Silent Majority

 

A “Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons” story for Christmas

 

By Marion Woods

 

Chapter One

 

    Mike ‘Dinger’ Bell threw his magazine into his holdall and stretched.  He hated these regional airports and hanging about between check in and boarding - which was ironic, considering.  Still, once he got to London he wouldn’t have long to wait before the shuttle went up to Cloudbase.

    He grimaced as the jangling musak broke into another version of ‘We wish you a Merry Christmas’ and the young mother seated across the way began to sing along in an attempt to entertain her fractious toddler.  The airport lounge was bright with coloured lights and the shops were garish with posters and enticements for the travellers to buy last minute gifts.  Christmas was just as much a consumer-driven holiday as it had always been, Bell thought wryly.  He had never celebrated it much since he had turned teenager and lost interest in the magic that makes Christmas such an exciting time for families.  Actually, given his family he had been pleased to get away and he never went back for Christmas now, which was why he had taken his leave early and was making his way back to Spectrum’s Cloudbase HQ a few days before Christmas Eve. 

Christmas on Cloudbase was a fairly muted affair - everyone had their duty rotas to adhere to and not everyone celebrated Christmas anyway.  There would be some parties going on, although these were usually unofficial, impromptu get-togethers.  The Officers would have a polite gathering in the Lounge or the Amber Room and sometimes the Colonel would unbend enough to allow some alcohol to be consumed - by the lucky few, anyway.  There would be a ceaseless trilling of Christmas carols but hopefully not by Captain Blue who, for all his enthusiasm, couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket. 

Bell grinned to himself as he recalled the last instance he had seen Captain Scarlet before he went on leave.  He had been hanging the latest batch of Scarlet’s newly cleaned and repaired uniform tunics in the closet whilst Scarlet, along with Blue and Captain Ochre, was wrapping the gifts the Captains had bought for the Angels.

 

Scarlet was ticking off the list of gifts and there was some desultory talk about what each man wanted - as opposed to expected to get - for Christmas. He was in a jovial mood. “All I really want for Christmas this year is for Blue to get laryngitis, before the carol season starts.”

Ochre chuckled and nodded in agreement as Blue flushed slightly, “Okay Rick, it wasn’t that funny a remark.  Maybe I don’t  have the best voice on Cloudbase…”

“Adam, you have one of the worst voices on the planet!” Scarlet teased with some slight exaggeration.

“Hey, that’s going a bit far,” Blue protested mildly.  He threw a ball of crumpled wrapping paper at his tormentor.  It bounced of Scarlet’s dark hair.   “After all, you’ve never heard my brother sing!”

“There’s two of who are that gifted?” sniggered Ochre with a sympathetic shake of his dark head.  “Suddenly the idea of screening out undesirable genes takes on a whole new importance…”

Blue threw a similar missile at him and Ochre retaliated with some shiny gift-wrap bows.   Moments later the three of them were pelting each other with paper and tinsel and anything else they could grab, until Blue - outnumbered and out of ammunition - surrendered and was sentenced to paying for a meal for the three of them.

 

It had left an unholy mess for me to clear up when the trio left for the canteen shortly afterwards, Bell thought. He sometimes wondered how he had got into his line of work.  It wasn’t something he had ever intended to do.  Leaving school with the minimum qualifications he had decided on a military career and found himself posted as an orderly to a stiff-backed General.  At first he had hated it, but once he realised there were perks and positive aspects to the job, he had settled into it and become the best orderly on the base.  When he was approached by Spectrum he had jumped at the chance and had eventually found himself on Cloudbase assigned to a Colour Captain - Captain Black.  He was delighted when his officer had turned out to be one of the English Captains and devastated at the prospect he might lose his posting when Black had disappeared after the Martian expedition returned to earth.

 A series of events, including the unexplained deaths of Captain Brown and Captain Indigo had made his return to a terrestrial base seem almost certain. Then luck had gone his way and one of the orderlies had decided he couldn’t hack living on the floating carrier and resigned, whilst a second had decided to get married and requested a posting back home.  A third had been summarily dismissed after an incident concerning some personal items that had gone missing from a Captain’s quarters and a fourth had won a promotion to a terrestrial posting. 

There had been a general shuffle around amongst the remaining support staff.  Ronnie Heaton, Colonel White’s batman - who had been with him since his naval days - had remained aloof from the procedure. Ross MacDonald had changed Ochre for Grey after finding it hard work to get along with the brash American, whose passion for model aircraft making drove the ex-naval batman to distraction. At least with Captain Grey they had an interest in common - the sea.

 Bob Lewis had been reassigned to Captain Ochre, Lester Hughes had gone to Captain Magenta  and given the choice between Scarlet and Blue - Bell had chosen his compatriot and moved across to Scarlet’s service.  That left Captain Blue with a newly appointed member of staff; fresh from training college and still a teenager, Philippe Daniel was highly-recommended  by the administrative officer at Spectrum London.   Bell smiled again - and what a surprise Philly had turned out to be!

By and large he was happy in his posting and he and Scarlet rubbed along very well.  The Captain was out on missions more than he was around to get under Bell’s feet and when he came back he always seemed to be in sick-bay for a time.  It seemed as if Scarlet was far more accident-prone than his partner and close friend, Captain Blue.

    The tannoy announced his flight was boarding from gate 7 and he looked at the queue with a grimace of distaste.  Spectrum paid for the flights of their personnel coming and going on leave, but they only paid economy fares - next time he would have to remember to upgrade his ticket and avoid the whining kids, noisy teenagers and harassed parents - although on the rare occasions he had gone business or first class he’d been surrounded by be-suited city types with lap-top computers and no conversation.  He stood and walked to the toilets across the concourse - he had plenty of time to get on the plane and his window seat was booked.

    The Gents was empty and as he washed his hands and combed his hair he heard the door open.  He glanced into the mirror and frowned as a tall, dark haired man came into view.

    “Friggin’ hell,” he muttered as he recognized Captain Black’s pallid features.

    “Hello Bell,” Black said.

    Bell turned and stared at the erstwhile Spectrum Captain, who was now the premier agent of the Mysterons, in their war of nerves against the people of Earth.

    “Captain,” Bell managed to stammer, firmly convinced that his last minutes of life had arrived.  He glanced around in the vain hope of finding a way out of this situation.

    Black stretched out his hand and grasped Bell’s shoulder, squeezing it in a vice like grip.  His eyes stared into Bell’s with an hypnotic stare.  “I will give you some packages and you will distribute them on Christmas Eve amongst the staff on Cloudbase.  You will not open them and you will not tell anyone you have them.”  Bell nodded in a daze. “You will remember nothing of this meeting,” Black said with utter certainty. “When you get to Cloudbase you will carry on your duties as normal, you will feel nothing and nothing will concern you.  You will treat your friends, colleagues and all personnel as normal.  Nothing has changed, Bell.”

    “Nothing has changed,” Bell agreed, feeling his shoulder growing numb in the crushing grip.

    “Good man,” Black gave what could almost be called a smile. He removed his hand and reaching down he slipped the large carrier-bag he had been holding into Bell’s holdall and straightened up. He looked at the blank expression of the man before him and gave a small satisfied nod.  “Carry on Bell,” he said and as the man turned back to the mirror and finished combing his hair Black vanished from the room.

    Walking quickly to join the end of the rapidly shrinking queue, Bell rubbed his left shoulder and cursed.  He must have pulled a muscle carrying his luggage - which seemed to be heavier than he remembered - oh well, it wouldn’t be too much of a bother.  He handed his boarding card to the smiling hostess and found his seat.  His luck was in, there was no one next to him and the studious young man in the aisle seat looked as if he’d be pleasant company.  He clipped the seat belt closed and waited for take- off.

    Cloudbase, here I come, he thought with satisfaction.

 

    Ross MacDonald swept up the stray sock and tossed it expertly into the washing basket.  He nudged the wheeled basket out into the corridor and gave a slight nod of satisfaction - the main laundry trolley was still outside Captain Ochre’s door. He saw Lester coming out of Captain Magenta’s quarters with an armful of dirty laundry.

    “Isn’t that thing here yet?” he muttered irritably and tossed his armful into MacDonald’s basket.

    “Hey, use your own,” MacDonald complained.

    “Can’t - the wheel fell off it yesterday and it ain’t fixed yet.”

    “I’ve told you before, Les, never ask maintenance to do a job you can do yourself,” replied MacDonald with a shrug. “They never think anything we have to do is important enough to be urgent.”

    “Yeah, well I’ll just let them explain that to a pissed off rainbow warrior when he has no clean clothes left,” Lester moaned.

    They turned as the laundry trolley lurched towards them.

    “At last,” Lester sighed; “I wonder what took it so long?”

    “Bell and Lewis away on leave and Ronnie’s doing Captain Ochre this week,” MacDonald reminded him, “I bet he can’t find anything in the tip that passes for Ochre’s quarters.”

    Lester sniggered.  Ochre’s rooms were notoriously untidy due to his hobby of model making and Mac had been driven crazy by the Captain’s instructions not to touch or move anything.   It had been to the mutual satisfaction of both that MacDonald had moved to Captain Grey’s service - Grey had been a submariner and was preternaturally tidy.    MacDonald maintained that Ochre’s standards were too low and  the fact that Captain Ochre was perfectly happy with Lewis’s work carried no weight with him as he was always critical of anything that fell below his own exacting standards. 

    “Hurry up Philly!” MacDonald called and gave an exasperated shrug.

    Philippa Daniel glared down the corridor and ignored Mac’s shout.  She considered going slower, just to annoy the old grouch, but decided it was beneath her dignity to goad him.  She emptied Captain Blue's laundry into the trolley and grinned at Don Jones.

    “Better put the turbo charger on, Donny,” she advised him with a shake of her dark head. “Old MacDonald’s on time and motion again.”

    Jones muttered something uncomplimentary about MacDonald and added, “S’that the lot, Philly?”

    She nodded and kicked the basket back through the door.  One last quick scout around just in case, she thought, not that Captain Blue was likely to have left anything where it shouldn’t be. She pushed the basket back to the door of the en-suite and glanced around the room.  There was just the wastebasket to empty and she was all ready for Sgt. O'Neill's inspection. She scooped the plastic waste bag out of the bucket and discovered a ball of cotton wool behind the basket.

    “Tch! Simpery Angel - you’re a lousy shot,” she muttered picking it up and dropping the offending pad into the bag.

    “Talking to yourself, Philly?”

    She straightened up in alarm, “Yes sir.”

    “How do you know it isn’t me that’s the lousy shot?” Blue asked with a smile.

    Philly thanked her stars he hadn’t properly heard what she’d called his girlfriend and replied brightly, “You don’t wear green eye shadow, sir, and the cotton wool is covered in it.”

    “Oh,” Blue flushed slightly, “well, it’s just between the two of us, Philly, Symphony got an eyelash in her eye and had to bathe it - but it’s not something I would like to get around.”

    “Sir?” Philippa bridled. “I don’t gossip.”

    Blue smiled, “Nor do you - I apologise.  Now, I don’t suppose you’ve seen my uniform watch, have you?  I thought I left it on the dresser this morning and I need it now - I‘m off to London with Captain Magenta. With luck we’ll be back before Christmas.”

    “I put it in the drawer, sir.  It’s the Sergeant's inspection today and I want everything just so.”

    Blue grinned and opened the locked drawer of the dresser, “Naturally you do.  What would I do without you, Mignon?”

    Philippa blushed slightly as Captain Blue fastened his watch and waved goodbye.  He called her that sometimes - mignon - MacDonald had said it was a derogatory name for a servant but Blue had laughingly explained to her that it was a pun on his part - albeit a rather puerile one - on her name Philly and fillet mignon - and mignon meant - well she could always ask Destiny Angel what mignon meant.  There was no way Philly would ever ask an Angel anything - but she did get her friend Audrey to help her look it up in the library and it meant ‘dainty, sweet, pet or favourite’ in French.   She’d looked up puerile too; it always did to know what he was talking about. 

    Mignon was much better than what Captain Scarlet called her - Miss Spelling - because when she had arrived on Cloudbase they had been expecting a Philippe Daniel and it had been touch and go as to whether the Captain would take her on.  She knew everyone had been surprised when Blue had agreed to accept her appointment.

    As far as Philly was concerned her Captain was the best one on the base and she would hear nothing against him. The other batmen frequently indulged in scurrilous gossip but Philly never commented on anything.  Her loyalty amounted to devotion.  She suspected the others made comments about that too - ridiculing her when she wasn’t there and slandering her Captain - but let them, she thought - they couldn’t know how she would give her eye-teeth for even the least of their slanders to be true!

    She pulled herself together and disposed of the rubbish bag into the waste chute and went back into the room to replace the plastic bag.  Now let O’Neill try to find a fault in her housekeeping.

 

    Dave O’Neill and Lorraine Dawkins came up in the lift together from the service areas of Cloudbase and turned into the corridor that held the Captain’s quarters.  Sergeant O’Neill was the senior comptroller for the base and Mrs Dawkins was the housekeeper, between them they managed all of the service side of the base - laundry, repairs, catering and generally making the base habitable for the 630 people on board.  Their working relationship was a tolerant one - O’Neill admired Mrs Dawkins’ grasp of essentials and the way she kept the place running like clockwork on a minimal staff.  Mrs Dawkins - and no-one ever called her Lorraine to her face - was prepared to admit that O’Neill did a competent job on the supply side and allowed that he had a right to oversee her domain as well as the more technical side of the base.  Heaven help him if he interfered though!

    They went to the door of Captain Ochre’s apartment and looked in.  They could see Ronnie Heaton wiping the glass door of the en-suite shower down and the Hoover still in the corner of the room, whilst the clean bed linen stood piled on the mattress.

    “Problems, Ronnie?” O’Neill asked.

    Heaton jumped and turned with an air of injured dignity, “Not really, Sergeant, but I had to do the Colonel’s quarters first thing and I have been a little pressed for time with Captain Ochre’s.”

    “Want one of the others to give you a hand, Ron?” Mrs Dawkins suggested.

    “I do not, thank you, Mrs Dawkins,” Ronnie replied, “although I must say, either Captain Ochre isn’t so fussy or Lewis has been skimping on the elbow grease with some of these surfaces.”

    “He’s been off for a fortnight and I don’t think anyone did the room last week because the Captain was away on an assignment. You are aware that regulations say either the Officer or the nominated attendant must be on board for a room to be entered by any unauthorised person,” Mrs. Dawkins reminded him.  Ronnie was very much of the old school - and the ex- naval men both had standards way above those deemed generally acceptable.

    “Is anyone doing Captain Scarlet’s quarters?  I understand he’s sick bay again,” O’Neill asked raising an eyebrow at his companion.

    “Bell is due back today anyway,” Mrs Dawkins said consulting her clipboard, “although he’s not due back on duty until tomorrow morning.   Philly did the room last week. I expect she’d do it this week too, if we asked, although it isn’t fair to keep giving her the extra work.   One of the others should do it this time if they haven’t already.  We’ll check on the round.”

    “What has Scarlet done to himself this time, anybody know?” O’Neill asked Mrs Dawkins, who shrugged.

    “He has been shot, as I understand from the Colonel,” Heaton said.  He liked to give the impression that he had long conversations with the C in C. 

    “Poor chap,” Mrs Dawkins said compassionately, “he does seem to run into some bad luck.  I mean Captain Blue’s usually there too and he hardly gets a scratch.”

    “Ah, the Teflon captain,” O’Neill laughed.  “Nothing ever sticks to Captain Blue - according to some, he gets away with murder ... at least twice a week!”  Heaton gave a sniff of disapproval and Mrs Dawkins looked daggers at the Sergeant.  O’Neill rolled his eyes, “Of course, it’s all gossip.”

    “That it is,” Mrs Dawkins said sourly, “and I have to say that Captain Blue is always a perfect gentleman.  Young Philly never has any complaints...” This time Heaton’s eyes met O'Neill's and they both smirked.

 “Well, I’ll get on then, if there is nothing else?” Heaton said, dismissing his visitors.

 

    Captain Scarlet was pleased to be out of sick bay.   He raced down the escalator to the officers’ lounge and jumped the last few steps, jogging across the corridor and in through the automatic door.

    “Hello Scarlet, good to see you up and about again,” Grey said levelly from his seat by the window. They were all used to Scarlet’s dramatic entrances.

    “Great to be back!  What’s been happening?”

    Ochre looked up from the table where he was painting yet another of his model aircraft. “Not much, just a possible threat to the London subway.”

    “A Mysteron threat?  I didn’t hear about it,” Scarlet frowned.

    “No, just some rumours about an attack being planned.  Magenta and Blue went to check it out. It doesn’t seem as if it’s going to amount to much.  Pat thinks it’s more likely to be a student prank, it’s something called ‘rag week’.”

    Scarlet grinned, “Oh well, there’s nothing to worry about, then. Just thousands of students jamming up the tube - nothing changes.”

    “THIS IS THE VOICE OF THE MYSTERONS; WE KNOW THAT YOU CAN HEAR US EARTHMEN.  WE WILL BE REVENGED FOR YOUR UNPROVOKED ATTACK ON OUR MARTIAN COMPLEX.  OUR RETALIATION WILL BE SLOW BUT THE NONE THE LESS EFFECTIVE. WE WILL USE THE INVISIBLE SILENT MAJORITY TO INCAPACITATE CLOUDBASE.”

    “Oh for pity’s sake, give me chance to get my feet under the table before we start again!” Scarlet complained.

    Lieutenant Green’s voice came over the tannoy, “Would all senior officers please report to the conference room, immediately. “

    “Damn!  Don’t anyone touch this plane - the paint’s not dry.”

    Grey gave Ochre a pitying glance, “Rick, we wouldn't touch it even if the paint were dry,” he began and led the way out of the room, with Ochre trying to clean the paint off his hands with a dirty rag as he followed.

 

    “Well gentlemen, what do you make of this threat?” Colonel White asked as they all walked into the conference room.  Melody Angel was already at the circular table and she grinned in welcome at the officers, giving Scarlet a little wave of her fingers as he sat opposite her.

    “The threat is obviously against Cloudbase - I mean specifically to incapacitate the base.  That could mean an attack by fighter planes,” Grey suggested.

    “Silent majority - could be anybody... more people don’t work for Spectrum than do,” Ochre said shrugging. “But they can’t mean to suggest that the great unwashed masses will hijack fighter planes and come after us.”

    “Not unless the great unwashed masses are invisible,” Scarlet added. “Could they have developed an invisibility machine?”

    “Captain Scarlet, please try and keep your imagination under some sort of control.  We need to stay in the realms of possibility here,” The Colonel said.

    “But sir,” Melody remarked, “the Mysterons themselves are invisible.”

    “You mean they could be coming to get us themselves?” Ochre asked. “After all we only ever hear one voice of the Mysterons - perhaps there is more than one and the silent majority are coming after us!”

    Colonel White shifted in his seat, “It is possible, I suppose.  We cannot take chances.  I have ordered Magenta and Blue to return from London immediately and once they are on board, we will impose a no fly zone.” He punched a communication switch, “Lieutenant Green, please go to yellow alert and notify the World Aeronautical Society that we will be imposing a 150 Km no fly zone around Cloudbase with effect from  2200 hours tonight.”

    “S.I.G. Colonel.  The supply shuttle from London is approaching sir; will they be allowed to dock?”

    “Of course, Lieutenant, I hardly think the threat to Cloudbase can come from a supply plane.”

 

 

Chapter Two

 

    Captain Blue gave Captain Scarlet the rag week magazine he’d been coerced into buying by a female student dressed in a very short schoolgirl’s uniform and fishnet tights. 

    “These things are usually obscene.” Scarlet grinned speculatively at his friend.

    “Well that one certainly is - I had to get Pat to explain some of it to me,” Blue said assuming an expression of sheltered innocence.

    Scarlet laughed, “Oh yeah, I bet you did.”

    “Can I see it after you, Scarlet?” asked Ochre brightly. “I’m a real expert on obscene publications. We used to get them to vet at the World Police HQ.”

    “Along with the banned substances and the porn videos, I’d guess,” Blue chuckled, joining in the joke.

    “Oh sure - the blue movies were some of the funniest!” Ochre winked.

    Magenta shook his head at his friends and said, “Adam was lucky to get away alive from that student - I bet what she had in mind would have made a real Blue movie!”

    Everyone laughed and Scarlet threw the magazine onto the table with the others. “Well, it looks like we are hemmed in for now - at least until the Mysterons do make their move to try to incapacitate Cloudbase,” he said.  “There may come a time when you will want to re-read that rag-mag, Adam.”

Lester Hughes, who’s turn it was to cover the officer’s lounge this week, watched the Captains trail out to the canteen for their evening meal and slipped across to look at the rag-mag.  He was chortling over some of the crude drawings and explicit jokes when Captain Scarlet surprised him by rushing back in to collect his uniform cap.  With the merest glance at Hughes he darted back out and relieved he hadn’t been reprimanded, Hughes slipped the magazine into his jacket pocket to share with the other chaps later.

 

    At the end of her  morning’s work Philly pushed open the door to the staff locker room and walked in.  She was pleased to see Mike Bell standing by his locker, putting something away. She had heard he got back yesterday.

    “Hi Dinger, have a good holiday?” she asked.

    “Hello Philly,” Bell said rather distractedly. “Yeah, it was… pleasant.”

    “Did Lindy enjoy her surprise vacation?”

    Bell nodded, but said nothing and Philly wondered if he had fallen out with his long-term girlfriend.  She decided not to say any more about it, just in case and embarked on an update of events on Cloudbase during his absence. Bell listened intently, nodding occasionally but making no comment. 

    “And Old MacDonald did your inspection clean-up yesterday, so you’d better say thanks or you know how he’ll sulk.”  As Philly came to the end of her news, they lapsed into an awkward silence.

    Suddenly Bell said, “Are all of the Captains on base now?”

    Philly frowned and nodded, “Yeah, Blue and Magenta came back last night and Scarlet’s out of the sick bay too.” 

    Bell nodded.

    Philly rocked her head side to side and shrugged, “Wow, you came back from holiday just brim full of pep and vigour!”

    “I am sorry, Philly, I’m just tired I suppose and I hurt my shoulder carrying all the presents I brought for you.”

    She grinned, imagining passionate goodbyes with Lindy and her romantic heart instantly forgave him, “Oh sure you did! S’okay, Dinger.  I’m going to get an early lunch - coming?”

    He shook his head, “I’ve spent all morning in the laundry sorting through the Captain’s gear, so now I’d better go and see if his room is okay.”

    “Should be shipshape - MacDonald made a big deal of ‘smartening it up’ for you.”

    “How kind of him,” Bell said sourly, walking to the door. 

    Left alone, Philly changed out of her overall and pulled on her Spectrum Auxiliary uniform jacket.  She ran a brush through her short, layered, mahogany brown hair and squinted at her reflection in the small mirror inside the locker door.  Her dark eyes gazed back apparently unimpressed by what they saw.

 I’m not exactly pretty, but I can look very nice when I do myself up, she thought. It’s a shame my nose is too long and my lips too thin.  She pouted and tried to imagine herself with a bob of blonde hair and green eyes. No, even then she wouldn’t look anything like her - and as long as she was just small, dark haired, insignificant Philly - he wouldn’t give her a second glance.

    She grimaced at herself and kicked the locker door shut.  When would she realise that she was just one of the ordinary plebs about the place that he was always polite to and friendly with - as you would hope that the son of a rich, cultured family would be.  He even spoke posh - for an American,  she sighed ruefully.  She suspected that he found her Lancashire accent ‘cute’ compared to the cut glass English of the Colonel, Captain Scarlet and Raspberry Angel.  Well, that was something!

    She slammed the locker room door closed and stomped out towards the canteen.  Halfway along the corridor she suddenly veered off and slipped into the research library.  Sitting behind a computer screen busily typing, was her best friend, Audrey Geffen.

    “Hiya Aud,” she hissed in the kind of whisper that carried more than normal speech.

    Audrey jumped and in doing so managed to hit the delete key and lost the last ten minutes work at the stroke of a key!  “Philly - now look what you made me do!”

    “Sorry Audrey,” Philly whispered contritely, “Coming to lunch?”

    “Might as well," her friend sighed and saved what she could recover of her report, before closing the file down. “The Colonel isn’t gonna get the report any quicker than tomorrow anyway, and I’m ravenous.”

    She picked up her pale, creamy yellow jacket and strapped her belt around her waist, tugging the epaulettes into line. “Come on Philly, if we hurry up we might get there before all those rotten techies eat the specials and we’re left with burgers or salad again.”

    Philly walked beside her friend as they went into the staff canteen.  Strictly speaking Lieutenant Flaxen was entitled to use the officers’ canteen, but she always felt so out of place there, she  preferred to eat with Philly. Besides, they spoke the same language - Audrey came from West Bromwich - and both of them felt conspicuous in the presence of the posh English of the Officer class.

    They were lucky and got there before the main rush started.  They had roast pork and roast potatoes with peas and - Philly shuddered - Flaxen had baked beans as well.

    “Aud, that looks awful.”

    “I told you I’m starving - I didn’t have any breakfast today.” Flaxen excused herself.

    “Why not?”

     “I managed to slip in the canteen and spilt my orange juice and cornflakes all down the back of Doctor Fawn‘s uniform.” She gave a stoical shrug.

    Philly sniggered, “Oh dear, he’s such a nice man too.”

    “Yes, well, I was not his favourite person this morning, I can promise you.”

    “Didn’t you get yourself something else?” Philly asked.

    “Not me - I bolted just as soon as I could.  Magenta and Ochre nearly had apoplexy from laughing at me and poor Doctor Fawn.”

     “Oh Aud, not Captain Ochre…”  Philly gave her a sympathetic smile; she knew her friend carried a torch for the good-looking American.   She also knew that the story - probably embellished with all kinds of extra details, would be all over the base before suppertime.  Neither Captain would be able to resist re-telling it to anyone willing to listen.

    They chose a table away from the popular area by the windows and started their meals in friendly silence.

    After a while Flaxen said, “So what’s new, Philly?”

    “Well, The Captain is back - and Magenta too, of course.” Flaxen didn’t need an interpreter to know who The Captain was - Philly always said it as if it had capital letters. “They’d been to London about a threat to the Underground, but The Captain said it didn’t amount to doodly-squat.”

    Flaxen grinned; she couldn’t imagine Captain Blue saying that exactly. “Anything else?”

    “You know we’re in quarantine, don’t you?  A no-fly zone because they say Cloudbase is under threat of attack.”

    “Did Captain Blue tell you that?”

    Philly shook her head and gave Flaxen an exasperated glance, “No, he was on the phone and I was cleaning the bathroom.”

    “Philly, you’ll get into trouble one day - eavesdropping,” Flaxen warned her with a friendly smile.

    “He knew I was there.  I couldn’t help hearing what he said,” Philly justified herself.

    “No, I guess if Blue had wanted you out he’d have told you to go,” Flaxen agreed. “Did he say what kind of threat?”

    “Don’t you know Aud?  I’m sure they tell Lootenants more than they tell Auxiliaries,” Philly asked.

    Flaxen grimaced - Philly liked to practise her American. “Yes, they might tell some Leftenants more than most, but they don’t tell me!  Remember I’m just an admin lieutenant not a proper field officer.  We’re the lowest of the low when it comes to hearing what’s going on around here.  After all, I’m hardly likely to be hiding in the shower cubicle of any of the Senior Captains - even Ochre’s…”

     “Apparently,” Philly continued, “they say the Mysterons might be coming after us.”

    “Do ‘they’ indeed?  I take it The Captain hasn’t explained exactly how they’re coming?”

    Philly shook her head, oblivious to the sarcasm in Audrey’s voice. “He hasn’t said owt about it, but that’s what Mac and Lester were talking about this morning.  The Mysterons are all invisible and they are coming to get us.”

    “If the Colonel thought that was the truth Philly, he’d have all  non-essential personnel off here, faster than you could say Jack Robinson!” Flaxen reassured her friend, but Philly wasn’t concerned apparently.

    “The Captain said that if it was necessary to evacuate the base he would make sure I got onto one of the transport jets,” she said calmly.

    “But you said he never mentioned this,” Flaxen frowned.

    “No, he said this ages ago when I was getting sea-sick in bad weather and I told him I thought we might crash. He wouldn’t forget a promise like that,” she said confidently.

   Flaxen finished her lunch and looked thoughtfully at her young friend. She forgot sometimes that Philly had an implicit trust in all things Spectrum - or at least all things Blue - which put the more cynical members of staff to shame. 

She thought back to they had first met. It had been on the way to their current postings on Cloudbase - the only two females on the flight.

 

Both of them were surprised to have been posted to the carrier and listening to Philly’s excited chatter as they waited for the shuttle to take them ‘aloft’ - as the ground staff at London referred to a Cloudbase posting - Audrey began to consider herself fortunate.  Philly had spent much of her life in the care of Social Services, because her Mother had been unable to cope with the harsh reality of a husband who was forever in and out of prison.  She had taken her daughter out of care, every so often, and fled from their home town to spend months in remote countryside cottages or out of season seaside towns, always returning to her own family when the money and her hope ran out.

Despite this unconventional upbringing Philly had remained an optimistic individual with a boundless fascination for life and a thirst for knowledge her interrupted education had never managed to satisfy.  Compared to that, Audrey Geffen had grown up in an uninspiring and stolid family of two parents and one older sister.  She had been the first member of her family for many generations to go on to higher education - winning a scholarship to study business administration and information science.  It had been whilst she was at college, doing a project, she had seen the original adverts for Spectrum recruits and after much thought she had contacted the PO Box number, even thought the closing date was long passed and, rather to her surprise, had  received an application form and then an interview.    Posted to Spectrum’s London Centre as an administrator she had worked hard and within 18 months was promoted to Lieutenant Flaxen.  Then she had started her training in the use of the more esoteric equipment and, graduating in the top five of her class, she had received a call to Cloudbase as an admin Lieutenant. 

On their arrival at Cloudbase, which had turned out to be far bigger than either of them had anticipated,  the new recruits had been separated into their departments and whisked away for induction lectures by the personnel Lieutenants.  As Philly watched Audrey leave, she had called out to her to meet her later in the canteen and Flaxen had nodded happily.

Several hours later, her head stuffed with a jumble of instructions, directions, regulations, plus a quick run down of who was who in the upper echelons,  Flaxen had finally made her way  to the canteen. To her consternation she had discovered a tearful Philly sitting on a low sofa-chair, hugging her holdall and bewailing the fact that she was going to be sent home. Cloudbase personnel had been expecting a man - and did not have a position for a girl at all!  It was all grossly unfair, Philly had raged, she could do the job as well as any man - better in fact!  What did it matter if she was a girl?  She’d never get another chance like this to work in such a wonderful place! 

 Flaxen sat beside her  and tried to comfort her new friend with an arm around the narrow shoulders. There was really nothing she could say to cheer her though. Suddenly an imposing figure strode into the room, looked searchingly at the groups of people sitting about the place and crossed to them. Some of the day’s information must have stuck in her mind, because recognition dawned and Flaxen struggled to her feet, giving a scrappy salute, which the man acknowledged with a preoccupied gesture.

 Philly raised her tear filled eyes, and looked up and up at the Officer towering over her.  He had long legs, narrow hips, a wide chest and broad shoulders.  In Philly’s blurred vision the ceiling lights made a halo around his blond hair. The pale blue uniform tunic he was wearing matched his eyes… eyes that were looking at her with a wry sympathy.  What a sight I must look, she thought, believing she had blown any chance of convincing anyone she was capable of doing this job. A large tear tipped over her eyelid and she brushed it away with a defiant scowl.

Captain Blue had been irritated by the personnel department’s decision to send his new valet back as unsuitable - especially after they had made him read through dozens of personal CV’s to select his three preferred candidates.   They were very apologetic, assured him they would find a replacement as soon as possible and that they couldn’t imagine how such a mistake had been made. On an impulse he decided to go and see the reject for himself - he never liked accepting unquestioned any decision taken on his behalf without his consent.  Now, as he looked down at the urchin before him, he knew, with sinking certainty that he wasn’t going to have the heart to make her cry.   Even after years of experience with his sister’s manipulative weeping he was putty in the hands of any female in tears.

“Philippa Daniel?” he asked not realising just how angry he sounded.

“Yes, sir,” Philly muttered meekly. Another tear stole down her cheek.

He crouched down to be at her level and studied the tear streaked face for a long minute before asking, with surprising gentleness,  “Do you think you could keep my quarters clean, Philippa?” She nodded; hope flaring in her dark eyes. “And you would not be worried about working for… well, working for me?” Philly shook her head; not daring to breathe in case she made him change his mind. “Well, if you are sure that want to - we can give it a try, at least.” Blue concluded smiling as her face lit up in a broad grin.

“Oh, yes, sir,” she squeaked.

The blond giant stood and smiled, a little ruefully.  “Well then, Philippa…it seems that you will be staying on Cloudbase after all and that you are now officially working for Captain Blue.”

A mocking laugh made Blue turn around. Lounging by the doorway was a handsome, dark-haired man, with surprisingly blue eyes. The vivid red of his tunic suited his colouring, although his skin lacked the healthy tanned complexion of his companion and he looked pale.  He shook his head good-humouredly at Blue. “So this is Philippe Daniel?”

“So it would seem,” Blue agreed, gazing down at Philly who scrambled to her feet.

“It is Philly Daniel, sir,” she corrected him. “Miss Philippa Daniel - not Filleep Danyell.” She glanced up at Blue again as if fearing rejection.  “They made a mistake and spelt it wrong.”

The dark man cast another amused glance at his friend, “And you’re really willing to take her on, Blue,   our little Miss Spelling here?”

“I grew up with a nurse, a governess, a cook and a housekeeper around the place - if …Philly can cope with me, I have no qualms -  its fine by me.”

“I promise, Captain, I will do my very best,” Philly had vowed.

“I am sure you will and we’ll get along fine.  Ignore Captain Scarlet - he’s just jealous,” Blue winked mischievously at her as Scarlet laughed again.

 

Flaxen sighed and continued to gaze over Philly’s shoulder towards the door of the canteen.  It was no wonder that her friend idolised Captain Blue, he was the man who had accepted that she deserved the chance to prove she could do the job of her dreams.   And since Philly had moved into The Captain’s service she had never looked back.   Sometimes Flaxen envied her, all Philly had to do was keep her Captain happy - no worries about matching up to demanding expectations and trying to get to grips with the hi-tech equipment on Cloudbase.  All Philly had to contend with was a vacuum cleaner - whereas she had to handle multi-million dollars worth of machinery and try to keep it intact! 

 Plus, of course, Philly had privileged access to her adored Captain - whereas she was too nervous to even approach the man she liked best of all.

    She frowned as she saw the three Angel attendants coming across the canteen towards them.  She couldn’t find it in herself to like the trio much - they were inclined to be spiteful and to tease Philly something rotten about The Captain.  They were not very popular with certain of the Colour Captains either, who were known to refer to them collectively - with more wit than accuracy - as the batwomen.

    “Hello Philly, Lieutenant Flaxen, might we join you?” Cheryl asked sweetly.

    Philly nodded unenthusiastically, “Sure.”

    “I have to go Philly, if you’ll excuse me, ladies?” Flaxen said, rising from her seat, “I must get that report completed today.”

    “Of course, Lieutenant Flaxen, we know how busy you are - throwing yourself into your work,” Robyn sniggered.

    “Or perhaps it should be throwing yourself at the senior officers?” Kylie suggested, “How awful for you when Doctor Fawn got in your way this morning...”

    Philly put her fork down and said, “You know, suddenly I ain’t as hungry as I was.  I’ll come with you, Lieutenant.” She picked up her tray and swept after Flaxen with as much dignity as her 5ft 2 inch frame could muster.  She could hear the trio giggling behind her.

    Silly bints, she thought.

 

    Colonel White was eating his lunch in the Officers’ restaurant when Scarlet and Blue asked if they might join him.  He waved a hand over the table, giving his permission.

    “To what do I owe this rare honour?” he asked them both once he had finished his mouthful and they had settled down and ordered their meals.

    “No reason, Sir," Scarlet said quickly. "We just thought you might like the company.”

    White gave them a jaundiced look and cut a potato in half.  “How was London, Captain Blue?” he asked.

    “Crowded and busy, Sir,” Blue replied. “There was no sign of a Mysteron connection with the threat - it was all in my report.”

    “Indeed it was- as detailed and accurate as always, Captain, apart from some ambiguity regarding a young student you interviewed outside of the… Russell Square tube station, I think you said.”

    Blue flushed and cast a wary glance at his commander, “Nothing much to say, Sir.  She was the one who admitted the threat was a hoax dreamt up by some of the fund raising committee hoping to get money from the operators for their charity funds.” 

    “Did you have to ...contribute to their funds, Captain, in order to gain that information?  I didn’t see it on the expenses slip.”

    “No sir, well it wasn’t much really and it was for charity...” Blue hedged.

    “I see,” Colonel White wondered what Blue was hiding exactly. “It is your decision, of course, but you know it should be listed anyway - just in case there are any future discrepancies...”

    “Yes Sir, of course.  I am sorry, Sir.”

    “How much was it?” White asked quietly.

    “Twenny - five pounds, Sir.”

    Scarlet choked on his mineral water, trying not to laugh. “She dunned you for a pony?  I’d have wanted more than a rag-week mag for that, Adam!”

    “It was exactly because I didn’t want more than the magazine that I gave her the money!” Blue admitted sheepishly.

    The Colonel gave a slight smile. “Enough said, Captain.  Just enter it as miscellaneous on the expenses slip and we’ll ignore the rest.”

    Blue relaxed again and sipped his glass of water.  Colonel White waited until he had eaten another mouthful and the Captain’s meals had arrived before he said, “Now, what exactly do you both want?”

    Scarlet glanced across at Blue implying that there was no fooling the Colonel.  Busily chewing on a mouthful of pasta, Blue rolled his eyes and Scarlet, smirking, began, “Well Colonel, we wondered if it would be permissible to organise a little badminton tournament to keep people occupied whilst we’re quarantined. We thought it could start after Christmas and depending on how many entrants we had we could string it out and keep people interested.  It won’t be too strenuous but it will give people something else to think about apart from the threat.”

    The Colonel looked at them both.  “Are people worrying unduly? Or is it just that you two are finding it difficult to sit still for long?”

    “Well, sir,” Blue reasoned, “we could be here for some time and a tournament will keep people busy - especially after all the Christmas events have finished. We thought - Captain Scarlet and I - that it always falls a bit flat after Christmas and if we’re all confined to base for now…”

    “I can’t say I have noticed much falling off of high spirits until well into January - with Symphony, Melody and Lieutenant Green  all having birthdays one after the other.  But, very well, go ahead if you can get enough people interested.” The younger men both grinned and Colonel White continued, “However, there is to be no betting on the results - and if I get wind of even the slightest sweepstake I will hold you two personally responsible and I will not look leniently on the situation.  Understood?”

    “Perfectly,” Scarlet nodded vigorously. “No betting - absolutely not.”

    “Wouldn’t dream of it...” Blue muttered.

    “You might not, Captain, but there are people on this base who would - naming no names, of course.”

    A mental image of Ochre and Magenta glued to the sports channels flashed before Scarlet’s eyes.  “Yes, sir.  It is quite understood.  We’ll do our utmost to keep it clean, sir.”

    “See that you do.”  Colonel White placed his knife and fork across his plate. “Now if you will excuse me, gentlemen, I think I will take a stroll on the Promenade deck before I go back to work.” He waved a hand towards them as they both made to rise from their chairs, “Carry on.”

    Scarlet watched him walk away with a thoughtful expression, “I think that not only does he have eyes in the back of his head, but he’s probably a mind reader too.”

    “Why? You weren’t thinking of running a sweepstake, were you?” Blue asked twirling the last strands of tagliatelli around his fork with practiced ease.

    “No, but I bet you Ochre and Magenta will think of it the moment we ask everyone to join in.”

    “Well, they’ll have to forget it,” Blue said vehemently. “I’m not carrying the can for those two.”

    “Look, Adam, if we want to get to spend more time with… the Angels, we’ll have to convince them it isn’t a good idea. Otherwise we’ll be in trouble with the old man.”

    Blue gave a snort, “I’ll leave that to you - you’re much scarier than I am.  Besides, I have a practise session with Symphony in half an hour and I don’t want to be late.”

    “You’ll get indigestion,” Scarlet warned his friend as Blue finished his meal and started to leave. Suddenly Scarlet frowned and called after him, “Oy, what do you mean I’m much scarier than you?”

    Blue waved farewell and strode from the canteen.

 

    There were several leisure venues on Cloudbase - along with a cinema, a disco and a few restaurants.  With the exception of the Officers’ Lounge & the Amber Room these were open to everyone on base, but in reality the different divisions of the staff tended to frequent different venues. 

    Mike Bell went into the aggressively masculine atmosphere of the games room and looked around him.  There were pinball machines against one wall and a darts board across from the door.  Currently the World President’s photograph occupied the bull’s-eye, but he had seen almost everyone’s face there at some time - including the Colonel’s.  Before he left it had been Captain Ochre, after he had spent a week making everyone miserable with a new duty rota and before that Lieutenant Green had been the target.  The pools tables were always busy and Lester and Bob Lewis were in the middle of a game on one table whilst Mac and Ronnie sat alongside offering advice.  Some of the catering staff were playing poker in the quietest corner and a noisy rabble of technicians and engineers were gathered around a large TV screen watching a soccer match.

    “Who’s playing?” Mike asked the bar attendant as he accepted a glass of the non alcoholic slop that posed as beer on Cloudbase.

    “Chile vs. Venezuela,” the guy replied. “Chile’s winning - I think.”

    “Oh, good,” Mike said sarcastically and he took a swig of his drink with a grimace.  It was the one thing he really missed - the opportunity to get a decent pint.  He strolled across to the other valets and nodded a greeting.

    MacDonald moved up and made room for him on the leather settle.

    “Good leave?” Lester asked.

    “Yeah, thanks.  Good to be back - not - especially when we have to put up with this stuff,” Mike indicated his beer.

    Lester nodded agreement and turned to take his turn at the table.

    Lewis came across and reached for his beer, “Hey, Dinger, have you heard that the Captains are having a badminton tournament after Christmas?  I heard Scarlet asking Ochre if he would like to take part. So, how’s about you running a book on it for us?”

    “Badminton?  Does anyone know anything about the form for that?” Mike asked and everyone shook their heads. “Forget it then, I’m not giving odds on unknowns.”

    “A sweepstake then?” Lewis argued.

    Mike shrugged, “Yeah, okay.  When’s this tournament start?”

    “Must be soon, Scarlet and Blue have been practising every damn minute they’ve had spare,” Macdonald volunteered.

    “Those two never stand still,” Heaton muttered.

    Lewis grinned, “Yeah, but I heard what they’ve been practising at most is the mixed doubles!”

    There was a chorus of lusty cheers.

    “Well, wouldn’t you, if you had the chance?” Mike grinned.

    “Oh, for a little night of rhapsody…” Lester sighed and flushed as his friends all laughed derisively at him.

    “In your dreams, Les,” Lewis teased.

    “Far too often for it to be healthy,” Les grinned back to more raucous laughter.

    Bell shook his head and listened to the good-natured banter around him - they were all good lads.  But now that they were hovering over the Pacific and, apart from routine surveillance missions, everyone was grounded it wouldn’t take long for them all to get on each other’s nerves.  Maybe a badminton sweepstake was just what was needed to keep them all occupied.  He’d have to ask Ochre who was in the tournament without letting him know about the sweepstake.  If Ochre wanted some action he’d have to make his own!

 

Chapter Three

 

Christmas Eve had its own pent-up feeling of excitement.  The Angels opened the Amber Room to the chosen few and the Colonel had allowed a large artificial tree to be erected on the main recreation deck promenade. The Chaplain led a carol service on the promenade deck and then held a midnight mass for those interested.  Both were well attended and, as an added bonus, with Captain Scarlet nudging him from one side and Symphony Angel from the other, Captain Blue was too self-conscious to join in the singing.

He sighed moodily as the service ended and complained that it wasn’t fair - everyone else got to sing. 

Symphony laughed up at his pouting expression and stifled a giggle.  “Never mind, Adam darling.  Merry Christmas!”  And for once he didn’t try to stop her as she reached up and kissed him. 

Away in the support staff lounge, Philly and Flaxen were enjoying an impromptu party with their colleagues.  The two off-duty batwomen were dressed to the nines and most of the men had smartened themselves up in honour of the occasion.

Bell arrived late with a large carrier bag in his hand.  He came to join his friends and smiled at Philly as she wished him a Happy Christmas.

“Thank you Philippa,” he said surprising her by using her full name. “You thought I was joking the other day, didn’t you?  But I have bought you all a little gift.” He reached into the bag and drew out a small package wrapped in a black paper, which had a design of coloured glass baubles on it - all of them green.  He handed it to Philly.  “Merry Christmas, I am sure you will like the scent when you smell it.”

“Why thanks, Mike.  I don’t have anything for you,” Philly said blushing furiously.  She had been told it was established practice not to buy presents.

“Never mind, Philly, I got some of this  on my holiday and I liked it so much I got some for everyone.”  Bell began to hand them out to all of his colleagues - all the same size and all identically wrapped.  The men looked rather uncomfortable and muttered their thanks. 

Bell turned to Flaxen, who was still standing by Philly and feeling like an unwanted guest and offered her a package too, “Please take it, Lieutenant, I really do have enough for everyone.”

Flaxen thanked him and examined the small package carefully.  It was about 6 inches long and rectangular.  She suspected it was nothing more exciting then bath cubes - but it was nice of him to even bother.

“I want you all to promise to open them first thing in the morning - I want to hear if you liked it as much as Lindy and I did….” Bell said moving away to distribute the gifts amongst the other party goers.

“Wow, I thought all that stuff about the season of goodwill to all men was a myth as far as Dinger was concerned,” Lester joked shaking his present to see if it rattled.  He began to prise the paper open.

“No, Les - you’ll spoil it if you open it now…” Bell rushed to his side and chastised him.  “Everyone open them tomorrow morning, please!”

Lester shrugged, “If it matters that much, okay Dinger.”

Bell looked relieved and smiled.  “I can promise you, it isn’t what you expect…”

 

Arriving back at her quarters shortly after midnight, Philly was surprised to see Captain Blue walking towards her.

“Merry Christmas, Philly!” he called as he saw her.

“Same to you, Captain, sir.  Is there something wrong?  Have I forgotten something?”

Blue smiled, shaking his fair head. “Not a thing, Mignon.  I just wanted to give you this - I hoped I’d see you at the carol concert earlier, but if you were there I missed you.  It isn’t much - just a little present to say ‘thank you’ for all you have done for me since you arrived…” he held out an ornately wrapped box.  Philly’s mouth gaped open.

“Oh but, Captain, sir - well, I mean you didn’t have to - I never expected…” she flushed and reached out a tentative hand as if she expected the parcel to vanish when she touched it.

“I know I don’t have to, Mignon - but I wanted to.” Blue smiled with amusement at her obviously embarrassed delight as he pressed the box into her hand. He knew more about Philly’s state of mind than she realised.

 Philly gazed at it for a moment and then looked up at him, her eyes shining. Suddenly Blue lent down and kissed her cheek.  “Merry Christmas, Philippa,” he said gently and left her floating on air. 

Alone in the narrow cabin that was her home on Cloudbase, Philly gazed at the box in a wonder of excitement, Bell’s gift quite forgotten in the joy of receiving this one.  She glanced at the clock - it showed 00:30 and that meant it was Christmas Day.  She carefully undid the bright golden ribbon and slid her fingers under the sticky-tape, determined not to damage the paper.  With infinite care she unwrapped the package to reveal an equally grand two-tiered gift box of an expensive perfume.  There was shower gel, hand cream and perfume in one section and a natural sponge and various make-up brushes with blusher, eye-shadow and mascara in the other.  Philly had never seen anything so glamorous in all of her nineteen years.  She lifted the lid and took out the perfume, sniffing appreciatively at the entrancingly subtle aroma.  She gave an excited giggle and put her hand to her cheek, flushing at the memory of the touch of his lips.  She wondered how long she could go without washing that part of her face….

It took a while for her to drift off to sleep, her hand resting on the gift box that lay beside her pillow.

 

Christmas Day proper dawned as bright and as sunny as every day dawned on Cloudbase. All over the base as people woke to a day that promised a slightly more relaxed atmosphere - The Mysterons permitting - friends greeted each other with genial smiles and proffered gifts.  Regulations stated categorically that no member of staff should give expensive or valuable gifts to another, for fear of charges of corruption or bribery.  This regulation was generally ignored at Christmas time - at least between the closest friends and colleagues - and whilst the Captains gave joint presents to the Angels and the Angels returned the compliment, individuals still gave presents to each other.

In the Amber Room four of the Angels sat around to open the presents they had left beneath their Christmas tree the day before.  Harmony was in Angel One - on the first of the several duty stints she was scheduled to do that day.

 Rhapsody Angel had already opened the present from her Mother and examined the selection of pretty trinkets and make-up it held, before she opened the box from Captain Scarlet.   She gave a shake of her red-head to see the obligatory ‘sexy’ underwear and then laughed as she found an elegant gold chain with a heart-shaped locket nestling in one the bra cups.

Destiny Angel had received the usual plethora of gifts from her family and a beautiful leather-bound address book from Captain Magenta.  She was delighted to realise he had remembered her recent complaint, that her old book had finally fallen apart with age and use. She was even more delighted to see that he had placed a card between the pages for D with his personal name, address and contact information hand-written on it.

It took Melody Angel some time to open the gifts from her parents and four brothers.  At the bottom of the pile was a parcel she did not recall seeing earlier.  It was surprisingly heavy and had no label apart from her name.  Inside it was a bright new socket set and a plain card which said simply - Love Rick. It might not be the most romantic gift she had ever received, she thought with a grin, but it was the thought that counted and she could imagine the thought Rick would have put into deciding to buy her that.  He’d make damn sure no one knew about it either, she guessed.. She was pleased that she had pestered her brothers into tracking down a rare model kit of a World War II plane and that she had slipped it into his pigeon hole in the Officers’ Lounge before she went on duty yesterday evening. Smiling, she placed the card in her uniform pocket meaning to speak to Captain Ochre later

Symphony had her Mother’s parcel and one from Captain Blue.  Amanda Wainwright had sent her usual selection of chocolates and perfume, along with a cheque to bolster her daughter’s habitually distressed bank account, but Blue’s parcel was unusual.  The deep box was full of tissue paper and nestling in the middle was a leather pouch, containing some car keys. An envelope lay under the next layer of tissue and when she opened it she discovered a photograph of a popular make of a 4-wheel drive car, suitable for the rough terrain of the Wainwright’s family ranch and registration documents made out in her name.  The note said - To the wonderful Wainwrights: a merry Christmas to you both and a very happy birthday to you, Älskling.  Much love and best wishes, Adam.” 

The other three looked up in alarm as Symphony gasped, the box falling to the floor in her surprise, spilling tissue paper all around. 

“Is there anything wrong?” Rhapsody asked.

Symphony looked at her in stunned delight, “Its Adam… he’s… well, he’s only gone and bought a new car.  For a joint Christmas and birthday present.”

“Hey!” Melody grinned at her. “What kind?” Symphony handed her the photograph and Melody whistled.

“But I can’t accept it… I mean - it’s way too much.  It’s a wonderful idea …and it’s so generous but I… I can’t. Can I?” Symphony looked from one to the other of her friends in hopeful embarrassment.

“How can you not accept it?  He’s bought it and he’s given to you. Fait accompli, you might say,” Rhapsody smiled at her.

“I guess my Mom must’ve known - they must have been plotting behind my back…” Symphony blushed prettily and gave a shake of her fair head. “I should’ve known there’d be trouble when I introduced them and they got on so well.  My Mother always hated all my previous boyfriends…”

“What’s not to like?  I would imagine Adam comes close to being every mother’s dream candidate for her little girl…” Rhapsody teased.

Melody sniggered. “Hey, maybe to him it’s no big deal?  Maybe you should just go say - thank you - and offer it back to him so he can pretend he’s offended and then you can be suitably grateful…”

Symphony gave her a sideways glance but decided not to rise to the bait of answering the taunt.  She laughed.  “Yeah, I will try and give it back.  It must be way over the acceptable limit for gifts, but I doubt very much he’ll let me return it… he can be most unreasonably stubborn sometimes.” She sighed happily.  “No time like the present, I guess… expect me when you see me, girls.”    She gave a slight wave of her hand and went out to search for Captain Blue.

Melody sighed as the door closed behind Symphony and grinning at the others she chanted in a sing-song voice, “‘Who wants to date a millionaire?’”

I do…” they chorused in response and all three of them laughed.

“To be fair,” Rhapsody said as the laughter died away, “Paul did tell me that Adam admitted to being scared rigid when he visited Karen and her Mum during the summer and saw the state her old car was in.  It must have been pretty hairy - he’s supposed to have nerves of steel after all…”

“But it is probably much more than the Colonel would agree for a present between colleagues,” Destiny mused.  “They had best not to let it be much known about.”

From her place over by the bookcase Robyn shrugged -never mind that, she thought, as soon as I come off duty I have to tell the girls all about this!

“These things are relative,” Melody said wryly. “You and I might see a new car as a vast expense - but from what I hear of the Svenson family - they probably hand them out like after dinner mints…”

“I wonder if I can wangle a dinner invitation….” Rhapsody joked and they returned to their own parcels.

 

Across the base packages handed out by Mike Bell were opened and the bottles of shower gel they contained were sniffed. Without exception everyone found the bright green substance intoxicating and went off into their shower units to wash with the new gel. Whole corridors of the base became scented with the heady smell as it seeped from beneath the closed doors of myriad sleeping quarters.

Colleagues, who worked alongside users of the gel, commented on how nice it smelt and in selfless gestures the lucky recipients offered to let them use it too.  Gradually almost the entire non-commissioned crew of Cloudbase used the gel and throughout it all the officers remained oblivious wrapped in their own concerns and enjoying the Christmas festivities to the full.

 

 

Chapter Four

 

Things were starting to get back to normal after Christmas.  There was some resentment from the support staff who had not been able to go home for Christmas and were still confined to base - even thought the Mysteron threat seemed as obscure and distant as ever.  Lieutenant Green was starting to field calls from Spectrum bases around the World as staff made their way back from their break and expected to be ferried up to Cloudbase.  They were told to make them as comfortable as they could until the exclusion zone was lifted.

Mrs Dawkins held meetings with her catering staff to discuss how to make the existing provisions last as long as possible and reported to Sergeant O’Neill that they could last another week with fresh food.  After that it was the tinned and dried stuff until the end of next month - as long as everyone went on strictly controlled rations.

Sergeant O’Neill reported to his superior officer and Lieutenant Fennel reported to the Colonel.  Colonel White began to consider how they could overcome the problem and discussed it with his senior Captains at their early morning meeting.  It was agreed that, should the need arise; Captain Scarlet would take an SPJ down to Glenn Field and stock up with provisions. Symphony Angel was heard to mutter to Captain Blue, who was sitting next to her in the conference room, “Thank goodness we all got plenty of chocolate for Christmas…” and even the Colonel had to smile.

News of the gift Blue had given Symphony had been slowly spreading through the base.  Robyn had told her fellow Angel Orderlies and they had bitched and whined about it amongst themselves, until a technician, sitting beside them asked what they were on about.  Suitably impressed the technician had told her shift and they had mentioned it to their friends.  As these stories will, it had grown and developed until everyone knew that the car Captain Blue had given Symphony Angel was a top of the range, brand new Ferrari.

Philly heard nothing of this gossip as she wafted around the base in a haze of Chanel - she was still walking on air after the receipt of her gift.  She did not see Blue when she tidied his room as usual, emptying the multi-coloured wrapping paper from the bin.  She glanced at several of the new books and music disks he had left on the desktop and admired the photographic portrait of his family that had appeared on the dresser.  They were a handsome bunch, she thought with a wry smile, but none of the men were as handsome as The Captain.  She had spent some time writing a thank you note, but at the last moment she was too embarrassed to leave it and decided to go and check the spellings in the library dictionary, with luck Audrey would be there and she would help her look them up.

But when she got there Lieutenant Flaxen was not to be seen, so she went back to work - promising herself she would do it later.  The Captain would have his letter, he deserved it, but it would be the very best letter she could write.

 

Captain Scarlet closed the door to his room behind him and walked briskly down the corridor towards the escalators to the main staff canteen. Over the Christmas period the officers’ canteen wasn’t open as the catering staff went off on their holidays like everyone else. He had just got off the phone from talking to his mother.  She had called from their home in Winchester having recently returned from spending Christmas with the Svensons in Boston.  She had been full of the good time they had had and the excitement of the fancy dress ball Adam’s parents held every Christmas season.  His mother and Sarah Svenson got on famously and it seemed that John Svenson had made an effort to be welcoming and had spent much of the time talking about defence contracts with General Metcalfe - something he was heartily glad he’d missed.

It made him feel a little better about not being able to get home this year - they hadn’t really had a chance to miss him, it seemed.

 The moving staircase was stationary and half way down he could see Grey plodding along.  There was no notification that it was out of order, so it must have only happened recently.  He skipped down the steps noticing for the first time that they were at an awkward distance and depth for walking down.  Somehow that wasn’t so apparent when they were moving.  He caught Grey up just before the bottom and they walked along the lower corridor together.

“We ought to report the escalator breakdown,” Scarlet suggested as they past an intercom point on the wall.

Grey nodded and they stopped.  He pressed the button and waited for an answer.  It was a long time before a harassed voice snapped, “What do you want?”

“This is Captain Grey.  I want to report that the main escalator to the Control Room Decks is out of order.”

“You’ve got legs haven’t you?  Walk - it won’t kill you.”

“What?  I have just walked - but it needs to be fixed!” Grey snapped in reply.

“I’ll put it on the list,” the voice snarled.

“It should take priority, man - send out a repair team immediately.”

“If I had a repair team - they already have half a dozen emergency reports to respond to, Captain. As it is I have two men to cover the whole base and I’m afraid your problem will have to wait its turn.”

“Who am I speaking to?” Grey fumed his rare anger becoming apparent.  Scarlet, who had wandered over to gaze through the small window at the Angel Launch pad, turned at the sound of raised voices and went back to join his colleague.

“This is Sergeant O’Neill and I am sorry Captain Grey - I really cannot promise more than that I will put the problem on the list.

“Why are so few technicians on duty?” Scarlet interjected.

“You tell me, Captain.  I was called out by at the change of the duty shift when only two men turned up.  I was trying to locate the others before I got involved with this talk with you.

The two Captains exchanged worried glances, “Okay, O’Neill, do what you can,” Grey placated the man as best he could.  “I will make sure the Colonel is aware of the problem.”

“You do that and if you are any good with a screwdriver you could get your ass down here and lend a hand!”

The line went dead.

“A case of too much Christmas cheer, maybe?” Grey suggested as they continued towards the canteen.  “There was a rumour that someone had made some bathtub gin - perhaps they’ve all got alcohol poisoning?”

“The Colonel will cashier every man-jack of them if they have.”

Grey shrugged, “They know the rules, Captain - at least they should.”

They pushed open the doors to the canteen and walked into a scene of utter confusion.

Confused technicians and administrative staff were milling about the food counter looking for something to eat. The trays and serving hatches were empty and there was no sign that any replenishment was imminent.

Scarlet pushed his cap back and frowned.  Suddenly the door to the kitchen bay swung open and Blue backed out carrying a tray on which stood a plate piled with buttered toast, a large bowl of scrambled eggs and a jug of coffee. He turned and faced with a crowd of hungry technicians said; “I should go through and make your own, if I were you.”

It wasn’t the brightest remark to make as a lot of his coffee got spilt in the resulting mêlée and he ended up stumbling into Captain Grey whilst Scarlet made a splendid catch to stop the pile of toast landing on the floor.

“Thanks,” Scarlet said and he bit into a slice of the toast, passing the plate to Grey with a wink. “What’s going on here?”

Blue grimaced.  “I have no idea what’s going on, but when I got here - just before the shift changed over -  the place was deserted.  I went and made my own lunch - the self-same lunch you two are so busily eating - you could at least save me a piece…” he protested as Scarlet reached for a second slice.

“How much were you expecting to eat anyway?” he asked eyeing the tray.

“It isn’t all for me,” Blue explained nodding his head towards a table by the window where Scarlet saw the Colonel waiting and watching his meal disappearing with a bleak expression.

“Well, you might have said something,” Scarlet said swallowing the mouthful with a feeling that retribution might be hard on its heels.

“Exactly when did I have the chance?” Blue defended himself.  “Get some crockery and we’ll share what’s left.”

 

Colonel White welcomed his officers with a brisk nod of his head and continued to watch the other diners trying to organise themselves some food.

Captain Scarlet waited until Blue had distributed what was left of the coffee and asked, “Colonel, do we know has happened to the support staff?  Sergeant O’Neill was complaining that only two of this shift team had reported for work.”

White gave a slight shake of his head.  “This is the first I’ve heard of it, Captain.  I arrived to find Captain Blue prowling round the kitchen making scrambled egg on  toast and he offered to make me some too - I came over here to wait just before the last shift turned up for their meal.  I intended to discover what is going on, but my radio mic doesn’t appear to be working.”

Scarlet tried using his to call the Control Room and got a loud hiss of static in his ears for the effort. “Neither is mine…”

Blue drained his coffee cup and walked to the wall intercom, he called through to the Control Room.

Lieutenant Green’s voice sounded rather flustered. “Captain, do you know where the Colonel is?”

“Yes, Lieutenant he’s here with me - having some lunch.”

“I can’t raise him on his cap mic and there are reports from all over the base of systems failures and crew members failing to report for work.  The last caller I had was Doctor Fawn, announcing that he now has what amounts to a flu epidemic on his hands…”

“A flu epidemic?  That might explain why no-one is reporting for work.” Blue relayed the information to the Colonel.

Colonel White pursed his lips and sighed.  “That is all we need with the base under quarantine and no way to get the new staff up here.  It looks as if everyone might have to double their shifts.  I will go along and get the Doctor’s report.  Let Lieutenant Green know where I am and collect the senior officers together with the senior support staff still on duty for a meeting - we need to do some drastic re-working of the rotas to make sure essential maintenance and work is carried out.  We are still on yellow alert and we have no further clues as to when the Mysterons will launch their attack. “

Blue looked up from his last slice of toast and said, “Well, maybe this is it, sir? You can’t get more silent than a virus and any virus that has reached epidemic proportions is surely in the majority of life forms on the base… assuming the Mysterons see no difference between a virus and the human beings it infects.”

White stared at him.  “Hmm, you may have a point, Captain.  I will mention it to Doctor Fawn.  However, I do recall him reporting that he had immunised all of the Cloudbase staff this year.  We shouldn’t be open to viral infections.”

“That can only cover known viruses, Colonel.  This may be a new strain,” Blue remarked.

“Wonderful. Captain Scarlet you may find yourself running this base single-handed, if that is the case.”

Scarlet frowned, “Yes sir - does it have an auto-pilot?” he asked with an exaggerated air of confusion.

Colonel White groaned and turned away as Grey smirked at the look of innocent bewilderment on Scarlet’s face.

“That wasn’t really fair,” Blue chided as the Colonel left the canteen.  “You’ll have the old man thinking you really don’t know how to fly the place.”

Scarlet grimaced, “I’m not sure that I do - would you be confident of flying Cloudbase single-handed, without all of the support staff beavering away to help?”

Blue stopped chewing momentarily and gave a thoughtful shrug.  He swallowed and said, “I wonder… maybe it isn’t the virus after all - maybe the silent majority is the support staff?”

“Now you are just being fanciful.” Scarlet stood and collected his dishes.  “I wouldn’t call our support staff silent - they never stop complaining about something or nothing! I don’t know about you two - but I don’t propose to do any washing up, rank must still have some privileges.  Let’s get up to the Control Room and see Green and then we’ve got to find Ochre and Magenta, assuming their cap mics are not working either, before we round up the support staff.”

 

Sick Bay was teeming with people.  Colonel White blinked in surprise and alarm as he saw the queue waiting to see the duty medics, they looked drawn and feverish.  He pushed past the queue and went to the reception desk where a couple of harassed nurses, their faces half-covered by masks, were taking names and calling up records on the computers. 

“I want to speak to Doctor Fawn,” White began.

The nurse didn’t even look up, “You’ll have to wait your turn and see whichever doctor becomes available first…”

“I think not,” White said dryly.

Nurse Ingram looked up and flushed, “I beg your pardon, sir.  I will call Doctor Fawn immediately.  Please go through to his office.”  She grimaced at her companion as the Colonel moved away and drew her finger across her throat.

Nurse Darrow smiled; “Oh he’s not so bad…” she consoled and turned to take the details of the next patient.

White looked around the cluttered office as he waited for the head of Spectrum Medical services to arrive.  He gave a wry smile to see that a small two-drawer filing cabinet was labelled ‘Captain Scarlet I’ and ‘Captain Scarlet 2’.  It was amazing that the man, who had developed robot doctors and worked daily with some of the most advanced technology available in the medical field, still insisted on keeping paper records of his most interesting patient.  Fawn had explained to him when he had requisitioned the office furniture that he wasn’t prepared to trust some of the data to computer - for fear of hackers or system failure.  Here the papers were as safe as anywhere on the planet and only he had the keys.  He had agreed to allow the records to be kept this way,  but had insisted that copies be lodged in the security safe on computer disks - along with a spare set of keys - just in case of accidents.

His musing was interrupted by the arrival of the Doctor.  Fawn looked tired and far less spruce than his usually immaculate self.  A facemask hung around his neck and he was peeling off surgical gloves as he entered.

“Colonel, you got my message then?”

“I did, although it would seem we have a communications failure over the cap mics and only the wall intercoms are working.  I suspect that might take some time to repair if, as it seems, the support staff are all coming down with flu?”

“Well, flu is the best description I can give it.  The few tests we have had chance to carry out; have proved inconclusive as to the nature of the viral infection - assuming it is a viral infection.  There is no common theme to the spread of the illness.  No one person seems to have been the first victim - a couple of dozen people all turned up last night at about the same time and since then it has spread like wildfire.  The isolation units are full, the wards are full, I am having to send people back to their quarters, although I do not have staff to visit them or ensure their well-being. I cannot predict when the sufferers will be fit enough to work, and I haven’t had the time to even begin to isolate the cause or work on a cure.”

“Is it life-threatening?”

“So far, on the evidence I have, I would have to say no; but it is behaving unlike any virus I have ever come across and I won’t even say that with confidence.”

“What are you doing for the sufferers?”

Fawn grimaced, “A little witch doctoring - a harmless vitamin jab, some analgesic pills and an order for bed rest and to drink fluids. Not much else I can do for them, Charles.  Some things don’t change much - even in medicine.”

“My father always used to swear by whisky and hot milk,” the Colonel volunteered with a smile.

Fawn pulled a face, “If you can stomach the stuff, I doubt it would do any actual harm…”

Colonel White grimaced.  “I used to do anything to prove I was fit and well, knowing that any sign of illness resulted in a mug full of that concoction…” he confided.

Fawn smiled in response, “Ah, the power of the mind over the body… a vital element in any doctoring.   Your father must’ve had an insight into the secrets of all medical theory.”

Colonel White chuckled, “I doubt it, but it definitely worked with me.”

Fawn returned to the problem in hand.  “I had one of the orderlies fetch a box of face masks and I suggest that the senior officers all wear one - even Scarlet - as we don’t know how this thing is transmitted and he might be a carrier even if not affected by the virus himself.  It is just a precaution, but as I said, it can’t do any actual harm.”

Colonel White noticed the box on the desk and nodded grimly. “Very well, Doctor, I will have them distributed. I have called a meeting with the senior staff of the command and support staff - or those still standing anyway - so they can take one then.”

“That includes you too, Charles.”

“What?  Oh, very well then…” Reluctantly the Colonel took the proffered mask from the doctor’s hand, trying to ignore the grin on his friend’s face.

Just then the wall intercom on the office buzzed loudly and muttering ‘no peace for the wicked’ Fawn moved across and answered it.

“Doctor Fawn? Captain Grey here.  I am in Captain Magenta’s quarters and I have found the Captain unconscious in his chair.”

“Is he breathing?”

“Yes, sir.  He’s just out cold and I can’t make him wake up.”

“Feverish?”

There was a pause as Grey reached across and felt Magenta’s forehead. “No sir, he seems fine.”

“Can you get someone to help you get him to sick bay, Brad?  I can’t leave at the moment.”

“I guess so… Scarlet and Blue were looking for Ochre so I can find one of them.”

“Right - I still have a bed in the emergency ward - he’ll have to go there.  Get the nurses to page me when you arrive.”

“S.I.G.”

“The virus?”  Colonel White asked doubtfully.

“Doesn’t sound like it.  I haven’t had anyone go unconscious on me, yet.  Mind you - Magenta and Blue were the last ones to come back to the base, weren’t they? “

“Yes, they returned from London just before the exclusion zone was implemented.”

“Hmmm, maybe they are carriers…” Fawn punched the wall intercom.  “Captain Blue, please report to sick bay immediately.” He turned to the Colonel; “I can’t afford to leave any avenues unexplored. I’ll contact Spectrum London and see if they have news of similar symptoms there and in the meantime I’ll run some tests on Blue.”

“Can’t you run them on Magenta?  If you incarcerate the few remaining fit members of my staff…”

Fawn dismissed the protest with a wave of his hand.  “It won’t take long and it’ll be much quicker and easier with a conscious patient.”

“And if Blue is a carrier?”

“He’ll be isolated and we’ll work on him to get a cure.”

“Isolated where?” Colonel White asked wryly.

“There is always the brig….”

 

It was a much-reduced senior staff that attended the conference later that afternoon.  Magenta was still in sick bay and Blue was confined to the brig whilst the Doctor ran tests on him.  Destiny Angel, who managed to look very fetching even in a surgical mask, was there, with Scarlet, Ochre and Grey.  Lieutenant Fennel, Sergeant O’Neill and Mrs Dawkins completed the line up, with Lieutenant Green taking the minutes as usual.

Lorraine Dawkins was impressed by the conference room, which she had rarely seen.  As the secure areas of the base were out of bounds to any but staff with grade B* security clearance or above, the senior valets cleaned these areas, in a strict rotation pattern, with the assistance of mechanical, robotic sweepers.  Sergeant O’Neill was the officer charged with ensuring the job was well done.   Never in her wildest dreams had she imagined that she would ever be sitting alongside the colour Captains and the Colonel for a meeting.   Not that she was intimidated by the fact.  She knew that she was the best there was at her job and she had no false modesty about her importance to the smooth running of Cloudbase.  It was all very well for the plaudits to go to the brave men - and women - who rushed off to do… whatever it was they did do, but she knew they wouldn’t be able to function properly without the good, wholesome meals, comfortable, clean accommodation and smart uniforms her staff provided.

The meeting was long and necessarily detailed as Doctor Fawn had listed every member of staff currently unfit for duty and they had had to assess the necessity of putting a replacement in for cover.  Destiny had not liked the idea of the Angels helping with the catering - but had finally given in under pressure.

“I am not very certain, Colonel, how good cooks the girls will make,” she confessed. 

“Don’t you worry, my dear,” Mrs Dawkins had replied, much to Captain Scarlet’s amusement. “I will keep a careful eye on them.  I am sure they can all peel potatoes or chop vegetables at the very least.  We’ll be having mostly hot-pots and stews from now on anyway - to make things stretch as far as possible, once the burgers and chips have run out, anyway.”

Even half hidden by her mask it was possible to see the horror on Destiny’s face.

“I am sure we can rely on you to make the best of what resources we have left, Mrs Dawkins,” Colonel White agreed suavely, flashing a warning glance at the sniggering Scarlet. “In the mean time, the Angel pilots and administrative Lieutenants will report to Mrs Dawkins for one hours’ duty in the kitchens or the laundry until further notice.  The technical Lieutenants and Senior Captains will report to you, Lieutenant Fennel and you will allocate jobs according to the agreed priority protocol.  Sergeant O’Neill will be responsible for co-ordinating the workloads.”

“I am sure we will be able to manage in the short to medium term, Colonel,” O’Neill said briskly.

“Good man - well, if no one has anything else to contribute… anything constructive that is,” he added with a glance at his irrepressible countryman.

“Well, I merely wanted to ask if…” Scarlet began jovially and then caught the Colonel’s eye and changed tack mid-sentence. “If anyone knew when Blue would be let out of the brig?”

Mrs Dawkins gasped, “Surely you haven’t put the poor man in gaol just because he bought his sweetheart a car?”

    “He did what?” The Colonel snapped.

“Well, that is what I heard… he bought her a car - a sports car, I think they said.” Mrs Dawkins looked around the table seeking confirmation of her news. “Kylie told me.  I think it’s very sweet of him.”

Colonel White looked sternly at his senior officers.  Scarlet had dropped his head and was avoiding his eye, Grey and Ochre were obviously as taken aback by the news as their commander was and Destiny was looking daggers at the housekeeper.

“Captain Blue will be released when Doctor Fawn - and I - are finished with him,” he replied shortly.

 

On the break up of the meeting Colonel White remained seated in the conference room for a time considering how to react to the news Mrs Dawkins had inadvertently revealed.   He had long suspected that the relationship between Captain Blue and Symphony Angel was a close one - few people amongst the senior staff doubted it and, it seemed, the assumption was a wide spread one.  He knew that Blue came from a wealthy family - far wealthier than was generally known.  All of the Cloudbase personnel had been expected to complete forms giving details of their personal circumstances as part of their vetting procedure and that included financial details.  The Colonel had been mildly surprised to realise the extent of his officer’s fortune, taking into account property, stock holdings and Trust funds.   Blue could probably buy every one of the senior staff a new car and hardly notice the dent in his small change.  This did not alter the fact that he had - deliberately - disobeyed regulations and, potentially, compromised one of the Angel pilots. 

White forced himself to analyse his motivation.  He was fond of all the Angel pilots, seeing them in place of the daughters he and his late wife had hoped for.  He was honest enough to admit, to himself, that if he had a favourite amongst them it was Symphony Angel.  She was headstrong and moody and wilful to an extreme at times, but she was a superb flyer and an extremely competent agent. 

He was also honest enough to admit that she was a beautiful young woman - as were all of the Angels - but, and here was the rub, Symphony also had a beautiful mother.  He had only met Amanda Wainwright a couple of times and he had spoken to her by videophone, after her husband’s sudden death, to convey his official condolences.  He had always told himself that it was unlikely she remembered him at all, beyond the image of a man in a white uniform, yet he had recently received a Christmas card via Spectrum’s post-office box in Unity City, which suggested she may have taken notice of him as an individual after all.  It was inscribed to Colonel White with thanks for your many kindnesses, a merry Christmas to you, warm regards, Amanda Wainwright.   It had quite made his Christmas.

His interest in the young widow had begun to make itself obvious to him during the summer when Blue had posted for a week’s furlough and had declared his destination to be Cedar Rapids, Iowa - Symphony’s home town.  She was on a fortnight’s leave staying with her mother on the family ranch outside of the city.  Gossip had leached back to him that Blue had been a welcome guest at the ranch - welcomed by both women - and he had experienced a surprising jolt of … yes, he thought, admit it , Charles - it was jealousy.

He shook his head at his own stupidity and told himself again that he was clutching at straws.  Besides, he had obligations.  He dragged the image of his dear wife’s face from his memory and chastised himself for even contemplating the possibility of replacing her.  But this time her face was not the deterrent he expected and it kept dissolving into an equally beautiful face, but one with rich blonde hair, a clear complexion and honey-coloured eyes.   Exasperated with himself, he stood and collected his papers.

 If he was going to reprimand Captain Blue he’d better do it now, before his emotions became so confused he either let him off scot-free or allowed his jealousy full rein and really incarcerated him in the brig.

 

Blue looked up to see the Colonel at the open cell door.  He hurriedly sprang to his feet and recognising the stern set of his commander’s even features, he knew he was in trouble.

“At ease, Captain,” Colonel White responded automatically.

Blue relaxed slightly, thinking that ‘at ease’ was exactly what this kind of meeting precluded him from being.

The Colonel looked around, noticing the pile of magazines on the table, no doubt supplied by Doctor Fawn to keep his guinea pig occupied whilst he carried out his tests. “May I?” he asked, indicating the seat and Blue nodded vigorously.

“I won’t beat about the bush, Captain.  It has come to my notice that you have been buying expensive gifts for - certain members of the personnel here.”

Blue’s face showed his surprise - he knew exactly what the Colonel was talking about, even if he at a loss to imagine how the old man had found out about it. “Sir,” he said non-committally.

“I am well aware, Captain, that you come from a wealthy background and that to a person of your means a new car may not seem an extravagant gift.  So I am here to tell you, that it is.  Far too extravagant.”

“Sir,” Blue repeated unhappily.

“I am not unaware of the… friendships that exist amongst the officers and the Angel pilots.  I am neither blind nor senile; despite what you all seem to think.  Nor am I so fossilised that I cannot remember how it feels.  But, you know the regulations, Captain, and I won’t insult your intelligence by quoting them at you here and now -those regulations are there for a reason, Captain Blue.  What you get up to off-duty and away from Cloudbase is your own concern - you are all grown men - and women - and I don’t expect any of you live like monks!  But on this base and under my command you will do me the courtesy of conforming to them!”

“Sir - I can assure you, nothing - untoward - has ever happened on the base between me and the … lady concerned.”

Colonel White gave an exasperated frown. “Well that is something, I suppose.  However, inappropriate behaviour both on and off the base is reprehensible, Captain.” He shifted slightly in his chair and his tone changed from one of stern reprimand to an almost bewildered reasonableness.  “For Heaven’s sake man, did you never consider that when this news got out - as it was always going to do at some time - just what interpretation people would put on it?  Have you no consideration for Symphony’s reputation aboard this base?”

“Sir?” Blue’s eyebrows snapped down in a sharp frown.

Colonel White decided it was time for a few home truths. “A young, unmarried woman, of moderate means, who accepts expensive gifts from a wealthy, male friend, even an unmarried one, leaves herself open to all kind of unpleasant speculation.”

Blue flushed. “There may be circumstances connected with both the gift and the ‘relationship’ which are not generally known, sir.”  He was not going to confess that he had proposed to Karen earlier that year, in yet another contravention of the regulations.  She was making him wait for her official answer, but they both knew it was not going to be a ‘no’.  “This was not something I did lightly, I gave it much thought and I discussed it with Mrs Wainwright, before I went ahead.  The car was delivered to their ranch several weeks ago and Amanda sent me a picture of it and the registration documents.  I took every precaution that it should not be known about.  Not even Captain Scarlet knew that I had bought the car - although I did discuss it with him some time ago and … well, he advised me not to do it, if you want to know.”

White raised his eyebrows, Scarlet was not known for his cautionary advice. “You did not consider who would be there when she opened the package, I take it?”

“One of the Angels told you?” Blue was incredulous.

“No, but the valet heard her speaking of it when she opened the box and she told her friends and so on , until I heard it at several remove from the initial source. I doubt I am the only one who has heard about it now. None of which excuses your original actions. You knew this was not an acceptable thing to do - or you would not have striven so hard to keep it under wraps!  The damage is done now - I only hope Symphony is in a forgiving mood when she discovers it is not the secret it was meant to be.”

Blue sighed and ran a hand through his fair hair.  Ignoring protocol he flopped down on to the bed across from the Colonel.  He began an in-depth examination of his hands and started to explain.

“I was trying to help, sir.  When I went to visit Karen and her mother in the summer, they were driving around in a clapped out old pick-up truck.  That truck was potential death-trap, Colonel - I had a damn good look at it!  There wasn’t much it was good for - except salvage.  I discussed it with Amanda - Mrs Wainwright, I mean, sir - and suggested they invest in a better vehicle before one or both of them were hurt in an accident.  She told me they didn’t have the resources.  Since Mr Wainwright’s death things have been pretty tight financially.”

The younger man hesitated and glanced at his commanding officer with wary eyes.  He saw an unexpectedly sympathetic expression on that normally guarded face and suddenly confessed the secret that had been gnawing at his own conscience for months.  “Karen doesn’t know - and she mustn’t - but I convinced Amanda - Mrs Wainwright - to let me take a look at their books.  Her husband had borrowed heavily to invest in the ranch - a sound enough business venture, but he had been badly advised and he was unwise in his choice of financial packages, sir.  The problems arose when he died so suddenly - not long after the deal had been finalised.  There had been problems with their meeting the initial payments and they incurred considerable charges on the account.  Mrs Wainwright had sold their cars and some other machinery to meet the debts.  She even gave up her job to run the ranch herself.” He burst out in sudden indignation. “Do you know why Karen is always so broke?  Almost half of her salary goes to meet the payments on the ranch!”  He sprang up from the bed and paced about the room, as if he expected to dissipate his frustration by the simple expedient of channelling his energy elsewhere. 

“There was some shifty business done when that deal was put together, possibly even outright fraudulent trading - I know my father wouldn’t have touched it with a pitchfork!  I advised Mrs Wainwright to sack her business adviser, for a start . There are better deals available out there, if you shop around and even the penalty clauses shouldn’t stop them from re-mortgaging…” he stopped at the realisation that his commander’s face was wreathed in a slight, yet genuinely amused smile  and the Colonel looked close to laughter.

“And did Mrs Wainwright take your advice, Mr Svenson?” the Colonel asked mildly emphasising the surname that was so well known in the world of finance.

Blue flushed, sat back on the bed and mumbled, “I was able to give her some names and I believe she has contacted one of them with a view to improving their financial situation, sir.  From what I’ve heard since, they may be entitled to some compensation, because the matter is under now investigation…”

White nodded, pleased that his officer had had the good sense to offer advice and not money. From what he knew of Karen and Amanda Wainwright, neither would have tolerated what they would undoubtedly perceive as charity from a wealthy friend, however genuine his ardour. Yet he refused to allow himself to soften too much towards his errant officer.  “Well, I can understand that your underlying motive may have been perfectly reasonable and honourable, but I fail to see how a sports car could be of practical use around a ranch…”

“A sports car?” Blue scoffed. “I bought an off-road jeep - for the rough terrain about the ranch.  Why would I buy a sports car?”

Momentarily abashed White continued, “It seems my informant may have made some factual errors.  Yet even given the practicality of the chosen vehicle, I am surprised that Mrs Wainwright agreed.  She must have realised how it might compromise her daughter?”

Blue grimaced. “It has taken me months to convince her… Oh, she knew the truck was dangerous, but even after their re-mortgage money wasn’t plentiful enough to allow her to replace it straight away.   I rather think I bullied her into it, I’m afraid, sir.  I told her to imagine how she would feel if Karen was injured whilst in the vehicle - or how Karen would feel if anything happened to her.   She finally accepted my suggestion of giving the car to them both - as a joint Christmas present and a birthday gift for Karen too.  I think she realised I wasn’t going to give up on the idea anytime soon, sir and she knew it was the sensible course to take - to ditch that death-trap of a truck!  I got a really good deal on the car - my father knows the chairman of the car company,” Blue admitted chastened by the look he was getting from his superior.

White sighed, “Love makes fools of us all, from time to time, Captain.”

“Yes sir,” Blue muttered, blushing furiously. Never in his worst nightmares would he have expected to be having a conversation like this with the old man. It brought back vivid memories of the dreadful occasion when his father and he - at his mother’s insistence - had what she called a ‘man-to-man chat’.  It had resulted in near terminal embarrassment for them both and had done little to improve his already copious - albeit at the time, still theoretical - knowledge of the subject.

Nevertheless, he wasn’t going to let the Colonel think he didn’t care what people thought about Symphony. “Believe me, sir; I would never have insisted on the matter if I had thought, for one moment, that anyone would be small-minded enough to read anything disrespectful into it.  I can assure you, I have nothing but respect for both of the Wainwrights  and I would never knowingly offer either of them such an insult!” he concluded vehemently.

White stood to leave and as he walked to the door he said, “I don’t know how you can deal with this… perhaps, beyond correcting the details of the gift, you should ignore it?  I hope, for your sake Symphony can do the same.” Blue nodded, but the look on his face made it obvious that he had little hope  she would be so forgiving. Hiding his smile White added, “And next time you have such a generous impulse, Captain Blue, I would advise you to fight it.”

“Yes, sir…” Blue said gloomily.  He could see trouble ahead.

 

Chapter Five

 

Carrying a pile of fresh towels, Ross MacDonald moved purposefully along the corridor.   The security guard  nodded him through - he was used to seeing the valets wandering around the high security areas and old Macdonald was a usual sight.  Even so, he checked him with a Mysteron detector as he had done to everyone since the yellow alert was sounded.

MacDonald let himself into Captain Grey’s quarters and stowed the towels away as usual.  He wandered around the room, glancing at the neat pile of unanswered letters from family and friends that Captain Grey was assiduously answering in his spare time.   There was a neat pile of Christmas gifts that would have to be stowed away at the Captain’s convenience.

MacDonald raised a hand to his head and tried to concentrate. He had been suffering from the flu virus and Doctor Fawn had administered an injection and told him to rest, but he knew his duty and he wasn’t about to let some Doctor deter him from doing his job.  He shook the duvet cover and plumped up the pillows on the bed.  There was very little to do but he knew he had to wait - he had to be there when the Captain came back.  He stood irresolutely near the door and drifted into a daze.

He was startled when the door snapped open and Grey wandered in.  Not noticing the man behind him, he threw his cap onto the table and stretched.  Then he reached over to re-read the letter from his favourite sister and look again at the pictures of his nieces and nephews - they are growing up so quickly, he thought.

He staggered against the table as the ceramic lamp base crashed over his head.  Spinning round on legs that had turned to jelly he saw MacDonald looking at him with feverish eyes and crashed to the floor.  Before he completely lost consciousness he saw the valet lean over him with a bottle of green liquid and felt its cold moisture as MacDonald smeared it across his face.  Then everything went blank.

 

Captain Ochre was getting impatient. He had pressed the doorbell several times and Grey had not answered.  Annoyed he went to the nearest wall intercom and called the Control Room.

Captain Scarlet answered his hail.

“Scarlet, where’s Green?” he asked momentarily distracted.

“Trying to reboot the radar-scan computer.  What’s wrong?”

“Grey isn’t answering his door.  He may be injured.  Can you over-ride the digi-lock from there and let me in?”

“Just because he hasn’t opened the door it doesn’t mean he’s ill.  I can think of any number of reasons he wouldn’t want to let you in,” Scarlet reasoned.  The Colonel regarded invasion of privacy as a serious misdemeanour.

“And he might have collapsed like Pat did…” Ochre left the sentence hanging.

Grumbling Scarlet opened the door lock and Ochre, calling for his colleague, went into the room. It was a matter of seconds before he saw Grey, splayed on the floor, a small patch of blood oozing from the gash in his head.  He ran to the room’s wall intercom and pushed the medical emergency button. Fawn answered and on hearing the news, sent two burly Lieutenants up to fetch the injured Captain.

Scarlet relayed the news that they had another officer down to the Colonel.  White gave an anxious sigh and stared into the middle distance with some concern.

Scarlet, impatient with this lack of response, interrupted his reverie.  “Sir, with Grey and Magenta out of action, we have to release Blue from the brig - if Doctor Fawn has finished with him,” he added, knowing that the ‘inconclusive results’ report had been on the Colonel’s desk for at least half an hour.

Colonel White glanced at his officer, apparently in some indecision.  He knew, far better than Scarlet, just how close they were to lacking the necessary quorum to man the base safely.   If his field officers were being attacked as well, it meant there had to be someone or something on Cloudbase that was doing the attacks.  He also knew that he had no real reason to hold Blue any longer - he had had long enough to consider his error.

“Very well, Captain Scarlet, please inform Captain Blue that I require him up here immediately.”

Scarlet’s face showed his satisfaction that Blue was out of trouble.  “Yes, sir, Colonel.”  He raced the electronic chair along to the correct part of the computer bank.

The Colonel sighed and said evenly, “Slow down, Captain.  If that chair breaks through misuse you’ll have to fix it yourself.”

 

Lieutenant Flaxen stepped out from the shower cubicle and vigorously towelled her hair. The hot water had been wonderful and she felt a whole lot better than she had been feeling. She had definitely had an allergic reaction to that stuff Bell had given her - she’d felt so listless and unwell after she had used it on Christmas Day -  it seemed like a good idea not to even use her usual gel this time, just in case.  Quickly drying herself and pulling on her uniform, she glanced in the mirror and ran a hand through her matted hair.  There were dark rings under her eyes and she looked pretty dreadful. Yet, Doctor Tan’s jab and pills must be working, she thought, I feel so full of energy!

She combed her hair into shape and stepped out into the corridor.  She was meaning to go to the Library and … there was something she had to do there… if she could only remember what on earth it was. She was nearing the door to the research library when she saw Captain Ochre, making his way back from sick bay after leaving Grey in Doctor Fawn’s care.  She pressed herself back against the wall and watched as he strode past with only the merest of preoccupied nods in her direction.

An uncontrollable anger surged through her as she watched him walk away.  What right did he have to come swanning about looking like… like that and then just ignore her as if she was nobody worth his notice?  She began to follow after him, as if drawn by some invisible chain. 

Ochre mooched along feeling miserable and worried about Magenta and Grey.  His mind went over the possible reasons why his friends should have been attacked and who - who on this depleted and half-crippled base - would have had the chance to get close enough to them both without their noticing?  He tried to make sense of it - applying the logical training he had received in the World Police Corps.  As he turned the corner into the corridor that housed their quarters he saw, disappearing round the far corner, the distinctive figure of little Philly Daniel.  An idea flashed into his mind and he stopped mid-way to his own room, as a solution to the mystery began to reveal itself in his mind.

“Of course,” he breathed.  “Its obvious once you look at it logically….” He hadn’t heard the footsteps behind him and the inexpert karate chop that hit his shoulder came as a complete surprise.  He crumpled to the floor with a sigh.

Flaxen looked down at him with satisfaction.  Then she frowned.  She had him all to herself now - but what was she going to do with him?  She couldn’t get into his quarters and she couldn’t leave him here… A squeaky trolley wheel caught her attention and she glanced up to see Philly dreamily pushing the laundry basket towards Captain Blue’s quarters, as she hummed that corny old song she was unaccountably fond of - the one about angels that sprinkled moon dust in hair and starlight in eyes of blue  Philly is such an awful romantic she thought grimly.

The trolley stopped as Philly saw her friend and then saw the crumpled figure of Captain Ochre lying at her feet. “Oh my God, Aud,” she cried.  “Has someone attacked Captain Ochre too?  I heard that Magenta was in sick bay.”

“Give me the basket, Philly.  I will take Ochre to sick bay in it.” Flaxen moved to shove her friend to one side.

“Well, okay… shall I let them know you are coming?”

“No!” Flaxen turned to glare at the youngster.  “Keep out of this, Philly.  I don’t want to hurt you.”

“Hurt me?” Philly gasped. “Oh no - it was you.  You did this to the poor Captain.  Oh, Audrey, how could you?”

Flaxen grabbed the slight woman and hustled her to Blue’s door. “Open it and go inside.  Don’t you dare come out, Philly - not for at least ten minutes.”

“Audrey Geffen, have you lost your mind?” Philly stood with her hands on her hips like a little Bantam hen staring down a fox.

Flaxen gave a mirthless smile. “No, but I have just come to my senses.  I am going to teach that man that he can’t just ignore me all of the time.”

“Audrey!” Philly was genuinely smocked.

“I won’t hurt him… if he is sensible about this…”

“You mustn’t Aud; they’ll lock you in the brig and throw away the key!” Philly wailed as Flaxen forced her to key the numbers into the digi-lock.

Audrey pushed her inside and Philly stumbled against the table, banging her head as she fell. The door snapped shut and she was left all alone.  In fact, she had never felt so alone as she heard the squeak, squeak of the laundry basket disappear along the corridor.

Dazed and unhappy, Philly knew she had to do something about poor Captain Ochre.  What had happened to Audrey to send her over the top like this was a mystery, but she couldn’t let her friend do something silly which would jeopardise her entire career.   Philly firmly believed that Lieutenant Flaxen would be someone important someday.  Sniffing miserably she struggled to her feet despite her pounding head and walked unsteadily to the door.  In such situations there was only one course of action - she had to get help and advice and the only person she trusted was The Captain.  He’d help her save Audrey.  She opened the door and stumbled through.  The Captain would be in the control room - in charge of things - she was sure, so she set off doggedly for the top security areas of Cloudbase.

 

Lieutenant Green was floundering and he refused to admit it.  In theory he knew every computer system on the base as he had been instrumental in designing a few of them. He tended to lord it over the mere technicians who ran the base, proud of his knowledge and his expertise. Yet, as he was learning, over the period Cloudbase had been operational other programmers had improved or adapted systems to their own requirements, adding sub-routines he was unfamiliar with.  In theory, rebooting the radar-scan computer should have been a piece of cake - a mere five minute job and he had already been at it for over an hour without success.  He studied the log-book looking for any information that would indicate the nature of any illicit changes made to the system.  When everything is back to normal, he vowed, I am going to roast the technician in charge of this section over a slow fire until every technician on the base understood that I must be kept informed of all changes to any system.

He scratched his head and started again.

With the radar-scan out of action, the three security technicians, currently recorded as off duty with the flu-bug, watched the single seater plane approach Cloudbase from the direction of the sun.  It landed on the SPJ runway and they activated the elevator to drop the plane into the body of the base.  One man got out.  He was tall, dark-haired and pallid.  Dressed in a black Spectrum uniform he seemed to know his way about and without waiting for the technicians Captain Black moved away from the hangar deck and into the main body of the base.  No klaxons sounded, no alarm was raised as the technicians stowed the plane out of sight and followed Black from the hangar with no-one any the wiser.

 

Philly struggled up the last flight of escalators and along to the control room door.  She could hear voices behind it and resting her aching head against the cool metal of the door post she pressed the doorbell. The metal door snapped back and she tried to stand upright, but her knees buckled as she stumbled forward and she half fell onto the moving walkway.

“Good heavens,” Colonel White exclaimed as his two captains turned to see what had attracted his attention.

“Philly!” Blue covered the distance in a few long strides and swept the young girl up off the walkway before she reached the end.

“Is she all right?” Scarlet asked, reaching his friend’s side.

“She’s hurt her forehead, it’s bleeding.”

Scarlet turned and walked to the emergency first aid kit, as Blue carried Philly to the stools in front of the Colonel’s circular desk.  He sat her on one, leaning her back against the desk and gratefully took the cotton wool from Scarlet, his eyes smarting at the smell of the TCP it was soaked in.

“Philly, this is going to sting, I’m afraid.” He started to clean the skin around the nasty cut.  She stiffened, her hand shooting up to try to brush the irritant away.  He caught her fingers in his other hand and said, “Philippa, what happened?  Who did this to you?”

Philly struggled to open her eyes.  She gave a wan smile at the familiar face staring with concern at her.  “Oh, Captain, it was Audrey - she… she’s kidnapped Captain Ochre!”

“What!” The Colonel moved to the wall intercom and put out a base-wide call for Captain Ochre.

“Now, take your time,” Blue said as Philly struggled to sit upright. “You’ve got a nasty cut on your head.  Can you tell me exactly what happened?”

Still clutching Blue’s hand, Philly began to explain and amidst the jumble of superfluous detail they were able to piece together what she had seen.

“Did … Audrey say where she was taking Captain Ochre?” Scarlet asked.

Philly shook her head and gave a slight involuntary moan of pain at the movement. “She wouldn’t hurt him though, I’m sure of that.”  She looked at Captain Blue and coloured slightly, “Audrey likes Captain Ochre… I mean, best of all,” she confided, suddenly dropping his hand as if it scalded.

Scarlet turned away to hide his smile and avoid the Colonel’s eye.  Blue nodded sympathetically and said, “If she likes him, why would she attack him?” He ignored Scarlet’s snort of laughter.

Philly frowned and said, “She told me ‘I am going to teach that man that he can’t just ignore me all of the time’ - they were her exact words, Captain.  Honestly, I’m not making it up…”

“I’m sure you’re not.  Good girl, you did right to come and tell us. We’ll find Captain Ochre and …” Blue dragged the name from the filing-cabinet of his mind, “Lieutenant Flaxen, before this gets out of hand.”

Philly nodded in total belief that he could do what he said and eager to help she volunteered more information. “She wasn’t acting like normal - I don’t know where she’d been or what she’d been doing but her hair was wet.   But at least she didn’t smell as different as she did yesterday.”

“Smell different?” The Colonel asked.

Philly nodded. “Aud always uses the same scent and shower gel and stuff - it’s nice, but pretty insipid.” She smiled hugely, “Not like my new scent - it’s wonderful.”

“So it should be,” Scarlet muttered, “unless I’m mistaken that is Chanel no 5 you’re wearing by the bucket-full.”

Blue glared at him. “What was this new smell like, Philly?”

“Musky... and sort of… heavy.  Lots of people have been wearing it lately; I think it was the stuff Dinger Bell gave everyone for Christmas.  To be honest, it pongs a bit, if you ask me.”

“Bell - my valet?”

She nodded and began to chatter as her confidence returned. “Yeah, he gave everyone a bottle of this shower gel stuff.  He got them on his holiday, he said.  He took Lindy to Spain and they must’ve bought it there. He wrapped ‘em up an’ everythin’ - it were a surprise, ‘cos he dunt do stuff like that - not Dinger - he’s a real tight-fisted bugger at times.  You should try getting his lottery money off him.” Colonel White’s eyebrows soared, but he drew a deep breath and said nothing as Philly chattered on. “I got a bottle too, but I dint bother with it, ‘cos I had the lovely things you gave me, Captain, and it is so much nicer.”

Blue turned. “We’ve been looking for a way for some alien virus to get onto Cloudbase and infect everyone - but what if that infection came out of a shower gel that people were happy to use? What if the… source of the epidemic - and possibly the reason for the strange behaviour Philly witnessed - was the shower gel? We have known of instances when the Mysterons have altered the chemical make-up of various substances to have detrimental effects on Spectrum personnel.”

“Yes, just like that phoney champagne,” Scarlet agreed with a nod. “We could get Fawn to analyse some of it - if we had some,” he shrugged.

“There is a bottle of it on the dresser in my room - I never opened it. You can have that, Captain Scarlet, sir.” Philly volunteered.

She had hardly finished speaking before Scarlet was on his way towards the door.  Blue watched him go, an amused smile on his face.  At the exit, Scarlet hesitated, stopped and turned.

“Erm, where exactly is your room, Philippa?”

“It’s 421, Captain.”

Scarlet grinned sheepishly and added, “Password, for the door lock?”

Philly reddened, “I’ll write it down.” The Colonel handed her a sheet of paper and she printed a short word on it and handed it to Scarlet with a pleading look. 

He glanced at it, winked at her and said, “Got it. Right you are, Philly.”  He tore the paper and dropped it in the automatic shredder.

“You can never be too security conscious, Captain Scarlet,” Colonel White agreed with a conspiratorial glance. He’d seen what she’d written too.  “I suggest you change the password when all this is over, Miss Daniel.”

“Yes, Colonel.”

 

Down in the canteen, Rhapsody Angel exhaled and lugged another vat of stew out to the serving hatches.  The queue seemed to have gone down slightly and with luck, once this wave of diners were fed, she could go and grab 40 minutes in the Room of Sleep before she had her own meal and went back on duty. Many of the staff queuing for food still retained the pallor associated with this mystery virus that had swept the base recently, but they had also retained their appetites it seemed.  She began to mechanically dole out ladles of the hot, thick stew into the deep bowls provided, amusing herself by pretending she was one of her ancestors doing charity work for the ‘deserving’ poor.  She remembered her Grandmother - the keeper of the family’s history - telling her tales of how Lady So-and-So and the Honourable Miss Such-and-Such had taken soup to the poor and destitute in the towns nearest to their estate.  Of course, there were also the rebels like Lady Constance - who had marched with the Pankhursts, chained herself to railings and heckled the Prime Minister - in the fight for Women’s Suffrage.   She had always been rather fond of Lady Constance and had secretly modelled herself on that formidable woman. 

Her reverie was interrupted by a sudden cessation of noise.  All conversation ceased and no cutlery scraped against bowls.  She looked up from her ladle and ducked her head in alarm and confusion. Captain Black stood by the doorway, three technicians flanking him.  He gazed around the canteen and said in the emotionless voice they had all come to fear,

“This is the voice of the Mysterons; you will obey my orders without question.  There are still some officers at large on this base.  They must be apprehended and confined until such time as they can be inducted into our faction.   We must take control of the key points on the base that will allow us to take Cloudbase where we will and do with it whatever we wish.  Any officer standing against us will receive no mercy.  Follow me.”  He turned and left the canteen and in one movement the diners stood, leaving their food uneaten and trailed after him. 

The three assistants who were on duty with Rhapsody watched them go with frightened eyes and turned to her looking for reassurance.  Rhapsody guessed that Black had not noticed who she was since her distinctive hair was hidden under the catering cap.  She dropped the ladle and went to the wall intercom.

“Control Room?  Colonel White?  Rhapsody Angel, sir, I’m on duty in the canteen and Captain Black has just walked in and ordered the diners to follow him in what amounts to a coup d’etat.  He is out to get every officer and take control of the key points on the base.”

“Captain Black!  How many went with him, Rhapsody?” White’s voice asked after the merest pause.

“Everyone here, except the catering staff that haven’t been affected by the flu bug.  About forty people in all, I’d guess. They way he spoke suggested there was a faction on base - a ready-made army for the Mysterons.”

“Can you get to the Amber Room?”

“I don’t know, sir.  There may be too many people already in Captain Black’s power for me to cross the base.  I think they are heading for the control decks, sir.”

“Captain Scarlet has gone down to sick bay - contact him and warn him what’s happening.  Then I suggest you make your own way there - it will be safer than trying to get to the Amber room.  Whatever we do, we must try to maintain this communication link between the decks.  Captain Blue is here with me - but we don’t know where Ochre is and Green is still…..”

The line went dead in a hiss of static and Rhapsody pushed the link several times before accepting that one of Black’s technicians had obviously disrupted the system.  With a faint hope she pushed the number for sick bay - the emergency connections were on a different link.  Fawn answered the call and she gabbled her message - emphasising that the com-links were all going down but that she was on her way and to keep Captain Scarlet there until she arrived.

 

Scarlet reached the sick bay without realising what had started happening on the base.  He was full of the possibilities for finding a cure for the flu that was incapacitating so many of the staff and called loudly for Doctor Fawn as he pushed through the swing doors.

Fawn took the package he was holding out listened to what he had to say before passing on Rhapsody’s message and confirming that with the exception of the emergency medical system all of the wall intercoms were down. “I know the emergency channels are separate - they have a back-up system too so that if the base is under attack that should be the last to fail,”   he added.   “Many of the flu victims who were still being treated in the medical unit are sedated and no-one has attempted to leave their ward. Once I heard Rhapsody’s message, I instructed the duty nurses to sedate the others.  All in all there are still about thirty people here, including Grey and Magenta,”   the Doctor concluded.

“How are they?”

“Sleeping like babies,” Fawn admitted wryly.  “Grey had a nasty cut on his head, but I can’t find anything wrong with Magenta.”

Scarlet frowned, if they were in no danger, they’d just have to wait until they woke up.  He turned to more immediate matters.  “Is the emergency network linked everywhere?” he asked.  Fawn nodded. “Can you direct the call?” Another positive response. “Then get the radar screen techno-support room.  I need to speak to Lieutenant Green.”

Doctor Fawn could have refused to do as Scarlet ordered - technically, as head of Spectrum’s medical service, he outranked even the field Captains - but he knew he was out of his depth with security operations and he did as he was asked.

“What is it?” Lieutenant Green snapped. His patience was all but exhausted by the convoluted patch of sub-routines jamming the radar screens.

Scarlet brought him up to date, gave him instructions and concluded, “I want you to make your way to sick bay, Lieutenant, not the Control Room.  It may be that we will have to fight some sort of guerrilla campaign against this attack.” He looked up as Rhapsody arrived, still wearing the white overalls and catering hat she’d escaped detection in earlier.

“S.I. G.,” Lieutenant Green responded and shut down the emergency link.  He left the radar scan circuits as they were, collected his tool kit and moved silently and unobtrusively along the corridors.  As he passed by the security cameras, he reached up and flicked open the control panels.  The attendant screens froze, showing the picture of the empty corridor.  Even when he waved a hand directly in front of the cameras the picture never changed.  “Let Black try to track us down now,” he grinned as he moved into the next sector to continue his work.

 

Captain Scarlet had felt a real surge of relief at the sight of Rhapsody as she, suddenly conscious of the sight she must present, whipped the cap from her head and shook down the curtain of copper hair that made her so distinctive a figure, yet he maintained a professional demeanour and asked for a report on conditions as she had moved across the base.

“Well, I saw other members of the support staff and they all seemed to be moving towards the main recreational concourse.  I imagine that is where they will congregate before Black gives them their orders.”

“Did any of them challenge you?” Scarlet asked, placing a concerned hand on her arm.

She smiled up into his deep blue eyes and gave a tiny shake of her head.  “No, I think the outfit fooled them.”

“Were they… fully conscious of what they were doing?” Fawn asked her.  “I mean did they seem to be in some kind of an hypnotic trance or …”

“Zombies,” Scarlet finished for him. Fawn shrugged.

Rhapsody frowned, “No, they weren’t like Zombies - exactly.  They seemed alert enough, they looked alert, but they did not speak or react as you might expect.  They were just …anxious - yes I think that is the best description I can give you - they were anxious to get to where they wanted to be.”

Scarlet turned his attention to Fawn, “I think you should make a start on analysing the gel, Doctor.  After all we don’t know if the Mysterons will cut the power any time soon.  How long will the emergency generators last?”

“Approximately three hours - at minimal demand.”

Scarlet nodded. “Then, if the lights go out, we know that is exactly how much longer we have to solve the problem,” he said with a rueful glance at the pair of them.

 

    Captain Ochre groaned and tried to put a hand to his aching neck.  He realised his hands were tied and shook himself fully awake.  He was sitting on a chair and his legs, stretched out before him, were bound with several strands of tinsel.  He stared at them in confusion and noticed his wrists were bound at the same way.  A memory of someone hitting him from behind surfaced and he looked around the room he was in trying to work out where the hell he was.

    The room was unlit, smallish and packed with furniture.  A desk with a computer and a 3 tier letter tray weighed down with paperwork, a filing cabinet and book shelves, all crowded with a hotchpotch of books, magazines and boxes.  He had no idea where he was, but he’d never seen anyone with this many books - not even Blue and, Lord knows, he had enough…

He heard the door start to open and the light flickered on.  He screwed his eyes against the sudden glare and dropped his head feigning unconsciousness.  He squinted up at the figure entering the room.  It was a woman - a frigging woman!  His pride wouldn’t let him think he’d been over-powered by a woman and he began to suspect a trick was being played on him.  He knew who was likely to be playing it too - but if Patrick Donaghue had set him up he’d make him pay for this, big time

The woman, dressed in the black polo-necked top and black trousers of a Spectrum agent came to stand beside him and put a glass of water on the desk.  She kicked his feet with her booted foot - her pale yellow booted foot.  Ochre stirred and pretended to come to.  He stared blearily at the woman and snarled, “Lieutenant Flaxen, what’s the meaning of this?”

“I want to talk to you,” she replied.

“And you couldn’t just make an appointment, I suppose? That would be too rational.”

“You wouldn’t have given me one, would you?  Be honest, you wouldn’t…”

“If you had something to say that was worth listening to… I am a reasonable man,” Ochre began.

“Reasonable?  Whatever makes you think that?  You are unkind, sarcastic and hurtful - you belittle people trying to do their best in complex and difficult situations - you make fun of their misfortune.  I don’t know why I bother with you…”

“Bother with me?  You have nothing to do with me,” Ochre snapped bristling with anger.

“Ever wondered where that financial data on the drug companies came from, just before the Colonel’s deadline?  Or that analysis of the repair times for the three plane repair facilities that you couldn’t manage to get finished because you were so wrapped up in a model you were making  - didn’t you wonder how it was suddenly complete and ready for print out?  And what about that information on the ballistic reports Scarlet lent you and you lost?  Turned up again the next day in your pigeon-hole just before he was going to beat three kinds of steam out of you…”

Ochre shifted uneasily, “How do you know about those?”

“I did them, that’s how.”

“You? But I never told anyone about them…”

“No, you didn’t. Blue did.”

“I don’t understand.”

Flaxen sighed and perched on the desk alongside him.  “You spent an afternoon in the research library moaning about the drug company data and finally went off with Magenta rather than ask me for help.  When you went to the meeting the next day - ready to confess you had missed the deadline - weren’t you surprised to see the Colonel had the report and congratulated you on a good piece of work?  Blue told Symphony about it that evening whilst they were playing Scrabble in his quarters. Same about the plane repairs - and the fact that Scarlet was about to get really mad at you over his ballistics report.”

“Blue told you?”

“No, Philly told me - because she has damn near perfect recall of every word the sainted Captain says and she knew I was …interested  in what you were up to.” Flaxen shrugged and her eyes looked heavy with unshed tears. “I don’t know why I bothered; you were still unpleasant to me.”

“I didn’t know you had anything to do with it!  I thought Blue had done the drug company stuff - bought him a drink on the strength of it - and he didn’t say it wasn’t him, the crafty so-and-so!  And the plane repairs - I just thought I had misremembered where I had got to in the job… and that someone had found the ballistic report and dropped it in the pigeonhole out of kindness…”

“It took almost five hours to track down Scarlet’s original WAAF file on their computer and reprint the information.”

“You hacked Scarlet’s files?”

“I had some help with that one,” Flaxen admitted cagily.

“So, this is why you have tied me up with red and green tinsel after knocking me senseless - or did you have help with that as well?”

“No, it was me.  I jumped you, rolled you into Philly’s wheeled laundry basket and brought you here.”

“Where’s here, exactly?”

“The library’s admin room - where we keep the nasty little problems we’d rather not deal with straight away…”

Ochre stiffened in the chair and tried to sit more upright. “Are you calling me a nasty little problem, Lieutenant?”

“No, sir - but you won’t get an argument from me if you want to admit to it.”

“I could have you thrown out of Spectrum for this,” he snapped, struggling against the apparently flimsy restraints. The tinsel held and the knots tightened.

“You could, but in any interview I have with Colonel White I’d be obliged to tell him about the lottery ticket syndicate, the pools group and the sweepstakes that you and Mike Bell organise from time to time… when there’s nothing more important to do.”

“Blackmail…” Ochre snarled derisively.

“Not really.”

“What do you want?” he asked seemingly defeated by the ever-tightening knots.

“I want you to stop ridiculing me and maybe… to be friends.”

“In your dreams -“

“Don’t flatter yourself, Captain.  Look, we have more in common that you realise.  We, neither of us, feel at home with our peer groups.  I can help…”

“I feel perfectly at home!”

Flaxen stared at him with disbelieving eyes.  Ochre returned her gaze for a time and then began to feel a blush creeping up his neck and face and he looked away uneasily.

He sighed with exasperation, “Well, maybe sometimes I feel a little left out. They are all so…educated. I thought I knew about ballistics and could argue the toss with Scarlet - but that stuff he gave me was way over my head.  And Blue - he can make numbers dance to any tune he plays and even Grey - what’s so complex about sailing a boat?  But apparently even that is technical these days.  And as for Magenta… I can’t compete with him, either, although he’s nice enough to pretend otherwise.”

Flaxen gave a sympathetic nod, “They are all skilled men, but think of it - Scarlet is a soldier, trained to understand the mechanics of killing, if you want to look at it like that. Blue has a mind like an encyclopaedia - he knows something about a lot of things and a lot about some things.   Mind you, would you have wanted a father who’s idea of spending quality time with his pre-teen was analysing company reports together? Me, neither.  As for Magenta - well, he is a computer whiz, but he’s not the only one around here, not by a long chalk.  They are very good at what they are good at - or I guess they wouldn’t be in Spectrum - so that means that neither would you.  You have even more than they do to be proud of, Richard; you made it as high up as they did without their ‘advantages’.”

“Thanks for the pep talk. How do you know my name?” Ochre frowned. “Oh, Philly Daniel again?”

“Philly’s like a sponge, she soaks up information and it doesn’t take much to squeeze it out of her.  She doesn’t even realise the significance of what she knows sometimes,” Flaxen said with obvious affection for her friend. “But it is not just Philly - you are all as guilty as each other.  You talk freely in front of your valets as if they were not sentient beings with minds and characters of their own.  Some of them gossip like old women, there is not much that goes on in the upper echelons of Cloudbase that doesn’t get chewed over in the games room or the canteen.  Did you ever look for the rag-mag Blue brought back from London? If you want to compare it to the ones you saw in the World Police, I should ask Lester Hughes who he’s lent it to now.”

Ochre shifted angrily and held out his bound hands. “So why all this drama, if you only wanted to set my world to rights?”

It was Flaxen’s turn to frown.  “That wasn’t my first objective.  I had an overwhelming desire to beat you to a pulp, if you want to know.” She sighed as she tried to reason it out. “I don’t know what gave me the courage to attack you, or even how I’m daring to talk to you like this.  I shall curl up and die of embarrassment when this is over,” she gave him a grin and he was unable not to grin back.

“Why didn’t you beat me to a pulp?  Not that I wish you had, you understand?”

“You looked like a little boy curled up in the laundry basket - and you have some of the longest eyelashes I’ve ever seen on a man…” Ochre flushed crimson and squirmed. She laughed, “Oh its all right, I don’t intend to do anything to you.” She reached across and drawing some scissors from the desk drawer cut the tinsel bonds.

Ochre stood up and stretched, massaging the feeling back into his fingers. “Now what?”

“I think we had better get to sick-bay. Captain Black is on board and he’s trying to take control of the base - using an army of technicians and support personnel.   Captain Scarlet is co-ordinating resistance from the sick-bay.”

“Black is on board the base?  This must be part the Mysteron threat to incapacitate Cloudbase.  Before you laid me out, Lieutenant, I was just coming to the conclusion that we had over-looked a potential enemy within our ranks. An enemy able to move freely around the base, an enemy so much a part of our lives we don’t notice them any more.” He looked at her suspiciously through narrowed eyes but could see nothing but honesty on her unremarkable face. “How do you know this?” he asked her.

“Lieutenant Green’s waiting for us in the library.  He dodged in here to avoid some of the technicians who were on their way to join Captain Black.”

“You told him I was here?” Ochre asked. “Did you tell him why?”

“I said I had found you injured and brought you here to help you.  You can tell him what you like.” She went to the door.  “I have said what I wanted to - the rest is up to you, Richard.”

Ochre gave a slight shrug and raised one eyebrow.  She waited; certain he was going to say something. “Is that really all they do -play Scrabble?” he asked with a knowing smile.

She chuckled at him, shaking her dark head, “No, of course not - sometimes they play cards instead, but they had to stop playing Monopoly as the Captain took it far too seriously and Symphony complained - according to Philly….”

 

 

Chapter Six

 

“Where did you get to?”  Scarlet greeted Ochre with an annoyed expression. “Colonel White put out a call for you ages ago.”

“I… I was attacked and Lieutenant Flaxen here, kindly tended to what ailed me.”

Scarlet gave a disinterested jerk of his head and turned to Green.  “Did you manage to get all the cameras off-line?”

Green nodded. “Most of them en route, anyway, I had to dive into the library as a crowd of technicians were heading for the concourse - that’s where I met up with Flaxen and Captain Ochre.”

Scarlet finally acknowledged Flaxen’s salute and nodded doubtfully at her.  “With Magenta and Grey still out of action we need every body we can get to lend a hand.” He glanced around the room, “Rhapsody’s with Fawn, but we are still pretty thin on the ground.”

“Have you tried to find out which of the admin, technical and support staff are ‘free from the influence’?” Ochre asked him.

“No, this isn’t some game we’re playing - Captain Black is here on Cloudbase with a ready-made force of the self-same support staff you’re blathering about.  We need trained people, here.  The Colonel, Captain Blue and young Philly Daniel are stranded in the Control Room.  With the best will in the World - I doubt they can hold off the attack force for long and once Black has the Control Room we are sunk!”

“Philly?” Green asked. “What is she doing there?”

Scarlet looked at Lieutenant Flaxen with lingering suspicion.  Ochre was not acting like someone in the presence of his abductor - and in all honesty, he didn’t see how she could have over-powered him without help.  The American’s story was she had found him injured - maybe that is what he believed and Philly had not actually seen Flaxen attacking Ochre - she had merely deduced it.  Green was waiting for his answer, his expression growing more puzzled by the minute.

“She had some cock and bull story about Captain Ochre being kidnapped, if you must know.  She saw Flaxen assisting Ochre after he’d been attacked and seems to have jumped to the wrong conclusion.  The only good thing about the whole episode is we were able to get a sample of the shower-gel Mike Bell handed out, to test Blue’s hypothesis that is has been altered by the Mysterons to enable them to control the staff who used it.  Doctor Fawn is working on it now.”

Still emboldened by the lingering effects of the Mysteronised gel, Flaxen dared to converse with Captain Scarlet. “I think The Captain is right,” she said slipping into Philly’s shorthand.

Scarlet frowned at her, “The Captain?  There is more than one of us, you know.”

“Not as far as Philly is concerned, there isn’t,” she retorted.

Ochre sniggered, “Oh, that Captain… he has a knack for it - being right.”

“I’ll go and talk to Doctor Fawn,” Flaxen said, moving away.

Ochre watched her go for a moment and then looked at Scarlet, whose face showed his surprise. “You have a problem?” he asked.

“Young Philly was convinced she had attacked you.”

Ochre smiled, “Nah, nothing I couldn’t handle… What do you propose to do now?”

Scarlet snapped back to business.  “I want Green to try to patch a secure link through to the Control Room; the emergency channels are, by their very nature open links. I don’t want to give Black any indication of what we might be planning to do. And then I think we have to try to ascertain exactly where Black and his cohorts are…” The Lieutenant nodded and moved away to prise open a wall panel and begin his work.

“Look, I may only be a policeman, but it seems to me, we need to have more bodies on our side.” Ochre waved a hand to dismiss Scarlet’s response.  “Do me the courtesy of listening for once, eh, Scarlet?  We need people to oppose Black‘s cohorts.  Flaxen reckons that Bell must’ve handed out fifty to sixty of these shower-gel bottles, but that they have been passed on to other staff in some cases.  We need to know if there are any of the support and technical staff who haven’t been persuaded to join the Mysterons. Someone needs to go down to the lower decks and check if there are pockets of resistance down there that could be used to distract the main attack from the Control Room.  Secondly,” he continued over Scarlet’s interruption, “We need to launch Angel One and get Harmony to fly to Glenn Field or London and collect any staff waiting for the transport shuttles.   We are too scattered to be of much use as we are.  We need reinforcements; after all, not all of us are indestructible.”

“Harmony is in Angel One then?”

Ochre nodded, “Destiny and Melody are on standby and Rhapsody’s with Fawn…” Both men stared with horrified eyes.

 “Symphony…” Scarlet whispered. “Whatever we do, we don’t mention to Blue that she’s adrift somewhere…” He looked at Lieutenant Green.  “When do you think we will be able to speak to Blue on a secure link anyway?”

 

Symphony Angel woke reluctantly from her pleasant dream and turned over.   The noise outside her quarters was growing louder, but she wasn’t ready to acknowledge its existence yet.  She cuddled her spare pillow and smiled to herself.  Adam had been very contrite about the car and yet… somehow he had still managed to convince her that she ought to keep it.  They had spoken to her mother yesterday and Amanda had agreed that - although he was a very naughty man for buying it and she would have words with him when she next saw him - it was a smashing car and so very practical and comfortable that she would be loathe to lose it now.  She had finished by extending an invitation to the miscreant to come and visit again… soon, and Adam had accepted with every appearance of pleasure.

She was looking forward to driving him around the ranch and into town in her new car - how her old friends would envy her - for both the gift and the giver…..

It was down to Earth pretty quickly after that though, when Destiny had explained about the extra kitchen duties. She was a lousy cook - her mother had always done that side of the housework and had been happy to see her clever daughter working at her schoolwork, rather than learning the domestic skills.  She had managed to feed herself once she left home largely on ready-cooked meals and take-aways.  That was something she wasn’t looking forward to admitting to Adam… she’d always teased him about his cooking skills, which weren’t all that bad, as it turned out.  She quickly got bored of working in the canteen and smelling of boiled cabbage… although, strangely enough, she couldn’t actually remember any boiled cabbage being prepared whilst she was there. 

Adam would probably drop by later today.  It was on that lovely thought that she had decided to spend her remaining off-duty hours pampering herself.    So she had had a nice hot shower, blown dry her hair, painted her finger and toe nails, and, finding that she was too tired to go the officers’ lounge after all she tumbled into bed with a huge, happy sigh, for a quick forty-winks …Adam knew the password for the door - he could always wake her up when he came off duty… she drifted back to sleep wishing there was something she could do that he couldn’t … apart from singing! 

  

Captain Scarlet had pressed the intercom buzzer for the fourth time and was beginning to worry that the Control Room had already been overrun, when he heard the Colonel’s voice, sounding very distant but perfectly normal.     He felt a surge of relief and quickly brought his commander up to speed on the events in sick bay.

“Colonel, do you still have control of the Angel launch from up there?” he asked briskly. White checked the console and replied that they did. “Launch Angel One - or all Angels if possible.  We suggest they go to Glenn Field and collect the staff waiting for the shuttle flights.  We need fresh blood up here…”

“Angel One - immediate launch,” White ordered. “Angel Two and Three, immediate launch…. Angel Two?  Angel Three?  Please respond…”

Scarlet awaited and glanced up to see Rhapsody staring with concern at the console.  Their eyes met and they were so deeply lost in the pleasure of looking at each other that they both jumped slightly as Colonel White came back over the link.

“It would appear that the two standby Angels are unable to reach their craft - but Angel One has launched and Harmony acknowledges her orders.  Her estimated flight time to Glenn Field and back in a loaded transport plane is still several hours, but maybe - like the fabled Seventh Cavalry - she’ll arrive in time.”

 

Ochre was not convinced that Scarlet was right to ignore the possibility of allies amongst the support staff.  He left him discussing how soon they could expect Harmony to arrive with help from Glenn Field and wandered towards the lab.  From the doorway he could see Doctor Fawn engrossed in the complex process of testing the shower gel for its component parts.  Flaxen was sitting at the table across from the lab, busily typing in the results into a small computer as the Doctor called them out.   She looked up as he moved into the room and gave a rather embarrassed smile, Ochre smiled to himself, realising that the effects of the shower gel had finally worn off.

“Hey, Doc - if Flaxen used this stuff and its wearing off, doesn’t that mean the other guys will be coming out of their possession too?  Maybe all we have to do is wait for them to snap out of it?”

“I wish I could think so, Captain.  But I have been through it with Lieutenant Flaxen, and although she did use the gel on Christmas morning - in common with everyone that was affected by it, or so we surmise - she experienced an allergic reaction and has taken several showers since.  I am convinced that the gel - once applied to the skin, seeps into the blood stream and that it is only due to the fact that she washed it off in a relevantly short time after it was applied, that has allowed Flaxen to, eventually,  break from its hold.”

“So, how do we administer the cure when you do find it?  We can’t make everyone take a couple of showers…” Ochre interrupted himself with a snap of his fingers. “Got it!  We turn the fire sprinklers on and wash everyone anyway!”

Fawn smiled, “Nice idea - but the sprinklers on the control deck administer a flame retarding foam - too many electric components up there...”

Ochre shrugged, disappointed.

“We could turn the heat up - the environmental controls are down here and then everyone would start sweating - maybe they’d sweat the chemicals out of their system?” Flaxen suggested.

Fawn considered it for a moment, “That’s not a bad idea… it can’t do any harm, at least.”

“Right, I’ll go and sort that out. Are you coming too, Lieutenant?”

Flaxen looked at him, astonishment obvious on her face.  She saw nothing but an honest enquiry on his face as he tilted his head, waiting her answer.  She turned to Fawn.  He wasn’t paying them much attention, but he muttered, “Its okay Lieutenant, I can manage for now… I’ll call in one of the nurses. I am sure you could be better employed assisting Captain Ochre…”

With a brief nod, she rose and followed Ochre out of the lab. 

 

They moved along the corridors away from Sick Bay.  There was no sign of any of the support staff as they skirted the busiest corridors and criss-crossed the base heading for the environmental control room.  Passing one of the games rooms they heard a thumping on the door.  It was locked from the outside and peering through the glass panel Ochre could just make out the bear-like figure of Dave O’Neill, slouched miserably on a chair.  He motioned Flaxen to one side, drew his gun and turned the key.  The next series of thumping pushed the door open and Mrs. Dawkins almost fell through on to the floor.

 Flaxen moved to help her regain her balance, “Mrs. Dawkins, are you all right?”

Struggling to regain her precious dignity Lorraine Dawkins nodded and brushed her hands down her uniform and automatically reached up to make sure her hair was in order.  “Some silly technicians hustled us into the games room and then they locked the door…- they’ll regret today’s japes, when I am through with them!” she snarled as her habitually polite facade cracked for once.

O’Neill had come to the door as it swung open.  “Captain, what on earth is happening?”

Pleased to have a man to deal with, Ochre quickly explained what they knew and invited O’Neill to come along to the environmental control room to adjust the settings.  Nodding briskly, O’Neill glanced at Flaxen and Mrs Dawkins.

“Maybe you ladies had better remain here?  You could lock the door from the inside and we’ll collect you on our way …” His voice petered out in the face of the offended snort from Mrs. Dawkins.

“Go back in there, when there are people in danger of getting hurt and I might be able to help?  I will not, Sergeant.” She glanced at Ochre. “And you can take that look off your face too, Captain.  Come along, Lieutenant dear; let’s see if we can’t get our young Philly out of trouble…”

She began to march purposefully along the corridor with Flaxen trailing behind her shrugging helplessly at the two men.

“God save us from all such battleaxes…” O’Neill muttered.

“Amen to that…” Ochre replied and led the way after them.

It was lucky O’Neill had come along, as once they arrived it turned out that the system wasn’t as easy to alter as Ochre had expected.  O’Neill gave them instruction and between them they turned the heating up as far as it would go. O’Neill also increased the amount of sunlight being taken in the solar panels and removed the safety limits. “Mind you,” he told Ochre, “If we leave it too long we’re in danger of the whole base overheating.  It could lead to major breakdowns and all kinds of problems, problems I wouldn’t want to go into just now.” He glanced at the women. “It should be like a sauna in here in about half an hour,” he said as he locked down the controls. 

“Could Black get someone to put it right?” Ochre asked, wiping his dirty hands down his black trousers.  He heard Mrs. Dawkins give a despairing sigh and flushed guiltily under her stern gaze.

“He might be able to, but I have changed the passwords and they’ll take time to crack the encryption.  It might give us the edge.”

“Right, let’s get back to sickbay and tell Scarlet what we’ve done.”

 

By the time they reached sick bay the place was already starting to heat up.  Scarlet listened to Ochre’s report and then called the Control Room to warn them what to expect.

“Let’s just hope it works.  Doctor Fawn has come up with one antidote, but he’s not sure how to test it. Fawn is worried as the concoction is pretty toxic and if he gets it wrong…” Rhapsody explained.

Ochre looked at Scarlet.  He seemed the obvious choice to test a possibly toxic substance on. Scarlet returned the gaze and answered the unspoken question. “If I am infected and the antidote doesn’t work… I could become part of the Mysteron army.”

“Don’t worry, we’ll stop you.” Ochre said.  The secret of Captain Scarlet’s unique survival abilities was not universally known on the base, and he guessed that, of the group in sickbay, only the four senior officers would know the truth about his retrometabolism. 

“I’m afraid it is still too risky,” Scarlet said.

Ochre gave a slight nod of agreement.  They didn’t know enough about Scarlet’s power of retrometabolism to know if a Mysteronised substance would effect him -  sheer chance had meant he never drank any of the Mysteronised  champagne that had doped  the rest of the senior command staff - and nearly got Blue and himself cashiered for attacking a World Navy base.

“Why don’t you test it on one of the people who have the flu?” O’Neill asked.  “You seem to think it was caused by this gel and if Fawn has an antidote ready, they’d make the best guinea pigs.”

“Those people… well, they are not field officers, I couldn’t possibly put their lives at risk with an untested medication.”  Scarlet refused to budge on this demarcation.

Flaxen spoke tentatively into the heavy silence. “Does anyone know if Captain Magenta or Captain Grey were exposed to the substance?  If it has to be a field officer - they are the obvious choices.”

Scarlet frowned, “I don’t know - Rhapsody would you ask Fawn, please? It might just be an answer to the problem.”

She turned and went to the laboratory, returning after a few minutes to say, “Doctor Fawn is running a test on them now… it’ll only take a few minutes to get the results...”

 

Up in the Control Room, the temperature was still rising.  Philly had removed her auxiliary tunic, polo-neck and boots and was sitting in her vest-top and trousers.  Across the room the two officers had also removed their tunics and from the number of times The Captain was pulling at the neck of his polo-neck top, it wouldn’t be long before that went too.  Colonel White appeared to be made of stronger stuff and was suffering the heat in dignified silence. 

Blue was busily trying to isolate command functions across the base and transfer as many controls as possible to the emergency control unit Lieutenant Green had patched together in sick bay.  It was a slow process, requiring two security command codes and they were working against the clock, as certain areas were out of their control already. 

The Colonel, watching the few security screens still operational around the control decks, ordered Blue to close the emergency panels to the Amber Room, as he saw a crowd people in charcoal-coloured tunics enter an approach corridor.  Blue punched in the code and they watched anxiously as the heavy air-tight doors descended.  Three men managed to clamber under the panels before they closed and they continued to move purposefully towards the Amber Room.  Blue opened the channel and warned Destiny and Melody to expect visitors.

“Very well, Captain,” Destiny said. “We are ready to repel boarders.”

“Destiny and Melody Angels, I am sure you will use only the minimum force necessary to stop these marauders,” the Colonel chipped in over Blue’s shoulder.  “But, if it is necessary I authorise you to use maximum force.  Understand?”

“Yes, Colonel,” they chorused.

“Very well, good luck, girls.”

“I wish there was some way we could get help to them,” Blue said edgy with frustration.

“Just concentrate on closing down Cloudbase as much as you can, Captain.  Destiny and Melody can take care of themselves perfectly well,” White said sounding more confident than he really felt.

With a muffled curse, Blue stripped off his polo neck top  and threw it angrily across the floor before starting on another sector of the base.

At the very edge of his hearing Colonel White heard Philly give an appreciative sigh.

 

Captain Magenta opened his eyes and blinked in confusion at the faces staring down at him.

“How are you feeling, Captain?” Doctor Fawn asked solicitously as he took his pulse.

“Groggy, what on earth happened?  I was sitting at my PC, just checking my e-mails when suddenly - pow! I wake up here with you all staring at me like I’m some kind of ghost…”

“You were attacked, and rendered unconscious by the use of a powerful concoction of chemicals,” Fawn explained. “You’ll feel fine soon - I hope,” he added, dropping Magenta’s wrist and making a few notes.

“Good, because I don’t feel ‘fine’ right now,” Magenta heaved himself upright and grinned at Ochre. “Hi there… would I be right in thinking you are responsible for the awful pong in here?” he asked cheerfully. “It’s worse than your usual glue…”

Ochre was about to give an offended reply when Fawn interrupted him. “No that would be me, I’m afraid.  The antidote to the chemicals is a pretty noxious substance and the smell is one of its more unpleasant side-effects.  Given time I could screen it out…”

“We don’t have time,” Scarlet said sourly.  “As soon as you are feeling better, Magenta, Green could do with your help working on a computer control panel.  Come on, Ochre; let’s see what is happening now…”

With a rueful grimace at his partner Ochre turned to leave and Magenta turned to Doctor Fawn. “Who made Scarlet commander-in-chief and would you mind telling me exactly what is happening… please? If it isn’t too much trouble…”

Doctor Fawn turned his attention to Captain Grey and whilst he was waiting for him to revive, he explained as much as he knew to the astonished Magenta.

 

Once Magenta and Grey were brought up to speed, Scarlet called a council of war.   They discussed strategies for freeing their colleagues trapped across the base and taking control of Cloudbase back into their own hands.  Lieutenant Green reported that Blue had managed to transfer quite a number of strategic command functions, although they had lost control of the Angel launch system and some of the directional controls.   The base was stationary, although the functions the Mysterons had acquired would allow it to be moved.  Doctor Fawn was overseeing the revival and cure of the sedated staff in his wards, and the internal temperature on the base was creeping higher with every passing hour.

Scarlet suggested the revived staff, when they were able, return to their posts and attempt to block any further encroachment by the insurgents around the base.   “Now was the time to start mopping up any pockets of resistance we encounter.  Any captured personnel must be accompanied back here and Doctor Fawn can administer the antidote.”

“At that rate it will take us days, and we’ll end up having to storm the control decks anyway, I doubt if White and Blue have any water up there and in this heat they won’t last long,” Grey said.  He was pale and his head was bandaged.  Fawn had agreed to allow him to join the meeting, but he was insistent that he do nothing strenuous.

“What else can we do except pick them off?” Scarlet reasoned.  “I don’t know about you, but I have no desire to attack a force entrenched at the top of those escalators, Captain.  We cannot attack the control decks with an angel strike, for example whilst the Colonel, Blue and young Philly Daniel up there - that we know about. There may be other unaffected staff there too - hemmed in by these insurgents. Besides, it seems that the standby Angels are trapped in the Amber Room - their launch mechanisms are not working.”

Magenta had been listening to the discussion and decided he had to say what was on his mind. “No-one here would deny your right to conduct the defence of Cloudbase, Captain Scarlet.  You are a trained soldier; you know best how to deal with such situations.  However, I think we should remember that these insurgents are our colleagues too.  They are not Mysteron Agents as we have seen before… I mean - they have not been taken over in the Mysterons normal way.  They are no more responsible for what they are doing than Ochre and Blue were when they bombed Atlantica that time. I can’t see the Colonel permitting the use of deadly force - in any way whatsoever - until all other possibilities have been tried and proven ineffective.”

“I am aware of that, Captain Magenta,” Scarlet tried to keep the hurt he felt out of his voice.  He sometimes forgot that several of his comrades were not from military backgrounds and easily mistook professionalism for an unfeeling or gung-ho approach. 

“And what about Symphony?” Ochre asked.  He had not forgotten they did not know where she was.

Rhapsody glanced up.  She had not changed out of her kitchen whites and her hair was pinned up from her neck, to try to cool her down.  She was heartily glad she was not in her Angel uniform.  “Symphony?  She went back to her quarters… she was expecting Blue to drop by and she wanted a shower - said she smelt of boiled cabbage and Adam doesn’t like cabbage.”

“She’s in her quarters? Alone?”

“Well, she went to her quarters - and as Blue is in the Control Room I would say she is almost certainly alone,” she agreed.

“Would they attack her?” Grey asked. “You said Captain Black said all senior officers must be apprehended.”

“They might if they knew she was there.  I’d say she’s okay - you didn’t know where she was - so why should Black?”

“Well, lets hope she’s okay then,” Scarlet said evenly. “We cannot run a mission just to rescue Symphony.”

O’Neill looked up and spoke for the first time.  “Excuse me, Captains, but might I make a suggestion?  If it will take too long to try to pick off our people one at a time and an all out attack is not feasible due to the certain risk of casualties…”

“I ’m not advocating mass suicide…” Scarlet complained.

“Captain, could we not administer the antidote some other way?” O’Neill continued.

“What about in their food?” Rhapsody suggested. “I could take some to the canteen and slip it into the rations.”

“When are they likely to eat?” Magenta commented, “That might take too long too - and besides, they would surely notice a whiff like that and refuse the food.  I would.”

Ochre suddenly straightened up and said, “If Doctor Fawn could modify his liquid to a spray - we could go back to environmental control and put it in the air conditioning.  They’d sniff it in - no chance to escape it.”

“And those who are not infected- they might be harmed.  Fawn said it was a dangerous mixture,” Scarlet reminded them.

“Well we can warn the Control Room through the secure link - they have emergency oxygen masks up there.  I’m afraid the others might just have to take their chances.” Ochre reasoned.

“It’s worth pursuing - let’s ask Fawn if it can be done,” Grey agreed and Magenta nodded too.  Flaxen slipped away to fetch the Doctor from the wards.

The officers continued to argue, and although there was no better idea on the table at the moment, the support for the scheme was not unanimous. Sergeant O’Neill watched as the consensus gradually swung towards an attempt and volunteered his advice,  “It is just possible - with a little help and given some time, I can target the air conditioning - close down various flues and limit the damage done to non- infected people. It would be easier from the control decks, of course, but it ought to be feasible from the main deck’s environmental unit.  I think I know a way… I hope I do.”

“Our limited surveillance suggests that most of the insurgents are on the control decks, and indeed, the majority of them are congregated around the Control Room access corridor and the escalators - with the exception of a small group trying to gain access to the Amber Room.  Captain Black is outside the Control Room and I am sure we should concentrate our efforts there.   We saw them bring  blowtorches up to try to breach the emergency panels.  If you can concentrate the antidote into the  air conditioning for that area… it might work,” Scarlet agreed - still not quite convinced. 

Fawn arrived with Flaxen and agreed that the modifications to the antidote could be made - relatively swiftly.  He also agreed that the administration of the cure in the form of a nasal spray would increase the speed of its effect.   “However, I have to agree with Scarlet that it might have some unpleasant side effects for people unaffected by the original gel,” he rubbed his nose and admitted, “It will still smell pretty awful too.”

“What kind of side effects?” Rhapsody asked remembering Symphony in her quarters.

“Sore throats, mouth ulcers… minor but unpleasant things,” Fawn admitted. “I cannot be sure if there would be others - I have had no time to run tests or modify the original formula.”

“We have to take the risk - we have no choice,” Ochre insisted.

“Very well,” Fawn said briskly, “I will make a start on the spray right away.”

 

There had been some discussion amongst the Captains as to who would take the spray to the air conditioning unit.  Obviously O’Neill would have to go - and in the end he weighed in to select Captain Ochre and Lieutenant Green as the most useful members of the team to accompany him.

“We are unlikely to need soldiers, Captain Scarlet,” he said decisively. “But I am going to need somebody handy with screwdrivers and computers.”

Scarlet bit his lip, but had to admit when it came to tinkering with mechanisms Ochre was the expert. “Someone better go along as protection - Black may have sent people down there to try to control the heating and we cannot risk losing the chance to administer the antidote before the heat does irrevocable damage to the base.” O’Neill nodded at the wisdom of that.  Scarlet looked at Grey and Magenta, of the two Magenta was in the best physical shape and he would need someone to assist with his plan to create a diversion.  “Captain Grey, will you and Rhapsody Angel escort the antidote team?” he asked.

Grey nodded.  “There isn’t likely to be any resistance is there? And at least I would feel I was doing something useful,” he said with a wry smile.

“What about me?” Magenta asked slightly offended to be overlooked in the scheme of things.  He had always suspected that Scarlet preferred military types to his civilian colleagues - always excepting Blue, of course.

“I need you with me, Captain,” Scarlet said causing some surprise in the older man. “We are going to distract Captain Black and his cohorts…”

Magenta gave a brilliant smile and nodded.

Doctor Fawn bought a canister of the antidote through from the lab.  “This is all I can distil at this short notice. I should be enough to flood about half a deck or so… I have the medical replicator on full blast - but it will take about another hour or so to have the same amount ready for you. In the meantime, I have these three phials of the original formula; they might come in useful if you do encounter any ‘sufferers’ but take care you don’t come into contact with the contents yourselves. ” Ochre, Grey and Green took the phials.

“It’ll be enough, Doc,” Scarlet said.  “As long as Sergeant O’Neill can limit the system as he promised…”

O’Neill took the canister and secured it in his tunic.  “Right, let’s go…”

 

They left through the laboratories.  Rhapsody trailed after the men, guarding the rear, whilst Grey and Ochre scouted ahead.  They climbed up a deck past the sports hall where she and Scarlet had been practising their badminton only yesterday, through deserted recreation rooms and down past the engine control room - also strangely deserted.  She knew that Green and Captain Blue had been working hard to isolate the command functions from these remote locations, concentrating them in the emergency panel Green had created using the medical bay computer - a system isolated from the main network and using its own power supply.  Obviously, she thought, the Colonel wouldn’t want the command functions in the control room, which was so vulnerable to attack right now.

She knew the dangers inherent in trying to attack forces in such an easily defensible position and she couldn’t help worrying about what Scarlet had planned. But she knew whatever it was; he wouldn’t avoid risking himself, if it would aid his colleagues.  Even though he was virtually indestructible, he felt every wound and every injury he received and she always worried that he one day he would take one too many risks and the miracle of his retrometabolism would fail and she would lose him.  She knew that Captain Blue shared her concerns and that it was something Scarlet himself considered a possibility.

She hated to admit it, but the proximity of Captain Black was only adding to her uncertainty that he would emerge from this confrontation unscathed. She found herself reciting the formula she had devised as a child when - hoping against common sense for some unlikely present -  she had tried to bargain with The Fates:  its Christmas and I’ve been such a good girl… let him come through this alive and well and I will be good for ever and ever…’

She snapped back to attention as she bumped into Sergeant O’Neill and realised the procession had stopped.  O’Neill turned and looked down at her with a comforting grin.   Blushing, she smirked back.

Ochre was peering around the corner of another anonymous corridor - she could see the number E15 - on the wall. She was not that familiar with this part of the vast base, although she thought they were close to the auxiliary ant-gravity power generators.  That would put them almost in the centre of the engine room complex - close to where the environmental units were - as far as she could remember.

With a gesture for them to remain where they were, Ochre slipped round the corner and disappeared from view.

 Grey moved to the corner and peered around.  “Ochre!” he called suddenly and started firing.  There were answering shots along the corridor and cursing Grey ran after his colleague, with Green in hot pursuit.  Rhapsody darted forward, but O’Neill barred her way.

“Let me pass, Sergeant!” she snapped.

“No way, Little Lady.”

Incensed at his patronising attitude, she was about to get angry, but just then Lieutenant Green ran up and hissed, “Its all right, the insurgents have pulled back…” He disappeared around the corner again and O’Neill and Rhapsody followed.

Ochre was nursing his left leg, from which a small puddle of blood was seeping onto the smooth corridor.  She knelt down beside him and with seeing how pale he was getting, stripped off her kitchen overall, and tore a strip from along the bottom to make a tourniquet.  She tied it above the wound and asked, “Can you walk?”

He nodded and O’Neill and Green helped him to his feet as Rhapsody replaced her torn jacket.  They resumed their journey along the corridor and round the next corner saw two more technicians guarding the door to the environmental control unit.  They did not look very alert, despite the shooting and Ochre wondered once more if the substance in the gel was having the same effect as the Mysteronised champagne.  He could just about remember a feeling of absolute contentment and pleasure in the slightest thing.  He had mentioned it to Blue once, although it was not a subject they spoke of very often. His compatriot had given a wry grimace and admitted that he too could recall only a blissful disinterest in the disastrous events happening around him.   With a cynicism born of long experience of Police work, he had commented that if it ever hit the black market whole countries would be blissed out and the Mysterons could walk in unopposed. 

“Now what?” Green asked. “We can’t shoot them.”

Rhapsody moved forward.  She had had quite enough of being ‘protected’ by the men in this group.  “Give me the canister, sergeant.” She held out her hand.

“Ma’am?”

“Rhapsody…” Grey said questioningly.

She silenced him with a glance and snapped her fingers until O’Neill handed her the canister.  It was aluminium and fairly hefty.  “Now, Captain, the phial the Doctor gave you.” She slipped one into her jacket pocket and then tied  the torn ends of her jacket together to leave her midriff bare, opened a couple of the top buttons and loosened the bun that held her hair away from her neck, so some of it trailed down, softening the whole appearance of her face. She gave a heavy wink at the bewildered men, placed a finger to her lips and sashayed around the corner.

The two technicians were wary at her approach, but relaxed at the sight of a lone female giving them a friendly smile. “Hi guys,” she called. “I’ve brought you some soup.  The kitchen staff are delivering food to all the guys lumbered with such boring jobs.”

One of them grinned at his companion. “Have you only bought us soup, honey?” he asked with a leer.

Rhapsody giggled, “Well, that does rather depend, doesn’t it?  On how nice you are to me… I mean you wouldn’t want to upset me by refusing the soup, because then I would have to go away and find two other, big, strong, men to deliver it too…”

Ochre groaned…”Don’t over do it, Dianne…” But he was worrying unduly; the technicians were lapping up her flattery and allowed her to move closer.  Rhapsody sauntered up to them, smiling coyly.

“What kind of soup is it, honey?” the talkative one asked placing an arm around her waist as his friend grinned inanely.

“Oh,” Rhapsody widened her eyes and bit her bottom lip. “Do you know I don’t know… aren’t I the silly one?  They did mention what it was - maybe you had better have a sniff and see if you can guess.  I’ll forget my own name next...” She held the canister temptingly close to her exposed cleavage and when the man leaned forward, she dug her elbow into his rib cage.  As he stumbled, she brought her hand down on his neck.  He folded up like a deckchair, crumpling to the ground without a murmur.    The other guard jumped towards her and she despatched him with a deftly aimed kick.  Whimpering he joined his comrade on the floor. 

“Dear me, how clumsy I am… have some of  this and you’ll forget the agony... for a time anyway…” She smeared a drop of the antidote from the phial on to the second guard’s face and then on the first man, just in case.

“What on Earth were you doing?  They might have attacked you!” Grey protested as they joined her.

She handed him the canister, buttoned her jacket and tidied her hair before she answered. “No chance… I’m not really as nice a girl as I look…luckily; they are as gullible as they look.” She gave the startled O’Neill a sharp glance.  “Next time I ask you move, Sergeant, I expect you to obey me.  Now, you guys better get in there and fix those air conditioning flues…”

“Yes Ma’am.” O’Neill said with obvious respect.

“Do you think you can deal with any more of the insurgents who might be inside on your own? Or shall I come with you?”

 

Chapter Seven

 

As the antidote mission got underway, Scarlet explained his plan to create a distraction and draw any unwanted attention away from the lower decks.  Magenta listened carefully, Scarlet had a soldier’s ability to visualise the whole sweep of the plan of action but he didn’t always explain it so that a novice could easily follow. This time it seemed easy enough - they get together what personnel they could and go and make a great deal of noise and bother at the foot of the broken escalators, attempting to draw Black’s attention and manpower from the assault on the isolated Control Room and, with luck, from the Amber room too.

“Only one problem, that I can see anyway,” Magenta said unhappily. “We’ll be sitting targets.”

“We have to have a go at it - Black will expect some sort of attempt to relieve the Control Room. Besides, with the exception of the security details, the support staff are not normally armed and Green and Blue locked down the armoury as soon as they started on the command codes.  Black may not know how many officers are in there, so he can’t be sure they will not attempt to break out during the attack. He will have to keep men outside the door and the other main escalators, so hopefully that will keep his attention from the antidote team.  Doctor Fawn has said he ‘s prepared to sign off about fifteen of the men from the wards as fit to return to duty, so that gives us seventeen altogether and Lieutenant Flaxen and Mrs Dawkins will follow behind with first aid kits and more of the antidote to administer to any captured insurgents.”

“I know we have to make an effort, but I can’t see Colonel White being very pleased if we massacre his technical staff or get ourselves massacred in the process.”

“If we are careful no-one will get hurt,” Scarlet reassured him, adding more to himself, “well, no-one who can’t cope with it.”

In a surprisingly short time they were ready to move towards the control deck escalators.   As part of the strategy to enable them to get as close as they could without Black’s troops realising they were hostile, Magenta and Scarlet had swapped their brightly coloured uniforms for the anonymous grey of the support staff tunics.  By adapting Lieutenant Green’s earlier work, Magenta had been able to rig a system whereby Flaxen would have a hand-held master camera which, when activated, would relay the scenes to every security screen.   Scarlet was hopeful that this might draw out more unaffected staff to assist them but, Magenta pointed out a little sourly, it could also draw back any insurgents - coming to attack from the rear.

Scarlet split his small force and left Lieutenant Flaxen in command of the majority, with orders to make a noisy assault on the main escalators in ten minutes.

With only two technicians, Magenta and Scarlet moved towards the control deck and avoided the main escalators, walking up to the corridor outside of the VIP suites and skirting the officers’ lounge to climb to the main promenade deck without encountering any resistance. Peering through the swing doors onto the Promenade deck, Scarlet could see several charcoal suited men, hanging around the fire control storage tanks. As a fine mist began to fall from the air vents along the deck, he nodded at Magenta.  Knowing he had to create a diversion to allow Scarlet to reach the upper corridor, Magenta opened the swing doors and announced in the broadest Irish accent he could manage,

“Jeez, I wish they’d fix them stairs - this is wearing me out going up and down…”

Scarlet nodded curtly and pushed past Magenta to turn sharp left up the stairs to main corridor.  The other three men continued along the promenade deck and proceeded to deal with the insurgents.

The door from the main corridor snapped open and Scarlet found himself almost alongside of Captain Black.  Black was staring down the bank of escalators, from whence there came the sounds of Flaxen’s dummy attack.

Sensing the movement behind him, Black turned at stared with expressionless eyes at the man watching him.  As he saw the recognition fire in Black’s dark eyes, Scarlet took immense pleasure in landing a punch on the older man’s pallid jaw. Black flinched, but did not go down.  Scarlet shook his hand in surprise, he had used every ounce of force he could on that one and suspected he had broken a knuckle in the process.  Shades of Desperate Dan, he thought to himself.

“Scarlet,” Black’s voice was hollow and as expressionless as his dull eyes, “I might have known you would try something stupid.  You will not be able to save your friends. We will soon have command of Cloudbase and then we will crash it in to the ocean; without the protection of Spectrum the Earth is doomed.”

“Uh-huh, that might not be as easy as you seem to imagine, Black.”  Scarlet reached for his pistol. “Move away from the control room door.”

Black turned his unconcerned eyes on the men emerging from the top of the stairs, and growled “Get him.”

Half a dozen men lunged towards Scarlet; who, sensing that this was not the time for heroics, turned and sprinted down the corridor.  More men appeared from the escalators at the other end and he swerved away into the secondary promenade deck, shouting at the charcoal clad men there, “He’s getting away - they need you up on the main corridor.  I’ll check here!”

Obediently they pushed past him, impeding the pursuit of their colleagues and giving him time to dart away down the back stairs.  He grinned as he leapt from landing to landing; say it with conviction and people do it! Works every time!  He barged through the empty gymnasium and into the main communications room, securing the door.  He opened every channel he could find and panting slightly, delivered his message to the staff of Cloudbase.

“This is Captain Scarlet, speaking to you from the control decks.  A successful attempt has been made to relieve the Control Room from the attack of Captain Black and his insurgent force.  All Spectrum personnel are ordered to report to their duty stations immediately, this is a red alert!  Spectrum is Red! All insurgents are to be apprehended and taken under escort to sick bay. They are not to be harmed. Captain Black is to be taken into custody and from there he will be delivered to the World Government in Futura for trial for crimes against humanity. This is not a drill!   Repeat - all personnel report to their work stations - Spectrum is red!  Move it, guys - this is not a leisure centre!”

He pressed the emergency klaxon - that strange whooping noise that was so rarely heard around Cloudbase. There was banging on the door and he left in the emergency elevator that connected the Colonel’s quarters with the Control Room.   He stepped quietly out of the lift doors and stood grinning at Captain Blue, who was watching the advance of Flaxen’s rapidly increasing force on the huge monitor behind the Colonel’s revolving desk.  Blue swivelled at the sound of the casually mocking voice,

“Why are you out of uniform, Captain? I don’t know, these civilian recruits.  As soon as the going gets too hot for them, discipline goes out the window and they get undressed. You look like you’re about to go surfing…Oh, and by the way, if I was a Mysteron you would be dead by now.  Did you forget the back way in, Blue-boy?”

“Talking about being improperly dressed,” Blue responded with chagrin, “aren’t you supposed to the thin red line?”

“Gentlemen,” Colonel White reminded them, “there is still the slight matter of Captain Black…” His voice betrayed little of the relief and satisfaction he felt at Scarlet sudden appearance.

“We’re on it, Colonel,” Scarlet grinned. “Come on, you beach-bum, do some work for a change.”

Blue collected his pistol from his discarded tunic and fell in beside his partner.  They marched to the door and as Blue put in the release cipher code it snapped back. 

Captain Black was along the corridor looking in the direction Scarlet had fled. Around him his forces were mostly in a state of collapse as Doctor Fawn’s antidote got to work.  Scarlet emerged first and he couldn’t resist the urge to say, in a mocking call, “He’s behind you…”

Black turned and fired straight at the two officers.  Scarlet pushed Blue back into the cover of the doorway and took the first of the bullets in his shoulder.  Angrily he pointed his gun at Black and returned fire.   Recovering his balance, Blue leaned round and added his fire to the fusillade of bullets.

They had to be careful to avoid hitting the groggy technicians who were still upright, few of them though there were and Black began to move away, dodging between the Spectrum personnel to give himself some protection from their assault.  He continued firing until his pistol until it ran out of ammunition, then he threw it across the floor and turned and hurried away towards the secondary promenade deck.   Scarlet led the charge after him and as the two officers burst through the door they saw Captain Black pressed close up against the window.

“Give it up, Conrad,” Scarlet panted. “You can’t get off Cloudbase.”

“You are wrong, Earthman, there is always a way to leave anywhere.”

They watched with alarmed surprise as the solid figure began to turn transparent and vanish from their sight.

“Now I know how Alice felt,” Blue muttered cryptically. Scarlet gave him a blank look. “When the Cheshire Cat kept disappearing in front of her eyes…” the American explained with a shrug.

A wry smile crossed Scarlet’s face and he gave a quiet snort of laughter, “Yeah, I guess it does have echoes of ‘Adam in Wonderland’, if nothing else.”  He exhaled and stretched his shoulders.

“Are you badly hurt?” Blue asked suddenly full of concern.

“No, it’s probably almost healed over by now.” Scarlet started to undo the tunic and stripped to his waist.  They examined the red and inflamed wound, which as expected was healing over nicely.  “Maybe Fawn won’t feel the need to dig that bullet out of me,” Scarlet mused without much hope. 

“And spoil his collection of trophies?  You must be joking...”

They turned and strolled back to the main control room where Flaxen and Philly were sitting whispering together whilst the Colonel gave Captain Magenta detailed instructions for returning the control of Cloudbase back to its normal parameters.

As they entered, Philly jumped up and hurried to their side, ignoring the obviously injured Captain Scarlet she gazed protectively at her Captain, “Are you all right?  We heard all that shooting…”

“I am fine thank you, Philly.  It was Captain Scarlet who got nicked by a stray bullet…” Blue began with an amused smile.

He placed a hand on her shoulder in an almost paternalistic way and was surprised when she threw her arms around him and muttered “It were a bloody stupid thing to do, rushing off half dressed.”

Leaving his friend to disengage himself from this affectionate rebuke, Scarlet strolled over to the Colonel’s desk and flopped onto one of the seats. “Out of the mouths…” he muttered with a grin at his commanding officer.  “I see why you stripped off, Blue - it’s like an oven in here,” he continued.   “Do you think we can get the heating sorted out as a priority, Colonel? - Before we all melt. I’ve been rushing up and down the control decks and I’m bushed.”

Colonel White nodded gravely, “Orders have already gone out for heating to be shut off until the temperature drops - or more important things than you might melt, Captain.”

Scarlet grinned, “A nice dip in the pool might help.  What do you say, Blue-boy?  Race you to the pool?”

“I’m afraid there isn’t time for skinny-dipping, Captain.  You need to get to sick-bay and let Doctor Fawn look at that wound.  I am sure he would not advise exposing it to chlorine,” the Colonel flicked his gaze at Philly, reminding his officer that not every-one knew about his unique healing abilities.

“Yes, Colonel,” Scarlet sighed.

“Then I want you and Captain Blue to oversee the repair work to the Angel Launch systems - Cloudbase must be made fully operational as soon as possible…”

“Yes, Colonel.”

“Harmony Angel reports her estimated time of arrival is fifty-five minutes, Colonel,” Magenta interrupted.

“Good, she has a plane full of technicians and support staff, the repairs shouldn’t take that long if we all make an effort.”

“Yes, Colonel.”

Colonel White looked at his Captains. Blue and Scarlet both looked less than enthusiastic at his orders.  “Once you have done that - the rest of the day is your own,” he concluded with a dry smile.

“Thank you, sir.” Blue replied when his friend made no response.

Sensing the excitement was over and they were dismissed, Philly collected her uniform and the Captain’s and she and Flaxen began to make their way across to the door.

 As Scarlet moved disconsolately after them Blue joined him.  As Flaxen and Philly were about to leave the Colonel said, “Well done everyone, a fine piece of work. Oh - and Captains… I hope you are not intending to walk to around Cloudbase in such a state of undress for long?”

The Control Room door did not slide shut behind them and Captain Scarlet’s aggrieved voice echoed back clearly into the silent control room.

“I swear he’s not human!  He wasn’t even sweating….”

Colonel White sighed with surprising good-humour and glanced at Captain Magenta’s wry expression.  “You think I was too hard on them, Captain?”

“No, sir,” he replied unsure if the question was meant seriously or not.

“I am certain they will find some way to let off steam even whilst they comply with my orders… but I can’t have senior field officers rushing about like undisciplined schoolboys. When will they learn to act like sensible adults?” he asked rhetorically.

“But they do, Colonel - we all do - when it matters, even if it is only when it really matters…” Magenta replied with a smile and returned to his work.   

 

 

Twelfth Night

 

“A wassail, a wassail throughout all the town

Our bread it is white and our ale it is brown…”

Captain Scarlet sang the old song under his breath as he stood precariously on the stepladders in the Amber Room, helping to take down the Christmas decorations.  Rhapsody smiled as she folded the streamers away carefully and packed them back in the box until they were needed next year. They had had their Twelfth Night party and now it was time to pack away and settle down to more mundane celebrations such as Symphony, Melody and Lieutenant Green’s birthdays.

Symphony walked into the Amber Room, ready for her shift in Angel One.  She watched Scarlet leaning perilously over the steps as he reached for a large tinsel bell.

“What you really need is Adam - or a taller set of steps,” she volunteered helpfully.

“I resent that - he isn’t that much taller than me,” Scarlet protested with a theatrical frown.  “Here, catch!” he dropped the bell into her startled hands. She laughed up at him. 

“I always felt as if it was my fault when I was little,” Symphony said tossing the bell to Rhapsody.

“What was your fault?” he asked from his perch on the top of the steps.

“That all the decorations had to come down on my birthday - I wondered what I had done wrong to make everyone’s Christmas come to an end…” she gave a rueful smile and brushed a hand through her golden hair with some embarrassment.  “It can warp a child’s outlook on life, you know.”

“Oh sure,” Rhapsody teased, “that explains a lot…”

“By the way, Paul, thank you for my birthday present,” Symphony said archly.  “I wonder how you knew I would need new driving gloves.”

“Huh, would you believe me if I said I didn’t know?  Adam played that particular card very close to his chest. I got them out of desperation - they are what I buy everybody when inspiration fails me.” He blushed slightly and laughed at her bright-eyed amusement.  “You knew that, didn’t you?”

She nodded, “Adam has a grand total of three pairs of driving gloves - two of them from you…”

“Hmm - well, what do you buy the man who has everything?”

“Driving gloves!” the Angels chorused together.

Rhapsody gave a peal of laughter. “The very first pair of driving gloves you buy me will ensure your life rapidly becomes hellish, Mr Metcalfe!” she warned.

“I wouldn’t dare buy them for you,” he admitted.  “Look, Karen, I’m sorry.  I’ll buy you another present if you tell me what to get…”

“You will not, I love them to death.  I shall keep them in my new car and wear them when I drive it, as reminders of the two sweetest men I know!”

“I say, steady on,” he laughed as he climbed down the stepladder and found himself swept into an embrace by the pretty American.  She kissed him.

“Shall I leave you two alone?” Rhapsody asked vaguely.  “I think there is still some mistletoe somewhere around…”

With his arms still wrapped around Symphony he looked up from returning her kiss.  “Did you speak?” he asked dreamily.

Symphony pushed him away with a giggle and he wrapped Rhapsody in his arms instead. 

“Its all gone to his head,” she laughed.

“What has?”

“Being so high up the ladder, I expect.”

 Cheryl came in with the refills for the fridge and Scarlet promptly dropped his embrace and Rhapsody went back to folding her decorations. 

Symphony watched the valet with interest, since the ‘shower gel incident’ many of the support staff had been surprisingly subdued and more diligent in carrying out their duties and the command staff had become  considerably more formal with each other in their presence.

There was still some confusion as to what had happened and why - and what had happened to the numerous support staff who had not been with either Captain Black’s insurgents or Captain Scarlet’s rescuers.    It had certainly been a weird couple of days and she was rather chastened at having slept through the climatic battle for the Control Room.  She put it down to the over-powering heat. 

As Rhapsody wrapped the last streamer and closed the lid on the cardboard box that held them all, Captain Scarlet folded the stepladders and carried them to the door of the Amber Room.  He turned to look back at the two young women … no, three young women… somehow the support staff would never again be as ‘invisible’ as they had been before this Christmas.   “Rhapsody, when do you get off duty?” he asked.

She glanced at her watch.  “In about twenty minutes - or whenever Destiny gets here - whichever is soonest.  Why?”

“Well, the badminton tournament is scheduled to start in two days and we could do with the practise… if you are free after your shift?”

She smiled at him, “Of course, Captain Scarlet. I would be happy to put in an hours net practise.  We’re going to have to be on our best form if we aim to beat the Americans…” She smiled at Symphony.  “You and Blue make a formidable pair…”

Scarlet smothered his laugh and picked up the step-ladder. “Okay then, see you in the sports hall in about half an hour…. Don’t be late!”

 

It was Captain Ochre’s first day allowed out of bed and he was hobbling around the ward with aid of a stick.  His leg wound had been a nasty one, but Doctor Fawn had made a decent job of patching him up and promised that it wouldn’t leave much of a scar.  He had had plenty of visitors whilst he’d been confined to sick bay.  The other captains had all dropped in at various times and the Angels had sent a ‘get well soon’ card - hand delivered by Melody who had stayed for over an hour.  She had been touchingly grateful for his Christmas present and he had thanked her, with some embarrassment, for hers.  There was still a long way to go in their relationship and she wasn’t entirely sure she trusted him, but she was willing to consider the possibility and, he hoped, not averse to the idea either. 

He looked up as a shadow fell across his face and saw Lieutenant Flaxen standing irresolutely in the doorway. 

She was holding a selection of books from the library and the latest edition of his model-makers magazine, which Philly had made her promise to deliver after she had taken it from Lewis this morning - the first day the postal deliveries had been allowed back onto the base.

“Hello, Lieutenant,” he said with a grin.  “Look what I can do.” He stood and hobbled across the room to the table.  “I never realised what an achievement it is until I couldn’t walk at all! I shall be far more impressed in future when someone tells me their baby has learnt to walk.”

Flaxen gave an embarrassed smile and came nervously across to the table. “I brought you these - the post plane arrived today and your magazine came.  Philly knew I was coming down with the books, so she asked me…” she placed them on the table and moved away slightly.

“Thanks, that’s … nice of you.”

Flaxen coloured, drew a deep breath and began her prepared speech, “Captain Ochre, I wish to apologise to you, unreservedly, for my … outrageous actions towards you.  I can only hope you will accept my explanation that I was … not myself, sir.  I know I don’t have any right to ask, but have you reported the incident to the Colonel?  I keep waiting to be called for a disciplinary…”

“No,” Ochre said briskly.  “Why would I report it to anyone?”

“Well, sir, striking a superior officer is not allowed…”

“But striking a superior officer who has been … unkind, sarcastic and hurtful and had who made fun of other’s misfortune - that probably deserves a commendation, Lieutenant.”

“Oh, sir, I am sorry… I had no right to say those awful things… I honestly don’t know why I did say them…”

“Perhaps, because they were true and needed saying?  I’ve had time to think, Flaxen, and I haven’t exactly been myself with people around here.  I needed a kick up the pants - and you sure administered that!”

Flaxen squirmed.  “Captain Ochre, sir…”

“Hey, let’s forget it, shall we?  I’m not going to report you, and you are not going to attack me anymore - deal?”

“Deal,” she whispered grateful tears threatening to flood her eyes.  “I am sorry…”

“I don’t see why you should be.”

They were both startled by Doctor Fawn’s voice.  He was smiling at his patient, “Don’t overdo it, Captain, or you’ll be back in bed for another week.”

Ochre grimaced and sat on the table. “I can tell by that irritatingly smug gleam in your eyes that you know something we don’t.  Do we have to beg, or will you tell?”

Fawn smiled. “I have finished the analysis of the gel samples, and I take my hat off to the Mysteron chemists - they were the most subtle and complex examples of mind-altering chemicals I’ve come across.  It explains why some people reacted differently too - most were turned into a vaguely hypnotic state - open to suggestion and ready to obey orders.  Others became uninhibited and did what their emotions told them to.   I suspect you were one of those, Lieutenant, although your response was tempered by the allergic reaction you experienced and it wore off much quicker.  Others were ‘swept away’ by their passions… if the increase in demand for emergency contraception is anything to go by.”

Ochre sniggered and Flaxen blushed - acutely aware of the sensations she‘d experienced as she followed Ochre towards his quarters and attacked him. 

“What about the flu epidemic though?” Ochre asked.

“That was the immune system trying to fight off the compounds. Once the immune system stopped fighting, the effects kicked in.”

“So, no-one was responsible for their actions?”

“Broadly speaking - no.  And that’s what I shall tell the Colonel…”

“See, Lieutenant, you didn’t have to apologise after all.”

She smiled with relief and looked a great deal happier than she had at the start of the visit.

 

Colonel White put down the report and gave a slight satisfied smile. “Congratulations, Sergeant, the repair work is coming along ahead of schedule. Please pass on my sincere thanks to your teams.” He looked around the conference room at the assembled command and support staff.  “It would seem that, after hearing Doctor Fawn’s report we can safely say the Mysteron threat has been dealt with.  They attempted to subvert the technical and support staff and we have defeated their scheme.  I wish commendations to go on the records of Sergeant O’Neill, Mrs Lorraine Dawkins and, although she isn’t here to hear this - Miss Philippa Daniel.  I am sure you would be kind enough to pass that on to her, Captain Blue?”

“Of course, Colonel,” Blue nodded.

“I still don’t understand why it was the ‘invisible, silent majority’?”  Melody asked.

“It would appear that we are all guilty, to some extent, of ignoring the work and the contribution made to Spectrum’s continued success by the personnel who work in the less glamorous jobs,” the Colonel mused, “and without whom we would quickly flounder - as was proved so graphically this last week. I, for one, am extremely glad I don’t have to eat scrambled egg on toast for lunch anymore…”

Blue shrugged and Scarlet nudged him. “You were definitely getting better as the week went on…”

 

Philly was in the general lounge sitting in the corner reserved for the orderlies and valets.  She had a writing pad spread before her and was laboriously making a neat copy of her letter thanking The Captain for his present.  Audrey had checked the spellings and suggested a few improvements to the phrasing and it was now ready to be written out in her best hand-writing and delivered.  

Around her sat the other valets, and two of the three batwomen, but not Dinger Bell, who had been ostracised by his colleagues since the ‘shower gel debacle’.  Most of them blamed Mike for their actions.  MacDonald in particular was mortified to remember he had bashed Captain Grey with a lamp stand and it turned out to have been Lester Hughes who had pressed a gel soaked pad against the face of the unsuspecting Captain Magenta.  They were all complaining and all feeling ‘got at’ and it wasn’t very nice.

Philly felt sorry for Mike - he had always treated her with more kindness than some of the others, but she didn’t know what she could do about it.  Heaton said he expected Bell to be cashiered and sent away.  Perhaps she could have a word with The Captain, he might ask Captain Scarlet to put in a good word for Bell.

She was concentrating on her writing and didn’t notice the silence that had fallen on the group.

“Philly?”

She turned and gasped to see Captain Blue standing in his full uniform.

“Captain,” she scrambled to her feet expecting some orders or a request to work on. It wasn’t like him to bring the orders down to the lounge though.

To her amazement he saluted her and then said formally, “Miss Philippa Daniel, I have been requested by Colonel White to inform you - that in recognition of your actions in the recent incident on Cloudbase - a commendation has been placed on your permanent record.  The commendation reads: In recognition of her courage and foresight in warning others of their danger.” he saluted her again and then his face broke into a warm smile. “Congratulations, Philly - you are now, officially, a heroine.  Mind you - I always knew you were one anyway.” He extended his hand.

Philly clutched it like a lifeline and stood open-mouthed in astonishment.  “But, I didn’t do nothing…”

“On the contrary, you kept your head and even whilst you were feeling woozy from that cut you had, you came to find help.”

  “You played a vital role in solving the problem, Philly.” Captain Scarlet said from where he had been watching the ceremony by the door.

She glanced at him round Captain Blue. “Well, thank you, Captain… Captains, I should say.  Do I have to make a speech too?”

“Not unless you want to,” Blue advised her.

She dropped his hand and straightened up, squaring her shoulders. “I would just like to say one thing - I don’t think it were anybody’s fault - not even Dinger’s.  He doesn’t deserve to be sent to Coventry by everyone.  He got knobbled by the Mysterons too. Didn’t he, Captain?”

“There have been unconfirmed reports of Captain Black being seen at the same airport Bell was using to return to Cloudbase, yes, Philly.”

“Then it weren’t his fault,” she said decisively.

“Well said,” Scarlet responded.  “We can’t afford to start blaming each other when the Mysterons attack one or all of us.”

The other valets looked shame-faced and Philly grinned happily. Then as a thought crossed her mind she looked innocently up at The Captain and said,

 “Excuse me asking, Captain, but does a commendation mean I get more money?”

 

Blue walked back to his quarters feeling in a very mellow mood.  He had been proud of Philly’s little speech - the child was a real gem.  He corrected himself, the young woman was a gem - and he’d better start remembering it and act accordingly. It was all very well her having some schoolgirl crush, but it had to stop - if for no other reason than that Symphony would make mincemeat of her otherwise.

He keyed in his password and stepped inside, debating what to do next.

 “I wondered where you had got to,” Symphony said.

He smiled at her, “Happy birthday - I was just thinking of you…”

“Nice thoughts, I hope.”

He kissed her and hugged her close to his heart. “Wonderful thoughts.  May I buy you dinner, Miss Wainwright?”

“Yes, of course you can - it’s my birthday, you know.”

“I have something for you -“

“You gave me a car, Adam, remember?”

“Yes, this is just a little something - to go with it, really.” He handed her a box. 

She lifted the lid with a feeling of déjà-vu and saw a pair of kid leather driving gloves.  She fought a smile and said, “Darling, they are just what I always wanted…”

 

The End

 

 

 

Author's Note:

 

My thanks go, as always, to Chris Bishop for her help and encouragement with this story.  She was kind enough to direct my faltering steps around the topography of Cloudbase - but should anyone find a mistake it is all mine.   I based the layout on the cut-away diagrams from the comics produced in the 1990s, if that makes any difference!

Thanks are also due to Sue Stanhope for her encouragement and helpful advice as the story developed. 

Finally, thanks to you for reading it - I hope you enjoyed it.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

 

Marion

December  2003

 

 

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