Mail deliveries were always a source of anticipation on Cloudbase. Although the majority of staff maintained contact with close relatives via the scrambled phone-links and e-messaging, it was still a thrill to receive a physical reminder that people cared back down on Earth. The scientists hadn’t yet figured a way to transport matter down a wireless link – although that was no doubt just a matter of time – so people eagerly awaited their ‘goodie-boxes’ sent from home, filled with favourite candies and chocolate, framed photos of the nephews and nieces, even – sometimes, items of underwear - the latter not just for the women either.
All items were scrupulously inspected, despite having been checked groundside prior to loading into the Spectrum cargo-aircraft. Colonel White and his security team took no chance that an explosive device or biological weapon made its way onto the aircraft carrier, disguised as a box of cookies.
Lieutenant Sable, a Toronto-born Canadian, was the leader of just such a team, under the overall jurisdiction of Captain Ochre, responsible for safety and security within Cloudbase. At the moment he stood in the incoming stores area, a small hangar on B deck, where the packages and supplies were being unloaded from the Spectrum cargo-shuttle.
Sable stifled a yawn. Auditing was his least favourite job, but he, as well as the other officers, knew that it was just as vitally important as any other task. Safety aboard Cloudbase depended on everyone following procedures and protocols to do their jobs, and people, being – well, people - had a natural tendency to treat the everyday routine with a familiarity that, left to its own devices, would border on contempt. Regular audits of the processes ensured that things didn’t become slipshod. He’d just come from maintenance, and he’d had to tear a strip off the supervisor there for some missing signatures in some of the service logs.
Sable entered some comments on his data-pad as he watched technician Mikhail Kirov scan the packages that trundled along the conveyor through the analyser, ready for sorting for the mail room. So far things were going well here, at least, and it didn’t look as if the Bursar would be getting a bad report.
“Sir, we’ve got a package here with your name on it.”
Sable looked across to the operator at the end of the conveyor. She held up a three-foot by two foot rectangular carton, heavily wrapped, which had just come off the scanner.
“It looks like picture, Lieutenant. Oil painting, maybe,” Kirov said, as he studied at the x-ray image of the contents of the box on his screen.
Sable walked across to look at the package. The postal code was franked from Toronto.
“Did the scanner give it the all clear?” he asked Kirov.
Sable nodded to the female operator. “Just stick it over by the wall, I’ll take it when I’ve finished up in here.”
Sable’s audit took a lot longer than he anticipated and by the time he’d finished and sent his report to Captain Ochre, he realised that he wouldn’t have time for that shower if he wanted to catch the usual Friday night card game in the junior officer’s mess. Gambling was officially prohibited, but the colonel turned a blind eye to the exchange of personal effects that made a game worth winning, and mail delivery day was always a good bet for extra-special goodies to put in the pot.
Sable decided his colleagues could live with a little extra body odour, but he didn’t want to be saddled with the package, so he quickly dropped it off in his quarters before heading for the mess-room.
On arrival he found Lieutenants Navy and Verdigris already shuffling a couple of packs at the round table in the centre of the room. Navy was half-Cuban, and off-duty, his signature trademark was an unlit cheroot that he chewed between his teeth. New-Zealand born Verdigris was expertly dealing the pack of cards as Sable slid into an empty chair opposite her.
“Sorry I’m late, guys,” Sable said, taking a quick peek at the topmost card.
Verdigris flicked back an unruly strand of dark hair. “No worries,” she answered. “We’re still waiting for Grainne.”
Almost in answer the door of the mess-room swished open and Lieutenant Copper rushed in, a little breathless.
“Bout time, honey,” Navy drawled, with a grin on his swarthy features, “We thought maybe you’d chickened out this session.”
“Not on your life, boyo, and any more of your cheek and I’ll put bromide in your coffee.”
“Is that for the pot?” Verdigris motioned at the beautifully wrapped package Copper had in her hand.
“Sure is, the finest chocolates in all Ireland.”
“I love chocolate,” Sable said, “Especially the stuff you Brits make,”
Copper waved them under his nose before depositing them in the collection in the centre of the table. “Well, take a good look, Alex, ‘cos that’s all you’re going to be seeing of them!”
“That’s fightin’ talk, girl,” Navy said.
“Believe it, boyo,” Copper grinned and picked up her cards.
“Okay, Sable, you gonna stare at those cards all night or make a move?” Navy said with a growl. They’d been playing for about an hour and the cards weren’t going his way at all.
The Canadian gave Navy a slow smile, peered over his cards and winked at the two players to his left and right.
“Oh, come on, Alex,” Verdigris said with an expression of exasperation on her face. “At this rate I’ll be back on duty before I can win back my goodies.”
The door to the mess-room swished open, and heads rose at the gold-uniformed newcomer who sauntered in.
“Captain Ochre, sir!” Navy half-rose out of his chair, his cards still in one hand.
Ochre waved him down. “At ease, this is a social call.”
“Slumming it tonight, sir?” Verdigris asked.
Ochre grinned as he pulled up a chair to the table, and Copper and Verdigris shuffled sideways to accommodate him. “I’ve seen livelier morgues than the Officers’ Lounge at the moment,” he said. “I thought I’d see if there’s anything more exciting going on here.”
“There would be, if Sable would get his finger out,” Navy said. The Canadian replied by removing a pile of chips from his own stack and setting them in the centre of the table with a sly grin. “Okay, if that’s the way you want it. I’ll raise you twenty-five.”
“That’s too rich for me,” Copper said, throwing in her cards, “I fold.”
“There go your chocolates, Grainne,” Verdigris said.
Navy put a pile of chips to join Sable’s, and bit down on his cheroot. “Seeing you, and raising you five more, let’s see if you’re bluffing, mister.”
Sable laid down his cards, a ten-high straight flush, and Navy made a disgusted sound in his throat.
Verdigris snorted, “Three kings, I thought I had that one.” She threw her cards on the table to join Copper’s.
Sable looked at Navy. “Well, Ramon, show me what you’ve got.”
Navy slowly spread out his cards, and Ochre whistled. He also held a ten-high straight flush.
“Bejesus, what’s the odds on that?” Copper said.
“Who’s the dealer? Ochre said.
“I am, this round,” Verdigris said. “and we agreed, spades over hearts. Sable wins – again.”
“Well, I’ll be darned…” Navy said, and bit down on his cheroot. “One of these days, mister, your luck’s gonna run out.”
“Well,” Sable replied, with a grin, “Let’s have another round and see, shall we?” He looked across at Ochre. “Did you want in this time, Captain?”
“You know the rules,” Navy interrupted, his white teeth flashing in a grin at the Midwestern captain. “What you got that’s worth winning?”
Ochre took off his hat and unzipped the pocket of his tunic. He took out a transparent box and laid it on the table.
“That’s good enough for me,” Verdigris said, putting it with the mounting pile. “Game is five-card draw, jacks or better to open, nothing wild.”
“Anyone for more coffee?” Copper asked, rising to her feet as Verdigris shuffled the deck.
Ochre nodded his assent, and she returned with a mug of what looked suspiciously like brown sludge. He raised an eyebrow.
“That’s Ramon’s special brew. If that doesn’t keep you awake, you aren’t human,” she said in reply.
“And here was me thinking that Blue had Cloudbase’s Worst Coffee nailed.”
He took a sip of the coffee, grimaced, then placed the mug back on the table to look at his cards.
“Okay,” Verdigris said, “Captain, what’s your opener?”
Ochre picked up a pile of chips and was half-way placing them on the table when the intercom buzzed into life. Lieutenant Green’s lilting voice drifted into the room.
“Captain Ochre, please report to Colonel White for a briefing.”
Ochre gave a momentary sigh. “Typical. I had a darn good hand too.”
“Never mind, sir, better luck next time.” Sable said with a grin as Ochre rose to leave.
Sable grinned to himself as he wandered back to his quarters. He’d cleaned up at the card table, and now had an armful of goodies. He dumped them on the edge of his bunk and began peeling off his tunic and sweater when his eye alighted on the package in the corner of the room.
The painting. He’d completely forgotten about it.
He pulled it across his bunk and started to open it. Underneath the first few layers of wrapping was yet another package, this time the frank indicated it had been posted in Scotland, and he was immediately reminded that an old uncle had passed away three weeks ago on the other side of the pond. The last time he’d seen his dad’s older brother was when he was twelve, on a visit to ‘retrace the family’s roots’ and he still remembered with horror the draughty old Scottish mansion, and it’s dour owner, an old recluse who’d made Scrooge look like Andrew Carnegie. Sable had seen or heard little of him in years, and frankly, the news of his death hadn’t made much of a dent in his consciousness.
Within those two wrappings, there was an envelope, which slipped to the floor. Sable bent to pick it up, slicing a fingernail through the flap for the letter inside. He immediately recognised his sister’s handwriting, and his eyes scanned the contents, feelings of guilt stealing over him as he realised he hadn’t contacted her in ages.
Uncle Magnus left this painting to you in his will, as the sole surviving male heir of the family line. Bit of a joke, eh? I hope you don’t mind, but I took the liberty of sending it to you at the usual Post Box address, since I have no idea when I will see you next. I hope things are going well in your job and I you manage to get some vacation time to visit Toronto. I get lonely in this big apartment sometimes.
He laid the letter on his bunk and continued to peel away the remainder of the wrappings until at last the object was revealed – a heavy gilt-framed painting, just like Kirov had figured.
He stared at it, confused.
In his mind he’d imagined that it might be some god-awful portrait of his grouchy uncle, the one where he was dressed up in full Highland regalia like some ancient Rob Roy. Or maybe even the picture he’d actually liked, the one hanging up in the freezing bedroom he’d been forced to endure; that of a noble stag, standing on a heather- covered mountain, staring out at him as if it was as real as life.
This wasn’t what he expected at all.
Sable wandered into his quarters and nearly stumbled over a robo-vac whirring quietly across his carpet. One of the female orderlies was in the process of cleaning them, but at this moment, she had her back to him, and was staring closely at his uncle’s painting. He’d stuck it on a storage unit at the bottom of the one wall of his quarters, and as he’d suspected, it seemed to dominate the small room, He wandered closer to the woman, right into her peripheral vision, but she remained rooted to the spot, seemingly transfixed.
Sable coughed, and the woman turned her head in surprise, staring at him with wide eyes.
“Hey, sorry, Heidi, I didn’t mean to scare you.”
A flush bloomed on her fleshy cheeks, and she moved away from the painting, a look of intense embarrassment on her face. “I am sorry, sir, I did not mean to be snooping.”
“No problem, there isn’t much to look at, really.”
Her mouth formed a slight grimace as she turned off the robo-vac. “It is not a very…nice painting, if I may say so.”
“You go ahead and say it, Heidi, and you’re absolutely right. I guess it’s what they call Abstract Art, and no doubt there’s some deep-seated meaning about life, the universe, and everything, hidden away by the artist – just waiting for us to discover it.”
The German woman gave him a troubled stare, and she glanced once again towards the painting before her eyes scuttled back to the half-finished room.
He swore he saw her tremble, just for an instant, before she seemed to recover her composure. And then she flushed red once again as she realised she had been tardy in her chores. “I am sorry, the shower unit has not been cleaned…”
Sable waved her apology away. He was starting to become unnerved by the cleaner’s strange manner. Hell, the painting was odd, but it was just a pile of old paint. “Forget it. I’ll only get it dirty again.”
“Are you sure?” Heidi seemed torn between doing her duty and what seemed to him to be a sudden desperate desire to flee his quarters.
“Sure I’m sure.”
She vanished quicker than a plate of jello on a technician’s lunch tray, and Sable wondered what she had seen that made her behave like some jittery jackrabbit.
It was just a painting of nothing.
Absolutely nothing at all.
The entire three foot by five foot canvas was painted entirely in a flat sheet of thick, black oil paint. That was it. Not even a single coloured line to break up the monotony.
He didn’t even know which way up it was supposed to be, and then, in a moment of insight, he picked it up and turned it over. One close inspection he discovered two holes on either position on the longer sides, indicating that the painting was meant to hang portrait style.
Some portrait, he thought, and he felt a momentary annoyance with Moira for sending it to Cloudbase. What the hell am I going to with the damn thing? He had enough room in his quarters, certainly, but he wasn’t exactly into Abstract Art.
Yawning, he slid between the covers of his bunk, and killed the lights. He paused before turning over, the rectangle of the canvas seemed to glow faintly in the darkness, but he knew it was just an after-impression on his retina. He turned to face the wall and within moments he was gone into sleep’s hinterland.
Captain Ochre sauntered into the Officers’ Lounge to find the sole occupant was Captain Grey, who gave him a grunt of acknowledgement, then returned to bury himself in his diving magazine, with a look on his face that suggested he wasn’t about to come up for air anytime soon. Ochre gave a sigh. He’d just completed his latest model, and didn’t feel like starting another, and so had been hoping for a spot of conversation to break the boredom. There hadn’t been a Mysteron threat for a couple of weeks now, and everyone on board was getting jittery. Maybe he ought to send Sable round on another spot check just to keep the technicians on their toes. Although he’d never admit it to Sable or his team, Ochre wasn’t overly keen on audits either, they smacked too much of deskwork, and that wasn’t something he relished at all, so much so that he’d given up what many people thought had been a dream career move because he didn’t want to be stuck behind a hunk of wood, shifting paper.
He left Grey to his reading, and headed down from the control tower towards E-deck. He guessed he shouldn’t actually be even thinking about wishing for a Mysteron threat, but he couldn’t help it. Like Grey, and Blue, and Scarlet, this is what he was trained for; being in the thick of the action, the adrenaline pumping.
Not sitting around here twiddling his fingers.
“Well, look who the cat dragged in,” Melody drawled, as Ochre entered the Amber Room. She was perched on her usual spot on the upper tier of circular couches. “What card game did you get thrown out of this time?”
Ochre gave a pained look as he wandered across to where Rhapsody and Destiny sat together. “I didn’t even get a chance to get thrown out last time. The colonel hauled me and Sable into the control room before I could win anything.”
“Quel dommage,” replied Destiny, giving him a friendly punch on the arm. “But why are you here when you have a perfectly nice lounge of your own?”
“Are you kidding me? I’d rather look at your pretty faces than sit in silence watching Gray with his nose buried in a magazine.”
“Well, I can certainly understand that,” Rhapsody said airily, giving Ochre a mischievous grin which he returned with a wink.
“I heard you had engine trouble when you landed on the flight deck this morning, Destiny.“
“Mais oui. But I am perfectly fine, you do not have to worry about me, mon capitaine.”
“Oh, but I do, I worry about all of you ladies, when you go flying off into the ether.”
Destiny and Rhapsody giggled, and Melody gave an undignified snort.
“You just don’t appreciate how much I care, Mags, but one day...you’ll be just so glad I’m around.”
“Huh, I’m just waiting for the day when I save your big, honky ass, and I’m going to laugh myself silly.”
“Less of the big, or I’ll have to come over and spank you.”
“Huh, you can just try, mister.”
Rhapsody chuckled. “Oh, you two, what are you like? Anyone would think you had a love-hate relationship.”
Ochre shrugged. “Yeah, she loves to hate me. I don’t know why, I’m only ever trying to be nice.”
“Those puppy-dog eyes might fool some besotted technician down on B deck, but they don’t fool me one itsy little bit,” Melody said.
“Oh, you have to admit, Mel, he is very cute,” Rhapsody said.
It was Ochre’s turn to snort. “Teddies are cute, Di. I was hoping you thought I was more, well, kinda –”
His joking reply trailed off as the loudspeaker crackled in that ominous way. Every one of them froze as the familiar sepulchral tones of their enemy boomed out into the Amber Room.
‘THIS IS THE VOICE OF THE MYSTERONS. WE KNOW THAT YOU CAN HEAR US EARTHMEN. WE SHALL CONTINUE OUR WAR OF REVENGE FOR YOUR ATTACK ON OUR MARTIAN COMPLEX. WHEN EVIL COMES FROM THE SHADOWS, WE SHALL REAP.’
“Oh no, here we go again,” Rhapsody said, but there was a gleam in her eye that belied the concern in her voice.
“Well, that serves me right,” Ochre said, rising to his feet with a grimace.
“What do you mean?” Destiny gave him a quizzical look as she also rose to leave the room.
“I was just thinking how boring it had been the last couple of weeks.”
Her mouth widened in a smile. “I know exactly what you mean, mon capitaine.”
Ochre and Destiny arrived at the Control Room to find the Colonel in his usual spot at the circular desk. Grey, Scarlet and Blue were already sitting opposite their commanding officer. Captain Magenta was the last to arrive, rubbing one eye as he settled into the empty chair beside Ochre.
“Sorry, Colonel, I was having a session in the Room of Sleep when the alarm went off.”
“That’s all right, Captain,” White replied with a nod. “The Mysterons like to keep us on the hop.”
“Very well,” he continued when he had their full attention. “It seems we are faced with another oblique threat this time around. I am open to suggestions as to what this one might mean.”
“It could mean just about anything.” Grey was the first to answer. “There’s no specific target mentioned, no person threatened, how on earth are we supposed to know where to put our resources?”
“I appreciate the difficulty involved,” White replied, his face grim, “but it is our job to find out. Captain Blue, do you have any thoughts on the matter?”
As if of one accord, everyone’s eyes fixed upon the tall blond man sitting on Scarlet’s left. Blue had often come up with some erudite answer to a Mysteron riddle in the past. However, his eyebrows drew together in a deep frown and he sighed. “This one is a beauty, I have to admit. As Grey said, there’s very little to go on. “
“What about a bit of brainstorming?” Ochre suggested. “Just throw some ideas around, maybe it’ll trigger something.”
“Wickedness, malevolence, sin,” Blue drawled, “Whatever words you use, it doesn’t exactly help.”
“Monsieur Satan,” Destiny said emphatically.
“So speaks a good Catholic,” Magenta said, with a chuckle. “But I don’t think even the Mysterons can get him to do their bidding.”
“So from their point of view,” Ochre said, “What might they consider as being evil?”
“Us, probably,” Grey replied laconically.
Ochre sighed. “Yeah, good point; so that leaves the entire population of the planet as potential threats, not great odds, is it?”
“Well, the ending sounds obvious in any case,” Scarlet spoke up for the first time. “Reap. Could that mean the Grim Reaper?”
“Death usually follows in the path of their threats,” White agreed, with a nod.
“Still doesn’t say where or when though,” Ochre said.
“Well, it does, it’ll happen when evil comes from the shadows,” Blue replied.
“Which brings us back to square one,” Scarlet said in an exasperated voice. “This isn’t getting us anywhere.”
“Could we assume it’s not a threat to Cloudbase, sir?” Blue said.
“We can’t assume anything,” White replied grimly. “Up to now they have issued threats that are quite literal, but they have often changed their spots when the occasion suited them.”
“But they usually give us some sort of fighting chance, don’t they?”
“Perhaps we have won too often and they wish to redress the balance,” Destiny said.
“That is always a possibility,” White agreed. “It looks as if we shall have to work a little harder to discover their plans this time around. Captain Magenta, you will work in tandem with Lieutenant Green. I want every scrap of information relating to the words evil, shadow and reap monitored and analysed. I want to crack this fiendish code before disaster strikes!”
“S.I.G., Colonel.” Magenta said, with a nod.
Rhapsody Angel relaxed deep into the contours of the couch in the Amber Room, and opened the novel she was in the process of reading. There was nothing like losing oneself in a good book whilst waiting out the boredom of a four-hour shift in anticipation of a Mysteron threat. She was just becoming absorbed in a particularly steamy paragraph when the book was yanked out of her hands.
“The Flames of Passion, by Marianne Woodclyffe.” Melody read, in a flowery voice. She flicked the book over to scan the blurb on the back cover, and continued in her normal tone. “A torrid tale of love and intrigue during the reign of James the First.” She made a face. “Honestly, Di, I don’t know how you can keep reading this crap.”
Rhapsody snatched the book back, annoyed at losing her page.
“You can think what you like. She’s a fabulous writer, she makes you feel as if you’ve left this world and entered another.”
“Sure. The world of the brain-dead.”
Rhapsody sniffed. “I’d rather read this than Aircraft Technician Today. I prefer to switch off entirely when I’m here on-duty.”
“Switch off is right, honey. And maybe one of these days you won’t be able to switch on again!”
Rhapsody’s retort was cut off when Symphony barged into the Amber Room, dressed in her flight suit, and with an expression on her face that swung from intense frustration to extremely flustered. The two other young women watched in interested bemusement as she started removing cushions on the couches and rummaging around.
“Karen, what on earth are you doing?” Rhapsody asked.
There was no reply as Symphony poked around some more, so they waited.
“I’m looking for a necklace!” Symphony snapped finally.
“What makes you think it’s down the back of the couch?” Melody asked, as Symphony gave up on the couch search and moved across to start hunting amongst the wall shelves.
“I don’t, it’s just one more hiding place in a long line of hiding places that I’ve been searching for the last hour.”
“What does it look like?” Rhapsody asked.
“The very one I couldn’t afford to lose. The one that A – “ she stopped herself just in time, realising what she’d been about to blurt out, and sent a surreptitious you-know-what-I mean glance at Rhapsody. “You know, the one I got for my birthday – this year.”
“Oh, that one,” Rhapsody acknowledged with a nod.
Melody kept her face straight. Her sharp eyes had intercepted the glance, and she knew fine what Symphony had been about to say. Symphony wasn’t fooling anyone but herself if she thought that Rhapsody was the only one sharing her little secret. “When did you last see it, honey?” she asked.
“In the jewellery box on my clothes storage unit, or at least, that’s where I was sure I’d put it. I’ve turned my room upside down looking for it, I thought maybe I’d mislaid it here.” She threw another book back on the sofa with a grunt of frustration. “Damn, damn, damn, where is it?”
“You gotta hot date?” Melody said with a mischievous twinkle in her eyes, unable to resist tightening the springs a little. She just found it fascinating the way a normally cool-calm-collected and poised young woman like the Iowan, could turn to complete drooling jibbering mess when a cute guy was in the picture. Okay, Blue wasn’t her type, but she had to admit he certainly was as cute as Ochre, although she’d never ever give him the satisfaction of knowing it.
“Hardly,” Symphony muttered, “with the base at yellow.” She turned from her destruction of the shelving unit and looked at the mess she had wrought. “Oh jeez,” she said.
“Oh, stop it, Mel,” Rhapsody put her own book down and got up to help Symphony address the disarray. “I’m sure it’ll turn up,” she said hopefully. “Remember that time I thought I’d lost that old World Cup holo-vid of P – Captain Scarlet’s, and it turned out he had it stashed away in his closet all the time?”
Melody rolled her eyes some more. Dianne was about as convincing as Karen.
It was the night shift in the Officers’ Restaurant, and in the small area cordoned with a glass divider from the main galley, senior cook Jim McWhirter yawned and stretched in his chair. For some reason Mysteron threats seemed to make everyone ravenous, and he’d lost count of how many meals he and his staff had served in the last six hours.
It was now 3:00 am, and the canteen was closed so that the usual nightly cleaning and maintenance could take place. While the robo-cleaners and their human counterparts busied themselves amongst the stainless steel units, McWhirter finally completed the batch of menus for the following week. He signed off on the supplies list, which he would send to the Bursar in the morning.
He wandered back out into the galley area which was now pristine and gleaming and devoid of any personnel. He probably had the place to himself for about fifteen minutes, so he busied himself with his little indulgence before his staff returned. Before he’d joined the military, he’d spent two years away from rainy Aberdeen in the French town of Aix-en-Provence, and had fallen in love with the art of the patissier.
Quietly humming ‘Scots Wha Hae’, McWhirter took the pastry that he’d prepared and baked at the start of his shift, and filled them with an assortment of fresh fruits. Then, he began to pipe rosettes of thick, fresh cream in an intricate design over each one, smiling at his handiwork as he did so.
The Scotsman doubted there was a single red-blooded male on board the base who didn’t have a passing fancy, for at least one of the five lovely lassies who risked their lives every day flying the supersonic Interceptors, and, although he might be unable to command their admiration with acts of derring-do, he liked to think that his little sweet artworks might make a small difference to their day, every now and then.
He sugar-dusted the entire lot, pleased with his efforts, and decided he’d deliver them personally to the Amber Room when he got off shift. He left the patisserie on a tray on the countertop, rinsed his hands in the deep sink at the back of the galley, and did a double check on the supplies in the stores.
It couldn’t have taken him more than five minutes, but when he came back out into the galley he stopped with a start, staring at the tray he’d left on the countertop.
Every one of the pastries had disappeared.
McWhirter strode up to the countertop and looked around, but there wasn’t a soul in the area. He stared at the few flakes left behind on the tray and scratched his head in a mixture of confusion and annoyance. Who would steal a bunch of cakes? It wasn’t as if anyone had to starve. All meals on a duty shift were free, and there were plenty of sweet treats available from any of the canteens or the Spectra-Mart. It gave him a sour feeling to think that a senior member of the Cloudbase crew could stoop to something so childish.
When Lieutenant Sable woke up exactly three hours after he’d gone to sleep his head was dream-heavy. And yet, try as he might, he couldn’t recall a single image from any of them. He felt sure he’d slept like a dead man, yet he still felt dog tired. Maybe he was going down with a virus or something?
He dragged himself from his bunk and into the shower, setting it on hot in an attempt to blow some of the cobwebs away. After his regulation two minutes, when the jets automatically cut out, he felt a lot better, and he hummed tunelessly as he towelled his hair on exiting the cubicle.
Shivers rippled through Sable. The temperature in the room had dropped, as if the heating had conked out. He checked the room controller, noted that the temperature was set correctly at 72F.
It felt more like 40F.
He grabbed a bathrobe and slung it on, only then did he become aware of a second sensation.
Like he was being watched.
He whirled around, eyes darting here and there, but of course, the room was empty, save for the black painting on the unit.
Felt his breath hitch.
There was something different about it.
His feet padded across the carpet, walking towards it, his breath condensing in the cool air of the room.
He saw several faint, brown smudges on the canvas, about a third of the way down, and he was pretty convinced that hadn’t been there when he’d unwrapped it from the packaging.
A rash of goose bumps prickled along his arm, and his mouth set in a line. He crossed the room once again, to the console, determined to contact Moira and find out where the painting had come from, and why the hell she’d sent it to him.
He typed in an electronic message to his sister, and waited to see if it sent correctly. Then, he looked up again, towards the canvas, and realised that the room temperature had risen again, back to almost normal. In addition, the peculiar sense of being watched had also vanished.
The brown stains remained on the painting, however.
“Have you found your necklace yet?” Rhapsody said in a low voice to Symphony at the coffee machine in the Amber Room. Harmony sat a little distance away, her eyes closed as she listened to some music through her headset.
The Iowan shook her head, a glum look on her face.
“Look, maybe you’ve dropped it in a corridor somewhere, it’s easily done you know, so I really think you should report it lost to the security department. For all you know, someone’s handed it in already. It isn’t worth all this stress.”
“I guess so.” Symphony didn’t look convinced. “Anyway, that’s the least of their worries, when we have a Mysteron threat looming over our heads.”
Rhapsody cocked her head. “Hmm. And you’re not going to be giving it all your attention when you’re worrying about this. Have you told him it’s gone missing?”
Symphony gave Rhapsody a look. “That I’ve lost it, you mean. He’s going to think me such an idiot.”
“No he isn’t, don’t be silly, Karen.”
She shrugged. “Okay, well, I’ll speak to someone in security.”
Rhapsody smiled. “Why not go to the top? Give Lieutenant Sable a call - I’m sure he’ll get onto the case right away for you.”
As soon as Symphony came off her duty shift she tracked Sable down on D-deck.
“Hello Ma’am, what can I do for you?” he asked, dropping his data-pad on the desk and giving her his full attention.
“I hope you don’t mind, but I’ve lost a necklace, somewhere on Cloudbase, I just wondered, if you have a moment, you could check for me, see if anything’s been handed in.”
“Sure, no problem. Let me get off shift and I’ll check the missing items log. What does it look like?”
“It’s a – St Christopher medallion, the chain is about twenty inches long, and the medal is about this much in diameter, both in pure silver.” She illustrated with her fingers. “But don’t make it a priority or anything, I know you’re busy.”
He nodded. “We’re always busy, Ma’am, but this sounds personal. Leave it with me.”
It was twelve hours into the Mysteron threat, and so far, there was no indication that the mysterious aliens from the red planet had made any sign of a move. In the Control Room, Lieutenant Green and Captain Magenta sat alongside one another at the wall-length screen, where they had spent a considerable time sifting through all manner of data to try and find any link with the riddle and an actual target.
“Colonel White.” Magenta at last turned his head towards the control console where White sat. “I think we might have something.”
The older man’s head came up, immediately alert. “Go ahead, Captain.”
“We’ve just intercepted a message from a WIN operative on one of the scrambled channels. He’s been in deep cover in Bereznik, following a lead that the government there have developed their own version of the Stingray submarine.”
“I understand that such capability would be a dangerous weapon in the hands of those people, but what does it have to do with the Mysteron warning?”
“Well, sir, we picked up a couple of words in the encrypted message that could relate to the threat.”
White frowned sharply and immediately demanded Lieutenant Green patch him through to the head of the WIN. A terse conversation followed, and White discovered that the operative had succeeded in transmitting an underwater photograph of the craft, before WIN had lost contact with him. He was now presumed missing in action.
“I want to see the photograph,“ White demanded.
A few seconds passed, and he stared at his screen until the picture appeared. It was very grainy, but there was no mistaking the sleek, deadly outlines of a vessel designed for speed and agility. Similar indeed to the WASP Stingray, except for its longer length, and the fact it incorporated twice as many missile launch tubes.
Deliberately designed for aggression, White thought grimly. His eyes focused on the black lettering etched in the metal, near the nosecone. It was in the language of the rogue state, and was presumably the name of the vessel.
“Do we have a translation for this, Lieutenant?” he asked Green.
“Yes, sir, we think it means - Shadow Reaper.”
White felt his chest tighten. A match this close couldn’t be simple coincidence.
“Good job, Lieutenant Green, now get me Captains Scarlet, Blue and Grey here, on the double.”
The remainder of the senior staff and the off-duty Angels were called immediately to the Control Room, where White informed them of their findings.
“Captains Scarlet, Blue and Grey, I want you to proceed at once to the Baltic Sea. Captain Grey’s knowledge of the WASP submarines will be invaluable, and I expect that rogue ship to be in our hands as soon as possible.”
“Sir!” The three men acknowledged smartly.
“Take Lieutenant Navy with you, he speaks several eastern European languages fluently, I understand.”
“What about the rest of us, sir?” Ochre asked.
“Until the nature of the threat is quite clear, Captain, we cannot afford to send too large a task force into hostile territory. Our team will have some local back-up, therefore you and Captain Magenta will remain on Cloudbase for the foreseeable future.”
“Sir,” Ochre replied, with a crestfallen glance at his partner. Magenta gave him an almost imperceptible shrug.
When the meeting broke up, Scarlet, Blue and Grey went off to prepare for the mission, whilst Ochre and Magenta headed back to their respective duty shifts.
“Trust them to get the glamour job again, and we’re stuck here babysitting Cloudbase,” Ochre grumbled.
“Yeah, did you spot old Grey trying to keep the grin off his face? He looked like a kid in a sandbox.”
The base was buzzing with the news that the Mysteron riddle had been cracked. Scarlet, Blue, Grey and Lieutenant Navy were immediately dispatched to Bereznik in an SPJ piloted by Melody Angel. They were dropped off on the coast of the Baltic Sea, close to the border with the rogue state, and would cross over at nightfall. Their mission was to capture the submarine with minimal loss if life on both side, if at all possible.
Cloudbase remained on yellow alert, and the personnel carried on with normal operations, waiting for news that the four men had foiled another Mysteron threat.
That afternoon Lieutenant Sable took a break mid-shift to grab a bite to eat in the canteen. He glanced around when he entered, and saw Copper sitting towards the back of the room, on her own, and absorbed in a data-pad as she ate. He selected a meal option from the chilled cabinets and slid into the empty chair opposite her.
She glanced up. “Hi, Alex.”
“Hi to you.” He deposited his dishes on the table. “Heard any news from our boys in Bereznik?”
“Not a whisper. I tried to get something out of Greenie, but it seems they’re maintaining strict radio silence, in case the signals are picked up. So it looks like a wait and see for now.”
”I wonder what Ramon’s doing right now.”
“Probably smoking his cheroots like there was no tomorrow.”
Sable grinned. “Not if Grey has anything to say about it, he won’t. So, what’s your day been like?”
She told him, talking animatedly in that way of hers. He found himself suddenly fascinated by her lips as she talked, unable to pull his eyes away from her face, with a sudden, inexplicable desire flickering at the edges of his consciousness.
This is nuts, she’s a friend, a colleague; I have no business thinking how well she fills that tunic…
His skin prickled underneath his own clothes, and a slow heat infused his bones. He caught a scent, faint, and at first unrecognisable, until he realised his senses were becoming attuned to the scent of – her.
At that moment, Captains Magenta and Ochre entered the canteen, and they both nodded a friendly greeting towards their table. Sable caught the subtle glance that flickered on Copper’s face as she looked at Magenta. Saw – with an inexplicable awareness - the almost imperceptible blush on Copper’s cheeks, despite her casual wave back. He heard – or perhaps sensed – the change in her heartbeat, and the way her scent changed - the tell-tale aroma of female desire.
Copper turned and the two senior officers continued across the room to sit at another table. Copper went on chatting as if nothing unusual had happened, but Sable knew otherwise, and the knowledge filled him with a simmering anger. He took a mouthful of food, but it tasted flat, as if all the flavour had been sucked out of it.
They left the canteen and walked together to their respective duty stations. At a bend in the corridor, Sable checked, and when he saw no one in the vicinity, barred her way.
“Alex, what’s wrong?” she said, surprise tinting her voice.
The sensation overtook him again - strong, powerful, irrational.
Sable wanted to throw her against the wall and thrust his tongue into her mouth, peel that uniform off and see what lay beneath.
“I was wondering,” he said in a thick voice, “ If maybe, you’d like to have dinner with me sometime.”
“We’ve just eaten lunch together, Alex.”
“I know, but that was there, with – everyone. I’d rather we – went somewhere a bit more intimate.”
He took a long, dark curl and held it up close to his face, and she gave a short laugh in half-surprise, half-embarrassment.
“Are you coming on to me, Alex?” She pulled her hair away from his fingers.
“I wouldn’t put it like that, exactly.”
“Well, that’s good, because you’re a fine friend and all and – “
He felt the anger flare, like someone struck a match inside of him.
“Sure, I get it. I’m only a lowly Lieutenant; you’re more into the senior ranks, aren’t you?”
“What nonsense you’re talking,” she replied firmly, but Sable felt the way her heart beat a little faster as she pulled herself up to look him squarely in the face. She tried to smile. “I’ll be late if I don’t get going.”
He moved aside to let her pass, unhindered, but he watched her retreating back, the feeling of anger still simmering inside him.
An anger that required release.
Captain Ochre squinted and pulled the trigger of his Spectrum pistol, several times, and watched with satisfaction at the three holes which appeared almost dead centre of the life size target at the end of the practice range. Handling a gun was like any other skill, and if you didn’t keep practicing, then you got rusty, and that might get you, or anyone you partnered – killed. And in any case, it was a good way to release the pent-up tension that usually accompanied a Mysteron threat when you were stuck on Cloudbase.
“Nice shooting, buddy,” a voice said loudly, behind him.
Ochre pulled off his ear defenders and turned to where Magenta stood lazily propping up the entrance to the practice firing range.
“There’s nothing like blowing off a little steam, huh?”
“You got it,” Ochre said, “Although I’d prefer if they were real Mysterons.”
“Well, fun’s over, Colonel White wants us to go over some reports.”
Ochre looked back longingly at the bullet-riddled target. “Great. Just great.”
Copper finished her duty shift and wandered along the corridor to her quarters, conscious she was keeping one eye out for Sable, and still unsettled by his odd behaviour at the meal. His niggling jibe about fancying one of the senior colour captains had been right on the money, unfortunately. She hadn’t ever mentioned it to Verdi or Flaxen, since she hoped that maybe her infatuation would just disappear with time, but she did, in fact, carry a torch for the damn-fine looking Patrick Donaghue. Maybe she wasn’t as clever as she’d thought at hiding her feelings, after all.
She keyed in the access code, trying not to feel slightly depressed at the thought that Captain Magenta also suspected her crush on him, and that he and Captain Ochre had probably been having a good laugh about it that very same lunchtime.
She kicked off her boots and padded in bare feet to the small fridge in the corner unit. Never mind Captain Magenta, what she fancied right now was a bottle of something cold and fizzy. It would preferably have also been alcoholic, but the general rules were no private stashes of alcohol on board, although she had heard rumours to the contrary about Captain Scarlet and the odd whisky bottle.
She opened the door of the fridge, realised that it wasn’t on. She peered down the back of the unit, and found the switch had been turned off. Darn cleaners, she thought testily.
She flicked the switch, heard the motor whine into life as the thermostat kicked in. She opened the door wide and stretched her hand out for the bottle of lemonade.
Then she saw them.
She retracted her hand, fast, and took an involuntary step backwards, her stomach heaving. The contents of her fridge seemed to writhe in from of her eyes, and it took her horrified brain a few seconds to register what her eyes were seeing.
They were everywhere, scores of them. Several of the wriggling white forms rolled over the edge of her slab of chocolate cake and plopped on the carpet, right at her feet.
A disgusted shiver ran all the way up her arms. She’d hated the things with a vengeance, ever since she’d been bitten by one during a stint in an egg factory in Ireland as a penniless student and ended up with a nasty flu-like virus.
She slammed the door shut and whacked the escapees with a boot-heel, mashing them into the carpet.
Get a grip, Grainne, she told herself.
She patched through to the duty orderly and demanded they come and take the offending item away at the earliest opportunity. She wasn’t going to sleep a wink if those things were still in her room.
That same night, Specialist-Technician Rob Lander was on-duty in the maintenance sector. Among his responsibilities was over-seeing the scores of small robots that worked ceaselessly around the huge base, performing the dangerous and dirty cleaning chores. Although it was pretty rare for a robot to completely stop functioning, it still happened occasionally.
And it had to be on the flight deck, he thought, as he heard the alarm beep from his control panel, the schematics showing a red blip halted smack-bang in the middle of the lower runway. Normally deck-cleaning robots had in-built software to remove themselves from the vicinity pronto in the event of a Code Red, but he ran a quick on-line diagnostic and concluded that this baby wasn’t moving anywhere on its own steam. Lander sighed. He hated having to go top-side, but that unit needed to be shifted fast off the runway. He heard a crackle of static, and then the soft tones of Lieutenant Green’s voice sounded in his ear-communicator.
“Mr Lander, I have a malfunctioning deck-robot showing up on my panel.”
“Yeah, I have it, I was just on my way up there.”
Like I couldn’t figure it out for myself. Maybe if they just left us to get on with the job, they’re have more time to figure out what these damn Mysterons were up to…
“Be careful up there,” Green added.
He suited up in his deck-gear and mag-boots, and rode the vertical elevator to the flight deck. He adjusted his breathing mask and checked the oxygen delivery system, then waited in the interim airlock for the pressure to stabilise, and then the second tube deposited him to the surface of Cloudbase and into a night full of stars.
Ignoring the view, he scanned the deck for the recalcitrant unit. There it was, just as it had shown on the schematic screen, skulking about seventy feet away.
Shrugging, Lander trudged towards the unit with as much speed as his grav-boots would allow. It was slow going, but he had to admit that it sure beat sailing off the edge of the deck into space. At the end of the upper runway, he could make out the pale-white silhouettes of the three Angel Interceptors, but it was too far to even see who the occupant was in Angel One.
He reached the deck-bot, and as he’d suspected, the panel was dead, all the lights off. The damn thing was too heavy to move so he had no choice but to open the main access port and try to restart it with a Z-tool.
“How are you doing, Mr Lander?”’ Green’s voice sounded in his helmet.
“Working on it.” And I’d get on a lot faster if you’d stop bugging me.
He was at the job for only ten minutes when he managed to get the deck-bot functional once again. He felt a sense of satisfaction as it beeped and whirred into life, then moved off on its heavy magnetized treads towards the safe storage area for deck-robots.
“I have unit 369 showing a green light. Good work, Mr Lander.”
“S.I.G. Coming back in.”
“Very well, Green out.”
Lander tramped back towards the deck air-lock, and he tapped in the code to open the air-lock. He looked up, a last look at the stars twinkling in the sky – and failed to see the shadow looming up behind him in the darkness.
The force of the blow stunned him, and as he fell forwards, he felt a heavy weight pin him to the cold flight deck. He tried to fight back against this unknown assailant, confusion losing him precious seconds. Too late, he felt an arm encircle his neck, while strong, vicious fingers yanked off his breathing mask.
Lander’s cry of panic was muffled as the hands clamped on his mouth, and his unspoken cries echoed solely in his mind, knowing the awful consequences. Without oxygen at 40,000 feet, he would be unconscious in fifteen seconds.
And after that….
The technician struggled – for his very life - but the body on top of him had him in a stranglehold, pinned on the deck. And with each passing second he lost the ability to function normally.
After a while, he stopped caring.
A warm, tingling sensation appeared in his limbs, and his mind floated, blissful, free of all the cares of the world. He was turned over, and as he lay supine, he saw a dark outline lean over him, then move away.
Lander stared up at the heavens, at the indescribable panorama of glittering stars. He heard a rasping wheeze, from somewhere, close by, and as he continued to gaze, the stars gently blurred, one by one, until a warm shroud of darkness enveloped him.
Lieutenant Sable awoke from disturbed dreams, his head muzzy, and his tongue thick and acrid in his mouth. He felt as if his body was made of wet sand, and when he tried to open his eyes, they stung, as if glued shut. He shifted, disoriented in the darkness of his room, and thought he could hear a sound – no sounds – surrounding him - the wafting of moth-wings against his ear.
He sat bolt upright – his heart hammering against his chest.
He swept shaking fingers across the sensors and the room illuminated. Sable glanced around the room, confused.
He was alone.
He shivered, pulling the coverlet across his shoulders. Damn heating must have malfunctioned again, he thought as he saw his breath curl in the air in front of him.
His eyes were drawn to the painting, that ever-present canvas monolith on his unit, and his heartbeat spiked up.
Forgetting the cold, he sprang out of bed, went closer to it, wondering if his eyes, or his mind were playing some sick trick on him.
There were more smudges.
And the colour had changed.
No longer were they a dull brown, but had grown brighter, redder.
Like fresh blood.
Sable’s mouth dried up and his heartbeat played a staccato against his chest, as his mind tried to scrabble for rational explanations. There had to be another layer under the black paint, and it was seeping through somehow.
That had to be it; there couldn’t be any other reason.
He continued to stare at the newly-formed marks, wondering if he was going mad. But who would believe him even if he told them? On impulse, he picked up the painting, and was again disturbed to find it was heavier than he’d thought. He looked around the room for somewhere to hide the damn thing, but there just wasn’t that much space. In desperation, he got out a towel and draped it over the frame, so at least he didn’t have to look at it anymore.
The room’s warmth had recovered, and he made up his mind to speak to someone in maintenance about it. He flicked on his console, and checked again for a message from Moira. There weren’t any. But that wasn’t unusual; Moira was a bit of a technophobe, and still liked to speak to people, rather than pass notes across the ether. With that thought in mind, he decided to try the direct approach, since it would still be light on the American continent.
The security-system took him through all the scrambling checks, before it allowed him to dial through to her number in Toronto. He heard the long tone, waited, heard three more, but no one picked up at the other end.
She could be anywhere, of course, shopping for groceries after work, having a drink with work colleagues. He sat and stared at the towel covered painting, and couldn’t dismiss the niggling worry that something was wrong. Moira was all he had, since their parents had died three years ago. Dad from a stroke, and Mom from the worry of looking after him, and bloody Uncle Magnus, sitting in his fancy Scottish pile, with all that money, hadn’t lifted a finger to help.
Sable felt a hot, sour anger envelope him.
Rob Lander wasn’t missed until the next shift change, three hours later. The relief technician checked the log – saw that he’d gone topside – and yet his suit or mask hadn’t been returned to its holder. Concerned now, he roused the maintenance supervisor, from sleep, and the two of them suited up and went up onto the deck. A quick search and they discovered Lander’s lifeless body under the overhang of the upper Interceptor runway, his breathing mask still intact.
The technician was about to move Lander’s corpse when his boss stayed his hand, shaking his head.
“We had better call Colonel White. He might want the security boys to look at this.”
For a second time Lieutenant Sable was roused from sleep by his desk communicator.
“Please report to the Maintenance sector,” Lieutenant Sienna intoned.
“Colonel White will fill you in on the details.”
Sable hurriedly dragged on his sweater and tunic and five minutes later he was at the scene of the incident. He interrogated the Maintenance Supervisor and the relief technician, making brief notes in his data-pad, and then arranged to have the body taken to sick-bay, where Dr Fawn prepared for a post-mortem. From the blue discoloration on the body’s fingertips and lips, it was in all likelihood that Lander had died of acute hypoxia.
What was of more concern to Colonel White, however, was what happened to cause the technician’s death.
“His oxygen gauge was faulty?” Colonel White looked gravely at the small assembled company, consisting of the Maintenance Supervisor, the Maintenance Chief, Lieutenants Green and Sable, Captains Ochre and Magenta, and Symphony Angel, who had been in Angel One at the time of Lander’s death,
“Yes, sir,” Sable replied. “The readings would have suggested he had enough oxygen in the bottle, but there was actually very little, he might have been suffering the effects of hypoxia as soon as he walked out on the deck.
“When was the unit last calibrated?”
“It should have been yesterday, but the signature is missing.”
White looked at the maintenance supervisor. “Who should have checked it?”
“It was Lander’s responsibility, sir. I don’t know how he could have missed something so important. He was always spot on.”
“But this isn’t the first time this week that your section has had a problem, I understand there were some missing signatures in the last audit.”
White’s tone held an accusatory note, and the man’s face went a shade deeper.
“No, sir, it’s not – I’m sorry, I just don’t know how it could have happened, especially since I have my crews a pep-talk just after Lieutenant Sable got – through with us on Friday.”
“I want all breathing units taken off-line and re-calibrated immediately, and think beyond this fix; perhaps there are other items that require a double check. There is no room for complacency on this ship.”
“Yes, sir,” the man answered meekly.
White’s gaze alighted on Lieutenant Green, who sat on Sable’s left. “Did Mr Lander sound confused when you spoke with him on the radio mike”
“It’s hard to say sir, we didn’t have much of a conversation, but I would have to say no, he didn’t.”
“I see. And did you see anything untoward during the time that Lander was on the flight deck, Symphony Angel?”
“No, sir,” she replied, looking downcast.
“It was pretty dark out on the lower deck,” Magenta said, “You can’t blame yourself.”
She shook her head. “Don’t make excuses for me, I should have seen something.”
A man had died out there, when she might have been able to do something to prevent it, but she couldn’t bring herself to admit to Colonel White or anyone else that the plain simple truth was that she had been day-dreaming, distracted, up there in the cockpit. She had been thinking about Adam, as usual, but even more so, since he was out there, away from her, wondering what dangers he was facing in Bereznik.
Heidi Muller crept along the corridors to the senior crew quarters, her eyes constantly flicking around. It wasn’t her duty shift, so she really had no business being here, but something drew her, like iron filings to a magnet.
She had tried to avoid thinking about the thing in that room, but even in avoidance, it dominated her thoughts. She was normally such a stolid person, nothing ever bothered her – a good Lutheran woman with a no-nonsense attitude to life. But that wretched painting had turned her pragmatic, organised world upside down. She could not shake off the niggling belief that there had been something about it, something about it, something not quite right.
She had borrowed the access card, and hoped that the crew leader wouldn’t spot it before she returned. It would only take a few seconds…just so she could reassure herself that everything was fine.
The room was dark as she entered. She ordered minimum illumination in a quiet voice, for just enough light to see the painting on the unit. She moved closer, closer. Saw that it was covered with a towel. She removed it and then gasped in surprise as she saw the newly formed smudges of paint on the canvas, some were faded brown, almost disappearing into the dark background, but others were brighter – red like blood.
A snake of fear uncoiled in Heidi’s stomach. She had always denied the Romany blood that ran in her veins, but it throbbed within her now, a deep atavistic pulse, warning her.
She thought about that poor technician. An accident, she’d heard.
Just a stupid painting.
She fought for self-control, to will her body to respond and move away from this place, but now the feeling of malevolence seemed to fill the room, and she could feel it slithering along her nervous system, making her breaths short and rasping.
The spell was broken when she heard the door swish open again, and heart beating, she turned to find Lieutenant Sable staring at her.
“Hello Heidi, I didn’t expect to see you here.”
Her words came stumbling out, her normally calm demeanour faltering, with no excuse to explain her presence in his quarters at this hour.
“I forgot – something, I’m sorry sir.” She walked past him calmly, but her knees trembled and her stomach fluttered.
“Hey, are you okay, Heidi? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
She stopped, turned around, and without thinking, grabbed both of Sable’s hands, gripping them so tightly her nails dug into him.
“Ow, what the hell are you doing?”
“You must get rid of that thing!” She gestured with her head to the painting.
“Are you nuts? Let go!” he pulled his hands out of her grip, rubbing where the points of her fingers left small red welts. He frowned then, catching the whiff of alcohol from the German woman.
“Are you drunk, Heidi? You know the regs, if that isn’t Synthol you’ll be in big trouble.”
Her face reddened and she realised her fears were putting everything she had worked for at risk. Perhaps it was not her business after all. If he would not listen, then he could take the risks, but she had to think of herself, of her father. She immediately became contrite.
“Please don’t say anything about this, sir, my job, I rely on it, to pay the hospital bills for my sick father. He has cancer, it is very expensive.”
The look on Sable’s face was dark. “You’d better go Heidi, now, while I’m still feeling sympathetic.”
She walked out as quickly as her legs, unsteady with both her fear and alcoholic stupor, would allow her.
The laundry room on Cloudbase was a hive of activity, with hundreds of uniforms, off-duty wear, bedding and towels to wash and press. The sound of the industrial steam-pressers and tumble driers was a constant background noise, punctuated by the sound of banter from the orderlies.
The usual bets had been wagered on how fast Scarlet would end up in sick bay this time, with extra odds given on whether Captain Blue would join him. The secret of Scarlet’s retrometabolism was a carefully guarded secret, even within Cloudbase, and many of the lower ranked crew members could only speculate on how one man could survive so many tribulations and still bounce back time and time again.
“Dunno how he does it, the guy’s only got so many bones to break.”
“Must be them robot doctors, they’ve got an amazing bloody surgery up there, although I’ve only seen the front end, for colds and suchlike.”
Someone sniggered. “Front end of Nurse Jackson, you mean, now she’s worth getting a cold for.”
“In your dreams, Reg,” said orderly Janice Mulholland as she wandered through with a trolley piled high with dirty uniforms from the maintenance department – the members of which were almost as much a favourite with the cleaning staff as Captain Scarlet was, for the degree of difficulty in removing stains from their clothing.
“Speaking of people being ill,” Janice said, looking around, “I didn’t see Heidi at breakfast this morning, has she gone down with something?”
Heads shook. “I’ve never known Heidi to have a day’s illness since she started working up here,” Reg commented. “Maybe the ‘coiffed-one’ got her to do another rota,”
Janice shrugged. “Dunno, and if she hears you calling her that, you’ll be scrubbing the decks by toothbrush.” She handed over the soiled fabrics. “Here, have fun with this lot. Any chance of getting the spare uniforms for the Angels?”
“Yeah, they’re in the back-bay since last night, just waiting for you, sweet-heart,” Reg said, hefting the clothes out of the trolley ready to stick in one of the huge dry-cleaning units.
She blew a raspberry at him and sauntered right down to the back of the big room, to the enclosed area where all the cleaned and pressed uniforms hung on circular racks, waiting to be picked up and distributed. Janice hunted through the racks, searching for the distinctive cream and gold flight suits belonging to the women pilots. She nearly tripped over a step ladder lying on the floor, half under the rack of clothes, and cursed briefly, wondering who the hell had been stupid enough to leave it there. As she moved it away, something brushed the top of her head.
Startled, she looked up, to see a pair of feet see-sawing gently back and forth, as if with a life of their own. Her gaze travelled upwards to see the body dangling from the ceiling strut and shock paralysed her vocal chords at the sight of those bulging eyes, and protruding tongue - the long, white sheet twisted around the neck of the dead woman.
Finally, she found her voice, and let out a long scream.
Captain Ochre strode briskly into the laundry area, followed by Lieutenant Sable and a security detail.
Reg Jones had recovered his wits after seeing the body of Heidi Muller swinging from the roof, and immediately contacted his superior, who informed Colonel White, who in turn sent Ochre down to oversee the situation. On arrival, the American captain found a circle of male and female orderlies surrounding Janice Mulholland. The young woman was weeping softly into a hanky.
“Where’s the body?” Ochre demanded of the nearest orderly.
“In the rack-area,” Jones said, his face still pinched with shock.
Ochre made his way across, with Sable in tow, and his lips thinned in a grim line when he set eyes on the lifeless body gently swaying from the roof strut, staring unseeing unto space. He couldn’t help noting the dark brown stains at the crotch, a typical symptom of hanging, when the bowels and bladder involuntarily evacuated. He swallowed, hard. He’d seen a similar scene more than a few times in his lifetime, but seeing it again didn’t make it any damn easier.
Sable hustled in behind him and Ochre heard the indrawn breath of surprise as he surveyed the scene.
“Jeez, did she hang herself?” He wandered deeper into the room, looking around. “There’s a ladder on the floor. Maybe she used that to jump off.”
“Maybe,” Ochre said, with a noncommittal shrug. That had been the first thought that passed through his head when he saw the suspended body hanging there, but he’d been a cop too long to make assumptions about anything. “We’d better print and scan the area, just in case.”
After the grisly scene was photographed, Ochre asked the security guys to take down the body, and Sable took another set of pictures. When Ochre was satisfied he had enough, he told the security detail to take the body to Dr Fawn. He moved out of earshot of the others, and contacted Sick-Bay.
“The body’s on its way to you, but can I ask a favour?” Ochre said in a low voice.
“Sure, what is it?”
“Can you do an X-ray of the neck?”
Fawn’s hesitation lasted only a second. “I can, of course, any reason?”
“Yeah, but let’s keep it between you and me for now. Ochre out.”
He watched the lifeless form of Heidi Muller being stretchered away, and pursed his lips. Two dead bodies in twenty-four hours – and neither of them belonged to Scarlet. That was beginning to look careless, at least from the point of view of Spectrum Intelligence, anyway. Ochre smiled mirthlessly to himself. He could well imagine Colonel White’s thoughts on having that man and assorted cohorts tramping around his base while he still had an unresolved Mysteron threat to deal with.
Dismissing that unpalatable idea from his mind, Ochre concentrated on interviewing the orderlies, with Sable taking notes in his data-pad. All of them insisted they hadn’t heard or seen anything untoward, but they agreed that it was always possible that Heidi could have somehow sneaked into the rack room unseen in order to end her life.
“Did she seem depressed at all recently?” he asked Janice Mulholland. Her eyes were red and puffy from crying.
“N- no, I don’t think so, I mean it was hard to tell. She just got on with things, you know? Worked really hard – she loved it here, I know, even if she didn’t well…gush about it. I just can’t believe that she would commit suicide.”
Sable grunted. “Who knows what goes on in people’s heads – really?”
Ochre raised an eyebrow, but Sable unfortunately had a point. Supply staff were not subject to the same scrutiny as the colour-coded or mission critical personnel. For the former, physical and psychometric testing took place only on an annual basis. It was theoretically possible that something had gone so totally wrong in Heidi’s life that she felt the only option was ending it by dangling from the ceiling, but Ochre smelt something wasn’t right. He might not have Scarlet’s famously erratic Mysteron sixth sense, but he had developed his own highly evolved intuitive sense during his years as a cop, and it had served him well on many occasions when he was involved in crime-busting.
Finally, he’d dragged about as much information as he could from the assembled laundry staff, and as they drifted off back to their work, he pulled Janice aside and suggested she check in with the medical department before going back on shift. That scene was enough to give the young woman nightmares. She bestowed him a grateful smile.
Ochre next headed for Heidi’s berth in the main crew quarters. Maybe he’d find some clue amongst her personal possessions as to why she would want to end her life so spectacularly. He first checked in with her superior, and the three of them proceeded to investigate the dead woman’s quarters. She had one of a six-berth unit in the crew area and the lead duty orderly took her set of keys to open up the drawer units above the bunk. With gloved hands, Sable and Ochre emptied them onto the bunk. There were trinkets, and lipstick, a couple of head-bands, a small data-book, the usual personal stuff.
Ochre pulled out the second drawer, and emptied a selection of underwear onto the bunk. A glint of silver amongst the fabrics caught his eye, and Sable whistled low, his fingers were first to reach out to grasp it.
“What’s the deal?” Ochre asked the younger man, wondering about the sudden gleam of recognition in his eyes.
Sable triumphantly held the St Christopher medallion aloft.
“This belongs to Symphony Angel!”
Symphony was delighted when Ochre personally handed her back her precious necklace, after he had Sable fingerprint it, naturally, but when she asked where he had found it, he had to mumble an excuse. Until they had definitively closed the case on Heidi Muller, they had to keep speculation to a minimum, although that was easier said than done. In such close proximity, news travelled swiftly enough through Cloudbase, and bad news travelled at light speed. That was his reasoning anyway, and privately he was glad, as he really didn’t relish telling her it had been in the possession of a dead woman.
“You want to grab a bite to eat?” she suggested to him, “My treat, after getting this back to me.”
Ochre hesitated, and glanced at his watch. Fawn wouldn’t have finished his autopsy, and he could feel his stomach grumbling at the mere mention of food. He sensibly figured that if he was going to eat at all, doing it before, not after viewing a cadaver, was probably the smarter of the two options.
Symphony looked pleadingly at him. “Go on, I hate eating alone, the other girls are busy.”
He couldn’t resist a grin. “Yeah, and Blue-boy is off being a sailor, so I guess I’m just a third best lunch date, huh?”
She smiled sweetly back, unfazed. “Stale donuts don’t count as real food, you know?”
“Says the woman who can eat six Krispy Kremes in one sitting.”
Jim McWhirter happened to be on duty when they entered the Officers’ Restaurant. He greeted them in his usual bright manner, but Symphony noted a tightness around his eyes that wasn’t usually there.
“Hello, lassie, it’s a treat to see you.”
Ochre gave a snort. “Guess I’m no sight for sore eyes, huh?”
“Ignore the big lunk,” Symphony said. “He’s suffering from donut withdrawal.”
“Aye, that’ll make a body girn all right.”
Ochre rolled his eyes and pointed at a particularly virulent looking curry while Symphony scanned the chilled cabinets.
“I’m probably going to regret this,” he said to McWhirter, as the chef ladled some of the curry onto a plate for him.
“It’s Captain Scarlet’s favourite.”
“Well, in that case, make it two portions.”
Ochre moved off for some cutlery and Symphony moved across to stand at the counter. “I’ll have the fish pie.”
McWhirter briskly served a piece, added some vegetables. Symphony leaned forward as she took the plate from him.
“I’m just thinking about my sweet tooth, as usual, me and the girls have been missing your little ‘treats’. Any idea when you’re going to bring us up some pastry delights?”
McWhirter’s eyes widened. “You know, I did make a batch for you, only a few days ago.”
“Don’t tell me you ate them!“ her tone was jesting, but the look on McWhirter’s face and the shake of his head told her the joke had fallen flat.
“I’d left them on the countertop, and I’d gone into the office. I couldna have been more than five minutes, but when I came back oot, they had vanished.”
“Gone, as in stolen?”
“Well, I suppose so, if you put it like that, but I wouldna want to accuse anyone.”
“Who would want to steal cookies…on Cloudbase?”
“I wondered the same thing.”
“Why didn’t you tell security?”
McWhirter shifted his weight onto the other foot, a sombre look on his face. “I don’t know, really. I suppose I should have, and then, this thing with Heidi, I sort of forgot.”
“Sure, I heard about it. Poor woman.”
“They say she committed suicide.” He shook his head. “She was a friend of mine, and I just can’t believe it.”
Symphony glanced quickly at Ochre, who was already seated, and wore a ‘why-are-you-taking-so-long?’ expression.
“I’m sorry Jim, but I guess we shouldn’t really be discussing this.”
McWhirter reddened a fraction. “No, of course not. I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay, forget we mentioned it.”
Ochre looked up as Symphony finally joined him at the table.
“What were you getting so cosy with McWhirter about? I might have to let Blue-boy know he has a rival.”
Symphony stabbed her fork at Ochre’s hand, but he was too fast for her. She made a face, before her expression turned serious.
“He says everyone’s talking about the suicide, but he’s not buying it.” Ochre’s forkful of curry stopped mid-way to his lips.
“What do you think?” She looked questioningly at him.
“Fawn hasn’t even done a post-mortem yet, so I haven’t any opinion right now.”
“That would be a change. Maybe you just don’t want to tell me?”
Ochre’s brows lowered and he motioned for her to keep her voice down. “Karen, enough people start talking and we’ll have panic on the lower decks, whatever the reason.”
“You have your cop face on, I can see it. What’s wrong with telling me what you know?”
“I told you, it’s just a hunch.”
She sniffed. “I was in the USS, remember?”
“Well, I can help, with the investigation.”
Ochre sighed. “Just don’t go barging around and causing trouble.”
“Cheek. I am the epitome of discretion.”
“You’ve been spending too much time in Blue’s company; you sound like you’ve swallowed a dictionary.”
Her expected retort didn’t materialise, and Ochre sensed another question coming.
“By the way, you still haven’t told me where you found my necklace…“
His heart sank. “Does it matter? I found it for you, didn’t I?”
“I just want to know.”
“Karen, leave it.”
Her eyes narrowed. “What’s the big secret? If you won’t tell me then I’ll just have to go and speak to Sable. After all, he was the one I asked in the first place.”
Ochre shook his head. “You’re not gonna like the answer.”
“Okay…we found it amongst Heidi Muller’s personal effects.”
Symphony’s eyes widened. “So it was stolen?” she whispered fiercely. “I can hardly believe it!”
“This isn’t the time or the place, Karen. And remember, all of this is confidential, at least for now.”
“I almost wish you hadn’t told me now. Ugh, just the thought of it.”
“Well, I did warn you, but as usual, you didn’t listen.”
Symphony’s brow furrowed deeper.
“What’s on your mind?” Ochre asked her.
“Just thinking of coincidences.”
“Anything you want to share?”
She gave him a curving smile. “Oh, it’s just a hunch.”
Ochre rolled his eyes. “I have to leave, don’t do anything dumb, huh?”
“As if I would.”
Symphony waited for Ochre to leave and then she wandered across to the galley area.
“Have you got a moment, Jim?” she called out.
McWhirter came out of his office. “Sure, lassie, what’s up?”
“Let’s go into your office for some privacy...” she said quietly.
Ochre headed straight for the infirmary. Fawn was in the process of removing his gloves, and Ochre caught a fleeting glimpse of the woman’s body as a med-tech wheeled it out of the analysis-room to the morgue, leaving the two of them alone.
“Hi Doc, what did you find from the X-Ray?”
Fawn brought up the scans on the screen in front of him. “Well, it is interesting you should ask. I did find a fracture – “
“Let me guess, in the hyoid bone?”
Fawn looked surprised. “How did you know?”
“I was a cop, remember, and guess I still am, really. I spent a lot of time in homicide, and you can’t help pick up a lot of forensic stuff as part of the job. I’ve seen lots of cases where the murderer strangled the victims then made it look like suicide. Often the key to telling the difference is a breakage in that specific bone – the hyoid. You don’t tend to see fractures when the victims hang themselves, as you simply don’t need that much force, and asphyxiation is usually what causes death in those cases.”
Fawn was silent for a few seconds.
“Were there any other signs of a possible struggle?” Ochre asked.
“Well, I did find evidence of petechiae in the skin and conjunctiva, but without doing a full blown autopsy I can’t really say any more than that, I’d have to get permission from the relatives first.”
“Maybe we need to get it.”
“Are you seriously trying to imply that this wasn’t suicide?”
“Well, I know that’s what it looks like. But we already have one member of staff dead, so I’d just like to check all the avenues first before making assumptions.”
“Well, there’s something more. The blood analysis showed that Heidi Muller had been drinking shortly before she died – and not Synthol, but whisky.”
“Whisky?” Ochre frowned. “I never thought Germans drank whisky, I thought they were more into beer. And where would she get any? You can’t just go buy it at the Spectramart, and the only other place is the Officers’ Restaurant, but that’s off limits to most of the crew.”
Fawn raised an eyebrow. “She might have stolen some from there, and there’s always the possibility she got hold of Scarlet’s secret stash.”
“Not so secret it seems,” Ochre replied, and pursed his lips together, thinking. Together with the discovery of the stolen necklace in her cabin, this was another piece of evidence to suggest that Heidi might have been having some sort of personal problem. Enough of a problem to risk her job by stealing booze. But then what about the neck fracture, and the contusions consistent with a forced strangulation? Not to mention her colleagues’ insistence that she showed no signs of anything amiss with her life. Ochre had been a cop a long time, he couldn’t help treating her death as suspicious, especially after what happened to Lander so recently.
He wasn’t going to be happy until he’d solved the mystery.
Lieutenant Sable simmered with anger. He should have been the one to return the missing medallion to Symphony Angel, not Captain Ochre. Oh, but that’s the way it goes, doesn’t it? he thought darkly. They let you do all the work and then they take all the glory.
He sank down on his bunk, laid one arm across his eyes. Tiredness seemed his constant companion, and already he felt a gnawing need to shut his eyes, but he found himself fighting the notion. He had the weirdest feeling that something bad would happen if he surrendered to sleep. There were too many strange things going on, maggots in Grainne’s fridge, Heidi Muller’s suicide….
Sleep, sleep, your time is coming…
Sable’s eyes snapped open, and he sat up, feeling his heart thump against his chest. Had he thought those words, or had he heard them?
His eyes dragged towards the painting, despite his every screaming inclination not to do so. There were yet more of the smudges, they seemed to be forming some sort of pattern, but he couldn’t make out what they were.
Why don’t I get rid of it?
He heard the faintest of guttural replies: You know why.
He squeezed his eyes shut.
I’m not hearing it, not hearing it.
He couldn’t seem to be able to function in his own mind, although he gave every outward impression to his colleagues that he was perfectly fine.
But I’m not fine, am I?
He felt as if he was two people, both fighting for supremacy.
The light and the dark.
You cannot fight me.
“Dammit, no!” Sable uttered the words through clenched teeth, and sprang off his bunk. Coffee, he needed coffee, strong as tar, to keep him awake.
Keep him from the nightmares
He headed down the corridor, towards the mess room. It was empty, like the coffee pot.
He set a brew going.
Seems like forever since I sat here playing cards with Navy and the others.
The dark liquid drip-dripped into the glass pot, and he found his gaze drawn to it, and it might have been his imagination, but it seemed that each drop fell slower than the previous one.
Like black oil.
The anger was rising, again, he couldn’t stop it.
There was something he must do.
Something I need.
Ochre and Fawn joined Magenta and Lieutenant that evening in the Control Room for a private conference with Colonel White following the post-mortem of Heidi Muller.
“So, what is your verdict, Doctor?” White asked.
Fawn glanced at Ochre, before answering. “I’m not a forensics expert, so I can only make a judgement on what I know. There was some indication that the injuries that Ms Muller suffered may –and I stress the word may – have been due to external forces.”
White raised an eyebrow. “External?”
“It’s possible she didn’t commit suicide. Whoever killed her set it up to look that way.” Ochre said bluntly.
Magenta whistled quietly, and White’s lips thinned.
“I see. Do you have any evidence to prove this theory, Captain?”
“Not at the moment, Colonel, it’s just a hunch.”
“I see, meanwhile, I have to consider what to tell her family.”
The others exchanged glances. Colonel White took it upon himself to break the unpleasant news of the death of any member of his staff to the relatives personally, a job they were all more than happy to surrender.
“What if Lander’s death wasn’t an accident either?” Ochre broke the sudden sombre silence.
“But why would anyone want to murder either of them?” Magenta replied.
Ochre shrugged. “I don’t know – yet - but I think we should consider all the angles.”
“Spoken like a true cop.” Magenta’s words were flippant, but his voice held a bleak note.
“We do not hire serial killers in Spectrum, Captain,” Colonel White said coldly. “The people that work here have been vetted by the most stringent security measures; I am not willing to believe that anyone on this base would commit the sorts of atrocities you are suggesting.”
“I know that, sir,” Ochre said. “But maybe we haven’t considered the other possibility.”
“And that is?”
“That these deaths are somehow linked to the Mysteron threat.”
“We have already resolved this infuriating riddle, captain.”
“I know, it seems that way, doesn’t it? But we could be wrong.”
“Two simultaneous threats? It’s never happened before,” Magenta argued.
“There’s always a first time.”
“Perhaps, but we cannot make assumptions right now. The threat from Bereznik is clear, they have a nuclear powered submarine with the potential to destroy Unity City, and I have to continue to act on the interpretation of that threat, until you can provide me with more substantial evidence to the contrary that these were something more than tragic, but unrelated accidents.”
“S.I.G. Colonel,” Ochre said.
Lieutenant Green’s voice broke into the conversation. “It’s Captain Scarlet, sir,” Green announced.
Everyone went tense as the transparent privacy shield rose. The away team had maintained a strict radio silence up to now.
“Good news I hope, Captain,” White said.
Scarlet’s voice came over the intercom, accompanied by some static. “We’ve wrested control from the Bereznik crew and the submarine is under our control.”
“That’s the best news we’ve heard in the last forty-eight hours,” Ochre muttered.
“Has our side sustained any injuries?” White demanded.
“Just Captain Blue,” Scarlet replied. “He has two cracked ribs and a head wound, sustained during the fight for control of the sub. He’s unconscious, and I’m afraid it’s difficult to asses how critical his condition is.”
“I see.” White’s expression flashed with momentary disappointment, “However, as a field agent, Captain Blue knows the situation. He would not expect any special treatment before a mission was concluded.”
Ochre found himself sympathising with Scarlet, at the Colonel’s unspoken thought that he’d wished the Englishman had been the usual injured party. He glanced at Magenta; both knew that a certain someone wouldn’t exactly agree with the colonel’s sentiments about the Bostonian captain.
“It is imperative that you rendezvous with the WASP patrol, before returning to base,” White continued. “Head for grid reference 22050.NW, where you will hand over the Shadow Reaper.”
There was a minute’s silence, then Scarlet replied. “At present speed, Captain Grey says it’ll take us about an hour to reach that location.”
“Very well. As soon as the submarine is in WASP hands, you can return to Cloudbase. I will be sending Melody Angel in the Magnacopter, together with medics for Captain Blue.”
“S.I.G, Colonel,” Scarlet replied, his voice carefully neutral. “We will maintain radio contact from now on.”
“Good luck, Captain.”
Symphony Angel was dreaming that she was walking along a corridor in Cloudbase, although it didn’t look at all familiar. Another corner, and yet another corridor, and the lights were out in this one. She knew she probably shouldn’t go in there, but she was hungry, and she’d promised McWhirter that she would come and collect the pastries he’d made for her.
The cafeteria isn’t down here, a little voice whispered. But she continued on along the dark corridor anyway. There was a glow at the end, and she could hear a sound, like the chiming of a bell.
She approached the light. Closer. Closer.
A figure appeared, suspended within the glowing nimbus of light.
“I have something for you,” an indistinct voice said.
Symphony felt as if she was being pulled forward, and she resisted the tug. There was something not quite right with this. The figure loomed nearer and stretched out a hand. It held a plate of pastries.
She heard the chime again.
The figure became clearer; it was a woman, and Symphony noticed there was a chef’s hat perched on the head, which seemed to be bent at a peculiar angle. There was a giant St Christopher medal around the woman’s neck, the chain cutting into the swollen folds of skin.
The chain began to swing, to and fro, while the woman sang, “Can’t have them, you’ll get fat and Adam won’t like it.”
The chime was louder, more insistent, and dragged her out of the dream.
Symphony raised herself groggily and it dawned on her that someone outside the door of her quarters. She slid out of bed, and pulled on a robe, dragged herself from the bed, unable to shake the disturbing images from her mind.
The door swished open and she saw Rhapsody standing there, evidently agitated.
“Goodness, you look rough, Karen.”
Symphony ran a hand through her sleep-tousled hair. “Weird dream. What’s up?”
“I just heard that Paul and the others are on their way back.”
Symphony noticed the look on the other girl’s face “There’s a ‘but’…isn’t there?”
“It’s Adam, I’m afraid; he’s been injured. Rick just told me.”
The news acted like a cold shower, the dream discarded.
“Why didn’t anyone come and wake me?”
“Calm down, I’m telling you now, I’ve only just heard myself.”
“How is he?”
“Not too bad, I think, just enough to render him hors de combat. Rick mentioned he might have concussion.”
Symphony’s shoulders relaxed. “Well, in that case, he’ll be fine; he has a thick skull at the best of times.”
“Especially when it comes to expressing his innermost thoughts, eh?” Rhapsody said with a sly smile, evidently pleased that Symphony was taking this with a sense of humour.
Two hours later Melody arrived at Cloudbase with her cargo of passengers. Blue was whisked off to sick-bay and both Scarlet and Grey headed immediately for a de-briefing with the Colonel, despite the late hour.
The Magnacopter was handed over to Flight Maintenance crew-leader Yvette Rousseux. Together with her two technicians, and their maintenance check-robots, she led one of three crews who serviced the helicopters on a four-on-four-off shift rota.
Yvette tightened a wheel bolt, and pushed an escaped strand of hair from her face, leaving an oily streak behind on her cheek. She loved her job, but what she really wanted to do was work on the Interceptors. Now they were aircraft to get your hands dirty for. She’d been studying the online schematics like crazy, and was pretty sure she could convince the Maintenance Chief that she was ready to graduate.
An hour later she and her crew were relieved and, after waving goodbye to Harry and Pavel, she headed alone to the small women’s locker room at the end of the hangar.
Yvette felt horny. Coming up to that time in the month, she thought ruefully.
It had been weeks since she’d last had sex, if she didn’t count that quick fumble in the back of the helicopter with one of the other crew leaders. That had been desperation, really, since she usually never made assignations with anyone in her own department. The rules on fraternization were sometimes bent a little on board Cloudbase, for when you had this many robust young men and women living in such notoriously close quarters, where work and leisure became blurred, people had a habit of doing what came naturally, at some point, and after a successful Mysteron mission things tended to relax a little more than usual.
She was mid-way sloughing off her greasy coverall in the empty locker room when she saw him in the mirror of her cabinet. She knew she ought to have recognised him, dressed as he was in maintenance technician coveralls, but she had difficulty in putting a name to the face. Still, there were six hundred folks on board this airbase, and she couldn’t be expected to know everyone of them personally. She did, however, notice his boyish good looks, and in her current mood she would have said ‘yes’ straightaway to the blanket tango if he came right out and asked her, no matter which department he happened to be assigned to.
She pulled up her zipper and faced him, trying to dampen down the wild swirl of desire in the pit of her stomach. She might have a reputation as a sexual predator, but she usually liked to give the guy half a chance at the start, let him think he was the one making all the moves.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to barge in,” he said. “I think I might have taken a wrong turning, somewhere.”
“That’s okay. Were you looking for someone, in particular, I mean?” She couldn’t help her flirtatious smile. Yvette wasn’t especially beautiful, but she had a raw animal sensuality about her, a knowing awareness that she occasionally used to her advantage. Already she could see a spark of interest flare in his brown eyes.
“I’m not sure,” he said, with the hint of a smirk on his lips. “Have I?”
She felt the familiar pulse throb between her legs, her body’s experience telling her brain the dance was about to commence, and it surprised even her by how rapidly it was happening.
I really must ask him his name, and maybe we ought to have a drink or something to eat before…
He was now close enough as to be almost touching her, and Yvette licked suddenly dry lips. His brown eyes bored into hers, with an almost hypnotic quality that made her feel that such things were irrelevant, unnecessary. He wanted what she did – and pretending to dress it up with fancy food and music and candles was a waste of time and effort.
He pulled at the zip of her coverall, drawing it down, exposing the deep-V of her chest, and then bent to graze his lips along the side of her neck. Yvette felt as if her skin was on fire. She wanted him to taste her, to touch her, to take her to that place where she longed to be. Her shaking fingers fumbled with his clothes, but he stopped her, grasping her hands in his.
“Not here,” he murmured.
Dizzy with the tsunami of lust that overwhelmed her, she allowed him to steer her out of the locker room into the corridor. He spied a large utility closet, and finding it unlocked, he drew her inside. In the darkness Yvette heard herself panting softly, her body aching with need, as he closed the door to keep them from prying eyes. Then, he was pressing up against her, and she felt the shelving against her back, the cold metal digging into her calves. She didn’t care, desperate only for him to douse the brush-fire he’d started.
She felt his lips on hers – at last – and she almost died with relief, allowing her fingers to entwine in his hair.
His fingers traced a path along her thighs, up across the dip and curve of her stomach, up to her breasts.
She panted against his lips, her body arching forward.
Up, up, his fingers continued, until they stopped at the soft skin of her neck.
Lieutenant Sable woke up with a sharp cry, sweat glistening from every pore in his body, despite the pervasive chill in the room, making his teeth chatter against one another.
Disoriented, he felt the sheets sodden around him, memories of a dream sliced through him.
No, not a dream, a nightmare.
A torrent of fear swept through him and his hand flailed for the light switch.
Had to be a dream.
I’m sick, gotta be.
Do not fight the darkness.
He whirled his head around, his eyes catching the painting for the first time. He held his head in his hands, trying to drown out the whispers.
The pattern was clearer now. If he squinted he could make it out.
No, he thought, not a pattern, more like –
He was staring at an outline of a face.
He sat, rooted to bed, transfixed with a fear so strong that it overwhelmed him.
The face was smiling at him.
An evil smile.
Sable heard the whispers again.
The cold seeped into his bones, and Sable heard the rustling sound, like the rasp of dry scales against old leaves. Cold, cold, slithering around every muscle, filling him with a deep darkness.
Reality unravelled like a thread from a frayed tunic, and before he blacked out, he thought he might have imagined a peal of low, insane laughter.
Symphony, Destiny and Rhapsody Angels arrived at the reception area in sick bay, with armfuls of flowers, chocolates and fruit.
“Hello, Nurse Jackson, we’re here to see the invalid,” Rhapsody announced, taking the lead.
“That’s very sweet of you, ladies, but he happens to be fast sleep at the moment. Dr Fawn thought it best if he had some heavy medication since he’s in a lot of pain.”
Symphony tried not to display her disappointment. “Is he all right?” she asked.
“Yes, he’ll be fine, I’m sure,” Jackson replied. She took the flowers from Rhapsody. “I’ll put these in some water and place them beside his bed, and when he wakes up I’ll tell him you all called in to see him.”
On the way out Symphony almost collided with Lieutenant Sable, who was coming into reception.
“Sorry, I wasn’t looking where I was going,” she apologised.
“Don’t mention it,” Sable mumbled on his way past. Symphony thought he didn’t look at all well.
Flight Maintenance Technician Nick Leandros whistled happily as he sauntered along the corridor on his way to the hangar bay. Only one more four-hour shift and then he’d be winging his way to down to see his family. His mother would fuss over him, and his four sisters would hang onto his every word, and he’d lie on the beach and drink ice-cold ouzo, and maybe he’d get lucky with Elena Andreadis again.
Lost in his pleasant daydream, he didn’t notice the patch of wetness on the floor, and practically lost his footing. Annoyed, he peered at the ground, and saw a smear of dark fluid which trailed back to a utility closet in the corridor to his right.
A little concerned, Leandros turned the handle to the closet, and found it unlocked. It was dark inside, and he fumbled for the light switch,
As the light levels rose, he stared uncomprehendingly at the tableau before him, and unconsciously crossed himself. He backed out of the closet, almost stumbling as he did so, and leant against the wall, breathing heavily and trying to swallow down the rush of bile that threatened to choke him.
At any hour, the Control Room was a haven of peace, save for the diligent whirr and chatter of the computers. However, in the moments before dawn, it seemed especially tranquil.
Lieutenant Verdigris was on-duty while Lieutenant Green took his allocated sleep session in his quarters. She tapped one square-tipped nail on the console, while her eyes roamed over the vast array of data presented on the giant screens facing her. If anything out of the ordinary transpired, then the industrious systems at the core of Cloudbase would relay the fact without her even having to move an inch.
Verdigris yawned, a gesture quickly stifled, and she glanced across at the imposing form of her commanding officer. As ever, he sat ram-rod straight in his chair behind the curved console, studiously regarding the contents of a data-pad, and she wondered if he ever actually slept, as in, the real deal, not the concentrated dehydrate from the Room of Sleep. That was fine every now and then, but she didn’t know anyone who would choose to substitute that for the genuine article when it wasn’t necessary.
The intercom crackled into life, and Verdigris snapped to attention. Nick Leandros’s voice was hoarse, and his words chilled her: “Get someone down to the helicopter hangar bay, something terrible has happened.”
Ochre strode along the corridor, and could see the small crowd of bodies, technicians mostly, milling around in the corridor. He fought down his irritation at the thought they were trampling over a potential crime scene.
“Everyone back!” he yelled, and they all moved aside to let him through. “This isn’t a sideshow, folks. Get back to your posts.”
Their expressions turned to embarrassment at being caught gawping by a one of the senior officers, and they immediately drifted away, leaving Ochre alone. He took a deep breath before facing what lay within the closet.
As he regarded Yvette Rousseau’s body, Ochre was filled with a deep sadness mixed with revulsion at the way she had died. She lay against the back of the shelving, her hands and feet tied together like an animal, and her eyes stared beyond him – an appalling, desperate gaze that made him want to do terrible things to the perpetrator of this crime. A flexible metal hose protruded from her open mouth, and a thick, black liquid dribbled from the torn lips, marking its passage as small rivulets down her neck, onto her clothing and the floor. Ochre’s eyes travelled bleakly along the length of the hose – and saw that it terminated at a small vacuum pump. The switch on the unit had been set to reverse, so that the contents would have been forced down the pipe under pressure.
Right into her damn lungs.
Yvette Rousseau had been choked to death with engine oil.
Grim-faced, Ochre recounted his harrowing discovery to Colonel White, Captains Scarlet and Grey and Destiny Angel. Green had returned to his post after his assigned sleep period, relieving a slightly pale-faced Verdigris.
“This is no accident, Colonel,” he said firmly, “This is cold-blooded murder, and if I’d followed up on my hunch I might not have had to put Yvette Rousseau in a body-bag.”
White’s lips had drawn paper-thin as he had sat listening. “You still believe this is related to the Mysteron threat?” he asked Ochre.
“I really don’t know. One thing is for sure, all the murders have taken place during the night, perhaps that’s the ‘shadows’ the threat referred to. I had a hunch that Lander might have been Mysteronised and then subsequently killed Heidi, but I haven’t been able to corroborate that with any fingerprint evidence from the lab. And there haven’t been any reports of sightings of either of them since they – died.”
“What about security camera footage?” Scarlet asked.
Ochre shook his head. “I had Sable and his team run through some of it but we don’t have anything that looks suspicious - yet.”
“We know that the Mysterons occasionally use some unknown power to transfer matter, even people,” Scarlet mused. “It wouldn’t be so hard for them either to teleport an agent in, or even remove evidence from the scene of a crime.”
“Yeah to both, unfortunately,” Ochre replied grimly.
“There are a lot of dark corners on board this ship where someone could hide,” Grey added. “We don’t have cameras everywhere.”
“Yeah, like the corridors around the locker area,” Ochre agreed. “Whoever the killer is, they know their way around the base, and where to go without being seen.”
“Certainly points to Lander,” Scarlet said. “As a maintenance tech, he’d have access clearance to just about anywhere, and probably also knew where all the security systems were.”
“Could be, I need to sit down in a quiet room and try and piece what little evidence I have together.”
“I do not understand,” Destiny had been silent up to now during the discussion. “If Rob Lander is our Mysteron, and he can move where he likes, why does he not just plant a bomb in the engine room, and pouf - we are all dead in an instant?”
“A fair point,” White nodded. “But the Mysterons have always stressed that this is a war of nerves – they deliberately want to instil a sense of fear and uncertainty – to wear us down, slowly.”
“Yeah, there’s nothing like a someone sneaking around and picking us off one by one in a confined space to make us sweat all right,” Ochre said, with a deep frown. “Our top priority is to ensure that no one does anything alone tonight. That seems to be the killer’s favourite time, probably because there are less people around. We have to make it difficult for him, or her.”
“We still need to keep this base operational, Captain. That remains our top priority,” White reminded him.
“Of course sir, but we can insist that non-essential personnel stay in their quarters with the doors firmly barred during the night hours, and have a skeleton crew oversee the vital operations, at least until we find Lander, or Heidi Muller.”
“What about Angel One?” Grey asked.
“Security detail on the flight deck,” Ochre and Scarlet answered in unison.
“We do not need to be mollycoddled,” Destiny said, with a pout.
“Oh yes you do, in this instance,” Ochre fired back.
“Are we going to inform Spectrum Intelligence?” Scarlet asked White.
A few strained seconds passed before the older man answered.
“No, I would prefer this to be kept under wraps for now. I don’t believe it would serve us any better to have more people on board this airbase.”
While the others were discussing the grisly details of Yvette’s death, Symphony was begging Rhapsody to stand in for her, so she could slip away to see Blue in sick-bay.
“I’m not sure you should be going anywhere on your own,” the English girl insisted. “After what we’ve just learnt about that poor girl.” She shivered. “It’s just too horrible to imagine what she must have gone through. It couldn’t have been a quick death.”
“I know, but I haven’t seen Adam since he arrived.”
“Paul has, and he said he was doing okay.”
“Not good enough for me. Anyway, I have a theory that the killer only seems to strike at night.” She waved a hand carelessly towards the wide curve of the windows in the Amber Room. “It’s daylight now, so I’m banking on everything being okay.”
Rhapsody looked dubious. “That’s a pretty big assumption.”
“Well, no one’s put out an edict yet, and I’m damned if I’m sitting around waiting for something to happen. I won’t be gone for long, I promise.”
“Oh, Karen, do be careful.”
“You look awful,” Symphony said, as she bent over and gently brushed back Blue’s damp fringe away from his face.
Blue opened one eye, said softly, “Gee thanks, Karen, you have a way of making a guy feel good.”
“Well, awful, but still adorable.”
He smiled. “That’s better, otherwise I was going to send you to Nurse Jackson for bedside manner lessons.”
“If you weren’t in pain already, I’d punch you for that remark.”
“It’s improving,” he said, trying to sit up, an action which resulted in his face screwing up in a hard wince. He fell back down onto the propped up pillows. “Well, maybe not that fast.”
“Maybe I need to get dear old, Nurse Jackson to get you some more pain relief,” Symphony said. The sarcasm in her voice belied her concern at how pale Adam looked.
“I’ll be fine, I hate taking that damn stuff.”
“Better than hurting.”
“I have funny dreams.”
“Jeez, so do I,” Symphony remembered hers, which then moved on to the memory of what had occurred during the wee hours of the morning.
“What’s up?” Blue noticed the sombre look on her face.
“Did you hear, about that helicopter technician?”
“No,” his face became instantly aware, his eyes sharp. “What happened?”
Symphony hesitated, if Fawn hadn’t seen fit to tell his patient, then she was going to get in trouble if she got him all riled up when he should be convalescing.
Nice one Karen, another ‘blurt- out- without-engaging-brain’ moment.
Still, it was too late now. Blue’s interest was piqued, so she told him, and watched as his face grew grimmer by the second.
“So what are you doing wandering around by yourself?” he scolded her.
“I told you, the murders only happen at night, probably that’s the meaning of the Mysteron threat.”
“Which we solved, already, may I remind you.”
“Ochre thinks there might be another one, and I think he might be onto something.”
“Oh, you do?” Blue’s eyebrows lowered. “I hope you’re not going to try to play detective and end up doing something impetuous – ”
“Good grief, you’re worse than Ochre. One little mistake – ”
“I’m not talking about Culver – ”
“Oh yes, you are.” She threw her hands up. “Just like men, to think they’re the only ones who can go around solving the mystery. I’m not a defenceless little nurse, you know,” she said, a trifle waspishly.
“That’s unfair, and you know it.”
Symphony’s heart did a little trip. He really did care for her, but it didn’t stop her feeling cross at the assumption that she was incapable of doing the job like any one of the guys. She’d show the lot of them.
Jim McWhirter was in his small office in the restaurant when he heard a noise in the galley outside. He glanced at the clock, and there shouldn’t be anyone here at this hour, the restaurant was closed and his first thought was that the pastry thief had returned to the scene of the crime. Without thinking, he carefully slid his chair back and stood up, creeping as quietly as his large frame would allow – all the way into the galley.
He was on the verge of shouting ‘gotcha!’ when the uniformed intruder turned, and he found himself face to face with Lieutenant Sable.
“Oh, hullo, sir,” he mumbled sheepishly, “What can I be doing for you? It’s a bit late, isn’t it?”
“Never too late for us security boys,” Sable replied. “I’m just taking a quick tour of the tower, and I thought I’d just check in with you on my way past.”
“Well, everything’s just fine here, sir. No problems.”
“That’s good, I hope you don’t mind if I take a look around?”
McWhirter nodded his head, it seemed a bit odd, but it wouldn’t do to argue with an officer. McWhirter was only enlisted personnel, after all, what did he know about ship’s security?
This time, Ochre was doing it by the book.
It had been awhile since he’d spent time with the forensics guys, and he’d mentally kicked himself for not immediately treating the other two deaths as suspicious, thus losing the chance of collecting every scrap of vital evidence that might point them in the direction of the killer.
Yvette, in all likelihood, would have struggled with her assailant before she was overpowered, so there was the possibility that fibres belonging to the clothes of the murderer, or even minute fragments of skin had been left on her body and around the area of the crime scene. Ochre had immediately made the decision to look for any evidence himself: Sable was a fine security officer, but he didn’t have his background in homicide.
He found several dark hairs on the floor, probably belonging to the murdered girl. There was so much mess on her uniform it was pointless trying to check it now, he’d bag it and get Fawn to analyse the entire thing.
Once in the infirmary, after the clothes had been removed, Ochre did another sweep of the girl’s body, the machine whirring softly as it travelled over the curves and hollows of the pale, waxy skin, still warm to the touch. He felt a righteous stab of anger at such a senseless death.
Swallowing, he got back to business, Yvette was dead, there was no bringing her back; he had to make sure someone like her didn’t suffer the same fate.
“There you go, Doc, all yours.”
Fawn pursed his lips. “I told you, I have some knowledge of forensic analysis, but I’m no expert.”
“I know that, but it’ll take longer to send this stuff down to the surface and I just have this hunch that we don’t have a helluva lot of time.”
“You think there will be more deaths?”
“I thought Lander was the killer?”
“I’m thinking out of the box, assumptions have a nasty habit of leading you down the wrong alley.”
Fawn considered for a moment. “Well, I’ll do what I can.”
“How long will it take?”
“Fibre analysis should only take a few hours at the most, but if you want DNA results, well, that’s going to take a bit longer, assuming I can isolate anything from the detritus in the first place.”
Ochre gave the shorter man a firm squeeze on the shoulder. “I know I’ve got the best man for the job.”
Fawn gave him a grim smile. “Flattery will get you no-where, mate.”
On his way out, Ochre dropped by the men’s ward to see how Blue was getting on.
“Itching like blazes underneath this damn rib-cast,” the Bostonian snapped in reply.
Ochre picked a juicy-looking black grape from the bowl standing on the bedside table and popped it into his mouth. “When’s it coming off?”
“Not fast enough as far as I’m concerned, and Fawn thinks I’m still suffering the effects of concussion so he’s refusing to sign me back on duty any time soon. I hate being cooped up in here when all this stuff is going on.”
“I take it you know all about it then?”
“Yeah, no thanks to Fawn. Symphony told me, she – dropped by.”
Ochre tried not to grin. “I heard they all did. What have you got the rest of us haven’t?”
“Two cracked ribs and concussion. You’re welcome to them if you want.” Blue scowled at him.
Chatting with Blue reminded Ochre that Symphony had wanted to help out, so he tracked her down and asked her if she’d look over the security camera footage. He figured that a pair of fresh eyes might spot something that Sable and his team might have missed.
“Gee, that’s so exciting,” she said with a pout, when he’d finished.
“Listen, it isn’t always the glamour stuff that catches the crook. Half the time it’s the boring dog-work that uncovers the unloved little details, the unassuming clues that point us in the right direction.”
“Huh, you’re only saying that because you want to do the fun stuff.”
Ochre rolled his eyes. “None of this is fun, Symphony, it’s serious. Three of our people are dead, remember?”
She looked immediately contrite. “Sure, sorry.”
“That’s okay. So are you going to help me?”
“All right. Just don’t mention it to – anyone that I’m working on the case…”
“Who should I mention it too?” he asked, with an innocent look. “Blue-Boy, for instance?”
He skilfully managed to dodge her punch.
That afternoon, in the galley of the Officers’ Restaurant, one of the junior cooks hauled a large side of beef out of the fridge units for lunchtime’s stew. She opened one of the drawers and hunted about for utensils, a frown settling on her face when the particular implement she was searching for refused to materialise. She tried several more drawers and cupboards, but failed to find the missing item.
“Hey, sir,” she called to McWhirter, “Have you seen the big carving knife?”
McWhirter called back, busy with some figures that wouldn’t add up.
“Nope. Have you tried looking in the dishwasher?”
“I’ll check,” she hollered back.
A few seconds later, she wandered into the office. “I can’t find it anywhere.”
McWhirter scratched his head, “Well, it’ll probably turn up somewhere. Just improvise, lassie, it’s not like we haven’t got any other knives in the galley.”
The day had been a busy one for Ochre and the others. After a head-ache inducing three hour meeting, they, Sable and his security team sat down together and thrashed out a plan to minimise the number of bodies wandering around at night, while at the same time ensuring the safety of the personnel who still had to be out there manning the engines and the work consoles that kept the massive carrier airborne and functioning throughout the night. A mug-shot of Rob Lander had gone out site-wide with instructions for any personnel who caught sight of him to contact the Control Room immediately.
Sable offered his opinion when requested, but Ochre thought he seemed more subdued than normal, not to mention a little pale and drawn. He motioned to the Canadian when the meeting broke up.
“Are you okay, Lieutenant? You don’t look too good.”
Sable’s brows knitted together. “To be honest sir, I have been feeling under the weather recently.”
“Have you been to sickbay yet?”
”Sure, yesterday, Dr Fawn thinks it might be a virus or something.”
“Virus, huh? Any more than that?”
Sable shook his head.
“You’re supposed to be off-duty tonight anyway, aren’t you?”
Sable nodded. “But I think I’ll be fine, sir, honestly.”
Ochre looked unsure. Fawn usually slapped a quarantine on people with suspected or unknown viruses, it was all too easy for such things to rush through a closed environment liked Cloudbase like wildfire. “Well, go and get a few hours sleep, and if you feel better you can help out tonight.”
Sable gave a nod in agreement. “S.I.G.”
Night fell, and Cloudbase had the impression of a ghost ship. Hangar bays, mess rooms, gymnasium, and cafeterias - all were silent and devoid of people. The majority of personnel from the non-essential functions had been ordered to remain in their quarters for the duration of the night, and by now, everyone on board the ship had been made aware of the fact there was a potential Mysteron killer on board.
In the crew berths, people sat, watching TV or playing cards in small groups, some even sleeping. But despite the surface nonchalance, and careless banter, an undercurrent of fear ran through the decks, especially amongst the female contingent, whom the killer seemed to be targeting. The nature of Yvette’s murder had left a disturbing pall in the air.
For the remainder of the crew, manning the critical stations within engineering, navigation, and the Observation, Monitor and Radar rooms, meant that shifts had to double up, and in addition, at least one colour coded officer and a security guard was assigned to stand watch. The Angels insisted they didn’t need a guard outside the door of the Amber Room, but that sentiment was swiftly quashed by the Colonel, who insisted that keeping his strike squadron safe was more important than any notions of female equality. Magenta’s half-joking remark that the other women officers ought to hole up in their quarters was also met with the expected derision. .
Ochre stood guard near the door of his assigned post within the muted cavern of the engine rooms, where several control technicians sat at their floor to ceiling consoles, their eyes fixed at the vast array of scanners constantly monitoring the cahelium engines and auxiliary systems throughout the ship. The Chief stalked the room a few feet away, and nodded at Ochre as he passed. From the determined look on the man’s ruddy face, it was obvious that no Mysteron was going to have the chance to harm any of his crew.
Ochre glanced at his watch. Those samples had been in Fawn’s hands for a good few hours now, surely there had to be something to report?
“I was just about to call you,” Fawn spoke through his head set.
“What have you got?”
“I managed to isolate fabric fragments from both the dust collection sample and the fingernail scrapings, I subjected them to Raman and mass-spectroscopic analysis and the electron-microgr – ”
“Skip the technical details, Doc,” Ochre interrupted gently. “Just give me the results.”
“All right,” there was a tetchy note in Fawn’s voice, “The only match was with the fibre construction used to make the maintenance department coveralls.”
Ochre swore slightly, under his breath.
“So, it looks as if her killer was Lander, right enough,” Fawn finished.
“It certainly points strongly towards it,” Ochre agreed, “But we need more evidence. What about skin or hair analysis? Did you manage to detect anything other than those couple of strands of Yvette’s that I found?”
“Yes, I did actually, and I’ve got them running through the analysers now to extract the DNA.”
“How long before we have something?”
“Not for while yet, even with all the advances in sequencing, it still takes time to isolate the profiles, and bearing in mind the length of time that’s passed since I last did a PCR or STR analysis, I just hope I’m not going to make the wrong assessment from all of this.”
“Won’t happen, Doc, I trust you. Keep at it and let me know as soon as you find something.”
“S.I.G., Fawn out.”
Captain Scarlet prowled E-deck, the clicking of his boots sounding abnormally loud in the still, silent corridors. Ochre had suggested he be accompanied during his wanderings, but that would make them short in the Observation Room, since Sable hadn’t returned to duty. Blue was still in sickbay, so Scarlet insisted he would be fine on his own, as long as he had his trusty pistol. Ochre had looked doubtful, but Scarlet stressed that Lander was only a maintenance technician and Mysteronised or not, didn’t have the skills in hand-to-hand combat that he, or indeed, any of the senior crew, possessed.
However confident he’d appeared to Ochre at the time, Scarlet couldn’t help feeling a slight prickle of apprehension. Not for himself, but for the women on the base. The thought of something like Yvette’s death happening to any of the Angels was unthinkable. Under protest, Symphony had been told to share quarters with Melody, and Destiny and Harmony were ensconced in the Amber Room, with Navy for company and two guards at the door. Rhapsody was sitting in Angel One, and it was Grey whom Colonel White had assigned to the flight deck with another security guard. They were armed to the teeth, so she would be well protected.
It didn’t stop him worrying about her though…
“I can’t believe we’re confined in our room for the entire night while the likes of Verdigris and Copper are allowed to wander around doing their jobs,” Symphony muttered loudly from the couch in Melody’s living area.
There was a rustle of bedclothes, as Melody turned over. She turned on the lights, and squinted at Symphony, who was sitting, with her arms wrapped around her knees, her body language the personification of restlessness.
“Oh, come on, Karen, we’re off-duty and it’s two am. We’d normally be sleeping, so what’s the big deal?”
“We could help, that’s what. I don’t like the idea of Rhapsody up there alone on the flight deck with that loony running about.”
“She isn’t alone, she has two guys with her, both packing ammo, and Scarlet’s wandering around nearby. She’ll be fine.”
Symphony chewed a nail. “Yeah, yeah, I guess,” she said, “but I’m not completely convinced.” She got up and stretched, making her way over to the desk-console. “Do you mind if I just have a look at the computer? I’ll keep the lights low.”
Melody yawned and turned over, away from the light. “Go ahead, honey, I’m too tired to argue.”
Symphony opened up a link to the security files, and when the screen appeared, coded in her access password. Once into the system she started reviewing the security videos. After five minutes she was bored out of her skull.
Scarlet wandered along the deserted corridor towards the Interceptor repair bay. Again, the strange silence seemed mock him. His scalp prickled and he had the strangest sensation that he was being followed.
But when he swivelled his head to look back, the corridor was empty.
There was no one. The only sound was that of his breathing.
Scarlet continued on his way, annoyed at his jittery nerves. He reached the large access doorway to the Interceptor bay, and, although the place was locked down for the night, he was determined to check it over; it was on his patrol route and what better way was there to kill an Angel, than to sabotage the planes? If they’d have enough trusted manpower, he’d have insisted, far more than he had done, that his suggestion of a dedicated guard on the place had been acted on.
Feeling more than justified, he swiped his access card through the lock and slipped into the room as the door opened. At first he thought the large room, now in semi-darkness, was silent except for the whirring of the air-conditioning units overhead. Two sleek, white metal shapes of Angel Interceptor craft took up most of the available hangar space, awaiting their crew’s return when dawn broke. Yet, there was something on the cusp of even his exceptional, Mysteron-enhanced, hearing that made him pause. A noise… something that shouldn’t be there - the sound of someone trying to suppress the sound of rapid breathing?
What if someone was in here? He recalled a conversation he’d had with Ochre and the others - before they went their separate ways – and the revelation that the killer had used items or objects from his victim’s job to dispatch them. Ochre had stressed it was only his half-baked theory, and possibly meant nothing, but it nagged at Scarlet now.
No one’s going to get the chance to tamper with these babies – not on MY watch.
Silently, he padded into the bay, sidling along the wall, attempting to keep to the shadows, his fingers instinctively trailing to his hip and settling around the handle of his pistol. He considered contacting Green on his cap-mike, but instantly thought better of it. He had no intention of alerting the Mysteron to his presence – and, if the colonel heard, there was always the chance that there’d be a barney over what he was doing there in the first place.
Carefully, he moved towards the aircraft, his eyes darting here and there in the gloom, ignoring the slight increase in his heart beat. Now, he couldn’t make out anything beyond the whirr of the units above his head.
I’m really getting jumpy; there isn’t anything here but the Interceptors.
Then, he heard another noise, behind him.
He’d half-whirled around, his fingers curling to draw his pistol, when he heard a sound like the snapping of a rubber band. Almost instantaneously this was followed by an excruciating jolt in his chest, a burst of pain that sent shock waves radiating into every muscle. He stumbled and fell to his knees, blinded by the force of the electrical impulses. The fireworks exploded within his body again and all he saw was a dark silhouette looming over him
As his brain fought the pain, recognition flashed through his mind as he glimpsed the features almost hidden behind the plastic faceplate.
He knew who the killer was.
He knew, but it didn’t matter.
Scarlet fell into black unconsciousness.
With the extra workload, Lieutenant Green was a busy man in the Control Room. Unusually for him, he was on his feet, addressing an issue with Colonel White at his desk. On his main screen, a flashing red light was blinking silently. Since there was no one in the maintenance department to spot the fault either, it went entirely unnoticed that security cameras 73 and 74 were malfunctioning, and had been for some time.
The blackness seemed to have lasted forever when Scarlet drifted out of his nightmare, and the first sensation he was aware of was a stinging pain, which very quickly bloomed into a raging torrent of fire cascading along his skin. He tried to move, realised he was pinned, his hands tied behind his back and his ankles lashed together. He tried to speak but couldn’t, there was tape restricting his lips – and he realised he was at the mercy of the killer.
The vision of Yvette Rousseau flashed into his brain.
He stared in disbelief at the man squatting before him, dressed in a maintenance flight suit. Somehow, unbelievably, he’d managed to silently sneak up on Scarlet and zap him with an electronic Mysteron rifle, probably set at very low power, otherwise he realised he wouldn’t even be feeling any sort of pain right now.
“Why are you doing this?” he wanted to say, but all he could hear was a muffled, mewling sound from behind the tape.
“Evil doesn’t have to explain,” his assailant murmured, almost as if he read Scarlet’s thoughts. “But evil needs sustenance, and from the cries and blood of the offerings he grows stronger.”
He raised a gloved hand and Scarlet’s heart hammered in his chest when he saw the glint of metal.
It was a big, serrated carving knife.
When evil comes from the shadows we shall reap.
Ochre had been right after all, there was a double threat, and he was staring it in the face.
The man held up a length of something in his other hand, and in the gloom, Scarlet had trouble making it out. It was pale and rubbery looking, and was covered in red slime.
It took three astonished seconds for him to realise it was an inch-wide strip of his flesh.
Horrified, he glanced down, to see the deep swathes of exposed muscle and tissue on his arms and legs. The wounds seemed to quiver in anguish, crying blood.
Bile rose in his throat as the figure tossed the flap of flesh onto the small pile beside his feet. His torturer turned his gaze on Scarlet again and it was like looking into the abyss of madness. A deep-seated insanity that bore no resemblance to the often blank expressions of Mysteron constructs.
Scarlet wasn’t worried about death; he knew his retro-metabolism would heal any injury, however grave. But he could still feel – everything. Every ounce of pain and horror.
He didn’t want to die. Not like this. Not watching himself being hacked to pieces.
The knife flashed again, slicing into the fleshy part of his upper thigh, searing its way through skin and tissue. The pain was indescribable and sweat broke out all over his body. A wave of nausea swept over him, making him feel dizzy, and he realised he was going into shock again.
If someone didn’t find him soon, things weren’t going to end at all well.
Ochre leaned back in the chair, massaging his temples with his fingertips. Unlike Scarlet, the lucky sonofabitch, he needed some sleep, and with two hours to dawn, he was feeling the effects of not having any.
He stared at the scribblings he’d made on several sheets of white computer print-outs. Data-pads were fine for most things, but when you wanted to throw out all your brain’s random meanderings and make sense of them, sometimes getting back to basics was best.
Lander was the first to die, but was it an accident? Or did someone else kill him? Who? Captain Black? Could he have been the evil that came from the shadows? He killed the maintenance tech, and disappeared. But why would he make it look like an accident? To throw us off the scent?
He returned to his observation that all the victims had so far been dispatched by items they worked with. That was a pattern to it – and as he sat considering, he thought of another one, even more sinister.
Each victim had suffered a more grisly death than the one previous.
Asphyxiation at 40,000 feet might be considered a fairly gentle demise, but forcible drowning in engine oil was a particularly harrowing way to go. He hardly dared imagine what dreadful fate was planned for the next potential victim, and he absently swallowed down the hard lump in his throat with a swig of cold coffee. Like many of his compatriots in the force, he had graduated from diapers by coming face to face with human nature at its most sadistic – the serial killer. He knew from bitter experience that those types of murder didn’t happen by accident, like crimes of passion, or a bank job gone wrong. They were often worked out beforehand, even elaborately designed and there was often an element of ritual to them. The latter trademark was often what allowed them to be caught, eventually. Ochre hoped he could figure it out before someone else got in this guy’s way.
His epaulettes flashed white, and he almost jumped in his seat, as Colonel White’s gruff voice sounded in his head-set.
“Captain Ochre, we have not received a check-in from Captain Scarlet in the last hour, and Lieutenant Green has reported a fault with the security camera in the Interceptor repair bay. Given Scarlet’s previous concern over that particular facility, I suggest you proceed immediately to the area with a back-up team. There may be a problem.”
No, he thought, closing his eyes, a cold knot of dread forming in his stomach. Don’t let it be…
Ochre and two security guards strode purposely along the access corridor towards the Interceptor Bay. Without knowing what had become of Scarlet, he and White had agreed it was prudent to keep the other colour officers at their designated posts. Ochre keyed in the access code to the bay door, and motioned to the guards to fan out as they entered. Ochre held a Mysteron gun, and the guards had their pistols.
“Scarlet, are you in here?” Ochre called out.
Silence sang back at him.
Seconds ticked by. There was no sound. No flicker of movement from within the shadowy interior.
Ochre made for the second Interceptor, towards the back of the bay, his heart beating louder in his chest, the silence mocking him.
Then, in the gloom, almost at the wall, he thought he saw something familiar.
A scarlet boot.
With each step now he could smell it, the nauseous odour of violence, causing memories to drifting up from years past. He moved closer to the scene and the scent of death grew stronger, sending small waves of long-forgotten dread rippling through his stomach. Ochre had spent five years in homicide, about as much time as anyone could take before it drove you into the place where most of the crazies ended up. He’d seen his share of the grisly, with murder after pointless murder. But it never got any easier. It was always a shock.
There was blood.
Lots of it.
He stared at the sliced-up body of Captain Scarlet and fought down the revulsion in his guts – channelled it instead into a cold, hard anger. A determination that this all stopped here – now.
But first things first; he had to call sickbay, and Fawn would have to act fast. It was going to take their genius doctor some doing to stitch Scarlet back together again, assuming he even could.
Damn Scarlet’s arrogance, making the assumption he could go wandering about alone.
Fawn’s reply was terse and brief, that he would be there immediately with his key med-techs. Whatever else he must have thought about this calamitous situation, he kept to himself for now.
Next, Ochre radioed Colonel White and briefed him on the situation. His commanding officer’s voice held a barely disguised fury. “Use everything at your disposal to find this Mysteron, Captain Ochre, we cannot allow him to commit any more of his despicable acts.”
“You got it, as soon as we get Scarlet to sick-bay, and Colonel, I suggest you put out a base-wide bulletin, something to the effect that Captain Scarlet was attacked and took some injuries, or something, but not that he’s dead, we can’t afford everyone knowing about his retrometabolism, just in case he… recovers.”
“He will recover, Captain.” White replied crisply. “However, you have a good point, and I shall arrange for Lieutenant Green to take care of it.”
“Colonel, there’s something else that just struck me. I don’t know if Scarlet just happened to be in the way, or whether the murderer deliberately sought him out, but this is the first time he’s struck at a member of the senior staff.”
“Yes, that is a disturbing element. Perhaps the Mysterons are aware of the sixth sense he possesses, and have decided to eliminate that risk of discovery?”
“Or, maybe they’ve just stopped playing games with us, and intend to escalate the situation. You could be next, sir.”
A few seconds ticked by as White digested this possibility.
“I suggest you have an armed guard at all times, Colonel, we can’t afford to lose the head of Spectrum, if you’ll pardon the sick humour.”
“You are excused, Captain, and much as I dislike it, I will concur with your idea.”
“I’ll arrange it right away, Ochre out.”
As he waited on Fawn’s arrival, Ochre scanned the grisly scene, attempting to see if there were any clues. Scarlet had obviously been overpowered somehow, but with what?
Even with all the blood on the floor, there were no footprints leading away from the scene towards the door, and there certainly wasn’t any sign of a murder weapon. Lander had either teleported away from the scene of the crime, or he was a real smart cookie.
Christ, you’d practically need a saw to do this much damage.
Ochre twitched as he spied the strips of flesh lying in a small heap. Things really were going bad. It didn’t seem to be enough that this sicko killed his victims, but he seemed to increasingly want to want to torture them as he did so. If details of this got around, people truly would be scared witless.
Did Scarlet know who killed him?
It just didn’t make sense, the elaborate ways of killing everyone, was it really Lander? And if not – who? Ochre had to get those DNA results, but he knew that Scarlet was Fawn’s immediate priority for the moment.
After what seemed like an eternity, the Australian doctor arrived with his techs and with grim determination they carefully but speedily placed Scarlet in the chiller unit, their faces pale as they worked. Ochre skirted around them, trying to preserve what he could of the murder scene. He knew they would have no time for niceties with Scarlet’s body, the most important thing right now was getting him into surgery. He only hoped that they weren’t too late.
The infirmary became a hive of activity as Fawn, his medics and robot doctors worked against time to resuscitate Captain Scarlet. In his bed close to the entrance of the men’s ward, Blue couldn’t help notice all the feverish to and fro-ing.
“What’s going on out there?” he called over to Nurse Jackson. She wandered across, smoothing down her uniform and wearing a slightly hesitant look on her face as she approached him.
“I’m not sure, sir, they closed the isolation ward a few moments ago.”
Blue’s mind raced with awful possibilities. He’d cursed having to stay in this damn place all night when there was a maniac skulking around the corridors of Cloudbase. Sure, he knew that the Angels were under secure guard, Scarlet had popped in to let him know what they were up to, but he didn’t altogether trust his girlfriend to stay out of trouble. She had a nose for it.
“Has someone else been hurt? One of the Angels?” he demanded, almost grabbing the young woman’s arm as an unholy fear suddenly coursed through him.
“I don’t think so, to the best of my knowledge. I believe it’s Captain Scarlet, but I don’t know any more than that. Dr Fawn insisted he and his team couldn’t be disturbed.”
Blue sank back against the pillows, feeling a wretched sense of relief.
Bad enough that it’s Paul, he thought. But at least he has a chance of coming back from the dead.
As soon as Scarlet was wheeled off, Ochre instructed the security guards to cordon off the area and then assigned two more guards to the Control Room. He wanted to take a look at the two rogue security cameras, but he needed an access ladder. He instructed a maintenance tech to send one up, and while he waited for it to arrive, he dropped into the Amber Room. Scarlet was like an older brother to the five girl pilots, and he felt that they deserved to know the whole truth of his attack, and not sit around and speculate on the awful possibilities. As luck would have it, all four girls were together, since it was now dawn, and the curfew was considered over. They were chattering quietly to Navy and Gray, and looked up as Ochre entered. The grim look on his face must have been plainly obvious.
“Oh, God, something’s happened,” Symphony muttered.
He told them briefly, without peppering it with any of the gory details, the plain, simple facts were bad enough. Shock washed across all of their faces, the two men’s included, but it was Rhapsody who went chalk white, and there was a soft thud as her bottom hit the padded couch.
“Get some water, quick.” Ochre motioned to Symphony as Grey settled her back against the couch.
“Fawn’s doing everything he can, you know that,” Ochre said, in as reassuring voice as he could. Symphony handed her the water and she took a sip. “He’s gonna pull through, Dianne, he always does.” She gave him a wan smile, brief but grateful.
Ochre and Grey left Rhapsody in the other girls’ tender care, and went out of the Amber Room.
“So, what do you think we ought to do now?” Grey asked him.
“I’m going back to the repair bay to take another look, and then we have to re-think our options.”
Ochre didn’t make it all the way to the end of the corridor. Symphony hustled out of the Amber Room and practically ran towards him.
“Can I have a minute?” she asked.
“Sure, catch you later, Brad?”
The other raised an eyebrow, but said nothing, merely waved an acknowledgement and headed off to the Control Tower.
“We have to stop this guy,” Symphony said through clenched teeth. Her hazel eyes flashed with the obvious wrath she felt inside at one of their own succumbing to the killer’s ends.
“I know, I feel every bit as mad as you do, but it I don’t want you doing anything dumb.”
“So you keep saying; I’ll just keep doing the dog-work, shall I?”
“Yeah, and stay in your room with the door locked. Your job is being a pilot; you’re Spectrum’s first line of defence. I don’t think the colonel would be too pleased if he thought you were going to put yourself in potential danger. Besides, I don’t want the job of answering to Blue-Boy to add to my troubles.”
“Huh, coward,” she said with a sniff, as he turned away from her. He didn’t bother to rise to her taunt, instead giving her a careless wave without looking back.
If he had done, he would have seen the way Symphony’s brows lowered in a V of defiance.
Around the base, people stopped mid-task to listen to Lieutenant Green’s announcement. The mystery assassin had struck again, and Captain Scarlet had been badly injured, but Colonel White was confident he would pull through. Green continued, stressing that everyone should keep calm, and that the senior staff were doing everything in their power to track down the perpetrator and ensure the safety of the crew.
Jim McWhirter was lying on his bunk in the shared cabin in his crew quarters, reading a crime novel, when the message came through the general intercom. Listening in dismay, he felt a bemused sense of frustration at the way even the tough boys at the top were going down like flies, and he couldn’t help wondering what had happened to Scarlet. So far the murderer hadn’t shot or knifed anyone yet. Then again, shooting wasn’t an option on Cloudbase, not just anyone could wander into the armoury and get a gun, although, if this guy was a Mysteron, they might be able to do just about anything. He’d heard tales of their weird abilities.
Likely it was a knife then.
A small coil of unease formed in McWhirter’s stomach and the book slid out of his hand, unnoticed, as his musings triggered a recent incident.
The missing knife from the galley.
He hadn’t given it a thought up to now.
Maybe he ought to have reported it, just like he should have reported the missing pastries.
No, that’s completely crazy.
He looked at the momentarily forgotten book.
I’ve been reading too much of this stuff.
But the insidious thought kept nagging at him.
Ochre found the ladder propped up in the corridor next to one of the security-cams. He slid it along the wall and climbed up towards the faulty unit, and almost immediately caught the faint whiff of something that he recognised.
The cams system had been fried, scanner, wireless connection, everything, as if it had been subjected to a quick burst of electrical energy. The only thing capable of doing that sort of damage was with a Mysteron gun on a low power setting. Ochre frowned. They were held under lock and key, and the only people with access were the senior captains, and a few members of the security department.
With everything that was going on, Ochre had completely forgotten about him. He paged the Canadian on his cap mike, and he had no reply. He was almost at the point of heading around to the Lieutenant’s quarters when his voice came on the line. He sounded groggy, completely out of it, Ochre thought.
“Did you hear the announcement?” he demanded of the younger man.
“Huh, what announcement?”
“Scarlet, we found him in the Interceptor bay, it wasn’t pretty.”
“Is he all right?”
“Fawn’s working on him. And by the way, you don’t sound much better than the last time we spoke.”
“I’m sorry I didn’t turn up for my shift. I took some heavy-duty sedatives; they must have knocked me out cold.”
“Well, I’m sorry too, but no one’s going to get any more sleep until I’ve nailed this sucker, so if you can, get yourself together and back on duty.”
Seconds ticked by, and Sable didn’t reply.
“Sable, you okay?”
“I’m…okay…sir. I’ll be there.”
The connection cut, and Ochre couldn’t help wondering at the almost sullen tone in Sable’s voice. Lucky he got any sleep at all, he thought, a flicker of annoyance joining the general feeling of dread that had hung over him like a cloud since finding Scarlet’s body.
Symphony drummed her fingernails on the table and stared at the console in the Amber Room. Melody sat a little away from her, at another console, engrossed in her online Japanese lesson.
A chime at the door caused both girls to look up and glance at one another.
“Can’t be any of the captains, they have security access,” Melody said, with a note of uncertainty in her voice. It was evident Scarlet’s death had shaken even her tough-as-nails exterior.
“It’s daylight, we’re bound to be okay,” Symphony said firmly.
“Yeah, maybe, but we’d better just check who it is anyway.”
Symphony padded across to the door and interrogated the caller.
“It’s Jim McWhirter,” the Scottish brogue filtered through the intercom.
Symphony recognised an urgent note in the Scotsman’s voice and opened the door quickly.
“Hi there, Jim, you got some pastries for us?” She made faces at McWhirter to tell him to play-act in front of the other Angel, but Melody, waved at him and went back to her studies.
“I have actually,” he said in a loud voice, taking a parcel from under his arm and handing it to Symphony.
“Oh goody,” Melody shouted and she bounded across to grab her share before the other girls came back.
Symphony turned back to McWhirter after Melody had returned to her seat. “Did you really just come with cookies?” she asked him in a low voice, out of Melody’s earshot, “You sounded as if –“
“No, I wanted to speak to you,” he replied, in an equally furtive tone. “Remember you asked me to be on the lookout for anything suspicious?”
Symphony’s interest peaked. “Sure, I do.”
McWhirter glanced past her shoulder, to check whether Melody was taking an interest in their conversation. Satisfied she wasn’t, he continued in his quiet brogue.
“I know they didn’t give out any details about how poor Captain Scarlet got attacked. But we had a knife go AWOL, a big carving knife, and I’ve searched high and low, it’s missing from the inventory all right. I didn’t really give it much thought until I heard the announcement, and I got thinking, since I read crime novels and suchlike, that maybe the killer stole the knife and used it to – you know….”
“Woah, wait a minute, Jim, have you any idea who might have stolen it?”
“Well, I know everyone’s talking about it being Lander, but it wasn’t him I saw behind the galley last night.”
“Someone else, who?”
McWhirter looked sheepish and his voice dropped even lower. “It was Lieutenant Sable, and I know he couldn’t possibly have anything to do with it, but I didn’t want to keep the information to myself, just in case.”
Symphony’s eyes widened and she started thinking hard.
“Jim, I’m off duty in an hour, I’ll meet you in your office, and we can talk some more, okay?”
He nodded, and headed back for the door, waving at Melody on the way out.
Ochre stood to address the assembled company in the conference room. It was unusually crowded, with Angels, Captains and Lieutenants taking up every available bit of space. Two armed security guards flanked the entrance doorway, a cohort for their Commander-in-chief, on Ochre’s orders.
“Right,” Ochre said, “We made a cursory check of the base for this Mysteron, but we’re going to have to do it more thoroughly this time so we can flush him out into the open. Everyone who isn’t doing something vital on this base will help in the search. I’ve split us all into teams and assigned areas to cover.” He handed out flimsies and people passed them around.
“This’ll take forever,” Navy said grimly.
“I know, so the quicker we get started, the better. Any more questions?”
Verdigris raised a hand. “How’s Captain Scarlet doing?”
There were nods all around the room, and Ochre looked to the Colonel.
“I have had no news as yet from Dr Fawn,” White said, “But be assured I shall inform each and every one of you when that happens.”
“Okay,” Ochre said, “Dismissed, and good hunting, everyone.”
Ochre rubbed his eyes wearily, sitting at a console in the Control Room a short distance away from Lieutenant Green. A couple of the search teams, led by Magenta and Verdigris, had reported in, and so far, their areas were clean. Ochre had the sinking feeling in his guts that no matter how many bodies he threw at this, they weren’t going to come up with anything, but he had to be seen to take action, there was little choice. He thought about the facts he had at his disposal. The lack of visible evidence, the way the victims had died, the lack of a murder weapon in the repair bay.
From the start it seemed logical that the only way Lander could have died was by Captain Black’s hands. It just didn’t make any sense that someone who had been checked and security cleared to the nth degree could suddenly turn killer. The Mysterons had to first destroy matter or people before they carried out there threats. Lander had been killed, so the assumption sort of made sense. But years of relying on his gut still niggled at Ochre. What about those busted security-cams?
On a whim, he accessed the cam files. Symphony hadn’t got back to him, and he doubted very much that she’d even bothered to trawl through them. He keyed in his access code and started to watch the video stream from the flight deck a short time before the estimated time of Lander’s death. After twenty minutes of nothing happening, he almost sympathised with her. He sighed, wondering why he was bothering, after all, Sable’s team had already reported they’d found nothing from this particular set of files.
He hit the fast forward key when something caught his eye on screen. He stopped and backtracked, squinting. There it was again, an almost imperceptible flicker. Ochre looked at the figures on the bottom of the screen, noted that there was a missing gap of nearly fifteen minutes in the timeline. The sinking feeling turned to a churning.
It looked a hell of a lot like someone had tampered with the scans.
“I have Dr Fawn on the line, Colonel,” Green spoke up, and Ochre stopped thinking and started listening. Maybe it was some good news for a change.
White’s face seemed to visibly relax as he listened to his chief medical officer. “That is excellent news, Doctor,” he said, loudly enough for the two other men to hear. Ochre breathed a sigh of relief. Scarlet must be okay. He felt responsible somehow for this whole mess, thinking that if he’d acted earlier on his hunches, this might never have happened.
“Dr Fawn would like to speak with you, Captain Ochre,” White added, “I am transferring him to you now.”
Ochre’s cap mike swung down. “Hi Doc, you have something for me?”
“Yes, I thought you might be interested to know, that while we were in the process of putting Scarlet together again, I noticed some scorching of the skin and muscle tissue on the chest areas.”
The churning in Ochre’s gut got worse and he walked away from Green’s earshot. He wasn’t ready to share his thoughts just yet. “As if he’d been electrocuted?”
“Yes, exactly,” Fawn sounded surprised. “What made you say that?”
“The sec-cams had their systems fried, my guess is with a Mysteron gun, and you’ve probably confirmed that’s how Scarlet was overcome as well.”
“A Mysteron gun? But how would Lander get access to one of those? The only people who do are –”
“I know.” Ochre cut him off, “And believe me, it isn’t a pretty thought. That’s why I need those DNA results, fast.”
The more Symphony thought about it, the more bizarre it seemed.
He couldn’t be a Mysteron, it didn’t make sense. No one had found his body. McWhirter’s story had to be pure coincidence.
But what if it isn’t?
Like her good friend, Captain Scarlet, Symphony had the dangerous combination of rock-sold self-belief and an impetuous streak that had a habit of getting her into trouble. Of course, she didn’t see it that way. All she saw was a mystery that needed resolving, and she was damned if she was going to let Ochre tell her to stay out of the way, like some bimbo who couldn’t make a decision. She had a potentially vital clue, and if she were to tell him, no doubt he’d just tell her to lock herself in her room while he checked out Sable’s quarters.
She’d faced a lot of dangerous situations during her time as a USS agent, and she didn’t scare easily, so she wasn’t about to start sitting on the sidelines now. Caught up in her excitement, it didn’t cross her mind how Blue would feel about what she was about to do. She had the bit between her teeth and she couldn’t see anything else but the goal.
She set off for the Officers’ Restaurant, found McWhirter, and outlined her plan.
“Oh, I dinna think that’s such a good idea,” he said, with a frown on his face.
“We’re only going to be a few minutes, just to do a quick search of the place. It’s small enough, it won’t take long.”
“I can’t imagine anyone would be daft enough to leave a murder weapon lying around where it can be found.”
“Well, maybe we’ll find something else, something that points to his guilt. I really don’t want to go accusing a senior Spectrum agent of something as awful as this, if it isn’t true.”
“I knew I shouldna have told ye.”
“No, you were right to tell me.”
“But, if he did – overpower Captain Scarlet, what chance do we have against him?”
“I’m not exactly a pushover myself, and you’re a well-built guy. And in any case, he isn’t going to be anywhere near his quarters. He’s been assigned to search the engineering area on Captain Ochre’s orders, so it’ll be perfectly safe.”
“But how are you going to get into his room?”
Symphony tapped her nose. “I didn’t spend all the time in the USS for nothing. There are ways to override every electronic door-lock, if you know how.”
McWhirter still looked doubtful, and Symphony played her trump card. “Well, if you won’t come with me, I’ll have to go in alone.”
“Not on your life, lassie. If you’re hell bent on doing this, then I’m not going to let you do it on your own.”
Symphony grinned. “We’ll be in and out of that room before he even knows we’ve been there.”
It had been awhile since she’d done anything like this, but Symphony was delighted to see that she’d lost none of her old skills. Being a friend of an ex-gangster didn’t hurt either, and she’d added a few more tricks to her repertoire since meeting Patrick Donaghue.
McWhirter stood behind her, keeping lookout for the pair of them, and a little bemused at the speed at which Symphony was able to de-activate the mechanism.
“I hope we won’t get into trouble for this,” he muttered.
“Don’t worry, I’ll take the blame, if anyone happens to catch us, which they won’t…ah, there we are!”
The door slid open and Symphony entered the darkened room, followed by a nervous McWhirter. The motion sensors activated and the gloom dissipated. Symphony pulled out two pairs of transparent gloves and handed one to McWhirter. His eyes widened.
“I feel like a criminal,” he said quietly.
“No, we’re looking for the criminal,” she whispered back. “Right, let’s start in here. You have a look under the bed, and I’ll look in the closet.”
“What’s that?” McWhirter said, pointing across the room, towards the long unit at one wall.
Symphony wrinkled her nose. “It looks like some sort of artwork.”
“Bloody awful looking thing, pardon my language,” McWhirter added. “What’s it meant to be?”
“How do I know, I’m hardly an expert, and we’re not here for art appreciation, we’re here to solve a crime.”
“Sorry,” he mumbled in reply.
“It’s okay, let’s just get on with it.”
McWhirter pulled out the roll-out cupboard under the bunk, and Symphony opened the tall closet to the side. The interior rack held two spare sable-coloured tunics and charcoal sweaters and trousers, plus an assortment of mufti. She glanced down to the pile of boots and shoes on the floor of the closet. There was a black plastic bag tucked away in the back, and she pulled it out over the footwear. She reached in to pull it out, and inexplicably, her heart started beating a little faster, as if in anticipation of finding some horrendous secret within its interior.
“Brrr…is it just me, or has it gone chilly in here?”
Symphony hesitated, and pulled her head out of the closet. She hadn’t been aware of until this moment, but McWhirter was right. The temperature had dropped in the room, and with surprise she watched the small plume of expelled breath from her mouth spiral into the air. A sudden prickle of apprehension formed in her stomach, and she almost regretted her impulsive action to come here without back-up.
Don’t be silly, you’re imagining things, the thermostat’s probably just conked out.
But it was with slightly shaking hands that she ripped open the sealed bag, pulling out several towels, and then – to her surprise – a pair of day-glo orange coveralls.
She stared at them for a few seconds, uncomprehending, until the dark splotches, with their distinctive odour, faint but still strong, made her suspicions turn into horrified realisation. The stains were dried engine oil.
The sound of the outer door opening coincided with McWhirter’s grunt of surprise.
Symphony whirled in panic, and met the level gaze of Lieutenant Sable.
It was hard for Ochre to stomach, but all the evidence strongly suggested the killer was someone with high level security access. The footage from the cam-scans had been trashed, but the data would still be in the system somewhere. He’d need the skills of Green or Magenta to burrow into it and find what he suspected, that it would show exactly who Rob Lander’s killer was.
But that would take time. Time they didn’t have. Ochre felt it slipping away, premonition telling him that it was a luxury that was about to run out, with devastating consequences.
He made the decision, better to make a mistake than be a fool – the stakes were too high to worry about how his professional competence might be ruined if he was in error.
“Get me Lieutenant Sable,” he practically snapped at Green.
Seconds ticked by as the younger man attempted to make radio contact, and then Ochre’s epaulettes suddenly blinked.
“I’ve got a DNA match,” Fawn announced in an unnaturally quiet voice, laced with premonition.
Ochre’s heart hammered in his chest. “Go ahead.”
A theatrical second passed before Fawn announced what Ochre already suspected. “It belongs to Lieutenant Sable.”
The next few minutes passed like some out of control nightmare for Ochre. Although the DNA evidence in itself didn’t prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that Sable was guilty, all the other things added too much weight to the argument. He might even have stolen Symphony’s necklace and planted it in Heidi Muller’s bunk to point to suicide on her part and cover up the fact he murdered her.
Colonel White was safe here in the Control Room, his next immediate concern was for the Angels. His worry mounted when it transpired that Symphony seemed to have gone AWOL. She wasn’t in her room, or in sickbay visiting Blue. She could be anywhere on the base, realistically. After ordering Green to send out another base-wide bulletin warning to all personnel that Sable was to be considered extremely dangerous, he sent Grey, Magenta and Navy with their respective teams to cover the exits from Cloudbase, and on a hunch, Ochre sprinted for Sable’s quarters.
What if his hunch was wrong?
And what the hell has happened to Symphony?
He’d half considered telling Blue, but there was no time right now.
Ochre skidded to a halt in front of Sable’s quarters, and hammered on the door.
“Sable, open up!” he yelled. “Now!”
From within the room Ochre thought he heard a muffled sound, and it sounded awfully like it came from a woman.
His blood ran cold in his veins.
“Symphony, are you in there?”
He hammered again, and the muffled whimpering grew louder, someone was in there, and in terror of their life.
Fear gnawing at his own vitals he contacted Green via his cap mike. “This is urgent, I believe that Lieutenant Sable may have a hostage in his quarters, I need you to override the door lock, fast.”
Precious seconds ticked by, and Ochre tried to avoid thinking of what might be going on beyond the door. “Give this up now, Sable,” he shouted “You can’t escape, so there’s no point in torturing her.”
From within the room a voice answered. It was Sable’s. “I can’t stop it, inside me, no choice…” Ochre heard the confused, almost pleading tone, and hoped that maybe, just maybe, there was a chance for him to talk him out of it.
“Of course you have a choice, you’re a Spectrum agent, you can stop this right now and no one else has to suffer,”
“No… it’s too strong… too late for me… too late for her.”
“What’s too strong? Sable, tell me, I’m listening, just open the door.”
“Sable are you listening, damn you! Speak to me!” He activated his cap mike. “Green, what’s going on?” he snapped, “I need this door open now!”
“We’re nearly there…”
Seconds ticked by, and Ochre banged with his fists again in frustration, thrust his ear to the door, thought he could hear a sigh, then a muffled moan, then almost stumbled as the door unexpectedly started to open, the brushed metal scraping against his cheek.
He jumped back, bracing his pistol double-handed, ready to storm the room.
Sable crouched over a gagged and bound Symphony, one hand keeping her pinned to the ground, and the other brandishing a raised knife, the serrated edges smeared with red. The girl struggled, her sweater had been ripped open so that one breast was exposed, and Ochre’s eyes were forcibly drawn to the wicked sickle-shaped gash, the line of blood vivid against the paleness of the skin.
His fingers tightened on the trigger.
“Step away from her, now!”
Sable didn’t reply. He just grinned, and God help him, there was something in that grin that made Ochre’s flesh ice over. The expression locked in the eyes was pure evil, a strange unearthly light glowing in his brown eyes.
Was Sable a Mysteron?
His fingers tightened on the gun further, his knuckles white, as he walked cautiously towards Sable, continuing to hold his gaze, and trying to get a good angle to incapacitate him before he had a chance to use the knife again on the helpless girl at his feet.
The expression in Sable’s eyes changed – from madness to grief.
“Kill me… please,” he pleaded “I know what I’ve done…and I can’t live with it.”
Ochre stopped moving forward, hesitant at the sudden change of mood. “Just put down the weapon and step away… we can talk about it then…”
Sable looked at the weapon in his hand, hypnotised by the thin line of blood on the edge that had formed into one drop – balanced precariously on the very tip of the knife. It fell, and he watched it splash onto Symphony’s cheek. His expression hardened again and Ochre’s stomach tightened, realising that Sable was sliding back into his highly dangerous state of mind.
“No, evil must endure… the sacrifice must be made…” Sable muttered, and his voice was almost inaudible.
He raised the knife high.
Symphony’s eyes widened in terror as its shadow loomed over her – and Ochre reacted instinctively. He fired his pistol three times – imagining the target in his head.
Sable’s body jerked like a puppet on a string, thrown backwards by the force of the bullets tearing into him, he landed and twitched spasmodically on the ground. Ochre wasted no time and leapt across the room to wrest the knife from his hand,
“The voice… voice… and eyes… don’t listen… don’t look…” Sable’s words dribbled from a slack mouth, making no sense. Then, his eyelids closed slowly.
Ochre checked for a pulse. Nothing. Maybe the nightmare was truly over. He stood up, and for the first time noticed the other prone body lying near one wall.
Again, he felt for a pulse and breathed a sigh of relief that the Scotsman was alive. Then he finally attended to the injured Angel, pulling the gag gingerly away from his lips, although his voice was rather less gentle, caught as he was between sheer relief and blazing anger. “I ought to leave you trussed up in here and let Blue-boy see what a state you’ve got yourself into.”
She glared back at him, and then whimpered softly, clutching a hand to her wounded breast. “Hurts.”
Ochre bit his lip. Now wasn’t the time for recriminations. With any luck a bit of Fawn’s magic and gel wrap would heal it and barely leave a scar, but she was damn lucky she didn’t suffer worse.
“What the hell were you doing in here – and with McWhirter of all people?”
“Jim saw Sable in the galley shortly before a big knife went missing, and when Scarlet was hacked to bits we thought -”
“You would play detectives. Well, it almost got you both killed.”
She suddenly turned pale, shock finally setting in. “I can’t believe it…Alex…that he did all of this…” her voice was a ragged whisper and she gripped Ochre’s shoulder with what little strength she had remaining. “Why – why did he do it?”
“I wish I knew, Karen.”
A clattering of boot-steps in the corridor heralded reinforcements, and Ochre looked up to see Magenta and Gray appear in the doorway.
“It’s about time you two arrived.” He helped Symphony to her feet. Magenta came across to help, his face darkening as he saw her injury.
“Are you all right?”
She nodded. “My legs feel like rubber, and my chest hurts like blazes, but otherwise, I’ll think I’ll survive,”
“That’s my girl,” he answered with a satisfied grin.
“What the hell happened?” Grey said, as he rolled McWhirter over to untie him. “And what is he doing in here?”
“Looking for his missing carving knife,” Ochre replied dryly.
“I can hardly believe it, Sable – a Mysteron? “ Magenta said.
Ochre nodded wearily. “Me neither. But all the evidence points to him being the killer.”
Ochre reported the situation to Colonel White as Fawn and his team arrived to take the casualties to the infirmary. Ochre decided against accompanying Symphony, since he had already had enough to deal with, and besides, he had no desire to become involved in the inevitable squabble that would ensue when Blue discovered she nearly had her chest re-sculpted for free.
Karen got herself into trouble, she can talk her own way out of it.
Dr Fawn activated the Mysteron detector and keyed the parameters into the unit. He pointed it at the bullet-ridden body of Lieutenant Sable, which lay on a table in the morgue. After several minutes the scan completed and Fawn stared at the resultant image.
It was perfectly normal.
Sable was no Mysteron.
He wasn’t sure whether to feel happy or sad about that fact. Far easier to attribute the sort of atrocities the lieutenant had committed to a race of malevolent aliens, than to imagine they resulted from the innermost, violent desires of a human being.
He drew a coverlet over the body; once the formalities were over they would prepare it for dispatch to any surviving relatives.
The door slid quietly open and Ochre entered the dead lieutenant’s quarters. Apart from the blood stains on the carpet, it seemed surreally calm. How could it be that only a few days ago he was laughing and joking with the guy over a game of cards, and now he was cooling on a slab in the infirmary – a string of murders to his name? Ochre felt the raw pain of loss sweep over him – for the man that Sable had been, and for the other innocent victims of this never-ending war between Spectrum and the Mysterons.
He ran his gaze around the room, where it alighted on a gilt-framed canvas on the unit against the bottom of the bed. In all the excitement, he hadn’t noticed it before now.
He walked closer. It was some sort of portrait, of a man, painted almost exclusively in shades of red and brown against a black background. To Ochre’s untrained eyes it looked half-completed, with only the aspects of the face accentuated, and the hair and clothes simply represented as smudges against the dark background. It gave the face a weird three-dimensional effect, with the eyes especially disconcerting to look at.
There was something about it….something that made his gaze hold fast and his skin crawl, as if a thousand tiny snakes slithered up and down his spine. He remembered the strange words of the dying man. His epaulettes flashed, and he was grateful to drag his eyes away.
“It’s Fawn, Sable’s X-ray was completely normal. He isn’t a Mysteron.”
Ochre’s mind spun at the news.
“Of course I’m sure. What sort of medic do you think I am?” Fawn sounded faintly indignant.
“The best, Doc, my apologies, but things aren’t making any sense. I just can’t believe Sable would turn killer without some sort of outside influence.”
“Well, frankly I can’t either. I haven’t seen any evidence of delusional or suicidal tendencies in his psychological tests up to now, so, whatever it is that’s happened to his mind, it’s very recent.”
Ochre pursed his lips, thoughtful. “Yeah, I would have trusted him with my life before this. Something’s happened to make him go loco…but what? I’m checking his quarters right now; maybe I’ll find something that gives us some answers.”
“S.I.G. Fawn out.”
Ochre turned back to the painting, and noticed something sticking out beyond the heavy gilt frame - a small sheet of paper. He pulled it out to read it, finding out that the painting had been the property of an uncle, and sent to Sable by his sister on his death.
Intrigued, he pulled the picture away from the wall to inspect the back of it. At the bottom of the old, slightly cracked wood he saw a date engraved towards the bottom. 1692. Ochre was no history buff, but this was obviously an heirloom, and an antique. And was it – he thought, with a chill of apprehension, something more than that? Acting now on instinct, he activated the desk console, and dialled into the ship’s logs, searching for the incoming supply roster. The listings scrolled down and he scanned for delivery of a painting. Finally, he found it, and he checked the date on the left hand column of the log.
It arrived shortly before the Mysteron threat – and the killing spree.
All sorts of crazy notions whirled around his head, warring with his natural pragmatism. It was pure coincidence, it had to be. Next, Ochre overrode the security to get into Sable’s personal files. There wasn’t a lot of mail, just a couple of notes that he’d sent to his sister. She hadn’t replied either to those, or to the voice messages that Sable had sent. Ochre frowned, trying to make a connection with those facts and what had happened to the Canadian.
Engrossed in his thoughts, still staring at the screen, he failed to see the eyes in the painting begin to glow.
He rubbed the back of his suddenly cold hand – and it seemed to him that the temperature had dropped a few degrees, becoming almost chilly. He got up and crossed to the environmental controls, and saw the displayed output. No, this isn’t possible.
Something made him turn to regard the portrait against the wall – and he had a most peculiar sensation of the face looming out from the shadows of the background – the eyes burning with a red fire. His heart started thumping in his chest.
He ran a hand through his hair. If he was thinking logically, paintings, or any other object for that matter had no influence over people or events. But the Mysterons had certainly been known to affect inanimate objects in their quest for revenge. All the same, the idea of imbuing an artwork with some sort of hypnotising effect in order to influence someone to kill in the manner of a serial-murderer seemed a hell of a convoluted way to go about things, Ochre thought.
When evil comes from the shadows we shall reap.
The decision came from deep within him – a place where logic and pragmatism had no place. It propelled him across the room to the painting, and he grasped the frame with both hands, hefting its weight against his tunic.
If this was a Mysteron-induced artefact, it had to be destroyed.
He headed for the incinerator in the bowels of B-deck.
Fawn studied the monitors beside Scarlet’s bed in the isolation ward. His vital signs continued to improve, including the all higher brain functions – quite remarkable given the extent of the injuries he suffered. The inexplicable powers of retrometabolism never failed to impress Fawn, and he judged that within another twelve hours, Spectrum’s Number One agent would be back on duty.
Next, he checked on Symphony. She was propped up against a pile of pillows, looking pale and rather sorry for herself.
“I think that’s going to heal nicely,” he said, after taking a look at his handiwork. “You were very lucky.”
She smiled weakly. “I guess so, lucky and brainless, and I nearly got poor Jim killed as well. Colonel White’s going to tear a strip off me. No, make that several strips.”
Fawn grimaced at her poor choice of phrasing. “I think there’s been quite enough of that to last me a lifetime,” he said, “You just concentrate on resting, and those are doctor’s orders.”
She sighed. “How is Jim, anyway?”
“Mr McWhirter is bruised and a little singed around the edges, but he’ll be all right in a few days too.”
“That’s a relief…” Symphony’s voice trailed off, her eyes widening in horror, looking beyond his shoulder. Alerted, Fawn whirled – to see something that he shouldn’t possibly be seeing.
“Strewth,” he muttered under his breath, automatically moving in front of Symphony to protect the girl.
The ruined corpse of Lieutenant Sable shuffled towards them, a scalpel in each hand.
Ochre watched as the painting trundled through the conveyer belt towards the incinerator unit. Within minutes it would be consigned to fiery oblivion. As the adrenaline slowed in his veins, he started to question his impulsive notion. And yet the feeling in his gut had been so strong, he couldn’t ignore it, and at the very worst, he’d get a lecture from the colonel about destroying private property.
One scalpel slashed, missing Fawn’s arm by a hairsbreadth, the other scraped noisily along the side of the metal tray that he had grabbed from Symphony’s bedside, using it as a shield. There was a demented stare in Sable’s sunken eyes, and his movements were jerky, spasmodic, as if someone else controlled the body. Fawn regretted not locking the morgue door, and he prayed that no one else had paid the price already for his lack of foresight.
“Help! We need help in here!” he and Symphony shouted at the tops of their voices. Footsteps clattered outside the corridor of the ward, and a male med-tech appeared at the door, skidding to a halt, frozen shock on his face as he confronted what was supposed to be a dead man. Immediately behind him Captain Blue stumbled into the doorway, his face pinched in pain, alerted by Symphony’s screams in the next ward.
Fawn yelled at him: “Blue, don’t be crazy, you haven’t the strength, get the others!”
The technician had recovered his senses and frantically hit the intercom, gabbling into it. Blue grabbed a chair near the entrance and brought it crashing down on Sable’s back.
“Good man!” Fawn rejoiced, and started dragging Symphony from the bed, attempting to get her out of the ward to safety. Blue raised the chair again, ready to smash it into Sable again, when suddenly, without warning, his body started to give off smoke.
“Oh, my God, he is a Mysteron!” Symphony jabbered.
Blue stopped, stunned for a few seconds.
Fawn felt his legs start to shake…Sable was going to blow the entire base to smithereens.
The wisps of smoke spiralled from the body into the air, and within the haze, Fawn could see red lesions breaking out on the pallid skin. What was left of Sable’s body sagged onto the floor, and a high pitched keening sound issued from his cracked and blistered lips, like air escaping from a balloon. It looked like the corpse was burning from the inside out.
Fawn continued to stare at the smouldering body, barely registering the sounds of feet, those of Magenta, Navy and Grey barging into the ward. Seconds ticked by, and there was no explosion.
Fawn’s legs gave way at last. He drew a long ragged breath and sat down heavily on the edge of the bed, as Blue staggered over to Symphony’s side.
Ochre heard the klaxon on his way back to the Control Tower, and he contacted Green, who told him there was a situation in the infirmary. He raced there to discover everyone milling around with grim and shocked faces. Blue was sitting on the chair beside Symphony’s bed, and Fawn, Magenta and Grey huddled around something obviously lying on the floor.
“Captain Ochre, sir,” Navy greeted him. He wore a particularly haggard expression on his face, Sable had been a good friend of his, and it was going to take a while for them all to recover from the fall-out of these events. He could see a few people spending time with the ship’s counsellor.
“Jeez,” he muttered when he saw the blackened and almost unrecognisable body, all that remained of the affable young man that had been Alex McLeod, Lieutenant Sable. “What happened here?”
Fawn said: “Sable re-animated somehow, he tried to attack Symphony and me.”
“Luckily for us, Adam distracted him,” Symphony piped up.
“Yeah, but I didn’t do that,” Blue pointed at the body. “He just started giving off smoke and burning up.”
Ochre ran a hand through his hair, took a deep breath. The coincidence was too obvious. “When did this happen, exactly, I mean?”
Fawn told him.
“I don’t know how to explain this,” he continued, “But I found an old oil painting in Sable’s quarters, and I – well, I thought it might have been a Mysteron artefact, so I chucked it in the incinerator.”
Symphony nodded her agreement. “I saw that horrible thing.”
“A painting?” Magenta gave him an odd look.
“I told you I didn’t have a reason,” Ochre insisted, “It just seemed the – right thing to do at the time, and the timing fits, almost exactly.”
“Well, something stopped Sable – or whatever he’d become - in his tracks,” Fawn said, clapping a grateful hand on Ochre’s shoulder. “I just hope this time, it’s finished.”
Ochre sent his electronic report, and rubbed his temple. He hoped that it would finally bring some sort of closure to the dreadful sequence of events on Cloudbase. On a positive note, Scarlet was well on the way to recovery, and both Blue and Symphony were back on light duties.
Following Colonel White’s orders, Ochre had accompanied a Spectrum ground crew to the sister’s apartment in the suburbs of Toronto, where they discovered her body sprawled on the carpet behind a sofa in her living room. A heavy crystal bowl lay close to the body, cracked and bloodstained. The ground-based Spectrum pathologist concluded that she had died from a blunt trauma to the head, and he calculated that the approximate time of death was around thirty-six hours before the painting arrived at Cloudbase.
Despite the Colonel’s decision that Ochre should document the whole bizarre affair as a Mysteron incursion; there were still too many things that defied explanation, and the Midwesterner mused glumly that there were many more questions remaining than answers.
Was the Bereznik sub just a diversion? Or was it really a case of two Mysteron threats for the price of one? Who killed Moira McLeod – Captain Black? And with her dead, is that the end of it – or is her Mysteron duplicate still out there – waiting to wreak more havoc?
How was it possible that a painting could influence someone to commit such crimes? Destiny had suggested, with a perfectly straight-face, that there might have been some sort of supernatural element to the painting that the Mysterons somehow took advantage of.
Ochre switched off his terminal. It was probably better not to dwell on that one too much.
Is it my imagination, or does Halloween come around quicker every year? No matter how early I start, I still seem to scrabble to finish before the 31st!
As usual I an indebted to my long-suffering beta-reader, Marion Woods, (Why she puts up with me I have no idea!) for her unflagging help and support, and to Chris Bishop for her helpful suggestions and graphics, not to mention allowing me to post my darkest thoughts on her website. Any mistakes in the text are all mine.
This story used characters from TV series “Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons” ©, which is the creation of Gerry Anderson and Sylvia Anderson, and the rights of the series belong to Carlton International. No profit was made from this story.
Happy Halloween 2008 to all.
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