A Spectrum story by Marion Woods
It was the latest in a long line of leads that he’d followed that had brought him here and although none of them had amounted to much, maybe his luck was about to change? After all, what had he had to go on until now? Sightings reported by police forces or rumours that had made their way back to Cloudbase through a tortuous network of gossipy contacts; but they had all had to be investigated – he daren’t risk missing even the remotest possibility.
He’d tried hard to keep it confidential – but without much success; somehow - by that inevitable process of osmosis that bad news has of making itself known - this had seeped out. He didn’t blame anybody for it; he knew the few close friends who were fully aware of the situation would never have spoken about it to outsiders; but speculation had been running like bushfire through the base for weeks even before he’d left, and it wasn’t as if he could deny it.
He ran a tired hand through his long fringe and sighed, closing the email with a slight grimace. It had been an unusually diplomatic one from Captain Ochre – a man not normally known for his tact – and he could imagine Rick had spent some time over it, carefully choosing words that would convey his information in the best possible light.
The only other email was from his mother, and he closed the screen without opening it; he couldn’t bear to read another message from her pleading for him to give it up and go home.
He went and lay down on the narrow hotel bed, staring at the ceiling whilst he assimilated Rick’s news. Sometimes a photographic memory can be useful and he had no difficulty remembering the words:
I was in Reno yesterday on a follow-up mission – nothing much to worry over, although I think the terrestrial crew are a little jumpy, which isn’t surprising given what happened – but I got listening to a conversation between one of the guys who was going off duty and his replacement while I was waiting for the ‘all clear’ to head back to base. They were talking about this nightclub, where a few of them hang out. He said he’d met a woman there, a woman who’d only recently turned up, a mid-westerner with short, blonde hair and green eyes. A young woman, he said.
Now, I know there must be thousands of women who’d match that description, but Paul said I should let you know anyway. This one was called Mandy and she was drinking tequila. The guy said he’d chatted to her for a while, bought her a few drinks and that he hoped he would see her again. He didn’t say much else.
The bar is called ‘Rick’s’ – that’s why I started listening to him, I guess. I’d have gone and checked it out, but the helijet arrived and I had to move on.
Anyway, after I mentioned it to Paul, he said it was worth mentioning, so I thought I’d pass it on, for what it’s worth.
You keeping okay, buddy? Hope we see you real soon,
Reno. He wondered how long she’d been there. He doubted very much that it wasn’t her – Rick must’ve believed it was, or he wouldn’t have mentioned his idea of checking the place out. No, this had to be the best lead he’d had so far: even the name – Mandy - was promising, and he knew he’d have to track the woman down. Although he’d spent countless hours imagining what might happen when he did find her, he still had considerable unease about what to expect from her: Karen Amanda, his dearly belovéd other half. And the location of this sighting didn’t bode well.
He stretched out a hand and grasped the phone from the bedside locker.
“I need to get a ticket for a flight to Reno,” he told the reception desk and waited until they patched him through to the airline. He chose a flight in four hours time and informed the hotel reception desk he’d be checking out, ordering a taxi to the airport.
There wasn’t much to pack; he was used to travelling light. He was downstairs forty minutes later and the taxi whisked him through the busy streets to the airport.
He travelled first class; always. There was room for his long legs as well as the privacy he’d grown to demand. He nodded silent thanks to the stewardess as she handed him his meal, but pushed the tray away some minutes later with most of it uneaten.
Reno. She couldn’t really mean to do anything that stupid? She’d done some foolish things in her time; goaded by self-doubt, driven by frustration or simply despairing of finding happiness, but she’d never mentioned divorce. He supported his head with his hand, resting his elbow on the armrest of the plane seat, and stared, with unseeing eyes, out of the window at the all-too-familiar cloudscape below the plane; letting his mind review the events of the past few years once more.
They had married in Boston, on the Saturday closest to his birthday; his fortieth birthday, to be precise. Karen had looked so amazingly beautiful, she’d taken his breath away. Her mother had cried; his mother had cried. His father had smiled – which was almost a miracle in itself. Paul and Dianne had been there and the colonel had given her away to him, walking her up to where the preacher stood waiting.
Paul’s after-dinner speech had been witty and surprisingly emotional for the upright English military man, ending with the obligatory reference to future off-spring and how to go about getting them.
Not that they’d needed instructions. They had a full and satisfying sex-life already – albeit a somewhat clandestine one.
On their honeymoon, she’d told him that she wanted to stop taking precautions, and that she wanted to have children – his children – as soon as possible. He’d agreed – experiencing what he’d found a surprising surge of emotion and… gratitude. He’d never thought about having children, as such – although in his private imaginings of a happy future, there had always seemed to be the unseen, yet comforting, presence of children. He’d always laughed dutifully when Paul or Rick – it was usually one of those two – had commented on liking children, but being ‘unable to eat a whole one’. Now there was a distinct possibility he’d have a child of his own – his and Karen’s - and the prospect enthralled him.
Colonel White had sent them to stay with Amanda Wainwright, to allow his surprise of new ‘married’ quarters, made from corner apartments on Cloudbase, to be constructed. They had spent an idyllic couple of weeks in Iowa and on the day before they were due to return, Karen had told him that she was pregnant.
Amanda had celebrated the news with them, already as excited by the prospect of a grandchild as she was by her own increasingly intense relationship with Charles Gray – Colonel White himself.
Back on Cloudbase they had been greeted by Paul and Dianne in their new quarters, and had swapped the news of their dearest friends’ intention to go ahead with their own marriage, with the news of their own future joy. Those weeks had been the happiest they’d ever known. Karen had taken on a radiance that was visible to all who saw her and she’d been fit to burst with excitement.
Not that even that idyll had been uneventful. A few days after their return, Doctor Fawn had asked Blue to go to see him, and had told him that Technician Lesley Saville was pregnant – and that the child was definitely his. Fawn was concerned about the health of both Lesley and her unborn child, as the father of the child was not him, exactly – was not Adam Svenson, Captain Blue of Spectrum - but his wayward, hedonistic clone who had been created by a machine produced by the Mysterons.
Nevertheless, he had felt responsible and sometimes, when he lay awake at night during the periodic bouts of insomnia that had punctuated his life since childhood, he could almost remember details of what had happened – how the clone Captain Scarlet had christened ‘Blue’ had sweet-talked himself into the hero-worshipping young technician’s bed.
He’d braced himself to tell Karen; but she’d taken the news far better than he’d expected, agreeing that he could hardly be held responsible for what ‘Blue’ had done. Karen had not liked ‘Blue’ much anyway and preferred not to dwell on the incidents that had led to their decision to marry even while they continued to serve in Spectrum.
A few days later a polite reminder came for her from Doctor Fawn to have a routine ante-natal check-up and she’d dutifully made an appointment. And, the week before Dianne and Paul were due to get married, she’d taken in the required samples and gone to see the Head of Spectrum Medical; happy and confident in the belief that she and her baby were doing fine.
He should’ve known something was wrong by the way she was when she came back; the light had gone from her eyes, the glow had dimmed in her complexion, yet, when he’d asked her if she was okay, she’d smiled, nodded emphatically and exerted herself to be as carefree as she had been so that he’d dismissed his fears. The next day she’d gone back to Medical and when he’d come back from his shift in the control room, he’d found her weeping on their bed, as if the world was about to end.
Fawn’s tests had confirmed what he’d told her he suspected yesterday – she was not pregnant. Rather bemused and let down himself, he’d tried to comfort her, and eventually he thought he’d succeeded, although they could both clearly recall the last time she’d believed herself pregnant, early on in their relationship, and how that had resolved itself into a false alarm. She had wept then, even though at that time she had not wanted a baby, and now she most emphatically did.
They’d attended the Metcalfe-Simms marriage and its attendant festivities, Karen struggling hard to be as happy and cheerful as the occasion demanded; although to the eyes of those who knew her well, it wasn’t difficult to see her underlying disappointment. They’d been invited to stay over with the Metcalfes after the wedding, and once they’d seen the happy couple off on the first leg of the honeymoon he’d organised for them, they’d joined Dianne and Paul’s parents and managed to laugh along with them at the fund of baby-stories and pictures Mary Metcalfe produced to entertain her guests. Finally, Karen had pleaded a blinding headache and excused herself to go to bed. As soon as he decently could, he’d followed her, finding her lying curled up in the bed, staring at the wall with a desperate sadness.
He’d made love to her – for the first time since she’d been to see Doctor Fawn - but there’d been a tension in her that night which had lasted until she experienced the numbing pain and sense of loss that accompanied a heavy monthly period. The removal of any lingering hopes had led to yet more tears, more misery. The pattern had been repeated for many months, until he was at his wits’ end how to help her out of the depression she’d slipped into.
In the meantime, the obviously pregnant Lesley Saville had chosen to transfer back to her native Cornwall and have her baby there amongst her family, and he had settled money on her, assuring her that he would support her and the child. He sensed that Lesley had hoped for more than mere financial security, but although he liked her well enough, there had never been room in his heart for more than one woman at a time – and Karen was the only woman he loved.
When Dianne Metcalfe had announced that she was pregnant and then Lesley Saville had given birth to a beautiful, golden-haired, healthy baby girl, Karen had withdrawn even further into a shell. By the time Dianne gave birth to her son – and they’d been asked to be the boy’s godparents by the Metcalfes - she’d started keeping charts, taking her temperature every day and demanding his presence at certain times, for the sole purpose of having sex. Unavoidable absences – on duty or on missions – resulted in tearful arguments that had seared his heart and shattered his patience almost as much as those emotionless and passionless bouts of love-making had. He’d been reduced to feeling like some creature at stud – valued only for his virility and not for himself.
If he hadn’t loved her so much, he’d have left.
Not that these exhausting encounters had produced the desired result. Karen would be on tenterhooks for a fortnight, followed by angry, frustrated weeping, until he could do nothing more than hold her against him – almost as exhausted as she. Then the charts would come out again and his heart would sink…
Finally he’d convinced her to go to see Fawn, to find out why things were not happening as they should. He offered to go too, but her scathing answer had been enough to tell him that her previous acceptance had dissolved and he might never be forgiven for the existence of little Freya Saville-Svenson.
Doctor Fawn had been consideration itself. The tests had been exhaustive, thorough and devastating. He’d asked to see them both and they’d arranged to go one morning, between shifts. He’d been surprised when Fawn had sought him out the evening before the appointment and taken him aside to apprise him of what to expect.
It was then, he thought, that the world had stopped and the entire weight of it had landed on him. Karen’s experience in the atomic power station at Culver – so many years ago – was responsible for their failure to conceive a child. The radiation Captain Black had subjected her to had left her infertile. There was no cure – no amount of trying would correct the fault – there would be no children.
He’d left the doctor, pausing only to call his thanks over his shoulder and, like a wounded animal, sought the dark loneliness of the remotest part of the base. He’d stayed there for some time, turning the truth over in his mind, summoning the courage to face it and the knowledge of what it would do to the woman he loved.
Eventually he’d walked back to the Promenade Deck, where Ochre was waiting for the latest of his lady friends. Rick’s cheerful banter had cheered him slightly and he’d managed to go back to their quarters before Karen came off duty. He’d held her in his arms, and she’d been happy to lie there, allowing him to make love to her with as much tenderness as he could summon. As they both relaxed into the trough of lethargy that followed, she’d turned to him, saying in a voice that was heavy with despair,
“It’s really bad news, isn’t it, Sky?”
He hadn’t the heart to bluster or pretend he didn’t understand and he’d told her the gist of what Fawn had said. She had not cried. She had not moved away from him, but he didn’t think she’d slept that night – he knew he hadn’t.
The tears had come when Fawn repeated his results and the harsh facts that condemned them to a barren marriage. He mentioned surrogacy, he mentioned adoption – and then her emotions had exploded; all the hurt and betrayal over Freya spilling out into a venomous attack on her husband.
After that Karen had slid further into depression, failing in her duties to Spectrum, spurning his attempts at reconciliation, rejecting any helpful advice. Doctor Fawn had finally told her to take a break and visit her mother.
She’d left for Iowa… and vanished.
He hadn’t believed Amanda when she’d called him, worried and bewildered as to where her daughter had gone. He’d been angry: Karen’s playing up - that’s all, he’d insisted, dismissing the worried questions Paul asked. He’d spent two days in denial and then, with panic setting in, he’d asked the colonel for extended leave. Charles Gray had already been pestered by Amanda Wainwright to find her daughter and he willingly gave his subordinate permission, seeing the anxiety in his officer’s normally composed expression.
He’d set out for Iowa immediately, and from there, using every skill he knew to trace her movements; he’d quartered the continent in his search….
He came back to the present with a start, when the stewardess asked him to belt-up as they were about to land, and he did so, turning his gaze out into the desiccating heat of the desert as they approached the city. From the airport he went to a hotel – a decent one, where they asked no questions and supplied what you needed when you needed it. He showered, shaved and ordered a sandwich from room service.
As night fell and the city lit up in a bright rainbow of neon colours, he started out for the bar.
Adam ordered a beer and chose a table with a view of the door. He had a newspaper with him and he read that for a while, glancing up at every newcomer. At first when the waitress brought him refills, she tried to engage him in conversation, suggesting he eat something. He was polite, but non-responsive and eventually she left him alone. He started on the crossword. Over the next few hours three provocatively-dressed young women - and one expertly made-up young man - approached him, only to be politely brushed-off. The newspaper was neatly folded and abandoned in a handy trash can on a stroll to the restroom. He nursed another beer and played chess against his pocket computer.
He was beginning to doubt she would come; it was late and he was tired, but his stubbornness wouldn’t let him leave – he’d see the place close.
He ordered a snack from the bar and had just finished eating when the door opened again and Karen walked in.
She’d cut her hair, it was layered into her neck, framing her face – a face that had lost its curves and was carefully painted with make-up that couldn’t quite hide the underlying strain. She was wearing a tight, short, halter-neck dress of pale green and high-heeled shoes. Over her arm was a white jacket.
She sat at the bar and ordered a drink. The barman obviously knew her and smiled a welcome.
He couldn’t go to her – he wanted to, but his legs wouldn’t respond to the commands his brain was issuing. He just watched, drinking in the sight of her and wondering what she would do when she saw him. She ordered a second drink and swivelled on her stool to scan the clientele. He ducked his head and sank back into the shadows.
When Adam looked up again she was talking to a man, smiling into his face as he leered over her, eyeing the breasts so temptingly displayed by the low-cut dress. Her laughter reached him as the man slid an arm around her and whispered into her ear. He felt the anger start to burn in him. That’s my wife you’re groping, you bastard!
The man planted a kiss on her cheek and, with a wink, walked away towards the gents. Galvanised by the incident, Adam sprang to his feet and crossed the bar to Karen, approaching from her blindside.
“May I buy you a drink, Karen?” he asked blandly enough. He saw her shoulders stiffen and her head turned slightly, so that she must’ve seen enough to confirm who it was speaking.
“What’re you doing here?” she hissed.
“Looking for my wife.”
“Go away, Adam.”
“Don’t you even care what torments you’ve put me and your mother through? If you didn’t care about me, you could’ve let Amanda know you were all right.”
“So she could have told you? I’m not stupid.”
“No, you’re far worse than that.”
Goaded, she turned to him. “Why are you here?” she snapped.
“To take you home, Karen.”
“I don’t want to go home.”
“Back to Iowa, then?” He spread his hands. “Anywhere but here.”
“I like it here.”
“I don’t believe you.”
He glanced angrily at the returning stranger, who was approaching them with a frown on his face. “This jerk bothering you, Mandy?” he asked belligerently.
Karen turned her head to meet her husband’s expressive eyes. “Yes,” she said, flinching at the pain she saw register in their smoky-blue depths.
“Sling your hook, buddy,” the man said, swaggering slightly. “The lady don’t like you.”
“The lady is my wife, and if I want to speak to her, I will.”
The stranger glanced at them both, and seeing familiarity in their body language towards each other, he quickly assessed the quality of his potential rival. He didn’t like the odds of being able to knock this guy aside; he was taller, broadly built and undoubtedly fit. He glanced at the woman, she was attractive, all right, but he could see her heart wasn’t in it and, from the way she was avoiding the man’s eyes, he sensed she felt herself to be in the wrong. He chose discretion rather than valour.
“Hey, I never get involved with no domestic quarrels. Mandy, you call me if you’re gonna be around.” He handed her a business card, but as Karen reached to take it, Adam dashed it from her hand.
The stranger backed off, and with a sigh she turned back to her husband. “You had no right to do that.”
“I want to talk to you,” he said, his barely restrained anger obvious in his voice, “and preferably not here.”
With an air of resigned indifference, Karen climbed down from her bar stool. The bartender moved across and Adam paid both tabs before leading her out of the bar and hailing a taxi to his hotel. The receptionist didn’t bat an eyelid as he claimed the key and followed Karen to the elevator, but he still felt an uncomfortable shiftiness, as if they were somehow behaving in a disreputable manner. Of course, the clothes she was wearing gave the impression that she might be … ‘no better than she should be’ – as his mother would have said. He could hardly bear the thought that she might’ve gone with that stranger, much as she was doing here, if he hadn’t interrupted.
Once in the suite of rooms, Karen threw her jacket onto the sofa and fixed herself a drink. He shook his head as she offered him one and she shrugged. “Please yourself, Adam.” She sat herself down on the sofa, holding the ice-cooled drink to her forehead. “What do you want to say?”
Suddenly he had no words. He went and knelt before her, sliding his arms around her, pressing his head against her breast. There was the longest pause, moments that dragged into an infinite moment of slow-time, before her hand came to rest on his hair and she sighed.
“I love you,” he murmured, his lips brushing her skin.
“And I love you; that’s our tragedy,” she replied. He raised his head. “Adam, you deserve a family – and a wife who will give you that. I’m no good for you.”
“I want you. Whatever we have with each other now, is more important to me than any potential future we can’t have. Karen, you have to believe me.”
“You think that – but you’d come to hate me.”
“I could never hate you.”
“When all our friends have families – when… Freya grows up and … and you come home to an empty house and just me – you’d hate me.”
He shook his head. “I want you,” he repeated.
“That’s no big deal… I’ll stay the night and you can get me out of your system, Adam. Then you’d be wise to sign the papers when they arrive – I told the lawyers to send them to Boston. I’ll have the six weeks’ residency in another ten days…”
“I will not agree to a divorce, Karen.” He let go of her and sank back onto his heels. “You are not serious?” he pleaded as his eyes studied her face; seeing the aching loneliness and misery that was etched into her gaunt face. She looked so vulnerable, empty and in need of tender, loving care, yet despite that, she gave a short nod. He dropped his gaze and shook his head. “No.”
She sighed. “It just takes longer and costs more if you won’t co-operate…but I can still do it, Adam.”
“You don’t want to do that; I know you don’t! Whatever you say, you love me and that’s all that should count.”
He sprang forward and pressed his lips to hers, supporting her as his hands travelled over her familiar, desirable curves. Slowly, her arms encircled his neck and she relaxed into his comforting embrace. It was so habitual to open herself to his caresses - to surrender to the licensed hands that were so attuned to her body’s preferences that they pleasured her without needing to be told what she wanted - that her instincts took over and she toppled back onto the sofa and he moved to stand, lifting her and carrying her to the more accommodating bedroom.
He laid her across the bed and Karen lay quiescent as he slowly unfastened her shoes and slid his authoritative hands up to her thigh, feeling the lacy tops of the stockings she was wearing and caressing the satin-smooth skin beyond them.
He removed his shoes and socks, then his shirt, before sitting beside her and unclasping the hook that held her halter neck fastened. He drew the fabric down, over her breast and belly, down over her hips and thighs, until he could drop it onto the floor.
She’s lost weight, he thought, automatically noticing the changes in the achingly beautiful body exposed to his gaze. He knew every line of her; every contour was imprinted on his memory, and yet the sight of her never failed to excite him as much as it had done the very first time he had seen her.
She moved slightly, opening her arms to him and he slipped into her embrace, kissing her face, the slender neck and the rounded curve of her breasts, his passion mounting with every encounter of his lips with her soft flesh. He raised his head and looked at her; the warm, sensual colour in her cheeks, the parted lips and half-closed eyes, the lashes fluttering gently with the increasingly urgent depth of her breathing. He pressed his lips to hers, feeling them part beneath his and welcoming the warmth of her tongue as it reached for his. His hands were busy, unhooking her bra, cupping, caressing the nipple.
She responded; her hand pressing against his groin and along the bulge of his erection. Then expertly undoing the button and zip on his trousers, she slid her hand inside. He helped her push the garment down, kicking it away as it slid to the floor. He shifted slightly, and she squirmed higher onto the bed as he dropped his boxer shorts and lay down beside her.
Familiarity with each other’s body had never bred complacency in them; each encounter was like a voyage of discovery and each sensation had the impact of the first. Tonight she was submissive, but often it was she who took the lead, guiding them both to new experiences. He’d never objected to anything she’d suggested and they had both taken pleasure in experimenting. He preferred to remember those occasions, rather than the joyless coupling dictated by the pitiless rhythms of her body and her yearning to conceive. Now, as he wooed her again, he tried gently to put those destructive encounters behind them, and sought to give her every satisfaction, using all the knowledge he’d acquired through the long years of their love affair to pleasure and delight her.
In the somnolent quiet that followed the triumphant climax of their passion, he felt sure he had won her back. She’d met his ardour with enthusiasm, giving and receiving love as if the past few months had never taken place. He felt sure that she’d accepted his reassurances and rediscovered within herself the pleasure of making love purely for its own sake. She snuggled against him, her body relaxing against his, her hand in his. He closed his eyes and allowed much needed sleep to claim him.
What woke him he wasn’t sure: a coldness, a sense of loss? He opened his eyes quickly to witness Karen dressing again.
He sat up in bed.
“Karen? Where are you going, älskling?”
She turned, startled by the sound of his voice. “I told you, Adam; I’d stay the night and let you get me out of your system. It’s past dawn… I should be going.”
“And I told you, I don’t want you to go. Karen, please… come back to Boston, let’s talk this over. We can work it out, we always have before.”
“And why have we? We thought we had a future, we thought there was something worth saving. Now, I’m not sure.”
“Bullshit.” His vehemence surprised her. “We have what we’ve always had…”
“No Adam, you have what you always had: your health, your virility, your daughter. I have nothing but an empty, barren life to look forward to.”
“Karen… is that all that was worth having in the future you imagined for us? And as it is no longer a possibility, does that make everything about our future worthless?”
“I don’t know. I only know that I have lost something that was important to me…something imperative to my own happiness. I can’t explain it, Adam; maybe it’s purely a biological need, the insistence of a body that can’t accept it can’t have what it demands.”
“Come back home. Please, Karen. You owe me and your mother that much. Running away won’t solve anything and it isn’t like you to walk away from a problem, älskling. If we can’t solve this together, then that’s the time to walk away from the past and draw a line under our relationship. Karen…?”
“You don’t understand – how could you? You have your daughter, but I’m outside, looking in on a world where everyone is happy – and I can’t go there. I made one mistake; I tried to capture Captain Black and was captured myself. You were surprised the Mysterons never killed me there and then in Culver, and I’m wishing they had, for what they chose to do to me has condemned me to an empty existence.”
“It is not empty – you have me and your mother… all your friends -”
“- and their children… say it, Adam!”
“There is more to life -”
“Not for me.”
“Very well then; go, if you really want to. I can’t reason with you when you are like this.” He pulled the sheets around him and said with a quiet resignation, “I’ve asked you to reconsider; I’ve done my best to prove to you that I love you as much as I ever did – and that I always will. All I can say is, if you ever need a hand, if it ever gets to be too much; I’m here and I always will be. The unlucky circumstance that dashed your dreams to pieces can’t change the love I have for you; it is all that it ever was - and it will always be the mainstay of my life. I can’t, and I won’t, let you get a quickie divorce, and believe me, I will fetch the entire legal powerhouse of my father’s company - and every damn lawyer that ever owed him a favour - down on you, if you so much as try to go against my wishes.” He saw her alarmed expression and gave a hollow laugh. “Oh yes, I can be as unreasonable and as ruthless as you and he put together. Until you have tried to make this work, Karen, you will not walk away from it easily.”
“It won’t make any difference; can’t you see that?”
“Then, come back with me, Karen. Prove to me this isn’t a viable relationship anymore. Then I’ll sign any papers you want; pension you off, if that is what you want. Marry one of the giggling socialites my mom always wanted me to and have a half-a-dozen kids – just to spite you! But I won’t give up on this until we’ve tried everything. The choice is yours.”
“You really want to make me hate you, don’t you?”
“Hate would be better than this - offhand indifference. Besides, I don’t think you could ever really hate me – any more than I can hate you. Face it, Karen, we may not be destined to be the happiest couple alive, but without each other, we’re both going to be a hell of a lot more miserable.”
“Why are you doing this, Adam? Why prolong the agony?” She sat on the bed and ran a hand through her short hair, turning to glance at him as a slow smile tugged at his wide mouth and the laughter-lines crinkled at the corner of his pale eyes.
“Well, you know what they say, ‘there’s a keeper for every flame’ and I guess I’m the keeper for this one…”
“Just pray this one doesn’t burn you…” Karen said with an air of resignation. “It’s such poor odds, Adam, you’re mad to even try.”
“Well, I never could resist a long-shot…” He lay back on the pillows with a decidedly smug smile. He knew he’d won this round, even if he hadn’t won the argument.
Karen shook her head. “I have tried to be honest with you, Adam; so don’t ever accuse me of going back with you under false pretences. You know I can’t fight you – not you and the might of the Svenson money, anyway. I can’t help it if you choose to imagine you understand me better than I do myself. But, I guess, like all your family, you’re used to getting your own way. So, okay; if you are prepared to take me back, knowing what you do about how I feel, we’ll do it your way – for now – but I’m warning you, this isn’t over.”
With slow, intentionally provocative movements, she stripped off and slid between the sheets.
“I know I can make you happy, Karen,” he insisted, wrapping her in his arms once more.
She closed her eyes at the touch of his lips on the nape of her neck. “If you can’t – then no one can,” she replied sadly.
Spectrum Technician: Grade 2, L.G. Saville signed off her workstation and gathered her coat and handbag. She walked down the corridor to the reception desk. Waving goodbye to her colleagues on security duty, she stepped out into the frosty air and shivered. Her car was some way across the car park and she walked as fast as she dared on the hoar-covered ground; the indicators winked fluorescent-orange in response to her electronic key and she heard the locks snap back. Once inside the car, she turned the heating onto maximum and flicked the radio on, before driving to the barrier and exiting the car park.
It was a familiar drive away from the bright lights of the tracking station, through the high-hedged lanes to the main road, and Lesley Saville drove on automatic, slowing down for the nasty bend and the blind corner, without a second thought. Her mind was preoccupied with the email she’d received that afternoon – the personal email, through the Spectrum Grapevine – and she was still trying to assess her response to it.
It had been from Major Blue on Cloudbase. That wasn’t unusual – Major Blue routinely posted instructions and directives to all terrestrial staff, as did the other colour captains concerned with administrative oversights – but this was a different kind of email.
She had worked on Cloudbase for a few years before the birth of her daughter, and she knew the colour captains fairly well. Captain Blue – as he was then – had been her favourite: tall, extraordinarily good-looking, charming - Lesley sighed – and so damned approachable. Of course, you quickly realised that you only approached him at your own peril – Symphony Angel had her hooks into him good and proper and she wasn’t the sharing type – but Blue was a honey, nevertheless. She’d got to know him better than most of the other colour captains, because he was interested in all aspects of aviation and, consequently, would sometimes choose to spend his free time working with repair and maintenance details. His field partner, Captain Scarlet, would often wander down to the hangar decks to ‘rescue’ him from what he called ‘tinkering with engines’ and it was good to see the easy-going camaraderie between two such disparate men. It was obvious that the Englishman couldn’t quite understand why his, normally so well-groomed, friend enjoyed getting grimy and he kidded the American that he was only out to impress the girls. Blue would laugh it off – seemingly unaware that that was exactly what he was doing…
On one particular day, she’d heard the rumours that something had happened to him – something amazing, even by the standards of The Mysterons - and when she’d bumped into him in the corridor leading from the Amber Room, she’d seen a rapidly darkening bruise on his face and expressed her hope that the incidents in Prague that everyone was talking about had not caused him serious harm.
He had smiled at her – a smile like none she’d ever seen from him before and one that had started her heart thumping and sent the colour flooding into her cheeks. He’d begun chatting to her, been friendly, attentive, seductive… and before she’d known what was happening, they were in her quarters and he was getting ever more friendly… She hadn’t stopped to think – hadn’t wanted to think - her whole being was swamped by the sensations this man was creating within her.
In the aftermath of an energetic bout of sex - and you couldn’t call it ‘love-making’ by any stretch of the imagination, Lesley acknowledged that to herself, at least, yet what her partner had lacked in finesse, he’d certainly made up for in enthusiasm… and stamina - they’d been woken by furious thumping on her door. Robbie Tucker – the Engineering Technician she’d been dating, on and off, for the past few months - had over-ridden the keypad coding and swaggered in, belligerent and offensive at the sight of them naked in her bed. She’d scrambled upright, pulling the sheets around her, but Blue had slipped from the divan and stood there – towering over Robbie by a good six inches. Rob had taken a swing at the American and missed, as Blue sidestepped and pounded his fist into Rob’s face, with an almost casual sweep of his arm.
There’d been blood everywhere – Rob was very prone to nosebleeds.
Blue had casually pulled some clothes on, apparently unfazed by the incident, but, the kafuffle had attracted the attention of the neighbours and the Military Police had arrested all three of them, allowing her time to dress before they’d marched them all down to the brig, where the duty officer – an embarrassed Lieutenant Cerise – had booked them all on charges of misconduct, adding GBH to Blue’s charge sheet, for good measure.
The truth behind what had happened – that Captain Blue had been cloned by a Mysteron machine and that she had succumbed to the charms of the totally amoral and completely self-indulgent clone – had only been revealed to her gradually. She could remember to this day the way her face had flamed as the colonel had explained what had happened to his officer, and dismissed the charges against her and Rob.
It was nothing to the way she had squirmed the first time she’d met the ‘restored’ Captain Blue again. He’d been apologetic, casually friendly, but there was a slight reserve towards her that she’d never noticed before. He thought her easy – no doubt. Symphony Angel, standing possessively at his side, had been frostily unfriendly. It was soon after that day - when the news that Symphony and Blue were to be married had reached her through the canteen gossip - that she’d started to feel queasy.
Finally her friend, Technician Mary Dawes, had dragged her to the sickbay and Doctor Fawn had checked her over. He’d pursed his lips and repeated a test or two and then sat down opposite her. She’d been scared rigid, imagining he had news of some terrible illness.
“Lesley,” he’d said kindly, “do you know you are pregnant?“
Then everything had changed: it was the blood test Doctor Fawn had insisted on that proved conclusively that the father of her baby was none other than the recently married Captain Blue, or rather, the now departed clone of the recently married Captain Blue. Once she had decided to keep the baby, Fawn had monitored her every move, concerned that the foetus might suffer from being fathered by a clone, but the child had flourished.
She’d grown rounder and rosier with each week, until her condition was obvious to everyone.
Doctor Fawn had mediated a meeting between Captain Blue and her, in which he had promised he would support her and the child, whatever she decided to do. She knew, through the omniscient grapevine, that Symphony was giving him a hard time over her pregnancy and she felt some sympathy for him. He hadn’t asked for this and it was a disastrous way to start off his marriage.
As her pregnancy advanced, she made arrangements to go home – back to the windy cliffs of north Cornwall where she’d grown up. Her mother and father, although a little disappointed that she was coming home without a husband, agreed to give her a room in their house and to help her look after the baby. Colonel White had had to introduce maternity leave for his staff – theoretically, it had always been on the books, but it had never had such a public application before.
It had been Captain Blue who had flown her down to Bristol and driven her home in a hired car. It was probably the longest period they’d ever spent together and, after a little initial embarrassment, they had discovered they had enough mutual interest to keep a conversation going and by the time he pulled up at the farmhouse nestling in the hollow close to the cliff path, they were chatting like old friends.
Blue was suitably deferential towards her parents but he wisely declined their invitation to stay the night. Before he left, she walked with him to the cliff-edge, so he could stretch his legs before the long drive back. They stood side-by-side, gazing at the sweeping view from the vertiginous cliffs, the vast rolling ocean of grey-blue water – water that changed and mutated colour with every gust of the offshore breeze. The seabirds wheeled beneath them, their piercing, mournful cries the only sound except for the pounding waves.
Then he’d asked her what she intended to do - if she was planning to remain living with her parents. She told him Colonel White had promised her a job at the Cornish tracking station, high on Bodmin Moor, so that she might continue to work, and that her family would help with childcare and, in the course of the conversation, she’d told him of her lifelong ambition to own the house that dominated the cliff tops some miles away. He’d listened and promised to keep in touch and – more importantly - to come to see her once the child was born.
As she watched him drive away, she’d felt an icy fear settle on her heart – she was alone now, in a way she’d never experienced before.
She was a spring baby, born when the daffodils were in full bloom and the weather was veering from deceptively balmy days to howling gales. The labour had been normal – in so far as anything that had you screaming your head off and pleading to be allowed to die, could be called normal. They’d asked her if she wanted the baby placed on her body when it was born and she’d glared at them with such ferocity they’d wondered why she’d even decided to keep the child. With no husband in attendance and only her mother close by, the experienced midwives supposed the child would go for adoption.
But, when they finally placed the baby in her arms, a tiny, red-faced bundle, fair-haired and long boned, Lesley’d known she could never part with her.
Busily filling in the paperwork, they’d asked for a name – and, on the spur of the moment, she’d told them: Freya Evelyn Saville Svenson. Later she’d wondered where the inspiration had come from, they were not the names she’d been considering, and she’d not thought to ask Captain Blue’s opinion on the matter. Her only thoughts were that it was a Friday - Freya’s Day, in the old, Norse legends - and Evelyn echoed her father’s name – for which she didn’t think there was a female equivalent - and then the two family names… Besides, something as fair as her daughter needed a name redolent of her Scandinavian ancestry.
Before baby Freya was a week old, Captain Blue had come to visit and he brought a tall, fair-haired woman with him: his mother. Sarah Svenson had cradled Freya as if she were a living miracle, cooing over the child and telling Blue how like him she was. Until Freya opened her eyes, that was, because however much of a Svenson this baby looked, she’d never be all Svenson, for she had the brown eyes of her mother.
Before they left, after spending three days in the area, Captain Blue had handed her a document wallet and inside were the deeds to the house on the cliff-top. Made out in her name and all paid for.
She’d stared at him in astonishment. He’d coloured slightly and the words he’d spoken had made her cry: you’ve given me something far more precious.
The car drew up outside the house and Lesley killed the engine. There was a light on in the lounge and she saw Freya watching the car arrive through the picture window and smiled.
It was good to be home.
Freya was excited and it wasn’t surprising she wasn’t asleep. She ran to her mother, and threw herself against her, babbling in her enthusiasm. Lesley swept her up into her arms and smiled at her mother over her daughter’s fair head.
“You should be in bed,” she chided, but not crossly. “Have you been playing Granny up?”
“No, I was in bed -I was, Mummy – but Rosie-bear wanted a drink and Granny said you were due home, so we could wait for you and I was watching and I saw the headlights coming before Granny did – and before Rosie-bear.” She lifted the much-loved, somewhat threadbare teddy to her mother’s lips for the obligatory kiss. Lesley obliged.
“Well, okay then, but off you go now and let me have my supper. I need to talk to Granny, and Granddad will be here to collect her soon.”
“Come and tuck me in?” Freya pleaded.
While Lesley was settling the child down, her mother prepared her meal for her, warming the home-cooked food in the microwave, and then sat down opposite, as her daughter ate the plate of beef casserole and rice.
“What did you need to speak to me about?” Mrs Saville asked. “We’ve got a while yet – your father rang to say he’s been delayed by a flat tyre. Or was that just a ploy to get littl’un into her bed?”
Lesley sipped the strong red wine she’d poured for herself and then said, “No, I do need to talk to you. I had an email today – from Adam; he wants to know if he can come and see Freya over Christmas. He says he has leave from Christmas Eve till the day after Boxing Day, and he’d like to see her. She, of course, would be over the moon if he came for a couple of days – he was hardly here more than an hour or two last year.” She remembered her astonishment when a helicopter, in the yellow and blue livery of the SvenCorp company, had landed in the nearby field and Adam had run into the house, loaded down with presents. He was spending Christmas in Winchester with friends, he explained and he couldn’t be this close without ‘dropping in’ – but he couldn’t stay. It had taken her hours to get Freya to stop crying when, after three hectic hours, he reluctantly left them.
“What’s the problem then? I know you were planning to come over to us for Christmas dinner – but he can come too – another mouth to feed won’t make any odds, Lesley.”
“Thanks, Mum – the problem is – I’ve checked at Trelawney’s and they’re fully booked – he’ll have nowhere to stay.”
“Trelawney’s was booked up months ago – their Christmas special this year is good value.” Mrs Saville looked at her youngest daughter thoughtfully. “He could stay with us at the farmhouse, I suppose. We can squash him in, I daresay.”
“But you’ve got Josh, Sue and the kids coming down and Peggy and Roy’ll be over with their brood too, and I expect they’ll want to stop over. You can’t ask Adam to sleep on the sofa, Mum.”
“He’ll have to take his chances, like everyone else – won’t he?”
“I thought about saying he could stay here,” Lesley said, with a sly glance at her mother. Adam Svenson had made a point of never staying overnight at the house on his irregular visits, but this time he’d have few options.
“Well, that’s up to you, Lesley – and him - of course. From what you’ve told me about his wife, she wouldn’t like it, for a start.”
“Mary Dawes told me they’ve separated again. Apparently, they tried a reconciliation after she left him the first time but it hasn’t worked out for them. She’s gone to teach at one of Spectrum’s training facilities.”
Mrs Saville stared at her daughter until Lesley looked away, her cheeks flaming with embarrassment.
“That’s as maybe – but don’t you go getting your hopes up, my girl. He’s a married man, however separated he might be.”
“I’m not stupid, Mum – I just thought he might like a little time to relax in a proper home, over Christmas.”
“You’ll be staying here over Christmas, then - with the two of them - Freya and Adam? After all, even if it can’t be considered that ‘His Excellency’ might sleep on a sofa, there’s nothing stopping you from doing that, is there?”
“I can’t expect him to stay here with her and do all the cooking and so on… he’ll need a break. I’ll see what he thinks is best; after all, it’s always such a madhouse at the farm on Christmas Day, it’d be better if it were just the three of us. And Freya would love to see him, Mum, you know that… besides, he ought to get the chance to spend as much quality time with her as much as he can.”
“Lesley Saville, you’re as transparent as them windows… “
“Well, he’s asked me – I’m only trying to be friendly - for Freya’s sake.”
“Hmm. What’ll Simon say about it?”
“Nothing, if he knows what’s good for him! It’s not Simon Tregonning’s business what I do, or with whom.”
“Just remember: a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, my girl. Simon’s gonna be here beyond Boxing Day – your fancy American won’t.”
“He’s not ‘my fancy American’,” Lesley snapped, but her mother caught the undertone of helplessness in her daughter’s voice.
“Not through lack of trying…” she commented dryly. “He’s a nice enough man, Lesley; I give you that and the littl’un’s a stunner. But he’s not for you, my girl.” She glanced out of the windows and stood to get her coat. “There’s the headlights; your dad’s here. Sleep on it, Lesley – don’t do anything foolish.”
“I used up my entire quota for foolishness five years ago,” her daughter said sadly.
The school gym hall was seething with people. Around the edges were tables, with teachers holding court for the parents of their pupils, while the pupils themselves, unusually quiet, sat alongside.
A tall, rather prim woman entered the hall, a lanky, dark-haired boy following reluctantly a few paces behind. She consulted her list and moved purposefully across to the first table. Several minutes later, she and the youth took their place in front of the grey-haired, bespectacled teacher.
“Good evening, Miss Topping,” he said, with a courteous nod of his head and then turning to the youth he gave a wry grimace. “Ricky,” he added in acknowledgment.
“Mr Garcia.” Eleanor Topping knew many of the teachers well. Her sister, Ricky’s mother, had taught here before her untimely death, and the school took a friendly interest in her orphaned child when he went to live with his maiden aunt. “What have you to tell me this semester?”
Miguel Garcia pulled a reluctant face. “What can I say that you won’t already know, Miss Topping? Ricky has a good brain, if he’d only apply it – but you know yourself – his mind’s always someplace else. He doesn’t try; what’s worse, he doesn’t even pretend to try.”
“Oh, Richard,” Eleanor sighed, “you promised me you’d make an effort.”
The youth flushed angrily. “I do, Aunt Ellie – but no one here cares about what I want to do.”
“Ricky, that just isn’t true,” Mr Garcia said reasonably enough. “We have given him every opportunity, Miss Topping, but he won’t follow instructions. He does just enough – all the time.”
“I’m going to be a cop, like my dad was. I don’t need all this book-learning.”
“You will never be as good a policeman as your father was, Richard, if you don’t study. In fact, you won’t even get into the police force if you don’t have the qualifications,” his aunt reasoned.
The boy jumped from his chair and glared angrily at the adults. “I’m not staying to listen to all this nagging again! I’m going home!”
“Richard!” his aunt reprimanded him, but the boy was already running through the crowd, out into the Chicago evening. She turned and smiled apologetically at the teacher. “I’m sorry, Miguel, he’s got to be so volatile of late. He needs a man’s hand; I’ve done all I can with him.”
“I’m sure we all know the time and effort you’ve put in on the boy, Ellie; and Ricky is basically a good kid. He’s just at that awkward age – neither a man nor a boy – and confused about where he fits into the scheme of things.” He sighed and added, “I suspect he might surprise us all yet; he has Alie’s blood in him, after all – as much as his father’s – and he can do so much better than he is doing.”
Eleanor heaved a deep sigh and nodded. “I hope you’re right, Miguel. That boy’s had a tough enough time of it so far, without failing at his schoolwork as well. He has his heart set on being a cop, and if it is what he wants, there’s nothing I can do to change it; but he still has to work at it and get his qualifications – they won’t care who his father was when it comes to getting a decent job on the force. And he doesn’t seem to realise, I’m not always going to be there to pick up the pieces for him.”
Ricky ran through the schoolyard and out into the street. He stopped running and pulled the hood up over his wavy, brown hair as soon as he realised he wasn’t being followed, and slouched along, kicking at pebbles and trash and not really looking where he was going.
Aunt Ellie is such a worrier, he thought angrily. Schoolwork isn’t everything, and besides, it’s all so boring. I’ll pass their wretched exams without a doubt – but I don’t see why I should have to waste my time listening to the stupid teachers every day. When I’m old enough, I’m gonna enrol in the police force – I’m gonna be a detective – just like my dad was – and as good as my dad was! He didn’t have a heap of qualifications, yet he made it to Assistant World Police Commissioner. Like father like son; Richard Fraser and Richard Fraser Topping: Crime-busters!
He wandered along for some time, and realised that he’d taken the wrong turn and ended up at the mall. He grinned. Left to their own devices, his feet always brought him here. He jingled the loose change in his jacket – enough for a burger and shake and then I’ll make my way back, via the video game arcade, before Aunt Ellie gets too mad at me. She isn’t a bad old stick – in fact she’s the only ‘mother’ I really remember – the one adult who’s always been there for me. I owe her a lot and I’m… fond of her; very fond of her… oh, all right then – I love her – but I’m never going to admit it.
He ignored the brightly-lit, gaudily-decorated shops, grimacing at the seasonal musak that competed for his attention from every shop front and headed for the fast-food outlet. The burger eased the vague hunger pangs he had, and he was still sucking the thick shake up through the straw as he wandered towards the video arcade. His allowance wasn’t that generous and he wouldn’t have much money to waste on this entertainment, but there might be a few of his pals hanging out there – unless they’d all been dragged to the school to listen to the teachers droning on, of course.
Ricky was good at video games. He topped the ‘highest scores’ charts on most of the machines he played. His hand-eye coordination was good enough for the school coaches to mutter about ‘sports scholarships’ and trials for major league clubs – but he wasn’t interested. Ever since he’d been a kid, he had set his heart on emulating his late father and becoming a policeman. Some of his friends tried to talk him out of it – the police were not popular with the crowd he ran with, and for once they were in agreement with his Aunt Ellie - she was against it too - but nothing anyone said could dent his ambition. Aunt Ellie was only opposed to it because it had got his father killed at an early age – assassinated by some low-life gangsters afraid he was about to close their operations down, Ricky guessed.
The video arcade was virtually empty, but he spent some time racking up another winning score, before deciding it was too boring without his usual crowd of admiring cronies watching. He strolled out into the mall and glancing at the clock, knew it was time to be going home and facing Aunt Ellie’s wrath. With luck, it’d be too late for her to say much tonight; she was always strict about his going to bed at what she called ‘a reasonable hour’, and Ricky called ‘unfair’.
He was striding down the main street, looking to cut across a few blocks and avoid the school, when he heard the roar of approaching engines. He stopped and turned; he watched every police chase he could. In the orange glow of the overhead streetlights, he could see a black sedan racing towards him; some punk leaning from the window was firing at the chasing vehicle. As the sedan swerved to avoid a parked truck, Ricky saw the car in pursuit race into a pool of light - It wasn’t a familiar police vehicle, but the far more rarely spotted Spectrum Saloon Car.
“Oh yeah…” he breathed and clambered up onto a low wall, for a better view of the sleek, red vehicle. This was better than any police chase.
The black sedan was getting closer when the SSC returned fire. With flames pouring from its exhaust, the sedan veered out of control and crashed into a lamp post, knocking the light onto a stationary vehicle and starting the car alarm wailing.
The driver of the sedan scrambled from his vehicle as the SSC drew up and two uniformed Spectrum Officers leaped out, ready to give chase.
The second man from the sedan had only staggered a few paces before a Spectrum agent in dark blue managed to grab him. The driver turned and fired shots at the pursuing agent – a dark-haired man in vivid red – and then raced on towards Ricky.
Without hesitation, Ricky threw himself into the man’s path as he neared the wall, causing him to stumble and fall, bringing the boy down with him. The impact winded him slightly and before he could get to his feet again, Ricky found himself grabbed in powerful arms and held against the man’s chest, a gun pressed threateningly at his neck, right under his chin, as he dragged himself upright.
“Watch it, Scarlet,” the miscreant shouted, as the Spectrum agent’s chase stuttered to a halt. “Come another step closer and this kid gets it!”
“Let him go, McKinley; you don’t think we’re going to let you get away with this, do you?”
The man barely sounded out of breath, and, Ricky noted with interest, his accent was an English one – albeit like his Aunt Ellie’s and tinged by years of conversing with Americans.
“Spectrum won’t risk the boy’s life… you don’t have a choice, Earthman.”
“No?” the man called Scarlet said, raising a dark eyebrow. “I might have to disagree with you there…”
Ricky heard the crackle of a weapon’s discharge behind him and felt McKinley stiffen and loosen his grip. He broke free and ran towards the Spectrum agent.
“Get out of the way, kid,” Scarlet urged and stepped between McKinley and the boy, as the latter, with his final malevolent breath, fired his gun. The bullet buried itself in Scarlet’s groin, making him gasp and sink to his knees. Ricky hastened to catch him as he toppled forward, panting in agony. As Ricky’s arms tightened around him, Scarlet gripped compulsively at the lad’s arm.
Ricky looked up to see who had shot McKinley, and saw a previously unnoticed Spectrum agent. Dressed in a pale-blue tunic, the tall, blond-haired man strode from the shadows carrying an unusual, red-barrelled weapon. He paused long enough to shoot McKinley with it again as he passed by, and Ricky smelt the singing of hair and flesh as an electric bolt went into the man’s chest. Then he walked over to where Scarlet was rapidly losing consciousness.
“I think he’s dying,” Ricky said, his fearful eyes pleading with the officer to say it was not so. “He took the bullet meant for me…”
“Major Scarlet’s made of sterner stuff. Don’t worry, sonny, the medics on Cloudbase will pull him through.”
The blue-uniformed officer spoke into a cap mic that swung down from his peaked cap. “Major Blue to Cloudbase; send a medi-jet to our present location immediately. Major Scarlet’s hurt – condition…” he paused and cast a sad glance at his companion, “condition, soon to be red…” he informed them.
He bent down and laid a hand on the stricken officer’s shoulder. Scarlet’s eyes flickered open, clouded with pain. “Hang in there, Paul, the medi-jet’s on its way, buddy.”
“S.I.G,” Scarlet muttered through gritted teeth. He gazed up at the youth still supporting him. “You okay, kid?” Ricky nodded. Scarlet managed a shaky, but nevertheless friendly smile, before he closed his eyes and his head lolled back against Ricky’s chest.
“Is he…” Ricky gasped.
“No, he’s just unconscious,” Blue reassured him. “You were a brave kid – but that was a somewhat risky thing to do. Those men were desperate and, as you saw, prepared to stop at nothing.”
“I never thought… I was just trying to help,” Ricky gabbled. “You see, my dad was a cop… I’m gonna be one too.”
“That’s good; just make sure you don’t try to be too heroic before you get to be one, huh?” Ricky blushed. “What’s your name, kid?”
“Ricky. I mean, Richard Fraser Topping, sir.”
Major Blue took a second glance at the boy. The vaguest idea floated into his mind as he took in the bright, brown eyes, the unruly chestnut hair and the high-bridged nose. No… It’s just a coincidence… he thought, but even as the idea began to take hold, his contemplation was cut short by the arrival of the third officer, demanding his attention. He turned his sharp eyes away from Ricky to glance up at the newcomer. “Yes, Captain Smalt?”
Ricky stared at the young woman with astonishment – he’d never imagined a woman could be a Spectrum Captain. She gave him a quick smile. “The other…man in the car is secured, Major. He’s … certainly one of… them, so I don’t know how long we’ll have to interrogate him.”
Major Blue sighed and stood up; he was taller than the woman by several inches. “I guess we’d better see what he can tell us. “ He glanced down at Ricky. “Would you do me a favour, Ricky? Stay with Major Scarlet, until the medi-jet arrives, I don’t like to leave him…but…”
“You got it, Major, sir.” Ricky answered fervently.
“Sir, is that wise?” Captain Smalt asked quietly.
“As I see it – wisdom has very little to do with it,” Blue replied. “We have a job to do and I need you with me, but I’m not prepared to leave Scarlet on his own. If you think differently, Captain, you can report me to the C-in-C… when we get back to Cloudbase.”
“S.I.G, sir… I mean, no, sir,” she stammered.
Major Blue turned on his heel and strode back towards the Spectrum vehicle without another word.
The young woman rolled her eyes at Ricky and he gave a conspiratorial smile in response as she hurried after her commander back towards the SSC. Ricky gazed after them and shifted slightly so that he could get more comfortable and support Scarlet’s head better. In the distance he could hear the wail of approaching police sirens – and the slightly lower pitch of an ambulance. He glanced down at the man in his arms and hoped they’d get him to safety in time.
Now that the excitement was over, Ricky was starting to shake slightly and feel cold. He was too young to recognise the onset of shock, and he huddled down into his fleece and hugged Scarlet a little tighter. He wasn’t dressed for the intense cold, having ridden to the school in their ancient car and now it was beginning to seep into his bones.
The first police car to arrive disgorged four officers, who raced across to the sedan, and then back to the SSC in some confusion. Ricky watched as Major Blue explained peremptorily that this was a Spectrum crime scene and they had no jurisdiction over it, and then Captain Smalt ushered the men away from the scene without listening to their protests.
The ambulance arrived, followed closely by a transporter from Spectrum: Chicago, and the far more usually seen charcoal-coloured uniformed agents spilled out and began scouring the area.
“Looking for clues,” Ricky muttered to Scarlet.
Some of the Spectrum agents intercepted the paramedics running towards the group on the sidewalk and a heated argument broke out.
Ricky glanced up as Major Blue came to a halt beside them.
“Damn!” the major muttered and then turned to yell angrily, “Captain Smalt! Sergeant Edwards! Get these civilians out of here – NOW! And that includes the paramedics – Spectrum will deal with everything!” He turned back to Ricky and his colleague, the anger in his face being replaced by concern. “How’re you doing, Ricky?”
“Fine, sir. Major Scarlet… well, I think he’s fine too…”
Blue heard the tremor in the lad’s voice and crouched beside him. He saw the slightly feverish glint in the brown eyes and saw the slight shiver. He placed a hand on his shoulder. “You’re doing great,” he said kindly. “Not long now.”
Ricky gave a shaky smile and nodded. Blue stood up and bellowed, “Sergeant Edwards, get this kid a blanket! Do I have to think of everything?” Then his attention was demanded by a ground officer, whose stammered report he cut short, striding back to the car, snapping out orders as he went. Ricky watched him. I bet my dad coulda been a Spectrum officer like that… he’d’ve probably been a major too… or a general… maybe I should be a Spectrum Officer? Get to ride in some flash cars… God, I’m so cold… Aunt Ellie’s gonna be mad at me if I catch cold… who’m I kidding - she’s gonna go ballistic at me anyway…
The medi-jet landed as close to the incident as it could and the four paramedics raced across to where Ricky sat cradling Major Scarlet. Three of them lifted the comatose major onto a gurney and wheeled him away, while the other man, seeing the frightened kid so obviously suffering from shock and with no one around to ask for orders, swept Ricky up and into the medi-jet too.
By the time Major Blue realised they had taken both individuals, the medi-jet was long gone…
The medical team on Cloudbase swept into action with practised efficiency as the medi-jet landed. Nurses raced to prepare the recovery room, while Doctor Tan gave peremptory orders to the orderlies.
The paramedics rushed the gurney straight into the recovery room and the elite ‘Alpha’ team of medical staff hurried to assist with the care of Major Scarlet.
Doctor Fawn wandered out of his office; he had no doubt Tan and his team would be able to care for Major Scarlet without his help, but he liked to keep an eye on things, just the same. He was ambling towards the recovery room, as the last paramedic carried Ricky into the ward.
“Who have we here?” Fawn asked, intrigued. He glanced at the boy and waved the man to a nearby bed, whisking the pillows away as Ricky was laid on top of the blankets.
“He was with Major Scarlet, Doctor,” the paramedic explained. ”I don’t think he’s hurt, as such, but he’s in shock. Major Blue had sent the civilian ambulance away and I couldn’t leave the poor kid sitting on the Chicago sidewalk, could I?”
“Absolutely not,” Fawn agreed. He stood by the bed and reached to take Ricky’s pulse. The youth opened his eyes and stared around him with some trepidation. “It’s okay, sonny, you’re in a Spectrum facility. We’ll patch you up and let your folks know you’re okay. My name is Doctor Fawn – what’s yours?”
“Where’s Major Scarlet?” Ricky asked. “He’s been shot.”
“He’s being looked after by my colleagues; he’s going to be fine…?”
“Ricky – Ricky Topping.” He looked around him. “Where’s the other two – Major Blue and the lady captain?”
“They still had things to take care of. I’m sure they’ll stop by and see you when they arrive here. Now suppose you tell me what happened, Ricky?”
Ricky frowned in concentration; the recent events all seemed to have faded in a miasma of confusion already, but he wanted to tell the doctor all he could remember – it might be important for the care for Major Scarlet.
Fawn listened carefully. “So, the gangster was about to shoot you, when Major Scarlet stepped between you?”
“Yes; he’s a hero, Doctor Fawn - he saved my life,” Ricky said with all the fervent seriousness of a teenager.
Fawn smiled. “Yes, he is something of a hero,” he agreed. “Well, I think you’ll be all right, young man; but I’d like to keep you here overnight – just to make sure. Can you give me your phone number, Ricky, and I’ll let your mom and dad know you’re okay?”
“My folks are dead, Doctor. I live with my Aunt Ellie,” Ricky rattled off the phone number and the address. “She’ll be worried about me anyway – I ran away from a parent-teacher evening,” he admitted with some embarrassment.
Fawn gave an understanding smile. “I’ll give her a call, Ricky, don’t you fret. What’s her name – I can’t call her ‘Aunt Ellie’ can I?”
“Miss Eleanor Topping.”
Fawn nodded, and beckoned a nurse over to make the boy comfortable before making his way across to his office. He hadn’t gone far when the medical bay doors swung open and Captains Ochre and Magenta strode in.
“Hi, Doc- we heard Scarlet was back and in a bad way…” Ochre called.
“He’s okay, Captain. Doctor Tan is with him now,” Fawn responded blandly.
Ochre nodded and started towards the recovery room with the intention of peering through the observation portal, but the more observant Magenta was aware of the evasive tone of Fawn’s reply and was intrigued enough to wonder why the doctor was being so coy about Scarlet’s condition. He caught sight of Ricky, who was watching the newcomers from his bed, and realisation dawned.
“You have another patient?” he prompted Fawn, smiling at the wide-eyed boy.
“Yes; this young man was caught up in the mission. He looked after Major Scarlet, when he was injured. He’s a little bit shook up by it all, so the paramedic brought him here.” Fawn turned towards Ricky, “Ricky, meet Captain Magenta and Captain Ochre – gentlemen, this is Ricky Topping.”
Captain Ochre, half-way to the observation panel, froze at those words and the colour drained from his tanned cheeks.
“Hiya, Ricky – welcome to Spectrum, son.” Magenta said with a friendly gesture. He glanced at his colleague, surprised his normally sociable partner hadn’t added his welcome to the newcomer. “What’s up with you?” he hissed. “Can’t you even say hello to the kid?”
Ochre turned and gazed into the youthful face that echoed his own. The boy became aware of the intense stare of the officer and turned his eyes towards him, a frown between his dark brows. Ochre’s rich-brown eyes locked with the rich-brown eyes of the boy and they both stared.
“He isn’t your son,” Ochre muttered under his breath. “He’s mine…”
Patrick Donaghue had known Richard Fraser for the best part of 15 years and he thought he knew all there was to know about the devil-may-care former policeman; but this was a facer and no mistake.
“Hey, come on, Rick. Just because the kid has the same Christian name as you, it doesn’t have to mean you are even related,” Magenta said, his uncertainty surfacing in his tone.
Ochre’s glance expressed annoyance. “I’m not joking, Pat. That kid is my son.”
“Since when did you have a son?” Magenta hissed fiercely. “Drop it, Ochre; you’re frightening the kid – and me.”
Ochre turned away and strode from the sickbay without a word. Doctor Fawn had been watching the interchange between the men and he met Magenta’s gaze with an enquiring stare of his own.
“I’d better go after him,” the Irish-American said at last. “He’s had a brain-storm of some kind.” He glanced at Ricky; the boy had been quite blatantly straining to catch the frantic whispered conversation and he wondered how much of it he’d actually heard. “Look, Doc, give our best to Scarlet. We’ll be back later, when he’s fit for visitors.”
“Sure, Captain,” Fawn responded.
Magenta studied Ricky one last time. Dammit, since Ochre mentioned it, the kid’s even starting to look like him! He gave the boy a friendly salute and hurried after Captain Ochre.
Finding him wasn’t that easy. He wasn’t in his quarters, or the Officers’ Lounge. No one in the Amber Room had seen him, and the canteen and the gym were both dead ends.
Sighing, Magenta roamed the corridors, making his way by a circuitous route back to the Officers’ Lounge. As he entered one corridor he realised he was in the vicinity of the research library and paused to peer through the door panel. He caught sight of Lieutenant Flaxen sitting at her desk; she was listening attentively to someone, her gaze riveted on her unseen companion.
Magenta only hesitated for a moment. He knew that Ochre always treated Flaxen’s devotion to him as something of an embarrassing joke when it was mentioned amongst the other colour-captains, but he also knew that Ochre was far more considerate towards – and friendly with - the younger woman than he let on. Flaxen was a useful ally and – on occasion – an invaluable one. She had always done whatever she could when Ochre asked her to help. The chances were that this ‘unseen companion’ she was talking so earnestly with was Captain Ochre.
He pushed open the door and stuck his head through the gap. “Hey, Flax, seen Ochre?” he called breezily.
Lieutenant Flaxen spun around in her chair and knocked her coffee cup over, dousing her desk with a deluge of tepid, mocha-coloured liquid.
“Damn and blast!” she screeched, jumping up and grabbing a box of tissues, causing an unstable pile of papers and precariously balanced magazines to topple into the advancing flood. “Hell and damnation! What do you want to go creeping up on people for, Magenta?”
“I don’t; it’s just that when it’s you, Flax, old girl, it is such good entertainment value,” Magenta teased, helping to rescue the magazines. He looked across the room to where Ochre stood, creased up with laughter. “Give us a hand, Rick,” he suggested.
Ochre, still chuckling, accepted an armful of damp periodicals, sorrowfully shaking his head at the furious lieutenant.
Once Flaxen had mopped the mess up and sat drying off the covers with her remaining tissues, Magenta broached the matter that had been intriguing him.
“So, Rick, why did you high-tail it out of sick-bay just now? Afraid Fawn was going to give you an enema?” He kept his tone deliberately light-hearted, but he watched his companions carefully, noticing the sharp glance Flaxen gave his partner and the dull flush that coloured Ochre’s cheeks.
So, Flaxen knows what this is all about, Magenta thought, hurt to think that Ochre had chosen to explain his perplexing statement to someone other than his longstanding partner.
“Ah, you know,” Ochre mumbled, “I just didn’t want to get involved with any stupid kid.”
Magenta dropped the pile of magazines he was holding onto the desk with a thud.
“Hey!” Flaxen protested.
“Richard Fraser, I am not deaf and blind, nor am I stupid. I heard what you said back there and I saw that ‘stupid kid’. I can put two and two together as easily as the next man,” Magenta complained.
“And make five, as easily as the next man,” Ochre snapped in response.
“I had hoped that you’d really come to trust me, but even after fifteen years, I’m still ‘Pat Donaghue: hoodlum’ to you, aren’t I? Not a man to be trusted – especially with secrets.”
“Bullshit,” Ochre retorted.
“Yeah? You’ve told Flaxen, haven’t you?” Magenta accused, “But you don’t trust me.”
“I’ve known for years,” Flaxen confessed. She met Ochre’s protesting eyes with a glance of sympathetic apology. “I’m sorry, Rick, but Patrick has a point. He’s your partner, after all.”
“Fine – well, you tell him then!” Ochre raged. “Some friend you’ve turned out to be, Audrey.”
Flaxen’s shoulders drooped momentarily, but she glanced up at Magenta and said, “When Spectrum recruited the colour captains, all of you had to break all contact with old friends and relationships; didn’t you?”
Magenta nodded. “Damn right – and a good thing too, or I’d have been a dead man several times over.”
Lieutenant Flaxen kept her voice impeccably formal as she continued, “At the time he was recruited to Spectrum, Captain Ochre was in a relationship with a teacher. She truly believed he was dead and he never knew that she was carrying his child. His son, Richard Fraser Topping, was born ‘posthumously’ and it wasn’t till Alison Topping was herself murdered trying to break up a school gang fight, that he even knew of Ricky’s existence.”
“Rick?” Magenta stared in astonishment, seeking confirmation of this extraordinary story.
Ochre glared back. “Yeah, what she said,” he muttered defensively.
“When was this?” Magenta asked.
“Ricky was almost four – just over ten years ago,” Ochre confessed. “I saw in the newspaper that Alie had died and I went to the funeral to pay my last respects – incognito, of course. I saw Ellie with this little kid, Alie’s son. I saw the brass plaque on the coffin. ‘Alison Topping, mother of Richard Fraser Topping’. It didn’t take a genius to work out whose kid he was.” He pushed himself away from the edge of the desk he was perched on with a sudden burst of pent-up energy. “What could I do? I was supposed to be dead! Spectrum had first call on me – I wasn’t the same Richard Fraser I had been! I didn’t know what to do – I wanted to see him, to get to know him – and I couldn’t. God damn me – I couldn’t, Pat! Do you have the slightest idea how that feels? To know your kid is growing up without you and that you can’t be anything to him. For his own safety – and for Ellie’s – I had to stay dead!”
He paced the small, cramped office like a caged lion, years of frustration powering a nervous energy that was almost tangible.
Once he had started to unburden himself, he couldn’t stop. “I told Audrey about it – I needed her help. I asked her to check the birth certificates – and to discover whatever she could about him – everything – anything! We’ve tracked him through elementary school and Junior High. I know his school grades and his batting averages. I know he got presented with a civic medal as part of his boy-scout brigade. Flax found it all for me – and I kept a scrapbook…” He gave a hollow laugh – mirthless and heart-wrenching in its misery. “I had a CCTV picture of him – that’s all I had – I sank that low, Pat. Then Flax had an idea. She acted as my intermediary with a confidential private eye in Chicago. The guy was well paid to report on Ricky once a month. Pictures… and a diary of what he was up to. It was much better – I even had enough warning so I was able to get time off and go see him play baseball for his school and I cheered myself hoarse when he hit a home run! Then I’d come back and bury it all again – lock him away from my life here; hiding him and my pride in him – until the next time Flax had news for me.”
“Why didn’t you tell me?” Magenta protested, hurt to the quick by this exclusion.
“I never told anyone – except Audrey. Pat, I didn’t dare. If it had become public knowledge –“
“-You imagine I’d tell a living soul?” Magenta raged.
“No! Not you – but the more people who knew about it the greater the risk! Don’t feel aggrieved, Pat; I’ve paid for this a hundred times over. It hasn’t got any easier with time. When Technician Saville had Blue’s baby, Adam was able to go and see the kid, he acknowledged her and he spends time with her – even though it makes Karen go berserk - he has his daughter. Then Paul and Dianne – with their son and their little girl – and Brad and Juliette and Seymour… every one could accept the congratulations of their friends, boast about their kids, and enjoy their company – everyone except me. I had to keep my mouth shut – because I am DEAD…”
“Rick -” Magenta reached out a hand and placed it compassionately on his friend’s shoulder. “Rick, he’s here now – by whatever quirk of fate – your son is here on Cloudbase. You cannot let him go without telling him.”
“You think he’ll welcome me with open arms? Because I don’t!”
Magenta pursed his lips. “No, I don’t expect he’ll whoop with joy – at least, not straight away – but the kid has a right to know his father; to know his dad watches over him, is proud of him – loves him. Any kid would want to know that, Rick.”
“So, you suggest I walk into sick bay and say ‘Hi Ricky, I’m your dad, I wasn’t really dead after all – some neat joke, huh? Whatd’yer say we catch a ballgame some time?’”
“Of course not,” Magenta snapped in exasperation.
“Well, how else can you do it? Would you do it for me, Pat? Or you, Flax? No, I thought not. Look, I’ve put this kid through enough without springing myself on him out of the blue…”
Flaxen punched an acknowledgment to the indicator on her console that announced the return of the SPJ carrying the last members of the recent away mission.
“Rick, you are the most obstinate man alive,” Magenta stormed. “Think of Ricky!”
“The best thing I can do for my son now is stay dead.” Ochre stormed from the room.
“Bullshit!” Magenta exclaimed after him as the door slammed shut. He spent some time staring out of the window at the runways until he had calmed down. Eventually he said regretfully, “He has a point – damn him – how do you tell a kid something like this? I wouldn’t know where to start. It’ll take a brave man to ‘bell this particular cat’, Flax.”
“Hmm,” she said thoughtfully, watching the SPJ taxi to an elevator and start its descent into the hangar bay.
“For the love of Mary, don’t you go yanking his chain, Audrey,” he warned her.
“Would I?” she asked innocently. Magenta groaned as she added, “I have quite a different approach in mind, Captain.”
Only a fool would try to drown his sorrows in non-alcoholic beer, Ochre reasoned, reaching for the dregs of his third glass. So I must be well crazy…
He was sitting in the darkest corner of the staff bar, glaring at any passer-by who seemed to contemplate joining him. A shadow fell across the table and he looked up fiercely.
Major Blue seemed singularly unimpressed by the threat. He placed one of the two beers he was carrying in front of Ochre and sat down, uninvited. His companion continued to stare belligerently at him.
“Welcome to the union,” Blue said mildly, raising his glass in an ironic toast.
Curiosity got the better of him and Ochre growled, “What union?”
“The Disgraced Fathers’ Union.” Blue drank deep.
“I will kill Pat Donaghue,” Ochre vowed. “Loud-mouthed, Irish Paddy.”
“Try Audrey Geffen and you might just get away with justifiable homicide,” Blue advised, anxious to avoid a rupture in Ochre’s friendship with Magenta.
“Flaxen? Flaxen told you?”
“Uh-huh. Audrey Millicent Geffen, as ever was.”
“Millicent?” Ochre couldn’t suppress a grin.
Blue nodded. “We parents have a lot to answer for.”
“I couldn’t even give my kid his name.” There was a decade of hurt in that simple statement.
“But you did: he’s Richard Fraser Topping. Sounds like a cupcake…”
“Watch it, Svenson.”
Blue continued as if he hadn’t heard. “Less of a mouthful than Freya Evelyn Saville Svenson, though. Her name was longer than she was. And - I have to say – none of that was my idea, either.”
“At least you saw her when she was a baby. What is she now? Five? And you’ve watched her grow – she’s known you for who you are – her father.”
“Yeah… and I wouldn’t have it any other way, even though her very existence broke the heart of the woman I love.”
“How is Karen?”
“I don’t know; she’s still not talking to me.” Blue took another gulp of the non-alcoholic beer and then grimaced, putting the glass down and pushing it away.
“She’s way too harsh, Adam, I mean, it wasn’t even your fault,” Ochre reasoned, “well, not exactly your fault…”
“Doesn’t wash with Karen,” Blue remarked sadly. “But I am here to talk about you – not me.”
Ochre sighed. “There is nothing you can do, Adam – even you. I just need to lay low till Fawn ships the lad back home to Ellie.”
Blue laid his hands palm down on the table and looked straight at Ochre as he confessed, “I’ve spoken to Ricky.”
“You’ve done what? Who gave you the right to interfere in this, Svenson? You’re the first one to complain if anyone tries to help you sort out the frigging mess you’ve made of your life! You had no right to say anything to the kid – no right at all –”
Blue rode the expected outburst of anger with perfect composure. “Well, someone had to and it was obvious that you weren’t going to.”
“I’ll throttle Flaxen!”
“So you said. Before you do, you should talk to Ricky. He wants to see you.”
“So he can tell me to my face how much he despises me?”
“No; at least I’d be taken aback if he said that. Look, Rick, I’d have gone to see the kid anyway after what he did in Chicago – he was quite the little hero, although Paul might not think so, I guess. He told me there, that his dad was a cop and he was going to be a cop too – and there was a lot of pride in that. When Flaxen told me who he is, I wasn’t entirely surprised. He’d told me his name and I’d caught a resemblance that I just didn’t have time to place - then.”
“I suppose you couldn’t wait to rush round to the medical bay and see if your guess was right,” Ochre mumbled sarcastically.
Blue ignored him. “We’ve had quite a chat since my return; Ricky and I. He was going to have to be debriefed anyway - about Scarlet – and he was already suspicious about what happened when you and Magenta went in there. You ought to know by now how well your voice carries, Ochre. He heard more than he should’ve; it’s better that he hears the truth and realises why things are as they are and that he cannot risk his, yours and his aunt’s life by saying anything about what’s happened. He was shocked, alarmed, and maybe a little apprehensive to hear me confirm what he suspected - that the Captain Ochre who had left sick-bay was Richard Fraser - the man who is his father. But, you know, I think Eleanor Topping has done right by you, Rick – she’s let the boy know the kind of man his father was. His father is a hero to Ricky – so much so that he’s worried you might not approve of him.”
“I…I deserted him. He should hate me.”
Blue shrugged. “I told you – Eleanor Topping has taught Ricky the sort of man you are: an honest, hard-working - albeit exasperating - guy. A man who dedicated himself to doing what he believed was the right thing – the very kind of man who would choose to make the sacrifice of leaving his loved ones to ensure their safety. A man whose ambition was to make a difference - and who has made a difference. Which isn’t to say you should expect it to be all hugs and kisses – Ricky needs time to get used to the idea that his father’s still alive - but I saw the expression on his face when I told him who you are and I reckon he’ll come round to it pretty quickly.”
Ochre shook his head. “That’s all very well, Adam, but I don’t know how to be a father – you can’t just wake up one day and be a father…”
“On the contrary; that is exactly what does happen, Rick. One day you’re just plain old you – the next you’re someone’s father, and they don’t give you a job description, or a manual.”
“Very droll, Adam.”
“What I’m saying is – we all just do what we can.” Blue pulled out his Spectrum wallet, flicked open the flap and pushed it across to Ochre. “Look, that’s Freya. I carry these little snapshots around with me, even though I know perfectly well that I shouldn’t have any personal details with me on duty.
Ochre stared at the pictures in the wallet with an intensity that spoke volumes; there was a dull flush on his cheeks. Quietly, Blue asked, “Care to show me what’s in your wallet, Rick?” Ochre gave a vehement shake of his dark head, snapped the case closed and pushed it back to his companion.
Blue gave a shrewd smile and gazed down at the pictures of his daughter, musing, “I don’t get to spend nearly enough time with her – and it’s not always a very relaxing atmosphere when I am there – I mean, things are a little strained with Lesley, to say the least - but last Christmas, when Freya gave me the presents she’d chosen for me, I’d have sworn the only thing I needed to make my life perfect was yet another ‘soap on a rope’ and a set of handkerchiefs. I have some pretty decent artwork in my quarters – presents from my family, mostly – but you know what I value most? A picture, drawn on a lime-green piece of paper in crayon, of a long, matchstick-man with seven fingers on each hand, teeth like tombstones and fluorescent yellow hair. And you know why? It’s because this alien has the words ‘My Daddy’ written underneath it in wobbly orange letters – with the initial d the wrong way round, as well.” Blue gave a breathy snort of self-conscious laughter. “Yeah, you can look sceptical, Rick, and maybe I am going soft; or maybe – for the first time in my life - I’m beginning to understand what MY father went through watching his kids grow up. I don’t claim I know all the answers; I sure as hell don’t get it right all the time, but I try to.”
“It’s different for you - you’ve been there for her since she was born – it’s not as if you suddenly walked into her life after fifteen years of being away.”
“That’s true. But you’ve kept an eye on the boy, haven’t you? I bet you know more about him than he does about you. You can tell me if I’m right, but my guess is, that kid’s a tough cookie – he’s had to grow up without his parents. He’s idealistic, stubborn and independent. He’s quick-witted, easily exasperated and can be prickly when he’s made to examine his feelings. Remind you of anyone? “
“Is all this meant to make me feel better?” Ochre grumbled.
Blue shook his head. “No, you’re determined to be a martyr and I don’t argue with fanatics – it’s a waste of my time and energy. But that kid has an ideal of what his father was like and he’s bright enough to recognise that his father is the man he always envisaged him to be – if you’ll give him the chance. Walk away from him now, Rick – and you really will have walked out of his life forever. I’d say you’re lucky, not everyone gets given a second chance.”
“Why’re you involved with this, anyway?” Ochre asked for a second time, avoiding the issue yet again.
“Flaxen waylaid me on my way to see Scarlet in sickbay; she told me what had happened and that, in her opinion, someone had to ‘bell the cat’ – as she put it – and, of course, when thinking about someone to take on such a thankless task, she automatically thought of me. Although I wasn’t exactly flattered to be deemed her obvious choice – I agreed to do it. Well, I figured I had nothing to lose. Magenta cares too much that you’d hate him for interfering, and I’m guessing Flax does too; but I can just add your name to the list of people who already want me skinned alive…” Blue grinned. “If it isn’t there already, that is.”
Ochre chuckled and looked across at the man opposite him. Blue had often been the butt of his jokes, and sometimes his patrician air still rubbed him up the wrong way. Now he looked at the familiar face properly for the first time in years and saw the network of fine lines around the eyes and the silver hairs amongst the blond. Blue was a handsome man, with the kind of bone structure that aged well, but ‘Life’ had not dealt kindly with Adam Svenson in many ways and it was starting to leave its mark on its victim. Ochre felt a kinship he had not expected with the Bostonian.
“Nah, I don’t reckon you have to add me to any hit list, Blue-boy,” he said in his habitual off-hand way. “In fact, I guess I owe you…”
Blue smiled at Ochre’s use of Scarlet’s nickname for him and responded in kind, “Yeah – buy me a drink some day – a real one.”
“It’d be my pleasure.” Ochre’s eyebrows rose as he too pushed away the glass he was nursing. There was a long pause and then Ochre said, “You really think I should do this?”
Blue nodded and stood up, saying, with a warmth he rarely allowed in his voice these days, “Believe me, there’s nothing quite like the kick you get out of hearing someone call you ‘Daddy’… although, I guess Ricky’s too old for that – you might have to settle for a brusque ‘dad’.”
“I’ll be happy if he talks to me at all,” Ochre admitted ruefully. He smiled at Blue. “Thanks, Adam; and I mean that.”
“Any time, Richard; any time at all. And I mean that.”
After Major Blue had finished speaking to the boy and headed out to find Captain Ochre, Doctor Fawn had moved Ricky to a private side room. He reassured him that he had spoken to his Aunt, who was worried sick about him, but relieved to hear that he was okay.
“I guess I’m up for being grounded for the next year or so?” Ricky complained.
Fawn shrugged. “I’m sure Miss Topping was just pleased to know you were safe and unharmed, Ricky. Mind you, I also think you owe her one huge apology, don’t you?”
Ricky squirmed. “I guess so, Doctor Fawn; but she’s… well, she’s just always on my case. I can never do right in her eyes.”
Fawn nodded sagely. “Yeah, grown-ups have this annoying habit of caring what happens to the people they love. Don’t worry – you’ll get used to it.”
“My dad didn’t care -” Ricky blurted out, his dark brows lowering over his eyes and his bottom lip thrusting out in an angry pout.
Fawn had been prepared for this and he laid a hand on the boy’s shoulder. “Oh, I think you’ll find he cared very much – and that he still does. Knowing him, I’d be surprised if it were otherwise. This is probably almost as big a shock for him as it is for you; he’d become resigned to never meeting you, after all. But I think you’ll get along fine, Ricky. You’ll need time to get to know each other, of course, and it might seem odd at first. Just don’t rush at it.”
“Major Blue told me that he knew about me before this – so why didn’t he ever come and see me?”
Fawn drew a deep breath and broke one of his own cardinal rules by sitting on his patient’s bed. “Ricky, Spectrum officers lay their lives on the line every day of the week – you saw that with Major Scarlet, didn’t you? When the organisation was formed, every one of the senior staff – EVERY ONE of them – had to relinquish all their past associations and relationships. It wasn’t an easy decision for any of them to make, but this was thought to be the best way to protect the people they loved from any reprisals by the terrorists they were going to be fighting. Captain Ochre was no different; he had to make that decision. In his case, it was complicated by the fact that, as an Assistant World Police Commissioner, Richard Fraser already had many powerful enemies, so, when he accepted the job, Spectrum felt it was better if they allowed people to think he was dead, if you follow me? Your father accepted that, even though for him it meant there was never a way back. The other officers, when they leave Spectrum, can reintroduce themselves into the society of their friends and families – if they want to. What they’ve been doing will remain a mystery, but not that they have been gainfully employed somewhere. Captain Ochre’s retirement will still have to be one of isolation from his past. When he discovered that he had left not just your mother but you as well, he was in a terrible dilemma; he was supposed to be dead and to have re-appeared would have risked the lives of you and your Aunt Ellie.”
Ricky glowered at him, but there was some softening in his expression. “Yeah, that’s what Major Blue said. He said that … my father had made a greater sacrifice than any of them – even before he knew about me. He told me they’d sat in their off-duty lounge and watched the newscast of Richard Fraser’s funeral – with Richard Fraser. He said it was weird enough for him, so he couldn’t imagine what … my dad felt like.” He glanced up at the doctor, seeking reassurance. “It’s kinda hard for me to get to grips with this; you can see that, can’t you, Doctor Fawn?”
Fawn stood up and continued, “Sure I can, Ricky – and no one expects you to just open your arms and hug your father. But, I would just say this - don’t judge him too harshly, will you? In all honesty, he’s the hardest judge of his own ‘failings’ anyone could wish for. But, Richard Fraser is a good man and I’ve known him for fifteen years or more. Give him a chance to prove it to you.”
The youth shrugged.
Fawn turned at the sound of the main doors opening and saw Captain Ochre sidle reluctantly into sick-bay. He patted Ricky vaguely, and went to meet him.
“I wondered when you’d show up,” he said with a smile.
“Blue said I should come…” From his expression it was obvious that, right now, Richard Fraser was wishing he hadn’t listened to anybody’s advice.
“I know. He briefed me on the situation before he went to see you and mentioned to me that you’d be dropping by before he went back in to see Scarlet.”
Ochre grimaced. “Is there anyone on Cloudbase who doesn’t know about this?”
“Colonel White…” Fawn replied with a significant glance at the officer. Ochre grimaced – that was yet another problem he’d have to deal with. Fawn smiled and jerked his head towards Ricky’s room. “He’s in there – waiting for you.”
“Can’t you even give me a painkiller, Doc?”
Fawn gave a wry smile. “They haven’t found one for real life yet, Rick.”
Ochre stood in the doorway and looked at the youth in the bed. Ricky looked at the man in the doorway. The minutes ticked by with the hands of the clock on the wall making the loudest noise in the room.
“Hi,” Ochre said eventually.
“Hi,” Ricky replied.
Ochre stepped into the room and advanced a few paces towards him. “I’m Captain Ochre – that is, I mean, I’m Richard Fraser… your… your father.”
“So Major Blue told me.”
Ochre gave a nervous gasp of laughter. “This is something else, eh?”
Ricky stared back in silence. Flustered, Ochre drew the chair up and placed it by the bed, pausing to look across for permission to sit. Ricky gave a short nod of his head. Ochre sat down, crossing his leg over his knee and grasping the deep-golden boot in his hand.
“You okay? Fawn looking after you?” he said after the silence began to grow insufferable.
“He’s been very nice to me.”
“Wow – count yourself lucky; he’s a real tyrant at times. Major Scarlet always says he has the ‘bedside presence’ of Vlad the Impaler.”
An amused smile twitched at the side of Ricky’s lips. He looked away. The silence grew again. Out in the ward they could hear the muted sounds of staff carrying on their work and the general background noise of the huge base as it hovered 40,000 feet above the ground. The clock’s ticking grew loud again.
Ochre grew increasingly uneasy and finally blurted out, “Look, Ricky – I… I don’t even know where to start. Blue seemed to think it’d come naturally, but - well, you and I - we know there is a lot of ground to cover between us. This won’t be easy for either of us, but now you know the truth, it’s something we both have to come to terms and deal with. We can’t forget this has happened, or pretend that it won’t have some effect on our lives. So, ask me whatever you want to know. You deserve nothing less than the truth from me.”
“You never knew about me – until Mom died?” Ricky was defensive but there was a faint air of pleading in his voice – he wanted to believe.
Ochre nodded vigorously. “Alie never told me she was expecting a baby. Once I knew, well, some of the things she said and did made a kind of logic – but no, she never told me. At the time, I was considering taking a promotion that would have meant moving to Europe and my guess is she didn’t want to influence my decision by telling me she was pregnant. What I couldn’t tell her was that, along with the promotion, I’d been offered a job with Spectrum.”
“You were willing to leave her – just the same! Didn’t you care about her?”
“Sure I did – but things don’t always go as smooth as we’d like them to, Ricky! I loved your mother; I loved her very much, I have never felt quite the same way about anyone else - but even so, we were having a sticky period. She wanted to go to Europe and I – well - I didn’t. Look, I’ll be honest with you – I don’t know what I’d have done if I’d known about you, but my guess is, I’d have turned Spectrum down…”
“And regretted it?”
Ochre drew a sharp breath. “Yes; knowing what I do now – I would have regretted it.”
“Do you regret me?”
Ochre’s face registered shock as he replied with vehemence, “No. I have been proud of you ever since I discovered your existence. I know you’ll find that hard to believe, but I thought I was doing the best thing for us all by staying away. How could I have walked back into your life, without walking back into Ellie’s? And she’d have blamed me for not telling Alie the truth. Letting your mother think I had died wasn’t easy, Ricky, and it got harder when I learnt about you. I wanted nothing more than to get to know you. ”
“Yeah – you say that now -”
“No, I’ve watched you for years; it was all I could do. I know a lot about you, Ricky, and what I know makes me proud.”
“Yeah, like when I flunked math, I suppose?”
“Hey – I flunked math – it’s not the end of the world.” Ochre’s habitually light-hearted banter reasserted itself and the young man glanced up. Their eyes met and an identical smile broke out across both faces, emphasising a similarity that was already evident to any observer.
“You’re not like the pictures I have of you – the pictures mom had, I mean,” Ricky explained, with more youth than tact.
Ochre grimaced. “They must be at least fifteen years old, and I’ve had a hard life. Give a guy a break…”
“You had a beard,” Ricky explained. “And you looked different – somehow.”
“Ah, well, beards come and go, and I wore one then to make myself look older and more responsible. There was a certain amount of resistance in the World Police to a guy as young as I was, being promoted to the rank I was. Now I have the opposite aim – I wanna look as young as possible, and that’s worth the inconvenience of a regular shave. As for looking different, well - when… when I joined Spectrum, they wanted to make me look as unlike myself as possible – if you get what I mean. So, they did some dental work: I had awfully crooked teeth as a kid, because, well, unlike some I could mention, my folks didn’t have the money for fancy orthodontists. Mind you, on reflection, a fake assassination is a hefty price to pay for a dental plan.”
Ricky sniggered. It explained why in every picture of his father that he possessed, Richard Fraser wore a tight-lipped smile that never revealed his teeth. The smiles he gave now were real ones, teeth and all. “No one told me that before,” the youngster said.
There was a long silence. Both of them cast around for something to say and avoided looking at each other from sheer embarrassment.
“They tell me you want to be a cop? Good call,” Ochre said finally.
“Nah, I’ve changed my mind. I want to join Spectrum,” Ricky grinned. “You see, I’ve always just wanted to follow in my old man’s footsteps…”
Doctor Fawn saw Major Blue emerging from Major Scarlet’s recovery room with a relaxed expression on his face.
He crossed to the tall American and asked, “He’s awake?”
Blue nodded. “He’s hungry…”
“No surprises there then. I’ll organise something for him. Did he express any preferences?”
Blue shook his head and said, “Just lots of it and all the trimmings.”
Fawn grimaced. “I wish I could eat like he does and never gain a pound.” He patted his own stocky frame.
Blue chuckled. “The Major Scarlet diet – eat whatever you like, as much as you like, for as long as you like. All it takes is getting yourself Mysteronised first… I can’t see it catching on, Edward.”
“Maybe not,” Fawn agreed.
Their attention was caught by the sound of animated laughter coming from a side room.
“Ochre?” Blue asked. Fawn nodded and Blue’s smile broadened. “Phew! I’m sure glad I was right about that one.”
“It’s a rare win-win situation, if you ask me,” Fawn agreed. “I just wonder who’s going to tell the colonel and Miss Topping…”
“Don’t look at me! I’ve done my bit. Ochre can do it – besides, Charles is more likely to be sympathetic towards the person directly involved than any intermediary.”
Fawn’s glance had a tinge of surprise. He forgot sometimes how close Blue was to Colonel White these days; after marrying Karen Svenson’s mother last year, Colonel White was now his officer’s step-father-in-law. That was another rare win-win situation, in his opinion; Charles Gray had spent far too long without the comfort of any sort of family relationship in his life. It helped Blue deal with the problems and disappointments in his own marriage as well, having a friendly, and utterly trustworthy ear to talk to off the record. He was well aware that Blue disliked burdening Major Scarlet with the minutiae of his wife’s latest eccentricity, but as the colonel heard it from his wife anyway, the two men turned to each other when they needed to discuss such personal matters. This was quite apart from the fact that – as Fawn was also well aware – Colonel White saw Blue as his natural successor as Commander-in-Chief of Spectrum, and was slowly bringing his subordinate round to accepting that idea.
“How’s Karen?” he asked, his train of thought having led him back to the former Symphony Angel.
“Much the same.”
Blue would rarely discuss his estranged wife with anyone, and never criticised her in public, but Fawn knew the history of their relationship in great detail, and he’d seen what the inability to have children had done to Karen Svenson – and what her unhappiness had done to her husband - and he sympathised with the couple. He still retained the hope that one day they’d find a way to live together happily again, for he knew that beyond the pain there was a deep, lasting love between them.
Blue sighed out a profound breath and added, “Paul wants to call Dianne, by the way. I guess that’d be okay now?”
“Sure; I’ll sort out the meal, you get him a secure line to Winchester. Say ‘Hi’ to Dianne for me, by the way, and ask after the kids. I’m due to give them both a check-up in a month or so…”
Major Scarlet settled back to speak to his wife and children, the remains of his large meal pushed to one side, within easy picking distance of the bed. Blue had already told the former Rhapsody Angel what had happened; it was the way they did things, so that Dianne Metcalfe knew the worst and then saw her husband fit and well.
He dialled the number and a smile broke out on his face as he saw his wife’s beautiful face appear on the screen and heard the excited prattle of his young children in the background.
There isn’t much wrong with a life that has such happiness in it, he thought as Dianne’s answering smile lit up her face.
“Hello,” she cried happily, “I was expecting you to call; I just got off the phone to Adam. Are you all right now, Paul?”
“I’m fine. The wound’s healed up perfectly and – if Fawn will let me, I’ll be up and about in an hour or so and able to spend the night in my own bed and not here.”
“You’re banking on Fawn being in a good mood then?” Dianne knew how much her husband hated being kept in sickbay when he felt perfectly fit.
Paul grimaced slightly. “He’s pre-occupied, I know that much. Something else is going on here – something no one’s told me about. Except, I think it’s to do with Ochre.”
“Is Rick all right?”
“As far as I know – he wasn’t with us on the mission. Did Adam tell you that there was a youngster involved in the incident in Chicago? A boy tripped up the Mysteron who was making a run for it – kid nearly got himself killed for his pains. It was to stop the bullet hitting him that I got in the way of it. It seems that the youngster got ferried to the base as well –although I don’t think he was badly hurt – just shook up, naturally enough. I wondered if the kid was someone Ochre knew from way back. That might make things difficult.”
“Sounds a bit of a coincidence if it was,” his wife reasoned, “And any kid that Ochre knew from way back can’t have been more than a baby and surely wouldn’t recognise him now? Anyway, give my love to Rick, won’t you? And the others, of course.”
“You’ve always had a soft spot for him, haven’t you?”
“Are you jealous, Paul?”
“Rick is something of a ladies’ man – do I have reason to be jealous?”
“You come back here and say that, Paul Metcalfe. I’ll show you if you have cause for jealousy or not…”
“Just as soon as Fawn’ll let me get out of this bed, I’ll be back there to get into yours…”
Dianne laughed. “Down, Tiger…. Pas devant les enfants – remember?”
“They’ll have to go to sleep sometime… I can wait.”
“Not sure I can,” Dianne sighed, and smiled at him. “I miss you, Paul – we all do. When can you come home?”
“I’ll be home for Christmas, darling. I swear it. Even if every Mysteron in the universe decides to attack us on Christmas Eve, I’ll be there with you.”
She shook her head in disbelief. “Oh sure you will. Paul, I do understand, you know? You have your duty to do and you will do it. I married Paul Metcalfe and Captain Scarlet and I love them both. It just means I miss you twice as much…”
He cleared his throat and after a pause asked a little breathlessly, “How are the kids?”
“They’re fine. If they haven’t killed each other by Christmas you can see for yourself. Your daughter’s developing quite a temper – the little madam.”
“The terrible twos?” he asked.
“With a vengeance. I thought Ace was bad enough when he went through it, but Suzie is a hundred times worse.”
“They say the female is deadlier than the male…” he commented with a rueful smile.
“They obviously had her in mind when they said it,” Dianne concurred. “They’re waiting to speak to you – do you want to talk to them?”
“Of course – unless you have anything else you want to say?”
“You might tell me that you still love me… it’s been a while since you mentioned it.”
“You know I do.”
She could see the colour mounting in his cheeks and permitted herself a little smile. “Go on, Paul; say it…” she coaxed teasingly. “Just for me?”
“If it was just for you I’d say it –“ he blustered, “but my mother is probably lurking around the room and Adam’s just walked in…”
Dianne heard Blue’s distant voice saying ‘I can leave; no problem.’
“Your mum’s in the kitchen making mince pies,” she answered. “You have no excuses, Major Scarlet.”
He grinned at her. “I love you,” he said.
Dianne laughed as she heard Blue’s voice again, ‘Was that all? Jeez, it’s like drawing teeth….’
Once he had finished with his phone call, Scarlet demanded to be told what was going on with Fawn and Ochre.
“Is it something to do with that kid, the one from Chicago?”
Blue nodded. “Ricky Topping; yeah. The medical team brought him here, the kid was in shock.”
“He was lucky he wasn’t in intensive care,” Scarlet commented with a raise of his dark eyebrows. “Is he okay now?”
“Yeah, fit as a fiddle.” Blue rubbed a hand over his chin and gave the impression of making a decision. “I’m not sure I should tell you this, but I think you should know.”
“You have a problem then.”
“Yeah – but, oh well, I might as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb,” Blue said and went on to explain about Ricky’s relationship with Captain Ochre.
Scarlet’s eyes grew wide as he heard the story through. “All these years and Rick kept it a secret?”
“Flaxen knew – but she was the only one, apparently. She helped him keep tabs on the boy.”
“Sure she had the right one?” Scarlet said with a rueful grimace. Somehow whenever he had dealings with Lieutenant Flaxen, things tended to go pear-shaped.
Blue gave an explosive snort of laughter. “Yeah, I’m sure. You’re the only one around here who scares her to death, Paul.”
“I can’t imagine why…”
“Of course you can’t – you’re a pussy-cat.”
“I just expect people to do their jobs efficiently.”
“She does – except when it involves working with you. I guess you’re just fated to be on the receiving end.”
Grinning, Blue changed the subject. “Are you planning to go home for Christmas?”
“I want to – I told Dianne I would.”
“You making plans too?” he asked in some surprise. It wasn’t often that his partner bothered about taking leave at Christmas; Blue was usually more than willing to do extra duties now that he wasn’t spending the time with Karen. He had always hated staying with his family in Boston and having to tolerate the solicitous pampering of his mother and the snide remarks of his brother, Peter.
Blue nodded. “I thought I’d try to get to Cornwall. I missed Freya’s birthday because we were in Uzbekistan, and, somehow, I never got over there in the summer either.”
Scarlet raised an eyebrow. Blue had spent the summer trying to reason with Symphony – to no avail. She had refused to remain in their home and was now at Glenn Field teaching flying to new recruits – and refusing to even speak to her husband, the last he’d heard.
“I emailed Lesley to ask if it was okay with her if I went over…” Blue admitted, adding, “I’ve not had an answer as yet though.”
“Well look, how about we go down on the late shuttle on the day before Christmas Eve, and I’ll drive us down to Winchester? You can stay overnight and drive down to Cornwall in the morning. Dianne and the kids’d love to see you, Adam. You can pick me up on your way back to London and I’ll drive the rest of the way.”
“You think we could swing it with the colonel?” There was a glimmer of hope in Blue’s eyes.
“Damn sure we can. Leave it to me, Blue-boy.”
It was some hours later that Captain Ochre left Ricky’s room and sought an interview with Colonel White.
Left alone in the sick-bay, Ricky thought back over what had to have been the most important meeting of his short life. Gradually he’d had found himself enjoying the company of this witty man and giggling over his dry humour. They’d both come to realise that they shared remarkably similar tastes and attributes, and he’d listened to ‘Rick’s’ stories of his own childhood and to details about how he’d first met Alison Topping, and their life together, and, to his surprise, found the barriers between them melting away. He still couldn’t bring himself to think of this man as his father, but he liked him and - as Doctor Fawn had said - that was a good enough start.
Rick had promised to show him the scrapbooks he’d kept of Ricky’s progress – a treat the youngster was in two minds about - and, on realising the youth had no idea he was actually on Cloudbase – the famous airborne headquarters of the Spectrum organisation – he promised to ask permission to show the boy around before Fawn declared him fit to return to Chicago.
Ricky hoped his request would be granted and that he’d be back before too long… Everyone knew about Spectrum’s floating headquarters – but Cloudbase was a top secret installation and even pictures of the base were few and far between, so information on the specifications were like gold-dust. Of course, he’d never be able to tell anyone what he’d seen – but for his own curiosity he was keen to explore the base. He waited with as much patience as he could muster.
Not too long after Ochre left, Captain Magenta and a younger, dark-haired woman, who introduced herself as Lieutenant Flaxen, came to visit.
They explained that they were friends of ‘his father’ and Magenta kept the youngster enthralled with stories about Captain Ochre’s exploits that he would never have learned from the man himself. When Magenta had finished, Lieutenant Flaxen volunteered confirmation of the information that Captain Ochre had been concerned about his son ever since his mother died, and that she was probably the only person on Cloudbase who had known the full story.
“I helped him keep an eye on you, Ricky, and I’m the person he bragged about you to…” she said with a faint blush on her cheeks.
Ricky blinked back some annoying tears that had swamped his eyes as he’d listened to the details of Flaxen’s involvement with ‘Project Chicago-one’. “You know,” he admitted to the young woman, “all I ever wanted was to know my dad…”
Flaxen and Magenta were still there when a chastened, but still surprisingly exuberant, Captain Ochre returned and confirmed that he had permission to show his son around the non-secure areas of the base – culminating in a meeting with the colonel on the promenade deck.
Fawn readily gave his permission for his patient to take some exercise, and watched the four of them leave - a smile on his face as he heard the start of Ochre’s voluble protests at learning what Magenta had been telling Ricky.
It was only then that he saw Major Blue sitting in the waiting room, all alone. Presumably Scarlet was asleep again, although it wouldn’t be long before he too was ready to leave the sick-bay, and in the meantime, his partner was just killing time. He must have been watching Ochre leave with his son and his friends, for his gaze was directed towards the doors. As Fawn watched, Blue’s gaze fell to the floor at his feet and his shoulders drooped. Concerned, the doctor debated going across to speak to the major, but the closed expression on the American’s face suggested it would not be a welcome intrusion. He went into his office to fetch the papers for Major Scarlet’s release and to his surprise when he emerged again some minutes later, Blue was gone.
There were butterflies in his stomach as he listened to the ringing tone. It was early, he knew, but surely they’d answer the phone?
“Hello?” Lesley Saville looked half asleep.
“Hi, Lesley; sorry to call so early…”
“It’s 5.30 in the morning – on a Saturday!”
He grimaced at realising he’d miscalculated the time difference. “Is it? I’m so sorry; I didn’t mean to wake you…”
“What do you want, Adam?”
“I wanted to know if you’d made up your mind about Christmas, yet - I need to get my leave sorted out up here.” He paused and added, “And I’d like to – well, I know it’s early but, can I… may I speak to Freya?”
“She’s asleep – just like I was…”
“Please, Lesley; I don’t have much time…”
“I don’t want to wake her this early. She’ll be a nightmare before bedtime. It’s all right for you; you don’t have to deal with the tantrums….”
From behind her came the ecstatic cry of “Daddy!”
Lesley moved aside with a grimace of resignation and Major Blue saw his excited daughter running bare-foot across the room towards the video phone. Her long, blonde hair was tousled from sleep; her favourite teddy bear was clasped in her arms, her candy-floss-pink nightdress askew as she clambered up onto the chair before the console, and pressed her lips to the screen in a welcoming kiss, before pressing the teddy there as well.
“Hiya, sweetheart,” he said, a wave of love hitting his heart and making him breathless.
“Me and Rosie-Bear was just thinking about you. We miss you, Daddy. Rosie-Bear wants to know if you’re coming to see us soon,” Freya demanded.
“Just as soon as I can, älskling; I promise. I was asking Mommy about a visit at Christmastime – would you like that, Flicka?”
The little girl smiled, revealing small, white teeth and a dimple in her cheek. She turned her eager face to her mother expectantly. With a sigh, Lesley Saville nodded her approval. Freya’s brown eyes glowed with anticipation as she gave a whoop of delight.
“Will you bring me some nice presents?” she asked her father.
Lesley’s stern, ‘Freya!” did little to temper her daughter’s excitement.
Blue laughed. “A whole car full – I promise.”
“Adam, you’ll spoil her,” Lesley warned reprovingly, well aware that no one was taking any notice.
“You coming in a nelicopter again, Daddy?”
“Not this time, Flicka. But I can stay for longer, so is that okay with you?”
Freya nodded her head vehemently and said in solemn assertion, “I love you, Daddy.”
“And I love you,” Major Blue assured her.
Ricky Topping was sorry to be leaving Cloudbase. He could never have anticipated the sheer size or complexity of the base and it was something he’d never forget. It had fired him with an ambition to follow his father’s footsteps into the organisation and he could talk about nothing else for most of the visit.
Captain Ochre walked beside his son to the hangar deck. One of the lieutenants was due to fly him back to Chicago on a shuttle run and Colonel White – whilst allowing his officer some leeway - thought it best if he did not accompany his son home. It had been a closely argued debate, but Ochre had finally had to concede on that.
He’d been proud of the way the lad had conducted himself in the presence of the formidable Commander-in-Chief of Spectrum, though. Ricky had been briefed by the colonel at his most authoritative, about never telling anyone – including his aunt - that his father was still alive, but he had not posed any obstacle to them meeting when Ochre had leave, except that - until the boy was old enough to make his own decisions - all meetings had to be on neutral ground, at Spectrum’s Chicago base. To that end, Colonel White had promised to expedite Ricky’s application to become a Spectrum Shade – as the junior branches of local bases were called – and informed them that Miss Topping’s permission had already been obtained for Ricky to begin basic training with Spectrum, through the local recruitment programme.
In return, Ricky promised the colonel that he would never tell anyone about ‘Captain Ochre’s’ identity - although he knew it would be the hardest secret he’d ever have to keep. The fact that Colonel White was prepared to accept his word on this important matter gave him a feeling of pride. The colonel told him he could truthfully explain to Miss Topping about having been on Cloudbase - and why he was here – in fact, he explained that he’d spoken to her himself and that ‘things were sorted out’; Miss Topping was prepared to forgive Ricky’s misbehaviour on this occasion.
Ricky would have been dismayed to realise that his face betrayed just how relieved that news had made him.
The flight was boarding and Ochre stood irresolutely by his son’s side. “Take care,” he said – knowing that was inadequate but not knowing what else to say.
“Sure – I’ll see you again soon, won’t I?”
“Oh sure – I don’t think I’ll be able to make it down over Christmas though; you know how things are – duty calls and,” he paused, “well, some of the other guys have families too and it wouldn’t be fair if they lost the chance to see them, just so I could take the time off. But I promise I’ll be there just as soon as I can. You’ll probably get sick of the sight of me!”
Ricky grinned. “That’s okay; I do understand. It’d be hard explaining to Aunt Ellie where I was going over Christmas anyway. We tend to stay in and watch TV a lot – unless we have to go visit relatives, of course.” He held out a hand to his father and Ochre took it, enclosing it in a firm grip.
“Well, goodbye then,” Ricky said.
“Yeah…” Ochre was finding it hard to speak at all. Suddenly his reserve melted and he clasped the young man to his heart with fervour.
They parted, both suddenly embarrassed.
“Look after yourself and your Aunt Ellie,” Ochre said gruffly, to hide his emotion. “And, whatever you do, Ricky, don’t lose my cell phone number…”
Ricky nodded and strode towards the plane. Just before he climbed the steps, he turned, raised a hand in farewell and called,
Blue was right, Ochre thought, the lump in his throat preventing him saying anything, as he raised his hand in salute to his son. There is nothing quite like the kick you get from being called Dad…
This story had been in my mind for some time and parts of it written for ages. I finally found the time to finish it and polish it – with the help of my beta-readers – Hazel Köhler and Caroline Smith – so my sincere thanks to them. Any mistakes still here are all my fault. I will keep tweaking…
The characters of the TV show ‘Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons’ ™ - were created by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson in the 1960s and now they belong to Carleton – I think. The original characters: Lieutenant Flaxen and Ricky and Eleanor Topping, were created by me and have appeared in other stories I’ve written – notably ‘A Chapter of Accidents’ (for Flaxen) and ‘The Tears of a Clown’.
My thanks go to Chris Bishop for her wonderful website, which is a constant delight and inspiration.
Thank you for reading.
Happy New Year.
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