but one we are prepared to use, should the situation demand it. With that in mind, the CyberPulse has been designed with an advanced targeting system. It may be deployed to target something as discrete as a specific room in a particular building, or be configured to target a much more widespread area, such as an entire city. It has a range of roughly twenty miles.’
‘Surely the most obvious solution would be to disconnect any equipment if an attack were to be launched?’ asked the colonel. ‘On a wider scale, wouldn’t a similar effect be achieved if the local power station were to cut its supply of electricity to consumers? No electricity would mean no electronic equipment in use.’
‘That is a contingency that we took into account when designing the CyberPulse, Colonel,’ replied the professor. ‘Many facilities rely on automatic back-up generators in case of power failure, thus the CyberPulse would still be effective. Besides, there are many instances where simply ‘pulling the plug’ is not an option – most key systems, for instance need a short while in which to be powered down, and the CyberPulse only needs a few seconds to induce a fatal overload. Once the overload has started, it cannot be stopped.’
The Colonel looked down at his desk for a few seconds, brow furrowed as he absorbed the enormity of what had just been revealed. In the wrong hands, the CyberPulse could wreak terrible damage, destroying an entire city with just one detonation.
‘Once countdown has been initiated, how may it be deactivated?’ he demanded, an edge of ice in his voice.
‘There is a neutralisation code, Colonel,’ Alexander assured him. ‘Once the device is located, it would be a simple matter to input, thus disarming the CyberPulse. The device cannot be reprogrammed at all without authorisation codes from two senior personnel, so the original code will suffice. We are confident that Sanderson only had one of the authorisation codes.’
‘Let us hope that is indeed the case, Colonel,’ White added brusquely. ‘Very well. I think we can assume that it has fallen into Mysteron hands; our priority, therefore, is to locate and disarm the device before they are able to use it against us. However, until they choose to disclose their target we have nothing to work on. Even then, it will be a difficult task to locate the device.’
‘With that in mind, Colonel, we may have something to make the task of finding the CyberPulse easier,’ the professor volunteered. ‘Although it is still in its developmental stage, we do have a tracker.’
The professor continued. ‘We noticed that the generator emits a specific type of radiation, a result of its unique ... origin. This is harmless to life, let me assure you, and unlike any form of radiation we have encountered previously – it has its own particular signature. The tracker is able to recognise that signature and, we believe, should enable us to locate the device.’
The insinuation was not lost on the colonel.
‘Should?’ he remarked. ‘So you cannot be certain that this will work?’
‘As I mentioned, Colonel, we only have a prototype,’ the professor said. ‘Yes, it should work, in theory, but we have not yet completed all of our final checks and calibrations. We know that it usually picks up the signature when in close proximity to the device, but it has turned out to be somewhat erratic at larger distances.’
‘I see,’ White mused. ‘Well, fully operational or not, it sounds as though that is the best thing we have. I will arrange for Captain Magenta to collect the tracker. I will leave it to you to provide him with any information he might need. Thank you, Professor.’
The conversation terminated, he turned to Green.
‘Lieutenant, what is the current location of Captains Scarlet and Blue?’
‘They are on their final approach to Cloudbase, Sir. ETA in ten minutes.’
‘Good. Have them report to me upon their arrival.’
The Hummingbird touched down on the Lower Flight Deck. Bags in hand, Blue and Scarlet, already informed of the colonel’s order by Green, were making their way towards the Control Room, Scarlet also clutching his bat. They met Rhapsody and Symphony just going into the Officers’ Lounge, and giving their excuses, promised to call by later. As an afterthought, Scarlet suddenly called back to Rhapsody as she was about to follow Symphony inside.
‘Dianne, would you girls mind looking after these for us while we go and see the colonel? I doubt he’d look too favourably on us bringing our luggage to his meeting.’
‘Of course, Paul. No problem. You can collect them over a cup of coffee. I’ll take extra special care of this for you as well,’ she added, holding up Scarlet’s bat. ‘I want to hear all about the match, especially… oh!’ She stopped suddenly as she noticed the damage. ‘Oh, Paul, I’m sorry. What a dreadful shame.’
Scarlet shrugged, trying to appear offhand, but Rhapsody could sense his dismay.
‘Paul, c’mon! We’d better not keep the colonel waiting!’ urged Blue.
‘Got to go. Catch you later.’
Rhapsody watched them round the corner then took a closer look at Scarlet’s bat. She could tell at once that the damage was too severe for the bat to have any further practical use, regardless of any repair work that could be carried out. She suddenly grinned to herself and, hugging the bat, pirouetted on the spot, giving a quiet, yet triumphant ‘Yes!’ Symphony, who had just come back out again to see where she was, looked on in wonder, a bemused smile on her face.
‘Hey, honey? Are you feeling quite all right? It looked to me just now as though you were dancing with an old cricket bat.’
‘Ah, but this isn’t just any old bat, Karen. This is Paul’s. His special one. But he’s broken it… which is absolutely perfect… Well, not for him, I mean. Not at all. It is for me, though.’ She grinned again and, with another ‘Yes!’ whispered under her breath, walked sedately into the Officers’ Lounge, leaving Symphony to pick up the bags, shaking her head in amusement.
‘Ah, gentlemen. Sit down,’ said Colonel White. ‘A good trip I gather? Koala Base has already informed me of the excellent reception received by your lectures and,’ he added, turning to Scarlet, ‘of a worthy innings.’
The two officers expressed their thanks appropriately, and White continued.
‘Since you have been, away, however, there has been an incident that continues to grow in its severity.’ Blue and Scarlet listened attentively as the Colonel detailed the theft of the CyberPulse device and the death, and subsequent sightings, of Major Sanderson.
‘Has there been any direct threat from the Mysterons yet, Sir?’
‘No, Captain Blue. Not yet. Whatever their plans may be, at the moment, we are ignorant of them. It has developed into a waiting game.’
‘How severe is the threat posed by the CyberPulse, Sir?’ Scarlet enquired.
Colonel White related the salient points of his conversation with Professor Sinclair and Colonel Alexander. When he had finished, Blue and Scarlet exchanged glances as the enormity of the CyberPulse’s destructive potential sank in.
‘Is there any way of locating the device, Sir?’ asked Scarlet. ‘Even if a target is specified, it’s going to prove difficult to find the CyberPulse without some form of assistance.’
‘Fortunately, the generator used by the device has a unique signature. Captain Magenta has been given a scanner to help us track it and thus discover its whereabouts. However, the range of the signal is quite small, within a hundred yards at most. For that reason, there is little we can do at present until the target is specified. Once that has been done, we may narrow the search field. With that in mind, the two of you are to be in readiness to leave for the target zone, to rendezvous with Ochre and Magenta. They will then search the immediate area, using the scanner linked into a Hummingbird - you will provide ground backup in a Cheetah. I cannot over-emphasise the chaos that will ensue, should the device be activated. Do you have any questions, gentlemen? Good. That will be all for now.’
Thus dismissed, the two headed back to the Officers’ Lounge to retrieve their luggage and grab a cup of coffee. Melody had taken over in Angel One and Symphony and Rhapsody were making fair work of decorating the Lounge. Captain Grey was enjoying himself by goading them as he ‘directed’ the proceedings from one of the sofas.
‘No, no, it needs to go higher, Rhapsody… and a bit further over to your left. I really don’t know about that colour scheme, though. Are you sure you thought this through properly, girls? Symphony, don’t you think you’d be better off using the other strand? That one really isn’t too good, is it? Now, if you do it my way, it would be a lot better. How about… Hey!’ he broke off, laughing as the cushion hit him in the face. Symphony stood, hands on hips, a look of exasperation on her face.
‘Any more suggestions from you, Brad, and you’ll find yourself trussed up like the turkey!’
‘Hey, what’s going on here?’ exclaimed Blue, smiling, as he walked in with Scarlet. ‘Karen? Brad?’
‘Oooh! Ask him!’ she retorted, a smile twitching the corner of her mouth.
‘Sorry, girls,’ Grey grinned, wiping his eyes, ‘I just couldn’t resist it. Seriously, you’re doing a fantastic job. I’ll leave you in peace now. Honest!’ He got up to get himself another coffee. ‘Hi, guys. How was Koala?’
‘Hot!’ Scarlet replied with a mild grimace. ‘I’d forgotten what it was like after all these years. Wonderful meal though. That reminds me… have you ever had a ‘Balmain Bug’ before?’
‘Hmmmm. No, can’t say I have. What is it? Some kind of stomach upset?’
‘No, but it might give you one,’ chipped in Blue. ‘It’s a type of lobster. Quite nice, actually, although Paul refused point blank to try one. Now,’ he added, laughing, ‘I call that kinda rude, myself, especially as they went through a lot of trouble to get them flown in.’
‘Huh! I didn’t see you enthusing about them either, at the time. End of subject, I think. Coffee, Adam?’
‘Sure, it seems like I’ve been waiting ages for some.’
Blue was destined to have to wait even longer, however, for at that moment came the unearthly tones as the Mysterons revealed their target.
‘This is the Voice of the Mysterons. We know that you can hear us Earthmen…’ The disembodied voice permeated throughout Cloudbase cutting through the everyday noise that the base generated, bringing everyone’s attention to the latest threat. ‘We will bring chaos to your celebrations by destroying the city of Rotterdam.’
‘Gee, sure is great to be back, huh, Paul?’ muttered Blue, rolling his eyes.
Within seconds, Colonel White’s cool voice ordered Scarlet and Blue to depart for the targeted city.
‘The Swift will take you to Anderson Air Base, where a Cheetah will be ready and waiting for you. Make contact with Captains Ochre and Magenta and coordinate your search pattern. Report back as soon as you have some concrete information on the CyberPulse. It is imperative that this device be deactivated, or, failing that, destroyed.’
Without a second’s hesitation, the two officers left the Officers’ Lounge, and headed back towards the Lower Flight Deck where the Swift was waiting.
The Hummingbird dipped low over the city as it scanned sectors one by one. Magenta and Ochre had received their orders as soon as Blue and Scarlet had departed. The scanner had been easy to link up to the ’bird’s sophisticated computer matrix and was sending a stream of complex information. Ochre was glued to the screen, willing it to respond with a location fix, but, save for the occasional ‘ghost’, it remained resolutely silent.
‘Dammit, Pat! Do we even know if this thing’s working at all? I’m gettin’ squat apart from these damn blips. What did they say about, it back at the facility?’
‘It’s a working prototype, only tested in the lab so far, and even then only under controlled conditions. Great, huh?’
‘Oh, come off it. You’re kidding me, right?’
‘Nope. ’fraid not. They didn’t have time to develop anything further. The CyberPulse itself had only just been given its final check. Apparently, this was next on their list for refining.’
‘So do we actually know whether or not it’s working properly?’
Magenta turned to his friend with a resigned grin on his face. ‘Guess we’ll just have to find out. If only they could have fitted it to an Interceptor, it would’ve made scanning a damn sight faster.’
‘What was the hitch there?’
‘The routing system wasn’t fully compatible with the Interceptor’s old software and there was no time to install an upgrade, even if there was one available. Besides, the professor said that the range of this thing is very limited and, at the height the Interceptor would need to fly above the city, it wouldn’t function, so…’
‘… so it’s down to us, then.’
‘You got it in one. That reminds me… when are the girls getting their new Falcons? Have you heard anything?’
‘Destiny mentioned something about the beginning of next month. They need to change all five over at the same time, though, and there was a hitch with the weapons guidance system, or something like that. Anyway, it means that everything’s been put back a while.’
‘I bet that went down well with Destiny.’
‘Actually, I gather that she’s not overly fussed. I guess she’s kinda fond of the Interceptors. She told me that the Falcons are amazing to fly, but just don’t feel the same.’
Magenta laughed. ‘You just wait and see; within a couple of weeks, she’ll be singing their praises to the skies and declaring that nothing else will do. Melody and Symph can’t wait to get into the cockpit!’
Their conversation was suddenly cut short as a voice came through the comm. system.
‘Captain Scarlet to Captain Magenta.’
‘Magenta here. Go ahead, Scarlet.’
‘We have just collected a Cheetah and should be in the outskirts of the city in about ten minutes. Which sectors have you covered so far? Could you relay the information to us?’
‘No problem. Sending it now.’ Magenta sent the compressed data stream to the Cheetah’s onboard computer, commenting to Ochre, ‘Now that’s something we couldn’t have done as easily in the Helijet and SSC.’
‘Data received. How’s the scanner performing?’
‘Fine, as far as we can tell, although nothing but ghosts so far. I’m told it’ll be obvious when it locks onto the CyberPulse’s signature... if it’s working properly, that is!’
‘Don’t you know?’
‘Not even the boffins back at the facility could be certain. They’d only conducted preliminary tests before the CyberPulse was stolen.’
In the Cheetah, Scarlet and Blue exchanged incredulous glances.
‘Well, that’s just great!’ exclaimed Scarlet, shaking his head. ‘So we’re looking for something hidden somewhere, we’re assuming, in a huge city, and we can’t be sure that the tracker we have will even pick it up!’
‘Aw, c’mon Paul, we’ve had worse odds than that before now. Besides,’ added Blue with a grin, ‘I get to drive the Cheetah.’
Scarlet rolled his eyes as he smiled back. ‘Trust you to find something positive out of this. Still,’ he added, on a more serious note, ‘one would have thought that the scientists would have made sure they had a reliable way to track it, though.’
‘I guess they figured that it’d never get stolen. After all, it was housed in a high-security military site with restricted access. It’s not as if it’d been in some civilian laboratory. That one of their own could turn traitor would’ve been inconceivable; Sanderson had an impeccable military record and top level clearance…’
‘… which is why he made such a good target for the Mysterons,’ Scarlet added. ‘Anyway, going back to the tracker, let’s just hope it does what it’s supposed to do.’
‘Well, with or without it, we need to find the CyberPulse. If it can do half the things the Colonel told us about, then we can kiss goodbye to Rotterdam and everything within a twenty-mile radius - the Oetken-Maes Nuclear Power Station will be inside the target zone. They’ll have been warned of a potential overload situation but they’re bound to be in a difficult situation. They’ll need time to power down to avoid core overload and containment breach, and to do that, they’ll need to be hooked up to a power source. My guess is that the Mysterons know this and they’ll have timed the detonation on this thing within the power-down period.’
‘And if the nuclear plant goes up, there’ll also be major contamination over a two hundred mile radius,’ Scarlet added grimly. ‘At least. Great.’
Suddenly, Ochre’s urgent voice cut through the Cheetah’s comm. system.
‘Scarlet, Blue. We have the location on screen. Transmitting the data to you now. It’s just north of Spijkenisse - in the Botlek port complex, to be more specific. It must be somewhere in one of the warehouses here at the docks on the western side.’
‘I confirm data received, Captain Ochre. Estimate time to coordinates… eleven minutes.’
‘Magenta’s finding somewhere to land the ’bird. There’s a helipad on one of the towers nearby and they’ve given us clearance to land. We’ll take the tracker with us. See you there.’
‘Looks like we’re on, Adam. Can we go any faster?’
‘Not in this area. Damn! It’s too busy – too many people.’
‘Hmmm. Ten minutes to get there. Has the neutralisation code come through?’
‘Yes. Magenta transferred it along with the location coordinates. It looks straightforward enough… if we’re in time, that is.’
‘We’d better be. The power station aside, the Mysterons have chosen well with the Botlek – Rotterdam is Europe’s busiest port, and that whole area’s crammed full of petrochemical refineries’
‘You’re right! And judging by all the solars on the buildings here, I guess that just cutting the city’s main supply of electricity won’t be enough to prevent the Cyberpulse from affecting most systems. I don’t see how the authorities can prevent people from using them, without giving a suitable reason. Whatever excuse they came up with, it’d be bound to create widespread panic.’
In recent years, the aging Oetken-Maes had experienced a few problems; this had been nothing serious, nor life-threatening, but enough to affect the city’s power supply at odd intervals. As the need for a constant supply of power was critical in a centre of such commercial importance, most companies, and many homes, now supplemented their supply of electricity from the grid with that of their own; this was generally derived from generators or, more commonly, packs of photovoltaic cells placed on roofs or mounted on poles. A growing movement calling for the decommissioning of the old power station also fuelled the demand for renewable energy. Although these systems did not provide enough electricity for ‘normal’ everyday use – especially true for large companies with a high demand - they provided just enough to see people through the inconvenience of ‘yet another power cut’. Due to this proliferation of independent small energy sources, it was no longer possible to create a city-wide energy blackout from a central control centre – the power station. Thus it was that although, at Spectrum’s request, the power station had cut its outflow of electricity to consumers, back-up systems had now sprung into effect all over the city. The small amount of electricity generated by these independent systems would be more than enough to allow the CyberPulse to carry out its devastating purpose to full effect.
As the Cheetah raced through the back streets, the Hummingbird, piloted by Magenta, was touching down on the helipad at the top of the Vobis Industries control tower. Within a few seconds, he and Ochre had locked down the Hummingbird and, with the tracker clutched firmly in Ochre’s hand, were running down through the building. Staff looked on in complete surprise as the two burst from the stairwell into reception and then out onto the wide expanse of concrete, cranes, containers and cabling that typified the dock area of this part of the Botlek. Looming over everything were the vast structures of the refineries’ numerous storage tanks and cracking towers.
A few minutes later, the roar of an engine heralded the arrival of the Cheetah, Blue and Scarlet leaping from it to join their colleagues. Ochre panned round slowly with the tracker, trying to isolate the signal.
‘That one,’ he said, indicating one of the dark buildings. ‘It should be in there somewhere.’
‘We’ll split up,’ ordered Scarlet. ‘Captain Blue, you’re with me – we’ll take the main entrance; Ochre and Magenta… there should be a side or rear access point. Work yourselves around there and come in from behind. We know we have at least Sanderson to deal with; I doubt that he’s working on his own. Set your laser pistols to stun… for now, anyway. We may be dealing with a civilian as well, but bearing in mind what the Mysterons have planned, I sincerely hope not. I’m not sure how effective these new guns are yet against Mysterons – it’s hardly the sort of thing that can be simulated in trials.’
‘I guess this is as good a time as any to test them out, then,’ Blue commented, drily.
‘Still, they’re a helluva lot less bulky than the old Mysteron guns, and for that, they get my vote,’ added Ochre.
With that, they split up, communicating with hand signals as far as they could, before Ochre and Magenta disappeared round the corner. Silently, Scarlet and Blue inched toward the main entrance, firearms at the ready. The door wasn’t locked and the two slipped through it, seeking cover once inside. The building wasn’t lit and what light there was, filtering through dusty windows, did little to dispel the gloom inside. Keeping close to the walls of crates, Blue and Scarlet separated, their senses on high alert for any indication that they may not be alone.
A sudden noise startled Scarlet and he whipped round, pistol at the ready, looking up at the direction from which it had come. A starling flapped frantically at the window, before eventually locating the broken pane that had granted it access to the warehouse sometime previously. Scarlet let out his breath, cursing silently as he willed his pulse to return to normal. He worked his way deeper into the building, full in the knowledge that the towering crates provided a perfect vantage point for any sniper that might be waiting for them. Now and then, he caught sight of Blue, working his way systematically along a parallel corridor of crates.
From the opposite end of the warehouse, Magenta and Ochre were also moving silently through the building, Ochre holding out the tracker. He raised his hand suddenly, summoning Magenta, and the two of them stared at the screen. Magenta crept forward, slowly easing his head round a corner and found the CyberPulse sitting on a crate in front of him.
‘Magenta to Scarlet. We’ve found the CyberPulse. We’re about thirty metres in from our end, near the south side of the building. No sign of anyone in the vicinity. I’m taking a closer look.’
‘Be careful, Magenta. We don’t know where Sanderson is. This could be a trap.’ Scarlet signalled to Blue and the two of them closed in on the CyberPulse. Moving in on their colleagues’ position, they soon saw the other two, Magenta edging toward the CyberPulse.
‘It’s armed… and counting down, by the looks of it,’ Magenta reported back. ‘But I can’t tell how long we’ve got. There’s no time display visible - I’ll need to get inside to see that. Once it’s open, I should be able to deactivate it fairly easily, using the code. Now, if I’m right,’ he added, peering at a small panel on the side, ‘this should house the trigger mechanism. It should just open like th…’
With a sudden cry, Magenta was flung back heavily against the crate wall, as the discharge from a force field surged through him. Ochre ran to him with a look of horror on his face.
‘Pat! Oh, Christ! Pat! Can you hear me?’ He bent over his partner’s crumpled body, feeling for his pulse.
There was none.
Ochre looked up. ‘Paul! Adam! He’s not breathing - no pulse either. You deal with that thing - I’ll take care of Pat. Don’t you dare die on me now, you Irish bastard,’ he whispered affectionately to his friend. ‘You still owe me for that game of poker. You’re not getting away with it that easily!’
He removed Magenta’s body armour and then, with calm skill, administered CPR: two breaths followed by thirty swift chest compressions.
He repeated the cycle again, suppressing the feeling of panic that threatened to rise within him.
‘Besides,’ Ochre added during compressions, ‘who’s going to help me with the little ‘intrigue’ we have planned for New Year? I can’t see either of them volunteering to be my accomplice.’
Magenta suddenly drew a deep, laboured breath and coughed, the colour flooding back into his pallid cheeks. Ochre rocked back on his heels, almost shaking with relief.
‘You great idiot! Why didn’t you check it out on the scanner first?’
‘Gee, sorry!’ grinned Magenta. ‘Great to see you too. I…Christ, Rick! I think you’ve cracked my ribs! I reckon I’d have been safer with that thing!’
A huge smile broke over Ochre’s face as he helped his partner up. ‘Here - you’d better put this back on.’
As Magenta struggled painfully back into his body armour, Blue and Scarlet exchanged amused yet relieved glances. Blue drew his attention back to the CyberPulse whilst Scarlet continued to scan the area.
‘D’you find the same thing, Paul? My Spectratech’s showing one heck of a forcefield. Magenta’s lucky he’s still alive – but what the hell’s it drawing energy from?’
‘Hang on… yes, mine is too. We obviously can’t remove it, so I think the only option is to destroy it.’
They moved back from the device to join their colleagues and Scarlet set his laser pistol on maximum. He fired. The discharge illuminated the CyberPulse in an eerie glow that seemed to hover around it. The device itself, safe within its protective force field, was untouched.
‘Looks like we’ll need some extra fire power here,’ said Scarlet. ‘Adam, care to join me?’
When this combination failed to have any effect, Ochre and Magenta fired as well. Once again, the device remained totally unscathed.
‘What the…?’ commented an incredulous Ochre.
‘The force field seems to draw energy from the pistols,’ remarked Magenta, scanning the device with his Spectratech. ‘I guess that, somehow, the greater the energy input, the greater the strength of the field.’
‘That pretty well rules out any intervention on the part of the Angels, then,’ Scarlet mused. ‘If it can throw up a force field like that, we could bring the whole building down on top of it, yet it would still remain unharmed, and with all the fuel silos nearby we daren’t risk a fire. This must be Mysteron control! Like this, we can’t do anything with it. Dammit! We need to find some way to break though that force field. There must be some kind of control mechanism somewhere. If we can just…’
A sudden wave of nausea swept over Scarlet, causing him to falter. Sanderson! It had to be. Blue steadied him, a look of grim comprehension in his eyes.
‘Ochre, Magenta. Looks like we’ve got company. Watch your backs,’ Blue whispered. Dammit, he thought. That was all they needed at this moment in time. A sudden sound from behind them made them spin round, just in time to catch sight of the fleeing figure of Sanderson, something small and dark clutched to his chest.
‘You two, wait here,’ Scarlet said. ‘If he has some method of controlling the force field, we’ll need the two of you to shut down the CyberPulse. Blue and I’ll go after him and try to retrieve whatever he has. Let’s hope to God that this force field can be shut off remotely, otherwise…’
Scarlet left his sentence unfinished as he and Blue hared after Sanderson. Bursting out into the afternoon daylight once more, Scarlet had to leap aside as a car shot out from one of the side alleys. The smell of burning rubber hung heavily in the air.
‘The Cheetah! Quick!’ he yelled.
They had a good hundred yards to cover before they came to the Cheetah and by that time, the other vehicle was out of sight.
‘Did you get a fix on the vehicle, Adam?’
‘Yeah. It’s not brilliant, but it’ll hold for a while.’ The Spectratech was able to isolate and track the signatures from individual vehicles, but to do this, it had to be primed first with the target vehicle. Blue’s quick-thinking, when Scarlet was nearly run over, had allowed him to do just that.
They leaped into the waiting Cheetah, Blue linking his Spectratech with the onboard computer. Instantly a display came up the screen, an illuminated dot giving the position of the fleeing vehicle. The car squealed from the dockside towards the large gates that marked the entrance to the yard, in time to catch sight of the other car as it turned through them.
‘There she goes, Adam! We didn’t get any indication of how much time we’ve got before this thing blows, did we?’
‘No. All Magenta could say was that the device was active and appeared to be counting down.’
‘Damn! We’re working in the dark. It may be days, hours, even seconds! They know that we can’t get near the thing to disarm it; we can’t destroy it; we can’t even remove it.’
The Cheetah rounded the gates in hot pursuit of Sanderson’s car. As they left the Botlek behind, swinging over the river into a more heavily populated area, vehicles became far more abundant. In the final few days before Christmas, last-minute shoppers were out in force. Tailing Sanderson was proving tricky; without the tracking ability endowed by the Spectratech, it was likely that they would have lost him. He appeared to show scant regard for his fellow drivers, weaving crazily between them. On several occasions, the pursuing Cheetah had to slew violently to avoid colliding with the results of such recklessness.
‘He’s gonna kill someone at this rate,’ commented Blue, shaking his head.
‘I know, but as long as we can catch him, that’s all that really… Adam! Look out!’ Scarlet yelled as Sanderson’s latest move caused the car he’d just cut up to crash; the resulting pile-up was inevitable. With no suitable stopping distance before hitting the cars in front, the Cheetah was committed. With both he and Scarlet gritting their teeth, Blue deployed the Jet-Boost, praying fervently all the while. Immediately, they felt the surge of raw power as they were pushed back into their seats. The Cheetah launched itself into the air clearing the tangled mass of twisted metal and steam beneath them, before landing safely on the other side.
‘Wow! That was … incredible!’ Scarlet exclaimed. ‘Have you ever done that…’
‘...before? Nope. First time. Not bad. Not bad at all,’ replied Blue grinning inanely. ‘Now, I could get used to that!’
Scarlet grinned back at him. ‘Let’s hope we don’t have to. Now,’ he added, scanning the road up ahead, ‘where’s he got to?’
‘There! I see him. Dead ahead. No, look! He’s taking that slip road.’
Scarlet and Blue followed closely behind, the route now taking them back over the river, Sanderson weaving and taking junctions as late as he dared to try to throw them off his tail. Finally, he entered the Waalhaven, the old military area now serving as a major barge facility. The wide expanse of the Nieuwe Maas river flowed sedately through it, filling numerous long docking inlets leading off from it. Sanderson’s car veered onto a service road running along one section of wharves.
‘No other vehicles here, so let’s see if we can’t slow him down a bit.’ Blue reached for the weapons control as the car in front danced in and out of target lock. ‘I’ll give him a warning.’
He fired a volley of bullets over the top of the speeding car, but slowing down, never mind stopping, was the last thing on Sanderson’s mind; he put his foot down flat.
‘Okay. If that’s the way you want it,’ Blue muttered under his breath. ‘Paul. I’m gonna try and blow those tyres…’
‘Aim true, though. We don’t want him crashing into the water.’
A hail of bullets rang out from the Cheetah’s machine gun, the car in front trying to dodge the attack. Faced with the odds, however – a normal civilian car facing a formidable, weapons-rich pursuit vehicle – the inevitable outcome was just a matter of time. Blue’s aim was true, the rear offside tyre being ripped to shreds. Within seconds, the speeding car in front slewed sideways before crashing violently into a stack of crates and wooden spars, strewing wreckage across the wharf.
The Cheetah slowed and stopped, and Blue and Scarlet leapt from the vehicle. Almost immediately, a bullet whined past Scarlet’s head, whilst another ricocheted harmlessly off Blue’s body armour.
‘Well, we know the armour works!’ quipped Blue, as he and Scarlet dived for cover. They could just see Sanderson peering out cautiously from behind a pile of splintered crates. From where he was, he had the tactical advantage; to get anywhere near him, the two Spectrum agents would have to break cover, crossing a significant expanse of open ground.
‘Adam, you distract him – cover me. I’m going to try and edge round to him. We need a clear shot and there’s too much debris here.’
Scarlet began to creep forward then froze as Sanderson held up a small dark object. His voice rang out clearly across the expanse between them.
‘You have failed, Earthmen. The forcefield around the CyberPulse cannot be deactivated without the field controller and that, you shall never have!’
With that, Sanderson stepped forward, throwing the object in an arc away from him toward the swirling waters at the edge of the wharf. Instinctively, Scarlet rushed out from his hiding place, launching himself in the air to catch it. As he did so, a rapid succession of shots rang out from somewhere between Blue and Sanderson. Blue whipped his head round to see a dark figure, half-hidden by a stack of crates, with a snub-nosed semi-automatic held up to his shoulder.
‘No!’ Blue cried and fired at the figure, who was flung back into the darkness.
As his fingers closed round the object, Scarlet felt, rather than heard, the bullets as they ripped though his body armour. He felt mild surprise coupled with utter desperation and, as he began to lose consciousness, his final thoughts swirled through his mind. He had to hold the catch, he had to! The outcome of the match rested on it.
Blue stood up to run toward his friend, then ducked quickly as another of Sanderson’s bullets ricocheted off his cap.
He swore under his breath, took careful aim and fired at Sanderson. Now out in the open, he was an easy target and Blue’s discharge felled him instantly. Confident that both opponents were out of the picture, Blue raced toward the crumpled figure of Scarlet.
‘Rest easy, Paul,’ he whispered as he gently prised the field controller from Scarlet’s lifeless fingers. ‘You did it.’
Swiftly, he located the deactivation trigger and sent the signal, praying all the while that he was not out of range. ‘Captain Blue to Captain Magenta. I should have deactivated the force field, so the way should be clear for you to disarm the device. Use appropriate caution as I cannot confirm that the force field is down.’
On receiving Magenta’s acknowledgement, he knelt back down next to Scarlet, gently turning him onto his back. Four ugly impact holes stood out clearly, punched through the body armour, a conduit for the blood that still pooled beneath his body.
‘What the…?’ Blue’s surprise was evident – very few bullets had the capability to pierce the new Spectrum body armour. Whatever type of ammunition had produced such fatal results, Spectrum needed to know. Senses on alert, he carefully picked his way over to where the sniper had been stationed. Peering round from behind the stack of crates, Blue expected to see the man’s figure on the ground, dead, or, at the very least, severely wounded – after all, he’d taken a direct kill shot to the chest.
There was no sign of him. No blood. No evidence that there had even been anyone there, save for the discarded weapon half-hidden behind a crate. Blue’s suspicion that the figure had been Black deepened. Previous experience with the sudden disappearance of this chief agent of the Mysterons had taught him one thing: where Black was concerned, anything was possible.
With a sigh, he bent down to retrieve the semi-automatic. The reason for the failure of Scarlet’s body armour became more apparent when Blue opened the magazine and examined the bullets; they were of a design he had not seen before – obviously armour-tipped but the metal did not seem at all familiar. He put several into the pouch on his utility belt – he would hand them over to the lab techs later. The weapon itself would also be taken back for closer examination.
He walked over to where Sanderson’s body still lay and nudged it with his foot. At least this is one Mysteron who’ll remain dead, he thought bitterly. Blue’s epaulettes suddenly lit up as Magenta’s voice came over his comm. unit.
‘Captain Magenta to Captain Blue. I have managed to disarm the device. All systems now non-functional and signal strength is zero.’ Magenta’s voice held a degree of breathlessness in it. ‘Damn close call though – only eleven minutes remaining!’
‘Well done, Magenta. I’ll inform Cloudbase. Captain Blue, out.’ He whistled silently, the sudden enormity of what they had averted finally hitting home, then walked back over to Scarlet’s body and knelt back down beside him.
‘Thanks again, Paul,’ he whispered quietly, as he gently stroked his friend’s brow. His cap microphone flipped back down as he established a link with Cloudbase.
‘This is Captain Blue to Cloudbase. The CyberPulse has been disarmed. I repeat, the CyberPulse device has been disarmed. Requesting a med evac team to collect Captain Scarlet’s body and suggest that Doctor Fawn prepare his recovery room.’
Scarlet was panicking.
‘I’ve been here three days!? But Adam, I must get something for her. It’s only two days to go and I have nothing!’ Scarlet tried to get up but fell back weakly against the bed.
‘Now just hold on, Scarlet,’ came Doctor Fawn’s soft, yet authoritative voice. ‘You’re not going anywhere just yet. What you need is rest if your body’s going to heal itself. Those bullets did a heck of hatchet job with your guts. We spent several hours just trying to fish out all the fragments. Besides, there was some chemical released into your system at the same time. It’s taking a while for you to flush it out, and it’s interfering with your retrometabolisation, so that’s why I’m keeping you in longer than usual. With any luck, another twenty-four hours should see you back on your feet.’
‘What kind of bullets were they, then? I thought they were harmless against the armour.’
‘Sanderson’s were, yes, but there was someone else,’ explained Blue, ‘and those rounds came from him. Semi-automatic. Nasty piece. I’d not seen one like it outside of WAAF weapons research. That’s what he used on you. The bullets were hollow-tipped with some weird kind of titanium alloy. They’re highly penetrative and balloon on impact, so no wonder they ripped you up so badly. As Doctor Fawn said, they contain some kind of chemical as well, but no-one knows exactly what it is. The techs over in R&D have been as happy as kids with a new toy. They’d not seen any quite like them before, so have sent some of them over to Valley Forge for a more detailed analysis.’
‘Glad that I could make their day,’ Scarlet grinned, then winced as he shifted his position. ‘The accomplice… do you have any ideas who it was?’
‘Well, I think it could only have been Black; I know I shot him, but there was no trace of him afterwards. None at all. Any normal person would have left something behind.’
‘It would make sense. After all, he was the one that recruited Sanderson. I wonder whether…’ He broke off suddenly as Colonel White entered. ‘Colonel, Sir, I…’
‘No, don’t try to get up, Captain. The good doctor here has informed me of the extent of your injuries. It is imperative that you rest. I came to congratulate you on the success of the mission – I have already spoken to Captains Blue, Ochre and Magenta. You averted a major catastrophe and,’ he added with a rare smile, ‘have given the weapons technicians something to get excited about – an early Christmas present, one might say.’
At the mention of the words ‘Christmas present’, Scarlet groaned inwardly, an action picked up by the highly perceptive colonel.
‘Now, I feel it is essential that you have a suitable length of time for your complete recuperation. Coupled with the fact that your previous leave was so unfortunately curtailed, I have decided to grant you a week’s leave from… when did you say he could be discharged, doctor?’
‘If there are no more setbacks, then probably tomorrow afternoon, Sir.’
‘Excellent! In that case, let us say from the twenty-seventh. I understand that… er… Rhapsody Angel also has leave commencing at the same time?’
Scarlet nodded mutely, the implication of the colonel’s proposition sinking in.
‘I also understand that you may wish to spend some of that time in Sydney. Is that right, Captain Blue?’
‘Yessir, Colonel. That’s what Symphony mentioned to me.’
As the penny dropped, Scarlet’s face lit up, then clouded over again almost immediately; his brow furrowed deeply.
‘Turandot! Oh, but… no… it’s much too late to get seats. The tickets will all be sold out by now.’
‘You underestimate my capacity in this matter, Captain. My contacts are quite… extensive, shall we say. I happen to know that one of them has a reserved box at the Opera House which, I have reason to believe, will be vacant on at least one night of the performance.’
‘I say, Sir! Thank you! I… don’t know quite what to say… I mean, that’s… wonderful… but I couldn’t possibly let you arrange all this for me. I would have to insist on paying.’
‘I should hope so too, Captain,’ the colonel retorted sharply, but with a twinkle in his eye. ‘I said I would arrange for the box - I said nothing about paying for the tickets!’
Scarlet grinned back.
‘Oh, and one more thing, Captain Blue also mentioned something to me about the Boxing Day cricket match in Melbourne. Now, I just happen to have an old colleague who’s a member of the MCC…’
It was Christmas Day morning on Cloudbase. As an operational base, the celebrations could not be as carefree as in other places, but the air of the festive season permeated everywhere. Scarlet’s recovery hadn’t been quite as quick as Doctor Fawn had hoped and he’d been absolutely adamant that Scarlet remain in sickbay a further night; now that he was being discharged, Rhapsody had come to see him again. Having started her duty in Angel One when Scarlet initially came to, she had not been able to see him. When she finally came off duty, Doctor Fawn had subsequently shooed her away as Scarlet was sleeping, and she had only managed to see him briefly the previous day.
‘Merry Christmas, Paul,’ she whispered as she reached up to kiss his cheek.
He smiled back down at her. ‘It certainly is now – I was going stir crazy in here! Merry Christmas, Dianne.’
‘Adam told me all about what happened. I’m just so pleased that you’re back with us again. I always worry that, one day, the magic will stop working, and you won’t come back.’
‘They can’t get rid of me that easily, don’t you worry.’ As they left Sick Bay, he turned to wave at Doctor Fawn. ‘Merry Christmas, Doctor. See you in the Lounge later on?’
‘Oh, I’ll be there, Scarlet.’
The two of them walked down towards the Amber Room. There was always an unofficial present-opening time here – a time for those personal gifts that somehow seemed too intimate to be viewed by all in the Officers’ Lounge later on. With a rare dispensation from the colonel for this event, all Angels were present. Following the giving and receiving of presents, Symphony would be due to take her seat in Angel One; Destiny and Harmony would be on standby.
‘Hey, buddy!’ came Blue’s cheerful greeting as he strode up to Scarlet, clapping him on the back. ‘Good to see you up and about again! There’s a sofa vacant just by the tree there,’ he added, with a conspiratorial wink.
More greetings were forthcoming as Scarlet and Rhapsody made their way to the sofa, the sound of delighted chatter echoing though the Amber Room as presents were exchanged.
‘That was kind of Adam to save us a couple of places,’ Rhapsody said. ‘Anyway, I have something, well, a couple of things, for you.’
She pulled out two large presents from under the tree and smiled up at him with barely suppressed excitement.
‘I hope you like them.’
He began to open the first one, to find the familiar feel of his cricket bat’s handle in his hand. Intrigued, he undid the remainder of the paper and gazed down in wonder at what lay across his knees. It was his bat, but not a trace of the crack remained. Well, nothing he could see, anyway; he was not naïve enough to think that the bat could ever be used again without any risk of subsequent damage. It was mounted on a rich mahogany backing board and, above it, was a faded and slightly misshapen cricket ball.
‘Daddy tells me that it’s the original one from your match at Lord’s all those years ago, although, unfortunately, it’s not in the best condition anymore. A friend of his managed to track it down. Connections… you know how these things are. You can take the bat out if you wish – the mount allows that – but I’m afraid it was beyond saving for anything other than display purposes. The chap said that there would be a danger of the crack opening again, now that the willow’s been weakened. Oh, and if you turn the mount over…’
She showed him, her eyes dancing with joy as she saw the emotions sweeping over his face. There, pasted to the back, was a complete record of Scarlet’s innings for the match, including mention of the two catches he had taken.
Scarlet sat, feeling unwitting tears pricking the corners of his eyes. Somehow, she had read him so very well, had understood the importance of this battered old piece of wood and had given it the fitting memorial it deserved. He blinked several times to compose himself.
‘I… it’s wonderful. Thank you, so much. It’s just perfect!’
‘And you may find that this comes in handy now, especially if you’re sent back to Koala again next year. Yes, Adam told me!’ she added, laughing, handing him a second present.
This time, no hesitation in peeling away the paper - it was ripped off in one swift motion to reveal a long wooden box. Carefully, he opened the lid and looked inside. There, nestling in the velvet lining, was a new hand-made cricket bat: a Laver & Wood.
‘Oh my God! Dianne! How did you… They’re so difficult to come by… there’s a waiting list.’ He tried it in his grip, feeling the perfect balance, looking at its sinuous curves. ‘How did you even find the time?’
‘Connections again,’ she replied with a smile. ‘You’d be surprised at whom Daddy knows. Besides, I’ve had this planned for quite a while, only I had to wait for the right time to give it to you. I knew you wouldn’t want a new bat whilst you could still use your old one. I couldn’t get a Warsop Stebbing, I’m afraid, but I thought you’d like this one anyway. It’s based on the specifications of your old bat, so the weighting and handling should feel similar. If it’s not quite right, let me know.’
‘Are you kidding? This is wonderful! I’ve only ever dreamt of owning one of these.’
He reached down, pulling her toward him and tenderly placed a kiss on her lips.
‘Guess that’s you down for Koala next year then, Paul,’ grinned Blue from somewhere nearby. ‘Once Major Stone gets wind of this then… well.’
‘Batting with this, I don’t think I’d mind one bit!’ He turned back to Rhapsody, a small frown creasing his brow. ‘I’m afraid I’ve not had much time to do anything as personal as this. It’s all rather last-minute, I’m afraid.’
‘Paul, just to have you back safely, and to see the look on your face just now, is present enough for me.’
‘Well, not for me,’ he replied, reaching under the cushion behind him to retrieve the envelope that Blue had hidden there for him. He handed it to her, watching her face carefully as she slit it open and eased out the card within. As she opened it, she just managed to catch the two tickets as they slid out.
‘Oh, Paul! Turandot! How did you know? I didn’t mention anything because I knew you couldn’t get leave and…’ She broke off suddenly, catching the grin on Symphony’s face. ‘Oh, I see,’ she laughed. ‘Someone’s been talking.’ She mouthed a silent ‘thank you’ to her smiling friend before turning back to Scarlet. ‘But seriously, though, who would I take with me? I wouldn’t want to go with anyone but you.’
‘I should hope not!’ Scarlet retorted with mock severity.
‘I don’t understand… Then who…?’
‘Me, of course.’
‘You don’t mean…?’
‘That’s right, the colonel has given me a week’s leave to ‘ensure I have recovered fully from the most recent mission’. He knew I’d had the last one cancelled and he’s managed to pull this one. He also managed to call in a favour to get us seats for the opera. Which reminds me, I have something else as well,’ he said, pulling another envelope from beneath him. ‘It’s just a passing thought, really, but, as we’ll be in Australia, and Melbourne will be within easy reach, I thought that perhaps…’
Inside this card were two tickets for day three of the England-Australia Boxing Day Test Match at the MCG.
‘Now, you don’t have to say ‘yes’ to this one. They’re not brilliant seats – they’re in the Ponsford Stand – but I thought they’d have a good ‘atmosphere’. The colonel said that he might be able to pull a few strings to get us seats in the Members’ Stand, if I couldn’t fix any myself, but I thought that for this one, it’d be better to be here. What do you think?’ he asked, hesitantly.
The resultant enveloping hug from Rhapsody told him all he needed to know.
Isn’t it funny how, more often than not, when all else fails, ideas for Christmas presents can suddenly reveal themselves in the most unexpected ways.
Author’s notes and acknowledgements:
The idea for this story came whilst watching another amazing innings from Sachin Tendulka (to win the first Test for India against England), and Australia’s Mitchell Johnson’s wonderful seven wicket haul in the first Test against South Africa. That, coupled with the fact that my husband needs a new bat to replace his broken one... well, the story just ‘evolved’. As for the idea of merging OCS characters with NCS craft and equipment… I thought I’d see just what might happen should such hardware require upgrading – a kind of ‘best of both worlds’. Thank you, Chris, for your ‘go-ahead’ on this idea.
Many thanks go to my uncle and aunt, living near Brisbane, who helped provide me with information suggesting what it may be like to spend Christmas ‘Down Under’ (by the way, ‘snags’ are sausages!), and to Brindlewhite, for reading through the story from its early stages to completion, providing many useful comments and heaps of encouragement. Many thanks as well to Chris for her encouragement and to Caroline (and Chris) for beta-reading the story for me.
As I have used quite a few cricketing terms, many of which may not be obvious to those who do not follow the game, I have included a glossary and diagrams to help explain just what on earth I’m talking about! If you wish to find out more, please take a look.
The reference to Spectrum’s ‘Valley Forge’ Research Facility is from Mary J. Rudy’s story ‘Mixed Doubles’. I have also ‘borrowed’ her idea of there being a king on the throne re: the colonel’s reference to the king.
As ever, my enduring thanks to Gerry and Sylvia Anderson for creating these amazing characters, with whom I have spent (and still spend) countless delightful hours. How I wish they belonged to me – alas, they don’t – but I am ever grateful for the chance to write fanfiction around them.
Image within the story created and/or provided by Talia Gray.
Glossary of cricketing terms used in the story
Appeal -- The fielding side's invitation to the umpire to give a batsman out, answered with an upraised finger or a call of 'not out'.
Attacking field ([fielders] in an attacking position) -- Fielders standing close to the batsman looking to pressurize him and take catches (as opposed to ‘defensive field’).
Bouncer -- A fast, short-pitched ball, bowled to rise off the pitch to the height of the batsman's chest or head.
Boundary -- A ball that crosses the boundary, scoring four runs if it touches the ground first, or six if it reaches the boundary on the full.
Cover -- Run-saving fielding position, in front of the wicket on the off side. Hence extra cover (straighter), cover point (squarer).
Defensive field -- Fielders not very close to the batsman, who have the main aim of preventing the batsman from taking runs. Very often, when an experienced batsman is paired with a tail ender, this type of field is set to prevent the batsman from scoring a 2 or 4 and thus keeping the strike.
Edge -- Batting shot, usually unintentional contact between ball and edge of the bat. May result in a catch to wicket-keeper or slips.
Innings -- (1) The time spent at the wicket by one batsman, until he is out; (2) The combined innings of the entire batting team, ending when ten batsmen are out, or the batting captain declares the innings closed.
Leg side -- The side of the pitch nearer the batsman's legs as he faces the bowler, i.e. to the bowler's right for a right-handed batsman.
Lord's -- A cricket ground in St John's Wood, north London, generally considered the 'home' of cricket. It belongs to the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC), and was founded by Thomas Lord some 200 years ago. Lord's plays host to a Test match against each touring country each year, as well as the finals of the major domestic competitions. Middlesex County Cricket Club also plays its home games at Lord's.
MCC -- In this case, not the Marylebone Cricket Club (of which Colonel White would, I am sure, be a member), but the Melbourne Cricket Club.
MCG -- Melbourne Cricket Ground.
Mid-wicket -- A leg-side infield fielding position. The fielder is roughly level with the halfway point of the pitch.
Off side -- The side of the pitch away from the batsman's legs as he faces the bowler, i.e. to the bowler's left for a right-handed batsman.
Over -- A series of consecutive balls. bowled from one end by one bowler. Unless bowlers’ extras are scored, there are 6 balls in the over.
Pitch -- The mown area, 22 yards long, with the wickets and creases at either end; see the diagram below for a graphical representation of the pitch.
Popping crease -- A transverse line four feet in front of the bowling crease. Please see diagram for a graphical representation of the pitch. The batsman must ground his bat or body behind this line in order to complete a run or to avoid being stumped by the wicketkeeper. As he releases the ball, the bowler must keep some part of his front foot behind the popping crease if he is not to bowl a no-ball.
Pull -- A cross-bat, usually back-foot batting shot, directed into the sector between long-leg and mid-on.
Run out -- If the fielding side can dislodge a bail from the wicket with the ball before the batsman nearer that wicket has made his ground, that batsman is out, run out, and the run he was attempting does not count.
Short-pitched -- A ball whose length gives the batsman time to play it easily off the pitch with his weight on the back foot.
Square leg (position) -- Fielding position on the batsman’s leg side, close to an imaginary line drawn at right angles to the centre-line of the pitch and passing through the batsman's guard position. One of the two umpires stands here as it is the perfect position from which to assess a run out or stumping.
Sweet spot -- The area on a bat that can hit a ball hard yet not cause unpleasant vibrations for the player.
Twenty20 -- A Twenty20 game involves two teams, each have a single innings, batting for a maximum of 20 overs.
Yorker -- A ball bowled to pitch at the batsman's feet, to pass under his bat and hit the wicket.
Terms taken and amended from the Wanderer’s CC cricket glossary and ‘What is a Googly?’
For a visual representation of the fielding positions: midwicket, deep extra cover, square leg etc – please refer to the diagram of fielding positions below:
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