Original series Suitable for all readersAction-oriented/low level of violence







Here's to You, Patrick Donaghue - An Halloween story by Sage Harper



The Subject



Captain Magenta, stood at the bottom of a step ladder in the officers’ lounge, took another sip of tea. “I hate Halloween.”

His field partner, at the top of the ladder, carefully checked the alignment of the fake cobweb in relation to the garland of plaited black and orange tinsel he’d already strung across the officer’s lounge at Symphony’s request. Well, technically, it had been Captain Blue’s request; but Ochre didn’t for a moment think Blue was the sort of person for whom ‘let’s make our workplace look like some of Hammer Horror’s set designers lost their mind’ would be an independent thought. “Well that goes some way to explain why you’re being an even more useless gobshite than usual.”

Magenta said nothing, simply used his free hand to hold up the other end of another thick string of fake cobweb stuff they were in the process of decorating the lounge with, see he could take a hint. For once Ochre was even being entirely reasonable; their annual Halloween party was only a few hours away, they were supposed to have put up the decorations the day before… but then the Mysterons were supposed to stay on Mars and not try to destroy a chemical plant on the penultimate day of October.

Ochre gave a nod of thanks. “How come you’re after being the Samhain Grinch anyway?”

At that, Magenta managed a smile at the mashup of linguistic and cultural references from their respective countries of birth. “I don’t really know, just not feeling it this year. Everyone’s being so childish, and obsessing over costumes. I’ve seen some of them. It’s going to end up looking like some kind of… well, not the sophisticated gathering Destiny had in mind.”

Ochre’s expression strongly implied he approved of this scenario. “Maybe you need to get laid.”

“That’s your solution to all my life’s problems.”

“Pat, cara, you have your good health, a loving and amazingly open-minded family, gainful employment that doesn’t preclude breaking the law, enough money squirreled away to bankroll a small European dictatorship. And a best friend, slash partner with a deep well of patience and a hell of a sense of humour, which should go without saying on the grounds said partner has yet to smother you in your sleep. So, apart from the consistent pitiful lack of bedroom action, what other problems do you even have?”

If Magenta was going to be incredibly generous and surrender all his pride, he’d have to admit Ochre had a point. Instead he said nothing, finding the decorations strangely fascinating.

“Crimson is going to the party,” Ochre added superficially, apposite to nothing. “Aud told me. So, that’ll be nice, you could ask her for a dance.”

At the mention of Lieutenant Crimson, a South-African computer specialist seconded to Cloudbase, Magenta’s face suddenly became a not dissimilar shade, his voice barely above a whisper. “That is never going to happen, because…”

“Drink then, significantly less counterproductive to convincing her you’re a catch, not that she needs much persuading.”

“No drink, no dance. And you know why.”

“Fraternisation?” Ochre scoffed. “I’m sure to someone who lacks my, frankly superior, insight into human nature that would be somewhat convincing.”

Magenta knew the real reason he wasn’t entertaining daydreams about Crimson out of her uniform and under his colour coded blankets. Of course he did, you couldn’t get into your thirties let alone the elite of Spectrum without some intelligence and self-awareness. It would be so simple to just say it, let that thought fly and deal with the consequences; but something made it stick in his throat every time. A creeping shame and unworthiness left over from his earlier life yes, but also the very real immediate fear of messing up what he already had.

Ochre’s dismount from the step ladder was somewhat graceless in its urgency. He planted his feet and braced both his hands just below Magenta’s epaulettes, so there was no doubting his field partner would remain in place and give his full attention.

“Pat, you have to tell her.”

Magenta spluttered, somehow caught unawares by that. “No.”

“You have to.” Ochre’s voice was firm, his cop voice. Not the obnoxious cop voice that could itemise all Magenta’s flaws real or imagined, but Ochre’s best self that got things done. “Pat, it’s just cruel. And you are not cruel. She really, really likes you, and all the while that you’re paying her attention and little compliments, and not stating your intention one way or the other, that just gives her hope that one day you’ll reciprocate her feelings. You don’t have to tell her why. You just, she has a right to know. To… to stop goddamn hoping, and have a chance to move on.”


If Magenta had been able to separate Ochre’s words from the swirl of emotions they unleashed, it would have stopped right there. Magenta would have acknowledged his friend was right. He might even have considered that the intensity in Ochre’s dark eyes suggested some personal experience past or present lay behind it. He might have understood. Might have changed tack and reached out to his best friend.

But he didn’t.

His hackles were up, pride stung. So Patrick Donaghue did as he always did when he felt that way.

“Even if it was any of your business, which it’s not, you have no right to tell me what to do!”

“It is my business! Friends don’t let friends lie by omission and make a fool of people.” Ochre cut off Magenta’s immediate response: “Deliberately refusing to tell someone that you don’t reciprocate their feelings sure sounds like it to me.”

Magenta heard the door opening behind him, someone coming in who presumably wanted some peace and quiet not to bear witness to a row. In that moment he really didn’t care.

“Where the hell do you get off being so sanctimonious?”

“I’m not being sanctimonious.” Ochre’s tone was surprisingly reasonable. “But I am sanctimonious often enough to know the difference between that, and simply saying something you don’t want to hear.”


Magenta heard the newcomer behind them clear their throat, in that deliberate way that was to draw attention. He turned and it was indeed Lieutenant Flaxen, their Audrey, holding a clipboard just a bit too tightly.

“I can come back later.”

Ochre stepped past his partner with a warm smile, the kind of smile that, paired with his tousled auburn hair and the warm caramel of his eyes, made him the subject of a not inconsiderable number of fraternisation-themed fantasies. “Naww, your timing is perfect: we need a woman’s eye for this.” He wafted his hand to take in the room and its themed décor.

“Oh heck, don’t look at me. I don’t know anything about designs and stuff, and I don’t want you getting in trouble with Symphony Angel on my account.”

Ochre gave a wink. “We can handle it.”

Magenta figured that was a good time to make a diplomatic exit.


It was a short walk between the lounge and his quarters, even shorter when you were trying to outrun your thoughts. As Magenta rounded the corner on to ‘Captain’s Row’, he caught sight of Grey.

Grey was wearing shorts and an old Naval Academy sweater; that and the holdall slung over his shoulder left no doubt he was off for his evening swim. Not that anyone who knew him could ever wonder about such things; for a block of time each morning and evening he couldn’t be disturbed, or kept from his ultimate goal. They’d seen what happened if he didn’t get to swim. It wasn’t pretty.


Hearing him coming, Grey looked round with a smile, and probably the offer of ‘you wanna go with?’ Then Magenta watched as that died.

He tried to smile; really, honestly he did. Grey was OK, far better than OK in fact, once you got past that outer shell of professionalism and introversion. Unlike some people, Grey didn’t take it personally if you didn’t share every sordid detail of your leave itinerary, and he respected the fact that people might sometimes want to watch a movie in silence.

“I’m really not good company right now.” Magenta shrugged, feeling uncharacteristically awkward.

Grey could surmise what had happened; not the details of course, but there was something particular about the way Magenta was after a disagreement with his partner. “Wanna talk about it?”

Magenta considered his options and shook his head. “Nah, don’t worry about it, Brad. Go enjoy your swim. I’ll be fine in the morning.”

Grey stepped closer, a necessity of the route to the pool, hesitated a moment, then gave Magenta a sympathetic pat on the shoulder. Magenta couldn’t help thinking he must look a state then, considering Grey was among the least ‘touchy-feely’ people on the whole of Cloudbase.

“Well, if you’re sure you’re OK…”

Magenta gave a brisk nod, and continued down the corridor without looking back.




Once he arrived at his quarters, out of habit the first thing Magenta did was to unzip his uniform boots. He then kicked them off with more force than needed and watched them skitter across the floor, not caring if they hit anything en route. As Cloudbase was at that time over the northern hemisphere during the autumn, the under floor heating for their quarters had been on just long enough that the carpeting was warm beneath his sock-clad feet. If he hadn’t been in such a mood, he’d have mentally noted how pleasant it was. Lord knows he’d spent enough of his lifetime pre-Spectrum, or in the field since, with toes that felt on the verge of frostbite.


There was an empty red plastic storage box near to his door. Magenta couldn’t remember why he’d left it there, but no doubt it was a deliberate gesture. It was born of his mother’s longstanding habit while her children were growing up of clearing through their rooms to make space for the new things, and to give unneeded items to ‘children less fortunate than themselves’. No matter how bad things had been for the Donaghue family growing up, they always considered themselves set apart from the truly unfortunate. Things could always be worse and they should be grateful for their lot. Of course the holiday season was still weeks away, but he tried to get ahead with these things as Mysteron threats did cut into his time.

Magenta knew he had plenty to be grateful for, but nothing much came to mind, and what did seemed like dumb luck. He really should call his parents; but his mam would sense his bad mood and fret about it, or do her usual thing of implying all his life problems would be resolved if only he’d settle down with a nice girl (or a nice man, she was open-minded like that). Magenta didn’t suppose he was the settling down type, with a nice girl or otherwise, and not just through distinct lack of opportunity. Then if his mam got upset, inevitably his da would be all bent out of shape too. God forbid anyone cause their mother even the slightest distress on Seamus Donaghue’s watch, a loyalty that inspired admiration and frustration in their only son.


Finally the day’s events were catching up with Magenta and a vast weariness was taking hold. He decided to forgo showering until the morning, but went into the bathroom to brush his teeth, then splashed a little cold water on his face. He wasn’t sure why, it wasn’t like he needed to wake up. After that, he ambled back through the main living room area to check his computer was switched off and poured himself a drink. Then he finally pulled an old t-shirt and vaguely coordinating pair of pyjama pants from his chest of drawers.

As he went through the motions of getting ready for bed, Magenta studiously ignored the pockets of mess around his quarters, and the report he’d need to rewrite soon. He didn’t really see the point of that. Honestly, so freaking what if he didn’t turn in a perfect report, or any report at all? It wasn’t like the base would fall out of the sky.


Magenta set down the stout cut glass tumbler, part of a set given by his parents as a gift many Christmases ago, on his bedside drawer unit. The amber liquid inside was a portion of his contraband whiskey. All the captains (except Grey, probably, ever a stickler for protocol was their Brad) had some alcohol stashed in their quarters. Whoever was doing a goods audit or inspection during any given month turned a blind eye. Not that they would ever been foolish enough to leave it in plain sight.

Looking at it, his mood seemed to sink ever lower, if such a thing was possible. He knew alcohol was ultimately a depressant; but surely it wouldn’t affect him so drastically before he’d even taken a sip. It was probably just that it had come to that; for him to be drinking alone on Halloween, feeling so sorry for himself. But then who would he drink with anyway? Symphony and Rhapsody were on standby, so no doubt off duty Blue and Scarlet would have pressing engagements on C deck. Green was on duty. He’d temporarily burnt his bridges with Grey. Which was nothing compared to the bridge torching he’d indulged in with Ochre. And it wasn’t like he was going to hang out with the lieutenants. Not that there was anything wrong with that, for the most part they were indeed decent amusing people, but it seemed a bit pitiful calling on them as backup.

‘I might as well have not even existed,’ He couldn’t help but think. ‘What’s the point? All I ever do is cause everyone grief.’

With that, he clambered into bed, downed his drink, and fell into a restless sleep.




The Guide



He woke slowly, aware there was someone else in the room. He should have responded promptly to this new information tugging at his subconscious, and normally he would. His job had trained him for that. But equally, this new presence seemed to relax him; it felt almost familiar.

Magenta rolled over, adjusting his position in the narrow twin bed which was standard issue in Cloudbase sleeping quarters, and opened his eyes. A moment of sleepy forgetfulness meant he had left his bedside lamp on, which gave a gentle yet thorough illumination of his subject.


In his freshly woken state, Magenta glanced at the figure sitting on the chair close to his bed and thought it was his father. That seemed unlikely though. After all, his father stubbornly refused to venture far from the anachronistically quaint village in which he had made a home. And no matter how many times Pat had explained the physics behind it, his father still had a deep distrust of how Cloudbase could stay airborne and safe. Still, it made considerably more sense than what he was actually seeing. Another man who resembled his father, but for old-fashioned clothes and a stance that suggested a lightness and youth more in keeping with Magenta’s generation.

“Paddy,” Magenta said, hesitantly.

When his namesake first grandchild had been born, Patrick Donaghue Senior had refused any titles because ‘Granddads are old’. So he was Paddy to his grandchildren, just as he was to everyone else.

Paddy nodded. “Am I still to call you Patrick, or Pat, or is it always Magenta now? What kind of name is that anyway?”

“It’s a colour; with my rank in Spectrum. We all have colour codenames. It’s to provide a noticeable public presence whilst protecting our identities from public knowledge.” Magenta stifled a yawn; official Spectrum PR tended to have that effect on him. “Magenta itself is a shade of red. More of a purpley-red, in actuality. It’s certainly not meant to look that pink, they just had some trouble with the fabric and the dyeing process.”

Paddy nodded, as if he’d already known all that anyway.

At that Magenta gave a smile. “But yeah, you can call me Patrick. For old times sake.”

“Very well then,” Paddy began his own official spiel. “You’re wondering why I’m here. I can tell…”

“It had occurred to me to wonder.” Magenta sat up in bed.

“See, we’re not so different nowadays, you and me. I’ve been sent here, by my own boss man of sorts, all very classified, you understand. For a mission, to help you…”

At that. Magenta couldn’t help laughing. “Oh, don’t tell me. You’re an angel. My guardian angel…”

Paddy sat there, nonplussed.

“Do you have any memory of the first, what, twenty years of my life? You took me out on Sunday mornings to bet on horses and eat fried breakfasts at that café, where you made a habit of eyeing up all the waitresses. You taught me to swear. Hell, you sent me out in the middle of a party with an IOU to collect you a bottle of Jamesons from the Singh’s liquor store when I was eight years old!”

“Are you done?”

“I’m just saying, surely in that case, they’d have sent along Saint Granny. Or any other better, or indeed actual, examples of good Christian conduct. That would better fit this model of things, you’d think. How is she anyway, do you see her much?”

Saint Granny was his maternal grandmother, so canonised for being the spouse of Connor Murphy and mother to three sons who resembled him in various antisocial ways. Whenever she had visited her only daughter in New York, they had begged her to stay, but Aoife always went back. Eventually the drink caught up with him, and she had lived for several years in relative peace until her untimely demise from an undetected heart condition, aided to that end by an overenthusiastic bout of salsa dancing at a church social.

“She sends her regards,” Paddy said. “But she had a prior engagement. And overall, they prefer to choose a relative of the same gender that someone had the closest relationship with. Makes them more receptive to it.”

“Well, if you say so.” Then Magenta asked, because he had to: “When Pappy had his heart attack, he said that he saw you, in the corridor, a corridor anyway, and you told him to go back. We thought he was just dreaming or something. But…”

“It wasn’t his time,” Paddy stated. “And what I actually said was ‘you need to make it right with your boy’. Which he did, you both did. Meeting each other halfway and actually listening. It’s right up there with water into wine.”

“I suspected you’d use that example.”

“Don’t you go getting all smug with me, Patrick Thomas.” Magenta’s family had always been big on full names. “Me, your father, your uncle Niall, even your cousin Kieran. We all share blood. It will out in the end. So watch your step thinking you’ve beaten the system, because you and I both know when you look in the mirror each morning that for a moment, you see your father’s face. The way your pa sees me in him, and you.”

“Are you telling me ‘carpe diem’ then? To appreciate his company before we have to resort to this?”

“This is going to work a whole lot better if you don’t get to the punch line before me.” Paddy stood up and unceremoniously dumped a neat pile of clothes onto the end of the bed. “I’ll wait in the lounge for you.”

“Why do I need to get dressed, are we going somewhere?”

“Patrick. You’ve always liked movies, and Christmas traditions…”

“It’s Halloween.”

“I know.” Paddy seemed pleased with himself. “That’s why it works, because the veil between the worlds is thin. Nonetheless, I’m not going to patronise either of us by explaining how this is going to work. You’re quite welcome to go as you are. We won’t be interacting with or seen by anyone else. I just thought you’d been more comfortable.”

Magenta shrugged, got out of bed. He sorted through the pile of clothes; fresh underwear, a clean long sleeve white t-shirt, dark jeans, a thick oatmeal coloured woollen sweater his mam had knitted last year, and the appropriate pair of ‘days of the week’ socks from the set his niece had given him for his last birthday. He did wonder about footwear, but found under the chair Paddy had sat on his favoured pair of comfortable ‘civvie’ shoes. Overall it was a good selection. He grabbed a navy wool coat too, just in case.

“Well, as I know how the movie goes,” he called through to the next room. “Then don’t I have to be about to hurl myself off a bridge or something before divine intervention strikes?”

“We’ve been watching over you, and after everything you’ve been through, wouldn’t blame you. But you’re doing grand.” There was a lilt of pride in his voice. “Right now it’s just a message you need to hear. So, just play along.”

Magenta shrugged, changed into the fresh clothes, and stashed his refolded nightwear back in the drawer.


He came out into the living room to see Paddy wandering around, looking at everything, touching and picking things up. You’d have thought a ghost, angel, whatever his grandfather was, wouldn’t be able to do stuff like that. For you to blink and everything would be exactly as it had been a second before.

This was too freaking weird. If he hadn’t been so mad at Ochre still, he’d have put it down to an elaborate practical joke. Or at the very least had him come over and verify what he was witnessing.

“Nice place you’ve got here.”

“Thanks,” Magenta said mildly. It was a standard compliment but he knew Paddy meant it. The quarters on Cloudbase, even officers’ quarters with the space and home comforts afforded by rank, weren’t exactly a New York penthouse; but Magenta had decorated it as well as he could.

“That’s a lovely picture of your mother,” Paddy commented.

“Yeah, I know.” After all that’s why Magenta had it framed and on display. “She looks so young. I mean she was young really, but there’s something about her, carefree I guess. When Caitlin and I think back to when we were growing up, she doesn’t really remember Mam being like that.”

“They were hard times.”

“I know, but the thing is… I do remember Mam that way. Of course it wasn’t easy at all but she made the best of things.” Magenta stopped. “How can two people who grew up together in the same house have such different memories?”

“Perspective.” Paddy set the framed photograph down. “Your sister has a very different character to you. I’m not saying it’s better or worse, she’s just another person.” Paddy smiled. “If there’s call for it, she’ll be the one Saint Granny goes to.”

Magenta tried to imagine how that would pan out; probably quite amusingly from his vantage point.


“Are you ready then?” Paddy asked.

“As I’ll ever be, I guess.” Magenta shrugged. “Not that I have any idea what I’m readying myself for. What will it feel like?”

“Remember that 4D movie house you took Fae to when she was younger? Think of it like that.”

“So, it won’t hurt then.”

“No, they’re just memories and such. No more painful than a dream.”

Magenta seemed to be brimming with questions, but didn’t speak any further.

“You’re quite welcome to ask, Patrick. We’re not going to be late for anything.”

“No, it’s OK. Guess I’ll figure it out as we go along. You’ll be sticking around though, right, so I can ask some more?”

Paddy nodded, offered his arm.

“There is one thing though,” Magenta said, taking it. “What exactly is the point of this then?”

“To answer your question of course, the one you’ve been asking all along.”

He couldn’t remember exactly what that question was; but Magenta put his trust in his grandfather, and prepared himself, honestly curious, for what he was about to witness.




The one that got away



At a cursory glance, the scene was familiar to Patrick; but ultimately this all-American suburban Halloween wonderland was only recognisable from the countless catalogues and made-for-TV movies he’d suffered through over the years. His parents had ordinarily been resistant to overt displays of Americana, but for Halloween, like St Patrick’s Day, they fully embraced a tradition that had filtered through from the old country. His sister had longed for that, to fit in with her friends for once. Pat hadn’t cared about conformity but he enjoyed the fun well enough.

“I know you said this was going to be like a movie,” Magenta began. “But I didn’t think you were being literal.”

He looked around, taking in the picture book twinkling jack-o’-lanterns and lawns raked to within an inch of their existence. If Pat genuinely believed in this, and he didn’t quite, then he’d want to tell Blue about it once he got back. Adam was crazy about all those sci-fi sounding theories, alternative universes and stuff. It appealed to his particular combination of scientific mind and a traditional Christian faith. It all made sense really, in a way; once you’d opened up your mind to things like ‘my best friend has retrometabolism’, then where was the sense in drawing a line at what was possible?

Out of the corner of his eye, Patrick noticed a large inflatable ghoul which served as a lawn ornament. It made him smile. If you’re going to be stranded in a parallel universe, you could do a lot worse than this one.

“You look nervous,” Paddy said, looking around him as if trying to recollect the particular house number they needed on this street.

“Wouldn’t you be, in my position?” Magenta retorted, testing what he had been told by walking into a front yard near to where they had ‘landed’, and kicking at pile of leaves spreading them around. Then he stepped back, and indeed it was as if not even a light breeze had impacted on the yard work.

“You were always such a curious child,” Paddy noted. “Cynical and stubborn too. Do you remember when you were seven, and worked out that Father Christmas wasn’t real, then told your cousin Kieran?”

“Yeah.” Magenta gave a snort of amusement. “He cried for a week straight, and I still don’t think he’s forgiven me… ah hell, is he going to be in this too?”

“We’ll see.”

“You don’t even know? Well, that’s wonderful. You give me this crap about how it’ll be all pain-free, wonderful, and life-affirming, when you can’t even back it up.”

“I know how the process of it works, but it’s not always clear from the outset how things will pan out.”

Magenta had had enough by then. “This is getting old before it’s even begun. I don’t know where I am or why. So how about you just send me back to my quarters and save your energy for someone who actually cares?”

Paddy watched him walk away. “And how do you propose to get back then?”

Magenta took two more steps, stopped, and turned around. He’d got him there. He shivered, despite being comfortably warm. Until then, he hadn’t believed it was happening, that he could be anywhere but his own bed, dreaming. So inevitably, it prickled away at the back of his mind how exactly he was going to get back to Cloudbase and the life that had become familiar.

“Don’t knock it ‘til you try it. Isn’t that one of your mottos?”

He got a scathing look in response, so Paddy tried a different tactic, to just carry on regardless.


“Don’t worry, I wouldn’t have expected you to recognise all the locations. Some places you might, others you won’t, it keeps things interesting.” Paddy was enjoying this, he could tell. “Anyway, right now we’re in a suburb close to Cambridge, Massachusetts.”

“The home of Harvard,” Magenta mused. “But I don’t know anyone in that neck of the woods.”

Paddy nodded, then stepped up to the window of a particular house, the one he had intended for them to visit. Magenta followed him; the light dusting of snow on the front lawn crunched underfoot, but when he looked back, he saw that he had left no footprints. This was really surreal; to be present somewhere and yet not be there at the same time, it felt like being a ghost. Maybe exactly like a ghost; weren’t they always so sure they weren’t dead?

Maybe that was it,’ Magenta thought; he’d died in his sleep. Things like that can happen even when you’re youngish; his family had a history of heart trouble after all. But surely if his own ticker was a time bomb, then Doctor Fawn would have noticed.

He was going to have to stop this; trying to figure it out was tying him up in knots and still not getting him anyway.


It was a really nice house they’d come up to. From a distance, the clapboards looked white, but up close, they were in fact the palest duck egg blue, a sharp contrast to the moody grey of the slate roofing. The house had a reproduction Colonial feel about it, a style which apparently had been popular a decade before. It reminded Magenta of a dolls house. Yes, exactly, it was one that had been in the window of Macy’s when he was a kid. His sister had pined for it. That was probably why it had got stuck in his subconscious.

He wasn’t dead then, that was a relief; it must just be a dream.

“Are we going to walk through the walls, or something cool like that?” he asked.

“No real need,” Paddy answered. “We can see everything we need from this big bay window here.”

“This feels wrong, we’re being voyeurs.”

“They don’t know we’re here, never will. It’s not even a real world.” Paddy gave a sigh, trying to find a suitable way to explain it. “It’s a world that could have been. A dream, really. These worlds exist in people’s minds because their imaginations create and feed them. Or just such a drastic change occurs in someone’s life that it creates another world if they’d take the other road. It’s once you’ve stepped outside the world you know as ‘reality’ if you will, that then we can access them.”

“How can I be in someone else’s dream?”

“You’ve always been like this, asking so many questions. Couldn’t you ever just accept things, let a bit of magic into your life? It makes things far easier when you don’t keep butting up against things and demanding explanations.”

“You don’t even know, do you?”

“I know where to take you, and how to get you back.”

Knowing he wasn’t going to get a better answer, Magenta gave up, and stepped up to the window pane to get a better look.




It was late evening, if the clock on the mantelpiece was to be believed. The room was decorated in a chic tastefully ‘New England’ style, and the house beyond it hummed with gentle sounds of a young family.

“Emily,” a red-haired man called out, as he rooted through a large built in cupboard.

“Shh, Mark,” A woman, Emily no doubt, scolded him as she appeared in the living room, carrying two glasses of wine. “You really don’t need to yell.” She frowned. “What are you looking for anyway?”

“The spare box of candy. I thought you always put it around here.”

“Exactly, that’s why I put it somewhere else this time. Tristan was snooping around, we can’t have him eat them all before we start.”

Mark nodded, with a smile. “You still haven’t said where it is; which is going to make my life that bit harder when it gets late and we’re attacked by the next wave of the angry hordes.”

Emily set the glasses down on the coffee table, then went over to the large oak dresser, opened one of the upper cabinet doors and pointed inside. Mark had a peek, then after a moment, reappeared, triumphantly holding out a canvas bag, with the logo of a well-known Boston art gallery.

“Put it back, you don’t want the kids to see.”

“Done.” Mark shut the cupboard door. “This Halloween is so wonderful, now that they’re all old enough to really get into it. Not to mention you getting that exhibition in the New Year.”

“Don’t remind me. You might see it as a chance to show off your trophy wife, but it’s going to be a whole heap of work from my end.”

“You love it.”

Emily smiled, slipping an arm around his waist; “Sure, as much as I love you.”


“Eww.” A little girl of approximately five years old and dressed as a witch burst into the room. “No kissing stuff, please. I’m trying to eat.”

“You shouldn’t be, save some for us to share while the movie is on.”

Emily took the bowl of popcorn her daughter was carrying and set in down the centre of the coffee table. As she looked up, she saw the fireplace, and was again so thrilled the fabric garland she’d commissioned had turned out so well. For all her amazing, award-winning in fact, ability to draw and paint, Emily could barely sew a button on. So she was really grateful one of her fellow lecturers took pity and ensured her designs were fully materialised; even used that sophisticated new sewing to stitch their names in a copperplate script: Tristan, Georgia, Hugo, Iris.

Emily loved those names more every day since she and Mark had agreed on them.

Georgia, her elder daughter, back-dropped onto the couch, then reached for another handful of popcorn.

“Can I sort through my candy yet?” she asked.

“Not until your brothers and sister are here.” Mark frowned. “Where are they anyway?”

“Upstairs, the guys are making a railway track. I don’t know what Iris is doing.”

Mark stepped out of the room, to stand at the base of the carpeted wide wooden staircase, and called to the others to come downstairs for the movie and their present.


Almost instantly, there was a thunder of footfalls, as an older boy and toddler twins came into view. And knowing they had waited long enough already, Emily crouched to help them dump out their trick or treat haul on the coffee table, sifting through it efficiently to find the best candy to eat now, and what should be put away for later.

Once again, Mark marvelled at his amazing, talented wife, that she had chosen the perfect costume for each of them, even though she did it every year. No matter how many other commitments she had, the children always came first. And as per the years before, after sorting their candy, the family would sit together and watch a tame Halloween movie, until the children fell asleep dreaming of all the fun they’d had.

“It’s Hugo’s turn to choose this time around,” Tristan stated. He was fiercely protective of his youngest siblings, always making sure they got a fair shot at equality. Georgia he tolerated; they were a little too alike in some ways that didn’t make for good playmates, but underneath it all, their mother could see they loved each other and would always be loyal.

In his fireman costume, Hugo toddled over to the television, and jabbed his chubby finger at several buttons in sequence. It was an aptitude which other parents marvelled at and sometimes were horrified by. If she had to call it so early, Emily would bet Hugo would become an engineer, such was his innate curiosity and ability with technology.

“The Great Pumpkin, good choice,” she said, as the opening credits began to roll.

Hugo beamed, and clambered up to snuggle into her lap. His twin sister was already sitting with their father, beloved binky crammed into her mouth.

Georgia dragged a chocolate brown leather beanbag from a corner of the room, then nestled into it, close to her mother, while Tristan stretched himself out along the floor rug, propping his chin with his bent arms.

Emily continued to share her handful of popcorn with Hugo, then leant fully back into the couch and gave a sigh of contentment. Time with the family, making memories, that was what life was really all about.


Magenta turned away from the window and glared at Paddy, his expression demanding an explanation for what he had seen, if indeed his hunch was right. If not, then he wanted even more to know why his grandfather had brought him here.

“I don’t need to tell you who she is then?”

“Course not.” Magenta heaved a sigh. “Emily Mortmain. Damn, I haven’t seen her in years.”

“Since you were nineteen, if I recall correctly.” Paddy shrugged. “A shame really, you two made a good couple.”

“It wasn’t my fault that it didn’t work out.”

“Never said it was.”

Magenta rolled his eyes. “This is all because my sister found her webpage on that stupid social network site, then told me about it, isn’t it? And that’s why it’s kicking around in my subconscious.”

“You still think this is all a dream.”

“I don’t know what to think right now.”


Patrick stayed in his spot at the window. He could hear Paddy talking, but the words washed over in a blur, as he wasn’t listening. Instead, he looked closer, trying to place the association just out of his grasp. He knew a Mark from somewhere.

Then he did remember, it all came back to him in fragments.




It was early autumn; he had just begun his sophomore year at Yale. Patrick loved it there, balancing his studies with immersing himself in student life. His parents complained that he never came home, but that wasn’t true, he always made time for them and especially his little niece.

Odd thing was, much as he needed to be free of the place, Pat missed his old neighbourhood. It was a poor close-knit community; the kids who went through school together stayed together, had roamed semi-feral through the shabby apartment buildings, playing while their mothers worked and babysitters had other distractions. Childhood playtime evolved to petty crimes as an amusement and to get pocket money.

Patrick Donaghue knew he never had or would ever truly fit into that world. Sure, he’d had friends in school, mostly the other geeks with whom he shared his interests in computers and engineering. But he wasn’t a stereotypical geek: lanky, socially awkward and unable to hold their own in a fight. Patrick had a lifelong hatred of bullies, and wasn’t prepared to let them win. So in his free time during high school he worked out, took free self-defence classes at the Y, and that was enough to ensure the jocks gave him enough of a wide berth so that he could keep his head down and get on with his lessons. He knew the only way out of this place was by working hard enough to get a scholarship; Yale had always been his first choice.

The whole thing was a perfect plan; simple enough to go through the motions with his grades high, social life ticking over, and a weekend job so he could save up for a car. He didn’t see as much action on the romance front as he’d have liked to, but that was true of almost every teenage male with a pulse. Overall, he was content.

Then she came along, and he came so close to blowing the whole thing.


Emily Mortmain. She was a New Yorker too; but from further uptown, enough for it to seem like she was from other world. The only way she could come crashing into his was from the fall out of an ugly divorce between her parents. Her father tried to buy her love and forgiveness by footing the bill for a stellar college education in fine art and history. She took it, desperate to get away from her mother’s stifling sorrow.

She even looked exotic, walking through the halls. Pretty and pale as an orchid sprung up through a crack in the sidewalk. Patrick and his friends had seen her around in the courtyards and other shared spaces, though none of them knew her.

After the first semester at Yale, Pat had wandered around the campus and found his preferred study area, one of the smaller libraries in the arts faculty. An odd choice perhaps, but it was quiet and he hadn’t been busted yet.

“Excuse me, is this table taken?”

He looked around, and truly saw her for the first time. She looked so delicate that she would blow over if the fan was turned up any higher.

Pat smiled at her, couldn’t help it. “No, it’s fine. I just like this one best. It’s got enough room to spread your stuff out.”

She gave a coy smile in return and set her books down on the table. They were books he had never noticed before; photography books, a biography of Georgia O’Keefe. He recognised that name, and tried to say something pertinent.

“Isn’t she the one that paints flowers that look like…” He stopped short there, with no idea of how to proceed with the conversation. After all, it was one thing to imagine such things, slave to hormones as most young men were, but quite another to casually mention it to a virtual stranger.

“Yes, I suppose you’re right.” Her tone was composed, but colour flooded to her cheeks.

“Oh, uh, well I’ll let you get on, then.”

And with that, Pat turned back to the computer, cursing himself.

“I’m Emily, by the way.”

He turned around then, offered his hand to shake. “Patrick, but, uh, my friends call me Pat.”

“It’s good to meet you, Pat.”

Maybe he hadn’t blown it after all.


He hadn’t of course, at least that was still to come. They became close friends, hanging out between classes, and on the occasional evening. Her, picking his brain as she studied for the compulsory science requirement; him, simply fascinated by her wit, passions, and complexities. By the following spring, Pat knew she was falling for someone. He was happy for her; there was never any question in his own mind as to whether he felt attracted to her. He wasn’t, not beyond mere friendship. Not that well-meaning interfering busybodies like his mother or sister would ever believe that. Sometimes he considered telling them the truth about what was really putting the fire in his belly and keeping him from them, but that would have been stupid, and would just end in nothing but grief on all sides. It was far easier to let them go along with what they assumed, then they wouldn’t look deeper. Though he was sure on some level they must have suspected. Considering the heated arguments the Donaghue family had over dinner about current affairs, Bereznik was always a hot button.


‘Group 22’ sounded far more nefarious, mysterious, and threatening than it really was. But for two dozen Yale students on scant budgets, they did their best. With hindsight, it wasn’t the wide reaching political extremism, the kind most people can only muster as a student, which embarrassed the adult Donaghue. He still in theory stood by those causes, and to an extent his reasoning why. No, the kicker was that they could be so freaking naive about the entire thing, how easily they were caught out and how quickly they fled the cause. Years later, he had wondered about his fellow extremists, had looked them up via the comprehensive Spectrum databases he had access to. Twenty years on, they were so average; law abiding, white collar jobs, a few kids, divorces, and health blips between them. He was tempted to email them, asking what the hell happened, when did they settle and lose that fire.

He never did, though; that would inevitably lead to him disclosing he worked for a World Government organisation. The joke, it would seem, was on him.

They met in grubby dorm rooms, the carpets marred with gum and cigarette butts, or convene on campus, passing on messages in person or on takeout wrappers because their leader was paranoid the government was watching their communications. It was all pretty ‘cloak and dagger’, not a world away from what he would end up doing almost twenty years later. At the time, it made Pat feel a glow of righteousness; he could rattle off their Anti-Bereznik manifesto like a mantra.

But really, for the first time since his childhood Sunday school classes, Pat had something to believe in, to belong to, where he fitted in. And deep down, it was all pretty good fun.


In all honesty, Magenta couldn’t really remember the day of the riots, when Group 22 decided to strike, not beyond a few blurred images and sensations. Those could just as easily have been his own mental constructs from media reportage as he tried to make sense of it, staking a claim to his own part.

He should really recall it; with hindsight, it was a truly defining moment. Without that blot on his record, Patrick Donaghue could have waltzed into any post-graduate job he wanted; he wouldn’t have needed to, or at least felt he should, settle into the first job that hired him. He wouldn’t have felt that elation, right before it crashed down, to crave it again and be so desperate to never be confined again. The way he would never feel doing the daily grind of a nine-to-five computer programmer, so easily taking the escape with no regard for the consequences. Yeah, guess his father was right after all, those riots did make a criminal of him; though not in the way anyone would think.

People had heard of it a lot through the news reports, if not of those riots, then of other student lead revolts. Tear gas wasn’t really appropriately named; mix brine and the hottest chilli poured in down your face, that was more like it. That was the point when Patrick Donaghue, being the intelligent astute person he was even then, realised things were starting to go wrong. This wasn’t going to be a hippy love-in from the last century, but some part of him was ok with that. It wasn’t quite real yet. He was still right.

Then he was running – well, staggering. In retrospect, he knew he shouldn’t have run. It was an admission of guilt; especially when you end up heading straight for another glut of World Government Police Corps officers just waiting for you down an alleyway.

The cops had tackled and pined him down; he looked up and saw one was barely older than him, a fresh-eyed rookie. There was a lot of shouting at that point. The crowd moved as if exhaling, as the crush of other rioters moved away so as not to suffer his fate, parting the way for him to be tossed into the back of a police van and taken down to the station. All the while he was laughing, because they were saying those words you hear on cop TV shows.

When his parents came down to the station, his father initially refused to pay his bail, and his mother refused to look him in the eye because that was all it would take for her to break down. His niece Fae, at barely two years old, wide-eyed and perched on her grandmother’s hip, had waved, grinning at him like it was a very elaborate game of peekaboo.

There was a shift in that moment, when it all suddenly became real, and Pat realised that, to put it none-too-finely, he’d just done something really goddamn stupid.


Pat did however, with clarity, recall the last time he saw Emily Mortmain.

His defence attorney had argued that Patrick Donaghue was a victim of circumstances, had fallen in with the wrong crowd, you might say. In the grand scheme of things, Pat hadn’t done anything utterly reprehensible. No killing, violence, damage to property. Standing around with some comrades-in-arms shouting the odds wasn’t a crime; it was freedom of speech and all that sentimental patriotic crap.

Maybe pro-bono lawyers just didn’t try. Or maybe he should be fair and concede that the world government was set on making an example of the rioters. Either way Patrick Donaghue, along with his cohorts, was sentenced to the maximum penalty possible for his actions.

Ninety days, to be served at Riker’s Island.

Emily hadn’t been there for the sentencing, a conflict with her college scheduling, and he didn’t blame her for that. Instead she wrote to him, and once he had set visiting hours, she became a fairly regular visitor, until week six.

“I’m sorry, I’m not going to be able to see you anymore,” she had said. Considering the circumstances she reminded him of Holly Golightly, when she visited Sal Tomato in Sing Sing. Emily even looked a bit like Audrey Hepburn if you squinted.

“It’s Mark,” she explained, not looking him in the eye. “He… he’s just looking out for me. Doesn’t think it’s right that I come here and mix with, well… That I’m here.”

“You’re just talking to me. I’m still the same person.”

“Yes, of course…” She blew her nose. Hell, she could even make that an art form. “I love him, Pat, you know that. This is something I really want to make work, you know.”

“Uh, yeah, I understand that.” Pat didn’t, not really. He couldn’t imagine that a relationship was all that healthy if it kept you from your best friend, that it could matter so much he would shoehorn himself into someone’s idea of a perfect partner. He wanted to say something fitting that would make her understand, but he couldn’t find the words that wouldn’t make him sound a selfish insensitive asshole.

He laughed a little then, realising the implication of the conversation. “Does he really think… Erm… seriously? There’s no way you’d cheat, he should know that. And with me! How would that even work?”

She muttered something in response; it may have been ‘emotional affair’, but Pat didn’t catch exactly what Emily had said, so wasn’t going to pass comment. Then she looked up, screwing on a smile.

“It’ll only be temporary, probably. Mark just needs to feel more secure, then it’ll be fine.”

Pat shrugged; he doubted that very much even then, and knew far better years later. But then, his best friend now seemed an utterly different species from the scarred socially awkward nineteen year old girl he sat across from that day. They were all older and wiser now, it wasn’t fair to judge.

“I understand.”

Taking that at face value, she nodded, got up and left. He never saw her again. Not when he got out, or when she called; he avoided invitations to the gatherings of mutual friends and found a new place to study. Not because he hated her, but because he had nothing more to say.

If he had, after she had her heart broken because all the while it was this Adonis Mark who was the cheat, then he would have asked ‘was it worth it?’

But that would be useless and vindictive.

‘Don’t ask questions you don’t already know the answer to’, as a certain one time first choice candidate for Supreme Commander of the WGPC would tell him years later.  




“Why here?” Magenta said, shaking his head lightly as if that would dislodge the painful memories.

“But I thought this was what you wanted to see.” Paddy’s response was flippant. “That the world would be so much better off without you in it. That you’d have never broken anyone’s heart or changed their plans for the future…”

“That wasn’t my fault,” Pat insisted. Though he could feel his bravado slipping. “I didn’t make anyone do those things, to hurt her like that.”

“Indeed, by all accounts, the guy was a selfish arrogant dick, running off his ego and crotch. Best to work that out back then, with youthful resilience on her side. She moved on anyway, entirely her own choice, you know that.”

“That’s what I was saying. So it didn’t make much difference either way.”

“You loved her, Pat. That’s never something you want to take back. You’re right, I don’t suppose in reality, she has the big house sprung from a magazine, or the husband, the kids or the prime teaching post. But she’s happy; by being her friend, you made her happy and trust in people, enough that she tried again.” Paddy smiled. “I won’t spoil the surprise of what happened next, you can look her up yourself.”

“It’s still bullshit though,” Pat grumbled. “That ‘everything happens for a reason’ crap. I don’t even believe in it, not any more. There are so many variables, that really it’s just an overly simplistic cop out for ‘shit happens’. Sure, there’s cause and effect, what’s wrong with that as an explanation?”


After that outburst, Paddy looked surprisingly contrite and sympathetic. “Are you still so sure that you don’t need this?”

“I don’t know, and I don’t care.” He sounded more and more like a petulant child, but Pat couldn’t quite stop himself. “Just take me back, please. That was the deal.”

It wasn’t going to be that simple, though. Paddy was starting to get into this. That enterprising zeal, which had illuminated his eyes during Paddy’s lifetime at the prospect of easy money, was returning. Though now that finances were of no concern where he had ended up, it seemed adventure was his new fix of choice.

“It isn’t going to be all bad y’know,” Paddy stated. “You’ve not been a complete bastard.”

Magenta rolled his eyes. If reincarnation was a thing, he really hoped they didn’t put Paddy into the body of a mental health professional.

“Uh, thanks.”

Paddy grinned, patted Patrick’s cheek like he was still a kid. It made Magenta feel a little better. After all, as unbelievable as this situation was, it still was truly once in a lifetime. A whole universe of possibilities had opened up to him, of things he could discover about the past and future. It would surely, he reasoned to himself, be foolish to pass that up.

Besides, he’d always enjoyed spending the time with Paddy; no one else in the family had understood his need for adventure.


“Is there anything more that we need to do here?” Magenta asked.

“Not really, we have more to do tonight, in each place you see what there is to see, then think about it. Or not, maybe. It’s entirely your call.” Paddy rolled his eyes in the direction of the window. “It’s all a bit cheesy, isn’t it? Pretty to look at, but they can keep it. It must get so boring being perfect all the time.”

“Yeah, guess I would hate to live like that too. Our gatherings were always more fun.”

Paddy grinned. “It just wouldn’t have been a proper family party without fighting, drinking, and blaming everyone else for your failings.”

 “True enough, so where to next? I mean, we should be heading off now, must be lots of ground to cover.”

Pat gave the house one last look over; after all that had happened, he held no ill feeling toward Emily. Any happiness she could grasp was surely well-deserved. He wasn’t sure if when he got back to his regular life he would look her up. He was torn between not wanting to pry, and a morbid curiosity piqued by his own voyage of discovery.

“Happy endings make you uncomfortable,” Paddy teased.

“Well, I’d quite like to think at least one person would be miserable without me.” Patrick shrugged. “Even if that’s just Fae.”

“It’s not, actually,” Paddy’s tone of voice was a little too leading in its nonchalance. “If only because in this world, she doesn’t exist.”

Patrick stared at him, trying to wrap his head around that. How could his existence preclude hers? They weren’t that directly related and he certainly wasn’t in any way responsible for his sister meeting that useless cretin, and thinking contraception was optional.

“That, doesn’t make any sense.” Then a thought occurred to him, and he stamped it down. He had to, it made him physically sick.

 “It will.” Paddy added casually. “Once you see your parents.”




The Very Beginning



“This place needs no introduction, does it?” Paddy said, feeling an unexpected swell of fondness for the city. His home.

“Nah, never.”

It wasn’t as if Pat ever forgot that he was Irish, bonafide Dublin born and all, he didn’t have the chance to. His parents had always been stubbornly entrenched in it and returned home once they reasonably could. When he spent a few days with them, or even after a long phone call, his accent, which had always been neither here or there, had a more noticeable Gaelic lilt. Sure, he’d happily down Guinness, grasped the basic principles of hurling, and in moments of drunken sentimentality, might get a thump in his throat on hearing ‘Fields of Athenry’… Nonetheless, he’d lived the majority of his life in New York, and embraced it. It was a peculiar thing, for him to be straddling two worlds as he did, always feeling a little out of kilter with both. So it seemed strange to him that after years away, the place could still affect him, could comfort and revive him in equal measure. He was home. The very first home, where it all began.

Dublin had changed drastically from the days of James Joyce. He would have barely recognised the place and would no doubt have found it all a crying shame. Pat might have felt that way too; but much of the gentrification was before his time, and so was the decimation of it all, courtesy of the atomic war. He was born three months after the treaty was signed. The war may have been over, but the country was still well entrenched in that mentality of dealing with conflict. Ultimately, his entire life had been lived under that shadow; an ocean and lifetime away in a land of prosperity, his mother was still so disciplined about using up all their leftovers. She watched news reports of foreign lands with a fist to her mouth. It didn’t matter that these were places she would never see, and had often never even heard of. Human suffering was universal. She couldn’t stand to see it because she knew people, her neighbours and friends, who had come so close to that. It was all pretty scary stuff to see in your mother when you were in-between the ages of being old enough to have awareness and too young to understand.

So it stood to reason, Pat supposed, why his extended family hadn’t exactly been thrilled about his mother getting pregnant with her first child. They had no objection to him personally, at least not at that point. It was just the principle that anyone would try to have a baby in such a time of global conflict. Nobody knew how long the war was going to last for; the last century’s ‘it’ll be over by Christmas’ optimism was long faded after a catalogue of evidence to the contrary. So they put their plans on hold, focusing all their energy into just getting through one day at a time.


Mairead Murphy had never been that sort of person. Certainly, she was never one to shy away from hard work and doing what was needed; but such pragmatism was tempered with a sense of imagination, and the ability to see the big picture. The daily grind wasn’t going to get her down. As the only daughter, she was doted on by her mother, and never short of male attention as her brothers’ friends would spend time at their house and become infatuated with her, privately, or perhaps just mentally, composing odes to her long curls the colour of freshly polished copper and big blue-violet ‘Elizabeth Taylor’ eyes.

She was surprisingly a bit wild in her youth. Not anything that would have got her into serious trouble, drugs or sleeping around, her most heinous crime being to argue with a nun. But then that stuck up Sister Mary Frances had it coming for a long time, lording over the school and making snide remarks that the Murphy brood weren’t properly cared for because their mother had dared to drop the ball over some minor obligation to the school.

Really, Mairead was simply a touch more free-spirited than the previous generation were entirely comfortable with, determined to build a life for herself beyond the confines of their expectations. If higher education had been an option, she could have pursued almost any career she set her mind to. But it wasn’t, so she didn’t dwell on that. Besides, she was perfectly content in her own way, and with her fella at her side.


Seamus Donaghue was never destined to take a place among history’s grand masters of seduction. Sure he was tall, with thick dark hair worn in the style of the day, attractive features and reasonably cared-for physique. But it was never going to be that simple. By twenty-two he was at his full height of six foot two and a half (six-four with the hair). It had been a gradual growth process; but from the way he moved, you got a sense it had happened literally overnight, that he was still navigating the logistics of his own skin and the space he occupied in the world.

At that time, he was attending Trinity College, Dublin, studying hard and partying on weekend with his friends. Mostly guy friends, it had to be said. Girls his own age were frankly a bit scary; with all their noise, complication, elusiveness, and that it was such a fine delicate balance of how you were supposed to treat them. All through high school, he had watched the likes of Ronan Murphy lie, cheat, and generally treat girls like crap; and they kept coming back for more. He couldn’t do that, it wasn’t right; so girls treated him like a faithful Labrador and he never got anywhere near their bra.

He didn’t believe in love at first sight, far too sappy and simple a concept. The way his mother told it, her marriage had been the natural conclusion of a truly great Hollywood style romance, and look where that had got her. Nah, Seamus had decided he was going to be more sensible about it. Though when it came to the crunch, he’d settle for a girl who didn’t laugh at his suggestion they go out on a date, and clarify it with ‘you’re really sweet, but…’

For her part, Mairead liked that Seamus didn’t make the usual moves towards wooing her (presumably because he didn’t realise he was giving her the come on). They had been on the periphery of each other’s lives for years; enough to know each other without it being too familiar or claustrophobic. What moves he did make were always a little hesitant, not quite hitting the mark he had intended to. But she wasn’t like any of the other girls who expected perfect romance. He made her laugh, for the right reasons, and at unexpected moments she could see him and feel her heart flutter as if they’d just met. She could see them growing older together, making a family, having a good life. At least she was willing to give it a shot.

So she asked one day, on a walk back from the park, with an old fashioned politeness, if he would mind if she kissed him. He wouldn’t, didn’t, never minded ever again. Then that was it, he was done for, all practicality out of the window.


Paddy had his own memories of the place. Private, first-hand, and from his own particular vantage point. It had been a wrench to send his son off to college. For although Seamus was their middle child, he was the first to really break away. The eldest, Clodagh, was a homebody; taking after her mother in preferring a safe predictable life. And Niall was too flighty, self-absorbed, and feckless with money, to fully survive in the wild. For family glory, Seamus was his best bet, diligent as he was at university and everything else in life he set his mind too. In his final year there, Paddy had often caught himself surveying the lounge of their end of terrace house on the edge of Dublin, deciding exactly where they would place the graduation photograph. Somewhere with enough space to put Clodagh’s assumed impending wedding photo, so she didn’t get jealous or feel they were implying she was a failure for ‘only being a wife’. Paddy didn’t share his private thoughts that for Clodagh to find a man who would put up with her moods and let her sponge of him as she intended would indeed be a crowing achievement.

There would need to be something documenting an achievement of Niall’s too for fairness, not that anything came to mind. For some odd reason, nothing Niall took pride in was something you’d take a photograph of, at least not one you’d want up on your living room wall. He was still a teenager then, sullen and uncommunicative but for his efforts at poetry, spending his days wandering around the city scribbling away as if convinced he was the reincarnation of Joyce. It was a point of contention between Paddy and his wife. Paddy felt justified in telling Niall to buck up and get a proper job. Molly though, enamoured with the idea of nurturing an undiscovered artistic genius, rallied in Niall’s favour and coddled him the way she had when he was a sickly premature baby.

Between all that fussing, Seamus often went unnoticed. It was almost inevitable he would break out and do something to make them stand up, finally fully taking notice of him. And all things considered, he could have chosen far worse than what he ended up doing.


“Married?” Paddy had queried it, double-checking as if he was translating an important document from English to Irish - which indeed he occasionally did on a freelance basis. The Irish government’s move toward linguistic patriotic traditionalism suited him quite well; there weren’t many regular people his age so fluent in the language, or willing to dredge up what could be recalled of the language classes they had suffered through in their school years. So he had captured the opportunity fast, before the younger generation caught up.

Seamus, his dear sensible stubborn Shae, nodded his head.

“To Mairead Murphy?”

“Do you not like that idea?” Seamus was defensive, his shield going down and sarcasm rising. “Would you prefer I chose someone more to your liking?”

“I haven’t a problem with Mairead,” Paddy stated. Because it was true, she was a great girl and they were good together.

“It’s just, you know that’s a really a big step… lot of responsibility…” Paddy knew he was floundering, all his coherent thoughts turning to cliché. And all ultimately for nothing. Of course Seamus would have considered it all carefully, and still do it anyway. Paddy didn’t exactly have a leg to stand on telling him not to marry young. Which was his point really; he’d been there and knew what he was talking about.

“I know all that.” Seamus kept on sipping his tea. As if this wasn’t a big deal.

“You’re only young, got your whole life ahead of you.”

“Exactly, and I want to spend it with Mairead. So where’s the sense in waiting around, for me to mess this up, on the off chance there might be someone else? Pa, I’ve looked, there isn’t going to be any better.”

“Hmm, I can see you’ve given this a lot of thought. So, when are you going to propose?”

Seamus rolled his eyes, channelling some of his brother’s attitude. “I’m not going to. That’s a totally outdated chauvinistic concept. You shouldn’t need to ask for or grant permission. This is a partnership; so we’ve both discussed it and decided that’s what we want to do.”

It wasn’t the first time Paddy had been in that kind of a bind. Sitting there waffling away, feeling he had missed a step, that age and experience counted for nothing, the future generation was already dwelling in a brighter, wiser tomorrow. Times like that he missed when they were small and ‘because I said so’ would suffice.

“Her Da won’t go in for that.”

“I don’t care, Mairead doesn’t care, it’s not his life to lead.”

The thing was, though, Connor Murphy was a mean drunk, liar, cheat, and probably a wife beater; an arsehole, plain and simple. It was noble to say you can’t choose who you fall in love with but goddamn it, couldn’t Shae have a father-in-law who wouldn’t be inclined to send round a gang to torch their car or whatever else might strike his fancy? Assuming of course the rumours about his old IRA connections were true. At least, the Donaghues were Catholic too; hopefully, that would be in their favour.

“You haven’t knocked her up, have you?” Paddy asked, having until then not considered the prospect; it was an obvious one, though. “Because there’s no shame in, well, finding other ways to deal with the situation, if you get my meaning. I mean it’s all legal here now and everything.”

“No,” Seamus scoffed. “We’re not that stupid. Some people do just get married because they want to be married.”

Paddy shrugged. “As you say, it’s your life. So it looks like you don’t need my advice.”

“It was never about anyone’s opinion. Just thought you should know so you can decide if you want to come to the wedding or not.”

‘Yeah, duh’, as Niall would have said.

“Best tell your mother then.”


To that end, Paddy called a family meeting. A hideous overrated American concept he felt, but it would get the job done. Then he stood aside to let Seamus have his say.

Molly had been surprisingly nonplussed about the whole thing. It was a terrible thing to say but as a mother, she chose favourites, and it was never Seamus. Still she did seem to appreciate the young love side to it all, strongly hinting that perhaps things would turn out better than they had for her. Paddy still didn’t know what she had expected all those years ago; clearly not domesticity.

Niall complained, as Niall was wanting to do. Spouting some nonsense about bowing to the norm, and that he wouldn’t be tied down like that. It was at least some consolation he was too lazy to form any formal complaint. ‘It’s your life bro, don’t come crying to me’ was his coherent response, and gracious as could be expected.

Clodaugh hit the roof. They had braced themselves for it, but who could brace themselves for the emotional equivalent of those nuclear warheads they were talking about on the news? Her one aim was to marry, to have the perfect fairytale wedding, the first of that generation of Donaghues, so that all the attention would be on her big day. And she didn’t take kindly to Seamus sneaking in under the radar to steal her thunder. Ideally, she’d hoped her brothers would never marry, so that she wouldn’t have to compete with any sisters-in-law, because obviously they wouldn’t be good enough in her opinion. So after saying her piece, she retreated to her room, slamming the door with a huff as befitting someone ten years her junior.

Left alone once again, Seamus turned to his father, and with the wry aplomb that years later would manifest in his own son, stated: “Well, that went better than expected.”

Six months later, the ‘great’ atomic war picked up in pace, the nuclear warheads now aimed at Ireland as it had broken away from allegiance to Britain as the tide turned in favour of the military dictatorship fighting for power. Sensing that time may be of the essence, Seamus and Mairead married in a quiet civil ceremony, with half a mind to have a church blessing when the war was over. And nothing further was discussed of the matter.


“I can see where this is going,” Pat said, as they rounded the corner, away from the more sophisticated district of shops and cafés and into a quieter street. It wasn’t a part of town Pat had been familiar with when he was living in the city, being only a small boy at the time, but he had become properly acquainted with it in later life. On Spectrum assignments which took them to the city, he’d had to very quickly find his feet; he felt sure his co-workers were expecting him to know every side street, but it was probably his own foolish pride talking.

The business district was on the edge of town, where things were a little grubbier round the edges, quieter, but for the odd stragglers leaving their place of work. It was early in the evening, just past the time that most offices closed and pubs started to fill up.

You could tell by their manner of dress which of the people on the street were heading out for a party, and those who were rushing to get home with their loved ones. Others still were loitering, the unlucky ones, who had no plans to go out on the town and reluctant to go home when they had nothing to go home to.


Paddy could have brought them in closer to it, but he fancied the walk, to savour his senses once again being filled by the familiarity of his hometown, possibly for the final time. For his part, Pat didn’t question that, content to go along with it. He was coming around to the concept of letting himself be lead through these places and the greater journey ahead of them.

“This really isn’t any particular revelation though, in the grand scheme of things,” Pat mused. “You must already know my parents moved back to Ireland years ago. Not simply because of me, in that ‘what would the neighbours think’ capacity. They’d been talking about it for years, if memory serves. It was just having the money together and their ducks in a row which gave them the final push.”

“So you’re the innocent party then?” Paddy turned to him. “All completely their own free will, them moving away. You don’t ever feel even a twinge of blame or guilt. That, if it wasn’t for you, they never would have had to leave the places they were familiar with, the people they cared about, the security of their livelihood. Not once but twice, if memory serves.”

“I never said that,” Pat mumbled, mostly to the cluster of the dead leaves at his feet which had suddenly become fascinating.

Paddy looked over with a grin and gave his shoulder a playful nudge. “Stop looking like someone kicked your puppy.”

“Rick says that to me all the time,” Pat admitted.

Paddy took a sharp left and lead them down a side street; “You’re quite fond of him, aren’t you?”

Pat wasn’t sure if ‘fond’ was necessarily the word he would use. “Umm, I mean, he’s my best friend. Which maybe is just by default, but he just gets it. We’re field partners too, and we’ve been through a lot. It took a while for him to warm up to me. He’s a cop, so go figure. So I know it’s definitely better being his friend than not.”

“A cop? Thought you said he worked at Spectrum.”

“He does. When I say ‘cop’, I mean like the way we’re Catholic. It’s just this deeply ingrained way of looking at the world, and frankly, at times, what compels him to be a pedantic self-righteous asshole. That’s kinda why I’m mad at him right now. You should get someone to do one of these for him. He still has hang ups about how badly he did in school… What?”

“I’ve always liked that about you. Here we are, getting deeper into this personal voyage of discovery about your life, and your first thought is still about other people’s actions and feelings.”

Patrick couldn’t tell if his grandfather was being sarcastic or not.

“Believe me, Ochre is hardly a good case study for my benevolence.”

Paddy wanted to say something more, but, by then, they had walked through the front double doors on a non-descript office building, as a small group of women made their way outside. They were dressed for a party, in a spectrum of brightly-coloured scraps of satin and sequinned fabrics pretending to be, if not a realistic Halloween costume, then at least fully appropriate garments for wearing on a damp Irish autumnal night. On a night out, Symphony always turned her nose up at that, claiming that wearing a miniskirt out in the cold would give them cellulite. Probably because she was usually with Adam at those times; and didn’t appreciate the fact that women who dressed that way were more likely to blatantly check him out. Pat couldn’t see where all her fussing and jealousy came from. Unlike some people, whose code name may or may not begin with O, Blue didn’t revel in the attention of other women or encourage them by flirting back. Besides Blue didn’t even cheat at crosswords.

Much though, at one point, he had been very charmed by Karen, Magenta knew that possessive streak in her would eventually have driven him crazy. Maybe being single wasn’t so bad after all.


He had never been inside this building in his life, but Magenta felt like he knew it. An office was an office the world over. Once they had got through the reception area, he realised this was a software company, dealing with fairly routine custom low-level computer programming, by the looks of it. The sort of thing his first postgraduate job had entailed. He almost laughed at that; he’d been expecting the evening to dredge up painful memories, but not those in particular. Maybe he finally should write ‘Brooklyn Electronic Solutions’ a thank you note. If his employment there hadn’t been so mind numbingly tedious and unfulfilling, he wouldn’t have been compelled to take that opportunity to get in on illegal activities, and eventually have found the more acceptable outlet for his talents in Spectrum.

By then, Magenta realised they would end up seeing his father at some point. Seamus Donaghue, before he retired to try his hand at small-scale farming, had been involved in the electronics industry. Not at the level Magenta was, but enough to guide him along the career path. And he always knew people who knew people that had computer parts going cheap, which in his youth, Pat would cobble together into custom machines of his own.


This scenario, memory, whatever it was, felt different. Magenta wasn’t entirely sure if he appreciated this development; if things were going to get uncomfortable then it seemed more sensible to be at a distance. He was about to mention it to Paddy, but then decided against it, as they stepped into an open-plan office space filled with desks and computer terminals.

There he was, his father, only not obviously, considering that in this world Pat didn’t exist. Seamus Donaghue, then for the purposes of the exercise.


It appeared Seamus was settled in for night; around his computer terminal were various packages of snack foods, an oversized mug filled with steaming black coffee, and a coffee maker in the vicinity, fired up ready for the next batch.

“You still here, Shae?” a colleague asked him needlessly. The nickname didn’t go over well, but Seamus didn’t bother to react, beyond an expression of annoyance passing across his face. These kinds of people were idiots, too wrapped up in their own concerns for something like a preferred moniker to register.

“No, this is a hologram.” Seamus didn’t bother looking up. “I’m really on a beach in Hawaii.”

The colleague laughed. “Seriously though, y’know what day it is today?”

“We’ve been bombarded by the whole world telling us so since July, so, no, it hadn’t slipped my mind.”

“Good, well then, you’ll know that I ought to be heading home. The missus will kill me if I’m late back and the kids don’t get to trick or treat.” The colleague pulled on a trench coat, and made entirely too much of a production of knotting the belt. “And you really should be going too. Surely you’ve got a home to be getting back to?”

“It’s really none of your business,” Seamus retorted frostily.

“Uh, yeah, right… umm well, I’ll be off then. Have a good Halloween.”

Seamus made no response aside from a snort of contempt, then went back to typing in coding.


“Donaghue’s still here,” a voice out in the corridor exclaimed.

“Yeah, I know,” the more familiar voice of the colleague replied. “Talk about a scrooge, if you can say that for Halloween. I never bothered mentioning about us going for drinks. Even if he did come along, who would want his miserable face there? It’d put a right downer on the night. Even Cara from HR couldn’t put a smile on his face.”

There was a guffaw of laughter in response to that; “Forget Scrooge then, he’d have to be a robot.”


Though the conversation was outside in the corridor, with all the doors open and the office so quiet, Seamus could hear every word. He didn’t care though, as they were too stupid and oblivious to care about him. Not that he wanted them to; he couldn’t stand to be pitied at the best of times, and certainly not by the clowns at his job. All he wanted was to just clock in, do his work, and clock out. Simple really, you’d think.

As for the drinks, he couldn’t imagine anything worse; all that fake cheer for a fake holiday. Braying and boasting to keep up with the in crowd, as you drowned your sorrows in alcohol and Cara Stanford’s tits. Nah, he wasn’t quite that pitiful.

Not that he was averse to a wee drop, here and there, just to take the edge off things. Seamus looked at his watch, and looked around to see that indeed he wouldn’t be disturbed again any time soon. Then, he pulled the hip flask from his inside jacket pocket. With slightly trembling hands he unscrewed the cap, and let a generous slug slip easily down his throat.

There, that would do for the time being.

Now he could focus, and finally get some decent work done. At that point, the thought crossed his mind what his so called co-workers would do without him in two years’ time, when he would be forced to retire; or rather, when the management subsequently realised how little they actually did in the way of proper work, only getting away with it because he picked up the slack. Not because he cared, mind, it was just something to do. And, if you cared about that sort of thing, the overtime money wasn’t bad at all.

Yes, it was just another day. Get through this and he’d be just fine. No big deal.


From across the room and another world away, Magenta watched impassively at this scene unfolding. At least he tried to. It wasn’t just that he knew what Seamus Donaghue was, or rather, could be, in another life. Identity didn’t ultimately matter. It was just almost unbearable to see someone so deeply entrenched in sadness that it hung over them like a cloak of lead. The people who saw it every day could be oblivious, not see it as part of their problem, or were unable or just plain unwilling in some small way to be part of the solution.

He had to ask though, couldn’t bear to not know: “Why is he so lonely?”

“Why do you think?” Paddy shrugged. He too was trying to be composed, but without Spectrum training and experience in the field, he was doing an even worse job than Magenta. Pat had to consider that too: how this must be for Paddy. There can’t be many things worse for a parent than seeing your child driven down this emotional hole and knowing you are powerless to take their pain away.

“I know this is a world where I don’t exist.” Magenta almost rolled his eyes. “But I’m just his son. You’re not seriously implying I’m some kind of magical talisman against his misery and ruin.”

“Never said you were. You’ve been doing this a lot since we got going on this, interrupting and jumping to conclusions. I can see why your friend gets so antagonised by you.” Paddy gave an irritated snort. “Ah come on, don’t make out you’re the entirely innocent party. I watched you grow up, and I see you now. I know what you’re like.”

“That is totally irrelevant right now.” Although no one would be able to hear them, Pat lowered his voice regardless. “Tell me more about my Dad.”

“Dad…? Since when has he been your ‘dad’?”

“What’s so wrong with that?”

“It sounds so American.”

“Yeah, no idea how that could have happened, considering I am American!”

Paddy bristled. “Irish, you were born here, in this city, and that never goes away.”


When he and his parents had emigrated to America, Patrick had been three years old; everything he knew about America was from watching Disney programs and going to McDonalds. The reality of life in a rundown borough of New York City was far less enthralling, but being a friendly, curious little boy he soon adapted to these new surroundings and made new friends. Friends who helped him navigate the quirks of life in America, which admittedly, over thirty years later, he was still trying to get to the bottom of. Of course, with those friends came the accent and lexicon, so with gusto and a desire to fit in, Pat did his best to adopt a thorough New York lingo. He’d never been able to fully take up the generic American, ‘Mom & Dad’ though. Through all his want of assimilation, it felt like a line he couldn’t cross and that it would wound his parents deeply not to be ‘Mam and Da’. For them, Ireland would always be home, totally simple as that. For Pat, home was never a straightforward concept.


“He shouldn’t be here,” Pat said gently. He felt that aching sadness bear down on him. He wished it wasn’t this way, that he could interact with the people in this other world. That he could go over to Seamus, and say…

And say what?

He couldn’t even begin to attempt to formulate the words, some hollow sounds of clichéd assumed consolation.

“Ah, because you never pulled an all-nighter.”

“Not on a holiday, for Christ sake, and yes, Halloween is a holiday. Even so, he must have some family, friends, someone to worry that he’s working too hard. Where’s Mam?”

All these scenarios burst unbidden into his mind, each more awful than the last, as to what had become of his mother.

‘You’re just being ridiculous,’ Magenta scolded himself, in an effort to remain calm. ‘It’s just a dream. You will wake up soon, and Mam will be fine, just like always.’

“Your mother’s fine,” Paddy said simply. “Alive and well.”

“I know, that this isn’t real. I mean…”

“Oh yes, in this world too.”

“Then he should be home, with her, and Caitlin.” He watched his grandfather’s face and a thought occurred to Pat. “They didn’t get together did they, in this world? So Caity wasn’t born? And without her, Fae couldn’t have been either. That’s what you meant, about her not existing.”

Paddy nodded his head gently. “They’re divorced, with no children.”

Magenta stared at him, genuinely speechless; his mind attempting to calibrate this information: that his entire nuclear family just plain didn’t exist. He and his sister had virtually nothing in common in terms of character, and likewise, their appearance differed to an almost comical extent. She could infuriate him more than any person in the world (and vice versa, to be fair) but she was his sister and he always took her side. She was the calm to his wild. Pat didn’t like the idea of world where she didn’t exist. In that moment, he wanted to call her, and Fae, his ‘evil genius’ niece. She was still the holder of the title ‘Most Beautiful Baby’ and his self-appointed ‘best friend forever’ (she’d been five at the time), and his favourite person to talk to, especially when the rest of the world seemed to think he should be a responsible adult and that knowing the name of every Academy Award winning actor was a waste of brain space.

His parents not being together, that made no sense. They had been happily married for forty years and he had never questioned that they were happy together and perfect for each other. Sure, they had fights, but nothing that didn’t blow over after a few hours. He longed for that in his own adult life, had literally searched the world for it. Maybe it had given him unrealistic expectations and that’s why he was still single.

He wanted, no, needed, to know what happened.

“Take me to her, please,” he asked. “I need to see.”

“Well sure, whenever you’re ready.”

As they left, Magenta had felt compelled to look back. He wasn’t sure why, some principle of it. To not leave someone like that, to not be as callous as those they had witnessed interacting with him.




Magenta recognised their new location less immediately. It was later in the evening by then, all the light and noise on the street coming from within the red-bricked terrace houses. Each one of them was in a varying state of shabbiness, with low walls at the front inclosing paved yards, barely big enough for the various colours of wheelie bins, assigned by the local council to sort the household waste for recycling. Most would no doubt be brimming the next day.

The street was only really familiar to him from old photographs he had barely glanced at, years ago. As far as his mother was concerned, their family life had started when she married, and there was no need to dwell on what had come before that. It sat oddly with her general candour and happiness at recalling family anecdotes; embarrassing ones about Pat’s childhood, more often than not.


He had never been entirely aware, or frankly, especially bothered, as to why he had such little involvement with his maternal family. He knew how his grandfather had been, and that his father was still very bitter about it. He would make snippy comments, when the obligatory holiday correspondence arrived, about that being the best they could do, and where had they been when his wife had needed the support of her siblings and they, apparently had turned their backs, looking out for their inheritance, rather than a relative in need.

“Say what you will, but they’re still blood.” Mairead had calmly replied.

“Blood? What the hell does that even mean anyway?”

Though he would never say anything, feeling it wrong to take sides over these matters, Pat had been more inclined to see his father’s perspective. He’d heard enough to know Connor Murphy had been a bully, that bullies shouldn’t be allowed to get away with it, and that in any relationship, you had to do right by your partner and back them up. It was those values which had helped forge Magenta and Ochre’s unlikely working partnership.

But who could ever really know the intricacies of someone else’s feelings and motivation? That’s what Pat always thought. It was his mother’s life, she had to be able to look herself in the mirror and feel she’d done the right thing.


So there he was, outside his uncle’s house, for the first time in nearly twenty years. Yes, it would have been that long. They had visited the summer after he finished high school, for his grandfather’s funeral. He suspected half the congregation had only been there to make sure the bastard really was dead. The only vivid memory he had of the day, was standing with Saint Granny in that poky kitchen making more cheese and pickle sandwiches than any gathering of people would reasonably need. Saint Granny was a big believer in food as ballast against the knocks of life, or how soothing it was doing something with your hands, to create something. It was where he got it from.

It was around that time, there had been a fight between his parents and one or more of his uncles. Pat admittedly couldn’t really recall the details of it; it was so long ago. Whatever the row was about, it resulted in the families not speaking for nineteen years and counting.


Magenta and Paddy climbed the low wall and shuffled along through the yard, taking a slight dogleg round to the garden gate which faced the street. This area was towards the edge of town, very different from the more familiar and more glamorous inner city. And different still from the glossy suburban metro-area they had visited earlier. That was the thing about Ireland, Magenta always found, everything seemed just that bit pokier and less polished than you’d expect. It must be disappointing for tourists, with all their romantic notions of emerald, grassy hills and quaint stone-clad pubs.

Magenta had worked out that ‘not influencing the environment’ didn’t extended to not being able to open any doors or windows, but after trying the garden gate a few times, they gave up on the rusted bolts. And to that end, with a lack of finesse that made him grateful nobody could see them, they managed to scale the garden wall. In time for good old Uncle Cathal to take the latest in a long line of wretched bully breed mutts outside to go and pee.

Growing up in a New York apartment with a distinct lack of space and wealth to spare, Pat had never had a pet of his own, and, as far as he could see, that was no great loss. They were fine for other people and he’d never deliberately harm one; it’s just having any pet really wasn’t his thing (he was only ever sarcastic about becoming a ‘crazy cat lady’ in his retirement). Even if you were mad keen on animals, you’d be hard pressed to feel any rapport with a dog like that. It was ugly, stocky, making a terrible snorting noise, and, having peed, decided it would be good fun to start ripping into a flower bed, wilfully oblivious to any commands.

“Dingo, get in now, that’s a good boy.”

Having heard a biscuit tin rattling inside the house, Dingo, this heathen beast, perked up at the prospect of getting fed and sauntered indoors like the whole exercise had been designed specifically for his inconvenience.


Paddy and Magenta managed to get inside the house after a dash across the garden to the open patio door. Not that it was strictly necessary, Cathal was in no good state to be running around anywhere. He was as chubby and wheezing as the dog; no doubt from all the smoking and junk food which had been and presumably still were among his vices. Only then did Magenta recall that Cathal had been born on Halloween, sixty years previous, if the party decorations were accurate. That was the real reason for the mass of people and bulk-buy party foods which filled the house.

Being inside the building was an onslaught to the senses. Certain aspects reminded Magenta of his early life in New York, in a lower-class neighbourhood where family was considered top priority; the noise and larger-than-life presence of people, food and drink wherever they could rest. There was something about the place that put him on edge though: he sensed that right away. He would have turned around if there was anywhere else to go, but he had come for a reason and wanted to see it through. A little awkwardness wouldn’t hurt him.

He managed to identify the braying laugh of his aunt by marriage (mercifully he wasn’t related to such a person), having heard it years before, through long distance videophone calls. It was even less tolerable up close. They followed the sound through the kitchen into a side room; the den, he supposed. An entire wall was dominated by a giant television, far too large for the space, with cheap looking faux-leather sofas, in ice cream colours, crowding around the TV like it was a revered public speaker.

Perched on the edge of a particularly gaudy seat cushion, on the sofa nearest to the window, as if in need of a constant reminder there was a civilised world outside this madness, sat a woman, who looked so utterly out of place it was as if someone had beamed her down from a spaceship. The only evidence to suggest a logical reason for her presence was the superficial resemblance between her and the men in the room. Her whole body language indicated a readiness to leave, and yet she made no move to go.


It was all these factors combined, which meant there was a lag between Magenta noticing her and realising this was Mairead. Superficially she looked really good in this life, fashionably slim and dressed in expensive, stylish clothes, and he felt guilty for noticing that. It struck him how much she reminded him of his sister. Not simply that mother and daughter bore a great resemblance to each other, what Pat noticed most was the demeanour. This was a successful woman in her chosen area, whatever that may be; independent, living alone, well off, with a fulfilling job and busy social life. But underneath you got a sense of her brittleness; that early in life she had taken a hard knock to the heart which had never quite healed.


“You’re not seeing anyone then?” Cathal’s wife, Lucy, asked Mairead, as she did every time they met.

“No,” Mairead answered, as she always did. Pressing her lips together, like she had just applied lipstick, though she hadn’t, since they had finished dinner. She wanted to; making use of the downstairs cloakroom served as respite, if an onslaught on avocado-coloured porcelain could be considered restful.

“I think you should, you’re still young.”

“I’m sixty-one.”

“Yeah, and the average woman nowadays lives to eighty. That’s still another, what twenty years, to get on with your life and have some fun.” Lucy cackled, it was obvious what fun she had in mind. Mairead shuddered at the thought; not of the act itself, she’d had and enjoyed her fair share over the years. It was simply the mental image of Lucy’s flabby, sweaty, pasty form in such a position.

“Anyway, I like your hair,” Lucy said, changing tack. “How’d you get it so red?”

“It’s always been red.” Mairead shrugged. “But, I use henna.”

“Oh, is that the weird hippy stuff them Indian people use? I wouldn’t go in for that, looks like mud. My Jenna used it and made a right mess of the bathroom and everything.”

“Well, I get it done at a salon.”

“Course you do.” Lucy didn’t even bother to hide the cattiness in her tone. Most of her in-laws she didn’t mind, they were a laugh and helped out. It was just Mairead; she was different, like she was better than all of them. And far too skinny, in Lucy’s opinion.

At that point Dingo ambled in, and heaved his carcass onto the sofa next to Mairead. He’d take a shine to her, more by default, as she was the only one who didn’t shout at him, rather than any particular affinity she may have with animals. Mairead felt a bit sorry for him though, and so still reached out and scratched behind his ear, which prompted him to collapse in a blissful stupor.


“I’m going to take a little walk or something.” Mairead announced, standing up and dislodging a very disappointed Dingo.

“At this time of night! You’ll get mugged or something.” Lucy’s tone was horrified; sure they lived in a decent area, but you never knew these days, with all those immigrants.

“I’ll take Dingo then,” Mairead added, not voicing her thought that the dog needed exercise more than her. “Nobody would bother anyone with a pit-bull.”

“If you insist, his lead is hung up on the kitchen door.”

Mairead nodded, then turned back to the dog and asked courteously: “Would you like a walk?”

Ecstatic at this prospect, Dingo barged out into the kitchen, stopping only to have his chain lead clipped to his collar. He then ran laps of the hallway as Mairead put on her coat, scarf, and gloves.

Magenta and Paddy simply followed her out of the front door.


Mairead was almost down to the end of the road before she heard footsteps ahead of her. At that point she wasn’t unduly worried, after all Dingo may have been a semi-feral, idiot of a dog, but he liked her so could probably muster some protective urges. She’d also made a point of taking self-defence classes, keeping herself in good shape, and having an attack whistle and pepper spray in her handbag. It was just sensible for a woman who worked long hours, then came home to an empty flat.

Then she saw him up ahead, attempting to nonchalantly lean on a lamppost, as if it wasn’t the only thing holding him up, and relaxed her guard.

“Seamus, what are you doing here?” she asked.

“Why do you think, same as always. It’s a tradition really, like Halloween itself.” He shrugged, looked up at her with that little boy smile she’d been crazy enough to fall for. “Is it so wrong, me wanting to still see you? Just once a year for old time sake… and I knew you’d be here, because you always are, even though they drive you crazy.”

Dingo peered at him and gave a growl, undecided as to whether this man was a threat or not.

“It’s all right, Dingo,” Mairead told him, letting the lead slacken.

“So, you got a dog,” Seamus said, conversationally. “He’s uh…”

“Not mine.” Mairead smiled. “So don’t feel like you’d be offending me. He’s not so bad really, far as they go. Actually I do have a dog, and I was missing her a little. So it’s sort of nice.”

“Yeah, that’s good. That you’ve got some love and company, and moved on.”

“There’s no one else.” And Mairead truly meant it. “Only Katie, my dog. That’s hardly the same though.”

“Suppose not.”

In saying that, his voice had betrayed him, and he had unwittingly confirmed what she had suspected all along. It made her stand up straighter, stepping back from him, and Dingo followed suit by growling again.

“You’re drunk,” she stated.

“I’m not!” he denied, as if genuinely surprised that she would say such a thing. “Not, totally drunk. I maybe had a wee drop, with the lads from work on the way home, but not much.”

“Since when have you socialised with anyone from work?”

He even stood there and went quiet, as if actually giving it some thought. It was quite pitiful really; enough to strengthen her resolve to do what she had intended.

“I could, if I wanted to.”

“Just like you could stop drinking.” She hadn’t meant to say it, but it was spoken, all the same.

Seamus recoiled as if he’d been slapped.

“But you haven’t,” Mairead continued. “So I suppose that means one of two things: either you can’t stop, because you’re addicted, or you just don’t want to.” She gave a heavy sigh. “And I’m tired of trying to work out which it is. If there was something I did, or didn’t do, that could have changed things.”

“It’s not your fault; it was never your fault. I just… I’m a terrible husband.”

“Were,” she gently corrected. “You were my husband.”

“Right, right,” he mumbled, then raised his voice to make his declaration. “The thing is though; I just can’t stand to be without you.”

“So, if I hadn’t left then you wouldn’t have turned to drink? That sounds a lot like you’re blaming me.” She couldn’t help the sigh that escaped her. “And frankly I’m tired of that; it’s been such a long time.”

“Thirty-seven years,” Seamus said quietly. “Seventeenth of May, 2034.”

“If you say so.” She tried to shrug, but couldn’t. Tried to pretend that the divorce was a dim and distant past event, something you got over like a common cold.

“That was the first time you left, packed your bags and went,” Seamus added. “The time that really counts, I suppose. When everything started to unravel. Everything that came after it wasn’t the same. I can’t remember that so clearly.”

‘Probably because you were drunk,’ Mairead thought uncharitably. “Well, anyway, my point is, I don’t think we should see each other any more.”


His reaction was far more physical than she had expected. His expression was one of surprise and horror as he leapt away from her, almost toppling because his reflexes were dulled by alcohol. It was then Mairead realised Dingo was peeing against the lamppost.

“No,” he said quietly, with utter clarity. “I don’t think that I can do that. No, there has to be another way. Just give me another chance. I can change.”

“I’ve already done that, remember?” Mairead knew she shouldn’t, but couldn’t stop herself from adding. “And how is your family lately, your brother and sister?”

“I suppose you’d know that better than me,” Seamus conceded. “Unless they don’t speak to you any more either.”

“Why would they not be speaking to you, I wonder.”

“They hate me,” Seamus’ voice dropped lower, his entire demeanour changing as if it was physically painful for him to utter these words, this truth about his relationships. “Saying I’m a joke, that I was a terrible brother, son, husband, everything, and Clodagh won’t let me see the baby any more. She’s only a little one, she should see her uncle.”

Mairead didn’t have the heart to mention ‘the baby’: Clodagh’s younger daughter, Bridie, had just turned twenty years old.

“She’s fine, they’re both fine.” Mairead had to give him that. “They’re in New York for Christmas; I met up with them just before they flew out, it was nice.”

Seamus nodded, thoughtful.

“You don’t think that, do you?” he asked. “I know I wasn’t perfect, but I never meant to do you or any of them any harm. Now look at me, all alone. Do you hate me?”

“No,” Mairead conceded. “I don’t feel anything, to be honest. Not love, not hate, you’re just… someone I used to know.” Her voice softened; but she was on a roll with what she had prepared to say, and, if she stopped and let him speak, her resolve may falter all together. “We did have some wonderful times, I agree. But we were young, and, well, these things don’t always work out. So let’s just keep the good memories and say farewell. Before we both drag each other further under. I can’t save you, Seamus, you have to save yourself.”

He leant back against the lamppost, the side that Dingo hadn’t peed on.

“I suppose this is goodbye then.” He looked her in the eye, trying to smile. “I’m sorry, that things didn’t turn out the way we planned.”

“I am too,” she replied gently. Then took a step forward, hugging him with her one free arm, for old times’ sake. The smell of alcohol was on his breath as it ruffled her hair. When they had been together she’d liked that he was just over a foot taller than her. It made her feel protected, fully wrapped in his embrace, like hugging a tree she supposed.

“Goodbye then, take care of yourself.”

He nodded, all he could do to maintain his composure. Then he  gave a slight wave and wandered down the street, without looking back.


Mairead watched him go, then took a deep breath, scrubbing at her watering eyes. From emotion or the sharp breeze, no one could tell. She decided that going down to the fountain would be a pleasant spot to sit for a while, plenty of people around to watch and distract her from herself.

“Come along then, Dingo,” she said, her voice filling with hollow cheer. She doubted the dog really bought it, but he trotted along beside her all the same.   




“Don’t go thinking it’s all because of you,” Paddy was quick to interrupt. “But it was hard for your parents, when they first were married. Well, being married is hard anyway, let alone when there is a war going on in your back garden at the same time. So I suppose that, having a baby, it made them happy and helped them think about the future. They always did their best for you, and Caitlin.”

“I know.” Pat felt his eyes start to water, but it might have been the sharp wind.


They had reached the park by then, the place which held Patrick’s very earliest memory, of being pushed on the swing. There was the swing set still there, albeit a newer model and surrounded by thick rubber tiles. Magenta sat down gingerly to see if the swing would take his weight, or frankly, if he’d still fit. The chains of the swing pressed firmly against his thighs, but it held and he gently swung back and forth as a way of collecting his thoughts.

“It’s kind of nice here, different to what I remember.”

“You sound surprised.”

“I know they rebuilt a lot, gentrifying and such; but it’s still kind of odd to come back to it. You have this image in your head then you have to adjust.” Pat smiled. “Happens to Brad and Rick all the time, when we have to drive in Chicago, they keep getting caught out by one way streets and pedestrian zones.”

“But it’s still…” Paddy searched for the word, “important to you, that it’s your home.”

“Yeah, sure, I guess… and maybe one day I’ll live here again.”

Paddy looked so hopeful, beaming, like that had been his mission all along.

“When I’ve finished on Cloudbase I mean.”

“But they have Spectrum all over the world, in Dublin too, right?”

Pat really didn’t want to have to explain that. Of course, it was possible to put in a transfer to Spectrum Headquarters Dublin; there was even the off-chance it would be accepted. But Magenta didn’t want to. Cloudbase was the pinnacle, what every agent aspired to. So, it wouldn’t be anywhere near as fulfilling to work ‘on the surface’, and previous experience suggested he didn’t exactly react very well to being unfulfilled in a job. Besides, there wouldn’t be enough sympathy in the world for whoever became Ochre’s new field partner. Pat would probably need to write them a user manual too. That, and if he moved out of his quarters he’d have box up his things and finally acknowledge his cookery book collection was completely out of hand. Seemed much less hassle just to stay put.

“Yes, but. They need me there,” Pat said gently.


He half expected Paddy to lash out, deliver a lecture on the glories of Ireland and what an ungrateful, selfish, little gobshite he was for breaking his mother’s heart with all this fanciful, city living, in every other place on the godforsaken earth.

Instead Paddy was silent for once, looked almost relieved.

“So, what do you do there, at this cloud base?”

“As my guardian angel or whatever, aren’t you meant to pay attention and know that?”

“Humour me.”

Magenta sighed; this was like talking to Doctor Weis, Spectrum’s chief psychologist. She asked you these innocent sounding questions, not because she simply wanted to know the factual answer, but so she could analyse exactly what you said in response.

“I’m a field agent, so we y’know go to places where there are tip offs of assassination attempts, or terrorism threats, or whatever, and do our best to stop that happening. That makes it sound more dangerous and glamorous than it really is; there’s also a lot of sitting around, surveillance-type stuff, liaising with local law enforcement. I mean, we can’t all go throwing ourselves onto a ticking bomb to save the damsel in distress, not if we want to stay alive very long.”

Paddy nodded, like he had the first clue; even if he hadn’t died long before Spectrum was founded, there was so much about the organisation that was classified he still couldn’t have gleaned much from watching the news.

“But you still do things with computers?”

“Oh sure, in-between the saving the world thing, I work on security systems, trying to keep all those nasties out. It’s kind of fun.”

Paddy seemed lost in thought, but probably not about what Magenta had said. “And how does Grey fit into all this then?”

Magenta frowned. “You mean Captain Grey… He’s a field agent too, ex-navy, would live in the pool, if we let him. I guess you could say we’re friends, but we’re not exactly… well, we are close by virtue of being stuck together in a floating tin can for days on the end, and that, of course, any of us would lay down our life for the others. But Brad’s not exactly a gregarious ‘sharing is caring’ type, so y’know…”

“So, he’s not your, what did you call it, field partner?”

“No, that’s Rick, I mean Captain Ochre. Was there some sort of admin glitch, are we getting sent to the wrong place?”

Paddy stood up, offered a hand. “Nah, it’s exactly right, you wait and see.”




The Traitor


When he had stepped out of prison, after his ‘time’, the air hadn’t smelt sweeter or any of those stupid clichés. The ground had felt far more solid than he’d expected it to, though. It does change you, having been inside, Patrick Donaghue had realised that then. He didn’t so much appreciate his freedom, as appreciate that his life was a delicate balance, that at any point it could be snatched away again. Then he’d been back there, through another situation of his own making. He was determined that wouldn’t happen.


“So, this is what Di Witts looks like?”

It seemed a pretty blasé thought, for someone who had spent months in Rikers, but still Patrick Donaghue, in his capacity as Captain Magenta, was vaguely impressed with all the security features. The place wasn’t a dark, dim, outdated hole, the way you’d ordinarily imagine prisons to be. There was actually a lot of light flooding in; from the impenetrable glass windows, high up in the walls. And the walls themselves were a stark, smooth white. It looked more like a hospital or the set of a sci-fi movie than anything.

Pat still gave a shudder though; there but for the grace of God, and all that. He hadn’t even looked at the photographs and blue-prints, which they’d had access to through Spectrum, such was his deeply-held need to never know. Besides, he never would have been given a look-in to design the security features. He might be one of the best in that field, but they weren’t that trusting of his rehabilitation. He couldn’t really blame them, for thinking along the lines of plotting an escape for some estranged cohorts; not that he would; they’d kill him on sight for letting them get taken into Di Witts in the first place.


There was a deep resonating buzz, and the thin clear-panelled door swished open; so, they followed a guard through it, heading deeper and deeper into the correctional facility. All the corridors and cells looked identical, to the point of being disorientating, traipsing miles of corridor past people you vaguely recognise from ‘America’s most wanted’. Pat hadn’t exactly kept the most law-abiding company back in the day; but this was the most infamous high-security correctional facility in the world, you couldn’t help bracing yourself to see an absolute monster.

The guard stopped ahead of Magenta and Paddy, unlocked the cell door and stepped inside. Magenta shuffled to see around him. He half-expected the sight of a creature so repellent that they deserved to be in this place, locked up and key tossed.

Sitting on the solitary bunk, Bradley Holden blinked up at him.


“That’s Grey then?” Paddy asked, needlessly.

Magenta nodded, backed up so he could lean against the wall to keep from stumbling. Grey was the most calm, professional rule-follower of the Cloudbase captains, he even seemed to enjoyed doing paperwork; the kind of person Magenta’s countrymen had invented the word ‘lickarse’ for. None the less, for all Grey’s strong silent-type thing, and rarely standing out in a crowd, when he wasn’t around it left a hole. A missing cog in their well-oiled machine.

“He hasn’t done anything wrong,” Pat said. “I know what this is about; his only crime was falling in love.” He hesitated, after all this was classified information, rainbow clearance level reports after the fact. But then, who was Paddy going to tell government secrets to?

“He dated this woman, and she turned out to be part of a terrorist organisation. The whole relationship was a set up; to exploit his Spectrum clearance and to frame him for their actions. It didn’t work though; his name was cleared.”

Paddy nodded, knowing there was more to it than that.

“It was touch and go for a while though, I guess. So, yeah, maybe I can see how it could have turned out differently, if Brad hadn’t been given the chance at the time to help himself.”


‘He had a chance, because I let him escape’ Pat thought. Remembering how it had hurt like hell in the morning. Magenta was supposed to transport Grey back to a secure facility, had allowed himself to get pistol-whipped and for their car to run off the road, so that Grey could flee and attempt to clear his name on his own terms. Next thing he knew, Magenta was in the sickbay on Cloudbase, with Ochre pacing the room ready to berate him for breaking protocol and getting injured in the process. Ochre didn’t take kindly to any of ‘his guys’ being hurt, and would go after whoever was responsible, even when the injured and injurer were the same person.

‘Luck of the Irish, my ass’, Rick had grumbled; when Pat had noted that things could have gone a lot worse.

On Grey’s part, though, that was luck of the draw, surely? The other captains were just as loyal and inclined to not strictly adhere to protocol, if the end result would be for the greater good. Or maybe Pat was just a gullible idiot, for stubbornly seeing the good in people. After all, it would have never got to that stage if he hadn’t talked Ochre out of having Grey followed. It was really stupid to have gone against that inherent cop instinct, to let them all go bumbling on through. Magenta knew it was partly the image he created to dupe people, of himself as being so happy-go-lucky; but when stuff like that happened, it did make him wonder if his colleagues truly respected him as an equal. Could he ever even be their equal anyway? After all they were hardened, cool, military-trained men; by comparison, he was a scrawny kid from the ghetto, playing catch up. Maybe he was just smarting from the last performance evaluation; they always say there’s room for improvement, but never tell you how.

But that wasn’t the point here; Grey had never deserved to be in jail.


“Got a visitor for you, Holden,” the guard sneered.

“Thank you.” Even in those circumstances Grey was outwardly composed and polite; ‘you have to go along to get along’, that’s what he’d say. If anything, his demeanour had lifted slightly, at the prospect of human contact.

Grey stood patiently as the guard shackled him, then allowed himself to be lead back down the corridor. There was an interview room at the very end; a table with a thick orange line painted across it, a chair with buckles and loops for restraints on one side, a panic button under the table on the other. The side which had a regular, grubby, orange plastic chair set facing it.

Stood by the far wall, at attention, was Captain Scarlet. The colour of his uniform was so vivid against the white wall that it looked like blood.

“Not your boyfriend today, eh?” The guard wrenched the straps even tighter around Grey. It must have hurt. Magenta winced involuntarily, but Grey took it.

“I’ll be outside if you need anything,” the guard called over his shoulder, a remark directed entirely at Scarlet.

As the door slammed behind them, it was like all the air in the room had been taken with it. The room felt far too small for grown men that could hold themselves in a fight, and with the egos to match.


“Paul,” Grey began softly.

“Don’t you dare call me that!” Anger burnt deep and icy in Scarlet’s sapphire eyes. “You are not my friend.”

“Where’s, where’s Blue?”

“Oh yes, of course. Don’t think I was unaware of your little chats, that he believed you, that he was helping you with your appeal. As if you deserve to have any friends after what you did.” Scarlet gave a bark of bitter laugher. “But well, we know what Adam was always like; always seeing the good in people, Christian forgiveness, and all that bollocks.”

“You came alone,” Grey surmised. “You wouldn’t let him come, in case it interfered with your bad cop routine.”

Scarlet looked at him, with a softness, but it was a calculated softness. The sugar you give a suspect to soften them up before you ram home the damning evidence.

“Believe me, Brad.” Scarlet’s voice caught on his name. “I would have liked to, in fact, nothing would please me more than sitting here, having an argument with Adam, about his being such a bloody do-gooder.”

Scarlet let the newspaper slip from under his arm. He spread it across the table, reaching well past the thick, orange line because he knew Grey couldn’t touch him. That he was invincible.


The room was silent but for the crinkle of paper as Grey used his fingertips to turn the pages. He didn’t really need to; the headline screamed the pertinent details from the front page. But he read on, had to keep reading, to know.

Magenta stood behind Grey. He’d rested a hand on Brad’s shoulder, a subconscious movement, the way Blue would do with any of them. He’d always been tactile like that, their Adam, his calmness and height leant him such a soothing physical presence. Pat knew that, in actuality, Brad wouldn’t be able to feel him there, what with Pat being the ghost of Halloweens that would never happen. He was sure that he could feel Brad though; the well-worn cotton of the prison issue garb, the warmth of his skin through the fabric. It made him feel a bit better to feel something; beyond the rising lump in his throat, and stomach sinking despair and loss. It was never easy to lose one of your own.

“Blue is…” Grey couldn’t finish the sentence.

“Dead?” Scarlet’s tone was almost a mocking sing song. “Why, I do believe you got it in one, well done.”

Scarlet leant away then. Pulled himself up to his full height and began to pace.


“You want to know how it happened, all the parts the press left out?” Scarlet’s voice was low and icy, the harshest of interrogations. If any of this had been real, Pat would have made him stop. Would have taken Brad away from this nightmare, given him a fair shot getting away, trusting him to clear his name, helping him…

The way he had when…

Magenta understood now.

“It was your mates,” Scarlet added. “The ones who did it.”

“I already told you. How many times do I have to tell you? I had nothing to do with those terrorists. Why would I be a terrorist? I’m a Spectrum officer; I pledged my life to fight against that. I was set up.”

“So you say, but I think the evidence speaks for itself. So let’s not get bogged down with self-pity.” Scarlet spoke crisply. “We had to go on a mission; they had a factory, building nuclear weapons. Naturally it was our job to destroy their operation. So we all went along, the senior staff; and a new captain of ours, he was brought in after your… unfortunate incident. It was his first assignment I believe, and Blue was partnered with him, mentoring him.”

“What happened?” Grey asked.

“What exactly do you imagine happened?” Scarlet slammed his fist on the table. And all his instincts as a friend and officer reared up in Magenta. This wasn’t right; Grey was one of the finest, most loyal officers Spectrum had ever had. He had the best track record for successful assignments and in performance evaluations; less impulsive than Scarlet, more emotionally distant than Blue, far better at taking good advice than Magenta or Ochre. Not that it really mattered, deep down, the fact of it was, Brad was a decent human being. He didn’t deserve to have some full-blown, Ochre calibre interrogation.  Hell, this went beyond anything he’d witnessed Ochre doing.

“I told them,” Scarlet said, to himself more than anything. “I knew the guy wasn’t ready, that there was too much at stake. But, oh no, he had to come along. So there you go, rookie mistake. Could have happened to anyone; that’s what they’ll say. Only we know better; don’t we, Grey?”


That was a point, where the hell was Ochre while all this was going on?

At the time, of course, Ochre had been angry and hurt by Grey’s actions and, had tackled it head on, the way he would deal with a complete stranger suspected of such a crime, because he didn’t know how else to deal with it. When Magenta had been returned to Cloudbase, with concussion and bruising, Ochre had stood at his bedside grumbling at him for being ‘too soft’ and ‘letting himself’ get injured, and, ‘see I was right along that something was wrong’. He had understood eventually, though, and aided Magenta’s second phase of exonerating their colleague, and, in time, come to forgive Grey.

Besides, even at his most indignant, Ochre still didn’t stand aside while Scarlet flew off the handle; a voice of reason, even if it was regularly tactless and occasionally foul-mouthed.


“This isn’t my fault,” Grey stated. “You said yourself, it was a rookie mistake.”

“Yes, which wouldn’t have been made if he wasn’t there. If, for instance, you had been there instead. But that’s just silly, you’re right. Because you wouldn’t be there to stop the terrorists from winning, you’d have wanted them to succeed.”

“No!” Grey’s voice caught. “That’s a lie and you know it.”

“I don’t know what to believe anymore,” Scarlet said. “All I know is that I’ve lost far too many good officers, friends, for my liking.”

It was impossible to tell if Grey was included in that statement or not.


Scarlet strode to the door.

“Guard,” he called. “I’ve finished with the prisoner.”

With that Scarlet was gone; without a backward glance, to see Grey’s tears blurring the news print.


Magenta realised they were leaving too, down the white corridors and back onto firm ground.



The Partner



It was a simple two-storey town house, in a nice neighbourhood; not quite city centre, but certainly not the suburbs. The front driveway was swept clear of leaves, a brightly-painted mailbox at the end of it, a small park just across the street. Magenta had seen it in another life, been driven past and had it pointed out, but even without that he would have known. He had some kind of instinct that, of course this would be the place. There was a part of him that was about to just stroll up the driveway and knock, and if he didn’t get an answer he’d simply punch six digits (the date that the Lions last won the Super Bowl) into the key safe and unlock the door. As soon as he thought it, Pat knew just how absurd that was.


The hairs on Magenta’s neck started to prickle. Everything was so quiet, too quiet. Maybe he had cultivated a cop instinct too.

“We have to go in.” He told Paddy, there had to be a way. Then he spotted it, the garage door still open, just enough to squeeze through. He acted on instinct, his clothes becoming wet and dusty from an army crawl through the slush. Magenta crouched low and shuffled around the vintage Harley, to find the door connecting the garage to the house.

The internal door was wide open, weak sunlight seeping down.

Paddy was right behind him when Magenta heard the sound of footsteps, he quickly ducked down to conceal himself and dragged Paddy behind him, legacy of training. He realised then there was another entrance to the garage, a wooden door with an old fashioned lock. The footfalls, Magenta guessed, were of a man about his size, who knew how to move with stealth, stopped and the small key clicked in the lock, and another gust of frigid air as the door was opened and closed almost silently.


Magenta could see through the glass panel of the door, his view was obstructed, but he knew who the man with his back to him was, he entrusted him with his own life every day. The man, WGPC Supreme Commander Richard Fraser, stopped, staggered, and dropped to the ground. Another man, until then he’d been out of sight, ran past, all his features concealed.



Magenta pulled open the door and went to him, crumpled on the ground like a discarded marionette. The flow of blood, so much blood, from the ugly gaping hole in his left temple, down to his shoulder and to the snow below. Brown eyes that sparked so much in life, dulling to glassiness in death, unruly coppery-brown hair becoming matted with blood. He was dressed in a thick,maroon sweater, jeans, work boots; he could only have stepped outside for a moment. His WGPC service weapon was still gripped in his right hand. His body was still warm, but rapidly cooling, in the fresh autumnal air. The assailant of course was long gone.

Magenta pressed fingers to Ochre’s pulse point, but the rhythm had already stopped. Magenta gently flipped his friend to lie on the grass, intent on starting CPR.

“Get a towel, or something, we need to slow the blood loss.” Patrick dimly registered Paddy’s expression. He knew his voice was that of Captain Magenta, not the person Paddy had ever known. With one hand, Magenta groped blindly for his Spectrum communicator. How could he not have it!

“There’s nothing you can do,” Paddy said gently.

Magenta shook his head. There had to be, something, anything. He couldn’t just be a voyeur in this any longer, not when it was Ochre. His best friend, his partner, the person he was obligated to share most of his waking hours with, and outside of his family, was most loyal to. After those rocky, early months of Spectrum that had never been a hardship. They still teased each other mercilessly, but if anyone came between them, they’d fight to the death.

“You can’t affect change in this world, for worse or, for better,” Paddy continued. “I’m sorry.”

“I’m sorry.” Magenta echoed. He couldn’t move, as if the body beneath his hands was the other thing tethering him to the universe. Emotions battered at him, but the overall sensation was of utter numbness. He couldn’t understand how this could happen, the enormity of the loss, how utterly powerless he was. Some instinct made him reach up with his clean palm and attempt to smooth Rick’s hair in some kind of order; as if comforting him after a nightmare.


“I’m not an expert, but… this must be a hit.” Magenta finally spoke. “He heard the intruder, went outside and, they overpowered him, bang, before he could even react. Because the Rick Fraser I know, he’d have gone down fighting.”

“Perhaps it was an old friend of yours.”

Magenta wasn’t sure if that was a dig or not, refused to acknowledge it. He searched the immediate area. A clue, there had to be some sign. Magenta had to know who had done this.


He thought he heard the echo of Ochre’s voice, calling his name. But that made no sense, he was definitely dead; recently, but still dead. There was no pulse, when Magenta pressed fingers to his neck once more just to check. It was from that angle he saw a glint of metal. He wanted to reach for it, but knew he couldn’t go disturbing a crime scene. It didn’t matter though, nothing in this other world mattered.

With a little effort the shell casing, which had dropped under the child’s swing set, could be reached, and Magenta was able to look at it. Paddy watched him with curiosity, and it occurred to Magenta that, of course, his grandfather had never seen him working like this. A small irrational part of him hoped Paddy would be proud.

A cold dread and anger washed over him.

Gabriel James… he knew it, should have known all along.

“Who’s that?”

Magenta hadn’t realised he’d spoken aloud, not just statements of fact, but his opinion of the character of his one-time ‘lieutenant’. Paddy looked a bit appalled at the language he’d used, and that was really saying something.

“He is that much of a disgusting excuse for a human being. When I was heading up the syndicate, he was second in command, for a while, took it over when I left. I know how much our family disapproved of my actions, but that bastard makes the worst things I ever did look like a kindergartner acting out. He’s completely ruthless, no conscience, hell bent on taking over and staying at the top. I could keep him in check, just, but then if…”

“Was he the one that made a pass at your sister?”

Magenta took a deep breath, he never wanted to think about that, the awful things which had happened to his family because of him. “If, by that, you mean his attempted rape on the list of his many party tricks, then, yes.”

Anger flashed in Paddy’s eyes. “Good thing you’re out of that life now.”


The shell casing still in his hand, Magenta sat back on his haunches for a moment, contemplating this horrible situation. Then he stood and returned to the body. He gently cradled Ochre’s head, like this might be uncomfortable for him, and turned it. There was no exit wound at the right temple, just a lot of bruising, the bullet shattering into shrapnel inside the skull. Magenta sucked in a breath; it was a horrible way to die, but quick. It must have been, please, God, let it have been instantaneous.

There was no doubt left in his mind any more. Of course, James wouldn’t have done any dirty work himself, but he’d have put his signature style of pistol with its silencer into the hands of some, equally awful, human beings to make a statement of his assumed invincibility.

And the hell with any consequences, all the lives that would be forever tainted.


Magenta stood up, truly surveyed the garden… a swing set, a tree house, and a plastic contraption that resembled a rocking horse. It was clear in this life, Ochre had a family, at least two children from the differing sizes of the items. He had to find them.




Magenta and Paddy entered the house via the laundry room. He briefly took stock, there seemed to be clothing for four people: man, woman, little boy, and even smaller girl. So, he had been right. They passed through into the kitchen: white walls and cherry wood and dark, red tiles. Even in the kitchen there were pictures, printed photographs or hand-drawn by young children. Magenta looked at them distractedly. Rick Fraser still had a full beard, tanned well in the summer, travelled fairly regularly, going by the various monuments which served as backdrop. He was an attentive father, tossing a baseball to his son or carrying his sleeping baby daughter, and an affectionate husband. Yes, husband, there was a wedding band. Magenta knew the woman at his side was Alison Topping; of course, she looked older than in any photo he’d seen of her, but still recognisable and attractive.

Paddy had stopped in front of the fridge. “They look happy.”

 “Yeah, they do.”

Magenta felt it again, that twist of guilt and shame and some other, unnamed feeling. This life was the antithesis of what he, or any of the Cloudbase captains, had. Was Ochre, Rick, really happier without a family or stable home, or even simply the ability to walk outdoors whenever he damn well wanted?


The kitchen opened onto a hallway, four sets of winter outerwear hung neatly on a row of hooks, an antique console table with a phone and letter rack on, stack of books and some bright, plastic toys on a low shelf. Magenta shuddered at the recent memory of his friend’s body; he had seen too many corpses in his career, but that didn’t mean he was accustomed to it.




Magenta snapped out of his reverie at the familiar voice from the floor above him.

Until then he had been wondering about Ochre’s son. In the world Magenta knew, the boy had been born some months after Ochre’s faked assassination and, subsequently, becoming Captain Ochre. So, father and son were unaware of each other’s existence until Ricky’s mother had been killed. From then on, Rick had thrown himself into making up for lost time, allowing for geographical distance and work schedule, he was a devoted parent. At that moment, in another life, the little boy was no doubt tucked-up in bed, after an evening of trick or treating with Ellie, his maternal aunt and legal guardian. Then, when he woke up he would tell his father all about it on the video phone.

In this other world, he had a full nuclear family; two parents and a little sister. If only for one moment more, his childhood was happy, safe, and undisturbed. There was another set of footfalls, lighter and slower.


Magenta ran to the top of the stairs with Paddy following him. He saw the boy in profile, walking past one of upstairs rooms, a little girl, of about two years old, in embroidered pyjamas as following him.

“You wait here, Amelia.” The boy stopped and opened the door, sending a waft of the faint, but oh, so, familiar scent of resin adhesives and enamel paint drifting into the hallway.

After a moment, the little boy frowned and closed the door behind him. He was about five years old, with a strong resemblance to the man in the garden, barefoot and in casual clothes that didn’t quite match.

“Want Mama,” the girl said, lower lip trembling.

“I know, Amy,” the boy replied, kind and patient. “She just went to Aunt Ellie’s house… but Daddy is still here, somewhere.”

Magenta knew now what was about to occur. He couldn’t let that happen, owed them that much.

“Go back,” he hissed. “Go back to your room and wait.”

At that moment, the boy looked in their direction and Magenta thought perhaps he had heard them.

“We have to go back,” Paddy told him, pulling at his arm. “You have to go back, find your friends, otherwise this won’t count.”

Magenta shook his head, stood firm, there had to be something he could do. This was Rick, and Rick’s two little children. He knew what they were about to face; he could barely face it and he was a grown adult who saw death so often in his work.

He tried to shrug Paddy off. “We have to do something!”

The child’s expression showed nothing that acknowledged the presence of the two men. Not the familiar delight at a visit from his ‘Uncle Pat’, or even, understandably, disconcerted at the presence of strangers.

Paddy shook his head.

So the boy took his sister’s hand and kept walking.

Down the stairs.

And there was nothing Magenta could do.




The Morning After



Magenta fought consciousness, yet another change in state with all its uncertainty. He felt like he was being yanked upwards, all that had become familiar was slipping away, like smoke. He understood nothing, had a burning inarticulate need to set things right with no idea how to accomplish this.


“Pat, what are you doing out here?”

For a moment after his eyes opened Magenta stayed there, completely still, seeing without truly seeing. He was feverish with the turmoil of emotions and exertion he had been through, during his sleep. Then he sat up quickly, too quickly really, given how his brain seemed to be spinning, his only coherent thought was that he had to get out of here.

He was in a corridor, and for a moment he was relieved to be back on Cloudbase, outside of his quarters, in Captain’s Row. But maybe this was just part of the whole nightmare? After all, this dream, or whatever it was, had been getting progressively more vivid. It was far quieter in the corridor than usual, disconcertingly so. Ordinarily you couldn’t stand out there for that long without seeing someone else passing by, or at least hear someone in their room. Maybe Cloudbase was empty, except for him and his ghost of Halloweens yet to come. There couldn’t have been an alert; someone would have woken him up.


The sound of Scarlet’s voice, his nearest neighbour, as their quarters had an adjoining wall, went some way to cutting through the fog in Magenta’s mind. Scarlet was crouched before him so their eyes met.

“You look…” Scarlet’s brow furrowed slightly as he searched for the right word. “Are you ok?”

“Yeah, I’m fine.” Magenta didn’t have a clue how he looked or whether he really was ok; but it seemed easier than having to explain or remain under scrutiny. “Really, I just, umm…”

“Were you sleepwalking?”

“I don’t sleep walk.”

“It’s quite common when someone is under stress, and nothing to be…”

“Paul, trust me. I’ve been under stress, and still only wake up in weird places, next to strange people, if I’ve been on the sauce… not that I’m saying you’re strange, no offence.”

“Oh, none taken.” Scarlet smiled. “Anyway, you wouldn’t be the first or last to insinuate such a thing.”

Magenta’s thoughts were still in a muddle and he didn’t really listen as Scarlet continued talking. He only noticed when Scarlet suddenly stopped.

“Stay there, don’t move a muscle.”

The next Magenta saw of him, Scarlet was holding a waste paper basket, empty but for a carrier bag to line it. Which was helpful, because turned out Magenta really needed something to throw up into.


Grey rounded the corner of Captain’s Row just in time to see Scarlet flinch and pale slightly. Paul Metcalfe was a man who could, because he habitually did, come out of the other side of the worst things a human body could suffer, and consequently had a superficially blasé attitude regarding fatal injury to his person. But nausea and vomit was something he couldn’t quite get past, it brought back too many uncomfortable memories for Scarlet, of his bouts of seasickness which, ironically, retrometabolism had made worse.

“Good morning,” Scarlet greeted him. Grey both noted and appreciated the note of slight sarcasm in his voice, given the apparent turn of events. He gave a brief nod and crouched beside Magenta.

“If I didn’t know better, I would think he was drunk.” Scarlet noted, having disposed of the bin and its contents. Magenta must have heard, but said nothing, simply rested his heavy, warm brow against Grey’s shoulder.

“He’s running a fever.” Grey felt concern and an unexpected fondness for his friend. “We need to get him to the sickbay.”

“It’s too far to carry him, even between us. Let’s get him back to bed and I’ll radio for Fawn to make a house call.”

Grey watched as Scarlet reached for the control panel and frowned. This wasn’t like Blue’s quarters, where he knew the code and could stroll in whenever he liked.

Magenta told him the code, Scarlet punched in the numbers apparently oblivious to their significance.


At that point, Magenta drifted on the edge of wakefulness. He was aware of being hoisted up, Grey and Scarlet taking him under the arms and walking him back to his bedroom, that the dismount wasn’t particularly graceful, and very aware of the utter indignity of it all. Yet he could offer absolutely no resistance. He vomited a second time; the back of his throat raw. Scarlet chatted away all the while, cheerfully enough, like this was a perfectly ordinary occurrence. It probably was for him, albeit with him, it was being transported on a stretcher to the aforementioned Sickbay, in some state between a bit off colour and medically dead.


Scarlet went off to call for medical assistance, while Grey stayed in the bedroom, trying to think of something to help his friend.

“Am happy you’re here.” Magenta’s voice was so quiet Grey almost didn’t catch it. “Not in jail.”

It took a beat for Grey to place what he was referring to. “Yeah, me too, obviously.”

Magenta closed his eyes.

With no idea what had happened prior to his arrival, Grey wondered if this was for the best, maybe he should keep Magenta awake and talking.

“And we could say the same about you… you’re a true friend, Pat.”

Magenta gave a non-committal murmur and sunk a little more into the pillows.

“You knew all along,” Grey continued. “What I was getting into, not just being in love, but, all the other crap. And you left me to it. Because you respected the fact I was entitled to a private life, you trusted that I still am someone with a conscience, knew that if someone just gave me a chance, I would prove that I was innocent. Awful as it was at the time, I really, truly, appreciate everything you did.”

Magenta smiled at Grey, not really sure what he was supposed to say. Of all the men he knew, and he was Irish and worked in a quasi-military organisation, for feck’s sake, Bradley Holden was possibly the most emotionally reticent of them all. One wrong move and he’d been panicked into mute; it was like winning the trust of a feral kitten.

“… Except, maybe the part, where Ochre clearly wanted to beat the actual crap out of me,” Grey conceded. “Because it was my fault you wound up in the sickbay, twice.”

“That was both our faults. Did he also provide an itemised list of every poor choice you’ve made since he became aware you exist?”

“Uh, more or less.”

“Yeah he does that, it’s his love language.”


It was then Scarlet reappeared, with backup. The way Doctor Fawn reacted on arrival, Magenta wondered if he was a post Halloween treat; a nice little medical conundrum to solve, someone to stab with needles and prod and ask stupid sounding questions of. Magenta curled into himself, alternately feverish and shivering, and tried to answer all the questions properly.

There was a brisk knock on the main door, Grey answered it and duly followed the new arrivals in. Magenta watched absently, as the three captains and two off duty Angel pilots formed a slightly disorganised semi-circle around the foot of Magenta’s bed; standing around, ready to leap into action, as if their presence was actually going to be of use. Magenta felt a sense of relief to see them all together and on good terms, but he couldn’t fully articulate why.

Finally, one of them spoke.

“So what’s wrong with him?” Scarlet asked.

For someone who couldn’t get out of the sickbay quick enough when he’d just, literally, died on them, Scarlet appeared unable to tear himself away, now that someone else had an affliction.

Fawn sighed. “I am a man of science, not miracle instantaneous diagnostics… when I know, Patrick will know, and if he deigns to tell you then you will also know.”

He rounded on the five of them, hovering there, endearingly concerned, but none the less utterly useless. “Don’t you all have someone you need to share your sweeties with?”

Grey’s negative answer was so sincere, as if it had been an actual question, Fawn almost laughed.

“It’s fine, Ned, we can take a hint.” Ever the voice of reason was Adam, giving his field partner a very particular look. “Look, the living room has a comfy sofa and some books. We can wait there, Paul.”

“Ned?” Scarlet genuinely did look a little confused.

“A traditional nickname for Edward. I guess we’ve become close, given I spend all this time in the sickbay, just hanging around, making conversation,” Blue breezily answered, as he left the room, with Symphony dangling off his arm. She broke off momentarily to tuck in the blankets. Pat couldn’t remember the last time someone had tucked him in, maybe it was Saint Granny. He could briefly smell her perfume, something warm and slightly floral.

Rhapsody made soft soothing noises that reminded him of his mother, in the best possible way.

Scarlet followed them out, but not before he patted Magenta’s shoulder and gruffly told him not to take ‘any Aussie crap’.

“How about I go get us all some breakfast?” There was a hint of false cheer in Grey’s voice.

“No food.” Magenta almost heaved at the thought.




Eventually Fawn ran out of tasks and, in the fullness of time, was able to give a diagnosis; assuring them that Magenta’s ailment, though uncomfortable and temporarily debilitating, was comparatively minor.

Magenta dozed for a bit, at least, he assumed so, a dreamless fitful slumber. He’d needed to rally himself after enduring the good doctor’s bedside manner. Having got no joy with the blood-letting, mouth-swabbing, or full-body-scanning, Fawn requested a urine sample. Eventually, the need had taken him, and Magenta had thankfully been given a modicum of privacy and autonomy during the process. He rang the buzzer and Fawn returned to the room like a butler. Sample test tube in gloved hand and mobile diagnostics machine set up, Fawn had bustled off to be useful, while Magenta crawled back into bed.


The door opened and someone approached the bed, walking briskly, their shoes meeting slight, squeaking resistance against the floor. Magenta kept his eyes closed, feigning sleep, hoping they would go away. He so rarely got ill that he was really bad at it. He heard his first name and opened his eyes to see the nurse looming over him, then immediately looked away, as she withdrew the drip from his arm. It was quick and fairly painless at least. He really appreciated the fact that the nursing staff of Cloudbase had a far better bedside manner than Doctor Fawn; and that wasn’t even just by default, they genuinely were like a choir of calm efficient seraphim, soothing your every discomfort all hours of the day, like it was no trouble at all.

“Doctor Fawn has prescribed some medicines; a course of antibiotics, and painkillers.” There was a hint of Italian to her voice, as she rattled off the dosages and instructions for the pills, leaving them on his bedside locker, but Magenta couldn’t place the accent to a particular region. “Naturally, you’ve been signed off duty, keep your fluid levels up and rest as much as you can. I had that before and goodness they can be terrible, you feel just so bad, but honestly, in two days you will be back to your normal self.”

“Grazie mille,” Magenta ventured. He appreciated the concern that went with the, no doubt, entirely accurate diagnosis. He’d not met this particular nurse before, she was probably new, or perhaps not that new, considering he very rarely required any medical attention. He also didn’t necessarily make a point of noticing and commenting on the attractiveness of any woman that crossed her path. She seemed decent enough though, in a wholesome rosy cheeks and neatly pinned back hair sort of way.

She startled, then beamed. “Niente.”


Someone else came into his quarters soon after. Magenta heard him before he saw him. He had the perfect voice for a pilot; the very timbre of it making you feel a bit calmer, safer, slightly more convinced that you weren’t about to face plant into the side of a mountain. The nurse pivoted on her heels, and Magenta could hear the breath catch in her throat. She couldn’t have been expecting him, had probably never been that close to the captain, at least when he was walking and talking. She seemed to wilt slightly as he addressed her specifically.

“Thanks for taking such good care of him,” Ochre said.

“Oh, I am just doing my job.”

“Sure, and it’s a really great job.”

“If you need anything, just ask.” It wasn’t entirely clear which captain she was addressing.

“So, umm, anyway you are now free to go about as you please. I really hope you feel better soon, Captain Magenta,” she added, then turned on her heels and bustled out, colour high on her cheeks. Pausing for a beat, she stood at an angle that clearly meant she was checking if Captain Ochre did indeed have a cute butt. Magenta seemed to spend much of his working life existing in a wake of blushing, sighing women and he was very definitely not the cause of it.


Ochre, uncharacteristically, didn’t show her out; instead, he came to a stop at the side of the bed and stayed put. For some reason, he looked so pleased to see his field partner there, as if Magenta being in Magenta’s own quarters was some kind of anomaly.

Eventually, he spoke. “So you’re not actually dying then?”

“We all are, in philosophical terms, but, I mean, my odds of dying today aren’t any higher than usual.”

“Would have thought they were currently a lot better, if anything. Considering in the field you have the impulse control and regard for your well-being that’s generally only seen in pre-schoolers.”

Magenta wasn’t going to argue the point because, well, he couldn’t really. Instead, he changed tack before he lost the nerve to say what he needed to.

“Rick, I’m really sorry.”

Ochre’s eyebrows rose, he looked set to say something, but he held that thought in.

“If you keep doing what you always do, you get what you always get, so…” Magenta knew his voice was too loud, fast, full of slightly misplaced cheer, but he didn’t alter it lest he lost his nerve. “I am breaking the precedent set by my father, and his father before him, and presumably his father before him, and so on back to, probably, whenever homo sapiens first decided the chunk of land, now called Ireland, would be grand for living on. Anyway, I’m going to get in there first, and fully, publicly acknowledge that I was out of line and I’m sorry.”

Ochre gave a small, slow nod. “Oh, yesterday? Well, thanks, but it’s really not a problem.”

“Yes, it is! Not just that conversation, but I keep snapping at you. And that’s not fair. You’re always there and, you deserve better, and…”

Ochre seemed momentarily disconcerted, but pulled himself together and shrugged. “And I’ve never been even slightly unkind to you?”

“That’s different; you had perfectly valid reasons not to trust me. And perfectly valid reasons to argue back.”

Ochre approached him slowly, no sudden movements. “Pat, it’s ok, I accept your apology. And I’m sorry right back for all that crap I said. It’s none of my business, and totally not worth ruining your Halloween.”

“Well, clearly mine was going to suck anyway,” Magenta conceded softly. “But you’re ok?”

Ochre nodded, cheerful enough. By then he was close enough to reach across and rest a hand on Pat’s shoulder, the warmth and gentle pressure truly comforting. He didn’t say anything more, at least not in so many words, a look was enough. It made Magenta feel horrifically self-conscious, like that dream where you’re naked at school; but he also felt understood, and a warm feeling he wasn’t going to address at that point.

“You can get in, if you like.” And Magenta shuffled across to the far side of the bed. “And tell me about the party.”


Ochre lay on his back, on top of the covers, shoes kicked off, arms folded primly across his chest. “I only went for a bit, because Maggie made me. And you’re right, some of the girls wore costumes that were veritably indecent. So, that was pleasant. You really missed out.”

“Good to know you still had a nice time.”

“Yeah, it was, ok.”

There was something else going on, under Ochre’s words. Magenta supposed he should wait it out, but he wasn’t that patient. “And, then what?”

“I went back to my room, had a video call with my kid. He dressed up in WGPC uniform; it was like I’d cloned myself and, frankly, that’s more terrifying than anything which was supposed to scare me last night. Then I went to bed.”



Magenta shifted a little close. “Rick, what happened? Do you want to…”

“Nothing happened! That’s my whole point. Jesus Christ, is my reputation that freaking bad for even you to be shocked I didn’t have a one night stand, just because there was a party?”

Magenta wasn’t really sure why, but it felt imperative to keep the peace between them, to know his friend was well and content.

“I would never think badly of you.” And Magenta knew that was the absolute truth. “So if you need a sounding board. I’m around.”

Ochre smiled, absently picked up the pill bottles from the bedside locker. “What is all this stuff?”

“I don’t entirely know,” Magenta admitted. “They’re some kind of antibiotics, and painkillers, bladder infection apparently. Probably got it from all that crawling around in dirty water on the last mission, probably lucky it’s nothing worse. Anyway, once I take all those and get some rest. I’ll be grand.”

“Good. Because Paul and Brad made it sound like I should summon a priest for your last rites. I should have one on speed dial anyway, because if you need to do a deathbed repentance, that’s gonna take a while.”

Magenta smiled. “Hours, if not days… nice shirt by the way.”

Ochre’s t-shirt was plain black, but for the chemical symbol for ‘irritant’ printed in the centre of his chest. He grinned back. “Mag thought it was appropriate.”

It was then Magenta noticed the little dressing in the crook of Ochre’s left arm; unconsciously, he reached towards it.

Ochre answered the unspoken question. “Fawn thinks he might need to operate on Sarma again… and he wanted to be prepared. So I volunteered, seemed only right after everything that happened… That’s also a really fun way to spend your morning.”


Magenta felt bad for having let the events of the previous week slip his mind. They had been on security detail, with one of the rookie recruits freshly graduated from Koala base; a soft spoken guy from Punjab, very bright. There was no way they could have anticipated the gun fight with the Mysteron agent; but Ochre wasn’t very good at accepting anything could be outside of his control.

“It wasn’t your fault, Rick.”

Ochre shrugged, the refusal to discuss it a whole conversation in itself. When he eventually spoke, his voice was soft, heavy with sadness and guilt. “We’ve lost too many good people already.”

“He’s in the best hands.” Magenta stretched out an arm, wriggled so he could wrap it around Ochre’s shoulder and gave a brief squeeze. Only then did Ochre smile anew, like clouds clearing on a summer day, comforted by his best friend, as they lapsed back to easy silence.


“I had a dream last night…”

“Was I in it?”


Ochre’s eyes went wide and he laughed. “I didn’t really think you dreamed about me, but ok.”

“It wasn’t like that!” Magenta felt himself colour slightly. “It was basically a nightmare. In this other world, in the dream, you were married, and…” Magenta said it before even realising what he was saying, and shut down once he did.

“Yeah, I can see why that thought would cause great distress.”

“But, no you were really happy. Until it got all messed up… Everything went wrong. All these situations happened and nothing was right, because of me. And I couldn’t change anything. It was like I didn’t exist and just had to watch.”

Somehow Magenta knew that wasn’t the entire story, but the details were slipping away.

Ochre rolled onto his side, faced him. “That’d mess a person right up. But it’s just in your head though, you’re here, so you can make it right if that’s needed… What?”

“There was a time when you wished I didn’t exist.”

“Did you miss the part where that was really long time ago?” Ochre was animated now, not through anger but strength of feeling. “I would never think that! It couldn’t be any more the opposite of how I feel now, Pat, I…”

Whatever else he was about to say was cut off by the sound of the video phone ringing. There were only four people that called him, and one was in the room, he should really answer it.

Ochre got up. “I’ll get it.”

“It’s probably my mother,” Magenta noted.

“Hence the offer.”

“I can handle it.”

Ochre shrugged, as if to say ‘as you wish’, and went to make them some more tea.


The morning after, and the living room of the Donaghue family home. It seemed wrong to think of it as simply his parents’ house. It was still overflowing with Halloween decorations of varying colours, size, age and level of tacky. Obviously his niece was there. Fae was doing a study abroad in Dublin, so could drop by any time she pleased. Fae had always loved Halloween and must have wanted all the decorations up, or, at least, his mother had assumed so. Mairead Donaghue clearly had a favourite child, and it wasn’t Patrick or his sister.

“Mornin’, Mammy.”

She beamed at him with delighted surprise, as if not expecting to actually see or hear him. “And for yourself, pet. Did we wake you up? What time is it there?”

“No, I have no idea.” Pat didn’t want to tell her, she’d just fret, but there was no way around it. “Actually, I’m kinda sick, just an infection, nothing serious. Doctor Fawn ran loads of tests and gave me medicine. I’ll be grand in a day or two.”

“Oh, well if you say so.” Mairead sounded unconvinced, versed as she was in the discrepancy between ‘a Donaghue says they are fine’ and actually being fine. “I suppose he is a good doctor.”

“The very best in the world,” Patrick agreed. “I’m honestly happy you called, is everything ok?”

Her brow crinkled a little in concern. “Of course, just grand so, love.”

“I was just worried about you, we haven’t talked in a while.”

“Well, you needn’t trouble yourself. After all, you’re the one that goes off on missions, saving the world, taking all those risks to keep people safe. While we’re just all here, and I shouldn’t imagine anything particularly terrible has happened in Innisfree since the great hunger. So, what could you be thinking would go wrong?”

Even before taking on the role of a Spectrum Captain, Patrick knew that no place on earth was immune to tragedy. It seemed unnecessary to point that out.

“Is Pappy around?”

“In the stable, tending to the love of his life.”

Pellinore, the race horse Patrick had bought his father as a sixtieth birthday gift. A childish, crude, and spectacularly unsuccessful attempt to claw back his father’s affection and respect, after the shameful betrayal of learning exactly how his son had been supporting a lavish lifestyle. Nonetheless, man and horse had bonded fiercely from the get go, and Pellinore was nearly seven years into an easy, comfortable life on the Donaghue’s small dairy farm.

“He’s been off his food you see,” Mairead continued. “The horse, not your father, obviously. He would never admit it, but he’s bits, is your Da. He wants to get an appointment with a specialist. They have nutritionists, for horses. Can you imagine?”


Patrick laughed, at her delivery, rather than the situation. “I just had a really weird dream, last night. Pappy was in it, you both were, and… everything was wrong. You weren’t married any more, and you were both so sad and alone. And it was all my fault.”

“Oh, don’t trouble yourself, a stór.” Pat felt ridiculous, realising he was almost welling up. “Your father and I are grand, not going to get divorced… as you well know, every marriage has its struggles, but we get through them and are happy now. Also, if I was to leave him, your father would starve to death. Did I tell you about the other day? I went into town with Bridie, you know, Mrs Finnegan, from the village shop. And I knew we’d be back a bit late. So, I’d defrosted some of that bolognaise sauce I made before, because it needed using up. And before I left I’d asked him to put the spaghetti on to cook, I got out the right pan for it, the instructions are on the bag, if you get stuck, ask the child. And he does that thing where he says the right words to answer, but you know he’s not listening, but Bridie was waiting for me, so I had to go.” She paused for breath, almost entirely for dramatic delivery. “Well, it was a good thing the child was there. He put the pasta on all right, into the pan, gas on, let it cook for 10 minutes… only he wasn’t after putting the water in the pan. It was just the dry spaghetti getting all hot. Can you imagine!”

“He’ll be the death of you,” Patrick chimed in, as was the routine.

“The absolute death! So you see I must stay, not that I mind at all, because I can’t be doing with having that sort of nonsense on my conscience.”


He looked round and Rick was leaning on the doorjamb, convulsing with silent laughter. For his part, Patrick took a sip of tea to compose himself. He needed to stop being surprised by Rick’s tea-making abilities, a tiny part of British-born Alison Topping’s legacy.

“But it’s all grand now,” Mairead conceded. “Fae Roisin sorted it out, and he did grate the cheese without taking a finger off, so I can’t complain.”

There was noise in the background, padding of feet and mug being set down on slate coaster. It was then Patrick saw his niece, wearing a spare jumper of his and tartan pyjamas bottoms. She got on the sofa too, almost folding herself in-half, to rest her head on her grandmother’s shoulder.

“Hey, Paddy.” She was the only one that called him that, at least, not as a pejorative. A mash up of Pat and Daddy, he was her godfather and, really, the closest thing to a dad she would ever have. She even resembled him; black, wavy hair, strong cheekbones, the same build. It was only her eye colour that tied her to the women of the family.

“Hey, yourself, Roisin dubh, did you trick or treat?”

“Nooo, but Orla came over and we watched a filum.” As with Patrick, she had lost a little of the New York twang from her voice with time on the farm. She looked at him carefully, with those striking blue-violet eyes that still seemed to peer into his soul. “You’re off colour, somehow.”

“I’m a little sick, but I’ll be grand soon enough.”

She seemed to accept that, cradled the mug in her hands, sipped tea, held his gaze until he smiled. “Did you get my present?”


On the top of his dresser was a wrapped gift. The box was oversized and every centimetre festooned in some way; glitter, sequins, ribbons, rosettes of shiny ribbon with sticky pads on the back.

“Yes, I don’t know why you bother with a gift tag.” Magenta felt a rush of affection for his niece, her dedication to ostentatious gift wrapping, and, indeed, for sending him gifts without a specific occasion. “I’ve not opened it yet, not had a chance.”

“Open it now, I want to watch you open it.” For a moment she wasn’t a college student, with half a foot in the world of being an adult, but like the small excitable child she had been.

He obliged, stood and carried the box back to his bed. He soon discovered the box contained smaller wrapped gifts; a specific computer part he needed, a multipack of plain underpants of the style he preferred, but, for the most part, it was just a ridiculous quantity of confectionery.

“It’s all wonderful, thank you.”

“When I have an actual income you can get a better calibre of gifts,” Fae assured him. He noticed then that his mother had ambled away to make a start on lunch or whatever she did, drifting in and out of the conversation as if he was simply in the room with them.

“Gráím thú.” He hadn’t spoken Irish for a while, it felt good to wrap his tongue around the sounds once more.

She blew him extravagant kisses. “But I love you the absolute most of them all!”

Is fada liom uaim thú.” As he said it, the truth of the words hit hard, and he wasn’t even sure when he’d be able to visit Ireland again.

“That too.”


He was momentarily surprised to see his sister on the screen, then remembered she had a publishing conference in the city. “Ní fhaca mé le fada thú.”

Caitlin made a face at him, she’d never taken to the Irish language lessons of their youth. She’d never seen the logic of learning a language spoken only in the small country that she didn’t in any more. “Don’t even start.”

“Fine, are you grand?”

“I’ve survived worse, but she’s driving me to drink.”

“Well, Caity, that’s just natural consequences for thinking contraceptives are optional.”

“I meant our mother.” Caitlin sat heavily on the sofa, reached out and began to absently braid the locks of her daughter’s hair. “The child is fine, she brings me wine. Mammy’s starting to wonder if I’m an alcoholic. Not sure it’s occurred to her that I might only be an alcoholic when I’m stuck at the arse end of nowhere, with her talking at me all day long. Anyway, she thinks after Christmas, we need to sign up for Dry January, no drink during the most depressing month of the year; this is a statistical fact by the way. As if any fecking good could come of that.”

“Mammy has lots of thoughts, some of which might, in the fullness of time, be relevant to our respective lives.”

Caity rolled her eyes. “Is Rick around?”

“Sort of, he’s got a model on the go. Why?”

“Is he in the market for fine linens, a herd of goats, and thirty pieces of silver? Because Mam is willing to offer a dowry. And that’s what a dowry is supposed to be, right?”

Aside from the obvious ethical issues of such an arrangement, Patrick tried to imagine goats roaming around Cloudbase, he didn’t suppose it would end well. “Thirty pieces of silver was the payment to Judas for betraying Jesus, and, no, Rick doesn’t need even one goat… Wait, which of us is she even trying to marry off?”

“Umm, presumably me, better odds of making more grandbabies, but she’s open-minded. I think she just wants a reason to buy a nice hat and have a good cry.”

Pat laughed. “Talking to anyone else this would be weird and inappropriate.”

“That’s just what we do so well.” There was some conversation in the background. “I have to go, she wants help with the dinner.”

“Thought what you were doing qualified as helping.”

She made a gesture that from anyone else would actually be offensive, and shut down the call.




Ochre reappeared in the doorway.

“How much of that did you hear?”

Judging from his expression, enough to get sufficient leverage for quite some time. Ochre was also carrying an open-topped, oddly-shaped, white box. He held it out, so Magenta could look at it properly. He knew that design, it had been made from blueprints he had drawn up.


“I saw your efforts,” Ochre began. “And they were frankly, pathetic. My kid could have done better. So, I took pity, because, hey, you have that effect on me… so now you’ll have something fancy to show off at that conference. Happy saint’s day, or whatever you’re into.”

Ah, of course, the conference about computer based security systems, which Magenta had been invited to and given a guest pass. Ochre had been angling to go as his plus one, partly because all the captains got cabin fever when Mysteron activity was low; but also because the conference was going to be in Rome, and Ochre had never knowingly passed up a chance to consume his body weight in gelato.

We can show it off, yes.”

Ochre paused for a moment. “I didn’t really mean it, Pat. It’s a few weeks away, I’m sure by then you can find someone you’d rather be strolling through piazzas with.”

“Hmm, no. I’ve looked through the whole Spectrum database and you’re the best of the meagre selection,” Magenta replied flippantly. “But seriously, maybe I want to go with you, just because I want to hang out with you, because you’re fun and we can just quit thinking about work for a while, and you’re a total enabler when we get even close to a gelateria. Those are important qualities in a travel companion, even if we aren’t going to re-enact Romeo and Juliet.”

“Well, I should hope not, considering the statutory rape and double suicide, and that it went down in Verona. But I see your point.”

Ochre saw his partner’s expression. “What, I can be cultured… ok, I had a long relationship with someone who read a lot of books, but that counts surely.”

An image came to Magenta’s mind unbidden, so vivid he shuddered. Ochre looked at him with concern but he tried to shrug it off.

“Nah, come on.” Ochre balanced the model on the chair, which meant that to sit down he had to perch on the edge of the bed. “There’s still something up with you, messing with your head. Tell me about it, this dream.”

“How is little man anyway?”

“He’s fine, don’t change the subject.”

“No, that is the point.”

Patrick sighed, realising he wasn’t making any sense; but he sensed Ochre was willing to humour him. “Do you ever wonder, how thing would be different if, we weren’t here or whatever?”

Ochre sighed. “No, and that’s a conscious choice. With notable exception of The Brit, people don’t just come back from the dead when it’s useful, not literally, and turns out not even metaphorically. So, as nothing can change the past, what good can come of wishing things were different?”

“That was really insensitive of me, I didn’t…”

“Nah, you’re all right. I still stand by my choice to join Spectrum; it makes me feel useful, and tired, but good-tired, y’know? … And I do have a field partner that makes me laugh and think, and packs me a lunch on the regular.”

“It’s good to be appreciated.” Pat smiled.

“Anyway, what else would I do? Considering pretty much everyone thinks I’m dead. It’s a bit late to back out of something like that now.”

Magenta discovered a fresh glass of water at his bedside and took a sip, after all, he was under orders to keep a good intake of fluids. “But you would have more time with Ricky, if you’d stayed in the Police Corp.”

“Yeah,” Ochre conceded, the pang of missing his son clear on his face. “That’s, hmm, actually the only pro. Still, it could be worse, at least we do get to talk and hang out sometimes.”

A thought occurred to Magenta, seemingly out of nowhere. “Did you actually want to have a son named after you?”

“Please, do I strike you as that egoistic? It was a long time ago, obviously, so I can’t really remember; but me and Alie talked baby names. For a boy, I dunno, James or Samuel or Charlie. Something from a book.” Ochre pulled a face. “A normal name from a book… yeah, probably James, both our dads were actually called James.”

“That would be cute, and for a girl?”

“Amelia, Amy for short after my mom.” Ochre laughed. “You are all questions today, super random at that. Still, the day you become predictable is the day I quit, because I would not be able to handle it.”


Magenta simply lay looking up at the ceiling, attempting to process all the conversations he’d had. The words themselves and the sense that something had shifted in his consciousness, maybe for the better, but change was always met with some resistance. He heard the ping of a new text message but thought nothing of it.

He sat up once Ochre returned with a tea tray, which, Magenta assumed, had once been property of the Cloudbase galley; weighed down with two cups of tea the same shade, and two plates of toast, one with considerably more on than the other. Magenta’s toast was still as hot as possible, almost drowned in butter, with the thinnest scrapping of slick tan spread, just the way he liked it. Ochre’s must have been his second breakfast, using up the last of the raspberry jam.

As he ate, Ochre scrolled through his personal cell phone. “Aww, Flax, she’s such a dote. That friend you were talking about, from Yale, Emily, whatever.”

“Mortmain.” Magenta frowned. “But why…?”

“Flax looked her up, for, well, ultimately for you. Likes her privacy does your Em, not an easy one to find. Anyhow, she’s a professor of fine design or something, at Mass Arts. Flax also found a marriage license on file…”

Magenta didn’t know how to feel about that. Lost in thought he also didn’t catch the name given. “Nadia? Emily is married to a woman?”

“What can I say? It’s the 21st century, these things happen.” Ochre’s tone was amused. “I never figured you for the type to get scandalised by people being free to love who they love.”

“I’m the last person to take issue with it, obviously, it’s just… I had no idea, she was my best friend and I never knew. She had a boyfriend in college, he was a total dick, but definitely a guy.”

Ochre shrugged. “People change, Wife.”

Magenta supposed out of context it was a ridiculous nickname wide open to misinterpretation, which might have been part of the appeal as far as Rick was considered. He wasn’t the one who had to explain that having a field partner was like being an old married couple, and that Magenta was ‘the wife’ simply because of the two of them he was far better at housekeeping. Still he always let it go, because Rick only used that when he was at his most congenial.

“I know that too. Tell Flaxen, thanks.” Magenta took another bite of toast, almost didn’t catch the next thing Ochre said.

“Wow, you must have been good friends, she named a kid after you.”

“For real?”

“Mmm-hmm.” Ochre passed the phone over. “Birth certificate and second parent adoption, of one Patrick Thomas Mortmain-Willis.”

“I think her dad’s name was Patrick, and Thomas isn’t an unusual name either.”

“There’s a chance you’re right. That has to happen some time.”


When he’d finished eating, Ochre checked his watch.

“Fun as this is staying here, fixing you food, fielding calls from your relatives, and generally stressing over your immediate wellbeing, I have to go. If I leave it any longer, I will be late for duty, and late to relieve Brad, and that would cut into his ‘working out the logistics of getting a chance to see Captain Violet again, let alone get into her pants’ time. He’s been through a lot and deserves the grown up special fun time more than me. ”

Amused, Magenta nodded and allowed himself to be tucked in again. “In that case, you better go already.”

For a moment Ochre hesitated, then dipped his head. As he leant in close Magenta caught the slight scent of orange and ginger from Ochre’s shampoo, briefly felt the warmth and softness of a brief kiss to the forehead, at odds with the brush of stubble.

“Sleep tight, Pat. I’ll swing by later to make sure you’re ok. Are you at least feeling a little better?”

“Yeah, a lot better than I have in a while.”

Magenta truly meant it.



The End



Author’s notes


This story is of course, very tenuously, based on It’s a wonderful life. In his life before Spectrum Magenta had clearly done so much that I was intrigued by the idea of considering the repercussion of his actions for better or worse. I’m sure all the captains have regrets but the narrative just flowed so easily with him as the focus. The shift in setting from Christmas to Halloween was deliberate, as a nod to the historical traditions of Halloween rooted in Magenta’s homeland, a night when the boundary between living and dead is thin.


Given the current trend towards Irish language (Galiege) usage in Ireland, and in light of the projected political events; I assume that Irish would retain or even increase its prevalence within the country and expat communities elsewhere by the time Spectrum was operational. Therefore Magenta and his family would at least understand and use some basic phrases; translations of those used in the story are as follows…

A stór (my treasure)

Cara (friend)

Gráím thú. (I love you)

Is fada liom uaim thú (I miss you)

Ní fhaca mé le fada thú (long time no see)

Roisin Dubh (the title of a traditional romantic/political song, literally ‘little dark rose’.)




I drew heavily from my ‘holy trinity of fanon’… Sue Stanhope’s So Beautifully Framed, her ‘gangster trilogy’, and Marion Wood’s Tears of a clown. The rest is a mix of what little official information we have, probably the sum total of all the other fanfiction I’ve read, and my own existing vision of the characters.


Alison Topping and son, and Lieutenant Flaxen, are Marion Woods.

Captain Violet is from Caroline Smith.

Gabriel James is from Sue Stanhope’s ‘Gangster trilogy’.

WGPC Commander Ian Stewart was created by Chris Bishop and Sue Stanhope.




Fifty whole years of Captain Scarlet! Thank you Gerry and Sylvia Anderson for a childhood well spent.

To Chris Bishop, for running this site.

Gratitude and pity for my beta readers, as always any remaining glitches are my fault.







Any comments? Send an E-MAIL to the SPECTRUM HEADQUARTERS site