A ‘Captain Scarlet’ story for Halloween
By Chris Bishop
Captain Magenta was in a particularly good mood when he entered the officers’ lounge that afternoon, whistling a happy tune. Captain Ochre was there, seated on the sofa, working on his latest model – a small diorama depicting a scene from a famous horror movie – and he raised his head in curiosity to glance at his friend. The latter strode towards the counter and poured himself some coffee.
“And what’s making you so cheerful today?” Ochre asked, as he returned his attention to his model and carefully applied a tiny quantity of glue to the small piece he was delicately holding between his thumb and index.
“Got news from home,” Magenta answered, adding just a cloud of milk to his coffee. “Dad finally decided to enter Pellinore into a race.”
“Pellinore?” Ochre repeated the name in his head, trying to recall who that could be exactly. Then he remembered. “Ah, you mean the racehorse you bought your father as a gift, when he decided to buy a farm and return to live in Ireland?”
Magenta nodded at the question and came to sit in front of his friend, throwing his cap onto the table right next to the model. “I kept telling my father it was a shame to leave Pellinore in the stable where the only running he could do was around the field. ‘He’s a racehorse, Pappy… It’s in his blood, he’s been bred for that sort of thing… You’ve got to make him race…’” He snorted. “And my father would reply to that, even though I’m a Spectrum officer now, there was obviously still something iniquitous lying deep down inside me if I wanted to enter his horse in a race.”
“Did he really use the word ‘iniquitous’?” Ochre asked dubiously, raising a curious brow. “And why would your father say that of you, exactly? It’s not as if you suggested the race ought to be illegal… Or did you?”
“Of course not!” Magenta defended himself. “That never even entered my mind! But Pappy knows I would often bet on the horses in my… er… former life. I don’t know, maybe he thinks I’m missing that?” Magenta rolled his eyes, before taking a sip of his coffee. “Anyway… It seems that now Pellinore will have his chance to compete again.”
“On the racetrack?”
“Not exactly. The fees are enormous, and Pappy would never be able to pay for that. But he entered Pellinore in the annual Innisfree Fair horserace. My cousin Dylan’s going to ride him. Oh, it’s only an amateur race, and only farmers enter it, mostly for fun and for ribbons, you see… but at least, I imagine that’s something. Pellinore will be able to show what he’s worth.”
“What changed your dad’s mind?”
Magenta scratched his ear. “His neighbours, actually. You see, there’s a rich land owner living in the area and year after year, his horse, Black Knight, wins at the fair. And he’s an immodest winner at that, and that’s been grating on all the farmers’ nerves. They feel humiliated. So… they know about Pappy’s racehorse – they could see Pellinore in the fields, running around. They reckoned he would be a worthy challenger for Black Knight. So they asked my father if he wouldn’t mind entering his horse in the race. They told Pappy that all the smallholders should stand shoulder to shoulder.”
“And your dad went along with it?”
“Certainly did. My father might be stubborn and at times bad-tempered, but more than anything else, he’s a proud man. And I’m pretty sure he’ll want to show Pellinore off and prove that he is indeed able to kick Black Knight’s ass.” Magenta grinned. “And I might be able to make some money in the process…”
Ochre looked puzzled. “Sorry? I thought you just said it was an amateur race… I’m sure there would be no betting involved on the result, right?”
Magenta scoffed. “You kidding? It’s an Irish race. There’s always betting involved when it comes to an Irish competition. Especially races. Horse races, dog races… even snail races, for Pete’s sakes… Don’t you know any better? Everyone in the whole county is betting on the result of that race.”
“Now I get it.” Ochre grinned in turn. “You put some money on your father’s horse.”
“Of course I did! I know Pellinore’s potential better than anyone, even my father. So I put a couple of hundred on him. The stakes are four to one, against Pellinore. You want to chip in too?”
Ochre grimaced. “It’s not that I’m not tempted but… I prefer to pass. And if I were you…” He glanced around and towards the door, as if he fully expected someone to barge in and surprise them. “… I would keep very quiet about it all. You know there is a certain someone onboard Cloudbase at the moment, and you certainly wouldn’t want him to hear anything about you betting on a horse in an amateur race.”
For a second or two, Magenta seemed not to get what his friend was trying to tell him. Then, the penny dropped, and he groaned. “Oh, that’s right… I nearly forgot.” He rolled his eyes. “Our esteemed friend from Spectrum Intelligence, Martin Conners, is here.”
Ochre nodded, with a bleak expression. “I still remember the time Spectrum Intelligence discovered I was betting on sports results and that jerk got it into his thick head that I had a gambling problem. I learned my lesson, and I just don’t want to give Conners a new opportunity to pin another one on me.”
“No chance of that, we don’t seem to be his target this time around. He’s been avoiding us since he’s been here.”
“You mean we’ve avoided him,” Ochre corrected. “That would certainly be more exact.” He shrugged and took another small piece of his model – a hand – which was ready to be glued on. “You know what he’s here for?”
“Yeah, I heard it from Lieutenant Green, actually. He’s here to conduct random investigations on some of our civilian personnel – those who are part of the engineering team. You know, the standard security procedure S.I. put in place?”
Ochre nodded. He knew about it all right. It was indeed a standard procedure that, every so often, Spectrum Intelligence would send one of their agents to Cloudbase, to conduct random investigations on selected members of the staff, either civilians or military. Not that, in general, there was anything serious to be found. The interviews were mostly conducted discreetly and respectfully towards the intended personnel. Six months earlier, the Angel pilots had been targeted by a similar process, and the S.I. agent who interviewed them had been very professional – and even charming, according to the Angels.
But this time around, it was Martin Conners who had been put in charge of the job, and when it came to him, everyone kept on their toes. Unlike most of his colleagues, Conners could be very rude and unpleasant when conducting interviews – especially if he suspected someone might be hiding something from him.
“I might sound selfish, but I’m rather glad it’s Engineering and not me Conners is investigating,” Ochre mumbled.
“Nor me,” Magenta agreed. “But to say the truth, I think the engineers would be safe enough with him. It’s not them he’s got a beef with.”
Ochre chuckled. “That’s so right. He’s been trying to pin every sin on us since the Great Flood... I think he has it personal for any of us in the senior staff. Don’t know why exactly…”
“Well, you have to admit we never exactly made it any easier on him.”
“You’re kidding, right? That guy’s attitude has been despicable ever since we met him! He doesn’t like us, for whatever reason – but I certainly know why I don’t like him.” Ochre applied some glue to the small hand. “Anyway, I hope he’ll be gone soon. Just thinking he’s onboard makes me feel uncomfortable enough. I’d prefer not to have him around – especially with the Halloween party coming in just a couple of days. Just thinking he could still be here while the party’s going on…” He shivered. “That might give him another opportunity to fall upon us like a bird of prey.”
“Speaking of the Halloween party, how’re things with the preparations?” asked Magenta, seemingly wanting to change the subject. “I thought you were devoting all your free time getting it ready and fabulous. And here I find you, working in this model.”
“The preparations are almost completed. Just needed a few little details… And actually, this little piece of art is to become the centre piece of our buffet table. If I manage to finish it in time, that is.”
Ochre carefully pressed the small hand where it should go on the model and kept it there steadily, while the glue dried enough for the two pieces to stick together. Magenta shook his head and looked closely at the model his friend was building.
“That’s new for you,” he commented. “A figure instead of a plane.”
“A diorama, actually,” Ochre specified. “There are two figures.”
“So I see: Frankenstein’s monster and the little girl picking flowers. I remember that scene from the original movie. Gave me the heeby-jeebies… That’s quite within the spirit of Halloween.”
“When I saw it in the catalogue, I thought that it would make a nice change.”
“It’ll be a fantastic centre piece. What a nice idea. It’s very beautiful and you’re making a good job of it.”
Ochre huffed. “Everyone who saw it likes it – except Scarlet. He took one look at it and said that it wasn’t accurate.”
“The monster, to be exact.”
Magenta frowned. “How come he said that? It’s very recognisable. It looks very much like the Karloff monster.”
“I know, but Scarlet said ‘read the book, you’ll see’.” Ochre shrugged. “Why would I read the book, when there’s zillions of movies on the subject? To that he replied that none of the movies got it right.” He let go of the small hand and it held in place. He took a towel to wipe his hand. “Very bizarre guy when he wants to be, Scarlet. Such a stickler for detail…” He looked musingly at Magenta, who was smiling at his remark. “Say, you haven’t tried that shampoo yet?”
Magenta stared at him, not quite sure he understood why Ochre was changing subject so suddenly. “What shampoo?”
“You know… the one your mom sent you from Ireland… ‘Emerald Style’, it’s called? The one you said was responsible for that ‘luxuriant hair of yours’.” Ochre couldn’t help chuckling.
Magenta frowned at his question. “How do you know I haven’t used it yet?”
“Oh, I don’t,” Ochre quickly answered, waving the question aside and returning his attention to his model. “I was just wondering, that’s all. Making conversation…” He chuckled again. “Maybe I just noticed your hair doesn’t appear as luxuriant as it usually is…”
“Well, I still had some left of my previous bottle – which is not the same make, that’s true,” Magenta replied. “Why the interest? You want to try it too? You know you certainly could use some of it. It’ll do wonder for your hair. At times, it does look bushy.”
“No way I’m gonna put on my head something that’s called ‘Emerald Style’,” Ochre retorted.
“Sounds like a woman’s shampoo, if you ask me.”
“Actually, it can be used by both men and women…”
“Ah-Ha!” Ochre said victoriously.
“… Which is lucky anyhow, because I was able to lend it to someone in need.”
Ochre stopped his work on his model and looked at his friend with a suspicious look. “Are you telling me someone other than you used your brand new bottle of ‘Emerald Style’?”
“Why, yes… Today, actually. I was in the Amber Room earlier, where I overheard Melody saying to Harmony and Rhapsody that she had run out of shampoo,” Magenta explained. He failed to notice the look of astonishment – and complete horror – that suddenly plastered upon Ochre’s face. “So, since neither Harmony nor Rhapsody could leave because they were on standby duty, I offered, quite generously, to run up to my quarters and give Melody my bottle.”
“You didn’t,” Ochre breathed out, staring with disbelief at his friend. He swallowed hard. “You gave your bottle of shampoo to Melody, of all people?”
“Sure I did. What, I wouldn’t leave a young woman in distress, would I?” Magenta smiled. “I know the two of you are having a date tonight. I think she’s planning to get quite stunning for you, so I told her –”
Ochre took a deep breath. “Patrick, you’re an idiot.”
Magenta frowned at the insult. “Why would you say that?”
At that exact moment, the door to the officers’ lounge opened, and Melody Angel entered, walking in long, determined and rapid strides right in their direction.
“Patrick Donaghue! You’re dead meat!”
Both Ochre and Magenta were startled by her angry call and they turned towards her, just as she came up to them. Magenta barely had time to notice she was wearing her full Angel uniform and, oddly enough, had an old baseball cap from the Los Angeles Angels team stuck onto her dark head. She stood in front of him, and he backed away, shocked by the sheer fury he could read on her face.
She pointed an accusing finger at him. “What’s got into you, will you tell me?”
Magenta could only stutter. Melody was angry at him, and he had no idea why. “What? What did I do?”
“You know damn well what you did!”
“I swear, Mel, I have no idea what you’re on about!”
Melody scoffed. “Really? You have no idea?”
With a theatrical gesture, she removed the baseball cap from her head. Magenta’s eyes opened wide in surprise. The entire top of her otherwise raven black hair was now an odd shade of green… a bright, luxuriant and almost fluorescent green.
“Wha-what happened to your hair?” Magenta stammered.
“Your shampoo happened!” Melody accused. “‘Emerald Style’ indeed!”
“My shampoo did this?” Magenta protested. “But – that’s impossible! It never did that to my hair, and I’ve been using it for years!”
“Then maybe you held on too long to that bottle you gave me and it had gone bad!”
“Come on, that was a brand new bottle, I had just opened it and didn’t have time to use it yet. I can’t see –”
Magenta was suddenly interrupted by a loud chortle; he and Melody had been so busy arguing that neither of them had noticed that Ochre had left his seat to give them some space, and had kept uncharacteristically quiet. They both turned to him and realised the reason for his silence while they were going against each other was that he was trying hard not to laugh. He wasn’t succeeding very well at it and, unable to contain himself anymore, he burst out loudly.
The realisation of what had truly happened hit Melody and Magenta at the same time.
“You!” they lashed in unison, glaring angrily at Ochre.
“That’s why you were asking about that shampoo!” Magenta accused. “You did something to the bottle!”
Ochre continued to laugh, just as he nodded to the affirmative; he just couldn’t help it and there was no sense in denying the truth anymore. “Oh yeah… I admit it,” he said, most to Melody’s shock and anger. “I spiked the bottle with a little bit of dye. Really, I couldn’t resist. The name of your shampoo was just too inspiring, Pat.”
“You jerk!” Melody yelled, turning her fury from Magenta to Ochre. “How could you do this to me?”
Tears were beginning to show at the corner of Ochre’s eyes and he wiped them with his fingers, still tittering like an idiot. “Hey, how should I know what would happen? Pat was my intended victim.”
“Oh, I was, was I?” Magenta rumbled.
“I never ever imagined that he would be lending that bottle to anyone. Let alone you, Mags.” Ochre chuckled. “You have to admit… That’s very funny.”
“No, it’s not!” Magenta objected, jumping to his feet and standing next to Melody, whose dark face had turned a dangerous ashen shade. He realised she was totally furious, and he was almost afraid of what she would be able to do. “Mags, I’m so sorry…”
“You’re not at fault, Pat,” Melody told him.
“But I can’t help feeling responsible. It was my bottle of shampoo after all… This stupid joke, it was meant for me. I swear, I didn’t know about any of this.”
“Are you so sure of that?” Ochre asked, faking a suspicious glance at his friend, smiling all the while.
Magenta shot him a warning stare. “Shut up, Rick. Don’t listen to him, Mags.”
“Don’t worry,” Melody replied, glaring murderously in Ochre’s way. “I don’t believe for one instant that you gave me that bottle of shampoo, fully knowing that it would turn my hair green.”
“And a lovely shade of green it is,” Ochre replied, grinning. “It suits you admirably, Mags.”
Melody could only watch with growing dismay as he burst out laughing again; he visibly had no regret, was totally unrepentant of what he had done, and had absolutely no concept of the consequences of his acts.
“You… abject… totally irresponsible… moron!” she lashed out at him. “Don’t you care that I’ll look like a jerk in front of everybody on Cloudbase?” She spun on her heel, turned her back squarely on him and walked towards the door. “I hate you!” she shouted over her shoulder.
“Come on!” he shouted back, still chuckling. “It’s not so bad. It’ll wash out instantly at your next shampoo… And I do mean it, it looks lovely on you!”
Hurt and profoundly disappointed in him, Melody didn’t care to turn around, and walked out of the room.
Magenta glared at his friend, who was now attempting to put his hilarity into check, while wiping his eyes again.
“Who’s the idiot now?” Magenta said between his teeth.
“Oh, come on!” Ochre protested. “It’s just a little, inconsequential joke. And I didn’t lie. She can wash it out very easily.”
“Inconsequential, you think.” Magenta shook his head in dismay. “If you’re thinking that, than you’re a bigger fool than I imagined, Rick. That’s Melody who was on the receiving end of that inconsequential joke of yours! I thought you liked that girl... Very much so, actually.”
“She wasn’t meant to be the victim, Pat.”
“Yes, you said it was supposed to be me. The worst you could have expected from me would have been a good, well-deserved punch in the mouth. I’m still considering it, by the way, to teach you a lesson on how to behave properly with those you call your friends! But Melody…” Magenta shook his head in disappointment. “You’ll be lucky if she ever speaks to you again, especially after the way you laughed at her. If I were you, I’d consider going to her and apologising. And I would do that right away.” He leaned down and roughly picked up his cap from the table. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to be elsewhere.”
“You’re leaving me as well?” Ochre protested as he saw his friend walking towards the door. “I thought you had a sense of humour, Pat.”
“As much as the next guy,” Magenta replied briskly. “But even my sense of humour has limits, I guess. Unlike yours, apparently.”
“Come on, Pat…”
“Right now, Rick, I’m too angry with you. I need to go to the gym. Hitting the punch bag seems to be a better idea than punching you at the moment.”
With that, Magenta walked out of the officers’ lounge, leaving his friend behind.
“Mr. Conners, Lieutenant Green informed me you were looking for me.”
In the Promenade Deck, Colonel White was enjoying one of his rare moments of relaxation by tending to his rose tree, when he saw the door slide open and Cloudbase’s visitor striding in. Indeed, a few minutes earlier, Lieutenant Green had called from the Control Room to tell him that Martin Conners wanted to talk to him. The Spectrum Intelligence agent had arrived on Cloudbase from the London shuttle two days before, and on that occasion, he had reported to Spectrum commander before setting himself to the task that had brought him onboard.
“Yes, indeed, Colonel White,” Conners said, gracefully enough. “I just wanted to report you that I completed my job, here on Cloudbase.” He glanced at the small tree set on the table White was standing in front of, noticing the pruning tool in the colonel’s hand, and the cut bits lying all around the pot. There were nearly a dozen white roses, in various states of bloom, adorning the many boughs. “What a magnificent tree,” he commented. “You seem to have quite the green fingers, sir. I didn’t know you enjoyed gardening.”
White thanked him with a nod, and putting his secateurs down, waved to a set of nearby chairs. “Would you care for some tea?” he asked.
The invitation caused Conners to hesitate slightly before he answered: “Ah… Yes, thank you, sir. Plain, then. No sugar and no milk.”
Conners sat down on one of the chairs, while Colonel White poured some tea from the teapot on the table into two small cups. His task finished, he offered one of the cups to his guest and sat on one of the empty chairs.
“I don’t enjoy free time often, as you probably know,” the colonel explained. “This tree is one of my rare hobbies, and I tend to it whenever I can. I find this is quite relaxing, a nice departure to my duties here on Cloudbase.” He took a sip of his tea. “I trust the result of your investigation was satisfactory?”
“Yes, quite satisfactory, in fact, sir. I’m happy to report you that my investigation of Cloudbase’s civilian staff in Engineering is completed, and that it has been positive. Everything leads me to the conclusion that the personnel is perfectly on the level.”
White nodded. When he had heard that Martin Conners had been put in charge of the latest surprise investigation of Cloudbase personnel, the Spectrum commander had felt some concern. Conners had a tendency to exceed his duties and go to extreme measures during inspections; as it was, White himself had witnessed his unorthodox methods on a least two occasions. However, this time around, Conners seemed to have contented himself with doing just what was expected of him and from the reports the Spectrum commander had received during the last couple of days, had been quite civil with the people he had interviewed. Not particularly agreeable – which would have been too much to ask of Conners – but at least, he wasn’t rude and had acted professionally.
Perhaps he considered that investigating mere civilian personnel from Cloudbase’s staff wasn’t up to his usual ‘expertise’; perhaps he preferred to reserve his abusive methods to more important prey… Like Cloudbase’s senior operational staff, for example.
“I had no doubt about the result of your investigation, Mr. Conners,” White said quietly. “But, I thank you anyway for your reassurance. Does that mean that you will be leaving us very soon?”
“As soon as my report is written – and signed by your hand – I’ll be able to deprive you of the pleasure of my presence, and will return to London, by the next available plane. Shouldn’t take long now before I present it on your desk. I’m quite sure your officers don’t want me around for that Halloween party they are preparing.”
“You know about the Halloween party?”
Conners scoffed. “Of course I do. Your senior staff might have done a good job of avoiding me while I was onboard, but I heard people talking. I must say, I’m rather surprised you allow this kind of childish behaviour from your staff, Colonel.”
The tone of Conners’ voice served to remind White of the reasons he didn’t like the man. His self-righteousness, the way he looked down on people, were only some of the aspects that rendered him quite unpleasant. The colonel took his time to answer the man’s remark in a suitable way:
“Like me, the people working on this base don’t often find time to relax and enjoy life as most common mortals would, Mr. Conners. They have a lot of responsibilities weighing heavily on their shoulders. All of them. So they do need to find time to relax, whenever possible. I would not be a very good commander if I didn’t allow them to enjoy those too rare moments, when the pressure of their duties is off them.” He took another sip of tea. “It happens that I find the kind of events they enjoy – Christmas celebrations, Halloween parties – are good for the morale of the troops. Even though, in the particular instance of Halloween, it might appear a little childish.” He nodded thoughtfully. “These events have their importance.”
“Do you join in those celebrations, Colonel?” Conners asked with curiosity. “Like Halloween?”
White scoffed. “Heavens, no,” he replied vehemently. “Me, participating in the Halloween party? Dressing up in a silly costume, eating pumpkin pies and playing trick or treat? This is certainly not for me!” He visibly shivered. “You know that Halloween isn’t even something we really celebrate in England, Mr. Conners. And I… don’t especially appreciate that holiday. And I daresay, I’m probably not the only one. I think Captain Scarlet prefers to sit that one out, whenever possible.”
“Considering his… unique condition, that wouldn’t surprise me,” Conners said with a smirk. “A holiday celebrating the dead… too close for comfort for him, I suppose. But do you join in other celebrations?”
“Sometimes… Christmas, or New Year’s Eve… That’s when duties and time allow. Don’t you celebrate some holidays yourself, Mr. Conners? As a matter of fact – do you relax at all? Do you enjoy some hobbies that are not strictly work-related?”
Conners seemed to take offense at the question. “As a matter of fact, I do, Colonel. I do celebrate Christmas, and New Year’s Eve. Every year, actually.”
Well, well, White considered. Wonders never cease…
“And as for hobbies… Well, like you, I do like gardening,” Conners added.
White raised a perplexed brow. “You don’t say?”
“And like you, I find it quite relaxing,” Conners continued. “If I don’t mind saying so myself, I probably have one of the most beautiful roof gardens in London. The problem is, my cat seems to enjoy it too much, and I have all the trouble in the world keeping her from destroying my flower beds. To prevent that, I had to invest in a nice patch of catmint, especially for her. Since then, she lies in the patch and leaves the other flowers and plants mostly alone.”
“Really now?” White said, raising a perplexed brow. “You like gardening and you own a cat…”
“Her name’s Narcissa,” Conners said with a grin. “Because, well, when she was a kitten, she would forever look at her own reflection in a mirror, or a bowl of water.”
Almost despite himself, Colonel White chuckled. “You really are a surprising man, Mr. Conners. I would never have pegged you as a gardener. Never mind a… cat person.”
“Everyone has secrets, Colonel White,” Conners said with another smirk. “I’m no different from any other man, you know. Ah… you do realise this is the first civilised conversation we had since we’ve known each other?”
“I do realise it, yes,” White said with a slow nod. “And that makes quite a change, Mr. Conners. You are… in a rather good mood, I would say. That too, makes a nice change. A welcomed one.”
“Maybe this could mark the start of a new relationship?” Conners suggested. “I realise we started off on the wrong foot… Maybe we could change the way things currently are and consider a new era of co-operation between Cloudbase’s officers and Spectrum Intelligence.”
White didn’t reply and simply stared at Conners, pondering. As a matter of fact, he didn’t have too much of a problem with Spectrum Intelligence as a whole. He understood that they had a job to do, and as long as they were doing it efficiently and properly, he was disposed to give them all the leeway he judged necessary. It didn’t mean his officers needed to like it. However, if they were somewhat cagey of S.I., they were downright distrustful of Martin Conners – the man himself and the methods he employed to get the job done were nasty, and led everyone to believe he had a score to settle with the officers serving onboard Cloudbase.
White wasn’t sure he wanted to trust the man implicitly, and was still suspicious of his motives. The old saying that a leopard didn’t change its spots was all too true, he had learned from long experience. But Senior Agent Thomas Wade, the colonel’s friend and Conners’ immediate superior in S.I., had always said that despite it all, Conners was an excellent agent. Therefore, the colonel was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.
“I’ll consider your suggestion, Mr. Conners,” he said.
Conners cracked a smile. It was a rare occurrence coming from him, and even then, White couldn’t help comparing that smile with the distressing sneer of a hungry tiger about to pounce.
“That’s good enough for me, Colonel,” the S.I. man said, as he put his empty cup down on the table and stood up. “If you need anything from me – anything at all – I’m at your service.”
“That’s something else I’ll need to consider, Mr. Conners,” White replied, very carefully.
“Now if you’ll excuse me,” Conners added, “I still have a report to write before presenting it to you, as soon as possible.”
“I’ll be waiting for it with impatience.”
There was a new smile on Conners’ lips; one which was even more upsetting than the previous one.
“Oh, I’m sure of it, Colonel,” the man said. “You’ll be happy to have me off your base just as much as your men, I know.” He sniggered and turned around to walk towards the exit. “I’ll leave you to your gardening, then.”
When Captain Scarlet entered the Amber Room, it wasn’t to find Rhapsody Angel on stand-by duty, like he expected to. Instead, there were Destiny and Melody, seated together on the round sofa facing the entrance, talking to each other. Just in time, he gulped back the cheerful salutation that already was on his lips for his fiancée’s attention and was about to politely acknowledge both Angels’ presence when he noticed that something was definitely wrong with Melody.
Upon his arrival, she had quickly removed her feet off the sofa, and swiftly snatched the baseball cap lying by her side to tuck it onto her head, while trying to discreetly conceal within her palm a piece of handkerchief that she previously held to her face. The gesture had not been as fast as she hoped it’d be, as Scarlet, with an expression of concern, walked down the three steps to the centre of the room.
“Melody, is something wrong?”
Melody and Destiny exchanged glances and Scarlet found it even more curious that, as he approached them, the American woman half-turned her back to him and seemed reluctant to face him. “Everything’s all right, Captain Scarlet,” she replied. “What makes you think something’s wrong?”
Scarlet took a slow intake of breath. The promptness of her answer was enough to make him realise that indeed there was something the matter with her. He glanced at Destiny, who didn’t seem eager to provide an answer to his question either. Obviously, she was in some kind of confidence.
He sat in front of them, on the other sofa.
“I don’t know,” he offered carefully, “because when I came in, it looked like Destiny was comforting you and that you now obstinately refuse to look at me?”
He tried to get a good look at her face, but she didn’t turn around. He thought he noticed some suspicious circles around the one eye he was able to see.
“Have you been crying?” he asked, even as the realisation surprised him. He didn’t remember having seen her crying before.
“No,” she replied in a low voice with a slow shake of her head. She turned slightly, but still was reluctant to face him.
Scarlet looked again at Destiny. If Melody seemed saddened, the French woman’s face displayed another expression entirely; he knew her well enough to read her and to him, she definitely looked cross. For whatever reason, he didn’t know, but he was willing to guess it had something to do with Melody.
Destiny nodded to him, as if encouraging him to continue.
“Mags,” he said softly, “I saw the hanky in your hand.”
She finally turned to him fully; both her eyes were puffy and red. She managed to offer him a shy smile. “Damn. You and your eagle eye, Captain…”
“What’s going on, Mags?”
“I’ll tell you what’s going on,” Destiny then started empathically.
But Melody interrupted her swiftly: “Nothing, really… Nothing to concern yourself about, anyway.”
“Nothing?” Destiny echoed in protest. “I hardly call it nothing…”
“I’m all right now, anyway,” Melody interrupted her again, glaring at her to request her silence.
“Come on, I’ve never known you for the crying kind,” Scarlet replied. “Damn, you’re probably the toughest woman I’ve ever known on the face of the Earth… Not that I think you heartless, no,” he quickly added as she turned a fierce expression to him, “but I kind of think of you as ‘one of the guys’, you know…”
“‘One of the guys’?” she repeated, raising a questioning brow.
“Not very helpful, Paul,” Destiny said warningly.
“I mean... You present a tough façade, Mags. You’re like a rock. You don’t like to show your emotions… You don’t give in to panic… Just like a man would…”
“Really not helpful,” Destiny added, rolling her eyes.
Scarlet wasn’t sure how to continue; he noticed Melody’s amused smile, and offered a sheepish one in return. “Yes, that came out all wrong, didn’t it?”
“I say. But I think I dig what you mean, Captain… Paul.” She sighed and lowered her eyes. “Don’t worry about it. It was just a moment of weakness. It’s passed.”
Scarlet noticed Destiny about to protest again. “Uh-uh. It may have passed, but I don’t think you’re quite over it yet. And I can see that whatever it is, Juliette’s not happy about it.”
“Damn right I’m not happy,” Destiny confirmed. “Why, doing a thing like that to one of my girls… I have half a mind to –”
“Juliette, it’s not that bad,” Melody interrupted her.
“Okay, you’ve said too much.” Scarlet installed himself comfortably against the backrest of the seat and looked at her with determination. “Now, out with it, the two of you. What happened?” He frowned. “And why the heck are you keeping that baseball cap on your head? Isn’t that Harmony’s Los Angeles’ Angels cap?”
“That I gave to her when we met at Koala Base some years ago,” Melody confirmed. “She was kind enough to lend it to me when she saw…” She stopped herself, hesitating.
“Oh come now,” Destiny said, encouragingly. “Stop beating the bushes around and tell him!”
“The expression is ‘beating around the bush’,” Melody corrected her.
“You know what I mean,” Destiny replied, rolling exasperated eyes. “Show him and tell him already!” And with that, with a grand gesture, she removed Melody’s cap from her head.
Scarlet opened his eyes wide with astonishment at the sight of Melody’s green hair. He couldn’t stop himself from uttering a shocked exclamation: “What the devil happened to you?”
“Can’t you make an educated guess?” Destiny asked him with a snort. “Captain Ochre happened!”
Angrily, Melody tore the baseball cap from her colleague’s hand and drove it back onto her head, effectively hiding the part of her hair which was green.
“Oh, thank you very much, Destiny!” she said between her teeth.
“Ochre did that to you?” Scarlet said with incredulity.
“Do you know anyone else who takes pleasure in making stupid practical jokes at the expense of his colleagues?” Melody asked him.
“But I thought that Ochre and you –” Scarlet stopped again, when he saw the venomous expression she turned to him. “I mean… you’re friends, aren’t you? More than friends, even. Come on, Melody, I know you have at least some affection for him. As I know he has some for you. At least… I thought he had some affection for you.”
“I thought he did too,” Destiny then declared. “But I guess you and I were wrong on that account, Paul. What kind of a man would do a thing like that to a woman he claims he loves?”
Melody ignored her and looked suspiciously at Scarlet; she didn’t ask him how he could have come up with this idea about Ochre and herself. After all, she knew as well about Scarlet and Rhapsody – through Ochre, as a matter of fact. Maybe the constant snipes that Ochre and herself had exchanged one another were enough to arouse suspicion.
She shook her head. “To be perfectly honest, I don’t think he really did it on purpose. It was… an accident of a sort. That was kind of my fault, actually.”
“You’re not trying to find excuses for him, are you?” Destiny protested.
“How in the world could turning your hair green be the result of an accident?” Scarlet asked. “And how could it be your fault?”
“I ran out of shampoo.”
Scarlet stared at Melody, failing to see the connection. Destiny rolled her eyes; she obviously knew the whole story already.
“Captain Magenta was in the Amber Room when I asked the other girls if someone couldn’t help me out. He offered to lend me a bottle of his… ‘Emerald Style’ it was called… Something his mother sent him from home.”
“Magenta’s shampoo did this to you?” Scarlet said with a perplexed frown.
Melody went on to explain the whole story. It was a short one; by the end, Scarlet shook his head – sometimes, Ochre could be a hapless idiot.
“You became collateral damage to Ochre’s latest prank,” the English captain commented, looking at Melody.
“Collateral damage, my foot!” the young woman exploded. “That jerk couldn’t look at me without chortling!”
“The scoundrel,” Destiny commented in a low, angry voice.
Scarlet nodded sympathetically. He could certainly understand Melody’s righteous anger. Destiny’s too; she was very protective of all the girls who were part of the Angel pilots squadron.
“You said the dye’s only temporary?” he asked carefully.
“That’s what Ochre said when I left him. It’s supposed to wash off with the next shampoo. But I didn’t have time to wash it off yet.”
“The incident happened this morning,” Destiny reported.
“I was scheduled for duty in Angel One,” Melody explained. “Rhapsody took pity on me, and took my place and I replaced her here, for stand-by duty, with Destiny.”
Scarlet nodded, understanding now why his fiancée wasn’t in the room, as he expected.
“And unfortunately,” Melody continued, “neither Symphony nor Harmony could replace me. I must wait until I’m relieved, before being able to wash this stuff off. And in the meantime, I look like a complete fool! That’ll teach me to let myself be had by one of Ochre’s stupid jokes!”
“You’re not a fool,” Destiny replied. “And you couldn’t know what would happen with Ochre.”
“Juliette’s right,” Scarlet approved. “It’s Ochre who’s being the foolish one in this affair.”
“Exactement,” Destiny declared. “Why, with that annoying habit of his, he’s a complete jerk! This is becoming out of hand! He has to stop doing that!”
Melody sighed. “I agree. But you know what’s the more damning about it? The way he laughed at me.” She paused a second or two, to look at each of her colleagues in turn. “Magenta was horrified by what happened, and apologised for it, even though it wasn’t truly his fault. But Ochre, on the other hand… he wasn’t sorry at all.”
“The louse!” Destiny declared.
“He didn’t even look embarrassed. He looked like he was having the time of his life.”
“That really wasn’t kind of him,” Scarlet commented carefully.
“You mean, he’s a bastard,” Destiny corrected. “Un vrai salaud!”
“Yes, we’ve got it, Juliette. We know what you think of Ochre’s joke,” Scarlet interrupted her, fearing that the young woman might not run out of colourful epithets for a long time – although he had trouble finding an insult worse than these last two. Melody was genuinely hurt by her boyfriend’s behaviour and throwing insults at the culprit, despite being an obvious display of support, wasn’t really helping the situation in a positive way.
“He wasn’t even trying not to laugh,” Melody continued. “And that, that’s what truly hurt me. You know, I really thought he cared about me… if only a little.”
Destiny opened her mouth to say something, but Scarlet silenced her with a warning glare. He turned back to Melody and took her hand into his, patting it, while offering her a sympathetic smile. He realised that it wasn’t really because of the state of her hair that Melody had been crying earlier. It was because of Ochre’s reaction to the unexpected results of his unsavoury joke.
“I know how infuriating Rick can be at times,” he said. “When he’s doing one of his stupid jokes, he’s like a kid. He doesn’t think of the consequences. I’m pretty sure he didn’t even realise how badly he hurt you.”
“Oh, really?” Destiny said coldly. “Don’t you think he should have at least an inkling of it?”
“Well, yes… And he probably needs a lesson, but –”
“That’s a good idea!” Destiny approved. She snatched up one of the magazines lying on the table between them and hit Scarlet’s knee with it, making him jump in surprise. “He needs a lesson!”
“You’re right, Paul,” Melody interrupted Scarlet, her eyes blazing again. “He needs a lesson. As soon as my shift’s finished, I’m gonna wash this green out of my hair and go and find that jerk to throttle him!”
“Erm… That might be extreme. You’re sure you want to risk facing a firing squad just for the pleasure of strangling him?” Scarlet smiled wryly. “I’m indestructible, and I wouldn’t… Believe me, a dozen bullets entering your body can hurt like hell if they don’t kill you right away.”
She grimaced. “You’re right… he’s not worth it.”
“He sure isn’t,” Destiny approved.
As Destiny pronounced these words, the door of the Amber Room slid open. She raised her head in that direction, imitated by Scarlet and Melody, and they all saw Captain Ochre standing in the opening.
Melody’s expression became hard. With a disdainful huff, she turned her back squarely on him and feigned to ignore him as he entered fully into the room and approached her. Scarlet noticed the expression on Destiny’s face; it was as fierce as that of a tigress ready to pounce on a predator about to attack her litter.
“Hi, Mags,” he said in a gay voice, stopping in front of the sofa. “I was hoping you’d still be here and not gone on patrol.”
“Why you –” Destiny leapt from the sofa and climbed the steps to stand in front of Ochre, the rolled up magazine she had just whacked on Scarlet’s knee in her hand. He looked at her with a clueless expression, which transformed into astonishment when she hit him over the head with the magazine. “Non, mais quel con tu fais!”
Before she could hit him again, Scarlet shot to his feet, and grabbed her arm to pull her away from Ochre, carefully standing between the two of them.
“We’d better leave them to it, Juliette,” he advised her. “I don’t think we should get involved…”
“Help me choose a book,” Scarlet interrupted, forcibly steering her towards the bookshelves in the corner of the Amber Room.
“You hate the books we have in here,” Destiny retorted, glaring murderously at him. “You say they’re only girlie romance novels.”
“Prove me wrong.”
As they both walked away from the middle of the Amber Room, Ochre descended the steps to join Melody; he had his eyes set on Destiny, who was glaring daggers at him from over her shoulder.
“Geez… what’s eating at her today?”
“I don’t know,” Melody replied with a voice dripping with venom as she finally turned around to face him. “Maybe she’s jealous of my new hairdo and she hopes you’ll do the same for her?”
He looked at her, seemingly unsure what she meant. Then he realised it. “You haven’t got rid of the green in your hair yet?”
“I didn’t have time!” she lashed out.
“You’re not still angry with me, are you?”
Melody thought it was a good thing for him that Destiny was standing so far from them at that moment; she might have hit him again, with something heavier than her magazine.
On the other hand, the American girl wasn’t sure she wasn’t going to do the deed herself anyway. She crossed her arms on her breasts.
“Geez, I wonder why I would still be angry,” she replied in an icy voice. “After all… it’s not all of my hair that came out green because of that spiked shampoo bottle of yours.”
“Aw, come on… that was an honest mistake, Mags.”
“An honest mistake?” Melody repeated, glaring at him.
“You know you weren’t meant to be my target – Magenta was. How could I know he was going to lend that bottle to you?”
“You laughed at me,” Melody pointed out.
“Uh… Yes, I admit I did.” Ochre chuckled at the memory. “But it was funny. You have to admit that.”
From their position by the bookshelves, Scarlet and Destiny were not missing a word – even if they had tried not to listen in, that would not have been possible. Scarlet grimaced, hearing Ochre’s reply.
“That’s right, Ochre, dig yourself even deeper, mate,” he muttered.
“How could he be such an idiot?” Destiny said in a tone just over a whisper, not believing what she had heard.
“Look,” Ochre continued, oblivious to the fact there were witnesses in the room. “I already apologised –”
“When did you do that?”
“I just did, didn’t I?”
“No, you didn’t!” Melody retorted vehemently, jumping to her feet and standing in front of Ochre.
He shrugged. “Oh well, then… I do apologise now. I did come for that.”
“Don’t play the innocent with me, Fraser. I bet you only came because Pat told you to. But that’s not much of an apology. Not for laughing at me, not for turning my hair…” Melody removed the baseball cap from her head, “… this colour!”
Ochre stepped back, throwing his hands up. “Hey, cool it, Mags! I apologise now, really. I’m sorry for what happened…”
“That’s mighty nice of you.”
“… Even if it’s not entirely my fault.”
Scarlet scowled. “Ouch,” he breathed out, as Destiny rolled her eyes to the ceiling. “Strike two…”
“You are unbelievable,” Melody said, shaking her head.
“I know I shouldn’t have laughed at you the way I did either,” Ochre continued. “Really, I shouldn’t have…”
Melody narrowed her eyes at him, suspiciously; there was still that roguish smile on his lips that so often irritated her. She stamped her foot. “You’re doing it again!” she accused.
“No, really… I just find it very cute on you…”
“So help me, Fraser, if I’m suddenly called on patrol and am forced to postpone washing my hair again –”
“Hey, you shouldn’t worry – your helmet will hide the green.”
“The ruddy helmet is transparent, you moron!”
“Strike three,” muttered Destiny.
“You were right, the man’s an idiot,” Scarlet confirmed with a nod.
“You’re not even honest with yourself, Rick,” Melody continued. “You find all of this so very funny. You’re not truly sorry for what happened. You don’t even look like you’re sorry! And you’re not even admitting you’re at fault at all!”
“Look, what do you want me to do? Grovel at your feet and beg for forgiveness?”
She scoffed. “That would be a good start…”
Ochre sighed. “Come on, you wouldn’t want me to humiliate myself…” He turned around, glanced at Scarlet and Destiny, and then thumbed in their direction, as he turned back to Melody. “Not… in front of witnesses? We can do that later. In private, you know?”
Melody visibly paled under her dark complexion, fully understanding the extent of Ochre’s suggestion.
Now she was ready to strangle him. But as Scarlet had suggested earlier, it wasn’t a good idea.
“Do you really think I’m ready to kiss and make up now?” she screamed at Ochre.
She pushed him away, with both hands. He stumbled back, mainly because he went with the shove, and then he stepped away. Melody was advancing menacingly towards him.
“Get out of here!” she shouted, pushing him again, and making him stumble up the steps leading to the upper level. “Get out, before I do something I regret and it may cost me my career!”
“Uh… Okay, I can see you’re really upset right now…”
“Upset doesn’t even begin to describe how I feel! Out, I said!”
Ochre, erring on the side of caution, decided it was indeed a good idea to retreat. Melody chased him across the Amber Room, until they both reached the exit door; she stood in front of him, threateningly, her eyes blazing with righteous anger, as he pressed the opening button. Fortunately for him, the door slid open almost immediately, and he stepped out.
“I’ll… see you later when you’ve cooled off?” he attempted again as the door slid closed.
“Don’t bother!” she yelled in answer.
The door closed and Melody, grunting with disgust, returned to the seat she had left. She dropped onto it with a huff and took her head between her hands. “What am I going to do with him?” she whimpered.
Scarlet and Destiny left the spot from where they had witnessed the whole fight, in quiet and stunned silence. Destiny walked the short distance separating her from her friend and came to sit by her side. Cautiously, she put a comforting hand on Melody’s shoulder.
“You should have decked him,” she declared vehemently.
“That would have served nothing,” Scarlet retorted. “Except landing Melody in a court martial, for assault and battery against a superior officer.”
He heard Melody scoff at his words. “Superior… Now that’s a joke. He’s lower than the lowest lifeforms inhabiting this planet.”
“You were there, you could testify that it was an accident,” Destiny replied, addressing Scarlet.
“Uh-uh.” Scarlet shook his head. “Don’t count on it, dear. I wouldn’t be caught lying during a court martial. I have my career to think of.”
Destiny pouted and flopped onto the sofa, right next to Melody. “Coward.”
“You know me better than to say a thing like that,” Scarlet said with a smile. He sat down on the other side, and Melody raised her head and lowered her hands. He looked at her with sympathy. “Are you all right?”
“Sure I am,” she answered, sighing. “That did me a lot of good, yelling at him like that. But I fear he missed the point.” She shook her head. “He can’t get away with murder like that. This time, he’s gone too far.”
Scarlet nodded slowly as he seemed to give it some thought. “I do agree. It’s about time he learned to face the consequences of his actions. A good, harsh lesson is in order.”
Destiny looked at him with curiosity. “You have an idea, I can tell. What do you have in mind?” she asked with a faint smile.
Before Scarlet had a chance to explain himself to the two women, the amber door leading to Angel One above slid open, revealing Rhapsody unbuckling herself from the pilot’s seat. Everyone had been so busy that they had not heard the lift dropping her down until that moment; when they turned to look in her direction, she smiled at them – especially at Scarlet, whom she didn’t expect to see present in the room upon her arrival.
“Hi, everyone!” she called, stepping out of the lift. Noticing all of them seated together, she realised that something was afoot. Her smile was replaced by an enquiring frown. “What’s up? Melody, are you all right?” She easily imagined there were new developments in the latest affair with Ochre, and if her fiancé seemed to be involved – one way or the other – she thought it could be serious.
“I’m okay, Dianne,” Melody replied casually enough. “In fact, I feel a lot better now.”
“Melody just yelled at Ochre and threw him out of the Amber Room like the miscreant he is,” Destiny announced proudly.
“She did?” Rhapsody said with an approving nod. “Oh, and I missed that epic battle!”
The voice of Lieutenant Green boomed from the speakers at that moment: “Control Room to Amber Room. Angel One is unmanned. Pilot on duty is requested at the helm.”
“That’s my cue,” Destiny then declared, jumping on her feet. She grabbed her helmet and ran past Rhapsody towards the lift. “Whatever your idea might be,” she called to Scarlet over her shoulder, “I want in!” The door of the lift slid closed on her as she sat in the pilot’s seat.
“Okay,” Rhapsody said as she walked down the steps to the sofa. “What’s going on here?”
“Well, as you stepped in, Paul was about to tell us his idea for teaching Ochre a lesson,” Melody explained, putting the baseball cap on her head. She hated the green hair and didn’t want for people to see any of it, no matter how sympathetic they were towards her. As soon as her stint in the Amber Room was done, she would certainly go wash all that out – hoping that Ochre had told her the truth when he said it would wash out easily.
“Oh? He certainly deserves to be punished. And the punishment should fit the crime.” Rhapsody sat down in front of them, obviously interested in what could be in her fiancé’s mind. She waved at Melody’s hair. “You’ve got to admit, his godawful pranks are getting out of hand. So what do you have in mind, then? Oh, you’re going to be a gentleman about it, and challenge Ochre to a fight for Melody’s honour.”
Scarlet chuckled. “Duels are a thing of the past, Dianne, you know that.”
“Blame me for being a hapless romantic. But I wasn’t thinking of a pistol or sword duel… Maybe a match in the boxing ring? It would be satisfying to see you wipe the floor with Ochre. You’d make mincemeat out of him.”
“Mmm…” Melody sighed and, leaning her elbow on her lap, put her chin into her open palm and stared into empty space. “Would be even more satisfying to clean his clock myself,” she muttered, almost dreamily.
“I don’t doubt you’d do him some damage,” Scarlet said with a fond smile. “But somehow, it doesn’t seem like it would be harsh enough for him. Beside,” he added, rolling his eyes, “knowing him, he might actually enjoy it. In his very peculiar way.”
Melody grimaced. “I think you might be right about that. Let’s not give him that satisfaction.”
“So… what should we do about it?” Rhapsody asked.
Scarlet drew a deep breath. He hesitated slightly, almost certain that his two companions wouldn’t totally agree with what he was about to say.
“I think that it’s about time… that we have a talk with the colonel.”
Colonel White had left the Promenade Deck soon after Martin Conners’ departure; he was still wondering about the S.I. agent’s apparent change of attitude, and if he was to take it seriously. Conners seemed genuinely – although rather outlandishly – sincere about his offer, and while the Spectrum commander was quite ready to believe him, he wasn’t as certain that his officers would do the same. On the contrary, he expected they would be even more suspicious of Conners than they already were.
Not that he would blame them, the colonel had to admit. Conners had never done anything that might lead them to believe they ought to trust him.
Having completed the pruning of his rose tree, Colonel White decided that he might as well discuss the matter with his staff. Not in an official capacity, however; he was rather considering a kind of friendly, off the record exchange where the others would feel free to speak their mind, without any restriction. It was a way for the colonel to sound them out and to receive their feedback – although he had a pretty good idea of the kind of reaction he would received from most of them.
As at this point, it was an informal approach, White chose not to request his officers to the Control Room or to call for a meeting in the Conference Room. He still had some time left before returning to duty, so he decided to go directly to them instead. He went first to the Officers’ Lounge where he expected to find someone there, but he found it desperately empty of any presence. There was an odd model of a Frankenstein’s monster set on the middle table, with various pieces lying around, testimony that Captain Ochre had recently been here. No-one was in the Control Tower gym either, and White, not wanting to accidentally get wet, drew the line at visiting the officers’ pool.
Not wanting to visit all the places where he might run into his officers or to knock on the door of each of their personal quarters – he didn’t have the time for an all out search of Cloudbase, and really, that wouldn’t look good coming from the Spectrum commander to chase after his people like that – the colonel decided to go down to the Amber Room. It wasn’t unheard of that he would take a patrolling stroll around Cloudbase to check if everything was in order, and he often made a stop to the Amber Room in those occasions. The pilots always greeted him with coffee and a little chat before he headed back up to the Control Room. Often, he would find that the Angels had company, his off-duty senior officers visiting whenever they had the chance. With a little bit of luck, maybe there would be one of them present.
If not – well, the subject at hand was hardly an emergency and the colonel knew that a suitable time to discuss it with his officers would soon present itself.
When he stopped in front of the door of the Amber Room, White’s finger hovered over the button operating the opening mechanism. He caught himself in time; whereas he entered any other part of Cloudbase unannounced – except for staff’s personal quarters of course – he always felt the need to announce himself before stepping into the Amber Room. It was possibly part of his upbringing to never enter uninvited into a room full of women. He remembered one occasion, many years ago, when he had gone against that personal rule of his, and he had walked into the bathroom of the hotel room he shared with his Secret Services partner during one assignment – and finding her as she was stepping out of the shower. He probably was more mortified for himself than for her, his pride taking a hit when he had quickly retreated out, bombarded by an assortment of projectiles – soap bar, hairbrush, shampoo bottle, anything that his partner could lay hands on.
Well, it wasn’t all that bad actually, he reflected, a fond smile playing on his lips as he recalled the incident. She was after all, strikingly beautiful… and it was, after all, the first time he had the chance to see naked the woman who would eventually become his wife…
Not that there was any chance of that happening with the Angels. He never expected to surprise them throwing a party, entertaining a male visitor or running around half-naked. After all, they were on duty; this was the Ready Room, not some college dormitory.
It was just his old habit that made him press one of the other buttons on the command panel by the door. He was about to speak and announce himself, when he suddenly realised that, all lost in his trip down Memory Lane, he had pressed the wrong communication button, as voices came out of the panel’s speakers:
“Really, Paul… Talking to the colonel about this? Are you sure you want to do that?”
“I don’t see that we have a choice, love.”
That made White frowned and paused. Those were Captain Scarlet and Rhapsody Angel’s voices. What was that all about?
“You know how strict he is with discipline...” Rhapsody continued. “His idea of a punishment might be harsher than what we could imagine ourselves.”
“Well personally, I wouldn’t mind seeing Ochre cleaning the airstrips with a toothbrush,” Scarlet scoffed.
“I do want Ochre to receive just retribution,” another female voice said, and White easily recognised Melody’s slow drawl. “But I wouldn’t want him to be in more trouble than it’s worth.”
“And how about the trouble he put you in, Melody?” Scarlet replied, making White’s frown deepen. “Ochre is an irresponsible so-and-so. He never truly had to face the consequences of what he does. After what he did to you, I think it’s about high time he does. And for that to happen, we need to confide in the colonel.”
“I don’t really want to go to the colonel and tell him what happened,” Melody said. “It’s just too… humiliating. I should have known better… and not lower my guard when it comes to a man like Ochre.”
“Now, really, Mel,” Rhapsody stated. “You cannot blame yourself for that!”
“Well, maybe I should!” Melody groused. “I should have been more careful. You know him as well as I do! When it comes to Ochre, a woman should always be careful! I should have known he would get me into trouble!”
White stared at the closed door, gobsmacked. Into trouble? Oh no… what the devil did Captain Ochre do to that poor girl? Did he get her pregnant? His heart skipped a beat at the thought and an indefinable anger filled his mind. He punched the opening button and, barely waiting for the door to open fully, he strode in.
He found Captain Scarlet, Rhapsody Angel and Melody Angel seated in the lower portion of the Amber Room, obviously in close discussion. Surprised by his entrance, they turned to him; Scarlet shot to his feet and the girls swiftly followed suit.
“All right, what’s going on here?” the colonel exploded. He came to stand directly in front of Melody and glared down at her. “What did Captain Ochre do to you?”
She blinked. “Sir? How do you know –”
“Never mind that,” White snapped. “Simply answer the question: what did Captain Ochre do to you?” He didn’t really want to be so brusque with Melody, but from what he just heard, he just knew she wouldn’t tell him of her own volition if he didn’t make the demand directly.
Melody hesitated, visibly reddening around the ears; she turned to Scarlet and Rhapsody who stood beside her, as if to ask them counsel.
Scarlet urged her with a nod. “Show him, Melody,” he advised.
“You might as well do at this point, Mel,” Rhapsody sighed in turn.
That was when Melody reached for it that Colonel White took note of the old baseball cap on her head. He only wondered for two more seconds why she was wearing that awful thing, until she removed it and he saw the fluorescent spot of green hair adorning the top of her head.
The colonel’s eyes went wide and he was left without a voice. In a way, he was relieved; from the conversation through the speakers, he had imagined a much worse scenario, and he was glad that it hadn’t materialised.
But still – he didn’t expect this.
“How…?” he finally managed to say after a few seconds of stunned silence, frowning as he did. “What…?”
Melody sighed and rolled her eyes. “It’s a long story, sir.”
“Would you care to tell me?” he requested brusquely.
“With pleasure, Colonel,” Captain Scarlet then said, as he moved to his commander’s side. Taking him by the shoulders, he compelled him to sit down with him. “And when you’ve heard the story, we are… kind of hoping you will also listen to the request we want to make.”
White, who didn’t care that much to be touched with such familiarity by a junior officer, passively complied, still too astonished by the sight of Melody’s green hair – and definitely curious to know what it was all about. Rhapsody and Melody sat in front of them, and Melody quickly put the cap back onto her head. The colonel didn’t quite know what was actually the more distracting: the green hair or the old baseball cap. Both were just out of place.
“The answer to your request, Captain Scarlet, will depend on what I hear in a moment,” White said, his eyes not leaving Melody Angel. The young woman didn’t seem very at ease, and was doing her best to avoid his eyes. The colonel already had a good idea what had happened to her; the mention of Captain Ochre and the sight of hair suddenly turned green… the conclusion was somewhat easy to draw. He decided he would go easy on her. “Now, Melody,” he said in a softer voice, “tell me everything. And please, don’t leave out any important detail.”
She sighed and after a last moment’s hesitation, and supported by Captain Scarlet and Rhapsody’s encouraging gaze, she decided to dive in: “Well, sir, it all started when I ran out of shampoo…”
Captain Ochre couldn’t believe his ears; of all the setbacks to happen today, this certainly wasn’t something he had expected. He stood rigidly in the Control Room, staring with disbelief at Colonel White who was writing something on a piece of paper, without seemingly paying him any attention after his big announcement.
Certainly, the least the Old Man could do was to look at him.
“Sir… You want me go to Spectrum London?”
Colonel White continued to write on his piece of paper; he sighed, as if profoundly annoyed by a very stupid question.
“That’s exactly what I said, Captain Ochre,” he replied, as he would to a slow-witted child. “Something came up down there that requires your expertise.”
“My expertise, sir?”
“Yes, Captain. Yours, specifically.”
“Tonight, sir?” Ochre persisted.
“Yes, Captain. Tonight.”
Seeing White still writing, Ochre turned around and glanced in Lieutenant Green’s direction. The younger man consulted some information on his screen. “The SPJ will be leaving at twenty-one hundred, Cloudbase time,” he answered Ochre’s mute question. “We’re just making the last check out and filling her up.”
Ochre frowned. This didn’t sound good at all. He turned back to White.
“But… the Halloween party is tonight, sir.”
White automatically stopped writing and raised his eyes towards Ochre; they were burning with inner exasperation. “Your point, Captain Ochre?”
Ochre had the good sense to hesitate; he had less sense when he spoke next: “Well, I’m more or less responsible for the party’s preparations. Considering the SPJ is supposed to be leaving late tonight… couldn’t it wait until tomorrow morning?”
He had barely finished his sentence when Colonel White, with a fairly good amount of strength demonstrating the extent of his annoyance, hit the top of his desk with his open hand. The resulting thud was so loud that not only Ochre flinched, but Lieutenant Green, at his station, cringed as well.
“That argument won’t wash with me, Captain!” White exploded. “Not at all! Dammit, man, this is an operational base, not a… a masquerade ball!” He pushed himself to his feet, rounded his desk, and came to stand in front of Ochre, who now stood rigidly to attention. “I don’t give a damn that you’re the organiser of that little party of yours! We have important work to do, and that must always take precedence over any other considerations – especially if those other considerations have to do with the pursuit of some childish entertainment and immature activities such as masquerading yourself as a vampire, zombie, or whatever other silly creature, and playing pranks at the expense of your colleagues!”
The colonel looked closely at Ochre, waiting for a reaction; the American had none. White grunted with irritation. “Beside, while you're on assignment, you won’t be able to perpetrate whatever foolishness you might have been planning. This time of year seems to bring out the worst in you, Captain! I think your colleagues might even thank me for this.”
Ochre refrained from scowling at his commander’s last comment. What did he mean exactly? Surely he didn’t know about the incident with Melody… The young woman would not have told him about it. Maybe someone else did? There were witnesses, after all…
However, considering that White knew all too well of Ochre’s notorious habits, it was more than possible he wasn’t exactly referring to a specific incident.
Or so Ochre hoped.
“I’m sorry, sir,” the American said, after clearing his throat. “I was out of line.”
White huffed loudly. “You certainly were.” He turned around to return to his seat. Ochre blew a sigh of relief behind his back.
“So… uh… what’s the mission exactly, sir?”
“Glad you’re finally asking,” White said, sitting. “There’s been an attempt to hack the Spectrum London HQ computer. Whoever it was, they were able to bypass the security firewalls and gain access to part of our database. They were working to break the encryption when the London experts were finally able to stop their advance and throw them out. At this point, we still don’t know if those people were actually able to access any crucial information at all.”
“Sounds more like a job for Captain Magenta… sir,” Ochre noted. He had little hope that this remark would change his commander’s mind about his going to London. Not after the dressing down he had received a few minutes before.
“You read my mind, Captain. This is indeed a job for Captain Magenta, and that’s why he’ll be going with you on this assignment. He’ll be checking London HQ computers, to find out if indeed information was accessed, and what can be done to insure that this problem never happens again. In the meantime, you’ll be conducting your own investigation at the base – because from what I understand of the affair, it could be an inside job.”
“I see, sir,” Ochre said with a slow nod. “Well, if it is indeed an inside job, with Captain Magenta, we’ll be able to find that out.”
“Captain Scarlet will be going with you as well. He’ll assist you in your investigation. Detective work being your forte, I’m assigning you field commander. That is why I chose you for this mission, Captain.”
“S.I.G., sir.” Field commander… Ochre wasn’t at all displeased by this turn of events, at least. It wasn’t often that he was field commander during an assignment with Scarlet. Because of his extensive field experience, his English counterpart usually undertook command duties.
Not this time, apparently…
“Ah, and… there’s another thing.” White turned to Green, who was busy working at his computer: “Lieutenant, where’s Mr. Conners at the moment?”
Ochre frowned, wondering why the colonel would inquire about the loathsome Conners right in the middle of a briefing.
“Mr. Conners is outside the door, sir,” Lieutenant Green answered quietly. “He’s just waiting to enter.”
“Well, let’s not make the man wait any longer,” the colonel suggested. “Send him in, Lieutenant.”
Ochre’s frown deepened; this was getting even more curious – and he had to admit, a little disquieting. Why did Colonel White now invite Conners in? Surely he had nothing to do with the upcoming assignment...
Unless that despicable man was actually a suspect in the hacking attempt, and White intended to have him arrested or kept under watch? The colonel did say it looked like an inside job, after all…
But that really would be too much to hope for.
Lieutenant Green had pressed a button to announce to the visitor waiting outside that the colonel would receive him; a few seconds later, the doors slid open, and Martin Conners strode right in, a folder under his arm. Ochre followed him with his eyes, as he walked across the room, towards the desk of Colonel White. The S.I. agent passed him by, without even acknowledging him.
“Colonel,” he announced, presenting his folder to the Spectrum commander, “I have completed the report of my investigation. Here it is, waiting for your signature.”
“Thank you, Mr. Conners.” White presented his hand and accepted the folder.
Conners took a few steps back to stand next to Captain Ochre; he put his hands behind his back and seemed to put himself at ease, mimicking the Spectrum officer’s posture. There was a small smile on his lips, possibly the satisfied smile of well-done work and Ochre couldn’t help but wonder if he should worry about this.
That was when Conners seemed to notice his presence.
“Captain Ochre,” he said, nodding to him.
Ochre nodded back. “Mr. Conners,” he answered simply. He wouldn’t say more; he didn’t like Conners, and he knew Conners didn’t like him. Actually, he didn’t know anyone who might like that man.
White gave but a glance at the folder’s content before putting it aside. “I’ll read and sign this later on, Mr. Conners,” he said, “and will see that it is sent to your superior, Mr. Wade, as soon as possible.”
“Please, sir, take your time. There’s no emergency,” Conners said in a voice that sounded surprisingly agreeable to Ochre’s ears. “As I told you, everything was in good order.”
“Well, it may be so here on Cloudbase. However, things are not in good order in Spectrum London HQ, and there is an emergency there,” White remarked, musingly.
“Yes, I know,” Conners said. He lost the smile and his expression became somewhat harsher, with a scowl knitting his brows. “When I contacted Mr. Wade earlier, he told me of the break-in at the secure area. My expertise is requested down there to conduct the investigation. I’d like to ask permission to leave as soon as possible.”
“You’ll be leaving tonight, Mr. Conners,” White informed him. “You’ll be accompanying Captain Ochre and his team who are going to Spectrum London as well. I’ve been talking with your superior. This investigation will be a joint venture between Cloudbase and Spectrum Intelligence.”
Ochre fought hard not to appear too surprised upon hearing this news. He felt his heart sinking; he couldn’t think of anything more catastrophic than working with Martin Conners. He didn’t know what to make of his commander’s decision.
“Really now?” Conners said, his voice betraying some of his uncertainty. “This is unprecedented…”
“You did tell me yesterday that you were wishing for better co-operation with my men, Mr. Conners,” White reminded him quietly. “Well, now’s the chance.”
Conners seemed to still hesitate for a moment, obviously thinking about it. “Of course,” he finally said. “You’re perfectly right, Colonel. I’ll be glad to be working on this investigation with Captain Ochre and his team…” He turned to Ochre and offered him a crooked smile. There was a twinkle in his eyes that didn’t appeal to the American captain. “Erm… When will we be leaving, exactly?” he asked, turning back to White, without waiting for Ochre to address him.
“Twenty-one hundred. Captain Scarlet and Captain Magenta will be joining you as well.”
“Right. Then, I must be preparing myself. If you will excuse me, Colonel… Captain…” With a nod to both men, Conners turned around and strode back the way he came and exited the room through the door. Ochre followed him with his eyes, still unsure what to make of all this. He slowly turned to his commander.
“What… is this all about, sir?” He was careful with his question, but at the same time, there was an accusation in his tone of voice that didn’t escape Colonel White. That was obvious just by the way the Spectrum commander looked back at him.
What’s the Old Man up to, exactly?
“It’s quite simple, Captain Ochre,” White said quietly. “Mr. Conners expressed the desire to make a fresh start with Cloudbase’s personnel, and to fully co-operate with us from now on, whenever there is need. I thought it was very gracious on his part, don’t you think?”
Ochre slowly nodded. “Almost as gracious as a cobra dancing in front of its prey to put it into a trance,” he remarked bluntly. “Sir, I don’t trust Conners, and I’m not looking forward to work with him. And I know for a fact that neither Captain Scarlet nor Captain Magenta will like working with him either.”
“You will work with him, Captain Ochre,” White retorted with an ominous and slow voice, “whether you like it or not. And that goes for all of you. This is not a popularity contest – for Mr. Conner, your colleagues or yourself. You have a mission to undertake, and you will do it with the utmost professionalism. If I ever find that you do less than your best to insure that this assignment goes smoothly, there’ll be hell to pay. Do I make myself clear, Captain?”
Ochre snapped to attention. “Yes, sir. Crystal clear, sir.”
There was still a spark of mutiny in Ochre’s eyes and his tone of voice did nothing to hide any of it. Colonel White leaned over his desk, sighing with annoyance and crossing his fingers together. He glared warningly at the American.
“I don’t like your current attitude, Captain Ochre. Nor do I like what’s going on around here because of you, lately. I know there have been problems with some of your colleagues who have fallen victim to your obnoxious inclination for practical jokes.”
“Sir?” Ochre was surprised by the accusation. However, it gave the impression to White that he was playing innocent.
“Don’t think me blind or stupid, Captain. I know you and how you are. This habit of yours is getting out of hand, and, as I said earlier, I do wonder if this close proximity to Halloween isn’t actually making it worse… and quite frankly, I don’t care. If you don’t pull yourself together, Captain Ochre, I will have to address this problem myself. And you certainly won’t like the solution I might choose to settle this.”
Ochre stood to attention again. “Sir. I can assure you, I will always perform my duties as is required of me.”
“I expect you to prove it, then.” White closed the folder he had been working on during their whole meeting and handed it to his officer. “Those are your orders, Captain Ochre. With the authorisation to give you and your team full access to any part of London Headquarters, even those which are normally restricted to S.I. authority. Although to access them, you’ll need a password which you will find on a piece of paper in that folder. Learn it, and destroy that paper.”
“You will be the only holder of that password, Captain. Do not share it with anyone else. If Captain Scarlet or Captain Magenta needs to access the restricted area as well, you will need to be with them, and you will take full responsibility.”
“Sir?” Ochre seemed perplexed by these restrictions.
“Don’t ask me why it’s like this, it’s a request from Spectrum Intelligence. Since I do want this ‘new era of co-operation’ to start well, I decided I would play along with these demands. And I expect you to do the same.”
“S.I.G., sir. You can count on me. Anything else, Colonel?”
“No. But I expect a full report on the situation as soon as you are able to make an assessment.” White sat back on his chair. “You’re dismissed. Captain Magenta and Captain Scarlet will be informed of this assignment and will meet you in the hangar shortly before your departure.”
Ochre turned squarely on his heels and swiftly walked across the room, fully aware of the colonel’s eyes drilling holes in his back. He gave but a brief glance at Lieutenant Green when he passed by him, but the young man made a show of appearing busy, as if he didn’t dare look at him.
He left the room without looking behind, with the distinct impression that this assignment he had just received was nothing more than a way for Colonel White to punish him.
Captain Ochre wasn’t a happy camper when he arrived in the hanger bay, a few hours later. He had read the contents of the colonel’s folder – the whole report of the incident at Spectrum London HQ, and the details of his instructions – and had learned by heart the complicated twenty-digit password he needed to key in to gain entrance to the most restricted areas of the complex. Quite frankly, until today, he had no idea that there existed areas at Spectrum London that a Cloudbase officer basically had no access to. Being so high up in the chain of command, he had rather imagined that he could go wherever he wanted to go, whenever he needed to.
Guess I was wrong on that assumption, and that even a Cloudbase captain has his limits within Spectrum.
Captain Scarlet and Captain Magenta were already in the passenger cabin the SPJ when he climbed onboard. Magenta was busy at the coffee machine, preparing a new brew of coffee. Ochre had not seen his friend since the incident the day before and he was wondering if he was still angry with him. The Irish captain raised his eyes at his arrival and nodded briefly, before opening a case and taking out another mug.
As for Scarlet, he had already taken a seat, and was checking a copy of the documents Colonel White had given Ochre earlier. The English officer barely took any notice of his colleague, until the latter sat on the swivelling seat next to him.
“So… what do you make of it?” Ochre asked casually.
“Mmm… Not much until now,” Scarlet admitted, without raising his eyes from the paper he was reading. “There’s isn’t much to go on, actually. This investigation might not be easy. It could last for days.”
“You’re right,” Ochre conceded. “That’s why I was thinking when I read the initial report. I wonder why the colonel wants us to consider this top priority?”
Scarlet scoffed. “I don’t know, maybe because there is a strong possibility that whoever tried to break into Spectrum London’s computer databanks might actually be able to access sensitive information? Like, say… our real identities, all of us?” Scarlet closed the folder and looked up at Ochre. “This is important enough to require our full attention. And if indeed this is an inside job, I think we need to root out whoever is responsible for it.”
“Inside job by whom?” Ochre asked with a frown. “The Mysterons? No-one who had been Mysteronised could go through the security gate at London HQ.”
“You’re right,” Scarlet agreed. “Except for me.”
“Come on, I never ever considered you. And beside, you haven’t been near London HQ in weeks.”
“No, but it doesn’t alter the fact that S.I. required that I shouldn’t be allowed inside the security perimeter – at least, not without your presence. I just humour myself by thinking that it may be because they expect my presence might somehow be a problem for their scanning devices.”
“That’s actually the case, Captain Scarlet.”
The voice coming from the door made Scarlet and Ochre turn around. Magenta, still at the counter, simply raised his head to check on the newcomer who was standing at the entrance. When he realised who it was, Magenta scowled and simply ignored him, carrying on with his coffee-making task.
Martin Conners entered fully, holding a carry-on bag in one hand; he dismissively threw it onto an empty chair and stood by the counter, before addressing Captain Scarlet again: “Please, do not take it personally,” he added, moving on with his earlier intervention. “It has nothing to do with the fact that we might not trust you. Actually, you will be happy to learn that you are beyond any suspicion… at least, as far as S.I. High Command is concerned.”
“Well, that’s a consolation, Mr. Conners, thank you,” Scarlet said, with his tongue firmly held in cheek. He took his time before asking the question that was burning his lips: “And as far as you’re concerned, am I beyond suspicion?”
Conners shook his head. “I would say that my opinion on the matter doesn’t count, even if I happen to share it with my superiors,” he replied. “That’s a cheap shot, Captain.”
“Well, considering the history between us –”
“I would say, even considering the history between us. I know you’re on the level. Ever since that… incident, where you escaped the Mysterons’ control, there’s been no reason for doubting your loyalty to Spectrum.”
Scarlet blinked, obviously surprised by the answer. He wasn’t the only one. Ochre and Magenta were also staring at Conners with obvious disbelief.
Scarlet cleared his throat. “Well, I must say, Mr. Conners, that was unexpected.”
“Who are you and what have you done with the real Martin Conners?” Magenta asked from the counter, seemingly forgetting about his coffee which had stopped brewing.
Unexpectedly – again – Conners chuckled. “Considering the adversary Spectrum is fighting against, don’t you think that joke is a little hazardous, Captain Magenta? But it’s a good one, I have to give that to you.”
Magenta narrowed his eyes at him, suspiciously. “What’re you up to, exactly?”
“What, Colonel White really didn’t tell you?” Conners replied.
“About you stating that you want to be more co-operative with us?” Ochre inquired. “Yes, he mentioned it to me. And, if you don’t mind me saying so, I’m still very sceptical about it.”
As he was talking to Conners, Ochre noticed Melody Angel appear in the door way behind, a holdall hanging from her shoulder. The S.I. agent, feeling her presence, stepped aside to let her through, apologising for being in her way. The young woman answered with a murmured acknowledgement, passed him by and, with a brief nod to both Scarlet and Magenta in the passenger cabin, walked directly into the cockpit.
She had barely shot a glance in Ochre’s direction, and that glance was almost murderous. Quite obviously, she was still cross with him.
“Will you excuse me a minute?” Ochre walked across the cabin, leaving Conners and his colleagues; they all followed him with curious eyes, but whereas Conners didn’t know the exact reason why the American captain had abruptly interrupted their conversation, Magenta and Scarlet were obviously wondering how he would be received by Melody in the cockpit.
Ochre found her, as she put her bag on the floor and took her place in the pilot seat. She knew he was there, leaning in the doorway, but she ignored him, and started checking her instruments.
“Hi,” he said casually. “I didn’t know you were to be our pilot for tonight’s flight.”
“Colonel White asked me if I wanted to undertake the duty,” Melody answered casually without turning around, and putting on her headphones. “He knew that I was due for some days off, and that I was planning to take them in London, so…” She shrugged dismissively.
“Days off?” Ochre echoed. “You didn’t tell me.”
“It was a sudden decision. Beside, I don’t tell you everything.”
Ochre nodded slowly, musing. He had the impression that his little prank gone wrong was the reason behind this ‘sudden decision’. “I see your hair is back to its natural colour.”
This time she turned around; if she had had laser instead of eyes, he would have been drilled through on the spot. Ochre realised his mistake instantly.
She returned her attention to her instruments. “Nice of you to notice,” she said in a voice dripping with venom.
“Sorry, I shouldn’t have mentioned…” Ochre stopped himself and sighed. This whole situation was simply going too far. “Look, Mel, I’m sorry. I mean, really, really sorry about… the incident. It should never have happened.”
“No, it shouldn’t have,” she retorted, not turning around this time.
“I mean, I like you too much to play a mean trick like that to you,” Ochre continued. “Surely you know that… I don’t know how I should express this…”
“Maybe you should stop trying. After all, you said you were sorry for that stupid joke.”
“And for laughing at you the way I did.”
“Yes… That was hurtful, you know. You shouldn’t have laughed so hard.”
“No… I shouldn’t have.” Ochre looked down; he scuffed the carpet on the floor with his left foot, like a child who truly was regretful of a particularly bad thing he had done. “Well, it would seem I’m well-punished now… For starters, I’ll be missing the Halloween party, and it looks like you and Magenta and Scarlet will be missing it too… So there might not be a party at all, to begin with.”
Melody swivelled her seat around. “Oh, that stupid party… Is that what you worry about, then? Do you really think those who are left will not be able to have a good time while you’re away, Captain Ochre?”
“Hey, no, that’s not what I meant,” Ochre protested. “Look, this is just a bugger. Scarlet, Magenta and I, we’ll be going on assignment, for I don’t know how many days. And from the looks of things, it promises to be a boring one. We’ll be cooped up with Spectrum Intelligence… more precisely with Conners himself.”
“Well, from what I just witnessed, he seems to be on his best behaviour,” Melody remarked. “Him, he knows how to apologise properly.”
“It’s got to be an act,” Ochre replied. “I don’t trust him. He’s up to something, I’m sure. He’s just waiting to catch us red-handed doing… whatever he can imagine we’ll be doing.”
“Well, if you don’t do anything, then you don’t have worry, do you? Maybe that’ll teach you to either be more careful or to take responsibility for your actions!”
Melody’s voice had risen in volume. Ochre looked at her with uncertainty, wondering about her words as a sudden doubt came to his mind. He looked over his shoulder towards the passenger cabin; Magenta, Scarlet and Conners were staring in their direction, and looked like they might have heard what Melody had said last. Magenta, at least, could have. He was the closest to them.
Ochre entered fully into the cockpit and half-closed the door behind him. “Not so loud, all the base might hear you.”
Melody jumped to her feet. “Don’t you dare tell me to keep my voice down!” She had lowered her voice to a whisper, nonetheless, but her whole attitude was warning Ochre not to challenge her too much. “I have taken as much as I can take from you, Captain,” she hissed.
He narrowed his eyes at her. “Have you, by any chance, told the Old Man about the hair incident?” he asked.
“What makes you think I did?”
“Oh, I don’t know… The fact that you’re suddenly taking days off – which he obviously agreed to; this whole assignment, which looked so much like a punishment he had suddenly come up with for me…”
“That’s quite a conspiracy theory! Leave it to you to think everything that’s going on is revolving around you. You’re not the center of the world, Fraser.”
“And there’s that stuff the colonel told me when he gave me this assignment…”
“To the effect that he knew some pranks I had played on some of my colleagues might have caused some problems between them and me.”
“Well, that’s a shot in the dark if I ever heard one. And he didn’t have much risk of being wrong, did he? He doesn’t need me to tell him anything to guess right. He knows how you are and how stupid you can be at times!”
Ochre grumbled and stepped back away from her. “I was about to ask you if you would want to go out with me in London,” he said abruptly. “You know, in a way to apologise for my behaviour? But seeing how angry you still are at me, I’m guessing it’s a no.”
“Most emphatically!” Melody replied. “And yes, you’re right: I’m still angry with you!”
Ochre sighed. “Fine,” he snapped. “Then let’s leave it at that for now.”
“Fine!” she echoed.
Ochre turned his back on her and stepped out of the cockpit, grabbing the handle of the door and sliding it closed with anger. If this stubborn woman didn’t want to accept his apologies, then he would not insist. He didn’t know why he bothered at all; he knew how she was, and that she could hold a grudge forever.
And despite what she had told him, he could not shake the feeling that indeed, she had told the colonel about the hair incident. However, it wasn’t at all like her to submit that kind of grievance to a superior officer; that would be blowing things out of proportion.
Beside, she was a more direct person than that, and would prefer to tackle that kind of problem personally.
Ochre noticed that Conners had moved into the chair next to Scarlet and seemed to have been busy talking to him about stuff that the obviously bored English captain was absently listening to. Could it be that Scarlet had told the colonel about the incident? After all, he was there during that fight with Melody in the Amber Room…
No. It was hardly Scarlet’s style.
And Destiny was there too, and more than probably, all the Angels knew about the incident. Melody had certainly kept her hair green long enough…
Ochre walked a few steps away from the door, fully entering the passenger cabin; he was about to pass the counter, when Magenta stopped him suddenly, shoving a hot mug into his hand. “Here. That might help you cope with your problems.”
Ochre looked down at the mug in his hand. If the smell wasn’t enough of a give-away the colour of the beverage it contained served as a confirmation of what it was.
“Coffee with whisky in it?” His joke fell flat; his heart wasn’t really into it.
Magenta grimaced. “I wish. That’s just your usual vanilla coffee that you love so much, and that you always drink when we leave for an assignment. With too much sugar in it. How you can drink that revolting stuff is beyond me.”
“Keeps my adrenaline pumping and helps me to stay on my toes.”
“Yeah, and your blood sugar high. That would worry me.”
Ochre took a large gulp of his coffee, delighting in the sugary aroma that filled his nostrils. It wasn’t exactly how he liked it; there was an aftertaste he didn’t recognise, but that only told him that, somehow, Magenta didn’t make it like he did himself.
“Is it okay?” Magenta asked expectantly.
Ochre stopped drinking and lowered his cup. “Yeah, it is. It’s good, but you still have a lot to learn to make it as good as mine... You sure you don’t want a taste?”
“No thank you. The smell’s enough for me. I prefer my coffee black, with just a drop of milk.” Magenta took a sip from his own cup. Ochre considered his friend for a moment, musing. Could Magenta have told Colonel White about the spiked shampoo?
He shook his head, dismissing the thought and, grunting, took another gulp of his coffee.
“Something on your mind?” Magenta asked. “You know, I couldn’t help but overhear –”
“I’m fine,” Ochre replied. He drained the last of the coffee and put the empty mug on the counter. “Melody’ll come around, you’ll see.”
Magenta raised a doubting brow. “You sure? It didn’t sound like she would, not anytime soon, anyway. That was a pretty dirty stunt you pulled.”
“You know it was an accident.”
“So you keep saying. Doesn’t change the fact that you turned her hair green,” Magenta mused. “And I’m not taking any responsibility for that,” he added warningly.
Ochre chuckled. “And you shouldn’t,” he admitted, patting his friend’s shoulder. Somehow, he felt weary. Possibly, this whole situation with Melody was stressing him more than he cared to admit. Ah, but it would only take a moment for all that coffee and sugar he had swallowed to kick in. He would be his old self again in an instant, fully awake and ready to tackle the assignment ahead.
“I imagine Conners had heard everything as well?” Ochre commented, nodding towards the S.I. agent.
“A bit at the beginning, maybe,” Magenta admitted. “But then, Scarlet came to your rescue and distracted him, asking him about… oh, I don’t know exactly… some details about the mission to come.” He shrugged his shoulders. “And then Conners was more than happy to give him all the details. That sounded boring to death.”
Ochre chuckled. “Good thing Scarlet’s indestructible then.” The fact that Scarlet had sacrificed himself so willingly for him showed the degree of the English captain’s friendship for him. And certainly, was a testament to his natural heroism.
“SPJ 021,” the voice of Lieutenant Green then said through the speaker embedded on the wall of the cabin. “The airstrip will be cleared in five minutes. Prepare to leave hangar bay.”
“We better get ourselves ready,” Magenta declared. “Go get your seat. I’ll shut the door.”
Ochre nodded to the suggestion and, just as he heard Melody’s voice acknowledging the order through the speaker, walked towards the nearest seat. He felt like a zombie, his steps heavy and unsteady. To make matters worst, his head was starting to throb and felt dizzy.
He dropped down, more than he sat, onto the seat, and fumbled with the belt buckle. Conners was only a couple of feet away and was looking at him with curiosity.
“You okay, Captain Ochre?”
Ochre frowned. The tone of Conners’ voice seemed concerned, but he still wondered how genuine the man was. He looked at him. Conners was already buckled up; Scarlet, by his side, had put his folder away and was preparing himself as well.
“Don’t worry about me, Mr. Conners,” he told the S.I. agent more abruptly than he really ought to. “It’s only a small headache. Probably too much coffee,” he said in realisation.
“And sugar.” Captain Magenta was coming back into the cabin after closing the access door. He sat down next to Ochre and offered him a sympathetic smile. “I definitely would check my blood sugar level, if I were you.”
Seemingly in the distance, Ochre could hear the sound of engines being started; Melody had obviously powered them up to warm them for take off. That didn’t help his headache.
He glanced at Scarlet, who, getting comfortable, was leaning his head against the backrest of the seat, closing his eyes as he did.
What a good idea, Ochre considered.
“That’s nothing a good rest would cure,” he said, in answer to Magenta. He did like Scarlet and lowered his seat. He sighed with delight, as he closed his eyes. “A couple of hours should do.”
The sound of Magenta’s voice was already far away, echoing into his mind: “Sure, Ochre. If needed, I’ll wake you when we’ll be in London…”
Then he lost all awareness of his surroundings and fell into a profound sleep.
Captain Ochre had the strangest dream.
He had the impression of being surrounded by people, talking in low voices. The voices seemed familiar, but he couldn’t recognise them; the words they spoke were out of reach, he couldn’t comprehend them.
He could feel them reaching for him, picking him up and carrying him off, with his feet dragging, their steps echoing and drowning their voices. He couldn’t stop them, he couldn’t stand up; his body and mind were numb, and he had no notion of himself, of the space surrounding him, of whoever and wherever these people were. The only thing he was certain of was the sweet sugary taste of coffee in his mouth, and the haunting smell of French vanilla.
The impressions became even stranger still, as some kind of nearby commotion made its way through his deadened mind. There were shouts, shadows moving, and then what sounded like a gunshot that echoed painfully through his heavy skull. He thought he heard a man’s cry and the dull thud of something – or someone – falling to the floor.
Ochre groaned and attempted to ignore all of those disturbing sounds. There were bad omens; the stuff of nightmare.
Yes, that was probably what it was. A nightmare…
His mind slowly emerged from the dream; he could now identify the muffled sound of turbo jet engines, and could almost feel the vibration of the flying plane under his feet.
He remembered vaguely that he was on a SPJ, on his way to Spectrum London.
“Wake up, Ochre.”
The voice seemed so very far, like a murmur whispered in Captain Ochre’s ear; he couldn’t recognise it, through the lulling and deadening sound of the flying jet’s engines. He knew only that it was annoyingly bothering him in his sleep.
He didn’t really want to wake up fully.
“Wake up, Captain.”
The voice was more insistent now, and Ochre recognised it at last; Magenta was trying to wake him up. He groaned and turned away, trying to ignore the voice again, hoping it would go away and that he would be able to go back to sleep. He just felt so tired.
“Damn it, will you just wake up!”
The irritated shout was followed by a sudden shower of cold water that splashed all over Captain Ochre’s head. He gave a loud gasp at the shock, swallowing water as he did. His eyes flew open. He was awake now, if barely, and was shivering and struggling for breath. He looked down at himself in disbelief; he was soaking wet, and was sitting in a pool of water that had formed on the seat underneath him.
Baffled, he noticed his hands laid on his lap, his wrists restrained with shackles.
“What the –”
“Good. You’re finally awake,” an ominous voice told him. “I was somehow afraid that you had received too large a dose of gas and that we might have lost you.”
Shaken and his head still in a muddle, Ochre raised his eyes and looked up to find Magenta, leaning in front of him, looking at him with a stern expression on his face. In one hand, he held an empty and still dripping ice bucket. Beyond him, Ochre registered the familiar surrounding of the SPJ passenger cabin. The bucket, he thought almost absently, must come from the jet’s kitchen.
“Geez, Pat,” he mumbled, half-asleep and with a half-heartened smile, “I knew you were still cross at me because of that shampoo trick, but getting back at me by tying me up like this and trying to drown me with –”
“Shut up!” Magenta snapped abruptly. “This is more serious than one of your damn pranks, you idiot!”
Ochre frowned. Even as a pay back, he had to admit this was going a bit far. Especially coming from Magenta.
And the shackles were very uncomfortable. They were cutting his blood circulation from his wrists when he tried to move.
“What’s the deal exactly?” Ochre mumbled in confusion.
“Look around and take an educated guess!”
Magenta stood up and moved out of Ochre’s view. As still dazed and confused as he was, the vision that offered itself to Ochre’s eyes was enough to fully awaken him. He looked with astonishment at Captain Scarlet and Melody Angel seated across from him, each of them gagged with a length of tape, and with their hands obviously tied behind their backs. Scarlet was visibly fuming, struggling in vain against his restraints; Melody was looking at him with apprehension.
Shocked, Ochre moved to rise from his seat, but Magenta firmly held him back.
“Not so fast, Captain. You’re staying where you are. Or the next time, I won’t content myself with giving you a cold shower.”
“What the… what’s going on?”
Now angry, Ochre was about to say more when his eyes discovered another, even more shocking scene.
There was a motionless body lying in a pool of blood on the floor, at the other end of the cabin, just behind the counter near the access to the cockpit; the face was looking away, and the little that could be seen of it was all covered with blood.
Ochre gasped and paled, his heart suddenly beating faster; the colour of the uniform the victim was wearing was more than enough to guess his identity.
“Oh no… Pat?”
The sound of footsteps made him look away and he saw the man who had showered him earlier stepping back into his field of vision. With dismay, Ochre watched as he leaned over Melody Angel to brutally remove the length of tape from her mouth, before doing the same to Captain Scarlet. Both gasped in pain as they were freed from their respective gag.
“You’ll never get away with it!” Scarlet lashed out furiously at their captor.
“Now, now, Captain Scarlet… Be kind, and you might survive this yet.”
Ochre could only watch, his mind deadened. Things were moving too fast for him, he couldn’t imagine what could have happened exactly.
We were about to leave Cloudbase. Everything was normal, except I had this fight with Melody… Then I fell asleep… How long ago was that? He tried to look at his watch, but his hands were in such a position that he couldn’t see the dial. He looked around, towards the cabin windows. He couldn’t see anything through them, as it was dark outside. It was still night. It had to be the same night…
He looked into the face of the man now staring down at him with that implacable expression that didn’t look at all like the man he knew.
This wasn’t his friend standing there. His friend lay in a pool of blood, on the cold floor of the SPJ.
This man in front of him… was a Mysteron who had taken Magenta’s place.
“Pat…” Ochre murmured, shaking his head in negation. “It can’t be… It can’t.”
The Mysteronised Captain Magenta smiled very thinly. “Oh, I can assure you, Captain Ochre,” he replied very coldly, “it most certainly can.”
For Ochre, it was as if he was waking up in the middle of a nightmarish movie. Except, the movie was real.
The odd impressions he had experienced in his sleep… the gunshot… the cry… the fallen body… It wasn’t a dream.
“What… what happened? he asked. “How… did this happen?”
He looked directly at Scarlet, hoping his colleague would be able to provide the answer.
“You know as much as we do,” the British officer answered heavily. “I fell asleep… I don’t know how it happened, but it was shortly after we left the hangar. When I woke up, I was already tied up and gagged.”
“The same for me,” Melody said in turn. “I was at the helm and then I suddenly felt so tired… And then nothing.” She swallowed hard. “When I woke up, I was here, tied up, with Scarlet and you. And Magenta was already dead…” Her voice trailed off and she looked away.
“Killed in his sleep, no doubt,” Scarlet mumbled. “And he was there, already,” he added, nodding curtly to the Mysteronised Magenta.
“You fell right into our trap,” the Mysteronised Magenta said. His smile broadened, ever so lightly. “…Earthmen.”
“How did you do it?” Scarlet asked.
“Gas,” Ochre suddenly remembered. “When I came to… you mentioned gas.”
“Correct, Captain Ochre. The SPJ cabin and cockpit was rigged, so that you would fall victim to a powerful narcotic gas. The plan was put in motion as soon as the jet departed Cloudbase.”
“I don’t… even remember leaving base,” Ochre retorted, frowning as he tried to remember. Was the gas so overpowering that it had made him forget what had happened before he had started inhaling it?
There was something missing in this story. Something important that he couldn’t put his finger on.
“Wait… who killed Magenta, then?”
It was Scarlet who was asking the question, and that gave to Ochre the clue he was looking for; the element that kept eluding him ever since he had awakened.
He had guessed the terrible truth just before a voice answered the question directly:
“I shot him.”
The three captives turned their head to look at the nearby swivelling seat by the dark cabin windows, which had its back to them. It slowly turned around, to reveal a man seated there, his legs crossed, calmly stirring a spoon in a cup he was holding on his lap. “You don’t imagine that he simply dropped dead, do you?” he remarked stoically, putting the spoon aside on the saucer, and taking a sip from his cup.
Ochre couldn’t believe his eyes; and yet, that was the only explanation possible. One glance to his fellow Spectrum officers informed him that they were just as stunned as he was.
“Conners?! You’re a Mysteron agent?!”
Conners had a thin, cruel smile on his lips. “What do you think, Captain Ochre?”
“It’s impossible! If you had been Mysteronised… You’d never have gone through Cloudbase’s security!”
“Perhaps your security isn’t as tight as you imagine, then.”
“Or perhaps you weren’t a Mysteron agent to begin with,” Scarlet retorted bluntly, suddenly stating exactly what had popped in Ochre’s mind.
“Nothing gets by you, does it, Captain Scarlet?” Conners replied.
“Bastard!” With righteous anger, Ochre made an attempt to spring from his seat; he found he was weak, still recovering from his forced slumber, and the Mysteronised Magenta took advantage of this to push him back down. The American officer glared at him. The sight of this Mysteron agent with the face of his friend was so unsettling that he quickly turned away. “You betrayed us… and you murdered Magenta?” he blurted, addressing Conners again. “Why?”
“Traitor!” Scarlet shouted, pulling savagely on his restraints as Conners calmly rose to his feet. “I knew that holier-than-thou attitude of yours was hiding something. But I never realised that you would stoop so low as to turn against Spectrum!”
“Ah, Captain,” Conners said. “For me to turn against Spectrum would imply that I was with Spectrum from the start. But the truth is…” He shrugged dismissively. “I never was a part of Spectrum at all.”
Scarlet blinked, confused. “Wait… what? What do you mean?”
“What do you think I mean?”
It was Ochre who provided the answer: “You can’t be… part of the Network?”
“Oh well…” Conners put his saucer and cup on the small table next to him. “I guess my deep dark secret is out, then.”
“How can this be possible?” Ochre muttered. “You? Part of the Network?”
“Since when?” Scarlet inquired.
“Since the very beginning,” Conners answered casually. “I always have been an agent of the Network. Even before I left the U.S.S. to join Spectrum, actually.”
“I knew there was a reason why I hated him,” Melody remarked darkly.
“You all hated me,” Conners retorted, turning to her. “I think it was already obvious I didn’t care how you all felt about me. Well, now you know why I didn’t care for any of you either. I had a mission to perform for the Network and that was all that counted for me.”
“I thought the Network was dedicated to helping the Mysterons win this war against Earth,” Ochre retorted, the thought nagging him. “You were part of the U.S.S. well before Captain Black encountered them on Mars. The Network couldn’t possibly exist then.”
There was barely a fraction of a second, before Conners turned to him, chewing on his bottom lip and shaking his head in desolation. “How little Spectrum knows about the Network,” he replied, addressing Ochre as a teacher would a particularly dense pupil. “Our organisation is much older than you think and has its own agenda. We’ve been around for years, working from the shadows, infiltrating all levels of governments, and security agencies, waiting for the right moment… When the Mysterons’ existence was discovered, and Spectrum destroyed their complex on Mars, we knew we had found in them the allies we needed to achieve our plans. The Network and the Mysterons have a common goal.”
“The destruction of all life on Earth?” Ochre asked with a frown.
Conners scoffed. “Don’t tell me you believe that terror propaganda,” he replied, waving the suggestion away with a dismissive gesture.
“Don’t mind us if we do,” Melody retorted.
“Come on, be realistic. We seek total domination, not destruction. With the might of the Mysterons behind us, we’ll purge this planet of unwanted elements, crush all resistance, and will establish a new order.”
Scarlet shook his head with desolation. “Congratulations. You’ll be reigning on a dead planet,” he said acerbically. “And it’s you who are telling us to be realistic. You’re utterly mad.”
“Not as mad as any of you, to think you can defeat the powers of the Mysterons,” Conners replied. “I’m the wise one, siding with them.”
“Wise indeed,” Scarlet muttered. “Now the cat’s out of the bag. Your cover’s blown, Conners.”
“It became necessary, for the purpose of this assignment.”
“If you think we won’t tell –” Melody started.
“You won’t,” Conners interrupted her. “You think I will let you live long enough to tell everyone of my duplicity?”
“You’re nothing but a murderer,” Ochre said in turn. “You’ll kill the three of us then, just like –” He looked back, towards the body of his friend, lying in his blood, not that far away from him, before averting his eyes again. He swallowed hard. “… Just like you killed him?” he finished. He shook his head in disgust. “You surprise me, Conners. I never thought you were the kind to dirty your hands yourself. You normally let others do the dirty work for you.”
“What makes you think that changed?” Conners said implacably. “I have Captain Magenta at my command, now.”
“This… thing… isn’t Captain Magenta,” Ochre spat at him, glancing at the replicate of Magenta, standing next to him. “You often were on Pat Donaghue’s case, Conners, under the pretence that you never found him good enough to be a part of Spectrum, because of his ‘dark past’, as you put it yourself. The truth is, he was a far better man that you can ever hope to be. And that really got to you, didn’t it?”
“Oh… You’ll make me cry, Captain Ochre.” Conners mocked him. “Almost makes me regret I had to kill your friend.”
“You can go to f–”
“Enough!” The Mysteronised Magenta stepped forward, shoving his gun at Ochre’s head before the latter could finish his sentence. “This argument is irrelevant. I’m not at your command, Agent Conners, I obey only the Mysterons. Do I need to remind you that we have an assignment to complete?”
Conners gave it some thought, before nodding curtly. “You’re right, of course,” he agreed. “We must move on with the mission.”
“And what is this ‘mission’ exactly?” Ochre asked. “Your masters didn’t issue their usual threat this time around.”
“They did, but you were all too fast asleep to hear it,” retorted Magenta.
“Cloudbase will contact us then,” Ochre quickly came back. “They’ll ask us to turn around and return to base. That’s usual procedure.”
“Indeed. And they did contact this plane,” Conners confirmed. “But Colonel White’s instructions were to carry on to Spectrum London.”
Ochre frowned. “What?”
“That’s true,” Scarlet then said with a regretful tone, causing Ochre to turn in his direction. “That’s why Melody and I were gagged earlier. I didn’t hear the Mysterons’ threat, but when I came to, I heard the colonel’s voice through the speakers. Magenta… the Mysteron replicate,” he amended quickly, “… was replying to him.”
“The colonel ordered for us to report to Spectrum London, as previously planned,” Melody added. “He had no reason to suspect something was wrong. We were unable to warn him of what was going on. That was a few seconds, before you woke up yourself.”
“The colonel didn’t find it strange that I wasn’t reporting to him myself?” Ochre asked with a frown. “I’m supposed to be field commander for this assignment.”
Scarlet hesitated slightly under his colleague’s inquiring look. “Ochre –” he started.
“The replicate…” Melody quickly added, “he was speaking with your voice, Captain Ochre.”
Ochre’s expression grew hard. “Really now?” he said bitterly. “Now that adds insult to injury.” He frowned, looking at Melody. “Hang on… if you’re here, who’s piloting this plane?”
To his knowledge, everyone who had boarded the SPJ before leaving Cloudbase was currently in the passenger cabin. Then who…?
He turned an inquiring look to Conners, who smiled cruelly. “I don’t think you’d really like to know the answer.”
“The Mysterons are flying this plane themselves, is that it?” Ochre asked. “I know they can take control of craft. But don’t they need to destroy them first?”
“You cannot hope to understand the power of the Mysterons,” Magenta intoned. “Or hope to win against it.”
“Can it with that,” Ochre snapped. “We’ve done pretty well until now, haven’t we?”
“What do you want from us?” Scarlet asked abruptly.
“From you, Captain Scarlet?” Conners said pondering. “Nothing for now… We’ll have to think about that later.”
“It’s Captain Ochre that interests us,” Magenta added.
“Me?” Ochre asked in surprise.
“We have need of your help for this assignment.”
Ochre sneered. “Oh, really? Well, don’t hold your breath. You will have to kill me first.”
Conners tutted. “Well, yes, that might be a solution to insure your co-operation, once you’re Mysteronised…”
“You monster!” Melody lashed at him.
“… But unfortunately, that won’t do at all,” Conners continued, ignoring her intervention. “We need you to be human to proceed with our plan. If you were Mysteronised, you would be too easily detected. I’m afraid that now disqualifies Captain Magenta, despite his eagerness to serve, and Captain Scarlet as well.”
“You know very well what my answer would be, Conners,” Scarlet said between his teeth.
“You don’t count anyway, Scarlet.”
“Then do whatever it is yourself,” Ochre said curtly. “You are human as well, after all. Or so you say.”
Conners sighed. “I would if I could, Captain. But Colonel White’s meddling has made this impossible.”
“What do you mean?”
“He gave you the access code necessary to gain entry to a certain restricted area that we ourselves need to get into,” Conners explained.
“The restricted area in Spectrum London?” Ochre enquired. “I thought it was controlled by Spectrum Intelligence. Last I looked, you are Spectrum Intelligence, Conners.”
“You don’t know everything. There’s areas even I don’t have access to.”
“Why would you want to go there?”
“That’s our business, not yours.”
“Like hell,” growled Ochre. “Whatever the Mysterons are planning to do, that makes it my business. I already gave you my answer. Don’t expect me to change it.”
“Really?” Conners replied casually. “Well, that’s a shame. But as you probably well know, Captain Ochre… I can be quite persuasive when I want to. And I’m sure that Captain Magenta can be just as well.”
Conners had barely said those words when Magenta brusquely turned on his heels to press the barrel of his gun to Melody’s temple. Startled, the young woman gasped and recoiled from the cold contact of the metal against her skin. Trembling, she closed her eyes and held her head high, visibly determined to face death as bravely as she could.
Ochre felt his heart miss a beat at the sight of the woman he cared so much for being threatened this way. Even before Magenta uttered the terrible words that were to follow, he already knew what they would be:
“You might not care what would happen to you, Captain Ochre, but you surely wouldn’t want us to kill this lovely lady. Now you’ll do what we want of you, or I’ll blow Melody Angel’s head off.”
“No!” roared Ochre.
“Leave her alone, damn you!” Scarlet yelled in turn.
Conners sighed and clicked his tongue. “This is beginning to get tedious…” He reached for the gun hanging from his shoulder holster and, getting it out, aimed it squarely at Scarlet. Before the English captain could even react, and without batting an eyelid, he implacably pulled the trigger.
The scene had been so sudden that Ochre could only blink in surprise; he saw the impact of the projectile throwing Scarlet back, and sending him tumbling over the side of his seat. He sprawled on the floor, on his side, where he lay groaning.
“No! You bastard, don’t shoot him!” Ochre raged, turning to Conners. The only thing stopping him from jumping at the traitor’s throat was Magenta’s gun aimed at Melody. If he were to move, he was afraid that the Mysteron would retaliate by killing her.
If only he didn’t feel so helpless… All he could do now was watch as Scarlet, lying on the floor, moaned pitifully, without even attempting to rise from where he had fallen. He had obviously been seriously wounded.
“Too long has Captain Scarlet been a thorn in the Mysterons’ side,” Conners declared. “He’s not necessary for this mission, so we might as well take the opportunity to get rid of him once and for all.” He turned to Magenta. “What’s the altitude?”
“High enough for any body to be obliterated upon impact when reaching the ground,” Magenta replied callously. “Low enough so the pressure would permit the door to open.”
Ochre paled. “No, you can’t be seriously thinking –”
“And at the same time, we may as well get rid of this carcass,” the Mysteron agent continued, nodding in the direction of the dead Magenta. “Before it begins to smell.”
Ochre gasped with outrage. “You stinking, murderous –”
“I like your way of thinking,” Conners agreed with an evil smile. “I do believe I appreciate you more than the real Magenta, my friend.”
“I’m the only Magenta now,” the Mysteronised Magenta replied. “And I am not your friend. We’re only working together because we have a common goal.” He glared at Conners. “Now it’s time to get your hands dirty again. Get rid of Scarlet and of that dead body, while I keep an eye on these two, and make sure they don’t move.”
“Honeymoon’s over, I guess,” Conners mumbled.
He nevertheless walked his way across the cabin towards the downed Scarlet, who still lay in a puddle of blood which had considerably enlarged underneath him. Conners approached cautiously, keeping his gun aimed at Scarlet. The Spectrum officer didn’t move; his face was half hidden under his bent arm, and his eyes were closed. Uncertainly, Conners nudged him with his foot. There was still no movement.
From his position, Ochre was watching fretfully; he couldn’t decide if his colleague was still alive or dead. He didn’t know either if Scarlet would be able to survive a drop from a high-flying craft. So far, he had survived almost everything, but it didn’t seem safe to assume it would always be the case, or to take any chances.
Seemingly satisfied that Scarlet wouldn’t cause him any trouble, Conners put his weapon away. He walked towards the pressurised door, near which the real Magenta’s body lay; Ochre followed him with his eyes and couldn’t help a shiver running down his spine when he saw Conners pressing the opening button. There was a hissing sound when the door slid to the side and an alarm instantly blared and red lights started to blink warningly. A powerful draft of very cold air rushed into the cabin, forcing Conners to shift his weight and to hold himself against the back of a nearby seat to keep his footing. Then he stepped away from the open door and went to the dead body of the real Magenta, closer to him.
When he saw Conners leaning over the body of his friend, seizing it by the shoulders and lifting it slightly from the floor, Ochre made a new, desperate attempt to leave his seat. But the Mysteronised Magenta forcibly pushed him down and pressed his gun against his chest, warningly.
“For Heaven’s sakes, Conners!” Ochre pleaded frantically, yelling to make himself heard over the whistling wind and shrilling alarm. “You cannot do something that horrible. You’re still human – don’t do that!”
Conners looked squarely at him, his eyes cold. “So now you think I’m human, Captain Ochre?” he taunted him, in a loud voice. “That’s funny – I think I once heard you say that I was so unfeeling that I couldn’t possibly be human? Now I think it’s high time to show you how inhuman I can truly become.”
Ochre’s heart sank, as he realised there was nothing he could say to stop Conners. He watched with dread as the man dragged Magenta’s body the short distance to the open door. Unceremoniously, he threw the limp form out, without even a single glance back.
Mesmerized, Ochre watched as Captain Magenta fell through the dark opening and disappeared from view, his body literally sucked outside. His heart grew cold; his entire being revolted at the sight; he shuffled in his seat, oblivious to the gun threatening him. “That was my friend, you dirty –”
“Quiet or you’ll follow him,” the Mysteronised Magenta warned, pushing his gun under Ochre’s jaw, making him even more aware how precarious his situation was.
“You wouldn’t dare shoot,” Ochre challenged, his teeth clenched. “You just told me you needed me!”
“Do not assume I’d hesitate to kill you, Earthman,” Magenta replied. “Or the Angel pilot for that matter.”
“Touch one hair on her head and I’ll blow yours off, Mysteron bastard!”
Magenta ignored him and turned towards Conners. “Now for Scarlet, Conners,” he ordered. “Get rid of him!”
“I’m just keeping the best part for the end!” Conners shouted back. He moved towards Scarlet’s unmoving body on the floor and crouched down next to it. “We’ll see if he survives a fall from this height now!”
He turned Scarlet on his back and started to drag him…
Just at that moment, the speaker embedded in the wall came to life, and the disembodied voice of Lieutenant Green echoed through the passenger cabin, startling everyone: “This is Cloudbase calling SPJ 021. Please report immediately!”
“What the…?” Distracted like everyone else, Conners straightened up slightly, and his head snapped in the direction of the speaker; this diversion was to cause him dearly as Captain Scarlet unexpectedly seemed to come back to life and shot up from the floor. His arms were mysteriously free, and he wrapped them around the traitor who, astounded, didn’t have time to react before he found himself almost trapped.
“Why don’t we see if you will survive, Conners!” Scarlet shouted over the whistling wind.
Hope flared in Ochre’s heart at the sight of his colleague alive and kicking; Scarlet wasn’t going to go down without a fight. Unfortunately, with the gun of the Mysteronised Magenta still on him, he didn’t have much of an opportunity to help. He glanced at Melody, somehow hoping that the young woman, while unchecked, would be spurred into action. But she seemed rooted in her seat, her eyes wide, riveted on the scene of the two men fighting a few meters only away from them.
Why doesn’t she do anything? Why isn’t she moving? Ochre could only imagine that shock was freezing her into place.
“SPJ 021,” Green’s voice continued over the speakers. Our sensors indicate the outside sealed door has been opened in midflight. Please contact immediately and report if there’s any trouble.”
“Conners!” Magenta yelled with anger. “Get rid of him, you incompetent fool!”
“Don’t you dare call me incompetent…” Conners’ voice sounded strained, as he was struggling to free himself from Scarlet, who had him in a stranglehold. The Spectrum officer’s left arm was pressing against his adversary’s throat, while his other hand was holding the man’s right wrist, keeping him from reaching his gun. Somehow, Scarlet had managed to push himself onto his feet, but by doing so, he had brought the two of them dangerously close to the opened door behind, leading into the void and certain death.
“Captain Ochre, answer!” At the mention of his name, Ochre shivered. The new voice through the speaker was now that of Colonel White, and by the sound of it, he was growing impatient – and possibly concerned. “We’re been trying to reach your SPJ through various channels for the last five minutes. It is imperative that you answer this call immediately and inform us of what’s going on!”
“That’s enough!” Magenta then declared with irritation. “If you do not take care of Scarlet, Conners, then I’ll do it myself!”
With that, he swiftly pointed his handgun in Scarlet’s direction and took aim.
With the weapon not threatening him anymore, Ochre acted immediately; not wanting the Mysteron to gun down his colleague, he plunged head first into Magenta’s abdomen, tackling him with all of his weight.
Magenta stumbled back, just as his finger squeezed the trigger, and the bullet went wide. Ochre attempted to bring him down, but with his hands still shackled, he was unable to get a good enough grip on his adversary, who only needed to shove him aside and to kick him to get him off. Ochre fell to the floor with a grunt. The Mysteron agent just glared at him before raising his handgun to aim it again at Scarlet. Ochre looked in despair in his colleague’s direction.
“Scarlet! Look out!”
At the same moment, Scarlet let go of Conners’ throat to use his now free hand and reached for the man’s gun. He unholstered it in a flash and, using Conners as a shield, aimed it at Magenta who, now free of Ochre, was now wide open.
The two gunshots rang out on top of each other. With a grunt, Magenta lost hold of his weapon and was thrown back off his feet; he fell over the seat behind him and sprawled on the floor. The bullet meant for Scarlet instead hit Conners in the chest; the traitor cried out in pain, as blood spurted on his immaculate white shirt. He staggered back under the impact, in the process unbalancing Scarlet, who slipped…
… And they both tumbled out through the wide open door behind them, screaming as they disappeared in front of Ochre’s horrified eyes.
“No!” Ochre stumbled to his feet, his legs shaking; he couldn’t believe what just had happened, and how fast it had happened. He made a tentative, almost instinctive step towards the open door, unsure what he would be able to do when he would reach it. Scarlet was already gone, along with Conners… both of them having fallen to their deaths.
“SPJ 021!” the voice of Colonel White barked again through the speakers. “You are ordered to answer this call immediately. If you do not do so, we’ll have to assume the worst. The Angels are on their way to intercept you with orders to shoot you down! Captain Scarlet! Captain Ochre!”
“Rick!” Melody Angel’s call stopped Ochre in his tracks and he turned to her. She was looking at him with a desolate but determined expression on her face. “You heard the colonel… We have to answer before the Angels arrive!”
“But Scarlet –”
“He’s beyond help now,” Melody reasoned. “We have to believe he’ll survive that fall!”
“Captain Magenta! Captain Ochre… This is your last warning! You have thirty seconds to answer before the Angels shoot you down!”
“Now, Rick!” Melody urged. “Answer that call!”
Ochre looked around quickly, searching for his cap; he couldn’t see it anywhere, nor did he see Scarlet’s… or Magenta’s. Thought of his friend made him glance in the direction of his Mysteron double, who had not moved since he had been shot. He shook himself and strode to the communication panel on the wall, but when he slammed the transmission button, he realised the device wasn’t working at all. That made him frown in perplexity.
“Come on, Rick, answer!” Melody pleaded.
“I can’t,” he replied. “This thing doesn’t seem to be connected…”
“The cockpit!” Melody suggested. “Use the radio in the cockpit! Quickly, before it’s too late!”
“Right! But I don’t know if it’ll work,” Ochre replied. “The Mysterons themselves might be piloting this jet.”
“You have to try!”
Ochre nodded. He leaned down to pick up the gun that the Mysteronised Magenta had dropped earlier – his magenta coloured-coded gun – and quickly, made his way across the cabin and towards the closed door leading into the cockpit. He was almost certain the SPJ was flying under the influence of the Mysterons, and he didn’t quite know what good a weapon might be if it was the case. But should there be someone else at the helm, he wanted to be prepared.
He leaned against the closed door and put his ear to it; he couldn’t hear anything at all. Not that he expected to.
Only a few seconds left, he told himself, remembering the last of Colonel White’s message. Not a moment to lose. Holding his breath, he slid the door open and stepped into the opening, his gun at the ready.
…And he froze into place, his jaw hitting the floor at the sight that awaited him.
A female, petite figure, dressed in a cream uniform, sat in the pilot seat, long blonde hair falling freely down her back, and headphones set upon her ears. The seat swivelled around.
“Hello, Captain Ochre,” a French-accented voice welcomed him in a calm, imperturbable voice.
“D-Destiny?” Ochre stammered, frowning with disbelief. “H-how…?”
He didn’t finish, as he felt the cold business end of a gun suddenly pressing against the nape of his neck.
“We told you you wouldn’t like to know,” another female voice sternly told him, sending shivers down his spine and making his heart stop a beat.
“Melody,” he whispered, his voice catching in his throat. “You too?” he looked with incomprehension at Destiny who was gazing at him with a cold expression. “The both of you…? The Mysterons…?”
“Yes,” was the brief, curt answer behind him.
“You’ll never know the answer to that one. Drop the gun. Now.”
Defeated, his heart heavy with sorrow, Ochre obeyed, and the handgun clattered to the floor. Destiny didn’t make a single move to pick it up and simply kept staring at him with that same unfathomable, calm expression on her face. She didn’t say anything, as Melody, putting her hand firmly on Ochre’s arm, compelled him to step back, slowly. The gun left the back of his head, and he now felt it resting against the lower part of his back.
Ochre’s head was filled with unanswered questions. When did the Mysterons get to Melody? Possibly while he was sleeping, at the same time they got their hands on Magenta. Conners must have killed them both. Where could her body be? Destiny… Destiny was in the Mysterons’ hands too, that was obvious. And where did she come from, anyway? Ochre figured she must have been onboard the whole time, but he didn’t remember having seen her board the SPJ, before it took off from Cloudbase. He didn’t even remember leaving Cloudbase to begin with; he was sleeping already. The effect of that gas Conners used on them possibly…
None of this was making sense anymore… What was it the Mysterons wanted this time around?
As Melody made him slowly turn around, Ochre saw the Mysteronised Magenta, now on his feet, very much alive. He was casually brushing a large spot of blood smearing the front of his uniform. He had revived then; ready to carry out his masters’ orders.
Not quite, Ochre thought savagely.
“The Angels are on their way,” he announced with a stern voice. “They’ll destroy this plane and everyone in it. You’ve lost.”
The Mysteron agent gave him an odd look. “So the mission is compromised,” he said with a slow nod as he made his way across the passenger cabin. “And we’re about to die. Well, why don’t we send you on your way before we kick the bucket, then? What do you think, Melody?”
“That sounds like a very good idea to me,” the young woman replied from behind Ochre. He felt the gun pressing against his lower back. “Move towards the door,” she ordered him in a casual voice.
Ochre’s heart raced as he understood what they intended to do with him. He froze in place, at first refusing to obey, even though realising that he might be shot in the back instead. Melody shoved him and he took two steps, finding himself in front of the door through which he had seen the real Magenta, Scarlet and Conners disappear earlier. The strong wind nearly knocked him off balance, and he had to struggle to keep on his feet. He didn’t dare look into the dark void beyond the door, but he was listening with attention, hoping to hear through the howling winds, the high-pitched sound of the nearby Angel jets. Strangely enough, he couldn’t hear them. There were only the turbines of the jet’s own engines.
Where could they be? They must not be that far… They’re supposed to blow this plane to high Heaven in just a few seconds…
The Mysteronised Magenta was now in front of him; there was a smile on his face. Ochre wasn’t sure how to read that smile. Cruel? Self-satisfied? Wicked? There was some of that roguishness that was so typical to the real Magenta. That was making Ochre’s heart hurt.
“Turn around,” Magenta instructed, almost smoothly. “Face the opening.”
With no other choice left, Ochre complied; the wind lashed into his face, forcing him to narrow his eyes as he faced the darkness of the night outside. He couldn’t see anything at all, no lights of approaching jets, no moon, not even any stars.
He felt the strong hand of Magenta on his shoulder, compelling him to walk forward; he stood at the very edge of oblivion, heart beating fast; instinctively, he reached out with his shackled hands to grasp the edge of the opening.
“You are about to die, Captain Ochre!” Magenta shouted behind him, over the sound of the wind lashing at him. “How’s that making you feel?”
“Go to hell!” Ochre shouted back at him. It would be his last challenge to his enemies. They would not have the satisfaction of seeing him beg for his life.
“Okay, then. You go first, Rick!”
Ochre felt the flat of Magenta’s boot against his buttocks, shoving him hard through the opening. He lost his hold on the doorway and he took a last deep intake of breath, as he fell face first into the darkness…
… Before his fall was suddenly broken and he unexpectedly landed on a soft and thickly-padded surface. That made him gasp in surprise.
“Lights! Eighty percent!”
At the sound of that forceful order which seemed to come from nowhere, the whistling wind instantly stopped, as well as the wheezing of turbine engines. There was a clicking sound, and then the surge of a powerful light, which chased away the darkness, temporarily blinding Ochre in the process and forcing him to close his eyes. A loud uproar then made itself heard from all around, almost deafening him.
It took some time for Ochre to realise that the noisy commotion he was hearing were cheers, whooping sounds, whistling and applause. He blinked his eyes open and looked around, dazzled and uncertain.
He was in a large room that he recognised as one of Cloudbase’s hangars, and there were a lot of people surrounding him, smiling and clapping their hands and making whooping sounds. In front of him, hanging about two meters from the floor, he could see the ejecting cabin of a Mark III SPJ – one that he knew had been specifically modified and set onto hydraulic supports months ago, to transform it into a flight simulator used in training sessions for Spectrum personnel. As the support which kept the simulator in mid-air slowly lowered the cabin to the floor, Ochre noticed that all the windows were covered with a dark fabric, obviously meant to suggest it was night. Melody Angel and Captain Magenta stood in the opening, now smiling widely and clapping their hands like everybody else, and Ochre spotted Destiny, standing slightly behind them, beaming.
“Congratulations, Captain Ochre.” That voice coming from his left made Ochre turned his head to look, as he tentatively pushed himself into a sitting position on the mattress surface he had landed on. Colonel White was standing nearby, and was applauding like all the others… and like all the others, there was a smile on his lips too. “This Halloween party of yours is undoubtedly the most successful to date!”
I’ll be damned, the befuddled Ochre realised. I’ve been had…
He had confirmation of this when he saw Captain Scarlet and Agent Conners standing close to Colonel White, with the same - and unsettlingly enough – smirks on their faces, and blood on their chests.
Fake blood, obviously.
Scarlet stepped forward. “Your hands, Captain Ochre!” He seized with energy the two shackled hands that Ochre tentatively presented and pulled the American to his feet. Ochre walked unsteadily on the uneven surface of the mat before standing next to Scarlet who vigorously clapped his shoulder, laughing. “Now, how does it feel to come back from the dead?”
Ochre stared at him, without answering, and Scarlet produced a key from his vest pocket.
“Now let’s get you out of those, shall we?” the English officer said, inserting the key into the lock of one of the shackles that imprisoned Ochre’s hands. “Doesn’t seem to me that you’ll need them now.”
While Scarlet freed him from the shackles, Ochre looked around with bemusement. He spotted the three powerful fans, still pointing towards where the capsule had been before it started its descent. He also noticed four huge speakers, all connected to a console in front of which sat Lieutenant Green, wearing headphones. The younger man noticed Ochre staring straight at him and saluted him, before offering him a broad smile and a thumb up.
Next to Green stood Doctor Fawn, Captain Grey and Captain Blue, with Symphony Angel by his side, and Rhapsody and Harmony Angel. Present all around were numerous Spectrum officers and civilian personnel stationed on Cloudbase, who had confirmed their presence at the Halloween party.
And up there, hanging from the ceiling, was an immense banner, of orange, black, white and purple, decorated with drawings of tiny bats and pumpkins, with the words ‘Trick or treat! Happy Halloween!’ written all over it.
All of it, it was all but a huge farce, a methodically organised prank with him as the victim, and everyone was in it.
Ochre swallowed hard, and started to breathe normally; the uneasiness hadn’t left him yet, his legs were still shaking, and the sweat running down his spine still felt very cold.
But at the same time, he was oh-so very relieved that none of this awful nightmare had actually happened.
“I… It feels good, actually,” he said, finally answering Scarlet’s question, rubbing his now free wrists. He then reached for his head and ruffled his hair, in a nervous gesture, noticed it was wet and remembered the water the Mysteronised Magenta – no, the real Magenta – had thrown in his face earlier. He blew a deep sigh and smiled awkwardly as he shook Scarlet’s produced hand. He chucked. “My hands are still clammy, Scarlet, I’m sorry…” He looked around, still uncertain. “So… none of this was real, then? Nobody was really hurt?”
“Well, I broke a nail,” Rhapsody complained with a teasing smile, showing her right index finger. “The suspense was killing me… I was sitting at the edge of my seat.”
And everyone chuckled at her joke.
“All of this was for me?” Ochre asked.
“Don’t you think you deserved it?” Colonel White asked him, frowning, but the smile was still on his face.
Ochre nodded emphatically. “Oh, I do believe I deserved it, all right. And you got me, you got me real good!” The multitude of smiles all around were reassuring enough. He ruffled his hair again; that was when he realised his head was itchy. He thought it was because he still felt so edgy. His breathing was returning to its normal rate
He sniggered again. “You cannot begin to believe how relieved I am,” he confided with a deep sigh. “Geez, what a nightmare! That gave me the fright of my life!”
There were laughs all around and he could only continue to smile gawkily, perhaps in a way to hide his embarrassment at having been played for a fool by all of them.
“Well, we certainly hope so,” Colonel White declared in a rarely heard carefree tone. “That was the desired effect after all. We certainly put a lot of effort into making this as realistic as we could.”
“Believe me, it was frightfully realistic,” Ochre admitted. “I believed every minute of it and had no doubt it was all for real.” He laughed. He still sounded a little nervous. “That was quite an act.”
“Indeed it was,” White confirmed. “Skilfully staged, and most brilliantly played, I must add, by the most convincing of performers.”
The hydraulics clicked into place, setting the cabin onto the floor of the hangar, and Ochre watched as Magenta lightly jumped onto the floor before helping Melody and Destiny down. They all walked towards him, seemingly all very pleased with themselves; Magenta in particular looked like a cat who had swallowed a mouse.
“And here are some of our actors,” White announced, welcoming them. “Destiny – a short performance, but such a chilling one.”
“Thank you, sir.” Destiny made a curtsey in front of Ochre, as would an actress on stage, at the end of a play.
“Melody Angel,” White continued as Melody stepped forward and came to stand in front of Ochre. “Ah… your uncovering as a Mysteron agent at that critical moment… I’m sure Captain Ochre will remember it for a long time.”
“You think, sir?” Ochre sniggered. “I shall remember it forever!” He looked longingly at Melody who was smiling teasingly at him. And then, on impulse, not even caring that Colonel White was there by his side, he stepped forward and, unexpectedly took her into his arms, bringing her close to him. She was too surprised to resist; to his relief, she responded to his warm hug, as people started clapping and whistling anew.
When they broke apart, he stepped back and smiled at her, a little self-consciously. “You scared the living daylights out of me,” he confided.
“Well, then, mission accomplished,” she replied, her smile broadening.
Colonel White cleared his throat; Ochre was thankful that he didn’t seem inclined to mention anything. Perhaps he saw in the hug nothing else but the demonstration of pure relief a colleague felt for another, with some affection too.
Melody stepped aside, revealing Magenta behind her. “Captain Magenta – you owned your role,” White continued. “You were absolutely terrifying. Why, I might ask someone to check you out with a Mysteron detector, just to be on the safe side!”
Magenta laughed. “Thank you, sir,” he said gracefully. “And let’s not forget my stand-in!” He gestured theatrically to his left and Ochre followed the direction of the wave to discover Captain Blue and Symphony Angel standing side by side; they drew apart to show, wearing a full Spectrum magenta uniform, the life-size mannequin they were hiding behind them. With a dark wig on his head and a rubber mask all covered with fake blood, it did look a little like Magenta himself, but now in broad light, it was obvious it wasn’t a real person at all.
“Oh geez, a dummy?” Ochre couldn’t believe his eyes. “The dead corpse that lay on the floor of the SPJ all that time was a dummy?” He looked directly at Magenta. “Your stand-in was a dummy?”
“No jokes, Captain Ochre,” White suggested teasingly, as it was too obvious that Ochre was dying to add something. “And Captain Magenta, I’m afraid that equipment doesn’t count as a real actor.”
Magenta smiled. “That’s all right, sir.” He wagged a finger at Ochre, who stood in front of him. “Don’t you dare hug me,” he warned.
Ochre laughed. “Actually, I really ought to punch you. For showering me with a bucket full of water, shoving a gun at my person, and kicking my –”
“Captain Ochre,” Colonel White advised.
“ – And scaring me half to death with that sting of yours,” Ochre amended. “Oh, what the heck… Come over here, you crook!”
He hugged his friend, maybe not as affectionately as he did Melody and thumped his back so vigorously that Magenta thought he was going to dislocate his shoulder.
“I’m glad you’re not dead, buddy,” Ochre said as he released his friend and squeezed his shoulder.
“Speaking of the dead,” White added, “Captain Scarlet…”
“I know!” Scarlet grinned, as he came to stand in front of them. “I brilliantly played the role of the dead man!”
“…As usual!” Magenta quipped, causing everyone to laugh.
“…And I definitely don’t want a hug!” Scarlet quickly added, and Ochre teasingly walked a few steps to him, causing the hilarity to increase.
White gestured to the man by Scarlet’s side. “And finally, Mr. Conners…”
“The most believable bad guy this side of planet Earth.” Conners grinned. He clicked his heels together, before making a most perfect bow. “But then again, considering our history together, Captain Ochre, I don’t think I had any trouble convincing you that I could be a traitor.”
Ochre cleared his throat. “I will admit, Mr. Conners, I had absolutely no trouble pegging you as a villain. Which means I should probably apologise to you.”
“Whatever for?” Conners asked with perplexity, scoffing. “Didn’t I play my role perfectly?”
“Too perfectly! And this is why I want to apologise for thinking all those bad things about you, when you ‘unmasked’ yourself.” Smiling, Ochre gracefully nodded at Conners. “You’re not so bad, after all.”
Conners smiled thinly. “Well, then, Captain… you’re going to put a dent in my rep.” He tilted his head to one side. “And you’re not so bad yourself, Captain Ochre,” he acknowledged.
Ochre thanked him with another nod, before turning to his commander. “So… you’re the mastermind behind this whole thing, sir? Never thought I’d see the day you would play a prank on someone!”
“And why not, Captain? You’ve pranked so many people on this base yourself,” White reminded him. “Even me at some point, although to a lesser degree…”
“Er, sir, I…”
“Now don’t insult my intelligence by denying it,” White warned playfully. “Anyway, we all thought it was time we got back at you.”
“You mean… you wanted to teach me a lesson.”
“From what I learned of some of your latest pranks, a well-deserved comeuppance was well in order, don’t you think?” White remarked, addressing a somewhat reproving glance at Ochre. “And it had to be done in a manner that would be memorable.”
“Memorable, all right,” Ochre sighed, smiling. “Well played, sir.”
“I can hardly take the whole credit,” White said. “It originated from Captain Scarlet to begin with. He was the evil mind behind all of this.”
“Not really,” Scarlet said, chuckling. “Without your permission, sir, we couldn’t have access to the equipment needed for the prank. You polished up the scenario quite nicely, and it was you who came up with the idea of the false mission to London… And you coordinated the whole thing perfectly.”
“Wasn’t I entitled to some fun as well?” Colonel White remarked. “Let’s agree it was a team effort, then.”
“The assignment to London was false as well, then,” Ochre realised.
“Of course, it was,” the colonel confirmed. “We wouldn’t put a real assignment in jeopardy just for the sake of playing a prank on you, Captain Ochre. We didn’t want you to suspect anything. So what better way than for me to send you on an errand of some sort?”
“I certainly would never have suspected that,” Ochre admitted. “Nor would have I suspected Conners – pardon me, Mister Conners – to be a part of this.”
“That was an added touch from the colonel again,” Scarlet revealed.
“So,” Ochre realised, as he turned to Conners, “the meeting in the Control Room –”
“… Was all an act,” Conners confirmed with a nod. “I was already in on it.”
“Everyone knew Mr. Conners was due to leave for London on the next available plane,” White explained. “It might have appeared suspicious if he had not boarded the SPJ to begin with. And considering his earlier appeal for a better co-operation with our service… it occurred to me that he might be an asset to our plans.”
“He served as a perfect decoy, for me not to suspect any foul play,” Ochre admitted. “I would never ever have suspected you of playing along with a thing like that, Mr. Conners.”
“Oh… I often found myself in the situation of playing ‘good cop, bad cop’, while interrogating suspects,” Conners replied not so humbly. “With me in the role of the bad cop, more often than not. So it was easy to sink into a similar role. Although, with an evil twist to it.”
“I mean, I’m very much surprised that you should have joined in this… conspiracy,” Ochre added swiftly.
“Really? That shouldn’t surprise you,” Conners replied, now keeping a straight face. “I do remember that you played some jokes on me a couple of times down in Spectrum London… And I suspect you might have been behind a dreadfully disagreeable experience that happened to me here on Cloudbase, last year… So when Colonel White asked me to participate in this little charade… I frankly couldn’t pass up the chance. That seemed like the perfect way to get back at you.”
“What did happen last year?” White asked with a curious frown.
“I’m afraid that’s between Captain Ochre and me, Colonel,” Conners replied, his eyes riveted on Ochre. He wouldn’t tell, and somehow, he expected Ochre not to either. Not only was the situation of the year before uncomfortable, it was also downright undignified.
After all, that cup of mocha coffee, mixed with possibly a half-dozen melted Ex-Lax tablets had kept him one entire night and half a day sat on a toilet… That wasn’t something that Conners was likely to forget anytime soon…
The American nodded briefly and Colonel White understood that it was better not to press either of them with questions.
“So with all the actors in place, we only had to learn our parts to perfection,” Magenta said. “We boarded the SPJ –”
“You drugged me,” Ochre realised, pointing an accusing finger at Magenta. “With that French vanilla coffee you gave me.”
“My idea, to spike the coffee,” Conners said quickly. He grinned evilly, looking straight at Ochre, in a way that meant ‘you got off easy, compared to me’.
“I provided the sleeping tablets,” Doctor Fawn declared from where he stood, raising his hand. “Don’t worry, Captain Ochre… It was perfectly harmless. It won’t have any lasting effect… much. You might consider not drinking any alcoholic beverage for a few hours more...” He glanced in Colonel White’s way. “I imagine that wouldn’t cause a problem, either ways…” he added with a grin.
“We then moved you here, into the simulator,” Scarlet continued, waving to the cabin behind him. “We had to act quickly, because the sleeping pills wouldn’t last very long. The simulator was already prepped and ready… Lieutenant Green and a team of technicians provided the special effects…”
“… And I fell for it,” Ochre added, rolling his eyes.
“Hook, line and sinker,” Melody said with an evil grin.
Ochre smiled at her. “That was one hell of a Halloween prank, everyone,” he said.
“We nearly blew it a couple of times,” Scarlet retorted. “When you seemed doubtful that the Network’s existence might predate the Mysterons…”
“… And when you wondered why Colonel White wasn’t contacting you, as you were the field commander,” Magenta added.
“… But Melody and Mr. Conners brilliantly saved the situation with their quick thinking,” Scarlet conceded.
“Well, you were terrific,” Ochre said. “All of you. I still have goosebumps thinking about it. Magenta, you were truly evil.”
“Why, thank you,” Magenta said, chuckling.
“Melody, Destiny… I nearly had a heart attack, when I thought you were both Mysterons. That’s the kind of stuff that can turn a guy’s hair completely white!” He reconsidered suddenly: “Oh, sorry, Colonel…”
White smiled magnanimously. “My hair turned white naturally, Captain. No harm done… We were pretty sure your heart would hold out fine, but as far as your hair is concerned…” He rubbed his chin, half-hiding his suddenly broadening smile with his hand in the process and shook his head, tutting. “I’m afraid we’ll have to wait a little while to see what really happened to it.”
Colonel White sniggered, and Ochre wondered what was going on. Hearing chuckling from all around, he spun on his feet, to realise everybody seemed to think the Spectrum commander had made the funniest of jokes.
At his expense, obviously…
“I’m sorry,” White said, clearing his throat and trying to find his seriousness again – albeit with great difficulty, plunging Ochre further down into confusion. “I can’t watch you like, looking like this, and keep a straight face…”
“What?” Ochre asked, looking at everyone as the laughs grew. “Is there something the matter?”
“Evidently, you have no mean to look at yourself, dearest capitaine,” Destiny replied, walking forward to stand right next to Melody and Magenta.
She had an innocent expression on her face, and Ochre noticed she had her hands behind her back, holding something out of view. That made him more than a little nervous.
“Okay,” he said with a frown. “What’s going on, exactly?”
“Let’s say we are not quite finished with you, Captain,” Melody answered quietly. She nodded to Destiny. “Show him how cute he is.”
“With great pleasure.” Laughing, the French woman brought her hands forward; she was holding a square mirror that she put just a few inches in front of Ochre’s face, so that he could take a good look at himself.
The first thing Ochre saw was the flash of green reflecting in the mirror, and he swiftly grabbed it with both hands, bringing it closer to him to get a better look – not at his face, but at his hair. His eyes went wide in shock.
His hair was now a very bright green. Brighter than Melody’s had been the day before. Unlike hers, the colour covered the whole of his hair, from roots to tip.
“Well, blow me down,” he whispered.
Guffaws of laughter broke out all around and Ochre, still looking in shock at his reflection, felt hands thumping him on the shoulders and on the back.
“That’s why you dropped that bucket of water on my head!” Ochre realised, turning to Magenta.
“Yes, your hair was already wet from the… ahem… very special shampoo we gave you,” Magenta concurred. “We had to find a way to hide that. I think it works perfectly.”
“Works?! I look like the goddam Joker!”
There was another bout of laughing and Ochre glared around. He wasn’t sure how he should take this latest affront exactly. Should he be angry at all of them? Should he be a good sport and accept it all? Most of the people surrounding him had been victims of one or more of his own pranks in the past, and he already felt like the false assignment joke was, in his opinion, a largely exaggerated retaliation… But to add to that the humiliation of dyeing his hair green… How could Colonel White have actually permitted this as well?
He suddenly caught sight of Melody who was standing in front of him. “You were behind this,” he realised, gesturing at his hair.
Immediately, Ochre’s growing anger subsided. If someone indeed deserved to dye his hair this horrible colour, it was certainly her.
“I hope it does wash out with a simple shampoo,” he commented, still a little dryly.
“It should,” Magenta said with a raised brow. “We used that bottle of ‘Emerald Style’ you spiked.”
“The whole of it!” Melody added quickly.
“Okay…” Ochre addressed a crooked smile to both of them. “Then I believe it’ll be only fair of me to accept my defeat… with good grace.”
Everyone applauded again, saluting Ochre’s statement. White nodded approvingly. “Well said, Captain. And I believe you ought to wear this colour until the end of the party,” he added with an amused smile.
“End of the party, sir?” Ochre asked uncertainly.
“Why, there’s a buffet in the Officers’ Lounge, waiting for us. That is where the Halloween party must continue, Captain. After all, didn’t you organise most of it yourself?”
“You took it to a much higher level, sir,” Ochre replied, laughing. “All right – I’ll be a good sport – and will keep the green hair until the end of the party.”
“Good man. And I expect you to look your normal self again tomorrow, when you’ll report to duty.”
“S.I.G., sir – so on top of that, I’ll not be doing the usual stint in the radar room, then?”
White grinned. “No, I think you’ve been sufficiently punished as it is.” He cleared his throat. “How about we go up there to finish that party, now? I think we’ve all worked up quite an appetite.”
“Hear, hear, sir,” Captain Scarlet agreed with a smile. “You know I always wake up famished after retrometabolisation.”
There were new laughs at this statement, and White continued: “There’s food and drinks waiting for everyone. You can dismiss, all of you… and we’ll meet again upstairs.” As the crowd broke up and everyone started to walk away, the colonel added, as if an afterthought: “Angel pilots, I’m afraid one of you will have to replace the stand-in pilot in Angel One in about three hours.”
“I’ll do it, Colonel,” Destiny Angel offered generously, raising her hand, before any of her fellow Angels could speak. She grinned. “I had front row for the fun in the simulator, so now it’s the others’ turn… Ah, you don’t count, Melody,” she quickly added, seeing her American counterpart about to reply. “You worked too hard in there. You’re entitled to get some real fun.”
Melody smiled fondly. “That’s very kind of you, Destiny.”
“Thank you, Destiny,” Colonel White said. “Ah, Captain Ochre… You’d better go to your quarters and get into something dry and comfortable, before joining us.”
“I’ll escort him, and make sure he doesn’t get lost, Colonel,” Melody then said, stepping forward. “Or wash his hair,” she added, addressing a teasing wink at Ochre.
“What, is there some other horrible surprise still waiting for me in the Officers’ Lounge?” Ochre asked with a frown.
“You’ll find out when we get there,” Melody replied mischievously.
“Great. Maybe after all that happened, I should probably expect to be tarred and feathered next…”
“Of course not,” Colonel White replied imperturbably. “We don’t resort to those ancient punishment methods anymore.” He then noticed that Conners still hadn’t moved from his spot and didn’t seem inclined to follow the crowd. “Will you not join us, Mr. Conners?”
“You’re inviting me, Colonel?” The S.I. agent seemed genuinely surprised.
“Of course, I’m inviting you. Without your input, this very exciting… experience would not have succeeded so very well,” White remarked, as he invited Conners to walk with him, while Scarlet, Rhapsody, Destiny and Magenta followed close behind. “In fact, I think we can consider it a good exercise. It served to show how well an individual responds in a desperate situation. One in which there is apparently no hope of escaping.” He rubbed his chin again, seemingly giving it some thought, and then smiled. “It could become a regular training drill,” he commented musingly.
“Sir?” Scarlet chuckled. At first, he thought that his commander was teasing, but one sideways look from White made him reconsider. “You are joking, right, sir?”
White narrowed his eyes at him. “I don’t know, Captain,” he said with his tongue firmly in cheek. “I might actually consider you as our next victim.”
Scarlet stopped in his tracks, more than a little worried, causing the others to barrel into him. He still couldn’t decide if Colonel White was serious or not, as he watched him walk away with Conners. He cleared his throat and leaned towards Rhapsody, who, with Magenta and Destiny, had stayed behind with him. “I think we created a monster,” he commented in a low voice.
His colleagues laughed and pressed him onward.
Standing close behind with Melody, Ochre had heard the exchange and Scarlet’s subsequent comment. That made him smile wickedly, the thought crossing his mind that if the colonel wanted to renew the ‘experience’ one day, he might actually offer his services as ‘expert consultant’…
He felt Melody’s arm linking in his and he turned to her; the young woman was smiling at him, and seemed in a far better mood than she had been for the last few days. Everyone was leaving them behind and no-one was really paying them any attention, so he imagined it was safe enough for them to have a little talk.
He cleared his throat. “Hi,” he said simply, in way of introduction.
“Hi,” she answered. “Feeling better now?”
“Much better, thank you,” he confirmed. “And you? How do you feel?”
She gave it some thought. “Actually feeling very pleased with myself. This little joke turned out pretty well.”
“I would hardly call it a little joke.”
They walked together very slowly towards the exit, their footsteps echoing around the empty hangar.
“You have to know, Mags… I was totally devastated when I thought you…” Ochre hesitated to even voice it.
“When you thought I was a Mysteron?” Melody provided.
“Yes.” Ochre sighed. “That was a pretty mean trick you played on me.”
“Well, you certainly deserved it,” she reasoned.
“I know.” He smiled fondly. “Well played, anyway. I didn’t know you had it in you.”
“Well, now you know. So maybe you’ll be careful the next time you play a joke on me.”
“I will certainly think twice about it. You’re not angry with me anymore?”
“No. That’s passed… now that I had my revenge,” Melody added mischievously.
Ochre stopped, compelling her to do the same, and turned to her. They were standing right next to the flight simulator cabin. Under the intensity of Ochre’s stare, Melody turned her eyes away, as if trying to avoid him, but he gently took her chin in the palm of his hand and coerced her to look at him.
“Listen,” he breathed out, “I’m so very sorry for what happened between us. You were not meant to be the victim of that joke, you know that, but it was still my fault, and I failed miserably to properly apologise to you. I was being unkind, thoughtless, and even cruel to you. And… I should never have laughed at you either.”
“Well, we all dabbled on the side of cruelty, with that retaliation we concocted for you,” Melody remarked. “I think I understand now what you find so fascinating in playing pranks on all of us. It’s rather fun…”
“Maybe next time… we can join up?” Ochre suggested. “You know we make a fabulous team, Mags.”
“Do we?” she asked, teasingly. She frowned slightly. “Are we still talking about playing pranks?”
“Yes…” he said, leaning towards her, his breath mixing with hers. “And… about something else as well, too.”
“No more pranks then, Rick,” she requested. “Promise me.”
“Okay…” he agreed, his lips brushing hers. “I promise...” He kissed her tenderly, bringing her slender body against his.
He had promised, and indeed, he intended to keep his promise… this year, at least.
Revenge was a dish best served cold, especially when it came to playing pranks… And next year, he’d outdo himself…
… he would get even.
The Amber Room scene of this story was meant as the prologue to a different story (the one announced as “Magnolia Jones and the Scrolls of Thoth”) but as often it is the case, these characters have a way to take you in another direction. So, with Captain Ochre, Cloudbase’s most notorious prankster, being particularly fiendish this time around, I thought it was high time he received a lesson. But the setting of “Scrolls of Thoth” wasn’t exactly right for that; it was a different story altogether, and the ‘punishment’ wouldn’t fit in it.
Therefore, I put ‘Scrolls of Thoth’ away (yet for another year) and built a new story around the Amber Room scene… and you have now read the result.
This story marks the return of an original character of mine, whom people loves to hate: Martin Conners, the nefarious agent from Spectrum Intelligence, that first made his appearance in "The Secret". He’s been away for a while, and I took great pleasure to write about him again. He may be back eventually…
If you're as to why Captain Scarlet think that Captain Ochre's model of Frankenstein is not accurate, you might want to check "Of Monsters and Men". Melody's finding out about Captain Scarlet and Rhapsody being a couple could be read in "Master of the Night". And as for the story of Pellinore, the racehorse that Magenta gave to his father, you will find it in "Dead Ringer", which was written in collaboration with Sue Stanhope.
I want to thank:
Isabelle Saucier for her encouragements, and for listening to me while I worked through the plot. She helped a lot in the development of this story.
Hazel Köhler, for her always so precious beta-reading of this story; her help is forever appreciated. As for any mistakes you may find in this story, I take full responsibility.
Gerry and Sylvia Anderson, and all those wonderful people who, with them, helped in the creation of the Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons TV series. This is such a wonderful show, and I do not pretend to own any rights to it. They belong to people who deserve them much more than I ever will, and I’m just borrowing the setting to play a bit with it.
You, the readers, for taking the time to read this story.
Trick and treat, and a happy Halloween to all on this 15th Halloween Fan Fiction Challenge.
Chris Bishop, October 2016.