A “Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons” story for Christmas
By Chris Bishop
“Members of Spectrum, thank you for attending this extraordinary meeting.”
Colonel White eyed each member of his senior staff, seated around the table in the conference room. They were all there, with the noticeable exception of Harmony Angel, who was on Angel One duty. Doctor Fawn was also present, and Lieutenant Green, who wasn’t set to return to active duty before a few days, had been invited as well. The young man was still convalescing from his ordeal in the engine room, the Spectrum medical officer having refused to sign him back to full active duty until he would be fully satisfied of his recovery.
The colonel had made the conscious choice of not inviting Doctor Lavender to the meeting. White didn’t believe that, at the moment, his input would bring anything constructive to the problem at hand. The colonel wanted solutions that weren’t exactly of a scientific nature – and it was a recognised fact that Lavender was anything but a social person. The head of R and D wasn’t a team player and wasn’t really appreciated by most of the senior staff. Besides, the Spectrum commander considered Lavender would be more useful and productive if he remained in his lab and persisted in his studies of what had happened to Captain Scarlet – in the hope that he might find a way to reverse the effect of whatever had transformed him into a ten year old boy.
“You all know that we currently have a situation,” Colonel White continued. “It started four days ago with the explosion of one of our generators in the engine room. Doctor Fawn…” He nodded to the doctor, seated on his right, “… had a meeting with you after that incident, during which he explained the problem to you. And some of you have been confronted with the problem head-on.” He watched as a handful of the officers around the table nodded to the affirmative, and took note of Captain Ochre rolling his eyes towards the ceiling. “However, the situation has evolved since then. And not for the better, I might add. Our lives might become a little more difficult on Cloudbase in the upcoming hours.”
“We didn’t receive a Mysteron threat, did we, Colonel?” Destiny asked with some apprehension.
The Spectrum commander sighed. “Fortunately no, Destiny Angel. And we should all fervently hope that it won’t happen until the situation with Captain Scarlet is fully resolved. Though knowing the Mysterons, it might be a little too much to ask for.”
“So it is Scarlet we’re still talking about,” Ochre mused out loud. “I was somehow wondering… Well, you’re right on one account, sir: life has become impossible since he turned into that insupportable kid.”
“Who are you calling ‘insupportable’, Captain Ochre?” Symphony then said acerbically from the other end of the table before Colonel White could even open his mouth to reply himself. “I passed the evening and the night with him, and he’s been behaving beautifully.”
“Of course, if you indulged in his every whim by offering him a sightseeing tour of Cloudbase, it’s no wonder he’s been quiet,” Ochre retorted in rather the same tone.
“And what’s wrong with that?” Magenta asked, crossing his arms on the table and frowning at Ochre.
“You’re not taking her side, are you?” Ochre sneered.
“All was going well with Paul and we had no problem at all with him, until the moment you showed up,” Symphony continued, accusingly. “Then it all went south before we even had the time to react. Admit it, you have a personal problem with him, Captain.”
“I don’t have a problem with Scarlet!”
“With Scarlet maybe not,” Melody promptly retorted, siding with her fellow Angel. “But maybe with the boy he became. I believe you can’t stand the competition.”
“What competition? What the hell are you talking about?”
“Maybe that blow was a little low, Melody,” Magenta said, in an attempt to defuse the situation. He discovered rapidly it was a mistake.
“Yes, now of course, you will take your friend’s side,” Melody scoffed. “You men are all alike.”
“Now wait a minute here –”
“That’ll be enough!” Colonel White called loudly, startling everyone into silence. “I will not have you squabbling like children! I did not call this meeting with that purpose in mind. I repeat: we do have a situation which is about to worsen and I need your full attention – not to mention your cooperation – in order to find a solution that will at least allow us to avoid catastrophe.”
“What’s going on exactly, sir?” Rhapsody asked, her calm voice a complete contrast to those of her colleagues who had spoken before her. “Obviously, it doesn’t only concern Captain Scarlet anymore. Are you by any chance referring to the World President’s upcoming visit?”
“Thank you for being the voice of reason, Rhapsody,” White said gratefully. “And your vaunted deductive skills are certainly not over-exaggerated. You are right: it does concern the World President’s visit to Cloudbase. But it’s not only that.” He nodded to Blue seated at his left. “Captain Blue was with me when General Peterson spoke to us, only an hour ago. It seems there’s been a slight change of plan with the President’s visit.”
“What is it, sir?” Green said hopefully. “He’s not coming after all?”
“No, the World President will come. Not tomorrow as scheduled, but the day after tomorrow.”
“He’s cutting it pretty close to Christmas,” Magenta commented. “Does he want to spend Christmas Eve with us?”
“You got it in one, Captain Magenta,” White replied.
He saw the reaction of pure surprise on everyone’s face.
“What?” Magenta said, straightening on his seat with surprise. “You’re not… teasing us by chance, sir?”
“Does this look like the face of a man who’s teasing you, Captain?” White said grumpily. “I assure you, this is no laughing matter. And that’s not all: the World President won’t be coming to Cloudbase alone.”
The colonel could see he now had the attention of everyone, and that they were all waiting for him to explain what was going on. Ochre even made another of his insufferable attempts at a joke:
“He’s bringing someone? Not his wife, I expect… ”
“He’s a widower, Captain,” an annoyed Doctor Fawn informed him.
“How would I know that? I don’t follow politics… And I didn’t vote for the guy.”
“Captain Ochre, you’re not that far from the truth, actually,” White retorted. This was the only reason he didn’t call his irrepressible captain to order. Refraining from sighing, he sat back against the backrest of his seat. “If you recall, not long after I took him to his room, General Peterson requested a few minutes of privacy…”
“Yes, sir. That was before I escorted him to lunch.”
“The general used this time alone to contact the World President,” White informed.
“No doubt to give him a report of his preliminary visit, sir,” Captain Grey commented.
“No doubt, Captain,” White said between his teeth. “But I as I left, I had a hunch that there was something a little more behind that private call. Call it a gut reaction. And not a good reaction.” He grunted and shook his head again. “And unfortunately, that gut feeling proved itself right.” He paused a second or two, before pursuing: “As some of you may recall, because you were there, General Peterson met with young Paul Metcalfe a few minutes before making his call.”
“The incident is engraved on my memory, sir,” Ochre said, rather glumly.
“Don’t start again, Ochre,” Blue warned him.
“This fortuitous meeting apparently gave the general a rather peculiar idea,” White continued. “So he called the World President and put that idea to him. While the general went for lunch, the World President considered the general’s suggestion and apparently in the end… decided he would go along with it.”
“Colonel, I think everyone will agree with me when I say that the suspense is killing us,” Doctor Fawn then declared with exasperation. He was probably the only one around the table who would have dared to express his opinion so bluntly to the Spectrum commander, though it was clear by everyone’s expression that they all shared it. “Now what the blasted hell was that ‘suggestion’ the general made to the World President that you so evidently find distasteful?”
“Oh, you’ll love this one, Doctor, I’m sure,” White muttered, slowly turning to face his chief medical officer. “Somehow, the general convinced himself that Mr. Theodore James Younger, our most honourable World President, doesn’t spend enough time with his own children, so busy is he with the duties of his position. Seeing young Paul Metcalfe onboard gave him the very wise idea that, maybe, on his upcoming visit to Cloudbase, the World President ought to bring along his family, so he would have the occasion to share some quality time with them.”
Everyone around the table was stunned at the news; and displayed their astonishment in various, different ways. Some of them gasped, some held their breath… and others stared at the Spectrum commander in disbelief.
“And the World President went along with it?” Grey asked, his eyes wide.
“Apparently, Captain,” White said, keeping an even expression. “That’s why there will be a delay before his arrival. He had to prepare things to bring them along.”
“Other children onboard?” Destiny said in turn. “How many does the World President have?”
“Two, Destiny Angel. Sahra, six years old, and Daniel, fourteen.”
“Damn, this place is turning into a nursery,” Ochre moaned. “And I don’t suppose we’d be able to refuse the presence of these kids onboard?”
“This is the World President’s children we’re talking about, Ochre,” Blue reasoned. “How do you refuse the man who is technically Spectrum’s boss?”
“With difficulty, especially considering his right hand man just discovered that another kid is already allowed onboard,” Melody said with a slight shake of the head.
“And that’s another problem,” Colonel White added with a frown. “I suspect that the World President would want to meet that specific boy. It is even possible that he would expect that boy to spend some time with his own children.”
“That’s very likely, sir,” Green agreed. “It was like that every time me and my siblings went someplace on visits. ‘Go play in the next room with the other children, while we adults chat’. You can bet on it that will happen.”
The information didn’t seem to please the colonel at all. He obviously wasn’t very keen on the idea of letting the World President’s children interact with young Paul Metcalfe.
He grunted in annoyance. “This is not a very enviable prospect. We already have one child onboard, and we are keeping him under close surveillance, to make sure he behaves correctly and doesn’t wander around in secure areas.” A thought came to his mind, and he turned swiftly to Captain Blue. “By the way, I trust young Mr. Metcalfe’s room is well guarded?”
“It is, sir,” Grey confirmed, answering in Blue’s stead. “There’re currently two security guards at his door. Not that he caused any kind of trouble of late. When Destiny and I left him earlier, he was quietly working on that model he has been given.”
“He is very good with his hands, Colonel,” Destiny confirmed with a large smile, as if she couldn’t be prouder if Paul had been her own flesh and blood. “That model is turning beautifully. You will see, Capitaine Ochre. You will find it fantastique.”
“Oh, I’m sure I’ll be thrilled,” Ochre muttered.
Melody grinned mischievously at him. “You’re really acting as if you were jealous of Paul’s unexpected skills.”
“In your dreams, girl. I have absolutely no reason to be jealous.”
“So that part, at least, is well taken care of for the moment,” White commented, ignoring them. “However, with the World President’s family’s onboard, the problem will multiply tenfold. We’re practically keeping young Mr. Metcalfe under house arrest. We can’t possibly do the same for Younger’s children. We need another solution for them.”
“Actually, sir, I think we have handled the problem the wrong way from the very beginning with Paul.”
Everyone turned to Symphony who had spoken these words. Seeing all eyes suddenly on her, she wasn’t sure how to continue and she hesitated.
“And what do you mean exactly, Symphony?” Colonel White asked with an impatient scowl.
She shook her head and decided to take the plunge. “Treating Paul the way we did. Confining him to his room. Not permitting him to stroll around the base at his leisure. Acting suspicious of his every move and acting exactly as if we’re expecting him to escape or go where he’s not allowed to go. I think we all tend to ignore who he is.”
“It’s exactly because we remember who he is that we expect him to do exactly that,” Ochre retorted. “He did escape once.”
“And how would you have acted yourself in his place?” Rhapsody said in turn, in a quiet voice, causing eyes to turn to her this time. “He has no memory of his adult life. He thinks he’s only this child of ten, and can only recall his life from before that period.”
“He wakes in a room which has been the site of an explosion, which is not familiar to him,” Melody moved on. “And then he finds himself surrounded by strange and unknown people who are very secretive about how he came to be there.”
“I would have tried to escape too,” Symphony concluded.
“I too,” Lieutenant Green added morosely.
“And I, too,” Captain Blue then said, in a low voice.
He nodded slowly, as his mind wandered to the past, acutely recollecting unpleasant memories from his childhood that he usually preferred not to think about. He caught the colonel staring at him intensely; the Old Man was one of the few people onboard Cloudbase to know about this specific subject. And seemingly, he understood as well.
Blue cleared his throat and straightened in his seat. “I think the Angels are right,” he said. “We shouldn’t have treated Paul the way we did until now, almost like a juvenile delinquent. Magenta and Symphony had the right idea. We want to gain his trust, we should start by trusting him ourselves.”
“We shouldn’t worry that he might try to escape,” Symphony reasoned. “Quite frankly, there’s no way he can escape Cloudbase, even if he wanted to. How do you leave a base which is hovering 40,000 feet in the air, unnoticed? He would need a plane, and he can’t get a hold of one, pilot one, or even have the authorisation to take it off base.”
“As for the rest, all the secure areas where he really shouldn’t go are already under surveillance,” Rhapsody continued. “With security guards and cameras – cameras that are all over Cloudbase. So if he were allowed to walk free onboard, even if he tried to, he wouldn’t be allowed in those places to begin with. And if we need to know where he is –”
“… With the cameras, we would find him in minutes,” Green finished for her.
“So there’s really no point in keeping guards at his door,” Symphony concluded. “Or to force the supervision of an adult on him at all times. He’s a growing boy, he would like to have some privacy. Granted, if we leave him by himself for a lengthy period of time, he might get bored. He would need company once in a while.”
“And maybe the World President’s children might provide it,” Destiny added in a joyous voice.
“What?” White said with a frown, turning to her.
“That’s actually not a bad idea, sir,” Magenta agreed. “He might like the company of other children.”
“And what if he tells them he’s been kidnapped, like he believes?” Grey remarked. “What if he tells them his story?”
“A fourteen year old boy and a six year old girl?” Green observed doubtfully. “They might not believe him. The first will dismiss and ignore him. The second will think he wants to play.”
“And the World President will probably react like General Peterson,” Magenta continued.
“The magic word here is ‘probably’,” Grey remarked.
“I would really prefer for those two not to meet, if that can be avoided,” White said thoughtfully. “The boy might tell the World President his name. Younger knows Captain Scarlet’s real name is Paul Metcalfe. He’s unlikely to think this young man is Scarlet’s own son, who shares the same name. He would surely know Scarlet doesn’t have a son.”
“Has the World President forgiven Scarlet for having kidnapped him?” Ochre asked, turning to Blue.
“I’m not sure… I think he understands that Scarlet wasn’t really himself when it happened, and the last time they were together in the same room, the World President was actually quite civil with him –”
“That was in Kenya, wasn’t it? Ochre specified.
“… But I think he’s still a little uncomfortable around him,” Blue finished, nodding at Ochre’s question.
“Mmm… Maybe he won’t want our young Paul to keep company with his kids, then,” Ochre reasoned.
“I have absolutely no intention of telling the World President this child is Captain Scarlet,” Colonel White retorted. “And I would rather not have him find out what happened.”
“Actually, Magenta might be right. What happened is so incredible, that Younger might not believe it at all, if the boy was to tell him,” Fawn commented. “Colonel, maybe it’s a risk we ought to take. And quite frankly, let’s suppose the President learns about the incident… What consequences could it have?”
White rolled his eyes. “You’re asking, Doctor? That’s something I would prefer not to find out. Remember that it wasn’t very pleasant for Scarlet when he returned to us after being Mysteronised. Suppose for a second that the World President starts imagining that this is indeed the work of the Mysterons. I prefer to avoid him coming to that conclusion.”
“Even if you want to, you won’t be able to prevent him meeting the boy, Colonel,” Fawn reasoned. “As you said yourself, he might want to see him… And you will not be able to evade that.”
“I will talk to Paul,” Blue then declared, causing all eyes to turn to him. “I might be able to convince him to play along with us, and not to reveal too much about himself to the World President and his children, if he has to meet them.”
“And how do you plan to convince him exactly?” White asked, raising an eyebrow in curiosity.
“By bribing him, of course.” Blue smiled. “If I offer him freedom onboard Cloudbase, just like we discussed here, in exchange for his discretion, we might actually get from him what we want.”
“Is that bribery or blackmail?” Rhapsody innocently asked.
“Bribery, definitely,” Green confirmed, with a knowing smile. “And it works with children without fail. Always worked with my younger brothers and sisters.”
“Always worked with mine as well,” Blue agreed with a nod.
“I know it worked with me too,” Ochre added almost thoughtfully.
“You kept asking your parents for model kits?” Rhapsody inquired, raising a brow in curiosity.
“Can never keep a secret from you, can I, sweetheart?” Ochre replied, winking at her.
“All right,” White said, intertwining his fingers and thinking about it all. “If we can convince the boy, then the problem will be settled in part. And if we allow him more freedom onboard, we can do the same with the World President’s own children as well. Although I would suggest that we keep a closer eye on the little one.”
“A child of six is easier to handle than ten year olds or teenagers,” Fawn commented. “I will check amongst my staff in sickbay if someone can provide babysitting duty for her, in case we need it.”
“The world president is supposed to bring the girl’s nanny along, Doctor. So that should take care of it,” White commented.
“A nanny?” Ochre said, raising an eyebrow. “Geez… this visit will really be interesting…”
“However, your offer is dully noted,” White continued, addressing Fawn and glaring sideways in Ochre’s direction. That woman might welcome the help, should it comes to it. That would be helpful, Doctor. Thank you. Captain Blue, I’ll leave you to talk with young Mr. Metcalfe. I expect you to have good news for me when you report back.”
“Sir, I think this could actually be beneficial,” Rhapsody then added. “Maybe this might actually help Paul to remember – about us, about Spectrum… And perhaps that, in remembering, that might help in… ‘curing’ him of what happened.”
White offered her a sad smile. He was unconvinced; but he wasn’t about to destroy all of her hopes. “I hope you’re right, Rhapsody… sincerely. That would certainly be a break for us.” He cleared his throat, before addressing everyone seated around the table: “The meeting is adjourned, ladies and gentlemen. You already have your instructions for the World President’s visit. Your scheduled duties are postponed until the day after tomorrow, instead of tomorrow. Captain Blue, Melody Angel – as you might guess, your scheduled flight test of SPJ P010 equipped with the new automatic pilot is rescheduled for the 24th instead of the 23rd, because of the World President’s arrival.”
“S.I.G., sir,” Melody answered. She exchanged glances with Blue and smiled lightly. “Yes, I think we both figured that one out, as you suggested.”
“Captain Grey and Captain Ochre, remain here… We have additional details to discuss, regarding the arrival of our new guests. General Peterson will be joining us shortly.”
“The rest of you, dismiss.”
As everybody left the conference room and went to their respective duties or occupations, Rhapsody caught up with Captain Blue as he was on his way to Paul’s room.
“Would you mind if I go with you, Captain?”
Blue turned to the young woman, who stood there waiting expectantly for his reply. He looked around, making sure there were no indiscreet ears around that would spy on their conversation.
“You sure you’re up to it, Dianne?” he then asked in a low voice. “Karen told me of your previous… reaction, on seeing Paul earlier.”
She shrugged. “I’m all right,” she said. “I’m English, you know. Once the first moment of surprise passes, we can cope with anything.”
He laughed. “While playing whist throughout.”
“I never play whist,” she retorted, chuckling. “But you could interest me in a game of poker.”
“No way. Scarlet told me you’re a shark. He suspects you learned from Destiny.”
“Oh no… Destiny and I don’t play the same game. I never cheat.” She smiled wickedly before showing Blue the book she had in her hands. “I still need to give Paul his birthday gift,” she said. “I already read it three times, since I bought it – the second and third readings in the last two days following what happened to him. I almost know it by heart.”
“I also have something to give him,” Blue said, showing the small brown bag he carried in one hand. She had noticed the bag on the table earlier, and had been curious about it. “Courtesy of Melody,” he explained. “It’s to help him finish his model.”
“Something else she took from Ochre’s quarters?”
“This time, she only borrowed it. Now whether Ochre knows about it or not, is anyone’s guess. But either way, I suspect she doesn’t want him to cause another scene… like the one she told me he made when she gave Paul that model.” He smiled at the thought. “Come along with me then…” He raised his index finger at her. “But… under the condition you direct me to that bottle of malt in Scarlet’s quarters. I hope you left enough for me to enjoy a glass of it?”
“Karen told you that as well?” Rhapsody pouted.
He laughed again and took her by the shoulders, steering her towards the nearest lift. “Why, Dianne… you ought to know that there’re no secrets between Karen and myself.”
When they arrived at the guest room which had been assigned to Paul, the first thing Blue did was to dismiss the two security guards standing on either side of the door, informing them that their services would no longer be required. Before they departed, however, he asked them how their special guest had been behaving that evening.
“He’s been quiet, sir,” one of them answered, shrugging. “He received his dinner around seven, and since then, nothing. We didn’t hear a peep from inside. For all we know, he could have fallen asleep after eating.”
Blue thanked them, and as they left, he entered the guest room with Rhapsody.
The living area was empty, with the television on, tuned to a movie channel which was showing an old black and white Christmas classic that Blue recognised instantly as ‘Christmas in Connecticut’, one of his mother’s favourite movies. There were the remains of a very hefty dinner on the low table, practically all eaten, right next to the half-made model he knew Paul had been working on since the previous day.
The door to one of the bedrooms was open; it was dark, but some light and sounds were coming from it, so Blue and Rhapsody went that way.
They found Paul lying on his belly in bed, with the bedroom television on, playing some video sci-fi war game on it using the computer keyboard. He spotted Blue as he stood in the entrance, and scowled with no concealed displeasure.
“Oh. It’s you again,” he mumbled. He half-turned his back on him and continued his game, making a show of ignoring him.
Blue paid no attention to his behaviour and entered fully, followed by Rhapsody. “Hi, kid. How has it been going?”
“Could be better,” Paul grumbled under his breath. He pressed a key of his keyboard and Blue watched as an alien invader – which happened to be blue – was obliterated on the screen by a salvo of yellow laser rays. “Could be worse,” the boy added ominously.
Blue exchanged glances with Rhapsody, who stood slightly behind him. She shrugged and offered him an encouraging smile. He cleared his throat.
“I can understand you’re angry with me, Paul,” he began in a composed voice.
“Can you?” the boy said, his eyes still set on the television.
“I mean, you have every right to be unhappy. With me, with Ochre… with the colonel. I… erm… I understand you actually had a wonderful time today with Symphony and Magenta and that we… that is, Ochre and I… we ruined it for you, all of a sudden. Well… I can admit my mistakes. So I came to apologise and make peace with you.”
Paul glared at him, suspiciously. “Your girlfriend chewed you up, right?”
Behind Blue, Rhapsody had all the trouble in the world not to chuckle and to keep a straight face at these words. Whether he was thirty-four or ten, Paul Metcalfe was certainly a perceptive guy.
Blue frowned at the boy’s remark. “How do you know she’s my girlfriend?”
Paul shrugged indifferently. Okay, Blue reflected. He’s playing hard to get. Let’s change strategy then.
“I saw your model on the table,” Blue continued, half-turning to gesture towards the living area beyond the open door. “It’s really taken shape. It’ll be beautiful when it’s finished. Oh, and in order to do that…” He opened the small bag he carried and fished an airbrush gun from it. He presented it to Paul. “Melody asked me to bring you this,” he said, noting that at the name of Melody, the boy gave a fleeting glance to the airbrush gun before returning his attention to the game. “That’s one of Ochre’s… it’s only a loan, though – you will have to give it back when you’re done. She added some paints in the bag, but I believe there’s some supplied with the model as well? I saw the bottles on the table.”
“Yeah, it comes fully equipped with the proper paints,” Paul said. He killed another alien on the screen, without so much as batting an eyelid. “Thank Melody for this. It’ll be useful…”
Blue kept himself from sighing. That wasn’t working either. Yep. Really hard to get…
He seemed to suddenly remember Rhapsody’s presence behind him. “Oh, I have someone here with me,” he said, stepping aside.
This time, Paul fully turned his head as Rhapsody approached the bed and crouched next to it.
“Hi, Paul. I’m Rhapsody Angel.”
“Another of the Angel pilots?” the boy asked. He pressed the pause button and sat up properly, crossing his legs.
“I’m a friend of Melody, Symphony and Destiny,” Rhapsody said with a gentle smile. “They’ve told me a lot about you already. I’m pleased to meet you.”
She presented her hand and Paul shook it; it was a polite handshake, but nothing more; she had hoped that maybe a physical contact between them might actually be able to stir something in him. She was sadly mistaken. As deep as she could look into his blue eyes, she couldn’t see any recognition in them. He was looking at her as if he was looking at a stranger.
That certainly was hurtful, but she did her best not to show it.
“You’ll be my guardian for the night, then?” Paul asked her. He nodded towards the frozen screen. “You good at those games? I plan to play them all night.”
“I used to be very good with them a few years ago,” Rhapsody commented. “But I won’t surprise you, I’m actually better with flight simulator and air combat games than… erm… alien invaders games.”
She noticed how the boy’s eyes suddenly became bright with interest at her words. “That would figure. I’m pretty good with those too. Tried it with 3D flight seats?”
“Of course. But there’s no other way to play those games than with a full flight simulator cabin.”
“I tried that a few times, in the arcade in Winchester. Uncle George gave me a few tips, so I’m pretty good. Uncle George’s a pilot,” he explained, and she acknowledged the information with a nod. “I don’t suppose there’s any here on Cloudbase, right?”
She hesitated. “Except for the training flight simulator, no. They’re much more sophisticated. Especially the one we have up here.”
“You have one of those?” Paul asked excitedly.
“Why yes,” Blue said in turn, seeing an opportunity to take advantage of Paul’s eager interest. “There’s a special application programmed into the flight simulator computer especially designed for Angel Interceptor combat flight. Our pilots have to hone their skills. The simulator puts them through various combat situations, and so they’re able to face about anything.”
“What do you know about flying?” Paul asked him, narrowing his eyes with suspicion. “You’re a pilot too?”
“As a matter of fact, he is,” Rhapsody confirmed. “He helped design Cloudbase’s flight simulator with Melody.”
“Is that so?”
“I used to be a test pilot,” Blue explained. “Like Melody was too.”
“So you designed the program? For the Angel interceptor only?”
“No… Actually there are various flight situations for any airplane Spectrum members might be called on to fly. And that includes our own, as you might imagine.”
For the first time, Paul gave him a genuine smile. “I’d love to try it out,” he said.
Blue could see it was plainly an appeal, especially considering the way Paul was looking at him with that hopeful expression in his eyes. The Spectrum officer didn’t have quite the heart to say no.
“We’ll see about that,” he answered simply. “It’s not quite the same as an arcade flight simulator, you know… Like Rhapsody said, it’s more sophisticated...” He sighed. “Maybe if you actually get some shut eye tonight… But I really cannot make any promises.” Blue sought to change the subject quickly, before losing Paul’s interest: “Ah… I believe Rhapsody has something for you.”
“Here.” Rhapsody offered her book with both hands to the young boy who eyed it with curiosity. “I heard that it’s supposed to be one of your favourite books?”
“Awesome!” the boy exclaimed, spotting the title and taking the book eagerly. “The Scarlet Pimpernel! Thanks, Rhapsody!”
“You can call me Dianne,” she suggested as he started flicking through the pages. “That’s my real name.”
Paul looked at Rhapsody with a frown. “How did you know it was my favourite book?”
She shrugged and tried to sound flippant about it: “I was a pretty good detective, before joining Spectrum.” She wiggled her fingers playfully. “I find out things about people.”
Paul was about to ask her more on that subject, when two small pieces of cardboard slipped from between the pages of his book and fell on his lap. He swiftly picked them up; Rhapsody realised instantly they were the tickets she had additionally bought for her fiancé’s birthday gift. She had forgotten she had left them in the book.
“Wizard! Two tickets for the Pimpernel musical in London? I didn’t know it was going on there!”
“They’re on international tour at the moment,” Rhapsody explained, almost absently. The conversation had taken a turn that was deeply reminiscence of the first occasion she had handed Paul his gift.
“Those are for me too?” he asked unbelievingly.
She nodded. “If you want them, of course.”
“If I want them? You’re kidding!” The smile on Paul’s face was threatening to crack his young face in two. “Thanks, Dianne! There’s two of them… That means, I can ask someone to come with me? Anyone?”
“Anyone you wish,” Rhapsody confirmed with a large smile, her nod this time a little more vigorous.
“That’s awesome! I think… I’ll ask Melody to come with me.” Rhapsody’s smile fell at those words, and Paul didn’t seem to notice the disappointment now spreading on her face. He was too busy contemplating his tickets. “She’s been cool with me, and sweet… You’d think she’d like to come?”
He turned to Rhapsody; at this point, she made her best effort to hide her sadness and disenchantment; she slowly got to her feet. “I’m sure she’ll be very happy to go with you, love,” she answered, forcing a smile – a genuine one, although it was a little weak – on her lips.
“Thanks! I’ll ask her tomorrow!”
Rhapsody straightened herself. She caught sight of Blue staring at her with an intense look. Surely, he understood what she was going through right now.
For the moment, she thought she had had quite enough of it; watching Paul like this wasn’t as easy as she had made out. In small doses, she would be able to bear it; but if she was to stay longer in this bedroom, she didn’t know how it would end. Either she would burst into tears or strangle him gleefully for having chosen Melody over her to go to the play. Not that it had any importance, as she hoped he would be ‘himself’ before actually going.
“I think I’ll go into the living room, and order myself something to eat, before I turn in,” she declared, clearing her throat. “If you don’t mind me staying tonight…”
“Sure, I don’t mind.” Paul frowned. Obviously, he had now noticed that Rhapsody didn’t seem very enthusiastic anymore.
“I’ll sleep on the sofa then.”
“No way,” Blue retorted. “You’ll take the other room. I’ll take the sofa. Unless this rascal keeps me up, playing videogames all night,” he added, shooting a teasing look in Paul’s direction. He smiled up at Rhapsody. “Make that a double order,” he requested. “I’ll join you. With all that happened today, I didn’t have my dinner yet, and I’m positively famished.”
“Then if I know you, it’ll be a triple order.” Rhapsody smiled knowingly before turning around. “Will pizza with all the trimmings do?”
“The largest they have in the restaurant.”
Rhapsody chuckled. “It’ll be waiting for you in the living room when you’re ready.”
She walked out, and closed the door behind her. Paul followed her with his eyes, his brow creased with puzzlement.
“Have I done something wrong?” he asked, turning to Blue.
The American captain tilted his head to one side. “What makes you say that?”
“I don’t know… When she arrived she seemed rather cheerful. But when she left… she looked sad.”
“Mmm… You’re very astute, kid. Perhaps she was somehow hoping that your choice of a companion for that musical would settle on someone else?”
“You mean, she would have liked me to ask her?” Paul reddened a little. “I thought of that… She seems like a nice woman, and I like her… And I like Symphony too, but Melody…”
“Melody’s your favourite, right?”
“Well, asking Symphony wouldn’t have been right. Seeing as she’s your girlfriend…” Paul glanced sideways at Blue.
“I would very much like to know how you came to that conclusion,” the American mused with curiosity.
“I didn’t know until I saw the way you reacted when I teased you about it earlier,” Paul retorted, mischievously.
“Smart, kid,” Blue chuckled. “And Melody? What if she had been, I don’t know –”
“Ochre’s sweetheart?” Paul’s smile became a wicked one. “I noticed how they kept arguing. Like my uncle George and my aunt Edna. All the more reason for me to ask her!”
“Ochre really got under your skin, did he?” the amused Blue noted.
“A little… But I don’t dislike him,” Paul admitted. “He’s funny. And easy to make fun of.”
“When, since for once, the tables are turned on him, you won’t see me complaining.” Blue removed his cap and waved the young boy aside. “Move over a bit, I’ve been on my feet all day long, and I would very much like to see if this bed is as comfortable as it looks.”
Paul pulled himself further to one side of the bed, giving space to the American, who sat on the bed, leaning his back against the padded headboard of the bed. He carefully put his feet up and heaved a deep sigh.
“That’s more like it… Yes, this is very comfy. I think I’ll move in here and give you my quarters.”
“You think I should ask Rhapsody if she wants to come with me to see that musical?” Paul asked. He now seemed a little concerned over that question.
“Don’t beat yourself up,” Blue assured him. “I know Rhapsody. She’s a sweet girl. She’ll never hold it against you.” But when you return to your adult self, he added inwardly, I’m afraid she’ll make you suffer for it, pal.
“Yeah, but now, I feel a bit bad. With her giving me that book and those tickets… While not knowing me…” Paul frowned deeply. “But… she seems familiar… I must have seen her somewhere.”
“You think you know her?” Blue asked with a certain amount of hope.
“Maybe at a family reunion? Maybe she knows my parents? She’s English, right?”
“As English as they come, yes.” Blue nodded slowly. “Perhaps she knows you better than you think.”
“She surely must, to know about that book,” Paul commented thoughtfully. “I had a copy of that book before. My dad gave it to me last year. I read it many times already, and never got tired of it.” He grimaced. “My cousin Jack borrowed it last autumn and never gave it back… This is one copy he’ll never get his hands on.”
“You like that story that much?”
“Very! I mean, I like all the Scarlet Pimpernel stories. There’s lots of them. Do you know what they’re about?”
Blue shrugged. “Very rich English gentleman crossing the English Channel to France and trying to save as many people as possible from the Guillotine, during the French Revolution,” he summarised. “Yeah, I think I know what those stories are about. The Pimpernel uses various disguises and many stratagems in the course of his rescues. All the while ridiculing the soldiers of the Republic.”
“The first book’s is my favourite. It’s the best.”
“First books often are.”
“The other one that comes close is El Dorado. In that one, the Pimpernel is captured, while trying to save the Dauphin from prison…” Paul stopped himself and frowned, looking at Blue. “You know who the Dauphin is?”
Again, Blue nodded. “The Dauphin was the title given to the heir of the Throne of France, before the Revolution. The one you’re referring to was probably one of the last holders of the title. If not the last holder: Louis the Seventeenth, son of Louis the Sixteenth and Marie-Antoinette of Austria. He was imprisoned in the Temple prison when he and his family were arrested at the beginning of the Revolution.” Blue frowned. “I don’t think I read that book, though. Did the Pimpernel succeed in saving him?”
“Of course. And the Dauphin got away, even if the Pimpernel was captured. But he escaped too, a bit later. Again, making the bad guy looking like a fool.”
“I’d like to think the Dauphin did like the Pimpernel when he grew up, and became a hero too.” Paul grinned and with a flick of the hand, mimicked the movement of a man holding a sword and thrusting it forward. “Maybe he became a great swashbuckler, and helped those in need, and punished the bad guys. Wouldn’t that have been grand?”
Blue chuckled. “That’s certainly an interesting idea. You have quite the imagination, pal.”
“What do you think really happened to him?” Paul asked soberly. Blue turned to him with an enquiring look, and the boy shook his head. “The real Dauphin. Did he escape? For real?”
Blue sighed. “I don’t know,” he said truthfully. “His fate is said to be one of the great mysteries of France’s history. Some people like to think that people helped him escape, like it happened in the Scarlet Pimpernel book. Unfortunately, most of the evidence indicated that he probably died at the Temple Prison, from either illness, mistreatment or poisoning. That would seem more likely. He was only ten.”
“Like me. That’s sad. I prefer to think he could have escaped.”
“That’s still a possibility.”
“How sad and lonely it must have been for him in that prison. I certainly can understand how he felt.”
Blue noticed the boy’s gloomy expression suddenly passing in his features, after his short display of enthusiasm. He smiled encouragingly. “Hey… Don’t go compare your position to that of poor Louis. You’re far from being imprisoned here.”
“I’m not?” Paul asked in a somewhat colder voice. “Maybe you think I’m not, but that’s not how I feel.” He turned away from Blue and stared miserably at the emptiness before him. “This might not be a prison like the Temple, but I can relate to Louis, somehow. I’m in a strange place, surrounded by strangers. Far from home, away from my parents. I can’t talk to them, I can’t see them… And I’m not allowed to go back to them…”
His voice cracked and he lowered his head, closing his eyes, unwilling to look back at Blue. The latter was staring at him; he thought he saw some moisture under the young boy’s eyelids. That went right to his heart.
“I know what you’re going through,” he said, swallowing the ball that was forming in his throat.
“I doubt that very much,” Paul murmured.
“No, it’s true. Believe me, I know.” Blue reached for the young man’s hand, which was resting on his lap and squeezed it warmly, causing Paul to open his eyes and turn to him. The American captain had a moment’s hesitation, before addressing him again.
“I was about your age, when a man took me from my home,” he said in a low, almost distant voice, Paul listening with close attention. “A criminal, whose idea was to ransom me for money. You see, my parents are rich people… They were to pay up if they ever wanted to see me alive again.”
Paul was regarding him with wide eyes. “That must have been terrifying,” he breathed out.
Blue nodded slowly. “It was indeed. The man was brutal and cruel. He kept me in a dark, filthy place, all tied up; he barely fed me, didn’t give me enough water – and beat me up remorselessly.” He drew a deep, shaky breath and shook his head, broodingly. “I was just a kid, but I could understand quite easily he never had any intention of freeing me and giving me back to my family. I had seen his face, I knew him – I could denounce him. I was a witness he needed to get rid of.”
“He meant to kill you,” Paul realised, swallowing hard.
“He nearly did. I tried to escape, but he caught me – and in fighting him off, I fell into an old, disused well. He thought he had killed me. Fortunately, he didn’t know the well was blocked halfway down. I was hurt, but I survived. Obviously,” he added, good-naturedly enough, offering an encouraging if half-hearted smile to the boy who was still listening attentively. “The police found me. I spent some time in the hospital and eventually, I was returned to my family.”
“What happened to that man?” Paul asked, his eyes riveted to the Spectrum officer. “The police caught him?”
“Oh… He was arrested all right, along with his accomplice, and they went to prison for many years,” Blue answered distantly.
“Good riddance,” Paul said darkly.
“So you see, Paul, I know exactly what it’s like for you right now. Being in an unknown environment, with unknown people… feeling frightened, because I didn’t understand what was happening to me.”
“I think you had it worse than me,” Paul reasoned. “None of you have mistreated me. The room is nice, food’s good… And I’m having some fun.”
“With the added bonus of trying to make Ochre go completely crazy,” Blue said with an amused grin.
Paul sniggered. “Yeah, that too.” He smiled and shrugged. “I think you’re all trying to make it up to me, somehow. Ochre too, in his own way. Only thing that gets to me is… why’re you keeping so secret about why I’m here?”
Blue bit his lower lip; Paul was staring at him with so much anticipation that he was sorely tempted to tell him everything. But he realised that it would probably serve nothing but to turn the boy against all of them. He wouldn’t believe such a cockeyed story.
He was starting to open up. One false move might become disastrous.
“I’m sorry, Paul,” Blue told him in the sincerest voice he could muster. “That really cannot be helped. I promised, you’ll understand everything when this is through. And I promise also,” he added solemnly, “that you’ll see your parents again. Hopefully, very soon.”
“It’s them who asked you to take me away, isn’t it?”
Paul’s question was rather unexpected and took Blue slightly aback. “What the devil do you mean? Who are you talking about? Your parents?”
“Yeah. Well, my dad, mostly. That’s because I told him I didn’t want to turn out like Billy Follett.”
Blue scowled. “Who’s Billy Follett?”
“He lives next door to our home. He’s a friend of mine… Well, he was a friend of mine. He’s not anymore.” Paul sighed. “Listen, you don’t have to act as if you didn’t understand. I know what’s going on in England. I might be a child, but I know.”
“You do?” Blue asked, even more confused.
“Yeah. About the Military being the government… About the dictatorship. About that man… the Director, who’s supposed to be a tyrant.”
Blue nodded thoughtfully. Of course. The Militarist dictatorship. That was the political situation in England, at the time Paul Metcalfe had been a boy of ten. That would naturally be how he knew and remembered it to be right now. The British Isles were not part of the World Government at the time. That would only come a little later.
“How does a kid your age know of such things?” Blue mused.
“Hey, the Director, we know about, ‘cause they teach us about him at school. ‘Cept the teachers, they don’t call him a tyrant, you know.”
“For the rest… Well, I hear my Mum and Dad talk sometimes. And my uncles George and Miles, when they come over. And my grandfathers… They’re not happy about it. They talk a lot, they yell a lot… They think I’m asleep, and Mum often shushes them so they don’t wake me up, but I can hear them.” Paul shrugged. “I don’t understand all, but I get the gist of it.”
Blue nodded again. “Did I tell you already what a clever kid you are?”
Paul reddened slightly, but answered nothing to that comment. “Next year, I’ll be eleven,” he continued. “It’ll be my turn to go, just like Billy last year. And I told Dad I didn’t want to. So that must be why he arranged for me to come here, so I would be safe. But he really didn’t have to hide it from me. All he had to do was tell me.”
“I still don’t know what you’re on about,” Blue said, shaking his head.
“Surely, you must know. I told you, you don’t have to pretend.”
“Well, I don’t know and I’m not pretending,” Blue replied with a scowl. “So would you explain to me?”
Paul stared straight at Blue. He could see he was telling the truth. He sighed and started: “My dad’s in the military… Do you know that?”
“Yes, that at least I know.”
“Billy’s dad was also in the military. He’s retired now. He’s a friend of my Dad too. Billy’s a little older than me, a couple of years, but he and I, we were best buddies. We were always together. At school, we would, you know... look after the younger kids. Dad always says, it’s important to protect those who are weaker. That’s why the military’s there. That’s what he’s been doing all his life. Like my grandfather… and my great-grandfather. So he expects me to be the same as them. To do the right thing.”
“Your dad’s a wise man,” Blue said with an approving nod.
“Last year, Billy went to military school,” Paul continued. “You see, when kids of military men turn eleven, they’re sent to military school, where they learn to be officers, and later join the army. It was Billy’s turn to go.” He shook his head, gloomily. “And while at military school, Billy was taught… different.”
“About how the military should act. When he came back, Billy wasn’t the same. He was… different, not very nice. He was saying, the military were superior, that they were the ruling class. They were the strong and that it was the reason the military led our country. He said the rest of the people ought to look up to them, and were only there to serve them.”
“That’s a whole load of baloney.”
“Yeah, that’s what my father said too. Billy wasn’t interested with hanging with me anymore. He was hanging with the older boys he had met at military school and started bullying the other kids with them. I did what I usually do. I stepped in…” Paul shrugged. “Cause, like Dad says, it’s the right thing to do to protect people…” His voice trailed off.
“What happened?” Blue asked softly.
Paul shrugged again. “Billy and his new chums, they beat me up. Beat me up real bad. They were laughing at me, and saying I would see things their way too, when I go to military school next year.” With a morose expression, he shook his head. “Either I’ll see it their way, on my own, or they’ll make sure I understand my place.”
“Oh…” Blue shook his head in an understanding way. “I see it perfectly, yes…”
“I told my Dad I didn’t want to go to military school,” Paul finished. “I was so looking forward to going into the military, like Dad and Granddad… but I don’t want to anymore. I don’t want to become like Billy and turn into a bully.”
“That’s unlikely to happen, Paul.”
“That’s what Dad said. He also promised he would find a way for it not to happen. That I won’t have to go if I don’t want to. But I’m not stupid. I know military school is mandatory for me. They will force me to go.”
“Who would force you to go?” Blue asked with a frown.
“‘Recruiters’, people call them. They go and get kids at their home when they don’t go to military school by themselves. They even go in during the night to make sure they’ll get the kids. Billy and the others told me so. There’s nothing my dad will be able to do about it, they said.”
“And you don’t trust your father enough to actually find a solution?” Blue asked. “Paul, from what I know of your father… he’s a man who’s true to his word. And if he told you he would see that whatever happened to Billy won’t happen to you, that you won’t be forced to go to that awful school… then you’d better believe he will.”
“I’m thinking sending me here was his way of doing it,” Paul then finally revealed. “You know, when I first woke up, and met you people, I thought you were recruiters of some sort, who came to get me… I know I wasn’t of age yet – won’t be before next year – but your colonel, he’s obviously English and the rest of you… perhaps you were mercenaries, I don’t know…”
Blue raised a curious brow. “Mercenaries, really?”
“Well… I was scared.”
“And now, you’re not scared anymore?” Blue enquired.
“Nah… There’s nothing scary about any of you. Well… maybe only that scientist that I met earlier today in sickbay, when I went for a check up. Your head of Research and Development, Colonel White said.”
“Doctor Lavender,” Blue said. “Yes, he’s something of a scary sight, I must admit.”
“It’s just the way he looks at me… I have the impression he sees me as something like a science experiment.” Paul grimaced. “I don’t know why.”
Blue chuckled. The natural aversion between Scarlet and Lavender obviously ran very deep. “Now you know how guinea pigs feel,” he said.
“When you told me about the World Government and Spectrum being a secret organisation and all, I first thought it was a trick. Then I realised you weren’t leading me on… So that must all be true. So I thought… Dad must have used some of his connections to get me here to safety, somehow. He knows a lot of people. Or Granddad Paul… I heard him talking about his contacts with the World Government. Mum always tells him to shut up, in case someone might overhear him.”
Paul Blake, of course. Paul Metcalfe’s maternal grandfather. He had been one of the junior directors of the secret British branch of the U.S.S… in the time when there wasn’t supposed to be any U.S.S. British branch. He certainly had his own connections with the World Government of the era.
“So that seems like the most logical answer,” Paul finished. “I was sent here to avoid being sent to military school. But really, Dad should have told me about it. I would have understood.”
Paul looked directly at Blue, obviously waiting for a confirmation of what he was suspecting. But the American wasn’t about to commit himself by commenting on any of it. The boy was of course mistaken, but if that thought reassured him, then Blue didn’t want to tell him it wasn’t the case; he didn’t want to lie to him either, by confirming him in his error.
“I’m still missing my parents, though,” Paul continued, lowering his eyes again. “With Christmas coming in only a few days…”
“I’d love to tell you you’ll be with them for Christmas,” Blue said truthfully. He shook his head. “Unfortunately, I can’t.”
“What I can do for you, though, is this,” Blue said suddenly, attracting the young boy’s attention back to him. “I do think we did you an injustice, these last couple of days, so I think that we should correct that situation.”
Paul frowned. “How so?”
“Well, for starters, I think you don’t need constant surveillance,” Blue revealed. “I already asked the security guards stationed in front of your door to leave.”
“You did? And… the door’s not locked?”
Blue chuckled. “No… and it won’t be locked. This suite is all yours, and if someone is to stay here for the night, it’ll be solely to keep you company… with no mandate to be your guardian anymore. We still wouldn’t want you to feel too bored, or lonely, would we?”
Paul raised a brow that plainly showed he was somewhat doubtful. “If you say so…”
Blue smiled a little gawkily. “And that’s not all. You’ll be free to walk around Cloudbase whenever you want, on your own, without any supervision whatsoever.”
“No supervision?” Paul asked with uncertainty. “You’re not pulling my leg?”
“Not at all… unless you want someone to guide you around, of course… However, there are some areas of the base which are off-limits to civilians, as you might imagine. So you won’t have access to most of them. If you do wish to, and if you ask nicely, there might be some places you’ll be allowed to visit… Like you did for the hangar today, with Symphony and Magenta. In those places, you’ll be accompanied, of course. That cannot be helped.”
Paul narrowed his eyes mischievously. “So if I want to, say… try that flight simulator you mentioned with Rhapsody earlier…”
“Now you’re pushing it,” Blue said, rolling his eyes. “You can imagine it’s not a toy. It’s Spectrum equipment, specifically designed for Spectrum personnel.”
“Awww, come on… It’s unlikely I’ll break it, isn’t it?”
The pleading expression on the young face looking levelly at him made Blue reconsider. He hesitated.
“Well, to begin with, I don’t know if it’ll be possible, and if so, I might need to clear some things up. Additionally, I will have to see if someone can go with you, and you’ll be able to see how the simulator works… But it’s unlikely you’ll get permission to ride it.”
“That’s a start,” Paul said eagerly.
“Harmony Angel still hasn’t met you, and I think she’s looking forward to it. Maybe she’d like to show the simulator to you?”
“Awesome! She’s a good pilot?”
“The Angels say amongst themselves that she’s the best. But of course, they’re all great pilots. Don’t let yourself be fooled by her diminutive appearance when you meet her. She’s also a very lethal martial artist and can floor a man twice her size. Now if you play any tricks on her, imagine what she could do to a kid like you,” Blue added in a warning, teasing tone.
“Neat. Then maybe I’ll ask her for a few lessons. What kind of martial arts does she do?”
Blue laughed. “She’s a black belt in judo… but I think she knows a few other tricks in other forms of martial arts. Ask if you want, but don’t feel bad if she refuses. Maybe she’ll be afraid of hurting you.”
“Wow… This stay on your Cloudbase is starting to look like a real holiday,” Paul said. “It looks like I’ll have plenty of fun.”
Blue looked thoughtfully at his young guest, before adding, carefully: “There’s still one last thing… There is something we need you to do.”
Paul grimaced. “I should have known there was something up. What is it?”
“Oh, it’s nothing that you would find difficult… You know the World President is coming onboard Cloudbase?”
Paul sighed. “I know, I know… You want me to keep out of his way.”
“Well… Not quite. You see, having a kid on Cloudbase is highly irregular… That’s not something Spectrum does often, and the World President is well aware of that.”
“General Peterson – you remember the general, you met him today…”
“General Peterson told the World President of your presence. So maybe the World President will want to meet you.”
Paul opened his eyes wide with surprise. “Me?” he asked, in a voice that showed plainly he didn’t quite believe it. “Why?”
“Maybe because he’ll have his own kids with him?” Blue suggested. “Actually, he might want you to meet them.”
“Why?” Paul repeated.
“You’re all kids. He’ll probably figure you’ll all want to spend some time together.”
“How many kids does the World President have, exactly?”
“Two of them.”
Paul thought about it. “I don’t know… I might not have anything in common with them. What are they like, do you know?”
“Haven’t got the foggiest idea. I just know that the little one is a girl of six. The eldest, Daniel, is a boy of fourteen.”
Paul grimaced. “The girl I definitely don’t have anything in common with,” he declared. “As for the other one…. I don’t know. Fourteen… He’s already ancient.”
Blue raised an offended brow. “If he’s ancient at fourteen… then what am I at my age?”
Paul grinned. “Antediluvian, I’m sure,” he said chuckling.
“Funny, pal.” Blue gave a knowing smile. “Wait until you get there, I’ll be sure to remind you of that…”
“So that’s it? You want me to keep company with the kids?”
“Well, meet them at least, if the World President requests it. You can decide afterwards if you want to keep them company. We’re not forcing you. However… that’s not exactly what we’d like you to do for us.” Blue looked gravely at Paul. “We’d like for you to reveal as little as possible about yourself and how you came to be on Cloudbase to the World President or his kids. Or even General Peterson,” he added in an afterthought.
The young boy frowned. “I don’t understand,” he said with a shake of the head.
“Don’t tell them your full name,” Blue explained. “Don’t tell them about how you found yourself in the explosion in the engine room, and how you don’t remember how you came onboard.”
“Well, that’s true…” Paul remarked.
“… And most importantly,” Blue said, heaving a deep sigh, “don’t tell them about that crazy idea of yours that you’ve been kidnapped.”
“Wouldn’t look too good for your organisation, would it?” Paul suggested with a grin.
“It would look very bad if the World President believed it, which I suspect he might not, actually. But the less you tell him, the better it’ll be.”
“Why not tell him my name?” Paul enquired. “He doesn’t know me… Or maybe he knows my father?”
“Erm… It’s quite possible he knows who your father is, yes…” Blue wondered out loud.
“I really shouldn’t be here, right?” Paul asked. “Kid from Britain, son of a British officer, on a World Government facility… He might think I’m a spy, or something?”
“A spy of ten?” Blue asked dubiously. “How likely do you think it is?”
“Still, I’m guessing I’m not supposed to be here, right?”
Blue hesitated. “In a manner of speaking…”
The young boy grinned widely. “All right, Adam. I’ll keep out of his way, if this is what you want. And if he asks for me to meet his kids, I’ll say as little as possible.”
“That’s great!” Blue said, pleased that it had not been as difficult as he had firstly anticipated. “I…” He stopped himself, suddenly realising something, and frowned. “You called me ‘Adam’? How do you know that’s my real name?”
Paul seemed to give it some thought. After a few seconds, he said, with a dismissive shrug: “Can’t remember. Maybe I heard it from Symphony? Isn’t that what she called you before?”
“Maybe…” But Blue wasn’t really convinced. He couldn’t recall an instance where Symphony had called him by his real name in front of the boy. Not while he was present himself, anyway. So maybe she had when her fiancé wasn’t there?
He would have to ask her that.
“When will the World President be arriving?” Paul asked with curiosity.
“The day after tomorrow. On the 23rd.”
“Close to Christmas,” Paul mused. “Guess I’ll be spending it with you instead of with my family.”
“We’ll make it up to you,” Blue promised. “Think of us as… erm… your surrogate family.”
“With all of you as my uncles and aunties, right?” Paul remarked, rather ironically.
Now that would sit well with Rhapsody, Blue reflected. “With all of us as your friends,” he corrected.
“I do prefer that, yes,” Paul agreed. “Thanks… Adam.”
Blue smiled again. He put his feet down on the floor and pulled himself up, stretching as he did. “I’d better see if that meal Rhapsody ordered has arrived,” he announced. “I could eat a horse. Would you like to come as well for a little bite?” He remembered that Rhapsody was supposed to order pizza with all the trimmings. The fact that it was one of Paul’s favourite meals certainly wasn’t a coincidence. She expected the boy to join them.
But Paul shook his head. “No, I’m not allowed to eat that late in the evening. Mum wouldn’t want me to get bad habits while away from home…”
Since when is Paul Metcalfe so reasonable? Blue wondered, looking straight at the young man. However, he said nothing.
“I should probably go to bed already,” Paul added. “I’m tired.”
“So no games all night, then?” Blue asked, pointing to the still frozen screen.
“Nah, I don’t think so.” He grinned roguishly. “I had a long day, remember?”
Blue narrowed his eyes, looking suspiciously at him. “All right, then… So I’d better be on my way. Good night, Paul.”
“Good night.” As Blue was walking towards the door, Paul suddenly raised his head and called after him. “Adam?”
Blue stopped in his tracks; with his hand on the opening button of the door, he turned slightly to stare with curiosity at the young man, still seated on the bed. He saw the frown creasing his brow.
“Who’s Captain Scarlet?”
Blue’s heart almost missed a beat. “Why do you ask that question?”
Paul shrugged, almost dismissively. “I heard the name a few times. You remember, your colonel asked me if I knew that name…”
“Yes…” Blue answered carefully.
“I was just curious to know… who is he?”
Blue slowly tilted his head to the side, his eyes not leaving his young interlocutor, watching for any reaction on his part. “He’s Spectrum’s best agent,” he answered truthfully. “He’s also my partner… and my best friend.”
“Oh.” Paul nodded in acknowledgement. “I haven’t met him. Where is he?”
Blue considered how to answer that. “Captain Scarlet is… currently unavailable,” he finally said.
“He’s not on base?”
“We hope to have him back soon,” Blue replied without committing himself.
Again, Paul nodded. “When he comes back, I’d like to meet him,” he announced.
Blue didn’t answer. Quite frankly, he didn’t know what to say.
“Thanks for the talk, Adam,” Paul finally said. “It really helped.”
“Think nothing of it. Good night, Paul. Sleep tight tonight.”
“Good night, Adam.”
As he stepped through the doorway and found himself in the living area, Blue stood there, with his hand close to the closing button, thinking about the chat he just had with the young man who was getting ready to sleep behind the now closed door. And most specifically, thinking about the last part of that conversation.
Rhapsody was coming from the main door, carrying two large pizza boxes in her arms, which she had just taken delivery of. Obviously, she had thought that one would not have been enough. She spotted Blue, rooted in silence just in front of the bedroom door, looking thoughtful.
“You’ve been in there for some time,” she told him. “How did it go?”
“Rather well, I would say,” Blue answered. “In fact, better than I expected. “But…” he glanced over his shoulder at the closed door.
“Something’s up?” Rhapsody asked, deposing the two boxes on the low table in the living area. She took great care not to knock over any of the work done on the model plane standing there.
“I’m not sure,” Blue said, stepping away from the door. “I think… there might be something, yes.” He stroked his chin thoughtfully. “I will need to report to the colonel.”
“He called while you two boys were having your little chat,” Rhapsody announced. “He expects to still be busy for a little while with General Peterson. He said he’ll be coming along in an hour or two.”
“He’s coming here?” Blue considered the two boxes on the table. The smell coming from them was heavenly. He realised he was even more hungry than he thought. “Then I believe it’ll give us time to have a bite or two,” he told his companion. “I don’t know about you, but it’s been a long day…”
She rolled her eyes. “You’re telling me?”
An hour and a half later, Rhapsody Angel and Captain Blue were seated on the living area’s sofa, in front of the television – with the sound turned down to a minimum – and enjoying what was left of their two pizzas – one of which was by then completely gone. Colonel White was with them, sitting on the settee; he had arrived a little earlier, and after they had made sure that their young guest was fast asleep in his bedroom, Blue had given an account of the conversation he had had with young Paul Metcalfe. With his interlocked fingers resting on his chin, and his legs crossed, the colonel was now pondering his captain’s report. Some of what Blue had told him was shedding new light on the situation.
“I know of the recruiters,” Rhapsody Angel commented. “It might be a relatively recent term, dating from the Militarist era, but growing up in England, it was rather synonymous with the Bogeyman.”
“You might be too young to remember, Rhapsody,” White observed thoughtfully, “but the recruiters as they were called really existed during the Militarist regime and back then, they were the terror of parents and children alike.” He uncrossed his legs and grunted with some displeasure. “The government of the time desperately needed soldiers, and most of all, good officers, in order to keep their hold on the entire country. Military school then became mandatory for children of military background… especially if their family was prominent in society.”
“Like Paul’s family was,” Blue realised. “And still is today.”
White nodded thoughtfully. “Naturally, while some families were fully in support of the Militarist regime, many other weren’t really that keen to see their sons and sometimes daughters taken away from their home at the still tender age of eleven. Unfortunately, they didn’t have any choice. The children were sent to these schools, where they would be taught and indoctrinated to accept what the Militarists called ‘the natural order’.”
“Like what happened to Billy Follett,” Rhapsody said. “How disgusting.”
“Billy Follett’s story wasn’t an uncommon one, unfortunately,” White reported. “Some parents would often not recognise their children, on their return after their very first year at the school. And you’re right about that, Rhapsody: this was possibly the most despicable thing the Militarist government ever did.”
“Paul never… mentioned the story about that Follett boy,” Rhapsody added. “To anyone, I think.”
“He never told me,” Blue confirmed. “Nor even said anything about how fearful he actually was about going to military school, when he was young.”
“His family has a deep military tradition,” White reasoned. “They could proudly trace that tradition to at least six generations back. It must not have been easy for a young man of ten to realise that if he was to follow the footsteps of his forefathers, he might actually not turn out the way they expected he would. The Metcalfes have a strong set of values that they deeply believe in. While performing their duty towards their country and the people, they would always be true to these values, and do what’s right: helping people, supporting the weak, upholding justice… That’s what Paul Metcalfe has been taught all his life. He didn’t want to disappoint his family.”
“And going to that despicable school might have meant doing exactly the opposite of what they expected of him,” Rhapsody commented. She grimaced. “I never realised the pressure he had obviously been under as a boy because of his background.”
“That’s something I can relate to,” White said. His eyes were set on the half-eaten pizza on the low table before him, which Rhapsody and Blue were devouring enthusiastically.
“You do, sir?” Rhapsody asked with curiosity.
White nodded. “My own father expected something of the same for me. He probably didn’t like my decision to join the Navy instead of the Army, but at least he consoled himself with the fact that I was still military… and followed the same values he instilled in me. Which were quite similar to those of the Metcalfes. In my time, the military schools didn’t exist yet… That is, not the way the Militarist government envisioned them... It wasn’t mandatory for children of military people to go there. I went to a private school until the age of seventeen, at which time I went to the Norwich Military College of Vermont.”
“Already too old to be indoctrinated, sir?” Blue commented.
“Too wise to believe the false promises behind military fascism,” Rhapsody corrected.
The colonel grinned without pleasure. “I do think some young men believed in the Military dictatorship’s legitimacy and supported it. I never did.” He sat back against the backrest of his seat, his eyes not leaving the pizza. “Don’t get me wrong. Most military personnel were honourable people back then. At first, it didn’t appear to be as bad as they finally realised it was. The Director held the country in an iron grip for the better part of nineteen years. He had the time to do his work, and he did it slowly, and cunningly. For a time, it looked like Justice was served and that people were safe. The ways of the Militarist government became the established ways for everyone to follow. But it was only an illusion. And while the people in general slowly discovered the lies and schemes and games behind the illusion, military people discovered they were deeply caught in a web of power they thought they couldn’t get away from. Fortunately, some people finally stood up and decided that things needed to be done to put an end to it… The Metcalfe family was amongst those of us who decided enough was enough.”
Rhapsody slowly and thoughtfully shook her head. Something was coming back to her. “Remember, Adam,” she said turning to Blue, temporary overlooking the fact that Colonel White what there with him as she used his real name, “during Paul’s birthday party… That mysterious statement he made about ‘the best present he ever received’…”
Blue nodded as well, as the memory came back to him. “He told us his father had given him the gift of freedom,” he said.
White understood their lines of thought. It was his turn to nod. “The best way for Charles Metcalfe to avoid for his son ever going to that awful school and risk being indoctrinated like the Follett boy certainly was for him to join act against the Militarists,” he confirmed. “Although, knowing the family, that might not have been their only preoccupation – but it certainly must have weighted heavily in the balance.” The smell of the pizza was hauntingly tormenting his nostrils. He couldn’t take it anymore. “I’m sorry, but this pizza looks and smells absolutely delicious. I haven’t had a bite to eat since lunch. Is there enough for me to…?”
“Oh, of course, sir. There’s more than enough,” Rhapsody said. She had barely spoken before the colonel was leaning forward to choose one of the largest slices. She smiled despite herself; he really looked hungry. “How thoughtless of me… I ordered those two large pizzas because I fully expected Paul to join us...”
“And he didn’t,” Blue said in turn.
He watched with curiosity as White put his slice of pizza onto a small cardboard plate, and started slicing through it, using a knife. Blue was always fascinated with the fact that English people, unlike Americans who would use their hands, usually ate pizza using fork and knife. Rhapsody was the only English person he personally knew who did not use utensils. But then again, her mother was half-Italian, so ate her pizza the Italian way – folding the slice in two, so not to lose anything. Which looked strangely like the New York way of eating a pizza. He shook himself, realising he was staring.
“He said he wasn’t hungry,” he added.
“Oh?” White raised a brow, as he finished chewing his first bite. “Now that’s unusual coming from him. Especially at the age he is right now. It’s my understanding that children that age are always hungry.”
“You think he might be up to something?” Blue asked with perplexity. “He said he was tired.”
“Another unusual thing.” White cut himself another bite. “Maybe I’m just naturally suspicious when it comes to him. He usually doesn’t need that much sleep.”
“He’s not retrometabolic anymore, sir,” Blue reminded him.
“Uh-uh…” White stared at him. “Is he asleep now?” He popped the small piece of pizza into his mouth.
“I looked earlier, when you came in, and he was already fast asleep.”
White shook his head, cutting another piece. “Indulge me and check again, Captain.”
A little annoyed that White would be that distrustful of their young guest, Blue nevertheless rose to his feet and silently walked towards the door behind which he fully expected Paul to be sleeping. He pushed the opening button and peeked inside.
Sure enough, he could see the form of Paul Metcalfe, covered from head to toes in the bed. He didn’t make a move as the light came shining on him and seemed deeply asleep.
Blue closed the door and strode back to his place in the living area. “He’s asleep, sir,” he reported, sitting back. “Did you expect him to listen to our conversation?”
“When it comes to him, I’m expecting anything,” White replied, finishing his bite. “I just wanted to make sure it was still safe to talk without him overhearing us.”
“What do you make of the fact he might be remembering something, sir?” Rhapsody asked as White took another bite of his pizza. “He addressed Captain Blue by his real name and he seems to be curious about the name ‘Captain Scarlet’.”
“I don’t want to have false hopes, Rhapsody,” the colonel replied with a shake of his head. “He could have learned Captain Blue’s name through anyone… and the name ‘Captain Scarlet’ was indeed repeated in his presence many times. I think it’s normal that he would wonder about a Spectrum colour-coded officer he hasn’t met yet.”
“He did point at Symphony as the one possibly giving him my name,” Blue said, musingly.
“Check with her, Captain. Check with the others as well. See if there’s reason for us to hope he might start to remember.”
“I will, sir.”
“Now, while I’m satisfied that this young man thinks that his presence here is due to the fact his family wants to hide him from British recruiters – it does facilitate our handling of the situation and provides for a somewhat adequate explanation of his presence onboard, at least for him – I do hope he won’t go up to the World President and tell him a harebrained story like that.”
“He promised me he would keep out of the World President’s way, sir. And if he were to meet him, he will tell him as little as possible about himself.”
White shook his head, as he finished chewing his new bite. “I would like to believe him implicitly,” he said. “But somehow, I’m still suspicious. We are risking a lot. If the World President discovers the truth about exactly what happened, about who that boy is…” He pointed to the door a few meters behind Blue, “… it’s not only Captain Scarlet who’ll be at risk, but maybe all of us onboard.”
“And if you were to ask the World President not to come, sir?” Rhapsody suggested.
“That would be like admitting there is something wrong going on here,” White retorted. He cut himself another bite, adding in a grumble: “Perhaps I exaggerate. Perhaps you’re not all at risk, but I wonder how you’d like to have a new Colonel White in charge while I would be answering to allegations of deception towards the World President himself.”
“We wouldn’t let you down, sir,” Rhapsody said with a sympathetic smile. “We’d admit to being accessories to conspiracy and would follow you down with the ship. But I’m sure it will not come to that.”
“Thank you for the vote of confidence, Rhapsody. Now,” he said, this time pointing with his fork in the direction of the bedroom’s closed door. “We have one day to make sure this boy’s not up to something, and that he will behave as we expect him to when the World President and his family comes. In the meantime, maybe it’ll be better to keep him occupied, and maybe see that General Peterson avoids meeting him. I know you promised him freedom onboard Cloudbase, Captain Blue, but I would feel safer if we still keep a discreet eye on him.”
“He seems very interested by this base,” Blue commented. “It wouldn’t be too difficult to keep him busy. He’s already asked for permission to try the flight simulator…”
White stopped in his movement as he was about to pop another piece of pizza into his mouth. “The flight simulator?” he asked with a frown.
“Yeah… We accidentally mentioned it to him,” Blue explained. “He said he played with arcade simulators, and that his uncle George gave him some tips…”
“And he wants to try our training flight simulator?”
“I did mention that it was unlikely he would be allowed to actually try it. But perhaps he could just sit there and watch how it works.”
“Mmm…” White was thoughtful. “That’d keep him occupied, certainly.”
“Sir?” Blue asked, raising his brow in perplexity.
“The boy has my permission to use the flight simulator, Captain,” White told him. “Arrange lessons for him. Under the supervision of expert pilots, of course…” He rose to his feet, and reached for his cap on the table, indicating his intention to leave. Blue and Rhapsody stood up as well. “Maybe it might be a good idea to have a prolonged lesson on the morning the Younger family arrives,” the Spectrum commander commented.
“Flight simulator lessons might not be enough to keep him busy,” Rhapsody reflected. “He would lose interest quickly if he does only that.”
“He mentioned being interested in Harmony giving him judo lessons,” Blue said thoughtfully.
“Now who put an idea like that in his head?” Rhapsody accused him, frowning with some irritation. “Harmony will refuse. She won’t want to hurt him.”
Blue kept himself from rolling his eyes. That was almost exactly the same words he had told Paul when he had expressed interest in judo lessons.
“Whatever,” White said with a sigh. “Find him as many occupations as you can. Keep him interested. And keep working on his trust.” He looked directly at Blue. “You seemed to have gained it.”
“And I might lose it again if he realises we’re still doubting him,” Blue said morosely.
“That’s where you’re wrong, Captain. You still trust him.” The colonel offered a thin grin, and put his cap on. “It is I who don’t. So you shouldn’t feel any guilt in keeping your eye on him.”
“Back to that, are we, sir?” Blue asked, his voice dripping with obvious discontent.
“That was different back then, Captain.” White glanced towards the closed door. “There might be no Mysteron involvement this time, and maybe I’m suspicious for nothing. But this new attitude of him is too good to be true. I do find this boy to be uncharacteristically docile. And as we all know, this is definitely not typical of the person we know he is.”
Behind the closed door, Paul Metcalfe took a step back, ungluing his ear from the surface through which he had been listening for the past few minutes. Captain Blue’s earlier arrival in his room had awakened him unexpectedly, and he had been curious to know exactly why the Spectrum officer had come to check on him.
As soon as Blue had left, he had jumped to his feet and went to press his ear against the door, listening to the muffled exchange beyond, trying to make sense of what he could hear of it. He couldn’t catch everything – but the little he heard was enough to make him understand that they were talking about him.
He looked at the door with a wounded expression, filled with disappointment.
These Spectrum officers, who claimed to be his friends and to have only his best interests at heart, were hiding something from him. He didn’t know what exactly, but it was obvious that they didn’t want him to discover what it was.
But what worse still: despite their claims to the contrary, they still didn’t trust him.
Because considering what he had just learned, he didn’t trust them either.