THIS OTHER EDEN
A Spectrum ‘Challenge of Five’ Story
By Marion Woods
From The Tragedy of King Richard II, by William Shakespeare
Rhapsody Angel was on duty in Angel One, with Harmony and Destiny on standby as Angel 2 and 3 respectively; but the Amber Room wasn’t the usual haven of tranquillity this particular morning. Besides Melody and Symphony, Captains Ochre and Magenta were also there, looking out from the floor-to-ceiling windows into the hazy blue expanse, watching for the approach of the expected SPJ plane.
Destiny glanced up from her magazine and asked casually, “Don’t you two have work to do? Waiting will not make it happen the quicker, you know?”
Symphony grinned and said, “We should be offended, girls, the Captains obviously think we’re ugly old has-beens from the way they’re slavering over the arrival of the Angelettes…“
“Sure, they’re hoping they’ll have a chance to make a move on the new girls, before we have a chance to warn them,” Melody teased, with a wink at the two officers.
“Hey,” Ochre protested good-naturedly, “If it’s no big deal, why are you two here? You don’t usually spend your off-duty hours in the Amber Room, Symphony…Oh, unless Blue’s off the base of course.” He finished the sentence with a grin at his blonde fellow American.
“It is no less than good manners to welcome new arrivals,” Harmony replied, before Symphony could respond. “We have not yet had the pleasure of meeting the Second Angel squadron.”
“Nor have we,” Ochre reasoned. “Blue and Grey are the only lucky so-and-sos who’ve had that pleasure - and getting the low-down and dirty from either of them is damn near impossible. You’d think they were doing it on purpose. Besides, we’re the very personification of politeness, aren’t we, Pat? We wouldn’t miss it for the world.”
Symphony roared with laughter as Magenta agreed solemnly, “Sure thing, Rick.”
“Angelettes?” Destiny queried, one elegant eyebrow raised over her dark eyes. “This word I do not know.”
“Well, I don’t know what else we can call them,” Symphony explained. “Adam - I mean, Captain Blue - said that of the nine hierarchies of the heavenly host, Angels were the lowest order. So calling them Cherubim or Seraphim would mean technically they’d outrank us – and we can’t allow that…”
“Blue knows too much and is far too literal for his own good,” Magenta said briskly. “Whatever these girls are like, they’ll never outrank OUR angels.”
“Too damn right,” Ochre agreed, adding for good measure, “on both counts.”
To everyone’s surprise, Magenta began, in a very learned tone: “Besides, St Augustine was of the opinion that ‘angelus est nomen officii ‘ – angel is the name of the office -” he translated for his puzzled friends, “and not one of the individual ranks of the hierarchy, and if there’s enough information to convince St Augustine, it’s sure enough to convince me. For instance, consider the fact that the Cherubim guarded Eden after the fall; to prevent Adam and Eve sneaking back in again, I guess...”
“Yeah, right,” Ochre interrupted. He gave Symphony a surreptitious glance and added, “You know it occurs to me – St Augustine notwithstanding - that that particular story is a perfect example of Adam’s susceptibility to young women… Personally, I get worried every time I see him eating an apple these days…” he concluded with a smirk.
Magenta gave him an amused glance but continued inexorably with his own line of reasoning, “The Cherubim also protected the Ark of the Covenant, where tradition has it they may have taken the form of winged bulls or even hawk-headed men. They’re synonymous with cherubs, by the way, which makes the image of Paradise being guarded by an army of tubby little mop-heads with tiny wings rather a cute one… if you like that sort of thing,” he qualified his statement in the face of the astonished stares he was getting, but then started on a fresh tack, undaunted by the audible groans from his audience. “The Seraphim only appear in Isaiah’s vision, so there’s not much known detail about them; but all of them are ‘Angels’. However, the so-called ‘mystic seven’, who stand before God…” Melody gave a theatrical whimper of distress, but Magenta was relentless, “are also known as archangels… but they are still part of the ‘angel host’.”
“Is there a point to all this?” Ochre demanded.
“I figure, if you imagine the colonel is the all-seeing deity for Spectrum, then you girls are the archangels…” Magenta concluded triumphantly.
When he finished, he saw Ochre was still staring at him in bewilderment, but the Angels, who couldn’t help feeling flattered by the analogy, were smirking at each other. It became even more obvious that Ochre was feeling less charitable towards his friend’s erudite compliments when he asked, “What exactly are you on these days? Because you may need Fawn to change your medication…”
“Hey, Blue’s not the only one on this base with brains, or -” Magenta protested.
“- A good Catholic upbringing -” Destiny suggested with a smile.
“- Or internet access,” Magenta concluded, with a grin at his partner.
Ochre chuckled. “Well, I just hope the ‘Angelettes’ are half as cute as the Angels, otherwise life around here’s going to be pretty dull for the next few weeks.”
“Captain Blue said they were all charming young women,” Harmony volunteered reassuringly.
“Oh, did he indeed?” Symphony growled. “He never said that to me.”
“If he had, you’d have gutted him with one swipe,” Ochre reasoned, “and Blue’s too bright to invite that kind of trouble.”
There was a ripple of laughter and Symphony blushed slightly.
“What are their codenames again? I’m sure I’ll never remember them,” Magenta complained.
Harmony replied, “Cantata, Calypso, Fantasia, Pavane, Sarabande and Sonata.”
“I reckon the colonel was still in musical mode when he dished out the codenames,” Melody said with a broad smile.
“And there are six of them – so you might stand a chance with at least one of them, Rick,” Symphony teased.
Ochre gave a wry grimace and decided to get his own back for that dig. “You’re forgetting one thing, Symph – they’ve had our very own glamour-boy as their training instructor and you know how few women can resist the overwhelming allure of the Svenson sex-appeal. I bet they’re all smitten already. The rest of us poor mortals won’t stand a chance.”
Destiny rose from her seat and walked to the window, effectively cutting off the embryonic spat brewing between the Americans. Symphony’s fiery jealousy was far too easy to trigger and very difficult to assuage, so it was really not something to be roused lightly and she was surprised Ochre hadn’t thought of that before he started tormenting her about her boyfriend; or maybe he just didn’t care – after all, Symphony provoked him often enough.
“The plane should be arriving very soon, now,” she said. “I wonder what the girls will think of their first sight of Cloudbase. I remember that for me, it made my breath to go away. Elle est magnifique.”
“Yeah, she’s that all right,” Melody agreed. “It was a breath-taking moment. Mind you, landing on Cloudbase wasn’t so much fun – not the first time.”
“Look! The plane is here!” Harmony cried, pointing to the merest speck in the distance. “The new Angels are arriving!”
The SPJ adjusted its flight path and landed gracefully on the runway.
“Good landing,” Symphony conceded.
“So I should hope,” Ochre commented crisply. “Blue’s piloting the plane.”
“He didn’t tell me he was going to fetch them.” Symphony’s brows furrowed over her moody eyes.
“Colonel White sent him at the last minute,” Magenta explained, with a view to heading off the trouble he sensed was brewing. “Grey was going, but he’s still trying to get his report finished after that little adventure in Shanghai. Blue’d just come on duty as we were going off and Scarlet’s not out of sickbay yet.”
“He is better now, non?” Destiny asked in concern.
“Oh, he’s fit and well - according to Blue – but Doc Fawn has a few tests to run…” Magenta smiled in response.
“Pauvre Scarlet,” Destiny cooed. “He does not enjoy these tests of the doctor’s. I will go and visit him when I have made my welcome to the Angelettes.”
“I’m sure that’ll make his day…” said Ochre with a lopsided grin.
In the control room they heard the newcomers’ approach before they saw them, and Colonel White put down his pen and turned to the door as it slid open.
Captain Blue appeared, surrounded by a gaggle of excited young women, all wearing the standard Angel uniform, and all chattering like magpies. He stepped onto the moving walkway and the women followed suit, one of them staggering as she lost her footing on the sliding floor. There was a burst of hastily-suppressed nervous laughter.
“Angels,” Blue called above the babble of voices, “attention!”
The chatter stopped instantly and as Blue stepped off the walkway and saluted, the women also dismounted, came to attention and saluted their commander-in-chief, albeit with less assurance.
“At ease. Welcome to Cloudbase,” White said, returning their salute. The women fanned out around the console and he glanced along the line, recalling the names and faces of the crew of the second Angel flight; more informally known as ‘the Standby Angels’. “No doubt Captain Blue will have told you why you’re here? The Angel flight crew will be leaving Cloudbase for an intensive survival training course tomorrow, and you’ll provide the defence cover for the base until their return. You have the rest of the day to settle into the base, find your way around and familiarise yourselves with the base protocols. I’m certain everyone on board will give you all the help you need, and Captain Blue will, I’m sure, be happy to provide any additional information necessary. You’ll relieve the Angel crew at midnight and they will depart Cloudbase at 0600 tomorrow morning. A duty roster has been drawn up, and the first duty team will need to get some sleep before they start their shift. I suggest you all make time to see Doctor Fawn and get your log-ins for the Room of Sleep.”
There was a murmur of assent from the women.
“This is your first assignment for Spectrum in an operational capacity. I feel sure you’ll all rise to any occasion that presents itself. The regime on Cloudbase is a strict one but if you have any problems, I, or Captain Blue, will always be available to assist you.” He glanced along the line of eager, expectant faces and gave a slight smile. “I think it would be a good idea if you took them to the Amber Room now, Captain, where I’m sure the Angels are looking forward to meeting them all. Dismiss.”
“S.I.G., Colonel,” Blue saluted again. The young pilots did the same and trooped after him out of the control room – the excited chatter erupting again before the door had even closed.
Lieutenant Green grinned at his commander. “They’re a lively bunch, Colonel,” he commented, “and almost as pretty as the Angels themselves.”
“Their looks are unimportant, Lieutenant,” White said sourly. “What matters is their ability to carry out their duties effectively.”
“Yes, sir,” Green muttered, looking crestfallen.
The colonel took pity on the young man and said in a far more friendly tone, “But yes, they are all pretty as well.” He made a mental note to make sure that the arrival of six new women on the base didn’t lead to a general rut amongst the unattached males…
Sighing, he turned back to the files on his desk; whatever happened, life on Cloudbase was never dull.
Rhapsody Angel slipped the last item into her luggage and yanked the zip closed. She glanced at the clock and wondered if she’d have time to slip down to sickbay and say ‘goodbye’ to Captain Scarlet before the SPJ departed with her colleagues on board. Regretfully, she decided she did not.
The muffled sound of the door sliding closed in the next room jolted her out of her reverie, and she picked up the holdall and snapped the light off as her own door slid open. She stepped into the corridor and saw Symphony Angel walking away in the direction of the hangars.
“Hi, Symphony,” she called, and hastened after her friend.
The taller woman stopped and waited for her to catch up, but the greeting she gave in response to Rhapsody’s was half-hearted. “Hi, Rhapsody.”
The English Angel fell in alongside her best friend and they continued towards the hangar bay. As the silence grew heavier, Rhapsody felt obliged to make small talk.
“I was hoping to get a chance to say goodbye to Paul,” she confided. “But I overslept and it’s too late to slip down there now. I suppose I’ll have to make do with the fact that I did see him yesterday, after I came off duty.”
Symphony hefted her holdall from one shoulder to the other. “Adam was on late duty last night. He could only spare a few minutes on his break to drop by and say goodbye because he was busy helping the Angelettes get settled in - or so he said.”
“Then I expect that’s what he was doing…”
Symphony’s tone changed to one of protest. “He could’ve made the time to stop by after his duty finished - I wouldn’t have minded him waking me up – but no, I expect he was too busy with the Angelettes!” She grimaced and added viciously, “Have you noticed how the men on this base trail after any new females like horny tomcats?”
“They’re men; they’ll trail after any female who doesn’t actually tell them to drop dead.” Rhapsody laughed. “But, Karen, you can’t imagine Adam was doing that?” He doesn’t have a death-wish for a start, she added to herself.
“I don’t know what he was doing – and I don’t really care.”
“Liar,” her friend retorted, adding, “I’m right, aren’t I?” when Symphony made no reply.
Symphony’s lower lip pouted in a determined stubborn silence. Rhapsody sighed. I hope Adam has the sense to get himself to the hangar deck before we leave – or it’ll be hell living with Karen for the next fortnight…
“I don’t understand why the colonel feels the need to send us away while the Angelettes are here; I mean we could teach them all they need to know,” Symphony complained, barging her way through a swing door with such force that it bounced off the wall and the crash echoed down the corridor.
“I think the idea is that he gets to assess how good they are, without them feeling cowed by our presence on base,” Rhapsody reasoned, although she knew logic wasn’t going to stop Karen sulking. “Besides, Destiny said that the colonel wants us to check out how effective the survival training centre is; he has some doubts, apparently, and thinks the place might need a shake up. I think we’re rather in the nature of an unexpected challenge to Major Fern - he doesn’t know we’re coming…”
“It doesn’t take five of us to put the fear of God into one back-sliding major. Why do we all have to go?”
“If we were men, it’d be called a team-building exercise, I expect; but to hear some of the guys talking, because it’s five women going - it’s a jolly: no more, no less.” Rhapsody brushed her long red hair back from her face and gave an irritated sniff. “Personally, I’m looking forward to wiping the floor with every cadet at the base and then coming back here, to do the same to a few of the more sceptical male members of staff; you know the kind, the ones who imagine we’re delicate creatures that need to be treated as if we’re made of glass. How about you, Karen, are you up to denting some masculine pride?”
Symphony gave her an ironic glance and there was a definite combative twinkle in her hazel-green eyes. “Ever known me resist the opportunity to kick some male ass? Whatever the testosterone squad can do, we can do just as well.”
Rhapsody grinned. “Right on, sister! Let’s go and whup some ass!”
Melody was waiting by the SPJ as the two friends walked into the hangar bay.
“Come on, you two,” she called, waving at Symphony and Rhapsody. “We’re gonna be late if you don’t get a move on.” She clambered aboard the plane leaving them to stow their gear.
Smiling, Rhapsody handed her holdall to a technician who packed it away for her, and waited until Symphony had done the same before she entered the plane.
“Now, who’s going to fly this bird?” Melody asked as she closed the fuselage door and glanced at her four companions. Unconsciously, every eye turned to Symphony, but she said nothing. With a wry shrug, Melody continued, “Well, I will then…”
“And I will help you, Melody,” Harmony said in her prim English, moving to the co-pilot seat as Symphony threw herself into a window seat and strapped herself in.
Destiny glanced at Rhapsody who shrugged and shook her head, warning that it was best to leave her alone. Destiny frowned; she had no desire to spend the next fourteen days closeted with a Symphony who was in a petulant sulk. In fairness to her colleague, she acknowledged that the American did – generally – get her priorities right and her competitive nature wouldn’t let her fail at any task she undertook. She hoped Symphony would snap out of it soon and concentrate on their mission. The orders the colonel had issued for them had been brief and wide-ranging: put the base through its paces, evaluate the effectiveness of the training regime and… survive.
They could hear Lieutenant Green’s voice over the radio giving Melody permission to begin the launch, and outside, the warning klaxons sounded as the hangar depressurised, whilst they strapped themselves into seats behind Symphony. The klaxons wailed into silence as the procedure completed and then, as the lift began to raise the plane to the runways, Rhapsody saw two figures hurry into the observation bay. One was wearing a bright-red uniform tunic, the other a pale-blue…
“Karen, look – there! It’s Paul and Adam; I knew they wouldn’t let us leave without saying goodbye.” Symphony squirmed in her seat to see the two men, waving affably at the departing plane. Rhapsody waved back and blew a kiss; beside her, Destiny was also waving goodbye but when she glanced at her friend, Symphony was staring fixedly out of the window, immobile. “He has come to say goodbye to you,” she repeated with a hint of censure, but Symphony shrugged and turned her back on the window.
Rhapsody spread her hands apologetically and gave a rueful look at the officers. She saw Captain Blue’s shoulders rise and fall in a monumental sigh, yet he smiled at her and returned her blown kiss. She kept waving until they were no longer visible.
“Adam must’ve gone to get Paul so they could both see us off,” Rhapsody reflected aloud for Symphony’s benefit as she settled down in her seat again. “Paul’s still not quite back to complete fitness, at least, he wasn’t last night. Doc Fawn said practically every bone in his body was broken by that explosion in Shanghai. My guess is he still isn’t moving as quickly as usual; so they nearly didn’t make it.”
“Ah, it is nice to know they will miss us, is it not?” Destiny said with a wink. “Even though they have the Angelettes to keep them company.” Rhapsody gave the Frenchwoman an anguished grimace at these words, nodding her head towards Symphony. Destiny rolled her eyes; she simply wasn’t prepared to indulge Symphony’s bad humour.
“I bet they won’t even notice we’ve gone,” Symphony said cynically and her friends grimaced to hear the temper in her voice.
It always came as a surprise to Rhapsody every time she saw just how possessive her friend could be. Those close enough to know Blue and Symphony well had no doubt of the genuine affection between the two Americans; yet Symphony seemed incapable of believing that Blue’s devotion to her was real, and she continued to view almost every unmarried woman as a potential rival. When she’d met the standby Angel pilots yesterday, Symphony had not been pleased to realise they were as young, attractive and lively as the Cloudbase Angels themselves. She’d watched with increasing moodiness as the girls naturally clustered around Captain Blue – who’d been their commanding officer during their specialist training at Koala Base – and, although they had gradually dispersed to talk to the other staff officers as they came in to say ‘hello’, Symphony had been off-hand with her lover when he’d finally made his way over to her side. Her colleagues had recognised the signs of an acute attack of jealousy with trepidation, and this little episode confirmed their fears that Captain Blue hadn’t been able – or disposed - to reassure his temperamental lover of his undying devotion in the interim.
“Eh bien! And now we go to face the rigours of surviving in a tropical paradise,” Destiny said, deliberately changing the subject. “What could be nicer than two weeks of sunshine?”
Rhapsody laughed. “I don’t think it’s meant to be a holiday, Juliette. It is a serious survival course.”
“But of course; still I have brought my sun cream and a petit bikini… I wish to make my tan completely all over.”
“Well, there’ll be no one around to object to you getting a tan with no strap lines at all, if you want one,” Rhapsody teased. “But I hope you remembered to pack bug repellent, as well. I’ve never been on a tropical beach that didn’t have its share of winged beasties with a penchant for human flesh.” Destiny shook her head in amusement at this and, grinning, Rhapsody leant back in the passenger seat and closed her eyes. “Wake me when we reach paradise…” she murmured.
Rhapsody woke with a jolt as the plane bucked and swerved suddenly. She’d managed to doze off and was disorientated by her rude awakening. She glanced across the cabin and saw Destiny and Symphony clustered around the cockpit door. She undid her seat belt and went to join them.
“That last bolt of lightning came worryingly close,” Melody was saying. “The storm is sending the instruments haywire. I’m not even sure if we’re on the right course anymore.”
Harmony was repeating, ‘come in Cloudbase; please respond’ over and over. She stopped and turned her head towards her companions. “There is too much interference for the radio; I cannot contact Cloudbase any longer.”
Ahead of them a jagged flash of lightning illuminated the tumbling grey clouds and made the driving rain sparkle with a bright silver light for a brief moment. Rhapsody blinked and could still see the shape of it like a scar behind her eyelids. “I thought the weather forecast was clear,” she muttered.
Destiny glanced at her. “It is the season for tropical storms and they can appear very quickly, but they can finish also as quickly. Let us hope this one will also go soon.”
Rhapsody nodded and grabbed the back of a chair in support as the plane hit an air pocket and lurched downwards.
“Maybe we’d be wise to get the parachutes on?” Symphony suggested wryly. “Just in case.”
Rhapsody agreed with her and went to the storage locker to unload the parachutes – not an easy task in itself with the plane bucking like a fairground ride. She threw one across to Destiny, who caught it cleanly and slipped it on, and then to Symphony who fumbled the catch and had to scramble to get the ‘chute back. It rolled away from her as the plane lurched and she stumbled, losing her balance and banging her head hard on a passenger seat as she sprawled onto the floor.
Destiny stooped to help her stunned colleague, and Rhapsody, having put on her own chute, made her way to the cockpit with equipment for Harmony and Melody. The Angels were both struggling to put the parachutes on when a fierce bolt of lightning hit the plane and sparks flew from the control panels.
“Holy cow!” Melody screamed, jumping back from the instrumentation in alarm as the sparks caught at her flying suit.
“That is it,” Harmony said sadly, “every instrument is out now; it has blown the circuitry. We have no radio, no radar and no landing gear.”
Rhapsody doused the fire with a fire blanket and Melody resumed her seat. The plane was falling rapidly through the clouds and rain and beneath them they could see the rolling waves of the dark, storm-lashed ocean.
“An emergency landing at sea?” Rhapsody surmised, looking at the damage.
“I don’t wanna ditch her in the sea; not if I can help it. Hold on there, Rhapsody,” Melody said through gritted teeth and she pulled the steering column back, struggling to raise the nose.
“Over there,” Symphony said groggily. “I can see land…”
Everyone turned to glance in the direction of her pointing finger. Miraculously the clouds had parted and in the distance, illuminated by the recurring flashes of lightning lay a small, rocky island, its slopes a blanket of lush vegetation.
“Can you reach it, Melody?” Destiny asked, as the clouds hid the horizon again. “Will there be anywhere for us to land, if we do make it?”
“I think so; I can try. It’s a better option than what I see anywhere else and if I can’t make land, it’s still better we ditch in shallow water rather than out at sea in this storm.”
“D’accord; we shall take emergency landing positions.”
“Pull her round, Harmony; let’s aim for that terra firma,” Melody gasped as she struggled with the controls.
“The rest of you do as Destiny says and strap yourselves in!” Melody shouted over the engine’s protesting whine. “And hang on for dear life…”
Almost by the sheer force of her personality alone, Melody managed to get the SPJ to respond to her demands and the plane turned towards the east and, still descending, struggled towards what they hoped was land - although, once the clouds closed up again, it looked simply like a greyer mass in the monochrome of the storm around them. Melody coaxed the SPJ towards their goal and as they approached, they saw the flecks of white where the storm was whipping the turbulent waves against a submerged reef. Beyond that there was a solid stretch of land.
There was a collective exhale of held breath as the women realised they had reached some sort of landfall. Melody did her level best to bring the plane down smoothly and when the SPJ buried its nose in the narrow strip of sloping sandy beach and juddered to a halt with a grating slide and some ominous flashes of sparks from the engines, she immediately closed off the fuel intake to reduce the risk of an explosion.
The Angels were bruised and shaken but, by and large, unhurt by the incident. They glanced across at each other, the relief at having managed a landing on solid ground clearly visible on every face.
“Well done!” Rhapsody shouted to Melody as they all scrambled from the plane and raced across the damp sand to the inadequate cover offered by the vegetation that fringed the beach. The winds were so powerful that they hesitated to seek shelter amongst the trees.
They huddled together and watched out the storm, praying the SPJ would stay where it was and not be lifted from its precarious landing place by the ferocious wind and waves.
As Destiny had predicted, the storm blew itself out in a relatively short time and the women were able to venture back to the SPJ and inspect the damage. Harmony and Melody clambered into the cockpit to determine the exact extent of the systems failure, and Destiny threw down luggage and emergency supplies to Rhapsody and Symphony, who stacked them higher up the beach, away from the incoming surf.
Rhapsody unpacked a primus stove and measured out enough water from a plastic bottle to make everyone a hot drink; they were damp and shocked and it seemed like a good idea. While they waited for the water to boil they took the opportunity to change out of their wet uniforms into the far more practical Spectrum fatigues and trainers they’d have used at the training centre. Once the beverage was ready, Harmony and Melody joined them sitting on a groundsheet and reported back.
“I ought to warn you before you taste it, that this is coffee in name only; it’s in the same league as that stuff Captain Blue makes,” Rhapsody said with a wryly apologetic smile. The others grinned in response.
“It’s going to take some time to repair the damage,” Melody said, between sips of the hot, sweet liquid. “There’s an emergency repair kit onboard, so we should be able to get the thing airborne again - eventually.”
“Or at least fix the radio well enough to send a distress signal to Cloudbase,” Harmony amended in her quiet voice. “Of course, Melody is the expert when it comes to mechanical repairs; but I’m not inexperienced in it myself.”
“Well, I don’t know much about repairs,” Rhapsody admitted, “but I’ll do what I can to help, if you show me what to do.”
“We all will,” Destiny asserted.
“That’s great, girls; I knew I could count on you.” Melody smiled at them all. “But for now, I think we’d better concentrate on setting up a camp, exploring our island home, and especially looking for water. We might as well make ourselves something to eat too; we ain’t gonna be getting’ off here in a hurry - always exceptin’ Cloudbase had us on its radar and has sent a rescue ship after us, of course.”
Symphony, usually a bundle of energy and not one to hold her tongue in a discussion, was looking pale and tired. Across the right side of her forehead was a large discoloured contusion. She asked in a melancholy voice, “Do you think they’ll have sent someone?”
“Sure, honey. I bet they’re winging their way towards us as we speak,” Melody reassured her cheerfully. “But that’s no reason to sit around just waiting to be rescued; I - for one - would like them to see how well we’ve coped when they turn up all superior and making wisecracks about ‘women pilots’, if I know them.” There was a murmur of agreement from the others, although Symphony still looked unhappy. The rivalry between the Angels and the male officers, on the subject of just who were the best pilots, was a friendly one but it existed, nevertheless.
Melody shared a concerned glance with the other girls. “You sure gave your head one major crack, Karen. Are you okay?”
“My head aches,” Symphony admitted with a wan smile, “but I’m fine otherwise.”
“Then I suggest Symphony stays here and makes the meal, whilst the rest of us fan out and explore the island,” Rhapsody said. “It doesn’t look that big – we were lucky we spotted it, and that our pilot had the skill to land us safely on it.” She grinned at Melody in approval.
There was a general murmur of consent, but Harmony announced, “I will stay here; it does not take all four of us to explore. I can begin to assess what the damage has been to the communications relays and how it might be repaired.”
Melody looked to be about to argue, but a glance at Harmony’s face told her it was pointless. The words may have been softly-spoken but the expression was resolute and catching her colleague’s eyes on her, Harmony gave a quick glance towards the drooping Symphony, which was eloquent enough to explain to Melody that she was concerned about their injured friend.
“Okay, Chan,” Melody said in response. “That’s a neat idea. Rhapsody, go along the beach that way; Destiny, you go that way. I’ll go inland a way and see if I can’t find out how big this place is. Number one priority is finding water–- but I don’t need to tell you that.”
The others nodded. Destiny stood up and gathered her long, blonde hair into a ponytail. “Alors, it looks as if we shall be having our survival training for real, mes enfants.”
“Pity we couldn’t have crashed on the way back,” Rhapsody responded with a cheerful grin as she scrambled to her feet.
Determined to keep upbeat, everyone laughed.
Rhapsody and Destiny were the first explorers to arrive back and they had plenty of information to exchange and consider.
Rhapsody had found a small stream, trickling from the interior across the beach. “I followed it a short way in, and it seems to come from a freshwater source,” she explained as she handed the sample bottle she’d taken over to Symphony so it could be purified and tasted. Symphony dropped a purification tablet in and set it to one side.
Destiny had gone as far as she could in the other direction along the beach but she’d found no water on her trek. “Once I got to the promontory I could see another small island – smaller than this one, I think, and not with mountains on. I thought we might try to find water there, if necessary.”
“And how would we get to this island? Swim?” Rhapsody asked. “I bet there are sharks around here, Juliette.”
“Tcha! I do not suggest we swim with sharks, but the water is not so deep; there is a reef between the islands. Maybe we could fashion a raft or a boat from a palm tree?”
“What with? Penknives?”
“I do not think this attitude is of help, Dianne,” Destiny said, taking offence at this scoffing.
“It will not help if we squabble amongst ourselves,” Harmony said firmly. “Until we know where we are and what this island can offer us, any idea has to be a considered as a possibility.”
Rhapsody nodded. “You’re right, Chan, as ever. I’m sorry, Juliette. I’m hungry and it’s making me short-tempered, I guess.”
“The food is almost ready; but we ought to wait for Melody,” Symphony said.
“Non, if she is not here when it is ready, we should eat anyway,” Destiny reasoned. “If we have to search for her, we will need sustenance.”
They did wait for another ten minutes and were ready to divide up the rations when Melody re-appeared. She clambered down from the overgrown bank behind the beach and sprinted across to the others.
Rhapsody suggested they dish out the food and eat whilst Melody reported back and everyone agreed. They all ate hungrily except for Symphony who, after a couple of mouthfuls, declared herself not hungry and pushed the bowl away.
In between mouthfuls, Melody gave her report.
“Well, it’s a real jungle in there, girls. Took me a time to make my way through it; but once I got to higher ground okay I could see that this island isn’t very big, and it’s part of a small archipelago of what I guess are coral islands. I don’t think this place is inhabited, not as far as I could see, anyway; but guess what I did see?”
“Manhattan,” Symphony suggested quietly, with a little smile. It was at least a glimmer of her usual wit and Melody grinned at her.
“Nice idea, Karen, but not quite right! There is a larger island and I think there are people on it. I swear I saw smoke rising from one part. Where there are people, there are radios and where there are radios, there is rescue!”
“You are assuming a great deal,” Harmony said with a warning glance. “The natives - assuming it is a native population - may not have radios or even be friendly to outsiders...”
“Who else would it be?” Rhapsody interjected. “Are you suggesting it might be some kind of holiday resort, Chan?”
Harmony shook her head. “Even in this day and age there are pirates on the seas, Rhapsody; such an island might be a perfect base for them, so any native people might be fearful of intruders. I merely say we should be cautious. Besides, I do not think we should place too much hope on this; if we cannot get to the small island Destiny saw, how can we get to the larger one? Is it very close, Melody?”
“Who says we can’t get to any other islands?” Melody asked, licking her fingers and wiping them on her trousers. “You sure you don’t want that, Karen? Waste not, want not, as my momma always told me…” she said, reaching for the bowl.
“Well, Destiny suggested we fashion a canoe from a palm tree,” Rhapsody explained by way of an apology to the Frenchwoman.
“Hell, no! What’s wrong with using the inflatable life rafts from the SPJ…?” Melody looked up from her seconds and grinned.
The other Angels gave sheepish grins in return and Destiny gave an embarrassed giggle.
“I guess we’re all getting far too deep into Robinson Crusoe mode,” Rhapsody said as the silence lengthened. “Good job you’re here to keep our feet on the ground, Nolie.”
“The name of the game is survival,” Melody said sombrely, “so you use what you have and you take your chances –at least in my experience you have to.”
“Of course, you were stranded on just such an island as this, were you not?” Destiny exclaimed. “It seems we shall all have to bow to your experience, Magnolia.”
“Well, I got off there eventually, but I sure have no intention of being here for that long!”
Catching sight of the misery on Symphony’s face, Destiny remembered that Melody had spent the best part of a year marooned, and she exclaimed, “Goodness, we shall not be here for very long. There are too many brave capitaines who would not allow for that to happen!”
“Too right,” Rhapsody asserted. “I can think of at least two who’ll be champing at the bit to rescue us,” she added, reaching to place hand on her friend’s shoulder. Symphony gave her a brave smile, but the expression in her eyes was one of exhausted confusion. I think she’s got concussion, Rhapsody thought with concern. “Anyway,” she continued brightly, “we need to be seen to be able to take care of ourselves, as Melody said; I don’t want the colonel thinking we’re weak and feeble women, either. Right now, I think we could all do with some rest. Maybe we should fix up a shelter of some kind?”
“Yeah,” Melody agreed. “Let’s see what the SPJ has in the way of ground sheets and tents etc… The sun can get pretty intense in these latitudes; we’ll need daytime shade as much as night time.”
They quickly rigged up two shelters for them all to take a siesta beneath, as the late afternoon sun beat relentlessly on the sandy beach, making it almost too hot to walk on. Rhapsody shared a sunshade with Symphony, who was far too quiet and pale for it to be healthy. When her friend complained of thirst, she insisted the American remain in the shade and crawled over the burning sand to fetch her some water.
Harmony was sitting closest to the SPJ where the water bottles were stored and she asked, “Is Karen all right? She has complained of a headache and she did not eat much.”
Rhapsody shrugged. “I hope so; she’s still rather confused. It was an almighty bump on the head she got.”
“With good fortune she will be better tomorrow, but for today she should not be left alone or allowed to do too much,” Harmony insisted in her phlegmatic way. “There is nothing in the first aid kit that will take care of a concussion.”
“By tomorrow, I hope we’ll be rescued,” Rhapsody said.
Harmony looked slightly shifty and lowered her voice, “I am not sure, Rhapsody. We were blown many miles off course by the storm and our equipment was not functioning. Neither Melody or I know exactly where we are.”
“But Cloudbase will find us,” Rhapsody asserted. “They have the best equipment on the planet, Chan; it can pinpoint a needle in a haystack from across the other side of the world, according to Lieutenant Green. They’re not going to lose an SPJ.”
“The lieutenant exaggerates a little,” Harmony said with a kindly smile. “There was a lot of interference, Dianne; it will depend on when Cloudbase lost track of us as to how close their last position for us is to where we actually are.”
“They’ll come looking.”
Harmony nodded. “Most assuredly they will; once they realise we have not made the journey to the training base without incident. But remember, Major Fern did not expect us and even Captain Blue will not worry unduly if he has no message from… one of us - given the situation when we left. If there happens to be a Mysteron threat, or if Cloudbase is busy, they might not think to check we arrived - not immediately. Then they would have to start up a search and they only have the standby Angels to assist them. They will find us, I do not question that; but how soon, is open for debate.”
“You worry too much,” Rhapsody said with a smile; she’d little doubt that, even if Blue wasn’t expecting a message from Symphony, Captain Scarlet would be waiting for a message from her – he wasn’t known for his patience either and he’d start asking questions when she did not get in touch. She took a bottle of water and started to crawl back towards Symphony.
“Perhaps,” Harmony murmured to herself, “but also, perhaps not.”
As the afternoon slipped into evening, the heat became less intense and so the Angels started to build a more substantial camp, erecting the emergency tents and methodically checking over the emergency stores. Rhapsody and Melody went to fetch more water from the stream, which had proven to be safe to drink, whilst Destiny and Harmony collected driftwood to make a fire. They had decided to make two fires –- one for cooking and warmth overnight, the other for a beacon to attract the attention of passing planes or shipping; at least, should the chance arise before they’d mended their communications equipment. Once they had done that, they decided to lay out an SOS signal in the sand using rocks and branches to reinforce their message.
Once more Harmony stayed with Symphony under the pretence of working on the equipment, and the American Angel slowly went through the motions of dividing up the emergency rations for an evening ‘meal’, but when they sat down to eat, Symphony ate very little and reassuring her concerned friends that she was merely tired, she was the first to crawl into her sleeping bag and close her eyes against the tribulations of the day.
The others sat on in companionable conversation until the sky was studded with stars. Each of them had some knowledge of navigating by the stars and they spent some time trying to pinpoint their position. When they had rough co-ordinates they could agree on, Harmony noted them down.
“We shall transmit them when the radio is repaired,” she said.
“And when will that be?” Rhapsody asked as casually as she could.
“As soon as I can fix it,” was Harmony’s calm answer; her gentle voice successfully disguised the anxiety she felt about the amount of work needed to get the equipment working again.
Reassured, Rhapsody yawned. “I’m going to turn in too, girls; tomorrow will be a busy day.”
There was general agreement with this, and the Angels all prepared to get what sleep they could.
Melody was the last to go. She banked the fire to ensure it didn’t go out, or pose a threat to their precious stores overnight. Then she stood and surveyed the island, the dark, restless sea with the luminescent white spume of the breakers rolling over the reef, and the impassive star-spangled sky above them.
She sighed. “What’re the odds of being marooned on a desert island twice in one lifetime?” she murmured into the night. “Well, you won’t keep me here this time. If I have to walk off this island, I’m not stopping long…” she vowed.
The night passed uneventfully, and Symphony felt a lot brighter when she woke in the early morning sunshine. Careful not to wake Rhapsody, who shared the tent, she scrambled from her sleeping bag and wandered away along the beach in the direction of the stream, with the intention of washing.
Harmony was never sure if it was Symphony’s movements that woke her – the American was as quiet as she could be – but once she was awake, the Oriental Angel was not one to lie about, and she slithered from her sleeping bag and crawled from the shelter to stretch herself in the warm sunshine. She glanced around the camp and then along the beach in both directions; in the distance she saw Symphony and a frown formed on her face. Harmony set great store on preserving her own privacy and, as a consequence, she afforded the same consideration to everyone else that she wished them to afford her. But she was fearful that something might happen to Symphony given her recent concussion and so, although she was wary of intruding on her friend’s privacy, she followed at a distance, keeping a careful eye on the invalid.
It was some time later that Melody woke and busied herself filling the saucepan to boil water for morning drinks. The others gradually emerged from their tents and shook off their lingering tiredness by watching her make some tea.
She handed it around, and said, “I’ll take this to Symphony.”
Rhapsody glanced up and swallowed her mouthful. “She’s not there. She must have woken earlier and gone for a walk.”
“We cannot be sure she’s fit to wander off alone,” Destiny said, a frown between her almond-shaped eyes.
“Well, she didn’t wake me, or I would have gone with her,” Rhapsody explained.
Melody downed her tea in a gulp and sprang to her feet. “I doubt she’s gone alone; Harmony wasn’t in our tent when I woke. I just didn’t realise she’d gone with Symphony.” She walked a short way from the churned up sand around the camp and called back, “There are two sets of footprints… looks like they were heading for the stream. I’ll follow them; you girls make some breakfast.”
Without waiting for further discussion, Melody strode off after the trail of footprints.
Rhapsody and Destiny were already eating their rations when they saw Melody returning at a run.
“What has happen?” Destiny called, as they both got to their feet in alarm.
Melody panted, “I can’t find either of them. The footprints lead to the stream, all right and then vanish. I followed them into the interior, but there’s no sign of the girls. What’s worse, the vegetation was all trampled - like there’d been a struggle? - and if I didn’t know this place was deserted, I’d say they’ve been abducted.”
“That’s a dire conclusion from such inconclusive evidence,” Rhapsody said. “Or is there more?”
Melody extended her clenched hand and opened her fingers. Lying in her palm was a silver necklace. “Yeah, I found this.”
Rhapsody gave a gasp of alarm. “Karen would never have taken that off voluntarily,” she said, lifting the object from Melody’s hand. “It’s the St. Christopher medallion Adam gave her.”
“So what has happen to her?” Destiny exclaimed again. “We should search the island.”
“I don’t think either of them’s here,” Melody said firmly. “I think who ever took Symphony, took Harmony too -”
“- we do not know that anyone has taken them anywhere,” Destiny insisted. “Do not leap to conclusions, Melody. They might have strayed away and perhaps have injured themselves in a fall.”
“Let’s search the island,” Rhapsody said, anxious to stop the disagreement between the other two deteriorating into a full-blown argument. “Only let’s do it quickly. We don’t know what they might be suffering if they’re both injured.”
“It’s possible that you’re right, Destiny, but I still think it’s more likely they’ve been taken. You haven’t seen the trampled ground by the stream: I have. It don’t look like anyone left there willingly. If someone on the big island saw our smoke last night, they may’ve come over and grabbed the first people they found.” Melody was not going to be easily swayed from her deduction.
“Perhaps we’ve unwittingly trespassed on sacred ground?” Destiny mused.
“If Melody’s right, they’ll have taken them to their island,” Rhapsody said. She’d swept away the breakfast things and was obviously anxious to start the search.
Melody glanced in the direction of their larger neighbour. “Then that’s where we’ll have to go to look for them,” she said firmly.
“D’accord; but after we have made sure they are not on this island,” Destiny insisted.
Melody shrugged; with their friends missing there wasn’t time for pointless further discussion; swiftly she co-ordinated a search pattern that covered the whole island. Each Angel was equipped with a short range personal communicator, water, emergency rations and rope. They set off, determined to find their colleagues.
When the search of the crash-site island was finally accomplished, there was still no sign of the missing Angels. The search party ended up on the beach across the island from the crash site and gazed at the larger island which suddenly seemed to loom menacingly across the cerulean-blue water of the strait.
Melody came back from an examination of the shoreline. “I think it’s possible that a boat was drawn up here,” she said, brushing sand from her hands. “And it can’t have come from anywhere but there…” She nodded towards the bigger island. “We need to get our dinghy from the camp and get over to that island –- and quick.”
“It does look as if the others must have been taken there,” Rhapsody agreed, “and the fact that whoever took them did not make themselves known suggests they don’t have friendly intentions towards us. I wonder why they didn’t come for the rest of us, though.”
“Perhaps it was a scouting party,” Destiny suggested. “It is possible our crash was seen and a small group came to look for survivors? They might come back with more of them.”
Melody nodded. “Better we use the element of surprise and get after them before they come after us – quite apart from finding Harmony and Symphony. If we make a concerted effort we can be over there before nightfall.”
The others nodded, despite the fact that they were suffering from the effects of the heat far more than Melody. The American came from Georgia and seemed better able to cope with the heat and humidity than the two Europeans. In an effort to keep cool, Destiny had divided her hair into two plaits and sported a somewhat incongruous floppy, wide-brimmed hat – more suited to St Tropez than a desert island - and Rhapsody wore a baseball cap with a ponytail of her long copper-coloured hair threaded through the back. Both of them were smeared in generous amounts of sun-block.
They set off back to the camp at a brisk walking pace. Once there they set about preparing for their mission. Destiny packed rucksacks with provisions and essential equipment, including two more of the short-range communication devices – which, however limited they were, were better then nothing - as well as the basic medications they had, while Melody unpacked the dinghy from the SPJ and Rhapsody wrote a note for their potential rescuers, saying where they were going -– and why.
It was getting late by the time they had manhandled the dinghy around the island to the point as close to the main island as the shoreline would allow them to get. Then, they loaded it with the supplies. Although a spine of coral reef that ran from the biggest island to the smallest one formed a breakwater, there were ominous signs of strong currents between the islands; the variations in the colour of the water indicating underlying reefs and the channels between them and all three of them knew the journey would not be an easy one.
Once they were beyond the breakers, they set to with the paddles and headed for the islands to rescue their friends.
Symphony woke from a disturbingly garbled dream - involving Captain Blue, the medical rooms on Cloudbase and a bathtub full of spaghetti - to a throbbing headache and a raging thirst. She had no idea where she was and stared in bewilderment at the unfamiliar walls and ceiling that surrounded her. Slowly her memory started to come back: the training mission, the plane crash, the night in the tent and the walk to the stream in the warm morning sunshine. She’d removed her shoes and bathed her feet in the cool water before bending down to splash some on her face and it had been then that she’d seen the dark shadow of a figure loom over her. She’d hardly had time to struggle before some evil-smelling cloth was clamped over her mouth and she’d fallen into unconsciousness.
She moved her hand to rub her aching head and was startled by the chink of metal when she moved. She glanced at her arm and saw the manacle that encircled her right wrist and the heavy chain that led back to the bed. It was probably a metre or so long, so she could sit and even move about the room within reason, but there was no way she could escape. She eased herself into a sitting position wincing at a stab of unexpected pain and discomfort around her hips and swung round to place her bare feet on the concrete floor, noticing that each of the metal bedposts, which were screwed to the floor, had shorter chains attached to them, which would not have permitted the occupant to even sit up.
She shook her befuddled head and glanced down at herself, noting with concern that her own clothes had been removed and she was now wearing a shapeless overall, rather like a hospital gown, that fastened with ties at the shoulder. She was not surprised to see when she glanced at her left wrist, that her chronometer was missing and with a gasp of dismay her hand went to her neck, searching for the comforting feel of her medallion. Her face crumpled in sadness as she realised it too was gone, and somehow that loss was worse than anything; the St Christopher was her amulet, her good luck charm and her permanent link with the man who had given it to her - Captain Blue.
Oh no! I bet the people who brought me here took it - she was more upset by its loss than she’d expected. Oh Adam, I kinda hope they did, ‘cause then I at least stand a chance of getting it back. She brushed her hair away from her face and fought the urge to cry; everything about her current circumstances suggested she was in a dangerous situation. I guess I should be pleased that I’ve still got something on, she consoled herself.
She stood up and walking as far as the chain would allow her, she found that she could reach neither the door nor the small, shutter-less window, which was covered with anti-mosquito mesh. There was a rickety table within reach and on that was a ewer of water, a tin bowl and a plastic drinking mug. She splashed water into her face, tasting the drops that dripped onto her tongue. It tasted fine, and so she risked pouring half a mug and sipping some of it to quench her thirst.
She still hadn’t found any clues as to where she was; although she presumed she was no longer on the original crash island, Melody’s reconnaissance had convinced her there was no sign of human occupation and Melody was unlikely to have missed something as substantial as a building that contained a room like this one.
The sun was low in the sky, but without knowing the orientation of the window, that did not tell her much. Her chronometer would have told her, but without that she had very little to go on; perhaps that was why it had been removed? She was hungry, but then, she’d been hungry when she’d woken before she walked to the stream so that was no help either.
She considered the option of shouting. It was a last resort in some ways, as it might bring the unwanted attention of her captors, but it might also bring the comfort of hearing a familiar voice raised in answer.
She cleared her throat and shouted, “Angels: Spectrum is red!” and then sat, straining to catch the faintest response. The silence grew oppressive and her chin dropped to her chest in dejection as she acknowledged the fact that she was alone.
Wherever this is, the chains on the bed are not very reassuring. In fact, this whole set-up is giving me the creeps: chains welded to bed frames, manacles and locked doors… where the hell am I? The regional HQ for a tribe with a bondage cult?
She sat down again and sipped at the water once more, wondering what to do. Whatever plan she came up with was swiftly discredited by her practical analysis of the reality of her situation, and she grew increasingly dejected until her thoughts gradually became little more than an incoherent feeling of unease. Her memory drifted sluggishly over the events of the past few days and dwelt increasingly on Captain Blue.
She’d no way of knowing how long she sat there before she heard footsteps approaching her room. She put the cup down and stood, mustering what stamina she had in reserve. Anyone who imagined she’d be unable to fight for her honour was in for a surprise.
She heard the key turn and two bolts snap back before the door was opened and a short, dark-skinned man, dressed in a faded sarong of indeterminate colour, sidled in, placed a bowl of some sort of watery stew on the table and walked out again, without speaking or even glancing at her, locking the door once more. Symphony examined the watery, grey mush and sniffed at it, but the aroma made her stomach churn and she couldn’t bring herself to taste any of it.
She remained sitting on the bed, her head aching and her stomach rumbling until, what seemed like several hours later, the door was opened again and another small-boned, dark-skinned man, with black hair and dark eyes sidled in. He was wearing what appeared to be a pair of brightly patterned Bermuda shorts, and a faded tee-shirt, and his whole attitude was one of someone who had authority about the place.
He spoke peremptorily to her in a language she did not understand. She shook her head and said forcefully, “American.”
He grinned revealing a row of bad and missing teeth and said in halting English, “Be ready - the Professor come here.”
“The Professor? What Professor?”
“He come back. He see you.” He leered at her whilst his gaze swept over her from head to toe. He seemed to approve of what he saw and Symphony’s hackles rose instinctively at this examination, but the man merely grinned at her, turned and walked out, leaving the door ajar. She strained to reach it, but the manacle cut into her wrist and she was forced to move back towards the bed. To her surprise, when the door opened again, two young girls came in. Barely teenagers, they were dressed in similar overalls to herself and carried a large basin, a bundle of linen cloths and a ewer.
Despite her protests, they attempted to strip her of the simple gown she wore, but Symphony had an uneasy feeling that she was being watched and wouldn’t co-operate, so that finally they allowed her to modestly clasp the garment to her breast as they started to wash her hair. All the time they were working, the girls were making disapproving noises - presumably because she wore her hair so short whilst their own black hair hung down their backs. Once they started to towel it dry and comb it, Symphony, angered by this cavalier treatment, brushed them aside and, using the basic comb and a fragment of tarnished mirror they had, fashioned her hair into something approaching her usual style. Once she’d finished, the girls stepped forward once more and this time, to her mortification, forcibly removed the gown completely and began to wash her in invigoratingly cold water, rubbing her dry on the rough cloths.
As they went on with their task, they giggled whenever she spoke to them, shaking their heads in answer to her questions and whispering to each other in a way that was extremely disconcerting. Symphony got the notion they were comparing her to their own slender, immature bodies and that her height and buxom figure, so appreciated by western eyes, rendered her incompatible with their concept of feminine allure so that despite all their ministrations they didn’t believe she would ever pass as beautiful. Her fragile self-confidence took a battering and she gave up trying to communicate with them. Standing stock-still, she held her head proudly upright and trained her eyes on the far wall, as if what was happening was happening to someone other than her. If the men were watching, there was nothing she could do about it, but she was damned if she was going to act as if she was ashamed of her own body just because of the antics of a couple of silly schoolgirls.
Once she was dry, the girls began anointing her neck, breasts, elbows and knees with a pungent oil that was almost overpowering in its flowery scent, but she absolutely refused to allow them to apply any make up to her face, her temper making her shout at them until they slipped the shapeless gown back over her shoulders, tying the braids at the shoulders and bowed themselves out, carrying all of their paraphernalia with them.
Offended beyond anything she’d ever felt at such treatment from the hands of complete strangers, Symphony was in the mood for confrontation, but as time dragged by in the humid atmosphere of the silent room, her anger drowned in a sea of confused self-pity. She knew that whoever had imprisoned her here, held the advantage. She didn’t know if the other Angels knew where she was, or why she’d left them; if she’d been taken to another island, they might never be able to reach her and there was little chance of her being able to avoid whatever fate was planned for her for long. Memories of watching Hollywood ‘B’ movies of hapless white women on remote cannibal islands being prepared for sacrifice to some volcano-god - or a monstrous ape for that matter - were of little comfort. In those movies the dashing hero would always arrive in the nick of time to save the heroine from a fate worse than death - but her handsome hero didn’t even know where she was… instinctively her hand moved to her neck before she remembered her medallion was missing. She blinked back her tears and told herself to stop being such a wimp - she could handle this alone if she had to.
Finally, just as her nerves were reaching breaking point, she heard footsteps, accompanied by the regular tapping of a walking stick, approaching, and scrambled to her feet. This time the footsteps were of more than one person and when the door was opened by yet another native, he stepped aside immediately to allow a white man to stalk into the room. He stood by the door, studying Symphony with an intensity that annoyed her; so she straightened up, drew her shoulders back and returned his scrutiny. He was elderly, a little above average height, and of a lean build, with a skin tanned walnut-brown by prolonged exposure to the tropical sun. His face was narrow and he wore a neat beard, intended, Symphony suspected, to hide a rather weak chin. But there was nothing weak about his eyes, which were large and watery-blue in colour, and which shone with fervour as they considered his captive. He carried a stout, black-handled cane and was dressed in the timeless fashion of the European abroad; faded white shirt and trousers, sandals, and on his head sat quite possibly the last solar topee in existence, which he now raised with exaggerated courtesy to reveal close-cropped grey hair and protruding ears. He smiled at her, revealing decidedly yellow teeth. Symphony instinctively found him repellent, but was careful not to show it, as she’d few doubts this man was in charge here and she’d need his co-operation if she was ever to rejoin her colleagues.
When he finally spoke, his voice had a rather high-pitched nasal quality that grated on her nerves like fingernails down a blackboard and he displayed the over-precise pronunciation of a non-native English speaker.
“My dear young lady, welcome to Besar-pulau. My apologies for the unseemly way my servants transported you here. They will be punished. I was not aware that they had discovered a white woman on Kanan-pulau until I received their message and was able to return to the compound this evening. When they saw the plane brought down by the storm yesterday, my men naturally went to see if there were survivors.”
“Your men attacked me,” Symphony said stonily.
“I understand that it might appear that way, my dear, but allow me to explain that we have to be careful - these waters are frequented by pirates. In addition, some of my men are not too bright and a little over-cautious. But, as they have offended you, they will be punished. I trust you are feeling better now? I understand some of the women have been here to help you freshen up?”
Symphony gave a snort of anger. “Yes, some girls were here, although I wouldn’t say it was a pleasant experience for me. Do you have the key for this?” She raised her hand and rattled the chain.
The Professor turned angrily, speaking to his attendant with vehemence. The man winced as he was struck by the white man’s cane and scurried from the room. “I gave orders that that should be removed; what must you think of us? Again, I offer you my apologies, my dear. The servants that have offended you will be reprimanded. Allow me to introduce myself; I am Professor Stephen Leblois. Whom do I have the pleasure of addressing?”
Symphony hesitated. “Call me Symphony,” she said. “I’m a pilot for the World Government’s security agency, Spectrum, and that’s my code name.” She hoped the revelation of who she was would be enough to halt this charade in its tracks, but Leblois seemed unimpressed.
“We do not concern ourselves here with world governments nor their agencies. Your real name, if you please,” he said severely.
“Symphony,” she repeated. Leblois’s repeated promises of punishment for his staff, as much as his vicious striking of his hapless attendant, suggested that it was unwise to antagonise him, yet she had no wish to tell this man any more than she had to. He’d have to do a great deal better than he was doing, before she felt able to trust him with more than a very basic knowledge about herself, or her friends.
He inclined his head, although his expression showed he was not pleased with her obstinacy. “As you wish, Miss Symphony; it is unfortunate that circumstances have led to your doubting us. I’m sure, with time, you’ll become more trusting.”
Not if I was here for a lifetime, she thought, and I have no intention of letting that happen - nor will the others. At the thought of her companions she bit her lip, hoping Leblois had no idea she wasn’t the only survivor. I doubt they’d have managed to capture the others, she reassured herself. And if they had, he’d be bragging about it to me.
Leblois was continuing with his polite conversation, and she forced herself to concentrate on what he was saying – she needed to gather every scrap of information she could. “In the meantime, it would please me if you would take a meal with me on my private veranda? I’ll have the women deliver some more suitable attire for you to wear. A bientôt, Miss Symphony.”
She gave a rather bemused nod as the professor left the room abruptly. Moments later his servant ran back with the keys to the manacle, and freed her from it.
She was still standing, rubbing her wrist, when one of the young girls came back in and laid a dress on the edge of the bed. She raised a resentful face towards the American, her dark eyes filled with apprehensive tears, and fled the room. As the door shut after her, Symphony heard one of the bolts go home. The invitation to dine was obviously not meant to be refused.
She sighed and examined the dress. It was made of yellow silk, embroidered with blowsy red flowers and fashioned in an ‘oriental’ style with a mandarin collar and a split in the skirt. Reluctantly, she struggled into it; it was barely big enough and she feared that if she so much as sneezed, the buttons would pop open.
Well, maybe Leblois likes his women to look like cheap hookers, she mused, running her hands down the smooth fabric. Going on the demeanour of the other women around here, I’m assuming they’re kept in their places. He looks like the type to espouse the ‘kinder, kirke, kuche’ theology to me. She looked down at the dress once more and wriggled in an attempt to ease the constricting garment. I’d better not eat too much, she thought ruefully as she knocked on the door to be let out.
The servant she was coming to think of as ‘the butler’ led her through bare corridors, passed a number of rooms similar to the one she’d been in. As she passed one the door was ajar and she heard the sound of a woman crying and the swish of something descending through the air and connecting with exposed flesh. The memory of the girl’s fearful expression hit her like a slap in the face. Leblois had said they’d be punished - but this wasn’t what she’d wanted. She berated herself for expressing her irritation so thoughtlessly and, in doing so, landing the young girls in such a situation; annoyed with herself, and with Leblois’s heavy-handed ‘reprimands’, she decided that she’d have to tackle the professor about it.
They left the building through a heavy wooden door and walked across a small, private garden, isolated from the rest of the compound by a high wooden trellis, through which exotic plants twined and rambled. The extensive bungalow on the far side was obviously the professor’s personal residence. The man led her to stairs that went up to a canopied veranda, that ran the length of the house and faced away from the garden they’d just crossed with a view towards the distant mountains and the golden beach that led to the dazzling blue sea. Symphony paused to drink in the magical beauty of the surroundings that conformed to her image of the perfect tropical island
Leblois was seated at the far end of the veranda, his back to the sea, his cane propped beside a round table laden with fruit and bowls of freshly-cooked food, which smelt depressingly like curries of various descriptions to Symphony. At least not eating them won’t be too difficult, she consoled herself. As far as she could estimate, it was the afternoon and the sun was heading for the distant horizon, and she was starting to regret the missed rations from yesterday.
Leblois rose as she drew closer and his ever-present personal servant moved a chair out for her to sit. Somehow, his very courtesy was unnerving, given what she’d just witnessed and the fear she sensed in the servants. The larger compound, which she’d been able to glimpse through the gaps in the trellis, was also surrounded by a fence but she had seen small groups of young people, some barely more than children, toiling silently away, and in the distance towards the jungle, was a large, wire gate manned by guards. She wondered what was going on here.
A china plate was placed before her and the covers lifted from the bowls of food. A surprisingly appetising aroma arose with the steam and Symphony’s mouth began to water.
“Please, help yourself, Miss Symphony,” Leblois said, as a similar plate was placed before him. “Breakfast is our main meal of the day. We take fruit for lunch and a light meal in the evening; so much better for the digestion. In your honour, we have prepared a far more substantial meal for a late lunch today. Eat all you want, but please excuse me if I do not do the same. I have been up since first light and breakfasted before I returned to the compound.”
Symphony sniffed at the steaming bowls of food and recalled how Rhapsody and Captain Scarlet had once got a great deal of amusement out of taking her and Captain Blue for a meal in an Indian restaurant, somewhere in London. There they had plied them with what must have been the hottest things on the menu. Blue - who’d lived in the UK for a time before he joined Spectrum and was, therefore, familiar with the British penchant for curried food - had eaten them all without hesitation, matching Scarlet in his daredevil selection of ‘hot’ dishes and he’d played along with Rhapsody’s assertion that the dishes she was given were ‘mild’, but she’d suffered agonies nevertheless. Cautiously, she reached out to ladle a small spoonful of rice and one of a fish curry onto her plate, then warily transferred a small amount into her mouth, aware that it might be either excruciatingly hot, or possibly even drugged. As her taste buds exploded with the delicate flavours, she knew that not eating the food was going to be a struggle; yet she couldn’t be sure it wouldn’t have some adverse effect on her later and besides, she was still afraid that her dress might not hold together and she’d no intention of giving Leblois the thrill of seeing that happen.
Her host gave another of his patronising smiles as he sliced into a ripe fruit and cut it into segments. “It is refreshing to associate with such a charming and civilised young woman and to see such a ladylike refinement in the matter of food. Too many of the natives around here pile their plates high and guzzle their food. It is a common failing.”
She wondered if that was because no one had enough to eat normally, but she said, “There are other women here? I’ve only met the girls who came to help me freshen up. By the way, I’m afraid that in my confusion I might have said something to get them into trouble; they did not deserve to be punished, Professor, they did what they had to do - it is just that I am unused to being waited on in that manner.”
“Do not trouble yourself, my dear, although your kind heart does you credit. The servants need to be kept in their places; they are naturally lazy and prone to insolence and insubordination. I have a reputation for demanding excellent service from them; those that do not fulfil my requirements leave my employ. As to the women here, alas, far too many of them cannot survive the rigours of our island paradise; but a few do remain and work in the kitchens and around the compound.”
Symphony scooped up another spoonful and asked, “Have you lived here long, Professor? It must be a very isolated existence.”
Leblois laid his knife down and steepled his fingers, in a manner vaguely reminiscent of Colonel White, and which suggested he was about to start a long speech. “I came here many, many years ago to work on my life’s mission. I spent my early years in the Congo where my Belgian father was a mining engineer and my English mother an administrator for a European Consortium that traded in diamonds. After my education in Europe, I returned to Africa and started my work; the preservation of rare species, Miss Symphony, and that work continues here until this day. Originally, we were a small, but dedicated band of comrades: my late wife, my American assistant, Doctor Maurice Brent, his wife, Michelle and a few Malay servants and their families. This island - we call it Besar-pulau, the big island - had a small population of indigenous natives; a woefully uncivilised, superstitious and backward people. It is their descendants who form most of the workforce you might encounter.”
“Rare species of what?” Symphony enquired, nibbling on a third spoonful of the food. Although she was listening with every appearance of polite interest, the more she heard, the more Leblois repelled her. He was all politeness towards her, yet he mistreated and denigrated his servants and, beneath his veneer of courtesy, she sensed a powerful personality which would make him a dangerous enemy. His past history suggested that his family may have been part of the systematic rape of the mineral wealth of the unstable Congo region that had continued throughout the last century and into this. The Europeans who had worked in the region had gained a well-deserved reputation for brutality towards their African workers that still left a bad taste in the mouth. Either way it didn’t hold out much hope that his upbringing had instilled in Leblois much of a respect for his native employees.
Leblois appeared gratified by her interest. “Flora and fauna, my dear; the world is in danger of losing the bio-diversity of its gene pool, Miss Symphony. Mono-culture and loss of habitat are increasing problems for animals in the wild. More radical ways are needed to protect that gene-pool. I have made some significant advances here and hope one day to present my work to the scientific world as the beginning of that radical new solution to the problem; as it most assuredly is.”
“So, you have a sort of zoo?” She glanced over her shoulder towards the long barrack-type buildings beyond the block where she’d been kept and from which she could just hear the muffled sounds of what might well be caged animals.
“I prefer to think of it more as an ark; if not a new Eden,” Leblois said pompously, but there was an undertone of menace in his words, as if he now considered her continued curiosity inappropriate.
“A very apt analogy,” she said, placating him with a quick smile, “and a selfless and important mission for one man, Professor.” To herself she thought: A new Eden? This guy’s got a real Messianic complex; I suspected as much…boy, Karen Wainwright, do you find yourself in some tight jams… and I don’t just mean this dress.
Leblois’s face relaxed into what must have been meant as an approving smile at her words and he quartered another piece of fruit, encouraging her to eat some more of the dishes laid before them.
“It has become the sole reason for my continued existence here, my dear. Since I lost my dear wife I have dedicated myself to my work; and the advancement of the methods we pioneered together to preserve the DNA of endangered species. I have already modestly admitted to a few significant successes over the years; indeed, it would be my pleasure to introduce to you…”
The serenity of the compound was destroyed by a loud crash, followed by excited shouting. Apologising, Leblois rose and walked to the far end of the veranda, leaning over the balustrade and peering into the distance. Symphony went to stand beside him, anxious to learn all she could about the lay-out and purpose of her sinister surroundings.
There was a commotion across the expanse of the compound, originating from a low, concrete-built block. Suddenly the door flew open and the gathering crowd fell back as a small, black-haired woman raced out and after a quick glance to orientate herself, sprinted towards the main gate. A burly guard came towards her and with a deft flying kick she floored him, righted herself and kept running. Then, unable to open the mesh gates, she threw herself against them and scrambled up and over the top, dropping down on the other side, to land on her hands and knees. With a glance behind her to see the guards rushing towards the gates and one man aiming a rifle in her direction, she darted away as the gun fired and was soon lost from sight in the undergrowth. The whole incident took a matter of minutes.
Leblois turned and began to bark out orders in the native language and the tone of his voice was enough to tell Symphony he meant the escapee no good. She, of course, had recognised her immediately and experienced a worried concern for the other Angels as she gazed anxiously in the direction her friend had gone and whispered under her breath,
“Oh, run, Harmony, run…”
Harmony Angel ploughed on into the lush vegetation that edged the sweep of the sandy beach down to the sea, determined to get as much distance between her and pursuit as possible. She knew that, with luck, the others would’ve started looking for Symphony and her the moment they realised they were missing, and she needed to reach the beach closest to the crash-site island as soon as possible, in order to find them and warn them to treat this island as a dangerous place and the people as hostile. The quickest way was to cut across country, rather than attempt to follow the coast around; and although it would be difficult terrain to cover, it’d also offer more opportunities to hide and avoid re-capture. She had no doubt that the guards in the compound would start after her as soon as they’d recovered from the surprise her attack had caused.
She hesitated at a small clearing, wiping her hand across her sweat-beaded face, listening for sounds of pursuit.
When she’d seen the men attack Symphony earlier that morning, she’d unhesitatingly run forward to help her friend, but more men had emerged from the surrounding jungle and she’d been overpowered after a brief, but energetic fight. Knocked into semi-consciousness by a vicious blow to the head, she’d been dumped in the bottom of a motorboat beside the unconscious Symphony and driven across to the bigger island.
Once there, they’d been separated, with the American being carried off towards a separate compound while she’d found herself in a holding cell. Here the men had stripped her of her fatigues and her chronometer and given her a shapeless tunic to wear. To her intense satisfaction, she’d managed to mark a few of them in the process, and in retaliation they’d chained her left hand and both feet to a rudimentary bedstead and left her for what had proven to be many weary hours. A subdued young woman had come in to her fairly regularly and given her water to drink, but she’d been unable to get any information out of her about where she was or how Symphony was doing.
She’d managed to get some rest, nursing her aching head in the crook of her arm; but she was worried about Symphony and it was only after much meditation that she managed to calm herself enough to think clearly.
When her gaolers returned in the sapping heat of the afternoon, they’d thrown down a bowl of some evil-smelling fish stew and at their insistence she’d eaten as much as she could stomach - which wasn’t much – then they’d unchained her.
As they’d hustled her from the cell, she’d taken her chance to knock one guard over with a karate blow to the neck and then charge into the other one as he turned in surprise, before making a dash for freedom.
It had been a hard decision to leave without looking for Symphony, but she believed she stood a better chance of rescuing her friend with help, rather than on her own. The smattering of information she’d managed to glean from her captors’ conversation - they spoke a language which sounded like Malay, but she couldn’t understand much of it - suggested that the American was being held in the leader’s residence, rather than in the basic cellblock that she’d been in. Harmony thought her friend’s blonde hair and pale skin might have merited her receiving such privileged attention – they’d have rarity value, if nothing else.
She did not doubt that the fate which had been promised her - and she didn’t need to understand the language to work that out - would be waiting for Symphony too - eventually - and there was no time to be lost in mounting a rescue.
From the direction of the distant compound, Harmony heard the baying of hounds and took to her heels with alacrity once more. She looked for any way to obscure her scent trail, and zigzagged through the undergrowth, jumping and swinging from tree to tree where possible, in the hope of slowing her pursuers. She was aware that she was climbing steadily as she moved and hoped to reach the brow of the incline and take her bearings.
To her annoyance she found her way blocked by a ravine; its steep sides featured some razor-sharp splinters of rock and enough jagged edges to make climbing down unwise. On the other side, the trees and general jungle vegetation grew up to the edge and overhung some of it, making it difficult to assess exactly how wide the gap was. Beyond that the terrain started to slope downwards towards the beach and Harmony knew she had to cross the divide, or find a way around it. With the poor visibility she couldn’t tell how long this ravine was, nor if there would be anywhere better suited to attempt a crossing. She could not return the way she’d come and it was too late now to attempt the route via the beach; that was asking to be found and recaptured by her pursuers. She had no choice but to cross the ravine, somehow. In desperation she searched along the edge until she found a section which looked as if it might be narrow enough to jump. She turned and listened, trying to assess how close her enemies were and then she backed up as far as she could go and, taking her courage in both hands, raced for the edge and leapt into the void, cycling her legs as she’d been taught in the long jump pits at her elite Tokyo school. She thought she was going to make it, reaching out with eager hands to grab the overhanging branches of a tree that were temptingly close, but the treacherous undergrowth proved to be less substantial than she expected and it couldn’t take her weight. She slithered down the cliff; her breath coming in gasps and sobs as her elbows and knees scraped against the rocks while she vainly snatched for handholds to break her fall.
She lay at the bottom of the ravine, dazed and blinking away scalding tears as she gazed forlornly upwards at the difficult climb necessary to get back to ground level. Then, drawing in sharp breaths when her body complained at the movement, she sat up and looked around. In front of her, the sheer sides of the ravine stretched away, disappearing into the distance; there seemed to be no way out in that direction. Gingerly, she turned round and looked behind her. That way was blocked by a jumble of rocks and shale, which might, with care, offer a better chance of climbing out.
She sighed and attempted to get to her feet, wincing with pain. Her left hip hurt, but she could put weight on it and nothing appeared to be broken. Suddenly she stiffened and lifted her head; the distant baying of the dogs was getting closer – the hunt had not given up on finding her.
A stealthy movement amongst the rocks to her right caught her eye and she swivelled round, her hands automatically assuming the position to attack. A man emerged from the rubble and raised his hands to show he meant her no harm. His skin was tanned by years of the tropical sun, and his untidy, long hair and beard were black, but the bright gleam of his blue eyes left her with no doubt he was European. His first words confirmed her assumption.
“Never fear; I am a friend,” he said, lapsing into pidgin Malay to repeat ‘friend’.
“I speak English,” Harmony replied. “Who are you?”
“I could ask you the same question,” he retorted with a smile, “but there isn’t time for the conventional niceties – we must get you undercover – away from the dogs. Will you let me help you?”
Harmony generally took her time to size people up; she was rational and cautious by nature but she was intelligent enough to instantly recognise situations when there were no other choices. “Yes, gladly,” she replied, holding out her hand to the man.
“Good girl,” he said. “Lean on me. There’s a tunnel through the rock-fall – it’s narrow and sharp and uncomfortable to get through, but that makes it easier to hide. Once on the other side, I’ll block it off and we’ll be safe. The dogs won’t find you, even if they come down here. Rest assured.”
Harmony nodded and leant on her new-found friend, as he helped her over the boulders to safety.
The voyage between the islands was by no means a straightforward one; the distance was enough to make the paddling tiring, and the dinghy swirled about in the surging currents so that controlling it was difficult; the water was shallow, and below them the reef reached upwards with jagged pinnacles that could have shredded the craft. They skirted these obstacles with some difficulty, and plenty of good luck, before Melody was able to jump out into the shallows and drag the boat up onto the white sanded beach that fringed the dense jungle of the interior of the larger island. Away on the far side of this island towered steep-sided, rugged mountains, the lower slopes of which were also carpeted with lush vegetation.
Exhausted though they were, the Angels dragged their dinghy into the undergrowth and concealed it from view as quickly as possible, taking the time to familiarise themselves with the layout of the almost featureless beach and vegetation, knowing that they might have to find the craft in a hurry once they’d rescued their friends. By now all of them shared the conviction that this island was inhabited, and a sense that the inhabitants did not welcome visitors.
The daylight was starting to fade into a hazy twilight as they debated their best options.
“There’s nowhere on this immediate coast that could support a settlement,” Rhapsody said, as they sat on the sand and had a welcome drink and some of their rations. “Where do you think you saw smoke, Nolie?”
Melody waved a hand in a general direction. “I’m guessing the mountains don’t come right to the sea around that headland, but form a bay. That’s where a village would be.”
“How can you guess this?” Destiny asked.
“Fresh water from the mountains would look for the shortest way to the sea…”
“The jungle will make it hard to travel inland,” Rhapsody said. “I guess we’d be better keeping to the coast, at least for now.”
“We’ll be in the open; more chance of being seen,” Melody argued. “And that promontory looks as if it might be tough to get round – you’ll notice how the beach vanishes.”
“Less chance of us breaking our necks, though,” Rhapsody retorted. “Look, Nolie, it’s going to be getting dark pretty soon, even out in the open – it’ll be worse under cover. We’d have to use torches and we’d be just as visible as if we stay here.”
“What about Symphony and Harmony? Every moment we delay, they’re in danger.” Playing her trump card, Melody stared at the younger woman, almost daring her to argue with that irrefutable reason.
Destiny’s sharp intervention surprised them both. “They are Spectrum Angels. They know how to defend themselves. We are no help to them if we too fall captive.”
“So, what do we do then?” Melody snapped back. “In fact, why did we come here, if we’re gonna do nothin’ at all?”
“We could move along the beach and bivouac when it gets too dark to move safely. Then at first light we can move inland, if that looks the best way to go,” Rhapsody reasoned. “Besides, we stand a better chance of finding any villages in daylight. I really don’t fancy trying to get around in the dark, Nolie, and we’d be sitting ducks if they did try to catch us: they know this island – we don’t.”
Destiny nodded. She could see that Melody was anxious to press on, and perhaps, if she’d been alone, she’d have done it safely. She added her voice in support of Rhapsody. “Melody, we must all stay together. Our friends are missing, c’est vrai, but they are together – they will be safe enough. Tomorrow we can help them – the three of us.”
Outnumbered, but unconvinced, Melody was forced to agree and the three of them picked up their rucksacks and moved along the beach towards the area where Melody had seen the smoke rising
“I’m sure there’s a village round that promontory,” Melody said as they trudged through the sand. “If the girls are anywhere here, that’s where they’ll be.”
The others nodded agreement, but before either of them could respond they heard the unmistakable sound of a gunshot. Distorted by the mountains, it was still just possible to gauge the direction it came from.
“What shall we do?” Rhapsody gasped.
“That changes everything,” Melody asserted. “Come on – let’s cut through the jungle and get there as soon as we can…”
“We do not know it was something to do with the girls,” Destiny cautioned.
“And we don’t know that it wasn’t! You stay here, if you like, Juliette – but I’m going to help my friends,” Melody snapped and darted away inland in the direction of the shot.
Rhapsody glanced at Destiny; the Frenchwoman’s face registered her unhappiness, but both knew that there was nothing else for it but to follow Melody. “We must stay together – you said so yourself,” Rhapsody reminded Destiny.
Destiny nodded agreement. “And then?” she asked.
“Then we’ll decide what we need to do next,” Rhapsody said. “Remembering what Harmony said, I don’t think it’d be a good idea to approach these people by night; we know nothing of them, except that they’ve kidnapped two of our friends – which, along with that gunshot, suggests they might not be all that friendly.”
“There will be no argument from me about that,” Destiny said. She heaved a deep sigh. “I feel like I have done three days’ work today; but we must not fail our friends. Allons-y. Do not let us lose sight of Melody.”
The Angels all had experience of field work, just as they’d all had some tuition in survival techniques during their Spectrum training; but given that their roles on Cloudbase rarely called for these to be used, they were all a little rusty – which was probably why the colonel had decided to use the requirement to investigate the effectiveness of an, apparently, underperforming training camp, as an opportunity to put them all through a refresher course in the first place. As they toiled through the jungle with as much speed as they could, the need for that refresher course became apparent to them all.
Melody, the tomboy amongst them, and easily the most physically fit, confidently led the way through the undergrowth. Her dark eyes shone with exhilaration as she realised with a jolt how much she’d missed the more active physical side of her work and she revelled in using her neglected skills and demonstrating her stamina. Rhapsody and Destiny followed in her wake; neither was experienced at coping with ‘jungle’ terrain but, fit, well-trained and resourceful, they could cope with the harsh conditions. Even so, neither could prevent a small sigh of relief as Melody held up a hand and brought the procession to a halt.
From half-way down the promontory they’d just struggled over, they could see, down the slope to their right, a less dense patch of jungle – too small to be designated a clearing - and standing there, gasping for breath, was Harmony dressed in a strange baggy tunic, but obviously unhurt by the shot they’d heard. Rhapsody was about to yell to her, when Destiny put a hand over her mouth and pointed further down the hill to their left, where a posse of men and dogs were hacking through the undergrowth. Harmony heard them and darted out of sight once more.
“Well, that pretty much answers any questions we had about their being friendly,” Melody said grimly.
“We’ve got to help Harmony!” Rhapsody cried, racing off in the direction to intercept her friend.
“Dianne, wait!” Melody called after her, but the Englishwoman was too concerned to listen. “Damn! Destiny, you stay here I’ll go and get her back. We must stay together,” Melody ordered and sprinted after Rhapsody before the Frenchwoman could protest.
Left alone, Destiny went higher up the slope and scanned the surrounding lie of the land through the one pair of binoculars they had. She found an extensive compound of buildings down on the relatively flat plain that lay between the jungle and the mountains and trained her glasses on it, looking for any sign that Symphony was there. Her attention focused on some men milling about an isolated building which, from its general state of repair, seemed to be a residence and there she saw the gleam of sunlight on fair hair as a tall woman was hustled away from the veranda and into the building.
"Ce doit être Symphony... C'est sûrement elle,” she breathed. She looked around for some sign of the others, but no one was to be seen. She gave a ‘tut’ of anger; they hadn’t really shown themselves in their best light so far, and now they were scattered over an island inhabited by hostile natives. “Je vais attendre qu’elles reviennent, et si elles ne reviennent pas, j’irai les chercher moi-même.“
She glanced at her watch and decided to give them fifteen minutes – after that, she would go looking.
Rhapsody slowed down and looked about her. Behind her, Melody was chasing hard to catch up and so she waited.
“Didn’t you hear me calling after you to stop?” Melody gasped angrily as she drew close. “We need to stay together, Dianne.”
“No; I‘m worried about Chan, Nolie. Those men looked like they meant her harm.”
“So they did, but it won’t serve us if we get split up. I left Juliette back on the headland; we should get back to her.”
“What about Chan?” Rhapsody insisted.
“She can look after herself,” Melody replied, but she was biting her bottom lip and looking in concern towards the distance noise of the posse. “Yet, maybe we can give her a hand, even so. Let’s create a diversion.” She flashed a grin at the redhead who was grinning back in mutual understanding and agreement.
They moved a little closer to where they could actually see the pursuers and then started shouting, whistling and stamping. The dogs were confused by this unexpected distraction and the men hesitated staring in the direction of the noise until Rhapsody, who was in the lower branches of a tree, jumped down and made a highly visible dart for cover up the hill. Then there was a shout from the guards, who dragged the dogs off Harmony’s trail and encouraged them to go after new prey.
With no thought beyond that of aiding Harmony’s escape and no real plan of what to do next, the two Angels raced uphill in the direction of the headland as though their lives depended on it. Suddenly Melody gasped, “We should go the other way - away from Juliette; before we circle back to the dinghy… I’m sure Harmony’ll be heading for the beach and Destiny will know enough to make her way back as well.”
Rhapsody stopped dead in her tracks. “You’re right…” she gasped. “Come on, Nolie, this way!” She turned and sprinted away in the opposite direction; Melody in hot pursuit.
Everything was going well until Melody, leaping over a fallen tree trunk, landed on a rough piece of ground and fell. Rhapsody stopped and went back to her, despite Melody waving her to carry on running. She helped her to her feet, but when Melody took a step, she groaned and staggered.
“My ankle, I’ve turned it,” she gasped, sounding more annoyed than hurt. “I can’t run no more. Honey, you go on, get away: find Juliette and Chan.”
“I won’t leave you, Nolie,” Rhapsody insisted, one eye on the approaching pursuit.
“Go!” Melody raged. “They’ll be occupied with me; you’ll have a chance to get away. We can’t hope to escape if we all get caught - and face it, Dianne, what chance do you give Juliette in the jungle, alone?”
Rhapsody grimaced at the thought that she stood about as much chance alone as Melody thought Destiny did. She bit her lip. “I don’t want to leave you – but you’re right,” she added hastily as Melody’s temper flared in her dark eyes. “I’ll be back, Nolie, and we’ll get you and Chan - and Karen, wherever she is –- out of here, okay?”
“Sure, I know you will. Now run!” Melody watched Rhapsody disappear into the distance and tried to buck herself up. She settled herself onto the tree trunk and began to shout periodically, trusting the posse would find her soon enough with such encouragement.
Sure enough, a couple of ferocious dogs bounded into view and stood a little way off, snarling and slavering. Moments later, their handlers ran up and put them on stout leashes, whilst their companions milled around Melody and none too gently pulled her from her perch and hustled her through the undergrowth as quickly as she was able to go, hopping unsteadily with a guard on either side to keep her upright.
Physically exhausted by her erratic journey over the uneven terrain, Melody was surprised to see the extent of the settlement they approached – especially the well-guarded entrance. Maybe, she thought, if these people are not pirates themselves, piracy is a constant threat to them? Why else would they build such a well-protected camp?
When they reached the compound the man in charge did not seem pleased to see that they had brought the wrong woman back; and after a few basic questions - which Melody did not answer even if she understood them – he ordered them to throw her into a Spartan cell. Despite the evidence of their own eyes, they fastened her good leg to the metal frame of a small bed with a long chain and left her there.
As the heavy door swung shut and the bolts slid home on the other side, Melody soaked her handkerchief in the water jug, curled her knees up and massaged her ankle with the damp cloth.
She prayed Rhapsody had got clean away and that she’d find Harmony and Destiny quickly.
Symphony had objected vociferously to being manhandled back to her room, but it had made no difference. Once she was locked in again - although, this time her wrist was not clamped into the manacle –- she changed back into her tunic gown and went to peer through the window. There was not much she could see and after a time she went to sit on the bed again. Time dragged by with a tedious sloth until her attention was caught by a commotion outside and she hurried back to the window. To her surprise and dismay she saw not Harmony, but Melody Angel being half-pushed, half-dragged into the same block of buildings Harmony had so recently escaped from. She suppressed the urge to call out, doubting that Melody would hear her and afraid to alert Leblois to the fact that they knew each other. Frowning she went back to the bed; the knowledge that Melody had been limping worried her – she already knew that neither Leblois nor his men would hesitate to attack a woman and she hoped it wasn’t anything serious; although, knowing Magnolia Jones as well as she did, Symphony knew her friend wasn’t the type to allow minor injuries to impede her for long. She wondered where Harmony had got to and refused to allow herself to speculate on what was happening beyond the compound.
She wondered where Destiny and Rhapsody were; it was unlikely that only two of the Angels had come across to look for her and Leblois had said something during Harmony’s escape that implied she’d been brought to the island at the same time as herself. Although it was comforting to know she wasn’t alone on the island she hoped the other three had met up and were somewhere safe as the darkness closed in.
It was all an impenetrable puzzle and although her head felt clearer than it had done yesterday and the swelling had gone down, she still felt rather muzzy-headed and confused. What she needed to do was talk to Melody and discover what had been going on while she was being held prisoner. She frowned as a thought struck her: she hoped the others knew she was being kept prisoner and that she’d not left them of her own volition.
She began to pace the room anxiously once more, sucking on her index finger much as she had as a child when she was worried or upset. When she heard the bolts being drawn back she swiftly returned to the bed and composed herself to deal with her visitors. It was Leblois and his ever-present servant. The professor walked into the room and stopped about half-way to the bed, leaning heavily on his cane.
“Forgive the rough handling, my dear Miss Symphony,” he began suavely. “I was concerned in case the escapee should attempt to harm you. My men were able to restrain her when they found you; they thought she had intended to attack you as you bent to drink, and so they brought her back here under close guard. We have not had the time to question her yet, but it would seem she was not alone. The new detainee is similarly dressed to you and the oriental girl, so we may assume you are all known to each other? How many people were on the plane that crashed, my dear, and what are the names of the survivors?”
“I do know them both,” she replied, uneasy at this explanation of their rough treatment of the others. “They’re my friends and they’d never harm me. Let me speak to… the new detainee; I’ll explain that you mean us all no harm. I’m sure it’s just that they think I’m being held here against my will that has made them act in what appears to be a hostile manner.”
“What are their names?” Leblois asked sharply, as if he was unused to ever having his orders questioned. Symphony’s eyebrows descend in a frown at his angry tone and he drew a breath and said in a suave explanation, “If we can approach them and address them personally, they will surely realise we are their friends.”
She hesitated and then decided no harm could come from answering the question; besides, if they were ever going to get off this island and back to their plane, they were probably going to need Leblois’s co-operation. Nevertheless, she wasn’t going to tell him more than he already knew. She said, “Like me they’re members of Spectrum; their code names are Harmony and Melody. It’s Melody your men have just brought in to the compound.”
“And this ‘Melody’ is, like yourself, an American?”
She nodded. “Harmony is Japanese.”
“As I suspected,” Leblois frowned and paced the floor of the room for a few moments, chewing on his bottom lip. Symphony began to suspect she might have given him too much information. Then he glanced at her, smiled reassuringly and said, “We must ensure she’s found quickly. There are still groups of people on this island who hold no great love for either nationality, and they wouldn’t treat your friend with courtesy.”
“You mean they’d be even rougher than your men were?” she sniped.
Leblois’s eyes hardened and then he brushed her comment aside. “Once your friend, Miss Melody, has seen our doctor, I’m sure we can arrange a meeting for you. But you didn’t answer my other question, Miss Symphony; how many survivors were there? My men reported seeing another white woman, with red hair, along with your friend Melody. She has not yet been found, but she must be before nightfall - they both must be – the Japanese girl as well. The island is not a safe place in the moonlight; your friends would be in danger outside of the compound.”
“Why isn’t it safe?”
“Some of the animals broke free of their cages and are still loose on the island. Occasionally we lose people to them.”
Symphony swallowed at the thought of Rhapsody and Destiny fighting off wild beasts with a taste for human flesh. “Let me speak to Melody then; she might know where Rha… our friend was going.”
“Why don’t you trust me, Miss Symphony?” he asked a little sadly. “I’m only trying to help you and your friends.”
“Forgive me, Professor; our organisation operates under a strict code of secrecy and it’s second nature for me to be wary of revealing too much information. When I’m reunited with my colleagues, we may be able to tell you all you want to know. Until then, I may not and can not reveal more.”
“Tell me this much then - and no more - does your organisation know where you are? Are you expecting to be rescued?”
She shook her head. “I can’t tell you. I hurt my head in the plane crash and my memory’s very hazy about the whole incident, until I woke up in your cell. I’d expect them to come looking for us though; in fact, I’d stake my life on at least two of our male colleagues insisting on making a thorough search. Melody would know more,” she repeated, anxious to get to speak to her friend.
Leblois nodded and gave her one of his unnerving, unctuous smiles. “Then we must certainly arrange for Miss Melody to pay you a visit - in the morning, my dear.”
Destiny marched on through the undergrowth, muttering obscenities to herself as the sharp branches caught at her hair and clothes. It was already gloomy under the dense foliage and, as night descended, it would begin to get even more difficult to see where she was going. Her compass wasn’t much help, as she didn’t know where the other two had run to, once they were out of sight. She was heading in what she hoped was the most likely direction but the vegetation was almost impassable and increasingly showed no signs of being parted by the passage of any other human being.
After struggling on for a few more metres, her way was blocked by a deep, narrow ravine and, discouraged, she looked around for a way across. It was impossible to see how far it stretched across the landscape. Wearily, Destiny sat on a boulder and debated what to do.
She was seething with a disparaging anger. This was aimed partly at the others - for seeming to treat the situation as if they were on a holiday island and this was all a game - but mostly at herself. She should never have allowed them to behave in that way, nor, she noted objectively, should she have allowed Melody to take control. As the oldest of the Angels and the one generally acknowledged to be their leader, it should have been her who’d taken command after the crash; she had the most military experience, for a start.
Melody was the only one amongst the squadron who ever seriously challenged her position. She was an excellent pilot and acknowledged to be a competent, able woman. But it was obvious that she found the restrictions of life on Cloudbase irritating at times, for although she too had been a WAAF pilot, most of her short tour of duty had been spent marooned on a desert island - probably not unlike this one - and she was not the type of person to knuckle down to restrictions she thought petty and unnecessary. Despite a spell at a Swiss finishing school, Magnolia Jones had remained ‘tomboyish’ by nature; growing up with four brothers, she had learned to enjoy what they enjoyed and had excelled, both at driving cars and flying planes. With her undoubted natural strength and stamina she was undoubtedly the least daunted by their present situation; so it was not surprising that the others had readily accepted her leadership.
It is undeniable that she has the most experience of living on an island, but that doesn’t excuse the fact that I permitted her to take over.– I abdicated my own responsibilities - and look where that has taken us to, Destiny raged at herself.
Destiny was well aware that her own reputation on Cloudbase was as someone primarily dedicated to looking her best at all times - and that wasn’t entirely fallacious – she saw nothing incompatible with doing her job well and looking feminine and attractive at the same time. But they misunderstand me, Destiny mused, and I have my own fault to blame for it. It is time that I remind them that I, Juliette Pontoin, am a soldier too. She stood up and pulled the blouson of her fatigues down, thrusting her delicate chin out and pushing her shoulders back. Allons, Juliette, put forward your best foot and take control!
She started by surveying her position and wondering whether she would be better going back to their original vantage point. She was on the verge of doing that when she heard a commotion on the other side of the ravine. She melted back into the undergrowth and watched to see what happened. She’d no intention of letting the posse catch her unawares.
She let out a shrill gasp as she saw Rhapsody, a bedraggled and rapidly tiring Rhapsody, come to a dead stop at the edge of the ravine. She glanced behind her and realised that she was trapped between the barrier and the pursuers.
Destiny stepped out from her concealment. “Rhapsody,” she hissed, “what has ‘appen?”
“Juliette! Oh, be careful, don’t let them see you. They’ve got Melody, she hurt her ankle and I had to leave her. They’ll take me soon; I’m all but done for. Keep hidden; I’ll draw them away from here. We didn’t find Harmony…”
“I already saw Symphony in the compound,” Destiny told her. “She seemed to be all right, but she was well-guarded.”
“Good; maybe with the three of us there, we’ll be able to get away. Find Chan, Juliette… I must go…” she turned and raced along the ravine edge, determined to lead the hunt away from Destiny’s hiding place.
Destiny slipped back out of sight and strained her hearing until the noise had died down. She moved once more and checked around her to make sure she was alone. It was only then that she saw Harmony, standing some way off, smiling.
“Destiny, we heard voices. The guards have gone. Come with me, we’ll be safe. I do not think we can do much to help Rhapsody at this time,” she called.
“We? Who are you with, Harmony?”
From the thicket behind the petite form of the Angel pilot, a man emerged.
“Juliette, this is my friend who rescued me when I fell into the canyon. Come, he has a safe place to hide and we can decide how to get the others away from danger…”
Destiny stared at him, a frown creasing her brow as a fleeting resemblance to someone tickled her mind. Non, she could not place who he reminded her of. “Bonjour, monsieur,” she said politely. “It seems we are in your hands…”
The sun was already setting in a blaze of coral-pinks and reds as Harmony led the way back into the secret camp. Destiny only realised how tired and anxious she was as she sank onto a soft mound of vegetation and accepted a drink of fresh water from Harmony. This was quickly followed by some fish, cooked on a spit over a fire and a selection of fresh fruit, which they all ate in silence.
Sighing with contentment, Destiny leant over and tossed the last handful of pips onto the fire.
“Monsieur, allow me to tell you that I have never eaten such a wonderful meal before – nor one that I have appreciated so much. Merci mille fois, Monsieur.”
“You’re more than welcome. I so rarely have any guests, I’m enjoying the company; it’s the icing on the cake that my guests are two beautiful young women,” he smiled a little shyly at her.
Destiny returned his smile confidently and studied their host. His accent was obviously English and he looked to be into his middle-age; but as his skin was tanned dark-brown and he was so thin, it was hard to make an accurate guess. He was wearing some very threadbare and patched garments that resembled knee-length shorts, a Tee-shirt and some rough sandals made of an unidentified animal skin.
“If I may be permitted to ask, Monsieur, for the name of our rescuer?” Destiny asked with some formality. “And how you come to be living here on this island, all alone.”
“I promised Harmony I’d tell her everything after we’d eaten, but we never got to that, because we heard the hunt after your friend and you. I’ll gladly tell you both now, if you’re sure you’re not too tired? Good, make yourselves comfortable then, and please, take whatever you want from the food and drink here. But first, before I start, may I ask something about the both of you? It’s got to be more than coincidence that the island is suddenly over-run with charming young women. I saw the plane come down in the storm; I assume you’re survivors from that crash?”
“That is correct. We are members of the Angel Squadron of Spectrum, the World Government’s Security Agency; I am Destiny Angel but my friends call me Juliette.”
He smiled. “A very pretty name, if I may say so.” He glanced at Harmony. “And do your friends always call you Harmony?” he asked her.
“My name is Chan Kwan – my friends call me Chan,” she replied calmly.
“My parents named me William, my brother called me Will and my friends – when I was fortunate enough to have any – called me Bill, or Billy, and I’d be honoured if you two ladies would do the same.” They nodded. “I’ve been on this island for almost longer than I can remember – what’s the date now, anyway?” Harmony told him. “Then it’s not far short of twenty-five years….almost half my life time” His voice trailed away and he sighed as if remembering the past with great sadness.
“You have never attempted to leave?” Harmony asked.
“Oh, of course I have. There were various attempts to get away at first, but for one reason or another they weren’t successful. Over time it got harder to motivate my shipmates and… some of them were anxious that, if we ever did get back home, we’d face censure. The only other ships that ever come here are pirate vessels – and I’ve never been desperate enough to risk trusting them. Besides, I have many memories here now… it has become my home –- as much as my prison...”
Neither woman spoke, not wishing to interrupt his reverie, until with an apologetic shake of his head he began to speak.
“But I’m getting ahead of myself; you want to know the facts. Very well, we’ll start at the beginning. In the mid-forties, I was a junior officer on board an insignificant British naval vessel, the Tristram; she was a bit of an old rust-bucket spinning out her last days as a survey vessel and it was my first posting. Not quite the glamorous naval life I’d dreamed of.” He gave a bright smile that made his blue eyes sparkle. The Angels smiled back; it was hard not to like this man. “Anyway, we were on a mission to survey Antarctic waters when we were recalled to England. You must realise that at that time the country was in political turmoil and the threat of civil war was a real one. The captain, Robert Fairclough, sympathised with the totalitarian Militarist government which had ousted the Democratic Monarchists. The rest of the crew were pretty evenly divided - amongst those who cared to express an opinion, anyway - but the Militarists were just in the minority. Fairclough made sure his people were in all the key positions, even though some of them were not the most competent crew members, and he kept the officers from the rival allegiance under surveillance, such was his fear of a mutiny against him. It wasn’t a happy ship, and there was a lot of grumbling below deck.
“A week or so into our journey, we ran into a force ten gale, which lasted several days and in the course of this, our navigation equipment was badly damaged and the engines packed up; so we had no choice but to run before it. We lost several men overboard before it stopped and, when it stopped, we had nothing but dead reckoning to tell us where we were – and we were a long way from where we should’ve been. Unfortunately the senior navigator on board was a Monarchist, and Fairclough accused him of deliberately jeopardising the ship, so that we wouldn’t be back to support the government in the event of war. It was rubbish; Prescott had more sense than to do such a thing, but Fairclough wouldn’t listen to reason and he proposed to hold a court martial on the ship. All he managed to do was provoke the very mutiny he feared. The Monarchists attempted to free Prescott from the brig and a bloody battle ensued. At least a dozen men died in the fighting, from both sides, but eventually, the Monarchists took control of the ship and Fairclough and his cronies were relieved of duty and put into the brig, or locked in their cabins. Those of us left tried to get the equipment fixed and ourselves back on course.”
Bill reached over and took a sip of water from the hollowed-out coconut shell he used as a cup.
“We might’ve succeeded if we hadn’t had the misfortune to run into another storm - a typhoon. We were dashed against the reefs that surround the other side of this island and the Tristram was holed below the waterline. The storm was ferocious and she went down very quickly and somehow, in the confusion, no one found time to let the prisoners out; most of them drowned below decks. All of them good men; however misguided they were.”
There was a long silence. The Angels were familiar with the pain of losing colleagues; Captain Black, Captain Brown, Captain Scarlet and Captain Indigo had all fallen victim to the Mysterons early in the continuing War of Nerves between the aliens and the people of Earth. Each of those brave men had been sincerely mourned by their Spectrum colleagues and although Fate may have taken Captain Black over to the enemy’s side, there were still people who remembered the man he’d been with compassion. Captain Scarlet’s escape from the power of the Mysterons had been nothing less than miraculous and for Destiny, who had been very close to the young Paul Metcalfe, that in itself had taken a good deal of getting used to.
Bill looked up and poked the fire with a long branch to cover his emotions. Eventually he began to speak again.
“Of those of us left, just under fifty made it ashore here – including one of the few women officers in the crew, our science officer, Lieutenant Jessica Walsh –- and we were all taken care of by the residents: Professor Leblois and his wife, Gaelle, and Doctor Brent and his wife, Michelle. They explained that they were biologists, anthropologists and geneticists involved in a World Government scheme to preserve the gene pool of endangered species. They lived and worked on this island with a staff of about a dozen Malay-speaking men and women, some with their children. They were our saviours – they gave us food and shelter and they nursed our injured; six men subsequently died of wounds received during the wreck, and more of the dysentery and fevers that swept the island in the months that followed, including our most experienced senior officer. Suddenly, Lieutenant Walsh found herself the officer in charge.
“Jessica was a good officer, but she was one of the more vocal supporters of the military government and whereas her superior had been able to keep the peace between the factions, Jess couldn’t. There was interminable bickering and friction between us, which hampered our attempts at finding a way to leave the island. We knew that it wasn’t going to be feasible to support a large population here indefinitely and - as the government supply ship the Professor assured us came regularly, never turned up – it was down to us to find a way to leave. Rather than have us all cramped together in the residential villa on the coast where we were wrecked, Leblois had us all move across the island, through the jungle to the compound on this side, which included his animal pens and laboratories, but had more potential for accommodating the crew.”
“This is the compound Symphony and I were brought to?” Harmony asked and Bill nodded.
“Leblois divides his time between the two sites. We settled down in the compound easily enough, but it wasn’t long before another bout of fever and dysentery laid us low and we were again cared for by Leblois’s men – of whom there were several dozen we had not been aware of. However, when Lieutenant Walsh came down with the fever, Madame Leblois insisted on nursing her herself; and Jess was convinced that it was only due to her dedicated nursing that she survived.”
“I suppose our real problems started when Gaelle caught the fever and despite anything we could do, she died some weeks later. We were all upset; Gaelle Leblois was a wonderful woman and she obviously meant a great deal to her husband because Leblois was distraught. I’ve never seen a man react as he did to the death of another; he was heard threatening to be revenged on every one of the crew. It seems he blamed us for bringing the disease with us, but we’d had no illness on ‘Tristram’, so it was the opinion of John Piper, our junior M.O. – the only one of the medical staff who’d survived - that the disease might’ve been endemic on the island and we just had no immunity to it; whereas Leblois and his party had developed some resistance over the years they’d already been there. Be that as it may, once Gaelle was gone, Leblois became far more authoritarian. Most of the crewmen cleared small settlements in the jungle and moved away from the compound, and some of the native women went with them. It wasn’t so easy for Jessica, of course, and when Leblois begged her to stay on in the compound’s villa, I guess Jess felt obligated; after all, the man had just lost his wife. Whatever the truth of it, the remnants of the crew dispersed around the island.”
“I saw very little of Jess after this; and although she insisted we have an officers’ meeting once a week, the command structure had largely broken down. I guess I thought maybe Leblois and she had… shacked up together – he struck me as the kind of man who wouldn’t bear living without a woman’s company very well and I reckoned if Jessica was okay with it, it wasn’t up to me to interfere. I kept my distance.”
He glanced up at the faces of the young women listening so intently to him. He saw a spark of indulgent understanding on Destiny’s beautiful face and a sparkle of what might have been tears in her eyes. It suggested she was reading more into his words than he’d intended, but there seemed little point in correcting her deductions. He shook his head.
“No one could have known how the island would gradually become a hell on earth. Some of us were still eager to get back to England, to salvage what we could of the ship or make an attempt to take over one of the pirate ships we occasionally saw about the island and which, it was increasingly obvious were supplying Leblois. Leblois began to play on the mistrust amongst the factions and he convinced a fair number that we’d all be charged with mutiny – or murder, if the story of the men who drowned below decks was ever discovered –- as soon as we got back, and these men were reluctant to take the chance. Most just decided to make the best job they could of being stuck here. We didn’t know what had happened at home, and some didn’t want to know, although a small group of us kept alive the idea of going home… some day.”
“Where is everyone now?” Harmony asked. “There were no white men amongst those I saw in the compound.”
Billy gave her an uncomfortable look. “No; that doesn’t surprise me. Apart from Leblois, his wife and the Brents, everyone else was Native or Malay. You must understand something, ladies: I can’t prove anything of what I’m about to say; it’s based on what I’ve heard and observed over the long years I’ve been stranded here: only I suspect Leblois began to carry out his revenge for Gaelle’s death. Crew members started to disappear, starting with John Piper, who seemed to just vanish overnight; fewer and fewer came to our irregular meetings, which wasn’t in itself worrying, but when I walked the island, I increasingly found their camps deserted: the women had gone as well. I don’t know where they went; and neither, he insisted, did Leblois, although he postulated that they might’ve drowned trying to leave or get to the smaller off-shore islands. You can imagine my scepticism; even then no one did anything he didn’t know about; his word is law here.”
The Angels nodded and Bill continued, “I was still living on the other side of the island at this time; I’d got to know Maurice Brent and his wife very well and I lodged in their small bungalow beside Leblois’s villa. Maurice had only joined the expedition because he’d lost his previous job due to some financial irregularities with his research grant accounts - I don’t know what and I never asked – but he signed up to work here, hoping to do some research that would make his name and release him from whatever suspicion he was under. Leblois kept whatever they were doing secret from us and he would get very angry if anyone questioned him about his work - what’s more, he insisted Brent respect his wishes for secrecy; he wasn’t supposed to talk to me and generally he obeyed that stricture. But Mo drank too much; he bought whisky off the pirates and brewed an evil-tasting concoction of his own in a still he rigged up. What was worse was that in his cups he made serious allegations against the professor, in fact against everyone - including me and his wife.”
Bill stole a glance at Destiny after this, but she was merely listening intently to his story and hadn’t picked up on that remark. He continued, “Over time these became even more wild and outrageous. Following one of his more imaginative rants, I was concerned enough to walk across the island to the compound with the intention of discussing my fears with Jessica Walsh. She wasn’t there and I couldn’t find her anywhere. When I asked around I was simply told that she’d left. Leblois said she’d decided to move out of the villa and so she’d gone; he’d no idea where - which had to be a lie; as I said, he knew everything that happened on the island - but his servants wouldn’t say anything to the contrary; they all live in fear of his violent temper. He always carries a heavy Malacca cane with him and he’s not afraid to use it to beat anyone who displeases him. I had no grounds to continue to question Leblois and after a heated argument, in which I left him in no doubt of my contempt for him, I got together the few remaining men and we searched the entire island, although Leblois’s men wouldn’t let us search the compound on this side of the island or the animal pens and they were armed with guns to reinforce their point. Leblois’ paranoid secrecy meant no one had ever been to the bigger compound or to the labs; and there was no reason to imagine that Jessica would’ve gone there and I didn’t insist, as all I had to go on was my own uneasiness started by the drunken ramblings of Maurice Brent; but I feel sure now that I should’ve insisted.”
“It was around this time that a story had started circulating that some of Leblois’s animals had escaped; there was talk of several big cats, the implication being that they might have killed Jess and the other missing crewmen, I suppose. But Brent had told me they’d only had gorillas in the project. What I suspected was that Leblois was trafficking with the pirates; he was certainly getting supplies from them and I presumed the compound was where he stored their goods – why else was it so well guarded? I imagine the men were press-ganged onto their ships – maybe a few went willingly, I don’t know – but the women? I imagine they were traded for supplies. Brent wouldn’t confirm this - he may not have known for sure - but he eventually told me more than he should have, namely that Leblois was not the professor’s real name. He is Stephen Busquin – you’d be too young to remember, I expect - but some years before that had been a well-known name around the world. Busquin was a scientist working in Africa who had abducted a couple of the last surviving mountain gorillas from a reserve in Rwanda. No one knew where he went or what had happened to the animals.”
“I remember reading about that,” Harmony said quietly. “It was a big scandal that the World Government could not protect the few remaining gorillas living in the wild.”
Bill nodded and continued, “Brent said that Leblois – as I still think of him - had been part of the World Government’s project to salvage and save the diversity of the gene pool of endangered species, but he’d been censured for his methods and invited to resign. With his wife, who was a primatologist, he decided to start his own scheme and he sought out Brent – then recently disgraced – and invited him to join with them. Brent had no idea what Leblois intended to do until after it happened, and by then he was too far in to back out. I always tended to believe Maurice, even when he was finding excuses for himself, because he was such a coward that he’d never stand up to anyone with a stronger personality than his – which included just about all of the rest of humanity. Maurice wasn’t any kind of hero,” Bill said with a shake of his dark head.
“So were the gorillas here on the island?” Destiny asked.
“According to Mo, two animals were originally brought here. Two juvenile females, along with a supply of semen Leblois had stolen from the African Database for Genetic Diversity in Nairobi. He planned to breed his own colony here and vindicate his methods to the world.”
“It would explain why Leblois is so unwelcoming to visitors,” Harmony mused. “I do not suppose he would be forgiven for his actions, if he is ever found by the authorities.”
“Yes, Maurice came to that conclusion too,” Bill said. “I think that’s what drove him to drink, to be honest. He realised Leblois would never let him leave before he’d finished his master plan for the preservation of the gorillas, for fear of having his hideaway revealed. Leblois must’ve seen every man of the crew as a potential leak to the authorities – he can’t have wanted us to leave - and yet after his wife died, he couldn’t bear to have us here. The pirates must’ve seemed like a God-sent way of disposing of unwelcome visitors: dead or alive.”
“Surely there was always a risk a crewman would escape and alert the authorities?” Harmony argued.
Bill shook his head thoughtfully. “I’m speculating about what happened, Chan, but Leblois did a pretty good job of scaring people over their involvement with events on the ‘Tristram’. Besides, he was not above mutilation and deliberate cruelty; at least one of the servants had his tongue cut out for arguing with ‘his master’ – to my knowledge. He may have threatened – or even done that – to some of the men. All I know for sure is that my colleagues vanished - one by one.”
“So you never found out what happened to Lieutenant Walsh and the others?” Harmony asked.
Bill shook his head. “No, not for certain. Eventually I stopped looking for Jessica - there was nowhere else to look – and things got back to what passes for normal in this place. But the folklore about there being wild animals on the island persisted, so when people continued to vanish, no one cared to wonder why any more, and there were always fewer of us to worry. Still, I felt sure that Leblois - and probably Brent – knew what was going on; I know that Mo’s drinking got steadily worse. And although I continued to live with the Brents, I spent much of my time walking the island, searching for anything that might explain what was happening to my colleagues. I’ve never discovered the truth but I am convinced that it is hidden somewhere in the main compound – but I was never allowed to enter the site. Leblois mistrusted me, but I think I owed my continuing freedom to Maurice and Michelle; they stood between me and Leblois’s revenge.”
“For whatever reason, I was allowed to remain living with them and it must’ve been about …six years after Jessica vanished before Michelle Brent also disappeared. I came back to my room in the house, after another of my expeditions, to find Mo, stoned out of his mind on the floor. When I sobered him up, he was a wreck, terrified and paranoid. I asked him where Michelle was and he babbled about ‘evil’ and ‘unethical’ work, but he was too scared, even then, to explain it all to me. He was frightened and got maudlin and belligerent by turn, swearing to get even with Leblois, but unable - and too afraid - to even begin to imagine how he would try.”
“Do you know now what Maurice had discovered?” Destiny asked in some concern. Bill shook his head. “I do not like what I hear, Billy. We have our friends in there and you are not happy with the professor, n’est-ce pas?”
“No, Juliette, I am not happy with the professor. I know I’ve never found any clue as to what happened to Michelle but I have never stopped looking and I’m absolutely certain that not only is Leblois as crazy as it is humanly possible to be, but he - and the so-called ‘work’ he’s doing here - is also evil.” Bill drew a shaky breath and concluded, “My greatest fear is that, unless it has been stamped out by now, there’s always a great deal of money to be made from the unethical sale of healthy body parts for medical transplants - and that is what I suspect Leblois had been doing – harvesting the organs from my crewmates.”
“Sacrebleu…” Destiny murmured. “Somehow we must get the other three from the compound - tout de suite.”
Harmony agreed that they must act quickly. “But the compound is well guarded, Destiny, I do not see how we can gain access and rescue the others when we are just two of us.”
“Three of us,” Bill said with a shy smile. “If you’ll have me as part of your team, ladies, I’d be honoured to work alongside you. I can be helpful in more ways that you imagine; I know of ways into the compound - less well-guarded ways - and not all of the people in the compound are totally loyal to Leblois. They’ve helped me ever since I fled the place after Mo died - and that was suicide according to Leblois; but I can’t see Maurice ever having the guts to blow his brains out. Either way, I wasn’t going to hang about to become the final victim of the professor’s paranoia. I’m sure his militia could have captured me with a concerted effort, but I suspect Leblois gets a warped pleasure from thinking of me here, alone and still searching, and they tend to leave me now as long as I don’t get too close. Still, I’m sure we can get your friends out, if you can get a message to them. What might happen then, I’m at a loss to imagine. You’d be welcome to stay here, but it’d be crowded and we’d be picked off without too much difficulty. Besides, I don’t think you have any idea of staying on the island for long: am I right?”
“There is a chance we can repair our plane or at least the communication systems, so that we can get a message to our base. People are sure to be looking for us, but we were very much off course when we crashed,” Harmony explained. “Still, I do not think they will give up easily.”
Destiny nodded and added, “We will be glad of your help, Monsieur Billy; and in return we can offer you safe passage from this place to wherever you wish. Spectrum will assist you to return home.”
“Home?” Billy rubbed his bearded chin and sighed. “I‘ve got used to the idea that I’d never see England again; I’ve been here so long now, I imagined I’d die here. But, yes, I would like to go home. I don’t even know if my parents are still alive - or my brother; he was in the navy too. Hell, Juliette, I don’t even know who won the civil war – if there was one. Access to any kind of radio was restricted to Leblois; no news reached us after we landed here.”
“There was an armed conflict; but it did not last many months. The Democratic Monarchists were successful and the United Kingdom joined the World Government,” Harmony told him.
“Charlie must’ve been pleased. Mind you, he always said the British’d never accept a republic. He was a right know-it-all, my brother - what am I saying? With luck, he might still be one. All the same, I’m pleased he was right that time.”
“Alors, Monsieur Billy, if it is left to us, you will be able to tell Charlie yourself.” Destiny smiled. “There is just the little matter of rescuing the girls and getting out of here.”
“Kid’s play; trust me, Juliette, Chan, we’ll win through; you’ll see.”
The Angels grinned, encouraged by Billy’s engaging enthusiasm. They spent the next few hours planning how they could rescue the professor’s unwilling guests. Then, after a few hours’ sleep, and just as dawn broke on the distant horizon, Billy led them back to where they’d hidden the dinghy and Harmony and Destiny collected what they needed to prepare to put their rescue plan into action.
The Malay guards who escorted Melody across the compound to the house in the early morning, were none too gentle with her, shoving her along when her limp made her walk too slowly for their taste and watching with callous amusement as she struggled up the steps to the veranda.
Symphony hastened to help her friend up the final stairs. The house was now decorated with paper lanterns, and in the room off from the veranda, a table was set with four places. In accordance with the professor’s orders, the servants had made every effort to make this part of the residence look inviting, and compared with the cell block Melody had just emerged from, and even the room Symphony was using, it did indeed look to be luxuriously appointed.
“Are you all right, Melody?” Symphony asked in concern as she helped her compatriot to a chair and poured her freshly prepared fruit juice from the jug set on a wheeled trolley.
“Sure, I’m okay; I’ve only slipped and twisted my ankle. It won’t hamper me for long,” Melody answered after sipping the juice. When Symphony expressed her relief at this, Melody smiled and couldn’t resist adding, a little waspishly, “You seem to be doing far better than me.”
Symphony flushed slightly at the remark. She was wearing another cheongsam supplied by the professor. This one was a much better fit and of far superior quality. It was made of a rich turquoise silk and exquisitely embroidered with clusters of delicate flowers, the neck and sleeves edged with red and gold piping, and the gold fabric buttons were enclosed in elaborate red fastenings, embroidered in an abstract shape of scarlet-coloured leaves that ran diagonally from the mandarin collar to the end of the short left-hand sleeve. She suspected some of the servants had been up all night to make it suitable for her. Her red-gold hair was swept away from her face and she was well aware that she looked good in the spectacular costume.
Melody was more pleased to note that the bruise on her friend’s forehead was subsiding and her hazel-green eyes were bright and focused once more.
“The Professor insisted I wear something fresh to meet you. They’ve very kindly taken my Spectrum gear to launder,” Symphony said, glancing pointedly at a nearby window, which was covered with an intricate carved shutter. Melody got the message –we’re being watched – and gave an acknowledging grimace.
“That is kind of them; it doesn’t take much for this kit to get sweaty in this humidity. It’s a shame you’ll have to give it back when we go; I can think of one man who’d approve very much of the dress they’ve lent you…it suits you,” she conceded with a friendly wink.
Symphony simpered and her hand automatically rose to flick her hair back from her face.
Karen falls for it every time; even an oblique mention of Captain Blue is enough to set her preening, always assuming she hasn’t fallen out with him again, of course, Melody thought with an amused smile.
But Symphony cut short her pleasantly romantic daydream to ask, “Do you know where Rhapsody was going - or Harmony?” Once more her glance darted towards the shuttered window and Melody sensed she’d been told she had to ask.
In response, Melody shook her head. “In case you didn’t know, Symphony, there were people with dogs chasing us; so we didn’t stop to make conversation, we just wanted to get away. But how did you get here? When we suddenly realised the pair of you’d gone yesterday, I followed your trail to the stream, but I was too late to stop them taking you.”
“The professor’s men came looking for survivors - they saw enough to realise a plane had crashed on the smaller island during the storm. They believed Harmony was about to attack me when she rushed out of the bushes and so they captured me and restrained her, bringing us both over to the professor.”
“Why would they imagine that?” Melody asked sceptically.
Symphony recited what she’d been told to say, “There are pirate ships operating in these waters. We might all have been pirates.”
“And they thought Harmony was one?” Melody laughed. “I must remember to tell her that!”
“They do have some rather strange ideas,” Symphony said sourly. “Their idea of rescuing me from a piratical attack was to chloroform me and bring me here.”
“Hmm, he seems not to espouse ‘how to win friends and influence people’ methods. We saw Harmony being chased by these men with dogs - and we were trying to help her when I hurt my ankle. Rhapsody got away though.”
“The Professor wanted to find them both, before nightfall,” Symphony said and this time her expression of concern was genuine. “Apparently there are wild animals at large on the island. The girls are at risk.”
“I don’t know where they are,” Melody insisted, quite truthfully. “It’s a shame they found my communicator when they searched me; I bet she’s worried about both of us and I’d sure like to know what’s happened to her and Destiny.” She felt a moment’s anxiety at the thought of wild animals stalking her friends but even so, she wondered if that statement was true; she’d seen no sign of dangerous wild creatures, and they weren’t usually to be found on isolated coral islands. Snakes were the biggest peril, as a rule.
“The professor means us no harm,” Symphony said evenly, but the fact that she did not believe it was clearly apparent on her face, which was resolutely turned away from the window.
“Well, he has a strange way of showing it; to me at least,” Melody snapped. “I was hustled here and chained to a bed in a cell. I don’t take kindly to such treatment.”
“So was I - chained up, I mean - in a room in that block over there,” Symphony explained. “He was very angry when he realised what his men had done in their zeal to protect him.” Her eyes rolled heavenwards as she spoke. “Why they thought me a danger, I don’t know.”
“Where is he?” Melody asked.
“As far as I know, he’s working in the lab today, at least, that’s what the servant told me. He will join us later; there’s someone he wants us to meet.”
“I don’t know; he’s being very mysterious.”
“Oh, really? A tropical blind date: whatever next?” Melody quipped, but there was anger on her dark face. “I’m afraid I’m not dressed for a glittering dinner party…”
Symphony didn’t have chance to answer. From the gate came a shout and they turned to see the posse returning. It wasn’t possible from where they were to see who the men had caught, but their ignorance did not last long. Clearly audible over the compound wafted the unmistakable sound of aristocratic ire and distaste:
“Get your filthy hands of me, you creep!”
Symphony’s eyes met Melody’s and they both smiled, saying in unison, “Rhapsody!”
Rhapsody Angel was brought straight to the house and seeing her two friends, bounded up the stairs to embrace them both.
“How are you? Has anyone hurt you?” Symphony demanded, rushing to embrace her friend.
“Karen, how are you? Nolie, how’s your ankle?” she asked as she hugged Melody.
“I’m fine, so’s Symphony.”
Rhapsody took the hint: we’re undercover; codenames only. Under the pretence of hugging them both again, she told them she’d seen Destiny. “I managed to lead them some distance away from where I’d seen her before they caught me. They frisked me pretty thoroughly and took my chronometer and the short-range communicator; then they set up a camp in the jungle as it was too dark to travel safely by then. I was tied against a tree, but they gave me water and some fruit to eat; and no one laid a finger on me. We started out to come back here as soon as it got light.”
“The professor says there’re wild animals loose on the island,” Symphony told her, “I was so worried about the three of you.”
“Harmony’s still at large?” Rhapsody asked in concern at hearing this information.
Melody reassured her, “There’s hope yet. I can’t see her ending up as hors d’œuvres at a wild animal’s supper table.”
“Nevertheless, I’m glad I left a note saying where we were going,” Rhapsody muttered in response. “And the sooner the seventh cavalry arrives to rescue us, the better,” she added soberly.
Their conversation was interrupted by the emergence onto the veranda of Professor Leblois, ostensibly from his laboratory. Symphony gave quick warning glances at the others and said, brightly,
“Professor, look; your men have found Rhapsody. She’s safe from the wild animals now - I’m so pleased!”
Leblois advanced towards the newcomer, his hand extended. “I am pleased to meet you, Miss Rhapsody; such charming code names you all enjoy. I am Professor Stephen Leblois.” He took her hand in his and held it for a long moment, smiling with obvious delight at the newcomer.
Rhapsody pointedly removed her hand and stepped back to begin complaining, “I had no idea there were dangerous animals at large on the island, Professor. If your men had taken the time and trouble to explain that, I wouldn’t have spent so much of my time and energy trying to avoid them.” She managed to imbue her words with a hint of exasperation at such incompetence. “They really are a trifle excessive in their eagerness to attract one’s attention… I was positively alarmed by them. One is not used to being chased by packs of hounds…”
“Nah, one generally does the chasing…” Melody quipped. Rhapsody turned and grinned at her.
Leblois seemed as enchanted by her haughty manner as by her appearance. Grimy and windswept though she was, he stared at Rhapsody with approval. “My apologies, Miss Rhapsody; I’ll speak to them about it as soon as I can. I do hope they’ve not hurt you?”
“I’m exhausted, dirty and hungry; but I’m unhurt.”
“All of that can be cured in a moment, my dear. I’ll order them to draw water for you to bathe and to find you some decent clothes. We shall breakfast as soon as you are ready, my dear, then you may amuse yourselves for the rest of the day. This evening, I think, would be an appropriate time for you to meet some more of the island’s residents.”
Symphony looked at Melody with astonishment as Rhapsody inclined her head in an autocratic manner and, with a wink at her friends, followed the servant who rushed to do Leblois’s bidding.
Melody rubbed her nose thoughtfully and said, “Good morning, Professor, I’m Melody Angel.”
“Yes, I know,” Leblois’s reply was off-hand and brusque as he gazed after the departing figure of Rhapsody. “You can stay too – for now,” he added, nodding a farewell at Symphony and strolling into the house.
“I hope Dianne realises that around here taking a wash is considered something of a spectator sport,” Symphony muttered.
But Melody had her mind on other matters. “Why would he be so smarmy to her and so damn rude to me?” she asked. “What’s she got that I haven’t?”
Symphony grimaced and said, “I hate to say it, Nolie, but might it be… a white skin?”
“Well, you might have a point,” Melody said with a grim expression. “He’s treated you and Rhapsody much better than me and Harmony. Could it be our Professor is an out-and-out racist?”
“Must be; he doesn’t treat his servants very well, either,” Symphony said, and told her about the girls who’d been punished for upsetting her, making it clear that she blamed herself for it. “I’ve seen him strike several of them himself,” she added, “so I’d say you’re right, first time.”
“You’d hope that in this day and age, people with attitudes like his would have died out.” Melody sighed. Her southern accent became far more pronounced as she added, “I know it ain’t so, but I’m so used to living with all you guys on Cloudbase; I forgets y’all are white-folks most o’ th’ time!”
Symphony’s elegant eyebrows dipped into a frown. “On Cloudbase it’s who you are, not what you are, that matters. By which I mean, if you do your job as well as you can, nothing else matters.”
Melody saw that she’d made her friend uncomfortable and was immediately contrite. There had never been any racial tension on Cloudbase, even though the personnel came from every colour, creed and country in the world. Individual tensions did exist - it was only to be expected with roughly 600 people living and working in close proximity - but these were not expected to affect people’s performance. She smiled apologetically and said, “Yeah, I guess Spectrum kinda makes you forget it still ain’t the same everywhere…”
Symphony laid her hand on Melody’s shoulder. “Come back to the room I have, you can wash up there,” she offered. “I can ask them to find you a clean dress to change into as well. The professor did say I was to have anything I asked for.”
She helped Melody to her feet and the two women walked back through the house. A servant, who had obviously been told not to let Symphony out of his sight, but not to stop her doing what she wanted, followed a short distance behind. As she ushered Melody into her room, Symphony asked him to find another cheongsam, and puzzled, the man edged away, apparently to do her bidding. Left alone in the room, the two Angels had a rapid, whispered discussion about what they should do next, and then Symphony left Melody to wash and went to find the still-absent servant. Walking down the corridor to where another of the Malay servants was hovering outside a door, she stepped up and knocked, calling ‘Rhapsody?’ A muffled response from within told her she’d found the right room.
“Are you decent?”
“Sure, come in.”
Half-expecting to be stopped, Symphony slid back the bolt and peered in; she saw Rhapsody, a towel wrapped around her, surveying two cheongsams laid out across the simple bed.
“That was quick; did the young girls come to help you?” Symphony asked.
Rhapsody met her friend’s eye and continued talking rather loudly. “Yes, I sent them away.”
“I tried that, but they wouldn’t go,” Symphony explained with some petulance.
Rhapsody’s eyebrows rose in surprise. “They wouldn’t? Hmm, strange…I guess there is something to be said for a cut-glass English accent and centuries of an inbred expectation that your orders are going to be obeyed,” she said. “I just never assumed they wouldn’t go and I think they got the message. They did leave me these two dresses to try on, though. Which one do you think will suit me best? I think the red one is just beautiful, but I can’t really wear red; it clashes with my hair. The green one’s nice though - if it fits…”
“The green one’s marvellous,” Symphony agreed. She ran a finger over the delicate sprays of white flowers that decorated the emerald green silk, then she handed it across to her friend, holding the towel up as a screen while Rhapsody slipped into the dress. Neither woman needed to explain to the other their belief that they were being watched.
“There, it fits rather well, don’t you think?” Rhapsody twirled round for Symphony’s approval.
“Yes; they’re beautiful dresses,” the American agreed, adding with a touch of anger, “I sent the servant that’s been following me around to fetch one for Melody, but he hasn’t come back yet.” Impulsively she confided, “We’re rather of the opinion – Melody and I - that the non-whites around here are not treated with much consideration. For a start, Harmony and Melody were both taken to a cell block, and I’m sure it’s only because I kept telling Professor Leblois I couldn’t remember much about the crash, that he allowed Melody over to see me. He said they’d restrained Harmony because they thought she was going to attack me, but no one would imagine that of her. He also told me that Harmony might be in danger from the islanders here because they don’t like Japanese people. I just hope she’s okay - wherever she is.”
Rhapsody’s face openly mirrored her disapproval and she gave a grimace. “Well, we don’t have to behave in the same way,” she asserted. “Why don’t you take the red dress? It’ll look smashing on Melody.” Symphony nodded agreement and reached for the dress, pausing to admire the exquisite embroidery on the silk. With the dress over her arm, she turned towards the door.
“Oh, before you go, Symphony, I think it must be yours? Melody found this on the crash island.” Rhapsody reached into the pocket of her fatigues, which were still lying on the bed and stretched out towards Symphony. When their hands met, Rhapsody slipped the silver medallion into her friend’s outstretched palm.
Symphony’s face lit up. “My medallion! Oh, I thought I’d lost it forever… Oh, thank you, Dianne…” She threw her arms around the younger woman’s neck.
“Thank Melody; she found it.”
“I will; right now, when I take her the dress.” Symphony slipped the chain around her neck and fastened it, allowing the cool metal of the medallion to slither underneath the silk and nestle against her breasts. “Now I feel properly dressed again.” She looked up and gave an embarrassed grin at her friend.
“He’d have bought you another one, if you’d asked,” Rhapsody teased gently.
“It wouldn’t have been the same. This medallion’s been through a lot with me… I love it.”
“And the donor?”
“And the donor,” she confirmed.
“So he’s forgiven for not being able to say ‘goodbye’ quite as ardently as you’d have liked?”
Symphony nodded, rather self-consciously. “When don’t I forgive him? Whatever he does? Besides, although I’d never admit it to him: it’s rarely his fault.”
Rhapsody grinned. “He knows that already! In fact, everybody knows that…”
They shared a brief moment of happy amusement, the disquiet of their situation on this strange island forgotten in the recollection of their normal lives and the good friends they were confident were searching for them, even now.
Melody needed little cajoling to slip into the red cheongsam, gladly discarding the rough overalls the gaolers had given her. The three Angels met up back in the room where Rhapsody was waiting and hugged each other.
“You look fantastic, Melody; the red suits you,” Rhapsody said watching the dark-skinned American as she twirled around for inspection. “Hey, we’re more like the united colours of Spectrum now: red, emerald and turquoise… who needs colour captains? Maybe we should suggest it to the colonel – colour coded Angels?”
“Yeah, sure beats always wearing cream and white,” Melody said, her hands stroking the smooth silk fabric. “I mean it looks classy, an’ all, but it’s a tad restrained for my taste.”
The women giggled as each of them imagined the colonel’s likely response. “He’d probably say we’d only fight over who got to wear which colour,” Symphony said cheerfully. “And you said yourself that red doesn’t suit you, Dianne…”
The Englishwoman laughed and blushed slightly.
They sat together on the bed and Symphony brought them up to date with what she knew about their host and the people on the island.
“Who are we supposed to be going to meet?” Rhapsody asked from her seat on the edge of the bed.
Symphony shrugged. “I’m not sure; oh, I’ve asked before; but the professor gets rather coy and won’t tell me.”
“Maybe this place is some kind of penal colony?” Rhapsody suggested. “There’s certainly an atmosphere of unease about it; it’s impossible to relax. Or perhaps he’s working for white-slavers?” She was only half joking.
“Well, according to Leblois, there are supposed to be pirates around here,” Symphony mused, taking the latter suggestion seriously. “So almost anything’s possible, I guess. Mind you, even if the professor is prepared to ignore the authority of the World Government and its agencies – I can’t see any pirates risking bringing the wrath of Spectrum down on themselves by abducting us -”
“- We’re letting our imaginations run away with us,” Melody interjected. “I don’t like this place any more than you two do, but I can’t see a maverick like the professor working for pirates - or white-slavers – or whatever you chose to call them. And it’s not as if this island is over-run with people, so where’d he get ‘the merchandise’ from, for a start - it can’t be very often that planeloads of people fall out of the sky.”
“Most of the people I have seen around are youngsters,” Symphony said pensively, “Apart from the guards, that is.”
“No,” Rhapsody agreed with Melody, “even though he told you there were islanders here when he set up base, Symphony, and that Harmony might be in danger from them; it strikes me that this island is mostly populated by the professor and his servants.”
“Male servants too,” Melody added. “I know you saw two women, Symphony, but you said they were youngsters and none of us has seen any more, that’s what makes me edgy…That and the fact that we’ll be heavily outnumbered, if it comes to a fight.”
“You think we’re destined for the professor’s harem?” laughed Symphony, a little nervously.
Melody shook her head. “I don’t know what I think; I’m just saying what I’ve noticed. We can’t deduce anything much from the little we know now.”
“This research he says he’s been doing,” Rhapsody said thoughtfully, “saving the gene-pool of endangered animals; strikes me that’d be welcomed by the World Government and the environmental agencies – yet, you say he doesn’t recognise the World Government?”
“That’s what he said,” Symphony confirmed. “He said radical new methods were needed to make the project work – it strikes me that radical methods and the World Environment Agency might not be happy bedfellows. After all, they’re unlikely to risk any endangered animals on the off-chance some kooky scheme might pay off.”
“Hmmm.” Rhapsody considered the situation thoughtfully. “Maybe they split over this scheme he has? What sort of animals is he working on?” she asked Symphony.
“No idea. He said wild animals had escaped onto the island and sometimes people disappeared… presumed eaten, I guess.”
“Big cats?” Melody hazarded. “Or bears or wolves…?”
“Stop it; you’re making me worry about the others.”
“Sorry, Dianne. I reckon we need to get over to those pens and see what the professor’s keeping in them.”
“I reckon we need to get out of here, pronto!” Rhapsody argued. “The whole setup’s giving me the creeps.”
“Me too,” Symphony agreed. “We need to find Harmony and Destiny and get back to the crash site. There’s enough stuff there for us to be able to repel any attack - now we know to expect one. If we get the radio working, we can contact Cloudbase and get rescued. I’d rather have the colonel thinking we’re fragile as glass for a few days and be alive long enough to convince him otherwise - preferably in some place other than this –than stick it out here a moment longer than we have to.”
“You really think our lives are in danger here?” Rhapsody gasped.
“Leblois’s a dangerous man: irrational, volatile and violent. I wouldn’t want to cross him and not have an escape route,” Symphony confessed.
“Well, we aren’t going to get away before we meet… whoever it is he has lined up,” Melody said. “After that we’ll get together again and…”
“…I’m betting you’ll be sent back to the cells,” Symphony said sadly. Melody glared at her. “Sorry, Melody, I’m only going on what I’ve seen so far.”
“He must realise I’m a Spectrum agent too and therefore as big a threat as you two…” Melody retorted.
“It’s possible that, after he saw Harmony escape, he has a greater appreciation of our abilities,” Symphony agreed. “But that might simply suggest it’s wise to keep us apart.”
“We have to stay together; that much is obvious,” Rhapsody stated firmly. She gave Symphony a significant look, willing the American to catch on to her thoughts and to back her up. Symphony returned the glance and gave a slight nod.
The pair of them had worked together on other missions and the rapport they’d developed was reinforced by the fact that they were in love with two men who were as close as brothers and who had automatically assumed that the women they loved would be close friends as well. Given that strong foundation, the young women had learned to trust each other’s instincts implicitly.
Confident her partner would support her, Rhapsody plunged on a little breathlessly. “There is one way it might work, Nolie. If it looks like he’s going to split us up, we’ll say you’re our subordinate and we want you with us – and you’d better play along with it - and maybe that way we can swing you a place here, as our servant?”
Melody was outraged. “Damned if I will!”
“Damned if you won’t,” Symphony reasoned forcefully. “Look, together we might stand a chance of breaking out of this place, but I don’t see how we can get you out of those lock-ups, Nolie. After Harmony’s escape they’re going to be taking much better care of their prisoners.” She laid a hand on the younger woman’s shoulder. “It’s not like we’ll believe it for a minute, but maybe Leblois will?”
Melody glanced away, anger flashing in her dark eyes; she could see the logic behind the plan and understood the reasoning, yet she was annoyed that such an idea had even occurred to Rhapsody, and that Symphony was backing her up. Besides, it went against the very grain of her soul to agree to it. After a tense silence she nodded once and shrugged off Symphony’s hand.
“Maybe it won’t come to that,” Rhapsody soothed.
“I damn well hope not… but if it does, you’ll find me well-subservient, Mizz Symphony, Mizz Rhapsody, if that’ll keep us together,” Melody promised, although her voice was resentful.
The two white women shared distressed glances and, on impulse, the ever-emotional Symphony swept Melody into an embrace.
“Now, we’ll have to be careful what we say and how we act. Leblois seemed to be impressed by my aristocratic bad manners earlier, so no one must get upset,” Rhapsody said with a smile, “but I’m going to be the snobbiest Englishwoman ever born! Okay?”
“Yessah, Mizz Rhapsody…” Melody managed to joke and the three of them chuckled together, the uneasiness of the passed few minutes evaporating in the warmth of their comradeship.
“Don’t overdo it, Nolie…” Symphony warned as they heard the approach of footsteps outside the door.
“Hey,” Melody hissed, “the only black servants I’ve ever seen have been in the movies – but I’ll do my best!”
The three women were escorted to the veranda where the Professor was waiting to see them. His face darkened with anger as he saw Melody dressed in the cheongsam and he glared at the servant who’d been assigned to wait on Symphony. The man kow-towed in alarm and looked fearful.
Symphony wasn’t going to stand for anybody being punished because of her actions again and she spoke out immediately: “I do hope you don’t mind, Professor, but Melody needed a change of clothes.”
“Quite right,” Rhapsody chipped in, “it doesn’t take long for garments to get malodorous in this climate –- and that’s totally unpleasant for all concerned. I told Symphony to give the second gown you were kind enough to send me, to Melody - for everyone’s sake.”
Leblois gave a tight-lipped smile and inclined his head. “As you wish, of course,” he muttered, but his expression remained angry. “I had a more substantial breakfast prepared… however I must ask you to please accept my apologies, ladies, I had hoped to introduce some new company to you, but, due to some sloppiness amongst my staff, our guests have not arrived and will not be able to join us until later. I’ve made fresh arrangements for this evening.”
“Thank goodness, I’m far too hungry to be polite, anyway. I am famished,” Rhapsody said and sat down immediately, waving Melody to one seat and Symphony to the third. The Angels ate their fill of the food laid before them, Leblois watching everything they ate.
Once the table was cleared, Symphony asked: “May we see round your compound today, Professor? We’re all interested in learning more about the valuable work you’re doing here.”
“This is a working laboratory, Miss Symphony; we do not do sight-seeing tours.”
“What kind of animals are you working with?” Rhapsody asked, ignoring the stern tone that was obviously meant to discourage their enquiries.
“How interesting,” she answered brightly. “I attended a lecture not so very long ago about the physiology of the lower primates. A fascinating topic…”
“Yes, I’ve heard that lecture too…” Symphony said and Melody nodded her head, acknowledging that she too had attended the same lecture. In fact, Doctor Fawn gave virtually the same lecture, with occasional updates, once a year on Cloudbase to anyone interested in attending, and his close friends amongst the senior officers made a point of there always being several of them in the audience - for moral support. They now considered themselves to be amateur experts on the topic.
The three young women bandied phrases from Fawn’s lecture between them, until Leblois’s face was a picture of annoyance.
“Professor,” his body servant interrupted, “see, at the gate!” He pointed excitedly.
As the conversation ceased, Professor Leblois stood and stared towards the entrance to his compound, where an elegant blonde woman was standing, waving her hand and calling, “ ’ello? Please, will you permit me to enter?”
The hiatus caused by Destiny’s arrival lasted several hours. The three Angels welcomed her with surprise and were anxious to find out why she had chosen to surrender herself to the professor, but Destiny was in no hurry to do anything.
“Mes enfants,” she protested as the girls crowded around her, “Give me the time to fetch my breath! For last night I was alone in the wilderness and now I am with you again, I am happy to be so, but also hungry and thirsty… have pity on me.”
Leblois welcomed the beautiful Frenchwoman into his home with his usual show of delight at meeting a white woman and professed pleasure at her being a native French-speaker. He ordered the food and drink to be brought back and watched in fascination as Destiny picked at the food and sipped her drink, fussing over a broken fingernail and encouraging the other Angels to tell her their stories – most of which she already knew, of course.
When she declared herself ‘rassasiée’, patting her lips with a serviette, Leblois insisted she bathe and change into clean clothes.
“Merci bien, Monsieur le Professeur, and now I feel sure I am the dirtiest Frenchwoman in the world. Allons, mes amies, you shall come with me and help me to wash and change from these rags. If there are any more of those merveilleuses robes – perhaps I might have one of them? I have great need of your assistance to make myself feel like an Angel once more…”
Once they were alone in Rhapsody’s room, and had taken what precautions they could to prevent their being overheard, they insisted Destiny tell them all she knew.
“I have found Harmony - or more truthfully, she found me,” Destiny whispered, showing the others the short-range communication device she’d brought. “Yes, Dianne, she is well. She had met with a sailor-man who has been marooned on the island for more than twenty years. He has many concerns about the safety of our being here with the professor; so I am here to explain the plan to get us away ensemble. He calls him evil…”
“Well, he certainly isn’t very nice,” Symphony agreed.
“Billy tells a long tale of a man with much to hide and many fears of prosecution if he is discovered. Leblois is really Stephen Busquin – the man who stole the rare gorillas many years ago - you have hear of him? - Bien. Also, he tells worryingly of his shipwrecked crewmates and native and Malay women who have vanished from the island: white women too. He believes that the professeur knows why this happens – there are pirate ships that regularly visit here to trade with the colony.”
“So I was right, it is slave trading,” Rhapsody gasped.
Destiny shrugged. “Perhaps worse than that…” she began portentously.
“How come this Billy knows all this and is still around to tell you about it?” Melody interrupted warily. “He may be in league with the professor.”
With a sigh, Destiny began to explain. “He used to know the man who was the professeur’s assistant until that man, apparently, suicided himself; only Billy thinks it was more likely to have been a murder. Since that time, Billy has lived alone on the island and avoided capture by the guards by hiding in a secret camp in a ravin.”
Melody looked suspicious at this and asked pointedly, “Can’t he escape?”
“Non, not alone; and his shipmates have all vanished too, over the years. If what he says is true – and I feel in my heart that it is so – then Professeur Leblois has the bloods of many on his hands.”
“You’re sure of this?” Melody repeated, as she handed Destiny the cheongsam of Imperial purple which a servant had delivered. “How do we know this ‘Billy’ is telling the truth?”
“I cannot, but I know that our friend Billy does believe it; and why should he lie?”
“I can think of a good many reasons, actually – especially if he’s involved in any dealings with pirates,” Melody reasoned.
Destiny nodded. “C’est possible,” she agreed. “He tells us that he stays in hiding to avoid the wrath of the professor; and – I think we could say that if he wished, he could be a lord over the people here, like Leblois, n’est-ce pas? At least I would say so, seeing the great importance Leblois sets by Europeans…et Américaines…”
Melody shrugged. “I guess I’m just saying that we shouldn’t jump to conclusions about this new guy and what he says, just because we like what he’s saying.”
“And since when have you had time for Leblois and his tyranny?” Symphony quizzed Melody. “I say that what Destiny’s friend says sounds in keeping with the paranoid megalomaniac Leblois is.”
“Oh I’m willin’ to believe everything bad you could say about him,” Melody agreed, “but I don’t think we should have a witch-hunt. We have no jurisdiction over this place, for a start.”
“I’m not so sure about that, Nolie,” Rhapsody said suddenly. She’d studied law at University and knew more than the others about the topic. “Spectrum was founded as the World Government’s Anti-Terrorism Agency with police powers on land and in space. It’s true that we now spend most of our time fighting the Mysterons, but no one has ever rescinded those powers. And, Leblois certainly terrorizes the people on this island. If you ask me, we have both the authority and the obligation to arrest him and bring him to justice; if there’s any proof of his crime.”
“Proof; that’s the problem,” Symphony interjected. “We don’t have any and how can we get it?”
“Attendez, mes amies, our main priority is to get out of here and to rejoin with Harmony; we should be together when the rescue comes. Catching criminals is all very well, but we have to save ourselves before we can save the people here. If Billy is right –- and Leblois means us harm or to trade us with these pirates - we have to follow the plan and get out of here tonight. Then the matter can be passed to the World Police.”
“And how does that tie in with our oaths to preserve the rule of law?” Melody asked. Now that she’d heard Rhapsody’s opinion on their right to take action, she was fired up for an immediate battle. “I say we nail the bastard.”
“I tell you we shall regroup before we do any more,” Destiny said firmly. She stood and faced the others. “Mes amies, none of us have ever used the rank over the rest; but I do this now. We must join with Harmony and then we shall see what can be done to stop this maniac.”
“Who suddenly made you the leader?” Melody asked curtly.
“If you read the tiny print, Melody, you will see that the colonel did.”
“Don’t let’s fight – we’re in this together,” Rhapsody urged them.
But like Melody, Symphony was keen to act sooner rather than later. “We should try to smuggle Harmony in with us; someone needs to be able to move around the place freely – and she’d be less conspicuous than any of us. Rather than us get out, maybe she can get in?” she persisted.
“Enough discussion. We do this my way,” Destiny commanded, adding, “Just remember, the Angel squadron is no more a true democracy than Professeur Leblois’s island and what I say is what will be done.”
There was a sullen silence after Destiny’s pronouncement. The Angels, whilst conforming to the general rules of Cloudbase, had never really acknowledged any one of the group as the ‘Leader’, but they all knew Destiny was correct in saying she was the senior member of the squadron. The silence dragged on a little too long to be comfortable and Melody finally broke it to say:
“Very well; but I’m telling you, here and now, Leblois must be stopped somehow and made to pay for his crimes.”
“Assuming we find proof that he’s committed any,” Rhapsody revised.
“Just pray that proof isn’t the disappearance of one of us,” Symphony muttered, giving Destiny a cautionary glance.
Harmony and Billy watched Destiny walk into the compound and saw the gate shut behind her.
“I am still anxious that this is not the best way to proceed,” Harmony confessed.
“Juliette seems to be a woman quite capable of looking after herself,” Billy remarked with the intention of reassuring his companion. “She’s taken the communication device with her, so we should be able to co-ordinate the escape tonight. It’s down to us to lay a clear trail for the others to follow and make sure the dinghy is ready to launch. It‘ll be a full moon tonight, handy for your friends to find their way, Chan, but also easier for the guards to follow. The trail must be as direct a route as possible…”
She smiled at him. “I am glad you are here to help us. You will take the opportunity to leave this place, won’t you, Billy? Come back with us when the rescue plane arrives?”
He scratched his head. “I’d almost given up hope of ever seeing my home again, Chan. You know, the very first thing I want when I get back to civilisation is a cup of real, hot tea and a chocolate digestive biscuit.” He laughed. “Odd what you miss over time.”
She smiled. “Our tea rations are not what I’d call real tea, but I think Rhapsody did pack some of her chocolate cookies. When we have made our way back to the dinghy, I am sure she would not object to your having a few of them.”
Billy laughed. “Music to my ears! Let’s get cracking, Chan - I can hear those siren biscuits calling to me even now…”
Given that they were apparently free to do as they please all day, the Angels explored the villa, familiarising themselves with the layout and the best ways to leave the building in a hurry. The menservants assigned to them kept a watch from a discreet distance, but it wasn’t until they arrived at a part of the building that housed the professor’s rooms, including his study, that they were prevented from entering by servants posted at the doors.
“I expect he is within the rooms,” Destiny reasoned aloud as they wandered passed the hovering servants as nonchalantly as they could. “We do not wish to interrupt his working; nor,” she added for her companions’ ears only, “to arouse the suspicion.”
Once the midday heat had died down, they ventured out into the compound, leaving Melody on the veranda – her ‘injured’ ankle resting on a stool - as lookout. They were allowed to stroll where they wanted until they approached the two long, interconnecting single-story blocks that formed the animal pens and associated compounds. The senior servant –‘The Butler’, as they’d come to call him - hurried over and chivvied them in a different direction. They had exhausted the possibilities the compound had to offer long before the sun started to set, so they rejoined Melody on the veranda and spent the rest of the afternoon laughing at their own foibles and those of their fellow Spectrum officers in a light-hearted way, an unspoken conviction that they were under a close surveillance making them all wary of discussing anything too controversial. Then they were advised to prepare for dinner and the young women who’d washed Symphony’s hair, carried water to the rooms they’d been assigned and left them to freshen up.
Diffident knocks at the doors alerted them they were expected, and servants ushered them into an ante-room, from which a partially open door led to the dining room. They could see a table laid for six diners.
“This is for the four of us, the Professor and his guest?” Rhapsody asked the butler.
“Not that one,” he said, pointing at Melody. “She eat with servants.”
“Hey, buster, we all eat here or none of us do,” Symphony exploded.
“The professor, three misses and two guest,” the butler said adamantly, barring Melody’s access to the table.
“This sucks,” Symphony complained as Rhapsody laid a hand on her arm and frowned.
“Really, Symphony, it is the professor’s prerogative to decide who eats at his table. I’m sure Melody would feel more at home, eating elsewhere,” Rhapsody said with a warning frown.
“He can’t treat Melody like this.”
“Hey, don’t mind me,” Melody said, hiding her hurt feelings under a devil-may-care shrug. “I don’t wanna eat with no white trash, any how. I have better fish to fry.”
“Melody…” Symphony shrugged apologetically and caught the wink Melody gave her as she turned to hobble away from the room. They had all played their parts to perfection and now it was up to Melody to carry out the next part of their plan. Nevertheless, the other three watched her go with apprehension in their hearts.
Rhapsody consoled herself with the thought that if anyone could make the rendezvous with Harmony, it’d be Melody, and then she turned to follow the other two towards the pre-dinner refreshments, laid out for their pleasure.
The professor had obviously ordered that no effort be spared to make the evening one of elegance and sophistication – or what passed for it in this remote corner of the globe. The dining room was lit by lanterns and candelabra, exotic flowers formed a magnificent centrepiece on the table and the cutlery and crockery were of a kind that would not have disgraced Rhapsody’s mother’s dining room on the family estate in England.
There were five servants standing around the room when the doors were swept open for the Angels to enter. The butler ushered them to the far end of the room away from the table and offered drinks. Cautiously they accepted non-alcoholic juices and sipped them, always wary of the effect they might have on them.
Finally the door was opened again by the professor’s body servant and Leblois stalked into the room, followed by two other men.
The three women stared at them in surprise; at first sight they appeared to be young, white men, dressed in old-fashioned clothes similar to those favoured by the professor. All three exchanged glances –- nothing they had seen on their reconnaissance that afternoon had given them the impression that there were any other white men on the island.
The men were both far younger than the professor, slightly over average height with abundant black hair and dark eyes; both were broadly built and walked a little awkwardly, seeming ill at ease and uncomfortable in their dinner suits. They appeared to be in their late teens or early twenties, which would have meant that they had, presumably, spent their entire lives on the island.
Leblois paused before the three women and said, “May I present my sons:” he turned and indicated the young men, “Adam and Abraham - Bram.’
“Adam?” It was impossible for Symphony not to react at the sound of the first name even as she was aware it was another indication of the professor’s messianic fixation.
As she studied the young man with interest Leblois challenged her. “There’s something wrong with that?” he snapped with a superior glare at her.
“Not at all,” she reassured him, surprised at his sudden anger. “In fact, it is one of my favourite names,” she said, smiling reassuringly at the other young man who was hovering uncertainly some feet away.
This Adam was the antithesis of her lover; he was swarthy and hirsute. His coarse black hair sprang upright from his broad forehead, and although he was clean shaven he had a distinct ‘five o’clock shadow’ around his thin-lipped mouth, strong jaw line and cheeks, which darkened his naturally tanned skin. His eyes were deep-set, brown and exophthalmic, fringed with long lashes beneath heavy eyebrows which met above the bridge of his short, broad nose. He grabbed her hand and raised it to his face as if to kiss it, with an expression that verged on leering; but to her surprise he sniffed it and then promptly dropped it, grinning at his father like a man possessed.
“Adam is unused to polite company – forgive him, please,” Leblois said with an angry frown at the youngster, who seemed unperturbed by his reprimand and turned his attention to the other women.
The second youngster was blushing under the stern gaze of the professor, when he stepped forward. He extended his hand towards Symphony and she took it politely, noticing the long fingers and prominent knuckles as it enclosed hers in a powerful grip.
“Pleased to meet you, lady,” he mumbled. His voice was deep and indistinct as if he had some trouble pronouncing the words.
Perhaps English isn’t his first language – the professor is Belgian, after all? she mused, feeling some sympathy for the young man’s shyness. Aloud she said, “I am pleased to meet you too, Abraham…” He was slightly shorter in stature, but similar in feature and of an even darker complexion than Adam.
Leblois stepped forward, drawing his sons to his side with an imperious wave of his hand. “Boys, these are our lady guests: Miss Symphony, Miss Rhapsody and Miss Destiny. You will treat them with courtesy and be on your best behaviour at all times. Do you understand me, Adam?”
“Yussir” Adam mumbled, his grin never failing and his eyes fixed firmly on Rhapsody. He sidled closer to her and reaching out to touch her red hair, he lifted a strand and sniffed it, as he’d done to Symphony’s hand. “Pritty...”
“Thank you, Adam,” Rhapsody said, successfully hiding her distaste. She held out her hand. “I am pleased to meet you.” Adam dropped her hair and took her hand, sniffing that and holding it until his father rebuked him.
Destiny had watched the two youngsters and now as she came forward and shook hands with them, her accent obviously baffled them and they turned with anxious glances to Leblois.
“Miss Destiny’s first language is not English, but French, which you have heard me speak before now,” he explained in a cursory manner. “Perhaps after we have eaten, she will oblige us by speaking French with you so that you may practise your skills.”
“Bien sûr, Monsieur le Professeur,” Destiny said with a charming smile at the young men, who shuffled uneasily and moved closer together.
Rhapsody gave the others a bemused glance. It was obvious the youngsters rarely met outsiders and, being very much under the thumb of their father, they were unlikely to disagree with anything he suggested. She couldn’t see much likelihood of recruiting them against Leblois. She also wondered why the professor set such store on their behaving with such old-fashioned and artificial manners; after all, for children growing up on this remote island, the niceties of polite society must seem an irrelevance, in fact, it might be hard to believe that there was another world, with so many languages and customs, beyond the coral reef. Yet, however unprepossessing they looked - and Adam’s intense stare was starting to unnerve her - they did not appear to pose any threat.
Leblois waved the ladies to the seats around the table and sat Symphony on his right, next to Bram and Rhapsody on his left, between him and Adam, whilst Destiny was ushered to the seat opposite him at the far end of the table. The flunkies hurried to pile the food before them, and with an expansive gesture Leblois said, “Please, help yourselves; enjoy!”
Leblois watched his sons with an uncompromisingly severe expression as they began to pile the enticingly perfumed food onto their plates, but at a disapproving growl from the professor, they stopped and began to eat the food with the spoons laid beside their plates.
The Angels helped themselves to far more modest amounts and tried hard to not to register their surprise, whilst eating with the more formal cutlery. Leblois did not eat, although he scooped some rice onto his plate and sat with a fork poised above it.
After a few minutes he opened the conversation.
“You young ladies must work very hard at your jobs with this security organisation,” Leblois frowned. “Spectrum, was it? But surely, you must all be of an age when you should be preparing to settle down and start families?”
“What makes you say that?” Rhapsody asked sharply. Starting a family was something she and her fiancé – Captain Scarlet - had very different views on.
“You must all be in your late twenties; the most productive years of your fertility cycle will soon be over...”
“You make us sound like livestock,” Symphony said suspiciously, dropping her fork onto the table at this distasteful comment.
“Forgive me if I have caused you any offence; I’m unused to discussing such matters with educated young women any longer.”
“We are not used to discussing it at all,” Destiny said smoothly. “Such things are considered private to each person, professeur; and besides, what makes you assume any of us are in a relationship that might lead to a family?”
“But some of you are? Do any of you already have children?”
“Why is this any business of yours?” Rhapsody asked pointedly.
Leblois gave a sycophantic smile. “Polite conversation, Miss Rhapsody, nothing more. So, I may take it none of you are married or have families of your own?”
“We all have families; parents, brothers, sisters… lovers,” Destiny replied calmly, before Symphony could protest further.
“You have a lover, Miss Destiny?”
“Professeur, I consider that question très impertinente.”
“Do such topics really offend you; or merely embarrass you because you cannot answer ‘yes’?” Leblois demanded.
“That is enough - more than enough!” Symphony cried. “Our private lives are no concern of yours, Leblois.”
“On the contrary, Karen, it is of great concern to me – and to my sons.” He waved a hand to indicate Adam and Bram who were listening in unashamed fascination. “You see, my dear young ladies, I’m afraid that whoever comes looking for you, will not find you. Oh, they may come to this island, but I will have to tell them the sad news that you refused to listen to my warnings and roamed the island at night… I cannot be held responsible for the attacks of wild animals on young, headstrong women. My men will have searched everywhere in an effort to find you; without success. I shall mourn, I shall sympathise… and they will leave and you will stay here.”
“You can’t keep us here,” Rhapsody asserted quietly.
“Oh, but I can – and I will. I will also find your little Japanese friend, so do not harbour the expectation that she will find a way to rescue you. There is nothing that happens on this island that I do not know about; I have eyes and ears everywhere. She cannot hide for long. All of you will live here in the compound.”
“We will not let this happen, Professeur. We are Spectrum Angels; you will not be able to keep us here against our wills,” Destiny said icily.
Leblois gave a patronising smile and inclined his head. “Spectrum cannot help you here, Mademoiselle Juliette. On this island I am the only law, the only government and the only authority.”
“Why would you want to keep us here, when you must know all five of us would never agree to stay and never stop trying to escape?” Rhapsody asked.
“My sons need mates… I’m sure you understand that I have to do right by my boys.”
“Then send them to the mainland and allow them to mingle with other people!” Symphony said. Bram Leblois laid his large hand on her arm, in an apparent effort to calm her. She jerked it away angrily and stared at the young man until his dark eyes dropped from her face with a frown.
“They are not yet ready to face the outside world – which is a hostile place for those who are different from the majority,” Leblois said pragmatically. “You ladies will teach them how to behave; your offspring will be more sophisticated, more intelligent; less… different.”
“Offspring!” Symphony exclaimed in outrage.
“It is not possible that we will remain here,” Destiny said, echoing Rhapsody’s quiet conviction. “We have no desire to remain and we will leave here whether you permit it or not, Professeur…”
“Spectrum will find us,” Symphony interjected.
“Not even your lover, Karen, even if he turns the island upside down, will ever find a hair of your head.”
“How do you know she has a lover?” Rhapsody asked with a frown; she wondered if Symphony had been interrogated before she regained a conscious memory of the event - there were many ‘truth serum’ drugs on the market these days.
“She is not a virgin…” Leblois said coldly.
“What!” Symphony shrieked. “Do you mean you examined me while I was unconscious?”
“There was no need; my men are well trained, I trust their reports…” Leblois shrugged.
“You pervert!” Symphony cried, alarmed and frightened by what she was hearing.
Even though she shared her friend’s angry disgust, Rhapsody gave the American a sharp glance; antagonising their captor wasn’t going to get them anywhere. Instead she interjected quickly, “I have a lover too and I’m not a virgin either; so surely that make us less desirable mates for your sons?”
Leblois glanced at Adam who was making a low growling noise at Rhapsody’s assertion. “Apparently not,” he said. “They have made their choices.”
Somewhat put out, Rhapsody glanced at the glowering Adam and gave a nervous gasp of laughter. “Oh come on – in your dreams, boy.”
Adam sprang to his feet and thrust a hand in her hair, yanking her head back at this insult.
“Adam!” Leblois snapped angrily. Reluctantly, he let her go and threw himself into his seat. As if the incident had never happened, Leblois continued suavely, “You underestimate my sons, Dianne.” Rhapsody glanced at the others at this use of her Christian name; proof enough that they had been under surveillance all the time. “They may be young, but let me assure you both of them are fully mature males….They are ready to take mates, and you three ladies will make admirable mothers of the next generation. You are all intelligent, resourceful, sophisticated women – just what is needed for the programme to continue.”
“What programme?” Symphony gasped. The others looked at her, the self-reliant, spirited young woman who was Symphony Angel was trembling with a mixture of anger and abhorrence at the treatment she’d received and her friends were experiencing at the hands of this powerful and perverse man and his strange sons.
“You will learn soon enough.” He glanced at Rhapsody and Destiny. “It will be necessary for you to be examined too – for my records – and to ensure you are both healthy. The examination also determines where you are in your personal cycle; improving the chances that pregnancy will result from the initial mating and lessening the need for IVF treatment.”
“Mating?” Symphony’s temper was well and truly roused. “There will be no ‘mating’!”
Bram Leblois spoke: “Please do not be fearful.” Symphony turned to the young man beside her and saw a flash of humanity in his brown eyes that was lacking in his father’s and his brother’s. “I would not hurt you.”
“Buster, you’ll never get the chance…” she replied. “This has gone far enough; I’m leaving.”
She stood up and, without a moment’s hesitation the others followed her example, moving in concert towards the door. Without any orders being spoken, the servants massed together and moved to stand in front of the exit.
“Get out of my way, or face the consequences,” Symphony warned them. They remained motionless, and as she pushed forward, three of them made an attempt to grab her and the others. In a flurry of movement the three Angels laid their assailants on the floor. Symphony reached for the door handle and a second servant grabbed at her. Once more she sent her assailant sprawling with a judo throw. Rhapsody opened the door a fraction but there was a delay as Destiny dragged the body of a semi-comatose servant out of the way.
It was their undoing. Adam Leblois moved with astonishing speed and cannoned into the door, slamming it shut. He faced the three women, his thin lips drawn back in an angry snarl. With more courage than judgement, Symphony launched an attack only to find herself thrown halfway across the room, landing close to the feet of Bram Leblois. He yanked her to her feet and, in obedience to a brusque order from the professor, thrust her towards his father. Destiny and Rhapsody, made cautious by Adam’s display of strength were edging away in a defensive front, when Leblois’s voice cut into the tension.
“That is enough. This discussion is over. The very next one to try to attack my sons or my servants will cost Miss Karen her life.”
They looked across to see Leblois holding a gun at Symphony’s head. “And I will do it. Believe me.”
Melody remained at the far end of the corridor watching until she saw Leblois arrive with his two unusual guests and the door closed on the dinner party. Then, with a contemptuous glance at the servant beside her, she set off down the corridor. She was still limping as she crossed the compound and approached the door of the ‘animal barracks’; the guard there looked sternly at her, but Melody gave him a slight wave and a cheery smile and continued past the building towards the end of the compound farthest from the gates as if she was merely doing a circuit of the compound for the exercise.
Once out of sight of the guards at both the animal pens and the distant gate, her limp disappeared and she hastened to the wire fence and looked anxiously into the jungle. As Destiny had promised she would, Harmony emerged from the undergrowth a short distance away and waved to attract her attention.
“Hiya,” Melody said, as they both moved closer together until they were only separated by the wire fence. “The plan’s changed somewhat…”
“What do you mean, Melody? Are the others coming soon? Billy has shown me where the fence can be breached easily enough, but we should not waste time.”
“Harmony, the others are having dinner with Leblois and his mysterious guests –- although not from choice, I hasten to add. The professor has a way of insisting people co-operate with his suggestions. In the meantime, I mean to find out what’s been going on here. We think there is something in what your sailor friend suspects –- and Rhapsody says we have the jurisdiction to put this maniac away - so we’re going to do it.”
“How?” the ever practical Harmony asked.
“I want you to come with me over to the main building. With Leblois entertaining the others, we have the best chance we’re likely to get to go through his files. This whole set up stinks, Chan - worse than Ochre’s model glue - and I want to find out why.”
“I was not informed of a change of plan. Is this what Destiny agreed to?”
“Destiny?” Melody’s spontaneous grin was dazzling. “Yeah, she’d be right behind us, if she wasn’t busy already. Come on, Chan. We won’t have long.”
Harmony slipped under the wire and the two Angels moved across the compound back to the house; Melody creating a diversion by moving openly, her limp rather more exaggerated than before, whilst Harmony tracked her friend’s progress from the shadows. Once inside the house Melody’s limp underwent a second miraculous cure and the pair of them hurried to the professor’s suite of rooms. There was one bored servant on sentry duty before a wooden door and they waited for what seemed an age until he started a desultory patrol along the corridor. Harmony slipped from their hiding place and moved with swift and silent menace in his wake. It was unlikely he ever knew what hit him. They dragged him into the room with them and closed the door.
“What exactly are we looking for?” Harmony asked as Melody rifled through the only desk for any keys.
“Proof of what’s going on here. Destiny told us that your sailor friend believed his colleagues were ‘disposed of’ by Leblois and I can believe it; there’s a real atmosphere of fear about this place; the servants are all terrified of him. But without proof we can’t act – so we’re going to get the proof.”
Harmony nodded and risked using the short-range communication device to warn Bill of the change in plan. He was stationed on the escape route back to the dinghy - at the extreme range of the device, so the reception was poor - yet even so she could hear the dismay in his reply. There was no time for discussion and Harmony was pleased when he told her that he’d make his way to the rendezvous by the fence and wait there, in case his help was needed in the compound.
When she returned to the search, Melody had unearthed a journal in the desk drawer and was flicking through the pages. It was written in French and the first page bore the title ‘’L’histoire de la famille Busquin: par Professeur Stephen Leblois’. There wasn’t time to try to read it however tempting it was, and she left it, moving on to search through the files in the pair of office filing cabinets.
Harmony discovered some computer memory disks beside an antique PC that sat in splendid isolation on the desk. She fired up the machine and glanced expertly over the layout schismatic before inserting a disk and starting a back up; then she joined Melody at the cabinets. The drawers were unlocked and the files numbered so there was no indication of what information they contained. Melody had chosen to start with the thickest one and she opened it at random. It was an inventory of equipment and stores.
“I‘d been wondering how he managed to keep his equipment working. Looks like his pirate friends bring a fairly frequent, if irregular, delivery of new stuff and spares,” Melody whispered, frowning at the pages of lists. “I wonder what he uses for money. These don’t tell us much.”
“Bill said that there are pirate gangs who use the island for provisioning their ships,” Harmony volunteered as she took the file from Melody. There was a deep frown on her face as she flicked through the file.
“Sure, and presumably the professor allows it to happen if they supply his needs as well, but I still don’t think they’ll be doing it fer nothin’.” Melody reached over and pulled out a new file. “Why is it when you see a movie or read a book, the heroes – ‘cause it always is heroes – march straight into an office they’ve never seen before, open a drawer and find a neatly typed explanation of what’s going on?” she fumed as she closed the file and dropped it back into the cabinet.
Harmony gave a smile. “I always assume they are just very lucky,” she teased gently. “After all, Melody, the professor knows what he’s doing; he might not feel the need to write it down…”
“Hmm, don’t be so sure, Harmony, he strikes me as the type who likes to keep meticulous records of everything; I mean, take a look at this file–- apparently our professor has a stash of industrial diamonds; an international, untraceable and very portable currency for trading with pirates, I’d say. This records how successful he’s been at negotiating an exchange for the goods he needs. It answers one question anyway; although it doesn’t answer where he gets the diamonds from, of course. …” Melody laid the file on top of the filing cabinet and lifted out another one as Harmony picked up the ledger. “Now, what’s this one about? It looks like some sort of… livestock record, I think – it’s in French - but it seems to go into minute detail.”
Harmony looked up from the file she was holding and peered over Melody’s arm at the new one. “That must be to do with his work on endangered species,” she suggested. She closed the ledger and took the livestock file from her colleague as Melody reached for another. Her eyes widened in surprise. “Melody, these names… Bill has spoken of these names…” Melody glanced at her in confusion and Harmony explained, “These records, Melody, this ‘livestock’ – these are people!”
“What? I think that’s a little unlikely, Harmony. Maybe he’s just named his pets after friends or something? My brother names his hound dogs after his favourite ball players and, if you remember, Dianne told us that she used to have a cat called ‘Garbo’ – so it’s not that unusual… You don’t look convinced, Chan.”
“I do not think I am. Bill gave me the impression that the professor is not the kind of man to think kindly of people. No, Melody, I think it is more unpleasant than that; I think this file shows that the work being done here has involved human beings in some ways.” She picked up the ledger again and flicked through the pages. “See, here, against these same names there are amounts of some currency – possibly diamonds? Surely Destiny told you what Bill thought might have been happening here?”
Melody gave a frown and shook her head. “Not in so many words. Dianne mentioned slave trafficking….” She reached for the ledger and looked in bewilderment at the meticulous records.
Harmony gave a confused shrug and hesitantly told Melody Bill’s theory concerning the disappearance of his crewmates.
Melody looked at her in astonishment. “That is one hell of an accusation. We may never be able to prove it – I mean, if he is trafficking in human organs, would he keep such incriminating records?”
“I do not know, but this file suggests he is working with humans and not just animals as he claims. Some of these names are the very people Bill mentioned as having been with him on the island and – look – the names appear more then once with amounts against them.” Harmony shuddered. “I do not like this.” She checked the ‘livestock’ reports. “See, many of the women’s names are recorded repeatedly until very recent dates.”
Melody looked at her in horror. “Chan, do you think he’s running some kind of private stud farm here? Breeding people specifically to use them for organ donations?”
Harmony nodded her head. “Once he had exhausted the supply of crewmen, he’d need a fresh source – if it is what he is doing. It is too horrible to contemplate, Nolie. He has been treating these people as animals and selling their and their children’s bodies!”
Melody reached to take the file back from Harmony’s hand as the PC gave a bleep to indicate it had finished its back-up.
Harmony slipped over to the desk and removed the data disk, then closed down the machine. “Perhaps what’s on here might tell us more. When we get back to Cloudbase, it won’t take long for Captain Magenta or Lieutenant Green to access the information; then Destiny can do the translation and Doctor Fawn will be able to tell us if we’re right. If we are, it will put a stop to Leblois and…” She stopped as her acute hearing caught the sound of a disturbance in the distance. She glanced at Melody, who nodded – she’d heard it too.
“We should get out of here before we get discovered.” Melody unbuttoned the cheongsam and slid several sheets she’d torn from the livestock file and the ledger under the fabric. “Good job it’s a tight fit,” she muttered, grinning at Harmony as she breathed in to fasten the buttons. “It’ll be safe enough there for a time – even if it is uncomfortable. If the information isn’t on those discs or they can’t decode them, by some mischance, these pages ought to be enough to at least start an official investigation.”
She shut the filing cabinet and, pausing to pick up the professor’s history book, shut the desk drawers.
“That is a little pointless; they will know we were here,” Harmony reminded her with a nod at the unconscious guard.
“No, they‘ll know someone was here; you - if our friend did catch sight of you – or me, but they have no way of knowing we’ve linked up, Chan. Besides, they won’t know if anything’s gone missing – at least not right away. My guess is they’ll suspect whoever was here was trying to raise help and as there ain’t a radio here, they’ll assume they’re still safe. The longer we have before Leblois realises we’re on to him, the better I’ll like it. You get back to Sailor Bill now and wait ‘til I’ve seen the others…”
“Melody, this is a dangerous place, you should come with me,” Harmony pleaded as they clambered out through the window and crept away from the building, keeping to the deep shadows.
“And what about the others?”
“We will get them out – somehow,” Harmony reassured her. “We must not be separate for any longer than necessary.”
“They’re dining with the professor – although it sounds as if the party might’ve ended sooner than expected –- either way it isn’t going to be easy to slip away from here at the moment. Later maybe, when everyone’s turned in for the night, we’ll be able to get across the compound. I’ll go back now and warn them… and, with luck, we’ll get to the fence somehow. I’ve seen where we need to go - we’ll head for there. If we don’t make it tonight, come back tomorrow – but after that you’d better move onto the next part of the plan without us. Either way, wait for as long as you can tonight, but if there’s any chance you’ll be discovered - or you see us get captured - get the hell out of here and back to the SPJ. Fix the radio, Chan, get hold of Cloudbase and have them send the entire officer corps down with all the firepower at their disposal. That might be our only hope; Leblois is as queer as a three-dollar bill and we have to get out of here before we become names in his livestock book – or at least, before the white folk do…I have a nasty feeling you and I might end up on some surgeon’s operating table.”
“Shouldn’t I take the file and the book with me?”
“You have the computer records, and it’s too late to start messing about with swapping things now; besides, Juliette might be able to tell us what we need to know from this.” She held the book up. “None of us like this guy, and if we have proof of criminal activity – and trading with pirates will do for starters – we can close him down. And we will. So, Chan, please, we don’t have time to argue. Just do as I say.”
Harmony whole-heartedly agreed that they had no time to argue, and seeing the stubborn expression on Melody’s face she knew it would be a waste of time and effort to try. She gave a little bow of agreement and without another word struck out for the fence. Melody watched her go, approving of how skilfully the slight Oriental woman blended herself into the darkness and only partially sure she even saw her slip beneath the fence. Then for one split second, Harmony revealed herself in the bright moonlight – her hand raised in farewell - before she slipped out of sight into the jungle.
“Good luck, Chan,” Melody whispered. “Now, let’s find out what the others have been up to…”
Dragged protesting from the dining room by the two Leblois boys and the guards, the Angels had all been thrown into the room Symphony had originally occupied. Bram Leblois had attempted to quieten Symphony’s rage, but the others could have told him he was on a hiding to nothing – the hot-tempered American was far too angry to listen to reason. As the door slammed shut and the bolts went home, Symphony was already pacing up and down the small room, fulminating against Leblois, his sons - and every other male of the species for good measure - and vowing revenge.
Destiny and Rhapsody perched on the single bed and watched her for a while, until Rhapsody said wearily, “Please, Karen, sit down. We’re all as mad about this as you, but this isn’t helping.”
“You aren’t the one who’s been pawed about by these creeps!”
Destiny added her voice to Rhapsody’s plea. “Karen, I know it must be upsetting, we are all of the same mind; what Leblois’s men did to you was unforgivable, but we should use our anger to defeat him and bring him to justice.”
“To suggest that we’d be happy to settle down as … as brood mares for those Neanderthals! Doesn’t he realise who he’s dealing with?” Symphony raged.
“No, I genuinely don’t think he does and that will be his biggest mistake,” Rhapsody said vehemently. “Destiny, can you contact Harmony on the short-range communicator?”
Destiny blushed slightly and shook her head. “It got broken in the fight back there…” she showed them the tiny device which she’d worn on her cheongsam rather than risk it being discovered in her belongings during her absence.
“Oh well, let’s hope she and Melody are well out of here…”
Rhapsody stopped as the door bolts grated open and Melody was shoved forcefully into the room. She staggered and slipped to her knees.
Outraged, Symphony sprang towards the door, only to have it slammed in her face. “Open this door, you miserable excuses for men!” She banged her fists against it in her frustration.
Melody glanced from the irate American to the calmer Europeans and gave a slight smile. “Plus ça change,” she commented, making them both smile.
“Are you all right?” Rhapsody asked, sliding off the bed and helping Melody to stand. She looked in concern at the American, who was pressing her elbow against her ribs.
“I’m fine,” Melody replied. She glanced at Symphony and mused, “Maybe Karen should carry on providing a distraction…” she undid the cheongsam and produced the file, “while the rest of us look at this. Harmony and I …”
“You found Harmony? Then why are you still here?” Destiny demanded.
“There’s no time for that now; you need to go through this and discover what’s really going on here.” Melody wasn’t prepared to admit that she’d disobeyed direct orders, nor face Destiny’s righteous anger.
“I’ll tell you what’s going on here, ‘Nolie,” Symphony interjected, coming back from the door and throwing herself onto the bed. But before she could launch into her grievances, Rhapsody interrupted with a far more rational version of events and even that was shocking enough; Melody listened open-mouthed as the story came to a close.
“I’m getting a dirty, dirty feeling about all this,” she said as she handed Destiny the book and the papers she’d stolen. “Leblois is supposed to be running a breeding programme for endangered animals, right? But when she looked at these records, Harmony said some of the names were people your friend Sailor Bill talked about – people who vanished. So, just what kind of breeding programme’s been going on here? I’ve been thinking about it and I reckon the professor’s doing a little farming of human beings; using the native population and some of the westerners who were shipwrecked here. It fits in with the way he treated Harmony and me and his callous treatment of his servants; don’t you think? He’s got used to seeing people as livestock.”
“Well, broadly speaking, I guess so,” Rhapsody said. “But he can’t have expected a shipload of westerners to sink on his doorstep, so, it’s a bit far-fetched, Nolie.”
“No, of course not – but what I mean is, he may have started his farm once his wife died – out of revenge. It can’t be a million miles from breeding primates to breeding people. Look, Destiny, check those pages over; see what you can make of them. My French ain’t bad, but it ain’t up to lousy handwriting and abbreviations.”
Destiny read the loose pages. “There are some names here that I know Billy spoke of – Jessica Walsh is one, John Piper and here - Michelle Brent, the wife of his friend. I do not know what the symbols mean and the other names must be women of the island and their children. To me it says that the women who vanished – Walsh and Brent – they were participated in experiments… along with many native women.” She pouted angrily. “This is exactly as Billy said - that people here were not regarded as important and are treated as slaves. Tiens, it makes me furieuse.”
“It makes us all angry, Juliette,” Melody agreed. “This island of his is far from a paradise, if you ask me.”
“I don’t understand though; what’s he trying to do? Everyone says he started out working to preserve animals, but tonight he tells us he wants to use us as mothers of his sons’ progeny in order to continue some programme!” Symphony exclaimed. “What programme?”
“What do you make of them; Bram and Adam?” Rhapsody asked suddenly. “I don’t think they’re quite normal…”
Destiny sighed. “D’accord, I think the poor boys are… not all there in their heads; they stumble over the most basic conversation. I do not think Leblois has educated them properly.”
“Never mind their social skills; they didn’t look right to me,” Rhapsody insisted.
Symphony nodded adding, “And Adam is incredibly strong –- it’s never a comforting combination: a lot of brawn and very little brain in the same person.”
“Given his preoccupation with this place as his very own ‘Eden’, I find their names significant,” Melody said thoughtfully. “If this is Eden, the snake’s in charge.”
“Explain, please?” Destiny asked.
“Well, Adam’s self-explanatory; always remembering that this guy has nothing to do with any blond Bostonians of Scandinavian descent.” Melody remarked with a wry glance at Symphony. “It’s the name of the first human - the first man. And Bram’s short for Abraham… both names are those of biblical patriarchs. I’d say Leblois has great plans for his … oddball sons. He must have thought it was his lucky day when you three emerged out of the blue. My guess is that all of you were destined for their private harem from the moment he saw you.” She noticed the shudder of distaste that crossed her friends’ faces at the very thought of what Leblois intended for them.
“Leblois said as much,” Symphony confirmed.
Rhapsody shivered and muttered, “He must be stopped, before he has ‘peopled this isle with calibans’.”
“Absolutely,” Melody replied with another wry grimace. “And before he’s dissected and sold off the calibans…” she said, directing their attention to the ledger.
Whilst Destiny immersed herself in the ‘Histoire’, Symphony reached out a hand and took the loose file pages. She was from a farming family and had some knowledge of reading livestock bloodlines. Rhapsody, who also knew a little about breeding racehorses due to her family’s interest in a stud farm, peered over her shoulder.
After a time, she suggested thoughtfully to Symphony, “He called them his sons, but I wonder if they are his? They certainly don’t look much like him. Besides, they must be about twenty years old, wouldn’t you say?”
“Maybe; but I’d guess a few years shy of that; at least for Bram,” Symphony replied.
“But I guess if they ain’t ‘all there’ you can’t be sure,” Melody commented.
“Okay, but consider that the younger they are the more the mystery deepens,” Rhapsody continued. “We know Leblois’s wife died some time after the ship was wrecked here and that was over twenty years ago, wasn’t it? I suppose they might be his children from an affair with a native woman.”
“Given his attitude towards the servants here, I can’t see that happening; or if it did, I can’t see him treating the children as his protégés,” Melody comment, rolling her eyes indignantly.
“Let’s assume that these pages do have details about the Leblois boys for a minute,” Symphony said, tracing the family tree back over the page. “AL being, we might assume, Adam Leblois and AL02 Abraham Leblois: ‘Bram’. The parents of ‘AL’ are listed as ‘LS015’ and WJ 06. They have to be a codenames – no one’s called WJ06 or LS015. AL02 is descended from ‘LS024’ and BM03; but the names listed on the first page include Stephen Leblois, Jessica Walsh and Michelle Brent, so it’s not a huge leap to imagine they’re the ones referred to by these codes. So, if this is true, it would mean the boys are half-brothers at best and that Bram is only about thirteen years old and Adam no more than fifteen or so.”
“That can’t be right,” Rhapsody argued. “Those are fully mature young men.”
“There’s more to maturity than hormones… “Symphony mused. “Maybe I’m getting this all wrong? After all, these records are incomplete and there isn’t much to go on.” She sighed and started to trace the various codes listed on the pages with her finger again, looking for further clues.
“I couldn’t bring the whole file,” Melody rejoined. “It was uncomfortable enough with just those sheets shoved inside my dress.”
“Of course, Melody,” Rhapsody said with a placating smile. “I’m sure Karen never meant it in that way…”
Destiny looked up from reading the journal with a gasp, “Sacrebleu; Symphony does not have to be wrong, if what I see here is telling the truth. From what is written here it would seem that Leblois’s radical way of preserving the endangered genetic codes involved using humans to give birth to animals.”
“What?” the others chorused in amazement.
“This book tells that he planned to breed a colony of gorillas away from the dangers of war-torn Africa. Much genetic material in the form of frozen embryos were created, before he was thrown out of the World Environment Agency project. Many of these he later stole back from the facility in Nairobi, as he saw them as his own property. He kidnapped two animals from the reserve - young females - and he shipped them here to breed his colony with them. One did not survive the ordeal; so he had only one suitable for carrying the embryos. The first live birth was a male gorilla and he tells that Madame Leblois prevented him from killing the animal so that the female would be ready for more babies sooner. He knows this will be a slower job than he had ever imagine. He says the idea to use humans as surrogates came to him as a solution to his problem and he decided to use the native women. He did not tell his wife as she would not have permit it.”
“How could she not know?” Rhapsody asked.
“It seems that there is another compound – smaller than this - on the far side of the island where they all lived. This place was built to carry out these experiments,” Destiny explained.
“Leblois said he’d come back to the compound here when he heard news of the plane crash,” Symphony recalled. “So presumably this other compound still exists?”
“I think that’s true,” Destiny said, adding with a frown, “Much of what is written here is technical and I cannot follow it – but the start of it is the story I am telling you now.”
“Where does this leave us with Adam and Bram?” Rhapsody asked. “They’re not God’s gift to good looks, but they’re not gorillas; in the true sense of the word,” she added.
Destiny returned to her book.
“What happened to the poor native women used as surrogates?” Melody asked.
Destiny shook her head angrily. “Their fate is dismissed with a simple line: they were not suitable. He says he chose the strongest for his experiments and yet it seems many died, and most of the surrogate off-spring too. Leblois complains that his project looked to be failing.”
“Oh, shame,” Symphony said sarcastically.
“Is that where we come in?” Rhapsody asked angrily as she paced the room. “We were to be surrogates for baby gorillas? That man is evil.”
Symphony sat on the bed suddenly, colour draining from her face. Rhapsody looked at her and saw the bleak, cold fear in her friend’s expressive eyes and cursed her runaway tongue. “Oh, Karen,” she murmured sympathetically.
Destiny considered her colleague; if the professor’s men had performed an internal examination on the unconscious woman, what else might they have done to her without her knowledge and consent? “I do not believe they would have used you so wickedly, Symphony,” she hastened to reassure the American. “Leblois is proud to say that he did all of this himself; no one was allowed to assist; not even Brent was allowed to become involved with his personal project. I am sure none of the servants would do any such thing except when the professeur was in attendance.”
“Besides, don’t forget, you were needed as mates for the gruesome twosome,” Melody added.
“Stop it; it’s horrible!” Symphony cried covering her ears with her hands and lowering her head onto her chest in anguished despair.
“It does not get better,” Destiny warned.
“Let’s hear the very worst; get it over with, eh, Karen?” Rhapsody soothed, placing an arm on her friend’s shoulder. Symphony said nothing, but gave a curt nod.
Destiny sighed and went back to précising the information in the book. “Once Madame Leblois was not here to restrain him, his madness grew. The breeding female ape was growing weak - from too many forced pregnancies, perhaps?”
“Maybe they should have brought themselves a vet along…” Melody commented sourly.
Destiny gave a wry nod and continued, “He had begun to harvest the ova from her for storage in his cryo-freezer, in fear she might die as well. It was around this time, he began to look for ways of disposing of the crewmen and he thought to sell some of their organs for research and transplantation and so provide himself with an income. He had suitable storage here and he negotiated with two of the pirate crews to transport the ‘medical supplies’ to the mainlands, where they were sold on to a corrupt intermediary, and so into the lucrative international black market for transplant organs. Leblois says he made much money at this ‘trade’ and he used it to buy more equipment and the drugs he needs for his main programme – the saving of the gorilla DNA by his breeding programme. He notes that many normal children are born to the native women without problems, and these he keeps to work and to provide fresh… donors.”
“I can’t believe there are people that corrupt and… well, just plain evil,” Rhapsody said.
“I don’t believe Leblois has any grip on reality any more,” Melody said.
“That’s no excuse.”
Destiny started speaking again and each of them focused their attention on her. “After the female ape died it looked as if the scheme was at an end; the baby gorillas were not mature to breed and he had only viable female gametes, all of the frozen embryos were used up in the many surrogate attempts; most of whom had not survived. This is where his madness becomes evil – he says he did ‘the next best thing’ – he used his own semen to fertilise the eggs and then he implanted them into –“ She drew a shaky breath.
“Where did he implant them?” Rhapsody asked, her face registering the anticipated disgust of the answer.
Destiny continued, she was struggling to keep her tone neutral as she read the cramped handwriting and translated the words for her friends, “It seems that Jessica Walsh was the first used in this experiment programme; it does not say if she was willing or not.”
“I’m betting not,” Melody said.
“The first of the half-breed embryos were implanted into Jessica Walsh; the woman he considered responsible for the death of his wife. He thought it only right to hazard her life to continue his work. It would appear that for several times it was not successful; she miscarried or the child did not survive. Eventually, one did survive. She was the surrogate mother of Adam Leblois, according to this.”
“Are you saying those boys are genetically some kind of ape-human half-breeds?” Rhapsody gasped.
Destiny stopped reading and looked up, there was no doubt Symphony was looking distressed and it wasn’t difficult to imagine why. She glanced at the other two and asked, “Shall I go on?” They nodded. “Leblois says he considered the matter and decided he must go ahead with it; it was, he says in this journal, the only logical step.”
“That’s an abomination,” Rhapsody said angrily.
“Sounds all too plausible to me, unfortunately,” Melody said. “Harmony and I reckoned it might be a private human breeding program; but we never thought it’d be something this bad.”
Destiny shook her head and continued to scan the text of the ‘Histoire’. “After the birth of Adam Leblois, the professeur tried again with more of his ‘special’ embryos, but one time the problems with the birth killed Jessica Walsh and the off-spring. Now the professeur needed another surrogate; and for this, he would only use Madam Brent. Once more there was a surviving child –- Abraham – but other pregnancies were not so ‘successful’. He speaks of how he will breed the ‘better’ human, with the strength of the great apes and the mind of a man. The ‘histoire’ concludes with him wishing for some more women to enable him to continue his experiments and because the mothers who did produce surviving offspring were white…”
“That’s where we come in?” Symphony snorted. “Human ‘mothers’ for his half-breed sons’ offspring.”
“Oui, c’est exact... A final note says he has found new ‘mothers’ and now his dream can continue.”
“I feel sick…” Rhapsody mumbled, her face ashen with shock.
“I wonder if this is what Maurice Brent made hints to Billy about -” Destiny said, throwing the book down and barely managing to contain her anger and disgust at what she’d read. “But Billy did not realise all that Brent meant, or refused to believe the very worst of it - he said he had no proof, other than Brent’s drunken accusations. He thought only that his friends were being killed and their bodies sold, I do not think he suspected Leblois was doing such wicked things, maybe Brent himself did not know just how evil the professeur had become?”
“Even if he did know, he’s unlikely to have confessed it, is he?” Rhapsody reasoned. “He may have known – or suspected, if you prefer – but he did nothing about it.”
“One man against Leblois’s private militia?” Destiny reminded her.
“Do you think Captain Scarlet, or Blue or any of the Spectrum captains would have allowed themselves to be deterred by being out-numbered?” Symphony’s comment was a sharp reminder that they were isolated and alone, with no certainty that they were being sought.
“They are exceptional men, all of them,” Destiny conceded. “Bill said Brent was a timid man.”
“Well, be that as it may, I can see why Leblois wouldn’t want the shipwreck survivors to escape the island; he wouldn’t want to broadcast his work to the world, would he?” Melody said. “I’d imagine this goes against every directive the World Environment Agency has ever issued. Not to mention violating several dozen criminal codes, most Human Rights legislation and the moral code of every major religion.”
“There’s no doubt, Juliette? Leblois did this to the women on the island?” Symphony asked in a voice that was intense with vengeance.
“This book says he did, written by his own hands,” Destiny agreed. “I can’t see why he would lie to his sons and, presumably by the time they came to read it –“
“-Assuming they can read-” Symphony interjected waspishly.
“- He would be safely dead,” Destiny concluded.
“We have enough evidence to arrest him, and send him away for the rest of his natural life,” Rhapsody said quietly. “All we have to do is get off this island.”
“Well, I had some plans about that,” Destiny said with a glance at Melody, “but they seem to have been ridden over. What have you planned with Harmony?”
“She’ll be at the rendezvous with Bill for the rest of tonight and tomorrow; and they’ll wait for as long as they can. If we don’t come or she sees that we’ve been caught by Leblois’s men, they’ll get off the island and fix the SPJ radio. After that, it’ll be down to how fast the rescue squad takes to get here.”
“Is she sure the radio is fixable?” Rhapsody asked.
“Chan doesn’t take no for an answer; she’ll fix the radio,” Melody said calmly, and however illogical it seemed, the others were reassured by her very matter of fact assurance.
“Then it is up to us to make sure we rendezvous with Harmony and Bill,” Destiny said. “We are not remaining here for another night. We shall take these evidences with us and ‘the professeur’ will discover that Spectrum carries the law with it.” She glanced at Melody. “This time we all go together and we do not change the plans or make some of our own, agreed?”
“Right you are, Juliette,” Melody said unabashed. “Now; how’re we gonna get out of here?”
“We shall find a way,” Destiny replied and looked hopefully at the others.
“We need to get them to open the door,” Rhapsody said practically. “Locks I could deal with – as I suspect could we all – but bolts are something else.”
“Then we must give them a reason to open the door,” Symphony said. “If they think there is something going on in here, they’ll open up. Leblois might’ve thrown us in here, but he wants us all fit and well.”
She glanced at Melody, who suggested, “Cat fight?”, her dark brows rising quizzically.
“All fury, noise and chaos,” Symphony said with a nod. “Two of us create the diversion, and the other two prevent the door from being closed again.”
“Who’s going to fight?” Rhapsody asked, glancing at her companions.
Melody straightened her shoulders to signify her willingness to provide the distraction. She glanced at Destiny and met the Frenchwoman’s sceptical gaze with her dark eyes. A flicker of something crossed Destiny’s face, a fleeting expression which suggested to the American that she might get more of a fight than she bargained for if she chose to battle with the Angel Leader. Suddenly making her decision, Melody stepped forward, shouting at Symphony, “Well, one of them should be her. This is all her fault after all! She decoyed us in here so we’d be kept against our will!” She shoved the taller woman’s shoulder, making her rock back on her feet. “You treacherous bitch!”
Shoving Melody back and giving her an acknowledging wink, Symphony responded loudly, “Don’t you dare talk to me like that, you… you-”
Melody interrupted her, “Say it; go on say it! I know what you think of me, you… white trash! You with your oh-so-perfect romance; didn’t it ever occur to you that your stuck-up boyfriend was just slumming it? Maybe he likes a little rough now and again? And you acting all the time like you think the rest of us ain’t worthy to share the room with you!”
“I say, steady on,” Rhapsody cautioned as she moved to one side of the door and Destiny to the other. Symphony might not take criticism of Captain Blue in the spirit it was intended.
“How dare you!” Symphony yelled and swung at Melody, apparently making contact with a slap against her cheek.
“Why you…” Melody raged as the pair of them began to tussle together, dropping onto the floor and rolling over and over in a brawl, whilst squealing with anger in a very convincing manner.
“Au secours! Au secours!” Destiny yelled, thumping on the door. “They will kill each others!”
“Stop it!” Rhapsody shrieked, jumping up and down to add to the general hullabaloo. “Leave her alone! Help! Oh, help!”
They succeeded in making such a noise that the guards, alarmed that murder might actually be happening in the confines of the room, began to yank the bolts back. They peered through the narrowest of gaps and seeing two of the professor’s highly-prized female prisoners intent on killing each other, they decided to act.
It was over in a matter of seconds. When the guards threw the door wide and rushed in to separate the combatants, one of them tripped over the out-flung leg of Destiny Angel and staggered to the floor as his companion was hit with a karate chop from Rhapsody that crumpled him to the floor with a wordless sigh.
The first guard, struggling to his feet, was met with a punch from a fist that made him see stars and he slumped down again.
“Bien, chain them to the bed and see if they like it,” Destiny ordered Rhapsody, briskly wiping her hands. She glanced at Melody and Symphony, now sitting side by side on the floor, both dishevelled, but unhurt. “You were very true to life, I was beginning to worry.” She studied them intently for a moment.
Melody grinned and got to her feet and then heaved the taller girl upright. “You okay, Karen?”
“Sure.” She brushed her hair behind her ears and straightened the cheongsam. “Are you?”
“Uh-huh. That was a good workout – I’m ready for anything now. So, if Dianne’s finished, let’s get outa here.”
Destiny picked up the ‘Histoire’ and the documents, slipping the pages into the book. “Allons, we go!”
The two Americans led the way out and as the Englishwoman turned to follow them, Destiny laid a hand on her arm and said, “You think it was all pretence?”
Rhapsody pursed her lips. Symphony and Melody, both volatile and stubborn at times, had clashed before, but never so drastically. “I think that it was,” she said to reassure Destiny. “But, it wouldn’t have been so convincing if there wasn’t a grain of truth in it – would it?”
The four women made their way along the corridor without being challenged. They were within sight of the door to the compound when they heard a bellow of rage from the direction of the professor’s study.
“We’ve been seen,” Melody said, as she urged her colleagues to greater speed.
“These damn dresses aren’t made for sprinting,” Rhapsody complained, pausing long enough to split the side seams to allow for greater freedom of movement. With a grin, they all followed suit and exponentially their speed increased.
“We must not draw the guards to where Harmony and Billy are waiting,” Destiny panted as she led the others out onto the veranda and paused momentarily to get her bearings.
“What should we do then, if there’s no other way to get out of here?” Symphony asked. “I mean, I’d be happy to take the guards on in hand-to-hand, but they have guns, don’t forget, and they’re not afraid to use them.”
“We can make our way towards the fence,” Destiny replied.
With nods of agreement, the three women followed Melody away from the main entrance of the compound and towards the shaded part that backed onto the jungle. The guards were starting to get organised and more were emerging from the buildings scattered around the compound; there was shouting and some confusion, but that wasn’t going to give them much of a head start.
When they drew close to the wire fence, they saw Harmony and Bill emerge from the darkness to call encouragingly. Bill crouched down and started to lift the mesh, scooping the earth away to enlarge the shallow dip underneath it. Rhapsody reached them first and threw herself onto her knees and started scooping at the depression too, getting ready to wriggle under the wire. To her surprise a guard rushed at her from the shadows to her left and grabbed her shoulder, shouting to alert his companions. Rhapsody was thrown to the ground and struggled to break free until Destiny despatched their assailant with a punch. She turned to help the winded Englishwoman to her feet, and then back to survey the compound. The other guards had heard the alarm and were starting towards them. There wouldn’t be time for them all to get out and by now there were guards massing at the gate, which effectively barred that escape route back to the dinghy.
Harmony scrambled under the wire and joined her friends. Bill followed close behind her. “We get out together or we stay here together,” she said succinctly as Melody began to protest. “It is unwise to split up for longer. Leblois will have the island searched anyway – nowhere will be safe.”
“We’re going to need every pair of fists we can get,” Symphony agreed. Her mouth was set in a stubborn line and there was a determination in her eyes that boded ill for the first guards who laid hands on her.
“There might be a way to even the score,” Bill said. “There’s supposed to be an armoury – such as it is - it was always kept a storeroom at the back of the animal pens. That way only one building had to be guarded. We might be able to find ourselves some weapons there.”
“And I bet they won’t expect us to make a feint in that direction,” Rhapsody said in support of the suggestion.
“Whatever we do, we do it quickly,” Melody said, “or we won’t get a chance. Any other ideas? No? Okay, let’s make for the animal pens…”
“SIG,” the others chorused.
Bill gave a crooked smile as he looked at them all. “A veritable host of Angels…” he muttered.
“…Who can fight like demons,” Symphony reassured him with a brief smile in response.
“I don’t doubt it,” he said, as Melody and Destiny led the way back towards the animal pens and the others fell in behind.
They moved across from shadow to shadow until the reached the isolated pens. There were two guards at the entrance, but they were staring towards the house and the far side of the compound where the action appeared to be and not really paying attention to their own duty. The women exchanged glances as they assessed the best way to achieve their goal of entry into the building.
Harmony motioned the others to wait. She went forward with silent steps and, in a deft movement, spun into a kick that floored the first guard before he could utter more than a grunt of surprise. The second man struggled to make sense of the dark blur that had appeared out of the night, and as he opened his mouth to give the alarm, a hand slammed into his collar bone and he crumpled next to his friend. There was murmured approval from the others as they moved forwards.
“Nice work, Chan,” Bill said, grabbing a length of chain from one of the numerous hooks that lined the wall of the building. He swiftly secured the men to the nearest upright and shoved torn strips of their dirty shirts into their mouths. “I never approved of germ warfare, but if they can’t get their laundry done, I can’t be held responsible,” he said, wiping his hands as he straightened up.
Melody grinned. “Hey, all’s fair in love and war, Bill,” she said as she gathered the weapons the guards had dropped. “Let’s take a look at what’s so darned important that Leblois will ignore the world and try to kidnap Spectrum Angels, shall we? And, with a bit of luck, we’ll find enough weapons to give us the chance to take the compound.” She handed the second gun to Destiny, keeping the first one herself.
Harmony nodded, but there was uncertainty in every face as she pushed the heavy door ajar and the acrid smell of ordure assailed their senses.
“Phoar!” Billy muttered. “It’s worse than sock-washing night on the ship…” He took hold of the open door and allowed Destiny and Melody to go inside first.
Their entrance caused a ripple of unrest along the pens, in the dark interiors creatures moved, woken or unsettled by the unfamiliar scent of the intruders. Harmony had brought two torches and now she risked turning one on to see what was in the nearest pen. Two baleful brown eyes stared back and the looming shape resolved itself into an adult gorilla. Massive, and confident of his superior strength, the silverback stood resting on his strong knuckles and watched them distrustfully as they sidled past. Then he sniffed the air and bared his teeth, but when the strangers made no movement towards him, he slunk back into the darkness and threw himself down onto the bedding of branches. They could hear the rumble of his warning grunts even as they moved down the long building.
They walked down the concourse between the cramped and pitifully small compartments; the heat was stifling and there was no fresh air. Ceiling fans hung motionless covered with so much dust and cobwebs that it must’ve been years since they moved at all. The smell was almost overpowering, making their eyes smart.
The group moved slowly down towards a door at the far end, which Bill remembered being told led through to more storage rooms, including the armoury. Few of the pens were empty, and in most of the others unidentifiable shapes huddled under rags and branches, their backs turned against the light. Rhapsody felt her anger rising that Leblois could keep any animal in such appalling conditions. On one side of the building, a creature had come to the bars; and stood watching the approach of the strangers with wide, dark eyes that seemed to radiate an unspeakable sadness.
Rhapsody paused by the pen and returned the creature’s stare with a sympathetic expression on her face. It was a young female, slightly built and smaller than they were. Her complexion was dark and her body was covered with a down of fine black hair. She wore the familiar tunic of coarse material, dirty and torn. On her head the black hair was longer, thicker and straight, framing her arresting face, which had a protruding jaw and chin. Her skull was small, without the dome above the forehead that was such a striking figure on the male gorilla, and her eye sockets were round with large eyes. Knowing what she did about Leblois’s experiments, a suspicion of an idea made Rhapsody frown as she studied the prominent brow ridges above those all too expressive eyes and the strong, rounded lower jaw, with its wide, fleshy lips. The memory of Abraham Leblois’s face flashed into her mind.
She reached for Symphony’s arm as her friend passed by and said, “Karen, look at this…” Symphony paused and glanced at the creature. “Does there seem something almost human about it to you?”
Symphony’s head spun round to stare at her friend. “Dianne, what are you saying?”
“I’m saying that maybe some of the children born as a result of Leblois’s experiments looked less human-like than others; but they would still be half-human; just as Leblois’s sons are.” Symphony shook her head in confusion and denial, and with a sigh, Rhapsody advanced towards the bars, a hand outstretched.
“Hello,” she said quietly. “Do you understand me?”
The youngster watched in fascination, her lips parted slightly as if she might reply, but she made no sound. When she was close enough, Rhapsody gently laid her fingers on the arm that rested against the bars, but the female made an inarticulate noise and cowered back, afraid, scurrying into the corner of the pen, her arms over her head.
“I’m sorry – sorry; I didn’t mean to frighten you. I won’t hurt you,” Rhapsody cried. She turned to the others who had come to see what the hold-up was. “Human or not,” she raged, “that poor creature is obviously terrified! Leblois is a monster to keep any living thing in this stinking hell-hole! We must do something to save all these prisoners.”
“We will,” Melody reassured her. “Only before we can do that, we have to prevent ourselves becoming one of their number.” She laid a hand on the Englishwoman’s arm. “Come on, Dianne. First things first. But I promise you, before we’re done, every one of these animals will be freed.”
With a curt nod, Rhapsody turned from the pen and started to follow her colleagues. Symphony was still staring at the creature in a mixture of sympathy and horror when Bill placed a hand on her shoulders and said kindly, “Come on, sweetheart, you need to keep up with us all.” He turned and answered Destiny’s imperious command to follow quickly with, “We’re just coming. You carry on.”
Symphony whispered, “They carried out some sort of internal examination of me, while I was unconscious. Suppose they did to me what they did to the other white women…” She turned her tear-filled eyes to the man and said, “What if…what if I have a child like that or like Leblois’s sons?”
Bill stared at her in bewilderment. “What are you saying? What did he do with the white women? What have you found out?”
The anxiety in his voice permeated Symphony’s self-absorption. She stared at him for a moment and her doubts about him evaporated. “You don’t know, do you? You really don’t know. You were right about Leblois – he’s been supplying an illegal trade in human organs – breeding people as donors once his ‘supply’ of shipwrecked crewmen dried up.”
Bill gave a gasp. “’Breeding people’? Jessica and Michelle – they used them?”
She nodded. “And the Native women – for years, we suspect, maybe even before you were shipwrecked – we haven’t seen all the records. But he had another fate in store for the white women: Leblois used them as surrogates for breeding hybrids – human-ape hybrids – like his ‘sons’.”
Bill’s face grew pale. “Michelle Brent – he used Michelle for this? How do you know?”
“We found some records – Melody and Harmony did.”
“I thought she was dead –“ He sounded desolate.
“She probably is,” Symphony said compassionately, it was her turn to comfort him now and she placed a hand on his arm. “Leblois wasn’t too successful, it seems, with his experimental schemes. He wants us – the Angels – for a new generation of his perverted ‘programme’.”
“If I had known – if I’d guessed – for just one minute – I’d have ripped his heart out; assuming he has one, the vile, vicious, conniving devil! Brent too – if I though he knew about this…”
Melody appeared at their side. “Come on! We don’t have time to admire the view…” she snapped and darted away again.
The pair of them came back to the present with equal surprise.
Bill remarked to Symphony, his voice still shaking with anger and emotion, “We’ll talk about this once we’re out of here; but for now we have another problem to deal with. Come on, love; let’s catch the others up, shall we?”
Symphony sniffed and rubbed the back of her hand across her nose, then brushed away the rogue tear that had escaped when she’d blinked. “Yeah; let’s get out of here. Dianne is right, this place is a hell.”
They found the others gathered around the door to the so-called armoury, which was starting to rot on its hinges. A few concerted shoves from Bill and the Angels soon completed the process. Inside they found shelves of handguns and a few rifles, knives and machetes, and boxes of ammunition. They were able to equip themselves with pistols, cartridges and knives. Melody and Rhapsody quickly did what they could to disable the other guns from working, although they suspected that if they attempted to blow all the weapons up, it would destroy the dilapidated block entirely.
Once they’d equipped themselves with as much weaponry as they could manage, they headed towards the door that led to the pens intending to hasten through to the compound without stopping. Each woman was prepared to use the weapons they now carried if she had to, and was focused on the impending escape.
Melody scanned the building, beckoning the others through. Destiny led the way out, and as Bill emerged into the main block, a woman’s voice, shaky and cracked, called out, in urgent tones of shocked hope and fear: “Billy? Billy? Please let it be you.”
Bill stopped and stared, emotions battling with surprise at the sound. He moved towards the last pen by the door, where a figure, dishevelled, unkempt, filthy and dressed in rags, was reaching through the bars towards him.
“Michelle? By all the saints! Michelle…” He strode over and grasped the filthy hands.
The Angels stared at each other.
“Michelle?” Harmony murmured.
“Michelle Brent, at a guess,” Melody confirmed.
“Oh my God – she’s still alive after all this time in this… sewer,” Symphony breathed. She stepped forward.
“Karen, what are you doing?” Destiny demanded.
“Stand away,” she ordered. Bill protested as she pointed a gun at the woman but before he could make a move to stop her, the gun fired. Michelle Brent screamed and fled to the back of the pen as the lock shattered. Amidst the roars and squeals of the frightened prisoners, Symphony wrenched the gate open and she and Bill raced in. The woman cowered back on her bed of vegetation, hiding her face from them both. Gently, Bill reached out and took her hands, turning her face towards him.
“Michelle, it is me; you’re safe now. We mean you no harm, we’re leaving here now. Come with me.” He wrapped her in his arms and lifted her. She struggled, but he ignored her inarticulate protests in his haste to follow the others out of the building.
“They’ll know where we are now, that’s for sure,” Melody complained to her compatriot as Symphony came to stand beside her.
“You know what? I don’t give a shit. Let them come. We can defend this place. Personally, I’d rather like to meet Professor Leblois right now… I’m just in the mood to tear him limb from limb with my bare hands…” Symphony fumed.
The others protested at this and a squabble was in danger of breaking out until Harmony demanded silence and in the sudden quiet Michelle Brent whispered: “You won’t have to tear him apart; just let the others out and they’ll do it for you.”
“We don’t have time for this now; we must get from this place and back to our island. That is where the rescuers will come,” Harmony reminded them.
Destiny paced towards the door and peered through a tiny window. “It is no good; the guards are already outside with their guns. We shall not be able to get past them without a fight.”
“Then a fight is exactly what we’ll give them,” Melody said, hefting her pistol in her hand. “The O.K. Corral won’t have nothin’ on this baby.”
“Oh, wonderful, Nolie,” Rhapsody said angrily. “We’ll all go down in a blaze of bullets and nothing will be done to save these creatures. What will that achieve?”
“We’re not going to surrender,” Melody insisted.
“Too damn right,” Symphony agreed.
“Maybe we can negotiate a way out?” Harmony suggested.
“Not if I have anything to say about it…” Melody said forcefully.
Destiny sighed. “Can we agree on nothing but to argue?” she asked rhetorically. “We are Spectrum; we do not surrender - not to the Mysterons and certainly not to Leblois,” she said firmly, but nevertheless, she warned Melody about the smug smile she gave Rhapsody.
For a while there was stalemate.
Leblois’s men surrounded the entrance to the animal pens, and waited, their guns trained on the door. Inside the Angels checked over their weapons and ruefully wished they hadn’t put so many more of them out of commission. Bill kept Michelle Brent at his side and she watched in apprehensive bewilderment as Melody and Symphony busied themselves moving crates and boxes from the armoury to the wall at the back of the building, opposite to where Rhapsody was watching their opponents through the small window.
The caged animals, sensing the tension, growled and gibbered in their cages; the silverback shook the bars and thumped his chest in an impressive display. The noise reverberated around the building, adding to the tension in the women.
Suddenly Rhapsody turned to announce, “Leblois and his sons have arrived.”
Destiny moved to stand beside her and watched as the professor listened to the report of one of the guards. It wasn’t too difficult to guess what he was being told from the way the man was gesticulating and the anger on the professor’s face. Adam Leblois, his anger turning to rage, stomped about, throwing wild punches at the guards and roared inarticulate fury into the night sky, while his brother stared in concern towards the building.
Finally his father had had enough and commanded Adam to silence. When the young man glowered and made a threatening face, Leblois’s shout of rage could be heard even within the building.
“You will obey me or I will punish you – as I have punished the others!” His arm shot out and one finger pointed at the animal pens. Adam’s defiance suddenly crumpled and he slunk back to his brother’s side. Bram placed a hand on his shoulder and although Adam turned to snarl at him, both brothers looked with loathing at their father as he began snapping out orders to his men.
“They are coming,” Destiny announced, cocking the pistol she was holding. “Move away from the door and window, Rhapsody.” Symphony and Melody arrived at a jog and joined the other three to line up in the gangway between the pens.
“What about the animals?” Rhapsody asked in the tense silence.
“I suspect Leblois will have given orders that they do not be harmed,” Destiny reasoned. “They are his life work, remember? And he sets high value on them.”
“You can’t mean to stand and face them?” Bill said anxiously. He was crouched behind the walls of an empty pen beside Michelle Brent, who was clinging to him in fear.
“For just long enough,” Destiny replied. “We too have a value to the professeur at the moment. At least, he has promised us to his sons and they do not like to lose us, I think.” She turned and gave him a slight smile. “Please, be ready to run when we say so. Can Madame Brent run also?”
“If she can’t, I can carry her,” Bill said stoutly. “She weighs next to nothing, and she’ll come with me.” Michelle Brent began to protest, but he silenced her with a finger laid against her lips.
There was a volley of gunshots that thudded into the door, shredding the wood. The Angels – surprised by the sudden noise – gave snorts of relief that the waiting was over as the guards raced across the compound towards the building, but the animals started gibbering again.
As the first guards ran through the door, the silverback – already terrified at the smell of gunpowder and angry at this invasion of his territory - roared defiantly and threw himself at the bars on his cage. The door flew open and he charged out. The guards, confronted with the irate gorilla, turned and fled, falling over one another in their haste.
“That cage wasn’t very secure, was it?” Melody commented dryly as the animal turned to face them.
“Not after I undid the lock – no,” Rhapsody admitted.
“Was that wise, Dianne?” Symphony asked.
“I wasn’t going to leave him there to get shot by Leblois’s men.”
“No, but we may have to shoot him if he comes after us,” Harmony reasoned as they continued to back away.
The silverback snarled and grimaced threateningly, but he seemed less annoyed at them than he had been at the guards.
“Nice monkey,” Melody murmured soothingly, “we won’t hurt you…” The animal roared in response.
“I think that’s gorilla-speak for ‘who are you calling a monkey’…” Symphony joked half-heartedly.
By now they had backed to the area of the last two cages, Bill dragging Michelle Brent along with him. They could see the first couple of guards reluctantly creeping back into the building behind the gorilla’s back.
“Hey, Kong,” Melody said with a nod of her head, “your friends are back.”
The animal stopped and sniffed the air, turning to bellow his rage at the unfortunate men. He raced towards them. One of them raised a gun to shoot, but Rhapsody fired first, felling the man with a pinpoint accurate shot. The second guard turned and fled.
“I swear that animal understands every word you say,” Symphony said with a wry smile at Melody.
“Right, we can do no more here; let’s get out now,” Destiny ordered and with a wicked grin Symphony bent to strike a match against the rough concrete floor, and set light to a thin trail of gunpowder her colleagues had laid earlier. “Take cover!” Destiny ordered and they crowded into Michelle Brent’s cage and covered their ears.
The building shook with the blast and most of the far wall swayed on the verge of collapse. As the dust and smoke cleared they could see an irregular shaped hole, large enough to get a small car through. “Vite, vite! Run!” Destiny shouted.
Bill started to carry Michelle Brent out of the cage and saw Rhapsody and Harmony dart back into the building to unlock the other cages, allowing the terrified occupants to mill out into the gangway. The young female darted from her cage and fled towards Bill. Michelle stretched out a hand towards her, but as Rhapsody moved between them the youngster froze.
“Shoo!” Rhapsody urged, before turning to run after her friends out into the cool night air and off towards the way out under the wire fencing.
Melody was waiting to count them all out and then she turned to crouch down, her gun trained on the corner of the building. One guard ran round the corner and started to give the alarm. Melody’s bullet severed his windpipe and she gave a satisfied nod - it was warning enough - then stood and raced after the others.
Bill led them away from the compound back into the jungle as far as he could before he had to stop and set Michelle Brent on her feet as he fought to catch his breath. She tried to dart back towards the compound, but he grabbed her and she pounded his chest with angry fists before starting to sob. “Michelle, the creatures will be alright; Leblois’s after us, not them, but with luck, the pursuit will be delayed while he rounds them up. Don’t fret; once we’re safe from here, we’ll find a way to get them freed.” Her inarticulate answer was choked by her sobs and with a sigh he turned to the young women gathered around them. “You go on,” he urged. “We’ll only slow you up too much. Chan can show you the way. We’ll come as quickly as we can.”
“Spectrum Angels do not desert their friends,” Harmony said.
“Then Spectrum’s Angels are going to get caught,” Bill responded with a smile. “We can make our way without being seen, and the guards will be after you, anyway. Go – hurry!”
Harmony turned to the others. They could see her dislike of leaving the civilians, but they needed her to show them the way. “Look,” Melody suggested, “how would it be if I stayed with Bill and Mrs Brent, and Harmony leads you three back to the dinghy?”
“We shall only have to wait for you to join us,” Destiny said. “We cannot leave you here, Magnolia.”
Bill still held Michelle in his arms, but he turned towards them and said in a surprisingly authorative voice, “Look, I know this island like the back of my hand; I know where we can hide. They won’t find us – trust me. You have to get back and call for help. I’ll take Michelle to the camp in the ravine; we’ll wait for you to come for us there.”
“And we will come back for you,” Harmony reassured him.
“I know, Chan. Now, hurry! This isn’t a Sunday school picnic, you know!”
To everyone’s surprise – including her own – Harmony reached up and planted a kiss on Bill’s bearded cheek before she turned to lead the others out into the jungle.
It was heavy going through the jungle terrain, even though Bill had chosen the easiest route he could for them. The moonlight shone fitfully through the branches and there were pits of impenetrable darkness only a slight way off the rudimentary pathway. The Angels could hear the sounds of the dogs baying as the pursuit set out and hoped that Bill had been able to take cover away from danger.
Harmony led them on, her brow furrowed as she struggled to find the sure way in the dark. Several times she had to stop and concentrate as she took her bearings. They moved with worrying slowness and still the beach seemed as far away as ever.
Gunshots echoed through the night and Harmony stopped again, turning back towards where they had left Bill and Michelle Brent, her face a picture of horror. She took a step back along the track.
“Harmony, we can do nothing,” Destiny said, placing a hand on the younger woman’s shoulder. “Even if it was Bill they were shooting at. He would not want us to risk capture by returning. We must go on.”
“We should not have left them,” Harmony said bluntly.
“He wouldn’t let us stay,” Melody reminded her. “Anyway, we don’t know that it was Bill they were firing at. It could be one of the escaped animals or each other… we have to go on.”
With a heavy heart Harmony resumed the lead and pressed on towards the beach. They reached the brow of an incline and were relieved to see the moon glinting on the sea and the slope down to the beach. They hastened down the slope with renewed enthusiasm.
As Rhapsody jumped down the small cliff and landed on the beach, the last of the group to make the jump, they started the short walk to where the dinghy was moored and dragged it from its hiding place towards the sea.
“Before we even attempt that row back to the SPJ, I want a drink,” Melody gasped. The others nodded and Harmony unpacked the water bottles.
“Can we make the crossing in the dark?” Symphony asked after she’d taken a sip of her water and wiped a handful over her sweating and grubby face. She glanced down at her torn and filthy cheongsam and sighed. So much for looking elegant… She glanced at the others: everyone – apart from Harmony – was in the same state. Harmony had changed into fatigues at some point before she returned to the compound and looked as cool and collected as always.
“What other options do we have?” Melody replied, “But it won’t be easy.”
Rhapsody strained her hearing and swivelled in alarm. In the distance two motorboats were rounding the far headland and heading towards them. “Whatever options we had, have just been reduced by a factor of two,” she said and pointed. “We’ll never out-row them.”
“Quick, back in to the jungle!” Harmony yelled. Stopping only to collect their weapons and water bottles, they fled back up the beach and dived into the shelter of the thick vegetation.
Under the canopy of the trees, they fanned out, searching for the darkest places to hide themselves in. The first of the motor boats drew up in the shallows before the dinghy and three of the four occupants got out. They checked the boat and quickly spotted the trail of running footsteps back into the jungle. Watching them from their hiding places, the Angels could see them hesitate to follow, but the leader spoke into a radio and it was presumed that he was reporting their location to the search teams on land.
Melody crept to Harmony’s side, moving with cat-like stealth. Harmony acknowledged her arrival with a quick glance and resumed her study of the guards.
“They intend to trap us between them,” Melody whispered. “The watchers out there and the team inland sweeping forward to the beach.” Harmony nodded. “We should try to split them up – a few tripwires, an ambush or two…”
“And how shall we do it? If the beach guards see us they will fire and we have no equipment,” Harmony reminded her. She glanced across at Destiny; the Angel leader was staring at the beach with a frown on her face. The odds were that she was contemplating attacking the beach guards and stealing a motor boat. Harmony sighed. Melody and Destiny could be relied on to come to completely opposite solutions to the same problem. With a gesture she beckoned Melody to follow her and they crept to join Destiny.
“We need one of those motorboats,” Destiny said as she nodded at her colleagues.
“We’re outnumbered, with limited ammunition,” Melody reasoned. She had little time for what she saw as the ‘European’ propensity to fight pitched battles whenever possible; the outmoded concept of ‘chivalry’ had a lot to answer for in her opinion.
“Eight of them to five of us; that is not too high odds,” the Frenchwoman said, glancing at the American with some surprise. It wasn’t like Melody to back down from a fight.
“Even Leblois’s guards can’t be such bad shots that they’ll miss us every time,” Melody said. “I think we’d be better going inland and trying to skirt the posse – maybe bring down a few of them.”
“And then what? We cannot leave the island that way,” Destiny said with a Gallic shrug.
“We can join with Bill,” Harmony said,” and if he has been captured or hurt, we shall be there to help him.”
“We will not be allowed near to him,” Destiny snapped. “Our best chance is to get to the SPJ and fix our radio.”
“If we can,” Harmony added. “It will take time, Destiny.”
“So we just surrender?” Destiny turned to stare at her colleagues. They both shook their heads and the Angel leader gave a nod of satisfaction. “We try for the boats,” she decided, even in the face of Harmony’s obvious doubts. “We must get the plan to the others.” Destiny looked around for Rhapsody and Symphony.
“What plan?” Melody muttered scathingly as she joined in the search.
Neither Angel could be seen.
Rhapsody and Symphony had automatically run in the same direction and found themselves a hiding place crouching behind a tangle of bushes.
They watched the guards disembark and search the beach; they heard the baying of the search hounds behind them and came to the same conclusion as their friends.
“We’re trapped,” Rhapsody stated. “What shall we do?”
“Attack,” Symphony replied moving away into the shadows. “If we move off down the slope we can circle round and come up behind the posse. I bet Melody’s doing the same thing as we speak.” Her teeth gleamed brightly as she grinned. “You don’t have to come if you’d rather not,” she added, seeing the dubious expression on her friend’s face, “but I have a few scores to settle with those goons.”
“Wait for me…”
The posse was strung out, because the rugged terrain of the jungle made a single, solid line impossible. In the centre, the dog handlers were being pulled along the track-way by their enthusiastic charges, and the other men struggled along as best they could, beating the bushes and thickets, hoping to flush out their prey. Symphony waited until the man at the end of the line had passed her and then stepped out from her hiding place to strike with all her strength at the back of his neck with her pistol butt. He gave a muted gurgle and she caught his body as it slumped. She dragged his inert body into the gloomy shadows and took his weapons. She felt only the slightest culpability for what she’d done; kill or be killed was the law of the jungle and he’d died instantly – a better way to go than those poor souls in Leblois’s prisons. She saw Rhapsody dart from her hiding place and attack the next guard in the line. He too went down without a struggle.
She started to move forward to shadow the third man in the line.
“Where have they gone?” Destiny hissed angrily. “Can they have been captured?”
Melody shrugged. “They might’ve gone further into the jungle,” she hazarded. “Anyway, we can’t attack eight men with just three of us.”
“Merde! C’est insupportable. There is no discipline in this squadron any longer.”
“Maybe they had to go further to avoid the posse?” Harmony suggested. “Either way, Destiny, we should look to our own safety; they grow closer.”
Destiny gave a brief nod. “We shall use Melody’s plan. Move out, keep hidden. Make sure you are at the end of the line before you attack.”
“S.I.G.,” the others breathed, and melted into the jungle.
The Angels were a formidable attack unit – as the unfortunate guards soon discovered. One by one the line was whittled down as the women attacked and melted away into the darkness before the men could retaliate. The men on the beach were moving towards the jungle with the intention of surrounding their prey in a pincer movement, but from the chaos they heard in the jungle they soon realised that was no longer an option. These were not the typical woman they’d come to expect – deferential and browbeaten by years of enforced subservience.
The commander halted their advance and reconsidered his strategy as the remaining men in the posse fled onto the beach rather than face the terror of the dark undergrowth.
The Angels regrouped. Melody nodded an approving welcome to Symphony and Rhapsody. “Nice going, girls,” she said.
“I just knew that’s what you’d have decided to do,” Symphony replied innocently, “any other option would have been suicidal.” She caught the venomous glance that Destiny shot at her and wondered what was eating the Frenchwoman. She shrugged. “What do we do now? We can’t get to the boats, so I guess our only option is to go further inland. Maybe we…”
Harmony interrupted her. “Look! They have prisoners -“
The women stared at the beach where the second boat had arrived. It was a larger vessel and they could see Bill and Michelle Brent on board, surrounded by additional armed guards. Both were shackled and Bill’s face showed the sign of a rapidly darkening bruise over his brow.
“Those shots we heard…” Rhapsody murmured. “They must have caught them.”
They watched as the guards dragged Bill onto the beach and forced him to his knees. Then the commander moved close to him and placed his pistol at Bill’s temple. He shouted:
“You hear me – devil women. This man dies if you do not surrender. All of you. Now!”
“We can’t surrender –“ Melody gasped. “Think what they’ll do to us.”
“I think only of what they will do to Bill. He risked much to assist us. I can not stand by and see him suffer for it,” Harmony said.
“They might kill him anyway,” Melody reasoned.
“But they will not do it because of me,” Harmony said with a determined glance. She squared her shoulders. “I am going.“
“Chan!” Melody laid a hand on her as she walked past, trying to restrain her. She dropped her hand from the shoulder as the Japanese girl gave her a piercing glance from her dark eyes.
“Do as you wish, Magnolia. I have obligations.”
“We can’t let her go alone,” Rhapsody said, “and I think she’s right. We can’t risk them shooting Bill after all he’s done for us.” She started to walk after Harmony.
“Me too then,” Symphony said. She slipped the gun inside the cheongsam. “Although I don’t expect they’ll let me keep it…” she mused.
Melody glanced at Destiny and the Frenchwoman shrugged. “We go together, Nolie.”
Melody nodded. “Okay then. Maybe, if we’re together they’ll be enough of us to attempt another escape and next time we’ll keep Bill and Mrs Brent with us. Let’s go, Juliette.”
They followed the others in single file out onto the beach. Harmony was standing with her arms on her head and the others were in the process of being frisked. Symphony flinched as the pistol was torn from its hiding place and the guard struck her.
Once all five had been searched and were surrounded by guards, the commander jerked his head towards the boat and the prisoners were bundled on board. They were made to crouch in the bottom of the boat with their hands on their heads. Bill raised his head to say quietly:
“You shouldn’t have done it, Angels. What happens to me isn’t important.”
“It is to us,” Harmony said. “Spectrum does not fail its allies.” She gave a sweet smile and shook her head slightly. “We would not risk them hurting you.”
Bill flushed and shrugged. “Chances are we’ll all suffer for spoiling Leblois’s plans. He’s not a forgiving man –“
He gasped as a guard hit his shoulder with his rifle butt and snarled, “Silence!”
“Such things get remembered,” Melody warned the guard who threatened her with a similar punishment. She raised a cynical eyebrow and stared at the man who, flustered by such defiance in a woman, blustered and moved away. “Scaredy cat,” she taunted. “I bet the whole lot of you are all mouth and no trousers.”
She was silenced by a slap from the commander who had moved behind her. “There will be silence. There will be obedience,” he snapped.
“There will be flying pigs…” Symphony muttered rebelliously. She was curiously heartened to hear the breath of muted laughter from her friends; it seemed that even the worst case scenario was unable to dampen the self-confidence of Spectrum’s Premier Angel Flight.
As the motorboat docked at a rickety wooden jetty, the guards manhandled the women off the launch and clamped manacles on their wrists. Already in chains, Bill struggled ineffectually as they dragged Michelle Brent away from his side. She made a futile attempt to return to him, staring back at him as she was led away. He called encouragement after her and was struck once more by a guard. Michelle wailed piteously as she saw him stumble. Bill staggered forwards at a jog, only to be headed off by two guards. The Commander came up behind him and used his heavy baton to strike at the back of the Englishman’s knees, forcing a cry of pain as he crumpled to the ground.
“There is many such revenges to come,” the commander growled triumphantly.
The Angels watched this casual brutality with horror and disgust. Leblois’s violence had set an example his subordinates were only too eager to follow. Each of them knew they’d be facing men with no scruples about maltreating a woman. The fact that these women had proven themselves formidable adversaries and skilful fighters would be more likely to exacerbate their cruelty than deter it.
Bill was dragged to his feet and forced to hobble along with the rest of them towards the gate.
As they entered the main compound, sullen groups of men watched them walk in. It seemed that news of what had happened to their colleagues had reached the compound already and no one was happy to see the troublesome women return. Instinctively the Angels straightened up and held their heads high. One particularly hefty, battle-scarred man brought hoots of derisive laughter from his companions when he shouted something that was obviously obscene as they passed him. Melody turned to glare at him, and with an offensive leer he spat a mouthful of saliva at her as her guard tried to hustle her passed him. She was hard-pressed not to shrink away as the foul-smelling liquid dripped off her chin but she raised her manacled hand to wipe it off and, swiftly side-stepping her captor, struck the offender on his chin with a sweeping arc of her arms.
The other guards rushed to subdue her and marched her away from the angry crowd who yelled for vengeance against her.
“Nice move,” Rhapsody said approvingly as Melody stumbled against her from the force of the shoves she was receiving.
“Hey, I’m an Angel; I have my pride,” the American said.
Rhapsody smiled. “They don’t know the half of what they’ve got to contend with,” she agreed.
“But they will soon find out,” Harmony said.
“Silence!” roared the commander and he took a swipe at the diminutive Japanese woman. Bill stepped forward to deflect the blow and stumbled at the impact. Undaunted, the Angels surrounded him, protecting him from further retribution as he got back to his feet.
Destiny stared into the commander’s hate-filled eyes and prayed that their confidence wasn’t unfounded and that they would find a way to break free of this prison once more. Leblois was hardly likely to allow them as much freedom as he had originally and she doubted if his good manners would be extended to them any longer. She feared the possibility that they might soon find themselves locked into the empty cages they’d seen in the animal pens; but for now – as all villains do – Leblois would want to enjoy his victory over them, emphasising their powerlessness and belittling them as much as he could before he condemned them to the living hell they’d discovered existed in that squalid building.
She saw a procession emerge from the house onto the veranda; here we go, she thought. Her glance gathered the others around her and they stood defiantly watching their captor approach.
Leblois and his two sons, flanked by a small coterie of house-servants, marched to the end of the veranda and stared down at the bedraggled, yet still bold, Angels. The professor’s face was stern and there was a gleam of triumph in his cold eyes. Adam Leblois was grinning expectantly and casting lascivious eyes on the women, but Bram looked troubled, as if he had doubts this was as glorious a triumph as his relatives believed.
The guards fell silent as the professor held up a hand and raised his voice:
“You disappoint me, Mesdemoiselles, I thought you were intelligent and sophisticated women; yet you run amok through my home and destroy my property, killing my servants and aiding my enemies. I would be justified in exacting a severe retribution for your crimes. However, I have it in mind to be lenient; I will spare your lives. But believe me, if there is any further sign of rebellion – in any of you – my punishment will be of the severest. I will not allow you to destroy all I have worked for.” He turned to the commander and added. “I want the white women brought inside and each is to be tethered to the bed in their room. You may do what you want with the other two.”
There was a sickening cheer from the men. Unconsciously, the Angels huddled together; their very worst fears were about to happen.
Symphony stepped forward and raised her voice to the group on the veranda. “Have a care, Professor,” she began, “you may imagine we’re beaten, but we’re not. We’ve killed your men before now and we will continue to do so if they so much as lay a hand on any of us. You and your sons will never be safe in your own home if you bring us in there. We’re all trained in unarmed combat, and we won’t be taken by surprise again. We’ll fight you all the time.”
The other Angels raised their voices in agreement.
“Such bravado is pointless,” Leblois said dismissively, but his expression registered surprise as Symphony grabbed the nearest guard and pulled the chains that handcuffed her tight across his neck. Leblois held up a hand to stop his colleagues rushing to free him.
“You think to intimidate me? You do not have the nerve, Miss Symphony, to make good on your threat.”
With a wry grimace, Symphony gave a fierce jerk and snapped her prisoner’s neck. He fell to the ground. “I wasn’t bragging, Professor,” she said above the rumbling protest of the other guards. “I can and I will kill all of you, if I have to.”
“We all can – and we will – if you leave us no other choice,” Melody agreed.
There rumble of fear and anger amongst the crowd grew until it was a roar.
“Silence!” Leblois ordered. “You are foolish women to show your hand – now you will all go to the confinement block. It won’t take long for you to be begging to come here. I have told you; there is no hope of rescue. Take them away!”
As the guards hustled them away, they could see Adam Leblois remonstrating animatedly with his father. Symphony in particular came in for rough handling as the women were jostled and kicked by their captors. Once they reached the animal pens the chains were removed and they were thrown into a cage that was still intact, the door being slammed shut and locked behind them by a man who spat towards them as he turned to leave.
Bill had been dragged after them and he was shoved into a cell opposite them. He scrambled to his feet and came to the bars to see if the women were unharmed. The silverback had already been recaptured and was back in the cell next to them. A padlock and chain secured the door. He’d roared his defiance at the guards as they brought in the new prisoners, but once the men had gone, although he’d sniffed the air suspiciously and growled, he ambled to the back of his cell to continue munching on the vegetation and to watch the new prisoners warily.
“Did you have to kill him?” Rhapsody asked Symphony. The American was massaging her wrists where the handcuffs had chafed the skin when she’d applied the pressure necessary to snap the man’s neck cleanly.
Symphony shrugged, but there was an element of self-justification in her voice as she replied, “My conscience is clear; I think I had to do it when Leblois called my bluff. If I’d let him go, do you think the professor would have imprisoned us here - together? I think we’d have been handed over to the Leblois boys and Harmony and Melody would’ve been thrown to the guards. I was trying to buy us some time, Dianne – and as far as that went, I’ve done it. It’s up to us to make the most of it and get out of here.”
“Karen’s right,” Melody said. “Now we have to find out how to get out of here before Leblois decides how to deal with us.”
Destiny had been examining the lock and now she brushed her hair back from her face and sighed. “I do not think we can get out of here so easily. Even if we undo this door we have to get out of the building and I think the guards will be more ready to use their weapons against us after they saw what Symphony – and we – can do.”
“Can you open the door?” Bill called.
Destiny gave him a smile. “I do not think it is beyond our skills, Billy; but until we have a plan of what to do once we are free, we might as well leave it closed. That way we do not reveal to our enemies that we can make ourselves free.”
He nodded and continued, “I feel bad about this. You’d have got away if it hadn’t been for Michelle and me.”
“Nonsense,” Rhapsody said forcefully. “We were outnumbered at the best of times; chances were we’d have never made it in one piece. Is Mrs Brent all right, Bill?”
“She was frightened, but I don’t think they hurt her.” He strained to see into the gloomy distance, calling, “Michelle, are you there?”
At last there was movement, and the emaciated figure of Michelle Brent came to the bars of the cage she was in. At her side was the slight female Rhapsody had noticed on their fist visit. The two of them were clinging to each other.
Michelle Brent raised her tremulous voice and said, “Bill isn’t being honest with you all. It was my fault we were captured – not his. I have led you all into such terrible danger and all I can do is ask your forgiveness.”
“Don’t worry,” Rhapsody said reassuringly, “we’re all going to get out of here. It’ll be okay.”
Michelle turned away, but the youngster waited a moment and gave Rhapsody a shy smile before she followed the older woman to the mound of vegetation at the back of the pen. Despite the seriousness of their predicament, the Englishwoman was heartened by it.
One by one the Angels flopped onto the bank of straw at the back of their cage. It had been a long and tiring night and they were all exhausted and sported a collection of cuts and bruises from their trek through the jungle, as much as from the fights they’d been in. This extended period of relaxation was bringing home the reality of their aching limbs and niggling hunger. The burning heat of the day was making the air in the pens reek so much that breathing was almost painful and the humidity was stifling.
Their water bottles had been confiscated back at the beach and although there was an old, rusty bucket filled with water in one corner, it was dirty and the water inside was less than inviting. They spent some hours catching up on lost sleep and sitting out the worst of the heat. Sporadic discussions about a way out of their predicament and speculation on the subject of how soon their colleagues from Cloudbase would find them constituted the extent of their conversation.
It was Harmony’s acute hearing that first heard the approaching footsteps and the rough drawing of the bolts to the main door. The Angels roused themselves and gathered together in a defensive line.
The main door was thrown back and into the building loped Adam Leblois. Behind him came two men dressed in the ‘uniform’ of the household servants. One carried a pistol and the other chains and a rope.
As Adam passed the silverback’s cage, he paused to torment the animal by rattling keys across the bars, making the gorilla start to snort and growl ominously, the deep sounds resonating through its massive bulk. Adam sneered back as if in response to the animal’s challenge and moved on passed the cages.
When he stopped at the door of the Angels’ pen, he grinned at the women. His eye came to rest on Rhapsody and he leered. “Pritty lady, come,” he ordered, pointing at her with a long, heavy-knuckled finger.
“Not on your life,” she replied, shaking her head.
“Come!” Adam’s single brow dropped over his dark eyes in an angry frown. “Adam says.”
“Adam can drop dead,” Rhapsody retorted and the others gave nods of agreement.
The young man snarled and slammed the keys against the bars. “Adam want pritty lady. She come.” He gestured the servants forward and the man with the gun trained it on the Angels as Adam struggled to open the door.
“Wait till he’s inside,” Melody hissed, “then grab him.”
But it was possible that Adam’s hearing was sharper than his wits, for he paused in the act of opening the door and with a wary shake of his dark head, took the gun from his servant. “You get Adam’s pritty lady,” he instructed.
The servant edged into the cage and pointed to Rhapsody, ordering her to follow him. She moved away, shaking her head vehemently.
“No point catching this one,” Destiny reasoned. “Adam would not hesitate to shoot him and us, I think.”
At those words, Adam fired a shot which struck the concrete floor and ricocheted dangerously upwards, burying itself in the wall. The animals in the other cells screeched and howled at the noise.
“Come now!” Adam yelled.
The Angels milled around Rhapsody, making it hard for the servant to get to her; but they were at a loss what to do; any attempt to rush the door would result in their certain death – Adam Leblois’s unpredictability made him even more dangerous than his father.
Increasingly frustrated at the delay, he sent in the second man and together they were able to grab Rhapsody and pull her towards the entrance.
Adam whooped excitedly. “Pritty lady for Adam!”
“Let me go! I will wring your disgusting neck, you creep, if you lay so much as a hand on me!” Rhapsody vowed as she struggled against the servants’ relentless pull. She managed to knock one of them to the floor but tripped over him as he fell, and her scramble to return to the others was halted by Adam’s strong hand catching her long hair and yanking her backwards, so that she sprawled on the ground. The strength in his sturdy frame was incredible and she squealed in pain, writhing on the floor in an attempt to break free, or to get a chance to fight back.
The other women made a concerted dash forwards to help her and Adam fired again, the bullet narrowly missing Melody in her headlong rush to her friend’s assistance. As they hesitated, Adam swung the cell door closed with a triumphant cry. The second servant clamped the chains onto Rhapsody’s flailing hands with considerable difficulty, whilst his colleague hobbled her kicking legs with a rope. They rolled her over and she was forced onto her knees before her triumphant assailant.
Adam wrenched Rhapsody’s long hair upwards, forcing her to struggle to her feet. His fingers chased a line down her cheek and chin, down the slender, white neck to the swell of her breast. He squeezed her soft flesh in a fierce grip, grinning. “Adam like pritty lady. She belong him now.”
“Let me go!” Rhapsody sobbed angrily. She was still struggling and the others had crowded to the door, calling encouragement and advice whilst Symphony tackled the lock.
“Come,” Adam reiterated and started for the door, his hand wrapped in Rhapsody’s long hair, so that he dragged her along as if she was on a leash.
It was hard for Rhapsody to walk as the rope tying her ankles wasn’t very long and she couldn’t move quickly. Several times she slipped and was dragged upright by another vicious tug on her hair. Her breath was coming in deep, increasingly hysterical gasps. In the cage the other Angels were desperately urging Symphony to hurry with forcing the lock and promising to rescue her, but Rhapsody could see that their chances of success looked slight.
“Help me!” Rhapsody cried wretchedly.
Suddenly there was a crash that made everyone gasp in surprise. No one had noticed that the silverback, who’d been growing increasingly agitated in his cage as he watched the events unfolding, had smashed the temporary lock, and now he charged out directly at Adam, covering the ground with amazing speed.
The young man was taken by surprise and had no time to fire his pistol before the beast knocked him over and brought its mighty fist down on his head, crushing his skull. The ape turned and dealt with one of the servants in the same way, sending the man flying into the far wall, where he slumped to the floor, a lifeless husk. Pausing, the gorilla heaved his bulk upright to snort and thump his chest in a display of physical prowess and strength as he bellowed his defiance at the remaining servant. The noise echoed around, causing the cell bars to rattle and starting an answering chorus from the terrified creatures in the other cages.
The second servant wailed piteously and ran towards the back of the building, seeking to escape through the hole blown in the end wall by the Angels’ earlier break out. It had been hastily repaired by Leblois’s men and the man tore at the wire fencing in his haste to escape. The ape watched him go and then turned to Rhapsody. She lay still, stunned by recent events and not a little scared, as the ape stared down at her. Unable to defend herself, she expected to be dealt the same treatment as the other two at any moment. She averted her eyes from that direct stare and struggled to control her breathing, having the vague idea that eye contact could be taken as a challenge, and that animals responded to the signs of fear in their prey, but she couldn’t prevent the tears that slipped down her pale cheeks.
To her astonishment, the ape did not attack her; he tilted his head and gazed at her for a moment. She could smell his fusty breath and the pungent odour that enveloped him. Cautiously, she opened her eyes and looked up at him – rather taken aback at how close he was. His deeply inset eyes beneath the massive dome of his forehead seemed to register that he recognised her as the woman who had freed him earlier and she began to hope he would not harm her.
As the Angels finally broke out of their cell and rushed towards their fallen friend, he turned with a growl, baring his lips to reveal fiercely sharp canines. The women stopped, hesitating to move, and wondered if it was safe to approach any closer. The silverback sniffed, glanced once more at Rhapsody where she lay as still as possible, and moved away slightly, as if he was giving permission for the women to advance. Symphony moved forwards slowly and dropped to her knees to enfold her friend in her arms. With a grunt the silverback ambled away, back to his cage, wrenching the door off its hinges and casting it aside with finality as he went past.
In the other cages the other creatures gradually stopped screaming and gibbering and an uneasy silence fell on the block once more.
Harmony went to Adam’s corpse and took the keys from his hand, returning to open the cells that held Bill and Michelle Brent. The group gathered around Rhapsody, apart from Harmony who sidled past the silverback’s cage and went to keep watch at the window.
“What on earth was all that about?” Symphony asked, glancing up at the others from where she cradled the shaking Rhapsody in her arms. “I felt sure the ape was gonna kill everyone.”
To their surprise it was Michelle Brent who answered. “Revenge for the years they have abused and ill-treated him. He’s the oldest of the gorillas here and he doesn’t take kindly to having his authority challenged, but to Adam it was always fun to torment him and he was never prevented from doing so. Itsinzi - that’s the gorilla’s name - was merely showing the upstart who’s the boss.”
Bill put an arm around her. “You’ll be avenged too, Michelle, I swear to you; Leblois will pay for what he’s done to you.”
She rested her filthy head against his shoulder and clung to him, even as she held on tightly to the hand of the young female who seemed inseparable from her. But the expression on her face remained sceptical.
“Yes; well, I think it won’t be long before the militia arrive,” Melody said. “We have one gun between us… it might not be much of a fight.”
“We may not have the firepower to defeat them in a straight fight,” Destiny said, “but we are far from beaten, mes amis. “ Melody looked quizzically at her. “Consider; they cannot know Adam is dead,” Destiny explained. “We should use that to our advantage.”
“Looks to me like the other servant has got out through the far end… maybe we could too?” Symphony suggested.
“And go where?” Destiny asked reasonably. “There will be guards out there, Symphony, and I do not think they will wait to get Leblois’s permission to shoot us now. We have proven we are dangerous to them. The way from here to the fence is certainly guarded and it is not hard to imagine one of the men will see the servant emerge and will raise the alarm in the compound – even if the noise of the gunshots went unnoticed. I think we need to finish this now.”
“How?” Bill asked.
Harmony turned from the window and called out: “Leblois is coming.”
“Well, that means we have no choice, I suppose,” Symphony said. She glanced down at Rhapsody. “You okay, Dianne?”
Rhapsody nodded and said in a resolute voice, “Get these chains off me. I can still fight.” Symphony busied herself removing the restraints and helped the Englishwoman to her feet. Rhapsody ran her fingers through her tangled hair and deftly plaited it into one thick strand. She did what she could to fix the neckline of her cheongsam with Symphony’s help and gradually regained her poise. She knew that the events of the past hour would haunt her for a long time - if she lived through the next few hours – but now was not the time to dwell on them. She was rather surprised at how easy she found it to dismiss the matter from her mind and assumed that her Spectrum training had actually worked far better than she’d ever assumed. She made a mental note to thank the colonel – if she ever saw him again.
Destiny gave them their orders, “Get Adam’s body into the cage and stand guard over it. Perhaps you should use the chains on him? I do not know how much can be seen from outside, but we must use the only bargaining tool we have. I will need the gun with me as I speak to Leblois.”
With a nod, Rhapsody helped Symphony heft the corpse into the cell whilst Melody and Harmony dragged a selection of benches, tables and boxes to create as much of a barrier across the partially repaired blast-hole as they could. They did not have the resources to fend off an attack from two directions and it might be useful as a barricade if the building was breached.
Rhapsody watched as Symphony clamped the chains on Adam’s hands. To add to the appearance of a living prisoner, she bound a strip of her ragged cheongsam into the mouth and another over the dull eyes. All they could do was hope to convince Leblois his son was in danger and that the professor – who showed a surprising fondness for his most wayward child – wouldn’t risk hurting Adam by an all-out assault.
Then a heavy silence fell over the building, punctuated by the noises of the creatures in the pens. The silverback lifted his massive head and shifted slightly at the distant noises of activity outside.
Symphony sighed and fidgeted with her clothing; she hated the waiting in any mission. She consoled herself with thinking: If this is really the end, I couldn’t hope to go in better company. She conjured up an image of the man she loved in her mind’s eye, clasping in her hand the medallion that lay against her breast. I just wish I hadn’t been so mean to him before I left Cloudbase… A wave of regret suffused her. But he knows I never really mean it; Oh God, I wish I could see him just once more…I wish he was with me right now…
She glanced at Rhapsody to see if her friend was having similar thoughts; Dianne was pale but determined.
In fact, Rhapsody had completely regained her composure. Her anger at Adam Leblois’s attack had given way to genuine fear as the huge ape had leaned over her. But, gazing into those dark eyes, she’d seen a gentleness that belied his bulk. Her relief as he’d ambled away had been overpowering, reducing her to weak tears that she couldn’t prevent. Now they were facing their true enemy she was determined not to let her friends down in the coming confrontation.
She caught Karen’s glance and gave her a reassuring smile: Dear Karen, she worries so much about us all... I wish I’d seen Paul before I left… I wish I’d told him how much I love him that last time. I wish he’d said the same thing to me… I wish he was here with me…
Her reverie was broken by the strident voice of Professor Leblois, dampened by the walls of their prison. “Angels, surrender now and you will not be harmed. I have been lenient towards you and I will continue to be – if you release my son. If you do not do as I ask, I will order my men to storm the building and you will all be killed.”
“The first shot that is fired at us will kill your son Adam, Professeur. We have him here at our mercy. He was foolish enough to imagine he could take on the might of Spectrum’s Angels. He is learning the error of his ways now.”
Leblois’s face was suffused with anger and Destiny feared he would ignore their threats, but before the professor could reply, Bram Leblois spoke to his father, his dark face becoming agitated as he talked. Leblois listened but knocked his younger son’s hand from his arm and shook his head imperiously. Bram Leblois grabbed his father’s arm once more and argued with increased vehemence. The professor thrust the youth away and his reply caused Bram to give an incoherent cry of anguish. With contempt apparent on his face, Leblois turned from his son towards the building and shouted:
“Adam is intemperate; he has much to learn, Mademoiselle Destiny; but he is a unique individual – you cannot understand his significance. What do you want of me for his safety?”
Destiny gave a relieved glance at the others. Then she shouted back: “Safe passage from here for us and for our friends. We also want a guarantee that we will all be allowed to leave the island and await rescue at the site of our crashed plane; without further molestation.”
“And then you will broadcast what I am doing here to the world and bring ruin on me and mine; destroying a lifetime’s work? Non, Mademoiselle; I cannot allow your request.”
Melody came to the window and peered through, seeing Bram Leblois remonstrating with his father once more, and then she gasped. “Destiny, look, that’s the servant who was in here with Adam…”
They watched in apprehension as the man was dragged before Leblois and began his report on the incidents that had led to Adam’s death.
Leblois screamed: an unearthly wail of loss. He struck the man to the ground and pushed Bram away. Then he advanced towards the animal pens, raising his fist in violent rage.
“You would cozen me, Mesdemoiselles? You have murdered my son and you would bargain with his corpse? Have you no consideration of a father’s grief?” He pointed towards the building and bawled the order: ‘Kill them! Kill them all! Salopes et putains! Wipe them out!”
“Merde,” Destiny snapped under her breath. In desperation she yelled back: “You would believe the word of a native over that of a true-born Frenchwoman? We have your son, Professeur. Dare you risk bringing about his death yourself on the lies of a mere paysan?”
Melody urged Rhapsody and Symphony to bring the corpse to the window. They dragged it over and Bill crouched behind it to give it rigidity. The dark head drooped forward giving a convincing impression of desolation.
“See – see!” Destiny continued, waving her hand towards the corpse. “You want your son to live? Then remove your militia from here. I will no longer conduct this talk by shoutings.” She aimed the pistol in her hand at the head of the corpse and prayed Leblois would not call her bluff this time.
There was an ominous silence outside. The Angels glanced at each other.
“He’s not going to fall for it,” Melody muttered.
The silence lengthened.
“I believe he might,” Harmony commented. “Take the body away, and make it look as if he is struggling with you.”
“For God’s sake; don’t drop him,” Bill warned as Symphony managed a convincing wrestle with the corpse with Rhapsody’s help.
“Angels!” They spun around to listen to Leblois. “I want to see Adam for myself. I will come into the building with some of my men; for I do not trust you. If my son is alive and well, I will let you leave – but only you! The others must remain. The time has come for me to settle my score with Lieutenant Gray – the last of the intruders who destroyed my Eden with their filth and their disease! They killed my wife and I have vowed they all shall die for their crime. My patience is exhausted and Gray must pay the penalty. I give you three minutes to agree and then my men open fire.”
“Non,” Destiny began firmly, but Bill shook his head.
“Right now, Juliette, you have to take what you can get. Agree to it and it gives you a chance to escape. He’ll send men after you; but you know now that you can’t trust him and you’ll be ready. Let me take care of myself and Michelle; think of yourselves. If he kills me; you’ll have lost nothing…”
“How can you say that?” Harmony cried. “You are our friend.” The others agreed, and for the second time, Harmony – usually so undemonstrative – hugged him.
Bill smiled. “Then – as my friends – let me help you? Agree with Leblois.”
“Yeah, we should,” Symphony said thoughtfully. The others looked at her in surprise. “Don’t you see? Once Leblois is inside – with us – the chances of our capturing him must be high. With him in our power; we’ll walk out of here: all of us. Besides,” she added matter-of-factly, “what options do we have? If we refuse, he blasts us to pieces; if he comes in, it won’t be long before he realises Adam is already dead and blasts us to pieces… But, if we take him when he comes in – we’ll have the upper hand.”
Melody grinned. “We can take out his bodyguards, no problem. Destiny, it’s down to you to get him to agree to as few as you can…”
“S.I.G., “Destiny sighed. “I wish there were another way.”
“There isn’t,” Rhapsody said. “Karen’s right. Getting Leblois in here is our only chance.”
While Destiny went to negotiate terms with Leblois, the Angels and Bill considered how best to immobilise the guards and capture the professor.
“We all need to be part of this,” Melody said, “there’s few enough of us, as it is. Yet, if no one’s guarding Adam, Leblois will be suspicious all the sooner.”
“I will do it,” Michelle Brent said quietly. “Lilith and I and some of the others will be the guards.”
“Lilith?” Melody asked.
“My daughter,” Michelle said, and put her skeletal arm around the young female at her side. “She will listen to me, and some of the others… well, they can follow simple instructions. Besides, we all hated Adam; if Leblois sees us around his son, he will know Adam is well guarded.”
The Angels shared wary and slightly embarrassed glances, until Melody said briskly, “Good; do it.”
She handed Michelle the keys and the couple went to open the pens and herd the other creatures into the cell with Adam’s corpse. They were a ragtag of apes and hominids, some decidedly ape-like and some more indistinctly human in appearance. Some swaggered awkwardly on two legs, some knuckled over the concrete floor on their hands and feet, all of them gibbered in anxious excitement. The Angels shared bemused, compassionate and uneasy glances. There was no way of knowing what Leblois had done to bring these individuals into being.
Once in the cell, several of the creatures howled and postured, making empty threats at the corpse, until Michelle returned to them and made them sit around the body in a protective ring. She stood in the centre, facing the door, with her daughter at her side.
The Angels positioned themselves in a semi-circle around the entrance, with Destiny in the middle.
Bill stood slightly to one side, close to Harmony, ready to help if he could, and prepared to defend these young women with his life, if needs be. The long lifetime of hiding was over for him; the very worst fears he’d entertained through the long, lonely years had been more than vindicated and he was in no mood to back down from a confrontation with the man who had destroyed the lives of so many of his friends. If the Angels were pumped up for a fight, Bill was more so; his hands itched to take the misery of his wasted years out on the person of Leblois, and if he died in achieving his ambition, he felt he’d survived in a half-life for so long that he’d have no regrets at leaving it. He was intelligent enough to know that the tempting prospect of a new life back amongst the civilisation he’d left over twenty years ago would be fraught with difficulties, which were as daunting as the vision of going home was wonderful. He instinctively felt that one of them – Leblois or himself – was not going to see the sun set over the perennially restless, cerulean-blue sea again.
“Open the door,” Destiny ordered and Melody leant forward to slip the catch, moving to the side so that she was partly protected by it.
The Angels tensed as they saw Leblois, his cane in his hand, march straight towards them; showing no fear or doubt. Four guards walked slightly behind him, each with a semi-automatic rifle in their hands.
Leblois’s cane tapped out a regular rhythm as he walked, and each of the women drew a deep breath, fighting to keep calm and not to act too soon, risking being shot by the guards. Destiny backed away slightly, turning the semi-circle into a funnel that Leblois had to walk down to enter the building. As the last of the guards entered Melody slammed the door closed behind them obstructing the view of the men outside and blocking Leblois’s retreat.
It unnerved the commander of the guards, but Leblois’s attention was focused on the cell that held Adam and his rag-tag assortment of guards.
“You have let them out? They’re animals, not to be trusted. If they have hurt him...” he strode forward. “Move away from him – I order you! Move away!” he called peremptorily. When no one moved apart from a huddling of the creatures, he banged the floor with his stick and called, “Adam!” a hint of uncertainty in his voice.
As if that was their cue, the Angels struck. Melody smacked the commander on the back of the neck with her fist, around which she had wrapped a hefty chain rescued from the floor of a cell. Harmony’s spinning kick knocked the gun from the hands of the other guard beside the commander and her second strike laid him on the floor, gasping for breath. Symphony and Rhapsody effectively disarmed and incapacitated the other two guards and in a matter of seconds Leblois realised he was facing them alone.
He stared at the women, and with a slow smile, he said, “Stand aside. You cannot hold me here –“
“- Where have I heard that before?” Melody interrupted. “Listen, Professor, you’re in no position to give orders here.”
“Au contraire; if my men do not receive orders from me within a given time they will storm the building. You, my dear Angels, are the ones who cannot give orders.”
It was Michelle Brent who responded; Leblois spun round to face her as she said, “Face it, Stephen; you have been defeated by these young women. They have destroyed you and the abomination you created in your own image. There is no reason for you to fight any more – your precious son is dead. It is over.”
“I do not speak to vermin, woman – you disgust me!” He pushed through the ring of creatures to Adam’s corpse and laid a hand against the lifeless flesh. For a moment, his head dipped as if he was praying over the corpse. When he straightened up once more, his eyes flashed with fury and his voice took on an edge of violence as he surveyed the terrified creatures that surrounded him. “Understand me, you will all suffer for his death – I have exhausted my patience with all of you!” He moved towards the concourse, issuing threats at the Angels. “You will become part of my programme - all of you – I will breed myself more sons! You cannot escape me – this island is your prison and it will be your grave! You will sit out your pregnancies in these cells with the rest of this vermin!” He struck out with his cane towards Michelle Brent and the others who surrounded his son’s body. “You will all suffer my vengeance!” he vowed again.
The rebellious muttering that had started amongst the huddled hominids when he had berated them grew until one brave soul stood and leapt towards Leblois, striking a blow at the man as he darted past, screeching. Leblois spun round, aiming to catch the individual a killing blow as he ran away, but once he had removed his mesmerising gaze from the cowering creatures, they rose together and jumped on the professor.
Leblois staggered, twisting about to strike around him, his cane making contact with unprotected heads and limbs, but gradually he was forced to give ground due to the sheer numbers of his assailants.
“Should we do something?” Rhapsody remarked casually.
“Oh, I don’t think so, do you?” Symphony asked, with equal unconcern.
“Nah,” Melody replied with a dismissive shake of her head. “I think we’ve done enough.”
“Some would say we will be no better than Leblois if we stand and watch them kill him,” Harmony warned them in a quiet voice.
“Then they will be wrong,” Destiny replied. “Nothing on this earth is as evil as that man.”
“The law of the jungle is harsh,” Bill remarked, nodding his head towards the far end of the building. “He lived by it, now let it judge him.” The Angels turned to see what he’d spotted and moved back slightly.
Leblois was still shouting, cursing his attackers with venom and striking out. Although he had moved back into the main concourse, he was far from finished. Two savage blows with his cane floored two of his most enthusiastic foes and a triumphant smile appeared on his lips as the others gradually drew back.
“Back, you cowards, back into your holes!” he growled. “You will suffer for your temerity in attacking me! I should never have permitted you to live!”
A low rumbling growl behind him made Leblois blanch with the realisation it was not him they were deferring to, and he turned to see the silverback watching him from a metre or so away.
“I think that’s gorilla-speak for ‘pick on someone your own size’,” Melody said to Symphony.
“I think you’re probably right.”
Leblois was backing away in earnest now. His face, mottled by his recent exertion, was growing pale. Finally he stood his ground and faced his enemy. “Back to your cage, sirrah. You cannot defy me, Itsinzi, I am your master …” he ordered, but the authority in his voice was lacking this time. The silverback knuckled forward and as Leblois struck out with his cane he caught the gorilla a fierce blow on the side of his head. Angrily, the animal reached out, yanked the cane from the professor’s hand and threw it away contemptuously. Leblois continued to edge away, still trying to order the animal back to his cage. He came to a halt as he reached the barrier the Angels had erected across the far end of the building.
With slow deliberation, the silverback reached out his strong hand and grabbed the terrified man by the neck. Leblois screamed and hit out with his fists as he was lifted off the ground by the powerful animal. He pleaded for help, his voice fading as he struggled for breath. The silverback emitted a huge roar of angry defiance and hate, and violently shook the man in his grasp. There was a crack, as Leblois’s neck snapped. The silverback shook the body a few more times and with the same contempt as he had shown for the cane, he tossed the body to the creatures who were watching in silence. With screeches and shrieks, they pounced on their tormentor, dragged him into the cage with Adam’s corpse and in a frenzy of hatred began to tear him to pieces.
The silverback stood upright and roared in warning. Melody spun around to see two of the guards crawling towards the door. She moved swiftly and pinned them down with the gun, herding them into a cage. Symphony and Harmony dragged the other two in with them and they locked the gate.
The gorilla snorted in satisfaction and, when the Angels were standing together again he stared at them for a long moment as if he were weighing them in his mind. He sniffed the air, and a low rumble started in his throat.
“Nice one, Kong,” Melody said.
“Yeah, nice going, big guy,” Symphony added.
“We are most grateful,” Rhapsody chipped in.
The silverback fell silent as she spoke and then grunted and ambled back to his cell – unconcerned by the bloodlust in the next cage. What was left of Leblois was now strewn around the floor and the creatures had moved onto the corpse of Adam Leblois with equal fury.
“Phew!” Rhapsody exhaled a long, relieved breath.
“We should have stopped it,” Harmony opined, shaking her dark head sadly.
“Yeah? How? I wasn’t going argue with our furry friend there, nor am I going to risk spoiling the fun of the mob,” Symphony retorted. “Face it, Chan, that was a man that not even you could find a decent thing to say about. All of these poor souls have suffered God knows what torments, deprivations and abuse at his hands; for my part, I say let them have what small revenge they can. Leblois was dead before Itsinzi threw him away – you heard his neck go – we all did.”
“Even if he hadn’t been, I wouldn’t have tried to save him,” Michelle Brent said with a hatred in her voice that reminded the others of the atrocities Leblois had been guilty of. “Revenge may be a dish best eaten cold, children, but red-hot hatred demands instant gratification. Itsinzi and all of the creatures in this prison have had to suffer at the hands of him and his son for more years than you can imagine. He had no mercy; no humanity even. Do not pity him – he died a far easier death than many of his own victims.”
Bill put his arm around her and Lilith. “You’re free of him now, Michelle.”
“We shall never be free of him, Bill. He will haunt us for the rest of our ruined lives. Where can we go, what can we do? Leblois has condemned us to an existence as freaks and weirdoes.” She hugged her daughter and stroked the thick black hair back from the child’s face. “Do you see the world welcoming the off-spring of a madman and an ape amongst them?”
“But you are neither of those,” he replied.
“You think I could leave her and these others wretches – and just walk away? You are not the man you were, William Gray.”
Bill could not face her reproving gaze. He turned away, his face flushed.
“Before we even think about getting back to civilisation, we still have to get out of here,” the ever-practical Melody reminded them. “Bram Leblois is out there with armed guards, remember?”
“Bram is not the villain his father was – nor his brother,” Michelle Brent said confidently. “He was not a strong baby and he spent his early years with me, whereas Adam was always under his father’s care. I know my son, and I taught him what I could in those early years. Bram has a concept of right and wrong. You can talk to him and he will listen.”
“I hope you are right, Mrs Brent, because I am about to try,” Destiny said. “Believe me, we are all angered and sorrowed by what you have experienced, and perhaps the fact that Bram is your son and has suffered less time with the professeur, holds our one hope of surviving. However, if to survive we must also kill Bram Leblois; there will be no question, but that we will do so.”
The others all nodded in agreement, even as they exchanged compassionate glances with the quietly dignified, older woman. It seemed that even the truth of her children’s ancestry and the horror of their lives on the island had not prevented them forming a loving bond.
Michelle Brent gave a sharp nod of her head in response. “There are worse things than death, and I would rather see us all die trying to escape than survive as we are for any longer. The Bram I knew would not have the heart to fight you, and if this man does – he is not the son I grew to love.”
Destiny laid her hand on Mrs Brent’s arm and kissed her dirty cheek with kindness. Then she pushed open the door to the compound and found herself facing a crowd of angry men, armed and barely under the control of the diffident youngster they surrounded. She raised her hands and laid the gun she carried on the ground, slowly. Her only reassurance was that it was one of the disabled ones and Melody had the one that worked, whilst the others held the weaponry taken from the guards, and they were covering her back. The men surged forwards and she stiffened, drawing in an alarmed gasp of breath. Bram Leblois’s voice, slurred and indistinct though it was, rose above the murmur of the crowd.
“Wait – you have orders!”
“I would speak with you, Bram. Alone,” Destiny called.
“Where is my father? My brother?”
“Speak to me alone,” Destiny replied, allowing an edge of authority into her tone. As she had expected, the young man automatically deferred to her wishes and moved away from his minders.
Destiny moved forwards and the pair met just beyond the low wall of the animal pen entrance.
“Abraham,” she began, “you are the man in charge here now. Adam and your father are dead; the creatures broke from their pens and destroyed them both.” He gave no reply and Destiny asked, “Do you understand me, Bram?”
“I am in charge,” he answered dully. “They are dead.”
“Yes,” Destiny said slowly. “It would be better if we patched up our quarrels before more people are hurt. Your mother is in there with us.”
“My mother is alive - and Lilith?”
Destiny suppressed a smile. “Yes, they are fine.”
“My father is dead?” he repeated.
“The male gorilla attacked him. We could not prevent it,” Destiny said; there was no point in telling the youth that they had not even tried.
“I am glad.” Bram looked at her with confusion.
“You will not be alone in that feeling,” Destiny reassured him. “Bram, your father did many wicked things; he hurt many people. Now it is your chance to stop the hurting, Bram. These men will listen to you; tell them to lay down their weapons.”
“They will not. He told them to attack you all.”
“He is dead; you are in charge now. They must listen to you.”
“I do not wish to hurt people,” Bram said, turning his dark, soulful eyes on her. “You are all so beautiful.”
Destiny smiled. “Help me make the men stop fighting,” she urged.
Bram nodded and walked some few paces with her towards the men. He began to shout: “The fight is to stop. My father is dead – obey me now.”
The guards began to mutter and a swell of voices shouted defiance. Gauging the mood of the crowd to be dangerous, Destiny grabbed the youth by the arm and dragged him into the animal pens as a hail of bullets pounded into the walls.
“They didn’t want to know, I take it?” Rhapsody remarked as she slammed the door closed behind the two of them.
Bram broke away from Destiny and with an emotional cry rushed towards Michelle Brent. He paused as he drew close and stood before her shamefaced. His dark head dropped as he avoided her judgemental stare. He spread his long arms in a gesture of apologetic contrition; he was speaking, but the muffled sounds made no sense to the watching Angels. They must have done to Michelle Brent for she laid a hand on his arm, before enfolding him in an embrace, her hands stroking the thick hair on his high forehead as she crooned wordless forgiveness to him. Lilith nestled trustingly against him and with a sob, Bram Leblois embraced his mother and sister and averted his eyes from the gory slaughterhouse that was the final resting place of his father and half-brother.
The other creatures were watching him, uneasy and yet not openly antagonistic. It seemed that in the company of his mother, Bram was safe for now. But one of the community was not so easily satisfied that Bram was no threat; Itsinzi grunted and thumped his chest in a threatening display. Bram cowered and submissively backed away. Satisfied that the newcomer acknowledged who was the alpha-male here, the mighty animal settled back into a wary repose, contenting himself with emitting periodic low grunts of authority, and an uneasy peace descended.
Rhapsody turned with a delighted smile to see Symphony’s wry grimace as the man who had been intended as her ‘mate’ settled himself at the feet of his mother, his sister hanging onto his strong arms and grunting in a language that had no human equivalent.
“He’s just a kid,” the American said with some surprise.
“What was it you estimated? Thirteen? I guess the ape side of his ancestry would mature that much sooner; but I think Bram’s more human than Adam was,” said Rhapsody, recalling the gleam of lust she’d seen in her assailant’s dark eyes.
“Don’t call that monster that,” Symphony pleaded. “I never want to remember I ever met anyone else with that name…”
“Hey – ten seconds after you lay eyes on ‘The Blond from Boston’, you’ll have forgotten any other men exist anyway…” Rhapsody teased.
Symphony smiled and a faint flush stained her cheeks. “I sure wish he was here now…”
“Yeah, we could sure do with him – and the others – to give us a hand.” Rhapsody squared her shoulders. “Still, we’ll do okay on our own, Karen; and remember, we’ve got a lot worth fighting to get home to…”
“The militia are going to attack.” Melody’s announcement drew them back to the more immediate problems. “I think they’re having a confab about it now.”
“Would they attack us while Bram’s in here?” Rhapsody asked.
“I do not think they consider Bram as a potential leader,” Harmony said, smiling slightly at the young man who sat at his mother’s feet, Lilith contentedly at his side. “His mother is correct and he is not the ogre his father and brother were.”
“Yes, I think that’s obvious,” Rhapsody said. “So, what shall we do?”
“We have to get out of here,” Melody said. “We can’t defend this place against a determined assault.”
Destiny nodded. “Do you already have an idea, Melody?”
“I suggest we organise a mass break out: get the creatures and Itsinzi and all make a break for it. If we get them into a massed group, keep them close together with the smallest and weakest in the middle, we can ride shotgun for them and lead the way. We have four semi-automatics and a pistol – with surprise on our side we stand a chance of breaking through the enemy lines and reaching…”
“What? The wire fence or the heavily-guarded gate?” Symphony interjected. “We’d be picked off like fish in a barrel, at either one, Nolie.”
“I was about to say reaching Leblois’s villa,” Melody said angrily. “It would be easier to defend and somewhere in there, there has to be a radio transmitter.”
Symphony shrugged; she had no better suggestion to offer.
“I can see the reasoning behind the plan, Melody,” Rhapsody conceded, “but there aren’t enough of us to make it work. Some of them might get hurt.” She waved a hand towards the creatures in the pens.
“We stay here and they definitely will,” Destiny said in response. “There is no easy way out, Dianne.”
“Let’s do it,” Melody said, trying to whip up some enthusiasm. She turned towards the family group. “Mrs Brent, can you get the others to follow you, if we break out of here together? Bram, will you take care of Lilith and your mother as we run to the villa? Good lad.”
“How do we get Itsinzi to come along?” Harmony asked.
“We’ll just hope he cottons on. I wouldn’t like to bet the guards will leave him alive if he stays here,” Rhapsody said. She walked to the cage and said loudly, “Come on, big guy; come with us…” She walked away, looking over her shoulder frequently to see if the silverback was watching, but Itsinzi stubbornly remained in his pen, watching her with disdainful eyes. Rhapsody shrugged. “Like most guys, it looks like he’s not inclined to follow orders from a woman,” she mused.
“Can’t you scream like Fay Wray?” Symphony asked her. “He might follow you then – after all, it worked with the original Kong, I seem to recall.”
“Isn’t here a maxim about never working with children or animals?” Rhapsody countered with an amused smile. “I understand why now. Come on, you big ape, let’s move it!”
Michelle Brent had rounded up the prisoners and, with Bram and Lilith beside her, was leading them towards the door. The creatures massed behind her were starting to gibber with anxiety; leaving the safety of their prison was obviously not something that happened often and they were frightened of the world beyond the decayed walls of the animal pens.
Melody addressed them: “Keep together. Stay close. Run fast. Follow her,” she pointed at Michelle Brent, “Do not stop.” She walked down the group, gently pushing them into a tight knit formation. “Closer; closer; keep close.” She watched them shuffle together, confused and uneasy, and grimaced ruefully at Michelle Brent. “Do they understand me? We do stand a chance if they stay together and keep moving. Only there’ll be a lot of shooting, I’m afraid; will they panic?”
Mrs Brent glanced over the huddled group of strange creatures. She knew them all and their histories, she’d seen Leblois manipulate and torment them all in the name of ‘science’ over the years. She had comforted them as best she could and nursed them through their pain. She looked at the vital young woman before her and answered quietly, “They have lived in fear all their lives; they are frightened now, they will be frightened when they leave this place. The only time anyone left here was to go to the laboratories with the professor and to them it can only mean unending pain and – all too often - death for those not strong enough to bear it. Leblois was not gentle with his experiments and they grew increasingly brutal and bizarre as time went on. His latest aim was to discover why some of them could vocalise better then others, so he removed the tongues from some and the larynx from others ‘to evaluate their importance to the ability to speak’.” She hugged Lilith to her side and the youngster gave a gentle mew of delight. “So much of what he did to us all could never have had any scientific value. I believe he no longer had any concept of even the basic tenets of civilised behaviour.” She shook her head and sighed before asking, “It is possible we shall all die out there, isn’t it?” Melody, already close to tears herself, gave a sad nod in reply. “Don’t regret that; trust me, it is better than the slow death of living here, like this. They will try to obey you, but I can’t promise they will be able to do it.”
“That’s good enough for me, Mrs Brent. We don’t intend to lose anyone if we can avoid it.”
Michelle Brent laid a hand on Melody’s arm. “I stopped believing in God many years ago, but if there is justice in the world, we will make it, my dear.”
Melody smiled and turned and moved to the front of the informal schiltrom of what was surely the strangest group of ‘freedom fighters’ ever gathered together. Destiny was waiting to lead the dash for the villa and she was checking her semi-automatic. Harmony had another of the guns and she was ready to go, standing on the left side of the gathering. Rhapsody was on the other side of Bill and the others, whilst Symphony brought up the rear.
As Melody joined her, Destiny said loudly: “Don’t stop – whatever happens. Keep running for the villa. Angels, Spectrum is red; shoot to kill.”
“S.I.G.,” they replied. There was the click of safety catches being released as the women readied themselves for battle.
With a curt nod of her head, Destiny gave Melody the signal to go and they both kicked out to smash the door from its hinges. Firing into the massed ranks of the men opposite them, they ran for their lives.
The gunshots, the screams, the shouts and the pounding of many feet on the compacted earth of the compound created a melange of noise and added to the confusion of that dash to safety. Destiny fired at the anonymous figures that loomed into her range of vision; beside her she could hear Melody’s gun firing too and behind her, Bill’s voice was continually urging the others to move faster and to keep moving.
Surprise was on their side and the guards were initially thrown into chaos. Bodies fell under their attack and she began to hope they might make it, after all. Out of the corner of her eye she saw one of the ‘officers’ rounding up his men and organising a counter attack. She fired in their direction and stumbled as she ran. Rhapsody cannoned into her and tumbled down in the confusion. They scrambled to their feet and raced after the others, firing all the time.
Ahead of them, Destiny could see a line of militia forming up, similarly armed and preparing to fire. She tried to shout above the noise, “Wheel Left!” but the schiltrom was too loosely packed and too chaotic to obey her. They continued to race towards the firing line. Destiny chased after them, still shouting orders. Melody was also shouting at them to change direction, but the first volleys from the enemy brought down a handful of the creatures and in panic the others scattered, becoming easy targets for the marksmen ranged against them.
“NO!” Rhapsody yelled, stopping to fire off her semi-automatic at the guards. A flying rugby tackle laid her on the ground as a reciprocal hail of bullets flew overhead. She screamed, trying to fight off her attacker, and felt several bullets thud into the body pinning her down. She felt the searing pain of a bullet catching her exposed arm and she screwed her eyes against the pain, gasping in breath as best she could, given the weight of the man splayed on top of her. He was a dead weight now, having presumably taken the bullets meant for her in his eagerness to capture her for his own nefarious purposes. She beat his back with her fists, until the pain in her arm made her stop. She couldn’t move from under him and, frustrated at the thought that she might survive when her friends were mowed down, she began to cry.
Slowly, her shocked mind registered several facts that took her an age to make sense of. There was a regular volley of gunshots; organised and deadly in their rhythm. Voices, familiar voices that she ought to recognise, were shouting orders:
“S.I.R: shoot to Kill!”
“Get those civilians under cover!”
“Disarm those men; round them up under guard!”
In a baffling miasma of pain, hope and bewilderment, Rhapsody struggled to focus her attention. She twisted her head to see the face of the man weighing her down.
“Paul!” she gasped in horror just before she fainted.
When she came to, she was lying in one of the rooms in Leblois’s villa. She sat up in alarm and to her relief saw Destiny lying on an adjacent bed. The Frenchwoman was obviously not seriously hurt and she smiled in a reassuring manner when she saw Rhapsody’s eyes focused on her.
“Are you all right, Dianne?”
“Yes… yes I think so. What happened? I thought I saw…and I’m sure I heard…” She raised a hand to her head and closed her eyes. Her other arm was tightly bandaged and stiff.
“Oui,” Destiny said with a comforting nod of her head. “You did see Capitaine Scarlet and you did hear Capitaines Grey and Blue bellowing orders. Luckily for us, I think, the rescue party arrived right about the time we broke out of the animal pens and started to run for the villa.”
“Did everyone make it?”
Destiny shifted slightly. “Not everyone, no. There were some casualties – oh, not amongst the Angels, apart from a few bruises and bumps. Billy took a bullet in his arm and Bram Leblois was caught in the thigh – but they should be okay very soon. Our friend Itsinzi survived too – he followed us out when we ran away from him, and I do think he made some conquests of his own amongst the guards; although most of them had the sense to run away from him in his rage. Some of the pauvre créatures from the prison were killed, I am sorry to say. Once they scattered there was no chance we could protect them all; but by the grace of heaven, it was then that Spectrum arrived and the slaughter was not as bad as it would have been otherwise.”
“And Paul?” She didn’t bother to use his codename; Destiny had had a romantic liaison with Colonel Paul Metcalfe before they had joined Spectrum and she was still a good friend to the darkly handsome captain.
“He was shot, Dianne, by the bullets that would have killed you, if he had not performed such a magnifique tackle. I have always thought him a better rugby player than footballer, but he says I do not understand. Pah! We French play rugby too. I have stood – alongside to Paul as well – and shouted them to victory at the Stade de France enough times to know a superbe tackle when I see it.” She winked broadly at Rhapsody and smiled at someone behind her friend.
With a growing suspicion, Rhapsody turned slowly to see Captain Scarlet sitting in an armchair on the other side of the bed. He grinned at her.
“Paul! I couldn’t believe it was you… you saved my life. Are you hurt?”
“I’m fine and you’re welcome,” he said with a wink that was quite as broad as Destiny’s.
She held out her hands to him and with a wince of pain he got to his feet and reached across to take her hands and lean down and plant a kiss on her smiling lips.
“Where are you hurt?”
“My back and ribs mostly; it’ll be fine in another hour or so. Even so, I’ve been told to sit here quietly while Grey and Blue mop up the remaining pockets of resistance. I must say, it isn’t often I get the easy jobs.”
“How did you find us? I mean I’m glad you did, but to arrive like that – just when we needed you… We’d almost given up on you ever finding us.”
“Yeah, I guess it must’ve seemed like we were taking our time, sweetheart; but Cloudbase was preoccupied with a Mysteron threat. They threatened that ‘the Angels will meet their match’ and the Angels – I mean the Angelettes – were involved in a fierce dog-fight with a squadron of renegade Bereznian fighter jets over Western Australia. It was touch and go – they made a good job of it though; shot them down without being hit. When they got back and we’d debriefed them, Blue wandered down to the Officers’ Lounge to ring Major Fern and see how you were all getting on. That’s when we discovered you had never arrived. The colonel moved Cloudbase to your last recorded position and ordered the Angelettes into a tight search formation to look for you. Honestly, everything was done to trace you, once we knew you were missing.”
The women exchanged wry grimaces. Destiny drew in a deep breath and said, with the merest hint of reproach, “The threat said ‘the Angels’ would meet their match? And yet you chose to assume it meant the Angelettes? Tiens, are we so quickly forgotten, Paul?”
Scarlet squirmed and defended his companions. “An attack was made against The Angels - I mean Angelettes, dammit - and we weren’t to know you weren’t all safely at the training camp. It had to be first things first, didn’t it? The Angelettes started searching for you as soon as we knew but it was some time before they found the wreckage of the SPJ. Pavane landed and saw your note saying you’d gone over to the big island because Symphony and Harmony had been kidnapped. Well, there was no alternative after that but to parachute down onto this island, armed to the teeth, and rescue you, was there? Blue wouldn’t listen to any other suggestions, anyway, and he’s a very stubborn man at times. So we were already approaching the compound when we heard the shooting begin. It was a mad rush to get to the place as soon as we could, but I am glad to say we managed to prevent too much bloodshed.”
“And you saved my life,” Rhapsody repeated.
“And you’re welcome…”
She laughed at him. “Oh, Paul, I do love you…”
“Steady on: you’ll embarrass Destiny…”
A few hours later, Rhapsody felt well enough to make the walk to the dining room, where someone had coerced the servants into producing a meal for the prisoners, the Angels and the assortment of Spectrum officers who could find the time to eat. With so many people to feed, the servants had arranged a buffet, laid on the dining table, and everyone was allowed to help themselves. The Spectrum agents were carefully avoiding saying anything about the other diners, although, as most of the prisoners preferred to eat on the veranda, they were spared some of the more unusual sights.
Michelle Brent, with Lilith and Bram Leblois at her side, was sitting in a chair near the window and she smiled a welcome as Rhapsody and Destiny completed the number of the expected arrivals. Rhapsody returned the smile and looked around for her friends. Melody was sitting close by Michelle and her children, with Captain Ochre next to her and Captain Magenta was sitting between Ochre and a rather subdued Symphony, Captain Blue presumably still busy in the compound, doing the ‘mopping up’ that Scarlet had mentioned. Captain Grey was talking to Harmony, and Bill, who was looking well despite a fine crop of bruises and having his arm in a sling, was with them. He was managing to eat well enough with the aid of a spoon.
The late arrivals greeted everyone and helped themselves from the buffet, finding seats in a group together. Everyone politely ignored the fact that Captain Scarlet had piled his plate with a variety of food and took a jug of water back to his seat as well; the miracle of his retrometabolism always left him with a raging thirst and a prodigious appetite. He was still eating when Captain Grey came over and asked to join them. When Rhapsody scanned the room, she saw Bill was now talking to Michelle Brent.
Grey took a seat next to Scarlet and began, “I’ve been talking to Bill; he’s a fascinating man – did you know he was once in the British Navy?”
“Really?” Scarlet’s eyebrows rose in polite surprise.
“Hmm,” Grey confirmed. “Tell me, Scarlet, do you know anything about a British frigate called the ‘Tristram’?”
Scarlet nodded and swallowed his mouthful before answering. “It was a bit of cause célèbre in its time; happened just before the civil war broke out. It was coming back from Antarctica and it vanished; sort of like the Mary Celeste, except nothing was ever found of it, despite an extensive search. All hands were believed lost. Why?”
Grey indicated Bill and said, “He says it was wrecked on the reef here. He’s the last surviving crew member, it seems.”
Scarlet frowned and asked, “What did you say his name was?”
“I didn’t; but it is Lieutenant William Gray; we were laughing about it… you know, Lieutenant and Captain Grey. Different spellings, of course.”
“Sure. Brad, who else do you know called Gray…?” The captain looked puzzled, so Scarlet elaborated, “Let me put it another way: what’s the colonel’s real name?”
“Charles Gray, of course.” He looked at Bill with an intense interest. “What’re you saying? You don’t think…?”
“I don’t think; I’m sure I know. I was talking to the old man after the ceremony one Remembrance Day on Cloudbase and he told me about his younger brother, William, lost aboard the ‘Tristram’ in ’42.”
Rhapsody leant forward to interrupt, “You say you think Bill is the colonel’s brother?”
“I say I’d be surprised if he isn’t. What do you know about him?”
Destiny clapped a hand to her forehead in a theatrical gesture. “Mais oui. Tcha! Quelle idiote je suis! I have thought he reminded me of someone but I never could place him,” she said excitedly. “I remember me now that he spoke of his brother ‘Charlie’ when we met with him.”
“’Charlie’?” Grey grinned.
“If you think this a possibility, Captain Scarlet, hadn’t we better warn Colonel White?” Rhapsody said. “This is going to come as a shock to him.”
“We’d better be absolutely sure we’re right before we say anything to anyone,” Scarlet agreed. “The colonel won’t forgive us if we raise his hopes for no reason.” He put down his plate and sauntered over to where Bill was sitting chatting to Michelle and her children.
Bram Leblois nervously got to his feet at his approach. He was aware that the Spectrum officers still regarded him with suspicion and he’d stayed close to Michelle Brent during his initial interrogation by Captain Ochre.
“Don’t mind me; please sit and eat,” Scarlet said with a smile. “I’d just like a word with you, Lieutenant Gray, if you’d be so kind?”
Bill stood and strolled after Scarlet on to the veranda. They walked along until they could see across the compound. The tall figure of Captain Blue was busily overseeing the incarceration of the final members of Leblois’s militia in the animal pens. He caught sight of Scarlet as he turned to deal with another small group of prisoners and, pleased to see his partner was up and about again, raised his hand in a friendly salute.
Scarlet waved back.
“He’s your partner; the American?” Bill asked.
“Yes, we work together on most missions.”
“He was concerned when you were wounded by the guards… he wouldn’t allow anyone else to help move you into the villa. That’s the sign of a good partner, I think. Thankfully, you seem to have been less hurt than he initially thought.”
“He worries too much,” Scarlet said dismissively. He knew Blue had reacted instinctively to the fact that his partner was seriously wounded in the presence of civilians, by removing Scarlet from where anyone could realise how badly he was hurt, and therefore witness the wonder of retrometabolism at first hand. Realising he sounded ungrateful and unwilling to give that impression, he added, “Not that it isn’t nice to watch him work – rather him than me, I say - but it can sometimes feel like you’ve raised the devil and now you have to keep him busy. Besides, you can always tell when something’s on his mind, because he’ll find work…” His voice trailed away as Blue strode off to busy himself with something else he’d spotted. Just like he’s doing now in fact; the lieutenants could do that well enough, so I’d better find out what’s bugging him…
Bill chuckled. “I’ve known a few like that in my time. My brother, for one; he couldn’t sit still for five minutes without fiddling with something. He was a workaholic.”
“What was his name? Maybe we can make a start on finding him, for you.”
“Charles Vincent Gray. He was a Captain in the Navy, the commander of the ‘Coquet’.” He shook his head. “I don’t even know if he survived the war, Captain Scarlet. They’ve told me it was a flash in the pan affair, but, I’m betting people still died and Charlie wouldn’t have hesitated to get into the thick of it. Mind you, he was always a lucky so-and-so; so maybe he made it through the war…”
“I think he did, Lieutenant. In fact, he had a good war, as they say. And he eventually made Admiral of the Fleet.”
“Charlie did?” Bill gave a bemused gasp of laughter and, with the first sign of suspicion on his face, asked, “This is all in the past tense, Captain; are you trying to tell me my brother is dead?”
“No, I think he is very much alive, Lieutenant Gray. I have some reason to believe that he is my commanding officer.”
Bill’s face grew pale and he pressed Scarlet for more reassurance. “My brother? You’re sure? Charles Gray is not that uncommon a name.”
“Colonel White once told me about his younger brother, William, who was lost when the ‘Tristram’ vanished with all hands. It would be pushing coincidence too far to imagine there were two William Grays on board.”
“No, there was only me.” Bill gave a disbelieving shake of his head. “Imagine, old Charlie making it to Admiral of the Fleet and commanding something the likes of Spectrum. He can’t have changed much, Captain – I bet he’s still a workaholic?”
“He sets us all a formidable example, Bill.”
Gray’s face was a picture of happiness. “Did he ever marry that Admiral’s daughter? Annabel, her name was. I’ve often wondered if I have a bunch of nieces and nephews growing up somewhere.”
“He did marry; and his wife’s name was Annabel. But I’m afraid she was killed, along with their young son, in a car crash, I believe. The colonel doesn’t talk much about it – he’s an intensely private man.”
“Poor Charles. He was crazy about that girl.” Bill turned away. “Looks like Fate’s dealt both the Gray brothers a tough hand to play, Captain.”
“And they’ve both played a blinder with it,” Scarlet said. He placed a sympathetic hand on Bill’s shoulder. “Excuse me, Lieutenant, I’ll go and have a word with the colonel. This is news he’ll want to hear…”
After a difficult conversation with the colonel that brought his stunned commanding officer as close to tears as Scarlet had ever seen him, the captain wasn’t in the mood to join the throng still socialising in the dining room. Instead, he strolled out into the compound, enjoying the heady scents of the tropical night and wondering where Blue was and what had got him so upset that he skipped the chance to spend the evening with Symphony.
He knew the pair had had one of their frequent lovers’ tiffs before she’d left Cloudbase, but unless she was still angry with him, he couldn’t see what the problem was - Blue wasn’t a man to hold a grudge, especially not against the woman he adored. The news that his lover and her friends had gone missing had galvanised Blue into action, and he’d badgered Colonel White into allowing him to take an SPJ of volunteers to help with the search the ‘Angelettes’ were beginning. Blue had then rounded up a sizeable army of ‘volunteers’; calling in long-held favours from many of his colleagues – not that anyone was reluctant to assist in the search for the missing Angels.
The sighting of the wreckage of the SPJ had been the signal for their departure from Cloudbase and Scarlet had been impressed by the speed Blue had coaxed from their plane. Pavane’s report from the crash site and the discovery of Rhapsody’s letter explaining that two of the girls had been kidnapped – possibly by pirates – had given the mission a greater sense of urgency and justified Blue’s somewhat over-the-top reaction in including all five colour captains and another four lieutenants in the ‘rescue’ squad.
Of course, he’d not seen the reunion between Blue and Symphony - due to the fact that he was dead at the time – and he hadn’t liked to ask Destiny if she’d noticed anything amiss between them. Juliette was a wonderful girl and he didn’t doubt that she knew as much about what was going on as he did – probably more, knowing Symphony’s inability to be discreet – but he was reluctant to draw attention to the couple needlessly. Yet something was wrong; he’d no doubt of that.
He wandered on, lost in his thoughts, until a rather tired voice said, “You scared the shit outa me, creeping about like that!”
He grinned and turned to see Blue at his side. “Who was creeping about exactly? I didn’t even hear you.”
“You were miles away,” Blue conceded. They walked on in friendly silence for a while until Blue added, “It’s all rather hard to take in, isn’t it?”
“You mean the setup here? Hmm; what’s even more surprising than the fact that no one realised what Leblois was doing for all those years, is that no one even knew he was on this island. These days it seems you can’t even go to the bathroom without it being recorded somewhere…”
“I guess his pirate friends weren’t going to spill the beans and risk losing their provisioning depot and their share of a lucrative trade; so he was pretty safe as long as he was useful to them. They must’ve kept him supplied with the stuff he needed as well.”
“So Destiny said; she was telling me a bit about it while we waited for Dianne to come round.”
“How is Dianne?”
“She’s fine – the gunshot wound is hardly more than a flesh wound; mind you, I’m going to get Fawn to check her over when we get back – can’t risk it getting infected - you can’t be too careful in the steamy tropics.” Scarlet’s light-hearted tone vanished as he confided to his friend, “From what I’ve heard about what happened to her, she’d been pretty much beaten up even before the girls made that mad dash from the prison block; but I should be grateful it’s nothing plenty of rest and a little TLC can’t put right.”
“Poor Dianne. It sounds like they’ve all had a tough time, Paul.”
“Yeah, not quite what the colonel ordered, but they’ve certainly proved they can survive against the odds.” He paused, and asked with as much nonchalance as he could muster, “Have you had the chance to speak to Karen?”
Blue looked away, avoiding his friend’s perceptive gaze; colour flooded through his tanned cheeks as he replied brusquely, “Yeah, we had a chance for a chat.”
“A chat, really? Adam, is she still playing you up?”
“No, of course not – what do you take her for? It’s not that.”
“Then what? You’re like a cat on hot bricks – oh, don’t worry, it doesn’t look like it to the others; they don’t know you as well as I do – but you’re edgy and I can’t think why. We arrived in the nick of time – thanks to you – we saved the girls and stopped a massacre here. What had been going on before was a down-right abomination – right enough – but, thankfully, the girls weren’t involved with that – and it’s over and done with now.”
“Is it?” Blue said abruptly and walked away. Scarlet followed. He could always tell when his partner wanted to steer clear of a discussion but he wasn’t going to let him get away with it this time. “Svenson, what the hell’s biting you?” he demanded directly, refusing to play along with Blue’s avoidance tactics.
Blue paused, raised his face to the starlit skies and gave a sigh that sounded as if the weight of the world was on his shoulders. Scarlet waited; expectant silence usually worked. Blue moved on again with his partner shadowing him all the way. When Blue stopped pacing and threw himself down onto the low wall that ran along the side of an outbuilding, Scarlet sat next to him, still silent, still waiting; managing to inject just the right amount of hurt feelings into his occasional sighs. Patience wasn’t his strong suit and it wasn’t easy for him to hold his peace; but experience had taught him that Blue wouldn’t start talking till he was ready.
Even so, Scarlet was about to say something when Blue drew a deep breath and said, “This is in confidence, right? If you ever tell a living soul – even Dianne – not even your retrometabolism will be able to save you from me.”
Breathing out a sigh of relief, Scarlet said, “Sure. What’s wrong?”
“Those filthy bastards –“ He sighed, running a hand over his face, struggling to maintain his composure. “Those bastards did something to Karen. After they’d chloroformed her and brought her here… they performed some kind of internal examination on her, while she was still unconscious – God only knows what else they’ve done!”
Shocked, Scarlet laid a hand on his friend’s arm. “Look, we’ll be going back to Cloudbase early tomorrow; have you alerted Doctor Fawn? He can check her out as soon as we’re back and …”
“And what? Tell us the bad news?”
“No, Paul, I can’t be reasonable about this – don’t expect me to be. She wasn’t even going to speak to me about it – I had to drag the truth out of her and then she wouldn’t let me even touch her – she said it wasn’t ‘safe’, just in case she was infected with something… She has no great opinion of how clean Leblois and his cronies kept the place, and having seen those animal pens I can understand why.”
“I can see why you’d be concerned, Adam, and I’m sure Karen means well, but I’d say she’s being over-cautious. I know what happened to her isn’t very nice, but Fawn will make sure she’s okay and everything’ll be back to normal in no time.” Scarlet gave a broad wink. “She won’t be able to keep her hands off you, as usual.”
To his consternation, Blue turned on him, anger flashing in his pale eyes. “You really don’t understand, do you? You just don’t get it – I don’t think it’s funny, Paul – in fact, I want to beat someone to a pulp for this. I want to do what those creatures did to Leblois and tear someone limb from limb for what they’ve put her through and what she’s still suffering – and I’m not too choosy about who I blame for it!“ He stood and strode away down the side of the building, away from the villa, at such a furious pace that Scarlet had to jog initially to catch him.
Annoyed with himself for misjudging his partner’s mood, Scarlet assured Blue, “I can understand that, Adam, honestly I can – if they’d done it to Dianne, I’d be right there with you - but it might not be as bad as you imagine.”
“You’ve heard what they were doing here – why else would they examine her like that?”
“What did Karen actually say? How is she?”
Blue’s eyes clouded over as he admitted, “She’s frightened, Paul; Karen’s scared. I’ve never seen her so worried. Even if they haven’t … if she isn’t –“
“Pregnant…” Scarlet supplied the word Blue couldn’t bring himself to say.
“They might still have infected her with… with any damnable disease! And there is nothing I can do about it!” Blue’s powerful arm struck out, smashing the side of his clenched fist into the window of the building; sending glass shattering inwards and making the men imprisoned inside cry out in alarm. “Shut it – you filthy vermin!” he raged, slamming his fist against the wall. “Before I come in there and rip your frigging tongues out for you!” There was immediate silence.
“Stop it!” Scarlet ordered. “Captain Blue, control yourself. I can understand your anger - and the frustration of not being able to put things right - but this isn’t helping. Not you, nor Karen. Put your faith in Doctor Fawn; whatever has happened to Karen, he’ll do what he can, and besides,” he added to the overwrought man at his side, “Karen’s going to need you to be strong until this is sorted out. Why don’t you go inside and see her? She was sitting with Patrick when I came out, but I doubt if that’s what she really wants to be doing.” To his surprise, Blue shook his head vehemently. Adam had taken the whole thing so badly that Scarlet delivered the harsh truth with reluctance. “Okay, consider this; if you don’t go to her, imagine how it’ll look from her point of view. You badger her into telling you the thing that’s scaring her to death and, even though she tells you to stay away, she doesn’t expect you will - she expects your support and some sympathy, most likely –- but you run a mile. It’s no wonder she was looking miserable.”
“I had to – I couldn’t be in the same room as… as that creature; I’d have killed him, Paul, with my bare hands.”
“You mean Bram Leblois?” Blue gave a nod. “Yeah, I guess that’s understandable, but I think he’s more sinned against than sinning. Destiny said he was under the thumb of the professor but that once he had the chance to help them, he did his best – even if it wasn’t that good. Besides, he can’t have been involved in what happened to Karen, he only arrived here from the other compound late yesterday.”
“I told you – I’m not choosy who I blame for this. He’s as guilty as any of the others. Besides, Leblois told her she was to be his ‘mate’ – I can’t help it, Paul, whenever I think of it, I see red…”
“Yeah, I know; but it didn’t happen, Adam, and - if it had come to that - Karen wouldn’t have been the only one who suffered. Juliette told me that the other brother – Adam Leblois – yanked Dianne out of the cage by her hair and tried to drag her away. No one had the slightest doubt what his intentions were and if it hadn’t been for that gorilla… well, let’s just say it’s not an image I enjoy contemplating, either. I’m just thankful we got here when we did.”
Blue walked away, nursing his cut and bruised fist. Scarlet trailed after him; there was nothing more he could say – he’d rarely seen Blue’s normally well-controlled temper so much in command of his friend. The pace was relentless as they crossed the compound towards the jungle fence so that when Blue stopped suddenly Scarlet had to side-step quickly to avoid bumping into him.
After a moment of intense stillness the American’s fair head dropped to his chest, and even though he remained standing in silence, his broad shoulders began to shake. Disconcerted, Scarlet looked away for a split second – then threw his reserve to the wind and put an arm round his friend, cushioning the fair head against his shoulder. He could feel the ragged breaths that shook his partner’s powerful frame, but Blue made no sound and after a short time he drew back; one hand pinching the bridge of his nose, effectively hiding his eyes.
“I’m sorry I’m making such an ass of myself, but I feel so helpless…” His voice quavered, despite his attempt at self control. “I almost lost her, Paul; I may yet lose her…”
“Not if Fawn can help it; and you really shouldn’t be tormenting yourself with what might happen. Karen’s going to need you to reassure her and right now, she’d take one look at you and really start to panic. Come on… I’m betting she’s regretting sending you away. Let’s get back and see how she is, eh? Adam?”
“You’re right; I’m behaving like an idiot,” Blue sniffed and gave a wryly lopsided smile.
Scarlet sensed that this incident would probably never be spoken of again by either of them; Blue was generally not one to parade his feelings and, in some obscure way, he felt gratified to realise his friend trusted him enough to allow him to witness his distress. He knew, only too well, how much he owed Blue for his companionship and support during the darkest days following his initial experience of retrometabolism, and the pair of them were close friends, but both had had an inherent restraint instilled by their very different, yet strangely analogous, upbringings.
He decided it was best to play the whole thing down. “No sweat, Blue-boy. And anyway, I’ve always thought it was quite wrong - you know, what they say: big boys don’t cry - because, sometimes, even big boys need to,” Scarlet replied light-heartedly.
Blue gave a vaguely embarrassed chuckle and they started to walk towards the villa. In the distance, Scarlet saw Symphony, illuminated by a shaft of light, step out on to the veranda, her eyes searching the compound for a glimpse of her lover. She saw him, and hesitantly raised a hand in greeting. Blue waved back, quickening his pace until he reached the steps of the villa at a run. Symphony stood at the top of them and reached out towards him – he stretched his arms to her – and, as she came down towards him Blue lifted her into an embrace. They stood there for a long moment, presumably talking, for Scarlet saw Symphony shake her head and turn away from Blue. The tall American cupped her chin in his hand, tilting her face upwards so that he might press his lips to hers. It was a long and passionate kiss. Whatever arguments she had used in her fearful concern had not been enough to convince him.
Scarlet smiled and decided to walk the long way round so as not to disturb them, and, as the damp patch from Blue’s tears dried on his uniform tunic, Scarlet felt his own eyes smarting at the realisation of just how close he’d been to losing Dianne forever in this perverted and despicable Eden.
The door to Colonel White’s quarters opened and Lieutenant William Gray stepped out, followed by his brother.
There had been an emotional reunion between them when the SPJ had brought Bill to Cloudbase, although Bill had, almost immediately, been taken to the Medical Bay along with the Angels and Captain Scarlet, for a check-up. After Doctor Fawn had pronounced him surprisingly fit and well, William Gray had spent several hours alone with his brother, during which time they had contacted their elderly parents with the good news. Later, he joined everyone, except Rhapsody and Symphony – who were to be kept in sick-bay overnight for ‘tests’ and observation – at a de-briefing session.
It was there that the full story of Leblois’s iniquity was pieced together with the help of the computer records Captain Magenta had decoded from the discs Harmony had downloaded. Colonel White had wasted no time in contacting the World President directly and had spent several hours in confidential conference with President Roberts. Although he found the abrasive and difficult Roberts a harder man to work with than his predecessor in office, the diplomatic James Younger, White was discovering that Roberts was a just and fair-minded man and the relationship was becoming one of mutual respect.
Forty-eight hours later, the colonel had accompanied his brother to London for a family reunion, and several weeks later, William had returned to Cloudbase for another series of meetings with his brother before Spectrum’s casefile on the incident was closed.
After a hair cut and a shave, there was no missing the similarity between the men; although next to his sturdy brother, Bill looked positively emaciated. He was dressed in a crisp cotton shirt and grey flannel trousers, and looked every inch the officer he was. He seemed to be thriving on the challenges of his new life.
The colonel was carrying a substantial holdall and they turned towards the stanchions down to the main flight decks of Cloudbase, walking in step.
As they rode the escalators down, Bill said, “I still find it hard to grasp what you’ve managed to do with your life, Charlie. I mean this place is amazing; I can see why you’d swap the Navy for it.”
“It wasn’t that hard a decision, Will, and I don’t regret it for a moment. I consider myself fortunate to work alongside such dedicated men and women.”
“Yes, you have a good crew here,” Bill agreed as they walked along the corridor to hangar deck two.
The door slid open to show the busy hangar deck, where the technicians were busy loading the shuttle to London. One of them darted forward, saluted and took the holdall from the colonel, to stow it aboard.
“Well, I guess this is goodbye for now,” Bill said. “You’ll keep in touch?” He extended his hand to his brother. They had said their private goodbyes before they left the colonel’s quarters, and Bill respected his brother’s preference for formality in public.
“Of course.” White grasped his hand firmly. “You are sure this is what you want to do, Will? You know we could arrange anything you want? Spectrum always has need of good terrestrial agents.”
Bill dropped his brother’s hand and looked around the hangar deck. “Charlie, I’ve had a marvellous time here. I’ve seen Cloudbase and we’ve had time together. I’ll have another week with mum and dad before I leave; and - to be frank – it’ll be enough. Oh, it’s not that I’m not overjoyed to see them – and you – but after twenty-odd years of living alone, it isn’t easy to slip back into ‘real life’. I couldn’t work nine-to-five now; even for the Navy, and I’d forgotten how cold and wet London can be – even in what passes for summertime. Besides, I never thought I would say it, but I miss the island.” He looked at his brother, hoping Charlie understood. He saw the distinguished silver-grey head nod briefly in acknowledgment. “Besides,” Bill continued in a happier tone, “you know where I am now – it’s not like we’ll lose touch again.”
“Certainly not. I’m sure you’ll be comfortable there, now that the World Government’s pledged to take direct responsibility for it and I happen to think they couldn’t have found a better commissioner for the place than you. To have put an outsider in charge might have been disastrous; much better to leave it as a closed community. It’s unthinkable that those people there should be treated as freaks – and I’m afraid the World’s Press might’ve gone for the most sensational aspects of events there, if they’d been told the entire truth.”
“Yes, I’ve been in touch with Michelle and I know there was some unease amongst the residents about what will happen to them now that the World Government’s taken control. It was an inspired move to declare it a World Nature Reserve – if they do manage to get a few gorillas established on the three islands, it might be the one good thing to come from Leblois’s life.” Bill fell silent for a moment, then said, “I had a message to say that those of the guards who asked to be transferred have already been allowed to go and the others will be re-trained by the Police Corps. I’m not sure I agree with the decision not to prosecute any of them, but I guess we couldn’t expect any of the residents to testify in a court of law. I hope the fact that they’ve been warned against spreading stories about the island works. Either way, I was glad the World President agreed to put a permanent press stop-notice on the story; I can’t thank you enough for your help with that, Charlie.”
White gave a slight shrug. “President Robert’s a reasonable man – most of the time – and he owed me a favour. I think revealing that Leblois and Busquin were one and the same person was fairly inspired. Next to scandal the press loves a mystery and speculation about what Busquin did with the animals he abducted has resurfaced every so often for years. The press were happy to concentrate on the possibility of a safe haven for gorillas and the hope that they will breed and thrive on the archipelago. In time, Busquin might even come to be seen as a visionary and the saviour of the species – however unfairly. But whatever happens, that should ensure a certain respect for the isolation policy – apart from a trickle of Natural History film makers, of course.”
Bill grinned. “I’m sure we can keep them occupied when they arrive.”
Colonel White nodded. “I don’t doubt it. You’ll have heard, I suspect, that the professor had a fortune in diamonds stashed away on the island. As the authorities cannot be sure they are the proceeds of his crimes – he was a wealthy man before he disappeared - it has been ruled that it belongs to young Abraham Leblois. He will be a wealthy young man when he’s old enough to get his inheritance.”
“Won’t do him any good – I can’t see him wanting to leave the island. No, the money will go towards paying for the new facilities to look after the residents. The World Army are busy building new accommodation blocks and we’ll have enough to pay for some new people to live and work on the island. I’m looking forward to working with the medical and veterinary teams; and when Michelle thinks the time is right, we’ll get a few teachers in to help her with the youngsters. It’ll take some time to get the medical centre set up – but Doctor Fawn was right when he suggested Doctor Rawlings as the medical director; he’s a man I’m sure I can work with. And I’ll be working closely with the officers from the World Police Corps to clear the place of its piratical connections, as well. It seems that they’ve been trying to discover the source of the trade in illegal human organ sales for some time, and they’re in hopes of making more arrests in the near future. The residents deserve the best life we can give them, and, with luck, in a few years that place will be the paradise Leblois always claimed it was.”
“Indeed; I shall be looking for accommodation there when I take my annual holiday, you know?”
“You’ll always be welcome, Charlie.” Bill paused and added, “I’d like you to meet Michelle…”
“I’m looking forward to it,” White assured him.
“She’s a remarkable woman.”
“So I’ve heard. I don’t suppose your decision to go back there had anything to do with her decision to stay with her children and the other ‘people’ on the island?”
“You think I’m going soft, Charlie?”
“Did I say so? No, if that’s the way it is, I wish you luck, Will.” White hesitated and added, “Maybe, one day, we’ll get together - as a foursome…?”
“Ah – that widow you mentioned – or rather, tried hard not to mention! You’re a sly dog, Charlie Gray. I might not have guessed about her if it hadn’t been for Symphony Angel.”
“So I recall - vividly.”
Bill glanced up in concern at his brother’s dry tone, but relaxed when he saw the slight smile on his brother’s face; he wasn’t really cross with the voluble young American. “I like that young woman – hell, I like them all! I’m glad Doc Fawn gave her the all clear; she certainly perked up after she got that news. Her young man too…”
“So I saw - and heard.” Bill had been recorded on the security cameras leading Symphony, Rhapsody, Scarlet and – surprisingly - Blue, in a jolly rendition of some of the more risqué verses of ‘What shall we do with a drunken sailor’ as the five of them formed a giggly, impromptu conga line along the Promenade Deck, on the day Rhapsody and Symphony had been discharged from sickbay by the ever-cautious Doctor Fawn. The colonel could envisage that clip of film resurfacing periodically on high days and holidays for the next few years, much to the embarrassment of the performers; and it would serve them all right… He smiled.
Bill grinned. “You should lighten up, Charlie; you have a great crew of young people here. Enjoy it.”
“I do, believe me. But I have to maintain my authority, Will; this is a working military base, not a holiday camp.”
Bill rolled his eyes, “Sure, Charlie.” He smiled and threw an arm around his brother. White hesitated and then hugged him in return.
“I wish I could’ve said goodbye to Paul and Adam; sorry – Scarlet and Blue. Shame they had to go off on a mission last night. Is it going okay?”
“Yes, I can trust Scarlet and Blue to do a good job – well, I trust all of them, but those two are my best team; you understand why I had to send them? A terrorist threat to a city like Rio de Janeiro cannot be ignored. But I’m sure they’d wish you well – If they were here.”
“They’re nice lads.”
“If you say so… you seem to have become a firm favourite with them, anyway. I do hope you haven’t let your tongue run away with you, Will?”
“I am discretion personified, Charlie, you know that…”
“And you always were a rotten liar, as well.” White gave his brother a stern glance as Bill blushed.
Charles Gray smiled.
The tannoy announced the imminent departure of the shuttle to London and the brothers prepared to part. Just as Bill was about to walk to the plane, the door opened and into the hangar walked the five Spectrum Angels, Captains Ochre, Grey and Magenta. The officers shook hands and wished Lieutenant Gray ‘good luck’, then the Angels stepped up to hug and kiss him.
“You take care of yourself, d’you hear?” Melody said as she hugged Bill.
“We want to hear from you very often,” Harmony said. Bill gave her a special hug; he’d become very fond of the softly-spoken, resourceful Japanese girl.
“You won’t get rid of me,” he promised.
“We have a few things that we’d like you give to Lilith and Michelle,” Rhapsody said, handing over a small case. “We all went and did some shopping in the Spectramart, because I bet it’ll be ages before you have proper supply lines set up and working. Give them our love, as well, of course.”
“I will. Thank you, on their behalf.” Bill weighed the heavy case thoughtfully. “What’s in here, bricks?” he asked with a grimace.
“Necessities that no man would ever think of,” Destiny corrected him. “Make-up, toiletries and moisturising creams – a tropical sun is not good for maintaining a fine complexion – oh, and many more things of such usefulness. When they have seen what is the best for them, you will know exactly what to order once more.”
Bill grinned. “I’m sure they’ll have fun trying them all out. Thank you, all.”
Symphony handed him a smaller carrier bag. “This is for Bram; from me and Adam. It’s just some books and things Adam picked out. We thought he might like them, since you said Michelle was going to be teaching him to read an’ all…”
“I’m sure he’ll treasure them. Thank you, Karen – and please, be sure to thank Adam on Bram’s behalf.” She nodded. It had taken time for Captain Blue to accept that Bram Leblois was guiltless over what had happened, but once he was convinced, he was more than happy to make reparations for his error. They’d spent a couple of hours selecting books and ‘student stationery’ online specifically with the young man in mind.
“Will, the shuttle’s waiting,” Colonel White said gently.
“Of course… timetables, schedules – I have to remember this is the real world now. Goodbye, Angels – you take care of yourselves – and of all of the irrepressible Captains...”
The three captains smiled. “Goodbye, sir,” Grey said. They saluted.
Colonel White walked to the foot of the steps with his brother, who gave him one last hug, waved to his young friends and disappeared into the plane. Looking desolate, Colonel White went to stand in the observation bay with his agents as they watched the plane rise to the runway.
To his surprise - and comfort - Symphony slipped her arm through his on one side, and Destiny on the other.
“There goes a man who deserves his life to be happy,” Destiny said affectionately as the roof of the hangar bay slid closed once more.
The colonel cleared his throat and disengaged himself, but not unkindly. “Now, there is more than enough work for you Angels to do before the… umm... ‘Angelettes’ return to Glenn Field tomorrow. The next report is due in from Scarlet and Blue in the next half-hour, so, Captain Magenta, did you collate the information they asked for? Captain Ochre, I am still waiting for next week’s duty roster. Captain Grey… you’re off duty, I think; at least for the next thirty minutes. Move it, people; this is an operational base….”
“- Not a rest centre!” his officers chorused cheerfully and dispersed before he could draw breath enough to comment.
“’Enjoy it’ indeed! How could I do otherwise?” Charles Gray mused and headed back to the Control Room with an unequivocal feeling of contentment.
This story was written for the Challenge of Five to celebrate five years of the wonderful Spectrum HQ website. The site was already well-established when I discovered it, early in the summer of 2002, and I felt immensely proud when my first, tentative, story was posted there as part of the very first Halloween challenge, in October of that year. I still feel that pride when any of my stories go onto the site.
That the quality of the fiction here is of such a high standard is a tribute to the time and effort the webmaster, Chris Bishop, devotes not only to her own excellent fiction, but to supporting other authors, and, it goes without saying, of course, that we are all such a talented bunch to start with!
I, for one, would like to say a big, personal ‘Thank you, Chris’ for four years of your friendship and for allowing me to share the, normally solitary, enjoyment of writing - and especially, writing about the characters from my favourite Gerry Anderson TV show - with you and our group of like-minded ‘Scarletinies’.
My thanks for her help with ‘This Other Eden’ also go to Hazel Köhler; her impeccable ‘shock and awe’ beta-reading skills mean that my idiosyncratic take on the English language and its grammar has been smoothed so that – I hope – the narrative makes complete sense.
Indeed, in addition to Chris and Hazel, I owe a great debt of thanks to Caroline, Doc Brown, Doc Denim, Keryn, Mary and last, but never least, to Sue - the other members of the Scarletinies - who’ve helped me through a tough time this year.
Any mistakes in the story are mine, and the usual caveat applies about who owns the characters of the Spectrum personnel from the TV show ‘Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons’ – I only know it isn’t me. My thanks to everyone involved with devising, producing and creating such an inspirational show, back in the 1960s, and to you for reading this story – which I very much hope you enjoyed.
Chris – here’s to the next five years!