By Chris Bishop
“Beware of Greeks bearing gifts…”
On the airstrip reserved for Spectrum at London International airport, the courier plane was getting ready for its weekly journey to Cloudbase. Following strict security procedures – even stricter under Spectrum’s standards – the craft was checked and double-checked by the organisation’s ground agents, to make sure that not only the plane itself was functioning at one hundred percent, but also that it was totally safe, and devoid of any unwanted ‘surprises’ that might have been added to it for this trip.
The large amount of cargo that the courier regularly transported was submitted to an even higher level of surveillance and security checks than the courier plane itself. Equipment and materiel for Cloudbase’s personnel, medicine, luggage, food supplies, merchandise for the Spectramart, official and personal mail – packages, letters, cards – EVERYTHING was gone over with a fine-tooth comb; absolutely nothing was left to chance. It was a routine enough process, but one that the different teams of agents assigned to it took very seriously, and carried out with the expertise of long practice, so very aware were they of the importance of their task.
Only Spectrum personnel were allowed to touch the baggage on their last transport between the high-security warehouse where they were temporary stored on the airstrip and the courier – and when inside the plane’s belly, a final check was made by a team of three men, who, when satisfied that everything was cleared, would then seal the hatch and authorise the courier to leave the strip. The procedure was always the same – and was to be followed to the letter.
Sergeant Foster was the person in charge of transshipment that late evening, and everything until now was going according to schedule. The last box of goods had been transported into the courier and he had personally checked it out himself, before having it carried into a corner and secured with straps.
“I think that’s all, Sarge,” said one of the two men under Foster’s command, securing the final restraint and rising to his feet. “This baby is ready to go for another trip.”
“Perfect, Darwin,” Foster replied, checking his list carefully, to make sure it was completed. “I’ll just finalise the papers, as usual, and give them to the onboard agents… You may go, I’ll join you after. Coffee’s on me.”
“Not me, Sarge,” the third man, Cummings, replied with a short laugh. “I’m knackered. I’ll sign off and head for home if you don’t mind. Perhaps another time…”
Foster acknowledged the reply with a brief nod, and barely noticed when the two men walked down the ramp to leave the cargo hold. He was still too busy checking his list, in search of the last box he had just accepted in. He found it finally – at the bottom of the last page, of course.
“Number 42… checked.” He ticked the item and initialled it, than, satisfied that everything had been marked, took out his communicator. “Sergeant Foster in cargo hold to Spectrum Control – all shipments accounted for and ready to go.”
“Lieutenant Duffy, Spectrum Airstrip Control… S.I.G, Sergeant. Courier’s departure for Cloudbase scheduled in ten minutes.”
“S.I.G., Spectrum Control. Will notify you again, as per procedure, when cargo hold is sealed.”
Foster had just hung his pad in its usual space on the wall next to the door, when he noticed a shadow lurking in the opening. He nearly jumped, surprised to see someone there. The visitor didn’t move a single inch, and Foster let out a sigh, recognising the man’s outlines. “Cummings, you scared me half to death! Don’t you ever sneak up on me like that again, you hear?”
“Sorry, Sarge,” Cummings said in an apologetic tone, coming out of the shadows and standing in the full light of the moon behind him. “I didn’t mean to scare you like that… It just that we seem to have received a last-minute delivery for the courier.”
Foster narrowed his eyes, staring at the big enough box Cummings was carrying. “A last-minute delivery?” he said with a deep frown. “I don’t remember having seen anything else on the list…” He was reaching for his pad when Cummings stumbled, nearly dropping his charge, and addressed him a faint smile.
“Can you give me a hand with this, Sarge?” Cummings asked. “It’s rather heavy… And it’s marked ‘handle with care’.”
Foster took one end of the box and helped Cummings to put it down in the middle of the cargo hold. He grimaced meaningfully. “Handle with care? What’s in there, d’you reckon? Another case of champagne for the high-ranking officers?”
Cummings smiled. “Who knows? Halloween is in five days. They might want to celebrate properly?”
Foster took the scanner gun and powered it up. “Let’s see if we can see what’s inside this baby…”
Cummings nodded thoughtfully and watched as the sergeant slowly passed the gun over the box and around all four sides. The scanner was meant to see through the box and inside of it, and was coupled with a metal and chemical detector, to make sure the checked package contained no bombs or explosives or any kind. The results of the check would appear on the small screen that Foster was watching with attention, in the form of a negative, shadowy image of the box’s contents, and of data displayed below the image.
“Explosives – negative… Metal – negative… No false bottom…”
Cummings was distractedly listening to Foster’s commentary, taking little interest in it. He had rather turned his attention to the pad hanging on the wall, just beside the open door. He stared at it intently, as if nothing else in the world existed.
Two faints rings of green light seemed to appear out of nowhere and slowly passed over the pad. The pad started to fade into nothingness... Cummings didn’t bat an eyelid at the strange phenomenon.
Less than three seconds later the pad reappeared on its hook – as if nothing at all had happened.
“What on Earth is this?” Foster murmured. Cummings returned his attention to his companion. The sergeant was looking with curiosity at the image displayed on the screen. He was unable to make out what the box contained.
“Looks like a teddy bear – or some kind of animal, or something,” Foster muttered. He shook his head. “Well, it can’t be an animal, of course – there are no ventilation holes pierced in the box. It would suffocate.” He put down his scanner. “The box looks clear. Any paperwork with it?”
“It came with this, yes.” Cummings produced a paper that Foster examined attentively, while getting up to his feet. He checked the signature of approval, then the authorisation number assigned to the box and nodded approvingly. “Personally addressed to Harmony Angel… looks all right, but… I have to check if it’s on my list. We can’t let it onboard if it’s not there, and I’m pretty sure I ticked everything. If it’s not on the list, I’m afraid the box won’t make it to Cloudbase for Halloween.” He snatched the pad from the hook and started checking it, while Cummings was getting slowly to his feet, watching him with attention.
“Number 27… 27… Here is it. I’ll be damned. I didn’t tick that one.” Foster gave a deep sigh, looked down at the box one last time and took his pen from his pocket. He shook his head as he applied the required check on the paper. “Must be more tired than I thought – these night and evening shifts can be murder sometimes…”
“That’s so true, Sarge,” Cummings agreed.
“Well, I think that’s all now,” Foster added, putting the pad back on the hook. “Everything’s clear and ready to go. Let’s get out of here, Cummings – unless you want to pay a visit to Cloudbase?”
Cummings grinned. “Not me, Sarge. I prefer to keep my feet firmly on the ground.”
“You and me both…”
The two men left the cargo hold and Foster activated the closing command. Both watched as the ramp slowly rose, and the door snapped into place, sealing the hold. Walking away from the plane with Cummings, and entering the warehouse, Foster called the Spectrum airstrip control and informed them that the craft was now ready for take off.
“S.I.G., Sergeant. Cargo flight 224, destination Cloudbase, will be taking off in approximately two minutes. ETA Cloudbase at 23.00, London time.”
“S.I.G., Control. Foster out.” Foster put the communicator away and turned to address a smile to Cummings. “So, have you changed your mind about that coffee?”
Cummings shook his head. “Sorry, Sarge. As I said earlier, I’ll be heading directly for home. I don’t feel too good at the moment, so maybe a good sleep would put me back on track.”
“Yep,” Foster said with a sigh. “These late shifts are certainly not easy. Well, if you’re not up to it, Cummings, call in sick tomorrow. Darwin and I could cover, with Jasper’s help.”
“I appreciate that, Sarge.”
“Now go on home, man, and get some rest.”
The two men parted, and Sergeant Foster entered his office, while Cummings, leaving the warehouse, quietly directed his steps towards the parking lot, where his car was parked. He had reached it and was about to unlock the door when a sound made him look up. He watched the distinctive form of the cargo plane lifting off from the airstrip and soaring into the air, passing over his head with an almost deafening roar. A faint smile played on his lips as he finally unlocked the door of his car and opened it up, before getting inside. He looked through the windshield in the direction of the rapidly disappearing craft.
“Happy Halloween, Earthmen,” he sniggered maliciously.
He closed his door and drove away, taking no notice of the dead body lying on the back seat of his car, a body which wore his face…
“Look what came with the mail…”
“Here comes the mail! Angels, come to my rescue! I need help!”
Announcing himself this way, Captain Ochre crossed the doorway leading into the Amber Room, holding a large box onto which other, smaller packages and a thick bundle of letters, secured with a single rubber band, had been heaped in a rather unstable pile. The four women seated in the Room literally shot from their seats at his call and rushed to him, gaily freeing him of all the little boxes wrapped in brown paper and of the pile of letters, leaving him with only the large box to carry. Captain Ochre marched forward, nearly missing the first step leading to the lower landing of the Amber Room, and finally put the box down heavily on the glass table. Puffing, he looked around as the Angel pilots were sitting down again, opening their mail. He smiled sardonically.
“ ‘…And thank you so very much, Captain Ochre, for having taken the time to so generously bring us our mail all the way from the hangar to here,’ ” Ochre said in a mocking and syrupy tone.
“Thank you, Captain Ochre,” the Angels said in unison, none of them raising her head from the package or letter she was opening.
“Riiiight. I can see how you ALL mean that.” Ochre reached for the pile of letters that Symphony had thrown onto the table after having taken her own. “Okay, let’s see who these are for,” he said, starting to read the address on each letter and distributing them along. “Melody… Rhapsody… Destiny… Not here? Oh, she’s in Angel One, right… Rhapsody… That one’s from Rome, Dianne…”
“Must be from my mum,” Rhapsody said, eagerly accepting the letter.
“Destiny… mmm… smells like perfume, that one… Lilac, I think… Melody… Melody… Melody… Melody again…”
“Hey! Give me that!” Melody quickly stood up and snatched the four letters Ochre was holding in his left hand.
He finished the last two letters: “Harmony… and Melody.” After handing the seated Harmony her letter, he turned back to Melody, who was glaring at him in mock irritation. “This one came from Paris,” he said, presenting the letter meaningfully. “Who is it from?”
“Wouldn’t you like to know?” Melody replied, offering her most charming smile. She took the letter to put it with the others, turned her back on Ochre and sat down at her place. She drummed teasingly on her collection of letters, looking up mischievously at the American captain, who was towering over her. “What can I say, I have numerous admirers…”
“I can buy that,” Ochre mused, with a nod and a very serious tone. “After all you are a stunningly beautiful lady…”
“Oh, flattery will get you nowhere, Captain!” Melody replied with a scoff.
Ochre gave a frustrated sigh. “I guess it won’t at that… Oh well… But believe me, one day, I will know, my dear…”
“Curiosity is a very bad habit, Captain. You know what it did to the cat…”
“Meow,” Symphony uttered behind Ochre. That had the effect of making the other girls laugh out loud. He looked around with an expression of exasperation upon his face, and rolled his eyes.
“I can see you’re all against me, Angels. All right, I know when I’m not welcomed. I’m gone!” He turned around to walk toward the exit and looked over his shoulder one last time. “Hey, sweetheart… how about making me dinner, tonight?” he said mockingly, addressing a wink in Melody’s direction.
“Oh, I can’t, hon…” she drawled back an answer in an almost perfect Mae West imitation. She gestured to herself, showing her uniform. “I’ve got Amber Room duty for the rest of the evening… That’s really too bad…”
“That’s too bad, indeed.” Ochre pointed a challenging finger toward Melody, while with the other hand, he pressed the button to open the door. “One day, Mel, I’m going to have the last word with you.”
“Yeah! When pigs fly!” she shouted as he walked through the doorway.
“According to you, they already do!” he retorted from the other side of the doorway, as the door slid closed. That remark made the Angels crease with laugher – all of them except Harmony, who was currently very absorbed in reading the letter she had received.
“My, Melody!” Rhapsody said. “I believe he did have the last word this time!”
“Perhaps, but he didn’t get to know who these letters came from,” Melody retorted defiantly.
“Would it be so bad if he found out they were from your parents and brothers?”
“Absolutely! That would spoil my image of femme fatale…” Melody grinned. “Let him wonder. It’s driving him crazy.”
“And you love to drive him crazy,” Rhapsody noted.
“My aim in life is to see him wearing a straitjacket one day, I admit it,” Melody said with a larger smile.
“You naughty girl, you,” Rhapsody mocked her with a frown. “You like him, that you should admit.”
“Out of the question. Why would I tell a lie like that?”
Rhapsody chuckled but didn’t insist. And even if she had wanted too, she was abruptly interrupted by Symphony’s sudden statement:
“Never mind Melody’s love life,” the blonde American said, gaining with that remark an incensed glare from her compatriot. “It’s what in this box that’s intriguing me.” She was pointing to the larger package Ochre had put onto the table before distributing the letters. All the Angels looked at it with interest. Symphony was known for her insatiable curiosity, but all of them were curious to know what the box could contain.
They approached closer to the box, Symphony, Melody and Rhapsody sitting around it, while Harmony stayed on her feet, still reading with growing interest the letter Ochre had given to her. Rhapsody reached for a tag attached to the side of the box and read the name.
“It’s for you, Chan,” she called to the Japanese girl standing behind them. There was a note of surprise in her voice. “From Beijing…”
“It’s not often you receive mail from your Chinese family,” Symphony remarked, her eyes greedily set on the box, as if it was a very tempting chocolate cake. “Let alone packages of this size…”
“It’s from my cousin Lei,” Harmony replied. They looked up at her with curiosity. She showed them the letter. “This was supposed to arrive before the box, announcing its arrival,” she explained.
“What does your cousin say?” Rhapsody demanded.
“He’s announcing the death of our old great-uncle Shen.”
“Oh, Chan…” Symphony said with a sad look upon her face. “We’re so sorry…” The others agreed with her.
“That is sad news indeed,” Harmony answered with unemotional detachment. “But I hardly knew our uncle Shen. Which makes this news peculiar,” she added with a frown.
“What is peculiar?” Melody asked.
“I inherited from him.” She pointed to the box on the table, but the other girls had already guessed what she was talking about. “The contents of this box…”
“Didn’t he have any children of his own?” Symphony asked.
“None that I can think of.” Harmony continued to read her letter.
“Well?” the impatient Symphony asked. “Don’t you find it exciting? I always dreamed that a long-lost relative would come out of the woods and bequeath all his valuable belongings to me …”
“Karen!” protested Rhapsody loudly. “The man is dead!”
“Oh, you heard Harmony, she hardly knew the guy! So? Do we open it to see what’s inside?”
“We will,” Harmony answered. Her beautiful face had furrowed into a visibly surprised frown upon pursuing her reading. She gave a sigh and came to sat down in front of the box, between her increasingly impatient colleagues. “Lights down to thirty percent,” she called to the computer-controlled environment. Automatically, the lights in the room dimmed considerably. The other Angels stared inquisitively at Harmony.
“What did you do that for?” Rhapsody asked.
“That is in the letter’s instructions,” Melody replied. As proof, she showed the paper to her English colleague. The latter only glanced at it, but shrugged as it was all written in Chinese – and she couldn’t read Chinese.
“I’ll take your word for it,” Rhapsody said with a faint smile.
Delicately, Harmony removed the brown paper covering the box and tossed it aside. Under the wrapping, tied up with a very finely-woven cord was a black satin cloth, draping the box. She untied the knots and removed the cord, before slowly unfolding the cloth from the box, which finally revealed itself to the Angels’ impatient and curious eyes.
It was a wooden chest, the surface of which had a very dark, plain but beautiful patina and which was closed by a simple bronze lock on the top. By the look of it, it was very ancient, and it had been in use for a long time. The hinges – also in bronze – were worn, but appeared still to be very solid.
“It’s beautiful,” Melody whispered. “But what’s in it?”
“Girls,” Harmony announced, “prepare yourselves for a surprise.”
She slowly, almost dramatically, opened the lock and then lifted the lid, made of two flaps latched in the middle, to reveal, to her fellow Angels’ astounded eyes, the cutest creature they had ever seen, which blinked its eyes against the faint light entering his restrictive home.
The little creature was just over a foot tall. Its entire body was covered with short fur of light brown with patches of white, except for its dwarfish hands and feet, its muzzle and the long and large pointy ears it was wearing like large screens on each side of its head. The skin was brown, lighter than the fur; the muzzle resembled that of a gorilla, with a large mouth and a tiny nose, just under beautiful, big, liquid brown eyes, which apprehensively looked up at the four women staring at it with perplexity. There was an indubitable brightness in those probing eyes, suggesting that the creature was endowed with a certain amount of intelligence. The mouth seemed to purse into a smile – a gentle smile – as the creature took in each and every one of the onlookers one by one, its large ears moving attentively. It didn’t look afraid in the least. Just as curious as the women were towards him.
“Awwww…” Symphony Angel crooned, and that sound made the creature turn its attention to her. “He’s so cute…”
“How can that animal have survived in that box?” the practical Rhapsody wondered, with a furrowed brow. She looked at the box inquisitively, in search of holes through which the creature could have breathed. She found none. She turned her attention back to the animal, which was now looking at her. “And how was he able to get through Spectrum security?”
“Never mind that,” Melody replied. “What kind of creature is it? I have never seen anything like it in my life.”
“It’s a Mogwai,” Harmony then said.
“A Mogwai.” Harmony was reading the letter that had been sent to her with the box, and on which, obviously, she had found the information she was now giving her fellow Angels regarding the animal. “It’s a rather unique creature.”
“Unique all right,” Symphony said. “What is it, a kind of lemur? A little monkey?”
“Doesn’t look like any of those,” Rhapsody noted, still wondering how the creature had been able to survive in that box and how it had gone through security unnoticed.
“The letter from my cousin Lei doesn’t say what he is,” Harmony said. “It does say, however, that the Mogwai has been in my Chinese family for generations...”
“Generations? That animal?” Melody said with a sceptical frown. “More probably its ancestors…”
“That’s probably what my cousin means,” Harmony agreed. “But according to this, a Mogwai has a very long life-span. So this one may be far older than it appears…” She continued to read. “Apparently, our great-uncle Shen was this Mogwai’s guardian…”
“That’s the word used by Lei. ‘Guardian’. This Mogwai comes from a long-lost family member, Uncle Lee, who was living in America – and after that uncle died, many years ago, it was sent back to China where a distant cousin – Uncle Shen’s father – took charge of it. ”
“How many uncles are there in this story?” Symphony asked with a frown.
Harmony ignored the remark. “Uncle Shen then inherited the task when his father died. It is said that to be the guardian of a Mogwai is a great honour – and a great responsibility.”
“I say – is it house-broken?” Symphony asked.
“What does a Mogwai like to do?” Melody asked.
“It likes to play… watch TV…”
“You’re kidding?” Rhapsody said with a broad smile. “Watch TV?”
Harmony nodded. “Apparently, it’s very fond of action and children’s films… It also likes music… and it can sing.”
As if on cue, the little creature started emitting sounds. There were throaty sounds, something like cooing, and it was quite harmonious. Indeed, it sounded as if it was singing. The four Angels, reunited around the table, let out a collective and appreciative ‘aww’.
“It’s as if he understood us,” Symphony said with a delighted smile.
“Mogwai are very sensitive and intelligent creatures,” Harmony explained.
“Intelligent to the point of understanding us?” a doubtful Rhapsody retorted. She approached closer to the table, kneeling in front of the box; the creature instantly stopped cooing and looked directly at her. She cautiously held out her index finger to it, and stopped just an inch before reaching her goal. “Does it bite?”
“No,” Harmony reassured her. “Mogwai are very gentle.”
“It looks as there is nothing but praise for this ‘Mogwai’, then,” Rhapsody remarked. “Come on, little fellow, what can you tell us about yourself?”
Other sounds escaped the small creature’s lips, in very quick succession, but this time, it didn’t sound as if he was singing. The sounds weren’t as tuneful, and yet, they weren’t unpleasant to listen to. It was as if the Mogwai was trying to speak, and that made Rhapsody smile. Her smile broadened when the little creature gently grabbed her finger in its tiny hand.
“Listen to that!” Melody said, laughing with Rhapsody and Symphony. Only Harmony didn’t laugh and was now frowning, looking at the creature with perplexity. “It sounds as if he’s trying to answer with that gibberish!”
“Actually,” Harmony remarked with poise, “It’s not gibberish… It’s Chinese.”
“What?” Melody reddened violently and turned an embarrassed look to her fellow pilot.
“Mandarin, to be exact.”
“Oh, Chan… I’m sorry. I didn’t mean…”
“I know, don’t worry,” Harmony replied with a reassuring smile. “I actually had difficulty recognising it myself… The flow of words is incredibly fast.”
“So he’s actually speaking?” an astounded Symphony said. “Like a parrot?”
“Yes, it’s probably possible to teach him words,” Harmony acknowledged.
“I’ve never seen a creature like this before,” Rhapsody murmured. The others agreed. “What’s he trying to say?”
“He says – he’s very happy to be here,” Harmony translated. “And to make sure we keep the light down…”
“Not in so many words!” Rhapsody protested.
Harmony was still reading her note, frowning in perplexity.
“What else does that paper say about this ‘Mogwai’?” Melody asked.
“Recommendations from Uncle Shen’s will. Things about sleeping accommodation, what he likes to eat and do, how to entertain him… And there are three important rules not to forget.”
“Rules? What are those rules?”
“First: we shouldn’t expose it to bright light. Especially daylight. Apparently, it can hurt it.”
“That’s why you dimmed the lights,” Rhapsody noted. “And why he’s worried about that. Maybe he has sensitive skin. Or eyesight. Like bats? What are the other rules?”
“Not to wet him. Under no circumstances. We don’t have to bath him to clean him up, Mogwai is able to take care of that by himself. And the last important rule: never give him anything to eat after midnight.”
“Now, that’s a stupid rule,” Melody observed. “What difference could it make what hour you feed him?”
“I don’t know, I’m just giving you the rules. Oh – there’s his name.”
“His name? What is it?”
“Gizmo!” Hearing its name, the cute little creature repeated it with obvious enthusiasm, in its crystalline voice. It was followed with a series of cooings, that made the Angels smile.
“Of course, he’s able to say his name,” Symphony remarked with a laugh.
“Doesn’t sound like a Chinese name,” Melody noted.
Harmony was consulting her letter. “No, it’s not. It’s says here that a long time ago, the Mogwai was accidentally sold to an American family who kept it for a little while. The name might come from there…”
“How can you accidentally sell such a cute little guy?” Symphony asked in a puzzled tone.
Harmony shrugged. “I don’t know, but apparently, the family got him back.”
“And now it’s yours,” Symphony added.
“Wait a minute,” Rhapsody protested. “You don’t intend to keep him, do you, Chan?”
“And why shouldn’t she?” Symphony retorted, frowning.
Rhapsody got to her feet. “She can’t keep him here. What about Spectrum rules? Or more specifically, Cloudbase rules about owning pets?”
“You keep fish in your quarters,” Symphony remarked. “Why shouldn’t Harmony keep Gizmo?”
Rhapsody rolled her eyes upward. “Karen, I’m sure you realise that keeping a fish in a tank and keeping a Mogwai isn’t the same thing.”
“No? You have experience with keeping Mogwai, Dianne?”
“I’d love Chan to keep Gizmo too,” Rhapsody sighed. “But how can it be possible? The colonel is bound to say no.”
“Not if he doesn’t know…”
“Are you suggesting we keep it a secret from him?” Rhapsody retorted, opening eyes wide with something akin with horror. “Symphony Angel, do you have a death wish?”
Rhapsody reddened, suddenly understanding that the blonde woman was leading her on. She was about to open her mouth to protest again, when Harmony suddenly intervened, stepping between the two women.
“Girls, please, don’t argue about this on my account. Gizmo is my responsibility. It is for me to decide what to do with him.” She sighed deeply. “And unfortunately, I have to agree with Rhapsody. I can’t keep Gizmo with me here on Cloudbase. You heard what I read from my cousin’s letter: being the guardian of a Mogwai is a great responsibility…”
“Responsibility,” repeated Gizmo in his small, cooing voice. Which, despite herself, made Harmony smile sadly.
“… My duties as an Angel pilot don’t permit me to fully accept that responsibility,” she continued, sitting back down, and looking down fondly at the small animal; she scratched him behind the ear, making him purr with contentment. “As much as it saddens me, I must decline that honour…”
“So… what will become of Gizmo, then?” Symphony asked.
“According to Lei’s letter, Uncle Shen had two possible candidates within the family to become Gizmo’s next guardian,” Harmony explained. “At least, two he considered worthy of the high responsibility it represents…”
“You obviously being one,” Rhapsody noted. “Who’s the other one?”
“My cousin Huang...”
“You really have a big family,” Symphony smiled.
“And that’s only the Chinese side of it,” Melody whispered, leaning to her.
“He’s cousin Lei’s brother,” Harmony pursued. “Cousin Lei is one of the rare family members to know of my duty within Spectrum. So he must have guessed it would be difficult for me to take care of Gizmo. I suspect he was unable to reach his brother, so it was probably the reason he sent Gizmo to me. I’m easier to reach, apparently.”
Symphony raised a brow. “YOU, on Cloudbase, are easier to reach than his own brother?” she said in a tone of surprise. “What is your cousin Huang, anyway? A monk?”
“…Of the Shaolin Temple.”
Harmony’s quiet answer instantly put a damper on Symphony’s mocking tone, and she straightened up on her seat, becoming suddenly very serious. “Oh. Sorry.” Her expression was so contrite that her colleagues couldn’t help chuckling. “So… ahem… you’ll be trying to reach him then? And ask him to take Gizmo?”
“He’ll have a good home with Huang.” Harmony looked down at Gizmo, who met her gaze and gave her his most charming smile. “But it could take a few days to reach him…”
“So I guess that, in the meantime, Gizmo will have to stay here?” Melody questioned.
“Taking care of him during those few days is the least I can do for him,” Harmony agreed. “But I will have to tell the colonel about him.”
“Uh… I have the feeling that won’t be easy to convince him,” Symphony grimaced.
“Gizmo is my responsibility, leave the problem to me.”
“If you insist. But I tell you – rather you than me, Chan.”
Harmony smiled mysteriously. “Oh, I don’t know – sometimes I have the feeling he can’t refuse you anything, Karen.”
Symphony frowned. “Whatever do you mean by that?”
If Harmony had an answer to that question, she didn’t have time to formulate it; right at that moment, the beeping sound announcing that the pilot of Angel One was leaving her post made itself heard, and the orange indicator over the amber door to the seat elevator started blinking.
“My turn to go,” Harmony declared, leaving her seat and walking toward the elevator.
“What, you’re going now?” Melody protested. “What about Gizmo?”
“One of us can take your place, Harmony,” Rhapsody suggested.
“No, you have all done that far too often, lately. Beside, I heard that there will probably be target practice today… Which means you and Melody will be joining me shortly.”
“Oh, right… I had forgotten about that,” Melody muttered.
“Which will leave Gizmo to me and Destiny,” Symphony noted,
looking fondly at the small animal.
“I know Gizmo will be in good hands,” Harmony declared with a smile of her own. “Beside, my shift will be finished in four short hours… Then I’ll go talk with Colonel White about Gizmo.”
They heard the elevator seat as it arrived behind the door, which started sliding open, to reveal Destiny, who, her helmet removed, was disengaging herself from the seat harness and standing up, rubbing her numb legs and grimacing.
“I’ll see you later, girls,” Harmony continued, taking her place on the seat. “Please, you’ll give Destiny the news?”
“What news?” Destiny asked, turning toward her Japanese colleague who was reaching for her helmet.
“The others will inform you,” Harmony smirked. “I’d better go take my place before Lieutenant Green notices Angel One is unmanned.”
The amber door slid closed on her before Destiny could say anything else, and the remaining Angel pilots heard the seat being elevated toward Angel One on the deck above them. Destiny shrugged distractedly, and started walking around, limping a little, under the other three girls’ inquisitive gaze.
“What’s the matter, Juliette?” asked Rhapsody. “Have you hurt yourself?”
“In a way,” she grumbled. “I think I pulled a leg muscle – or whatever. Ça fait mal…”
“Well, if it’s hurt, you’d better go to sickbay,” Symphony suggested.
“I will, don’t worry, I…” Destiny gave a sudden sneeze – so loud that it startled her fellow pilots. “Sorry,” she apologised. “I don’t know where that came from, it’s…” she sneezed again, almost louder than previously. “…It came so suddenly…” To the others’ complete surprise, she sneezed a third time, and then sniffed. “Damn… Does someone have a mouchoir?”
“Here.” Rhapsody rose from her seat and reached for a box of Kleenex standing on one of the bookshelves along the curved wall. She walked to Destiny and offered it to her. The French woman took at least three in a row and blew into them with a loud trumpeter-swan-like sound.
“Merci,” Destiny said with a faint smile to the young Englishwoman standing in front of her and staring with perplexity. She had water in her eyes, which were slowly turning to red. “I wish I knew what’s going on…”
“Me too,” Rhapsody replied with a nod, a suspicion forming in her mind as Destiny wiped the tip of her nose. The English pilot glanced over her shoulder to her two American colleagues, seated next to the big wooden box containing Gizmo. Could it be…
“Destiny… do you have allergies of any kind?” she asked to the now miserable-looking blonde woman in front of her.
“Allergies? Oh, yes… but…” She sniffed again. “It was a long time ago since I had an attack, and it can’t very well be that…” She sneezed, and fished another handkerchief from the box.
“What were you allergic to?” Rhapsody insisted.
“Oh. Cat fur. That really gets to me. But there are no cats onboard, are there?” She failed to notice the totally dismayed expression displayed on her three fellow Angel pilots, and instead, looked around with perplexity. “Why are the lights so low?”
“Eh? Oh, we had trouble with them a little while ago…” Rhapsody lied. Her suspicions were growing and she was starting to believe that it was a blessing that the lights were so dim that Destiny had not yet seen the box on the table behind the English girl.
“Have you called Maintenance?”
“Er… no. Not yet.”
“It might be repaired. Did you try to make it work again?” Destiny insisted. “Lights on, full intensity.”
Automatically, light flooded the Amber Room. An alarmed Rhapsody turned around to check on Gizmo, to realise that both Melody and Symphony had already closed the lid on the wooden chest, in anticipation of what was coming, and were now covering it with the black velvety cloth. She heard a muffled, but distinct protest coming from inside the box, as well as faint tapping. Symphony briefly shushed at the box. Fortunately, Destiny was too busy sneezing and blowing her nose to really notice.
“Well, it seems to be working perfectly fine now,” Destiny noted.
“Yes – Maintenance have probably already taken care of it.” Rhapsody frowned. “You really look terrible! You ought to see the doctor, Juliette!”
“I should, shouldn’t I?” Destiny said with a sniff. “Oh my… It’s been so long since I felt this way. I really hate it…” She directed her steps toward the exit, followed by Rhapsody, when she suddenly seemed to remember something and turned around. “What was that news you were supposed to tell me about?”
“Er… nothing that important,” Rhapsody smiled uncomfortably. Behind her, Melody and Symphony were moving in front of the box to hide it from Destiny’s view, almost idiotic smiles spread on their faces; they were the perfect example of false innocence. “You’d better go see Fawn right now, we’ll tell you about it later.”
“All right…” Destiny sniffed, turning toward the door which slid open in front of her. “But make sure you will not forget…”
She walked out and the door slid closed. Rhapsody came back to the others, who now had the same worried expression as she did.
“What are we going to tell her?” Melody asked, almost whimpering. “Why didn’t we tell her about Gizmo right away?”
“You’re kidding, right?” Rhapsody retorted. “Did you see her reaction? It was almost immediate, as soon as she set foot in the Amber Room! She’s allergic to the little chap!”
“But we could at least have told her about it,” Melody insisted. “And shown her…”
“And give her an attack?” Symphony protested. “I don’t want her death on my conscience!”
“Me neither,” Rhapsody agreed. “The best thing would be to tell her later… and be very careful about it.”
“Oh… I don’t like all this,” Symphony mumbled. “I’m starting to have a bad feeling about it…”
Melody sighed. “All right. I guess you’re right. Then, considering the situation, I don’t think it is a good idea to keep Gizmo in the Amber Room.”
“Not if we value Destiny’s life, no,” Rhapsody agreed. “Symphony, you’ll have to take him with you.”
“Take him with me? You’re dumping this on me? And what about you, girls?”
“We have Amber Room duty, we can’t leave, you know that. And Gizmo definitely can’t stay here.”
“But… I was supposed to meet with Adam… You’re suggesting I should take Gizmo along? What will Adam say?”
“I don’t think you have to worry,” Rhapsody smiled. “I’m sure Adam will love him to death.”
“But I’m not sure you’ll like Adam if he decides to sing in duet with Gizmo!” Melody stated, laughing.
“Very funny!” Symphony pouted.
“Listen, it’s not like we have any choice. We…”
Suddenly, a loud buzzing sound made itself heard and the voice of Lieutenant Green filled the room, interrupting Rhapsody in her tirade.
“Angels on stand-by duty! Immediate take-off! Prepare for target practice!”
“Here we go!” Melody shot to her feet and rushed to the elevator, closely followed by Rhapsody, with Symphony, still unsatisfied with the present arrangement, in tow.
“We have to go, Symphony,” Rhapsody told the blonde American as the double doors to Angels Two and Three opened in front of her and Melody. “Take good care of Gizmo – we know you’ll do the right thing.”
“And for God’s sake,” Melody added, taking her place on her seat, “please follow the rules… just in case!”
The double doors closed on them, as Rhapsody was preparing to sit, leaving Symphony alone in the Amber Room. She stared at the translucent panel, through which she could see the shadow of the two seats as they were elevated toward the tubes leading to the two Angel jets on deck. She grumbled and turned around. Leave it to them to leave me with all the trouble! she thought with bad humour.
But they were right. It wasn’t as if they had any choice.
She heard faint tapping from the inside of the box where Gizmo was hiding, and approaching, could hear him chattering, as if he was calling for attention. She sighed and, taking her decision, took the cloth-covered box and stuck it under her left arm. “We’re leaving this place, Giz. Don’t worry, I’ll get you out of this box soon. But in the meantime, will you be a good boy and stop that ruckus? What will people think if they hear me talking to a box?”
Instantly, the sounds stopped. It was as if the Mogwai had understood what Symphony was telling him. That made her wonder – and at the same time, smile with approval.
“That’s a nice Mogwai… We’ll get along fine… Now,” she added to herself, thoughtfully. “Where will I find Adam?”
“With Mogwai comes great responsibilities…”
Fifteen minutes later, Symphony Angel found Captain Blue, who was in the officers’ lounge, quietly drinking coffee with Captain Scarlet. They watched with some kind of surprise as she briskly walked in, the large, cloth covered box awkwardly stuck underneath her arm, and checking around the lounge, with overtly conspiratorial glances.
“Hi, honey,” Blue said with a broad smile, rising from the sofa where he was seated. “I wasn’t expecting to see you for an hour or so…”
Symphony didn’t answer the remark right away. Having made sure that the three of them were all alone, she addressed the computer controlled environmental systems in a loud voice, while walking toward the two men: “Lights down, thirty percent.”
Blue exchanged an odd look with Scarlet, as Symphony put her box on the table in front of them. “Er… Karen, I like your way of thinking but… We’re not alone,” he remarked with a mocking voice and an almost shy smile.
“If you prefer, I can leave,” Scarlet suggested, deciding on teasing the young woman too.
“You guys, be serious a minute.” Symphony spun on her heel to face her fiancé, standing behind her. “I have something to show you. Both of you. But you have to swear, you won’t say anything to anyone.”
“This is getting interesting,” Scarlet said, putting his cup of coffee onto the table. “What did you smuggle onboard?”
“I didn’t smuggle anything onboard. It’s… something that Harmony received by the courier plane. She still has to mention it to Colonel White. Herself. So it’s important he doesn’t hear about it before she’s able to talk to him.”
“She can’t now?”
“She’s gone on target practice with the others. And she won’t be back for a few hours.”
Blue nodded, putting his coffee onto the table too and sitting down. “Okay, I’m buying that. So, what’s in the box? And why dim the lights?”
Faint knocking coming from inside the box seemed to answer him, and a muffled little voice – or what sounded like a voice – made itself heard, attracting his attention.
“Hello?” Scarlet said, leaning forward with his friend toward the box. “What do you have in there?”
He thought he heard the ‘voice’ answering ‘hello’ in turn, and that made him frown. Surely, he was dreaming…
Symphony removed the cloth, revealing the chest, and released the lock, before theatrically lifting the lid. “Ta-daa! Boys, meet Gizmo, the Mogwai.”
Scarlet and Blue opened eyes wide with utter astonishment at the sight of the small, furry, bipedal animal, who, standing in the middle of the box, was looking up at them with bright, intelligent eyes, and attentive moving ears. It was obvious by their slack-jawed expressions that they didn’t expect this revelation – and that they had never seen such a creature before.
“The… what?” Scarlet demanded, unable to detach his eyes from the small animal.
“Mogwai. It comes from China. Like pandas. You never saw any Mogwai in your life?”
“Er… no. Adam?”
“Never before,” Blue concurred. He looked suspiciously at Symphony. “Have you?”
“Of course, plenty of times in zoos.”
Symphony simply shrugged and smiled at her fiancé’s statement. “Never mind… Isn’t he the cutest thing? Say hello to Adam, Gizmo.”
“Gizmo, you say?”
“Hello, Adam,” the small Mogwai said in its faint, high-pitched voice.
That left Blue speechless; if not Scarlet.
“By Jove, it talks!”
“Don’t be rude, Paul. Gizmo, say hello to Paul, now.”
“Hello, Paul,” the Mogwai reiterated, docilely obeying Symphony’s demand. He even added a smile, and a small ‘bye-bye’ gesture with his tiny hand, addressed directly to Scarlet. It was such a cute scene that Blue couldn’t help but chuckle, along with Symphony. Even Scarlet seemed to melt upon witnessing the Mogwai’s gentle behaviour, and leaned closer to examine it.
“Apparently, Mogwai are like parrots,” Symphony explained. “And more – they appear to be faster learners. They don’t seem to take as much as long to repeat the words they hear…”
“What kind of creature is this?” Scarlet said with curiosity, reaching to tickle the animal’s belly. The latter started giggling, much to everyone’s amusement. “And what is it doing on Cloudbase?”
“It’s a long story – and we still don’t know how it got through security to arrive here… But I guess we’ll have to worry about that later…”
Symphony related the events that had happened in the Amber Room since Harmony read her cousin’s letter and opened the box received with the mail to discover Gizmo. The two men listened to her explanation intently, all the while keeping their eyes fixed on the Mogwai who, staying very quiet, was staring from one to the other, with such a disarming gentle expression that neither of them could actually resist its charm.
“To sum up the problem now,” Symphony finished, “I’m stuck with Gizmo, until Harmony and the others come back from their exercise. So you understand I couldn’t leave him all alone.”
“You haven’t told anyone else, then?”
“No. Not even Destiny. We’re afraid she might have an allergic reaction to Gizmo’s fur – well, that much we suspect, since she started sneezing as soon as she came back from her Angel One shift… She didn’t see Gizmo, though. And we didn’t want to take the risk of introducing him to her.” She looked pleadingly at the two men. “Please, don’t mention Gizmo to anyone yet? Harmony does want to settle the problem of his presence on Cloudbase with the colonel – and if he finds out about Gizmo before she can…”
“We get the picture. That could jeopardise her efforts.” Blue considered the small Mogwai a minute, thoughtfully rubbing his chin. “So Gizmo will be coming with us tonight?” He sounded a little put out, for he had planned a special evening with his Angel, and he was hoping they would be able to share it together, intimately, and without any interference. He hadn’t counted on a small, strange, unknown creature literally popping out of nowhere to be a part of it.
“Gizmo won’t be a bother, Adam,” Symphony reassured him. “We’ll just put him in front of the television set and…”
“Yes, apparently, he loves watching television. Especially action and children’s movies.”
“That’s all fine, Karen, but you seem to have forgotten a small detail: I don’t have a television.”
“Oh.” Symphony suddenly realised that her perfectly crafted plan was going down the drain. She pulled a face. “Now that might be a problem…”
“Mmm-hmmm,” Blue agreed with a slow nod. He could see that, like him, Symphony now feared that Gizmo could be ‘in the way of their special evening.’
He then noticed the way Symphony was intently watching Scarlet, who was playing absentmindedly with Gizmo. Blue noticed the flash of an idea pass through his Angel’s eyes, and a smile slowly spread on her lips. He sat back slowly against the back of the sofa – watching as Symphony leaned toward his friend.
“Uh… Paul… would you do us a big favour? For me and Adam?”
Her voice was ever so sweet, and Scarlet automatically sensed the trap. He raised a suspicious brow, then glared at her.
“Oh no, Karen…”
“Come on… Just for a few hours?” Symphony insisted. “Until Harmony gets back?”
“How can you say ‘no’? I can see you like the little guy…”
“Karen… me and animals… We don’t get on.”
“You have a dog at home,” Blue pointed out. “And you get along fine with him.”
“Because he’s my dog. Gizmo isn’t my… whatever you said he is.”
“Mogwai,” Symphony prompted.
“Well, whatever. You can’t ask me to take responsibility for him. I don’t know the first thing about taking care of… ‘Mogwai’.”
“Oh, he won’t give you any trouble. Put him in front of your TV set and play him a movie – that’ll keep him occupied for a little while…”
“Yeah, a children’s film?” Scarlet scoffed. “I don’t know any children’s film…”
“How about ‘The Sound of Music’?” Blue suggested, taking great pleasure at seeing the dismayed look on his friend’s face. “Since Gizmo likes music… Or ‘The Wizard of Oz’?”
“Wizard!” the little Mogwai suddenly repeated, much to Scarlet’s consternation – and Symphony and Blue’s amusement.
“See?” Blue continued. “He approves of the choice.”
“And where will I find that movie on Cloudbase?”
“Oh, easy,” Symphony said with a smile. “The International Television Databank surely has such a classic available on their list of programming… All Cloudbase televisions are connected to the system providing that service… You just have to order it through your TV.”
“Oh, right! I can just see myself…” Scarlet looked down at Gizmo, standing in his box and looking at him with – what, some expectation in his eyes? He could have sworn the little Mogwai was following the conversation with the utmost attention – and that he seemed a little sad that Scarlet would refuse to take him into his care.
The English captain groaned and slapped his forehead. “I can’t believe I’m going along with this…” he mumbled. “All right! But only for a few hours!” He pointed an insistent finger toward Symphony. “And only until Harmony is back from patrol!”
“It won’t be any longer than that, Paul, I promise,” the young woman smirked. She hesitated a second, a important matter suddenly coming to her mind, as Scarlet was leaning again toward Gizmo. “There is something else I should tell you about Gizmo…” she started again, very slowly.
He raised inquiring eyes to her and she smiled, a little embarrassed to continue, when she saw the suspicion again in his eyes.
“There are… three important rules you have to follow, in order to take care of a Mogwai… And you have to promise that you will follow them to the letter…”
* * *
“Hey, Destiny! Fancy seeing you up here. How are you?”
Captain Magenta was walking in the corridor in the direction of the Officers’ Lounge when he saw Destiny Angel emerge from the elevator and take the same direction. They both stopped, only a few feet away from their destination, and the smile on Magenta’s lips disappeared when he saw the French Angel’s face. Her eyes were a little red and puffy.
“What’s the matter with you?” he asked with concern. “Your eyes…”
“Hi, Captain Magenta,” she said with a faint smile. “Oh, it’s nothing really… I just came from a consultation with one of Doctor Fawn’s assistants in sickbay. Apparently, I may have a small allergic reaction to… something.”
“Allergic reaction?” Magenta retorted, frowning. “You look like you haven’t had a decent night’s sleep for days!”
Destiny grimaced. “I’m sure I looked a lot worse earlier,” she remarked. “I don’t feel so bad now, actually… You should have seen me in the Amber Room when I left my Angel One duty… It was almost immediate. My eyes got swollen, and all filled with tears, I couldn’t stop sneezing, my nose kept running…” She cleared her throat awkwardly. “I had trouble breathing…”
“Any idea what you might be allergic to, for that to happen?”
“Ah… Doctor Fawn’s assistant couldn’t tell me, before he receives the results of the tests,” Destiny almost pouted. “But he suspects it’s something to do with the Amber Room – since my problems started clearing after I left it. Maybe the air inside has something bad… He ordered that it should be checked thoroughly, while the Angels on duty are gone for target practice.”
“Very wise…” Magenta agreed. “I hope they’ll find out what the trouble is…”
“I hope they do too.”
The doors leading to the Officers’ Lounge slid open at that moment, and Captain Scarlet strode out of the room, a box wrapped in black cloth tucked carefully under his arm, and a somewhat grim expression on his face. He briskly passed right next to Magenta and Destiny, without so much as slowing down to greet them. That was rather odd behaviour from him, and that made the two of them look curiously in his direction.
“Hey, Scarlet, you seem in rather a hurry,” Magenta called, causing his colleague to – almost reluctantly – slow down and turned on his heels to finally acknowledge them.
“Sorry, I have something to… take back to my quarters,” Scarlet answered with an awkward smile. “Destiny…”
“That something is in that box you’re holding so protectively?” Magenta asked with a smirk. “A gift for a lady?” He failed to see Scarlet’s warning frown as his mocking banter was interrupted by a violent sneeze by Destiny, that made him turn to face her. “Hey, you okay?”
“I’ll be all right,” she said, sniffing. “It’s starting again…”
“Maybe I can get you a coffee in the Officers’ Lounge, then?” a concerned Magenta asked. “I heard it’s good for clearing the respiratory system in asthma attacks…”
She accepted with a nod and Scarlet, shrugging, turned on his heels. “You’ll have the room all to yourselves,” he announced over his shoulder. “Blue and Symphony left just before I did… Don’t do anything they wouldn’t do!”
It was Magenta’s turn to frown at Scarlet, but the latter had just disappeared into the elevator that would take him down to the officers’ quarters, just two decks below – and another sneeze from Destiny attracted his attention anew. She was in desperate need of a good hankie.
“We’d better get you inside,” he said, pressing the opening button to the Officers’ Lounge. “I hope the doctor finds out what’s causing this allergy of yours. Obviously, it wasn’t the air in the Amber Room…”
“I don’t know,” Destiny said, sniffing, her eye now fixed on the elevator door as it was closing on Scarlet. The last thing she saw was the black satin-covered box he was now holding in both hands.
She had seen that box and that cloth somewhere before…
* * *
For all of Scarlet’s doubts, Symphony had been right about Gizmo.
The small animal didn’t give him any trouble at all. He sat in the middle of the sofa in the living area of Scarlet’s quarters – where the lights had been properly dimmed to meet the gentle creature’s requirements – and watched the show on TV without so much as a squeak. It was as if he was mesmerised by the bright lights emanating from the screen, and he didn’t seem to be missing anything of what was going on. The black and white introduction to the movie didn’t seem to bother him at all, but as soon as the tornado hit Kansas to bring Dorothy to the wonderful country of Oz – and colours filled the screen – Gizmo became all excited. He was exactly like a little child discovering his first movie ever.
And that was a very touching scene. Scarlet, seated behind his desk and working on some last-minute report, couldn’t help but be amused, and started feeling some empathy for the cuddly little ball of fur comfortably installed on his sofa. He pushed aside his paper with a deep sigh and looked up at the time on his computer screen. There was still a long time to go before midnight, which, according to Symphony, was the deadline for giving the little Mogwai a small snack. He considered those recommendations the Angels had given him concerning the care of Gizmo to be pretty stupid – all except maybe the one concerning bright light; he was willing to accept that Gizmo’s skin or eyes might be very sensitive and might get hurt by that. For the rest, however… But he had given Symphony his word that he would follow the rules, and if nothing else, he intended to keep his word.
“Can’t watch a good movie without popcorn, can you, Giz?” he called from his seat.
Again, Scarlet could have sworn that Gizmo had understood what he had said. He seemed to grow animated at the thought of eating popcorn. Laughing, Scarlet rose from his place. “All right then. Give me a few minutes and you can have some. And I might as well join you, come to think of it. And enjoy the movie too…”
He put down his pen and closed his folder, and was about to fetch a bag of unpopped popcorn to put into the micro-wave oven when he heard a buzz at his door. He frowned deeply. Now, who could that be? He wasn’t expecting anyone. The buzz sounded again, more insistently. He walked to the door and pressed the com.link button.
“Who is it?”
“It’s me, Paul. Open the door this instant.”
Scarlet opened wide eyes. Destiny! What was she doing in front of his door? What did she want? He had heard Symphony’s story about her harsh reaction to Gizmo’s presence in the Amber Room – and had heard her sneeze when he had passed her by earlier with the box containing the Mogwai. But he could hardly believe that the animal would cause so much reaction in her.
She didn’t visit him very often… Could she suspect something? he asked himself. And if so, what exactly?
“A second!” he answered, almost sighing.
Scarlet turned to catch Gizmo. The little Mogwai protested when the Spectrum officer quickly put him into his box.
“Sorry, Giz… I don’t know what she wants, but I promise I’ll let you out as soon as I know the coast is clear.” The Mogwai looked up to him with curious eyes, his ears reacting to the sound of his voice. “Now you keep quiet, and don’t make a sound, okay? You’ll be able to continue watching your film later.”
“Okay.” Scarlet was still amazed at the small animal’s ability to mimic human sounds, much better than a parrot would do. What was perplexing was the way his whole stance seemed to indicate that he indeed understood what he was told and knew what he was saying himself. Scarlet discarded that peculiar observation from his mind and flipped one side of the lid close. He hurriedly put it down on the floor, covered it with the satin blanket, and pushed it under his coffee table, just as the door started buzzing again.
“All right! All right! I’m coming!” he called loudly.
He got to his feet and rushed to the door to press the opening button.
Destiny stormed into his quarters like a hurricane, before he could stop her.
“All right! Where is it?”
“Where’s what?” Scarlet asked, opening wide eyes as Destiny looked around with probing eyes. Surely, she didn’t suspect anything about Gizmo?
She turned to face him, just as the door was closing. “You know what I’m talking about!” she accused him. “You did it again, didn’t you?”
“Did what? What are you talking about?”
“What I’m talking about… I’m talking about all that sneezing and gasping I’ve been doing ever since I came back from Angel One duty – about my nose running and my eyes getting swollen and red! Doesn’t that remind you of ANYTHING?”
“Your allergies are playing up again?” Scarlet asked with a frown.
“Do I have to remind you WHAT I’m allergic to?”
“Oh, I know. Have you bought another new fur hat?”
Destiny nearly gasped in outrage. “I DIDN’T buy a new fur hat! And when I do, I ALWAYS make sure it’s synthetic! Do you remember when was the last time I had those allergy symptoms?” Before a stunned Scarlet could respond, she gave the answer herself: “In the Azores!”
Scarlet’s eyes opened wider. “You mean that incident?”
“Yes… that incident. When you had smuggled that cat on base, to give to me as a gift… I don’t have to remind you what happened.”
Scarlet groaned. He remembered all right. It was many years ago, when both of them, as Captain Paul Metcalfe and Flight Lieutenant Juliette Pontoin, were stationed in the Azores, where they met and started a torrid affair. While on a brief assignment in England, a sergeant had provided him with a cute little kitten that he just knew Juliette would fall in love with. He had the darndest time smuggling the little animal on base, without anyone noticing – especially their base commander, General Dubois. Much to Paul’s horror, when he had proudly presented the kitten to Juliette, she had started sneezing, puffing and gasping as if she was about stop breathing completely. He had learned the hard way then of her allergy to cat hair. So, he had had to find a suitable home for the little cat, as quickly as possible.
He ended up giving it to their commander’s teenage daughter, who – already quite smitten with him – couldn’t stop thanking him, much to his embarrassment.
He watched as Destiny was looking around, obviously searching for something. “So, where did you put it?”
“Come on, Juliette!” he protested. “You think I smuggled another cat – onto Cloudbase?! You know that Colonel White is even stricter than General Dubois was…”
“Knowing you, I don’t think that would stop you.” Familiar music from the TV set made her turn around, and she watched the screen. She could see Dorothy dancing down the yellow brick road with her three fantasy friends. She gave Scarlet an odd look.
“Regressing to childhood?”
He smirked and shrugged. “Would you believe I’ve never seen that one?”
The answer didn’t seem to impress her – nor satisfy her. But for the love of God, she couldn’t imagine what reason Scarlet would have to lie to her. In any case, it wasn’t important to her. She had another preoccupation in mind. Scarlet sighed. “Really, Juliette – why would I have smuggled a cat onboard Cloudbase?”
“For the same reason you did all those years ago – to give it to someone as a gift.”
“I don’t even know if Dianne likes cats.”
“You didn’t know for me either!”
“What can I say? I’m older and wiser now – that experience with you was quite enough. I learned my lesson.”
“Did you?” Destiny stated icily.
“Juliette, I promise you, I didn’t bring a cat onboard! I swear it!”
Suddenly, she gave a violent sneeze. Scarlet shivered. He noted with dismay that she was standing right next to the blanket-covered box. No… It can’t be possible that she’s reacting to Gizmo’s presence while he’s in that box! Or is it? He remembered the way she had sneezed earlier in the corridor.
When she sneezed again, he moved toward the water cooler, took a big glass and filled it to the brim, before coming back to the young woman. Her eyes were starting to water when he reached her, and a faint wheezing sound was coming from her throat. He handed her the glass. “Here, drink this, it’ll help…”
She grabbed the glass, thanking him with a brief nod and brought it to her lips to drink greedily. A few drops fell from the glass and she pushed it away from her to avoid getting wet. The drops splashed onto the coffee table and then slowly ran across the surface toward the side.
Apparently feeling better, Destiny leaned to put the dripping glass onto the table and just then, much to Scarlet’s dismay, her eyes fell on the satin-covered box underneath it. “What’s this?”
“Nothing.” Scarlet took her by the shoulders, nearly forced her up and directed her towards the door. “Now, if you’d be a good girl and leave, please? I’m waiting for a visitor and I wouldn’t want her to find you here.”
“Would you stop patronising me?” she protested, stopping short at the door. “And if it’s Dianne you’re worrying about, I think it’s over nothing. She knows there’s been nothing between us for a long time, and there isn’t a single jealous bone in her…”
“If you don’t mind, I’d rather not take the risk of finding out.”
“Well, I can see you’re trying to get rid of me, and I’m about sure you’re using that as an excuse. Does it have something to do with that box, over there?”
“Paul Metcalfe, playing stupid doesn’t suit you,” Destiny chided him with an aggravated sigh.
Suddenly, coming from under the table, loud shrieks were heard that nearly made both Scarlet and Destiny jump. They turned around, to see the black-covered box shaking violently – as if something inside was rocking it.
“That box!” Destiny said, pointing an accusing finger toward it.
Scarlet paled, suddenly wondering what could be going on with Gizmo; the sounds he was hearing were definitely the squeals of an animal in distress – or rather, in pain. He crossed the distance separating him from the box in three quick strides, Destiny in tow.
“You swore you didn’t bring a cat onboard,” she reminded him.
“It isn’t a cat,” he protested in annoyance, as he leaned down to slide the still shaking and shrieking box from where he had put it. “And I didn’t bring it onboard!”
“What is it? It sounds in pain…” Scarlet barely noticed that her allergies seemed to have left her and that her voice was now filled with concern for whatever kind of creature was in the box.
“Gizmo! What is it, little chum, is something wrong?” He put the box onto his table just as it stopped shaking. The cries also had ceased. He noticed the glass, with its water spilled on the surface of the table, and dripping to the floor. Could it be possible that it had dripped onto the box too?
“Gizmo? Are you all right?” He quickly removed the satin drape and lifted the flap…
… And opened eyes wide with astonishment. By his side, he heard Destiny sneeze loudly, before giving a gasp of surprise, as she made a step forward to look closely.
“What are those things?”
* * *
“Now… this what I call a date.”
In Captain Blue’s dimly-lit quarters, soft classical music playing in the background, Symphony was comfortably propped up on the couch, her shoeless feet resting on the cushions, her head resting against the strong shoulder of her boyfriend who was dreamily stroking her hair, and kissing her forehead. Blue had gone out on a limb for this evening to be a perfect one, and Symphony couldn’t be more pleased. Especially when she considered that the evening wasn’t finished yet…
“I knew you were a good cook,” she noted with a sigh, “but that dinner was absolutely divine… How did you manage to cook it anyway?”
“I requisitioned the kitchen of the Officers’ Mess earlier,” Blue explained with a faint smile. “I had no trouble convincing the chef…”
“Bribing him with a few of your marvellous recipes, no doubt…”
“I knew you liked it,” Blue said, grazing her cheek with his lips. “You didn’t leave any…”
She chuckled softly. “Now, that’s not very tactful… careful with your choice of words, Mister Svenson.” He leaned toward her, his kisses becoming more demanding. “Is this what married life will be like, then? I’ll come back everyday to a wonderful dinner, delightful music – and a lovely evening in the arms of my husband?”
“That only happens during courtship,” Blue replied with smiling eyes, kissing her near the mouth and tenderly pushing her down onto the sofa.
Symphony raised a brow. “Really now?”
“…For the rest of the world,” Blue added quickly, lying down on top of her. “But I intend to make your whole life a paradise from now on.”
“That sounds promising…” she said with an enticing smile. “Care to elaborate?”
Blue’s own grin broadened. “That’s exactly what I’m planning to do.” He leaned to kiss her full on the lips and Symphony threw her arms around his neck to draw him closer.
The comm.link started buzzing.
Blue turned his head in its direction and shot it a murderous look. “Now who the hell would call at a time like this?” he grumbled.
He would have loved to let it ring, but as far as he knew, it could very well be an emergency. Reluctantly, he left Symphony’s side and strode toward the comm.link. He saw the red light blinking on it as it buzzed again.
I should have known, he thought irritably. Scarlet. He punched the control button.
“Blue here!” he snapped aggressively, looking toward Symphony as she sat up on the couch, brushing at her wrinkled clothes.
“I’m sorry to bother you, Adam, but I need help,” the voice of Scarlet said through the speaker. The fact that he had used Blue’s Christian name was a clear indication that this wasn’t an official or business call. Which made Blue even more incensed.
“Damn right you’re disturbing me,” Blue grumped. “Your timing is really inconvenient, you know that?”
“Is Karen there?”
“I’m here, Paul,” Symphony called from her place. “What’s the matter? Something wrong with Gizmo?”
“Well – I’m not sure if you can actually SAY it’s wrong. Karen… is Gizmo a male – or a female?”
“What kind of a question is that?” a puzzled Symphony responded. “He’s male – I think. I’m not sure. When Harmony read that letter from her uncle, she used the masculine form…”
“Maybe Chinese pronouns are both masculine and feminine…”
“Paul – what IS the trouble with Gizmo?”
“Did you know Gizmo was pregnant?”
Symphony opened wide eyes and shot to her feet. “That’s impossible! With the kind of details there were in that letter, I’m sure Harmony’s uncle would have mentioned it. He didn’t!” She stopped suddenly. “Hang on – you said ‘was’?”
“That’s what I said. ‘Was’. Because he – she – gave birth just a few moments ago.”
“Oh my God!” Symphony reached for her purse, lying on the floor, and went to grab a perplexed Blue’s hand, dragging him towards the door. “We’re coming right over!”
“One little, two little, three little Mogwai…”
“I can’t understand it.”
They were all reunited in the Amber Room, where Harmony Angel had come down from Angel One duty a few minutes ago, relieved by Melody – Captain Scarlet, Captain Blue, Symphony and Destiny Angels, and Rhapsody, who was doing standby duty with Harmony. The light had been dimmed and they were looking down with interest into the open wooden chest they had put on the low glass table.
There were five Mogwai now in the box. Chattering, cooing and bustling around. Four sharing the same white and brown coat, while one of them was completely white, with a paler skin tone than his congeners. Five, full grown Mogwai, nearly all of the same size, although one of them was definitely smaller than the others.
“I just can’t understand it!” Captain Scarlet was saying, after quickly relating his full story to the others. “Gizmo was fine just a few minutes before I put him in his box when Destiny arrived and then there’s all that fracas in the box … and the next time I looked – there they were!”
“Start again, Paul,” Blue suggested. “This time, slowly.” Destiny, standing by his side, gave a loud sneeze. “Gesundheit.” The French pilot thanked him with a nod, fishing a handkerchief from the box Rhapsody was holding out to her.
Scarlet sighed deeply. “Destiny and I started hearing screams coming from the chest – which was under my coffee table. Screams of pain – from a single animal. Gizmo, of course, so I thought he was in pain, or something. I rushed to the box, opened it and there I saw them. There was Gizmo, all right, sitting in a corner of the box, watching what looked like four furry balls which were getting bigger and developing by the second. Ears unfolded to uncover the eyes, limbs developed and then – there were four more Mogwai in the box – full grown, and chattering pretty much like they’re doing right now!”
“How is it possible for them to grow up that quickly?” Rhapsody remarked.
“I don’t know, I’m just telling you what I saw.”
“Gizmo didn’t appear pregnant, or anything, when he arrived onboard,” Symphony said, shaking her head.
“Neither did he when you brought him to me!”
“Shouldn’t we refer to Gizmo as a female, then?” Destiny suggested, wiping her now red nose. Her voice had a funny nasal accent that in other circumstances would have made the others smile.
“No,” Harmony replied with a shake of her dark head, as she looked with perplexity at the five small creatures playing in the box. “My uncle definitely referred to Gizmo as a ‘he’.”
“Then how did that happen?” Scarlet replied, waving toward the box. “Doesn’t it just work like… normal?”
She sighed. “Mogwai are asexual.”
“That was in your uncle’s letter too?”
“Poor little things,” Scarlet muttered. Harmony gave him a withering glance.
“Where’s the fun in that?” Blue remarked. That caused Symphony to elbow him in the side. “Ouch! All right, all right, I’ll be serious… If they’re asexual, how can they have babies? They do it like plants, if I understand correctly?”
“How should I know? In his notes, my cousin Lei just gave the general information about Gizmo, that Uncle Shen left – how to feed him, what he likes, the three important rules…”
“Are you sure you followed the rules, Paul?” Rhapsody asked with a warning stare. Everyone else stared at him. Scarlet frowned.
“Of course I did! What do you take me for?”
“We just… know how relaxed you can be sometimes when it comes to rules…” Blue noted.
“Well, I followed the recommendations Symphony gave me,” he protested, starting to count on his fingers. “It’s way too early to be midnight, I didn’t expose him to any bright light – although how he can stand looking at the television in those conditions is beyond me – I didn’t give him any water…”
He stopped suddenly, as if something had come to his mind, and looked down at the five Mogwai in the box. “Water…”
“You didn’t give Gizmo anything to drink, Paul?” Symphony inquired, a suspicion forming in her mind.
He scoffed. “Of course I didn’t, but…” He looked at Destiny. “I gave a glass of water to Destiny when she started wheezing, and she spilled a few drops of it…”
“That’s right,” Destiny growled, sniffling miserably, “Blame me for this!”
“Into the box?” Harmony insisted, ignoring Destiny’s interference.
“Onto the table. It was just a few drops. I didn’t think anything of it at first and I didn’t think it had reached the box…”
“Come on, Chan,” Rhapsody protested. “That certainly can’t be it!”
“Where’s the drape?” Scarlet asked.
It was lying on the couch next to him. He and Symphony reached for it at the same time and examined it with their hands. They found a moist section just in the middle of it. They looked at each other. “It did spill on it,” they both said at the same time.
“… And could very well have spilled INSIDE the box, then,” Harmony said.
“I fail to see the link between spilled water and a Mogwai giving birth to other Mogwai,” Rhapsody retorted.
“So do I,” Blue grunted. “Didn’t your cousin say in his letter what water would do to Gizmo, Chan?”
“As I already said, no. Nor did he say why those three rules were so important – Only that if I were to follow them to the letter, everything should be all right.”
“Great,” Scarlet mumbled. “He would have been more helpful if he had given more details.”
“Uncle Shen was dying,” Harmony reminded him. “Maybe he didn’t have sufficient time to revise the wording of his will.”
“In the meantime we’re stuck with a huge problem.” Scarlet sat down in front of the box and sighed. “One of those creatures was already enough to count with, now we have five of them… So that’s five times the trouble.”
As if on cue, Destiny sneezed loudly. “You can say that again,” she said, sniffling and taking a new handkerchief.
“How are we going to take care of them if we don’t know the first thing about them?” Blue pursued.
“Maybe we could find some information on Worldnet?” Rhapsody suggested. “There’s bound to be something in there about these creatures… I mean, none of us had ever heard of them, that’s true, but they can’t have gone unnoticed through the ages! They must come from somewhere.”
“That’s the first sensible suggestion we’ve had all evening,” Scarlet sighed. “I say we do that research as soon as possible, then.” He leaned toward the box and looked inside it. The five Mogwai were still chattering. “In the meantime, what are we going to do with them?”
“They are kind of cute,” Blue noted, looking down into the box himself. “Which one is Gizmo?”
As if he had understood his name, one of the Mogwai raised his head, and looked up, blinking. It was the quiet one of the lot, keeping away from the others.
“That one,” Harmony said, pointing to him. “He looks sad…”
“And he stays in his corner,” Scarlet added. “Poor little chap… We made quite a mess with you, didn’t we?”
“We?” Rhapsody said raising a brow. “Speak for yourself, Captain!”
“They are cute,” Scarlet said in turn, quickly changing the subject before all his colleagues decided to join in the criticism. “Look at this white one…” He reached into the box to pat the small creature, but the latter, with a growl, snapped forward and bit his finger. “Ouch!” Scarlet retreated quickly. “Vicious little beast…”
Blue started laughing. “You always know how to bring out the best in people, Paul,” he said, while the others watched with amusement as Scarlet sucked on the newly acquired injury to his finger. “Especially white-coated ones…”
“Speaking of which,” Scarlet replied, with a withering look at his friend. “I think we have no choice but to inform the colonel of the Mogwai’s presence now. Hiding one is one thing, but five… that’s nearly impossible.”
“I agree,” Harmony said with a sigh, rising from the couch. “I’ll go see the colonel right away and tell him about it.”
“I have another suggestion,” Blue then said. “We should take the Mogwai to Doctor Fawn. If we can’t find out anything about them on the net, we’ll be stuck with the same problem. Doctor Fawn might be able to help us out. After all, he’s kind of an ‘expert’ on ‘alien morphology’,” he added, with a sly smile at Scarlet.
“That’s a good idea,” the latter agreed, rising to his feet in turn. “Right, let’s get this done then. Harmony, I’ll go with you if you want.”
“No need, Captain, but that’s very kind of you,” the Japanese-Chinese girl answered with a smile. “I would rather you take Gizmo and the others to Doctor Fawn. You will be able to tell him about the water incident. I will be able to manage with the colonel.”
“Right,” Scarlet said doubtfully. “Well, I hope for your sake that he’s in a good mood, Harmony. You know Colonel White is a sucker for good old British Navy traditions? Who knows, if he's really cross, he might use the cat-o'-nine-tails stashed under his desk..."
A very loud sneeze concluded that, which made everyone turn around to stare at Destiny. She was wiping her nose with a new handkerchief. “Please, don’t mention cats,” she begged in a miserable tone.
* * *
“I have never seen a creature like this before.”
Harmony’s meeting with Colonel White had gone rather well. At least, Captain Scarlet reflected, that seemed to be the case, considering that Harmony Angel was alive and well and presently standing next to him in sickbay, while both the Spectrum commander and Doctor Fawn were examining the batch of Mogwai who were playing on the examination table. When White had arrived with Harmony, a few minutes earlier, he did look obviously upset, and Scarlet, who had brought the Mogwai to Fawn, had almost instinctively stood to attention, upon seeing the stern expression on his commander’s face. But whatever White’s intentions were in coming to sickbay, his anger had dropped instantly upon discovering the small furry creatures that Fawn was examining. From then on, he had shown himself fascinated by them – as much as Fawn himself, who was obviously at a loss concerning the origins of the creatures.
“I can’t even relate them to any other living creature on Earth,” Fawn explained to White. “They might look simian, but they’re not. The speech pattern is unique. They obviously communicate with each other, and are able to mimic human language. They look and sound intelligent – far more intelligent than any beast I’ve ever encountered. Their social skills are highly developed.”
“You mean with each other?” A fascinated White watched as three of the Mogwai – including the white one – played with each other without a care in the world. He was particularly impressed by the incessant chatter they were displaying – some of it sounded like high pitched laugher. He pointed toward the two remaining Mogwai, one of them sitting away from the others, apparently looking very sad, with the last one – considerably smaller than his peers – gently nudging him.
“What is the matter with this one?”
“That’s Gizmo,” Scarlet explained. “The original Mogwai, sir. He’s been looking down ever since the others were born. He doesn’t mix with the others. Except the midget one, who seemed to have grown attached to him.”
“That’s a nice name for him,” Harmony noted. “Midget.”
“Right – and what about those? Chico, Harpo and Groucho?” With the last name, Scarlet pointed to the white-coated Mogwai – who, seemingly understanding what Scarlet had called him, glared back at him. It was obvious these two didn’t see eye to eye.
“Why do you dislike the little chap so much, Captain?” White then replied suddenly. “I think he’s rather cute…” He moved his hand forward and Scarlet waited expectantly to see the white Mogwai rushing forward to try to bite him. Instead, the creature allowed the colonel to reach for his neck – and let him scratch him under the chin, even producing a faint purring sound. White smiled. “See, all it takes is a little kindness. Don’t you agree?”
Scarlet rolled his eyes behind his commander; glancing Gizmo’s way, he could have sworn the original Mogwai was doing the same.
“This creature reminds me of an old cat I once owned,” White continued, his hand letting go of the white Mogwai who returned to play with the others. “Snowball. Same colour, disposition and all…”
Scarlet and Harmony exchanged a confounded look. The colonel had a cat named Snowball?
“I would very much like to know how the first one passed through ground security to finally end up here,” White continued. “That doesn’t make much sense. Surely, all the security checks before the box was put aboard the courier plane would have been enough to detect the presence of an animal.”
“There weren’t any holes in the box, sir,” Harmony explained. “It’s surprising Gizmo was even able to survive the trip without suffering from lack of oxygen.”
“Most interesting,” Fawn murmured, looking down at the Mogwai with some kind of fascination. “Maybe they’re able to put themselves into some kind of hibernation… Their heartbeat is already very slow, even when they’re active like this. Especially Gizmo’s. Maybe because he’s older, and the others are still newborns…”
“Well, whatever, I’ll have to order an investigation to find out why security seems to have been so lax at the airstrip,” White said. “We can’t afford to risk another similar incident – that something really dangerous could board the courier and fly up here.” He looked at Fawn and the two officers standing with him around the table, then turned his attention back to the Mogwai. “I noticed you keep referring to these creatures in the masculine form. Can you explain how the first one was able to give birth to the others if he’s a male?”
“They’re asexual, according to the letter Harmony received,” Fawn corrected. “I’m still trying to figure that out. Obviously they’re not having babies the classic way. And that whole rubbish theory about water…”
“Doctor, I’m not sure it’s rubbish,” Harmony protested quietly. “Uncle Shen was a very logical, down-to-earth man. He would not have given credit to any ‘rubbish’.”
“Why not put that theory to the test?” Scarlet suggested.
“Give one of them some water to drink?” Fawn remarked, raising a brow. “All right, if it might prove something…”
He went to the tap behind him and filled a glass with water, before coming back to the table and putting the glass down. A loud squeal made itself heard. Suddenly, Gizmo shot from where he was sitting and rushed to Scarlet, grabbing the bottom of his tunic, shaking like a leaf. His eyes seemed wide opened with panic.
“No! No glug-glug. No glug-glug!”
Scarlet looked down in concern at the shaking little creature. He could have sworn he could hear the others laughing. He glared meaningfully at the white one – ‘Snowball’. He was the one seemingly making the most fun of Gizmo’s sudden boost of panic. Instinctively, he put a protective hand over Gizmo.
“How strange,” White murmured, looking thoughtfully at the shaken Mogwai. “It seems that this creature has its own term for water. You were right about their speech pattern being unique, doctor.” He considered Gizmo for a moment. “He seemed to fear it. Did you check them for rabies?”
“He’s not rabid,” Scarlet protested, more vehemently than he really intended. “He must remember the earlier experience he had with water, that’s all, sir. He was in a lot of pain, and surely, he doesn’t want to relive that.” He was starting to regret having made his earlier suggestion.
White sighed. “Well, in any case, it’s obvious he isn’t volunteering. If we want to conduct that test, we’ll have to try it on another one.”
“If it’s causing them that much pain and fear,” Fawn reflected gloomily, “I’m not sure I want to try it. I’m not keen on animal testing.”
“That’s certainly a noble sentiment, Doctor, but considering the situation…”
White interrupted himself as his eye caught sight of three of the remaining Mogwai who were approaching the glass of water with curiosity. Snowball was about to reach it and so, in a swift gesture, Doctor Fawn removed the glass from where it was standing. His movement was just a little too fast; a single droplet fell from the glass and landed on the paw of one of the Mogwai – the one nearest to Snowball.
The reaction was instantaneous. The Mogwai shrilled loudly, and the top of his paw, where the drop had landed, seemed to started bubbling, under the astounded eyes of the witnesses gathered around. With a popping sound, a small ball of brown fur burst from the Mogwai’s hand and landed on the table surface.
The Mogwai’s screams stopped instantly, but nobody was watching him anymore. All eyes were set on the lonely ball of fur that was growing fast. White patches appeared in the brown fur and what looked like naked ears appeared. Scarlet grunted. What he had already witnessed earlier was repeating itself. He saw the ears unfold and two shiny, globular eyes blinked, small hands rubbing them as they opened up to the world around.
It took less than two minutes; by that time, a whole new Mogwai was seated in the middle of the table, quickly surrounded by his curious, and chattering brothers, who were obviously welcoming him – except for Gizmo, who kept himself attached to Scarlet as if this new apparition didn’t bode anything good for him. The humans gathered around the table could only marvel at this miraculous birth, slack-jawed, without really understanding how it could have happened. Doctor Fawn cleared his throat.
“Well, Captain, it would appear that we have your ‘Groucho’ now.”
Scarlet simply glared at the new Mogwai, and then down at Gizmo again. He couldn’t help wondering why he would keep clear of all the other Mogwai. Surely, he must have a reason…
“I’ve never seen anything like this,” Fawn murmured. He had the impression of repeating himself. He shook his head. “There’s so much we don’t know about these creatures. So much we can learn from them… I’d like to keep them in sickbay to examine them more closely.”
“You mean using them like lab rats?” Scarlet almost growled. The way he was holding Gizmo so protectively didn’t go unnoticed by anyone. It seemed that he had grown fond of the Mogwai – for whatever reason. And it wasn’t a surprise that he would rebel against the idea that his little protégé could be examined like a curious animal – which he was, obviously, but that wasn’t the point. Seeing that even Harmony was about to protest too, Fawn sighed deeply.
“Come on, you two, you know I wouldn’t do any harm to these animals,” he protested. “Scarlet, you know that better than anyone. I just want to keep a close watch over them. Take a few blood samples, try to find something that might explain why they’re multiplying that way. There’s got to be a logical explanation…”
“We do need a secure place to keep them, that much is certain,” White remarked. “Now we know why your uncle instructed to keep this creature away from water, Harmony. If they… multiply just on contact with it, and at this rate… it could spell considerable disaster if other similar incidents like the first one were to happen.”
“Disaster, sir?” Harmony remarked. “Mogwai are gentle beings…”
“Yes… I agree that they look gentle enough,” White grumbled. “But they demand attention – perhaps even constant attention. They have to be fed. They need to do their… bodily functions… somewhere. Now there are six of them. But imagine if they multiply again? I’m not keen to have all corners of Cloudbase covered in cat litter for the benefit of dozens of those creatures.” He shook his head. “I’d prefer to have them under a close watch, if you don’t mind, to ensure it won’t happen again. Keeping water away from them, as suggested by your uncle, seems to be a sensible thing to do.”
“What about the other rules, sir?” Harmony asked.
“Ah yes… ‘Keeping them away from light and not feeding them after midnight’... Well, I have to say that considering that your uncle had a reason for that first rule of his, he certainly must have another for each one of the others. I suggest we follow them to the letter.”
“That seems reasonable enough, sir,” Harmony agreed.
“The Mogwai will remain in sickbay, then,” White continued. “Doctor Fawn will make sure they have a nice place to stay and play as they wish. Until you have reached your cousin, Harmony. At which point, arrangements will be made for him to take charge of these creatures.”
“And if he can’t, sir?” Harmony demanded. “Maybe he won’t be able to…”
“For these… Mogwai’s sake, I hope he can, Harmony.” White gave a sad sigh. “We can’t keep them on Cloudbase, I think you can see that. If there isn’t any other solution, we’ll have to hand them over to a proper authority which will take care of them.”
“And no doubt keep them cooped up in some laboratory to be examined like alien specimens,” Scarlet murmured with obvious disgust.
“I know this isn’t something you’re very happy about, Captain,” White retorted with a frown. “But there’s little we can do to prevent that. I’m willing to wait a few days for the answer from Harmony’s cousin. That’s the most I can do.”
“S.I.G., sir,” Scarlet sighed. “And… what about Gizmo, sir?”
“What about him?”
Scarlet hesitated. “You can see he’s not that happy with the other Mogwai. I’m sure he won’t appreciate being kept with them in sickbay.”
White raised his eyebrows. “Are you volunteering to keep him in your quarters, Captain?”
“Captain Scarlet, wasn’t ONE incident with a glass of water enough?” White nearly rolled his eyes. “Gizmo will be very well with his peers. But if you think he’ll feel lonely, you are more than welcome to visit him, of course…”
Scarlet frowned deeply. Was his commander mocking him? He had confirmation of it when he saw White shake his head meaningfully, as any adult would do when facing a sulking and challenging child, before turning with Fawn and walking a few steps away to talk with him. Reluctantly, Scarlet let go of Gizmo who looked up to him with pleading eyes.
“Wizard?” the small creature asked expectantly.
Scarlet shook his head. “Sorry, little fellow… We’ll finish that film another time. I will have to leave you with the others.” Scarlet crouched in front of the Mogwai, whose ears were moving around, as if he was listening attentively to everything that was said to him. Scarlet was certain that the little creature understood more than the humans surrounding him would give him credit for. “Now, you be a good boy,” Scarlet told him in a lower tone. “Will you, Gizmo?”
“Gizmo, good boy,” the Mogwai replied with what looked like a nod of his head. Scarlet could swear, the smile on his face was a reassuring smile. He rose to his feet.
“You are very good with these creatures,” Harmony told Scarlet, addressing him something akin to a look of admiration.
“Naa… only with Gizmo,” Scarlet replied, looking on as the Mogwai was turning around to slowly join his peers. “I kind of like the little guy… But I’m not that sure that I like the others as much…”
He didn’t notice the way Snowball was glaring at the approaching Gizmo, whom Midget had quickly run to, in order to welcome him. Nor did Scarlet note the mean and suspicious look the white Mogwai stole in his direction, before turning his attention to the glass of water standing just out of reach, its contents like a bright beacon in the dimmed light of the room. The white Mogwai squinted his eyes; he had seen the power that water represented for those like him. But now the humans would be careful and would keep the water away from them. He didn’t consider that a problem. Mogwai were resourceful creatures.
He cackled softly, pondering the possibilities…
END OF PART 1