A new broom sweeps clean, reflected Colonel White as he studied President Roberts’ latest directive on cutbacks in military spending. With cost cutting measures extended to include Spectrum, Colonel White agreed to look into combining training for non-combatant occupations with those of other world military forces.
An initial assessment by the World Government’s bean counters recommended Spectrum’s single service training for cooks and stewards could be combined with training already conducted by the World Army Air Force at one of their bases. Probably just the tip of the iceberg, White thought moodily, knowing that if those changes worked well, merging medical and dental personnel training with the WAAF, or possibly the World Aquanaut Security Patrol (who had the better facilities) would most likely be next.
Colonel White reluctantly signed off on the directive and the wheels were quickly put in motion for Spectrum personnel to commence training with the WAAF in the field of catering services.
* * * * *
With the instruction manuals aligned and the facilities and accommodation expansion underway to cater for an influx of Spectrum personnel, Colonel White dispatched Captain Magenta to the WAAF training base to solve the final sticking points – compatibility between Spectrum and the WAAF in communications and computer software.
* * * * *
“If you break the rules Captain, you must suffer the consequences.” Captain Magenta knew it as well as he knew his own code name, but for the sake of expediency he had run the risk and parked his car in an out of bounds area….and had been caught as a result.
There was also the fact that on his arrival at the WAAF command centre, though he had signed a document to say he had read and understood the base regulations, he had actually done no more than skim the pages. If there was something in there about parking in out of bounds areas he could truthfully say he hadn’t seen it. Captain Magenta also knew that though the transgression was minor and wouldn’t go on his permanent record, Colonel White would be informed. At least the task I’m here to do is progressing well, he thought ruefully.
Hauled before the Disciplinary Officer where he was reminded that no concessions would be made for his rank, Captain Magenta was duly told of his punishment. For ‘his remaining time working under WAAF regulations’ (‘Quote – Unquote’, thought Magenta) he would be parking his vehicle outside the base in a designated area known as the Defaulters’ Car Park.
Captain Magenta thought it was a lot of fuss about nothing but wisely said little beyond a ‘Yes, Sir’ or two at the appropriate moments. Almost gleefully, one of the military police then informed the Spectrum captain that the car park was located quite some distance from his place of work.
This wouldn’t have been an issue, Magenta thought crossly, if I had been able to secure accommodation on the base.
The expansion of accommodation for all other ranks had been completed on schedule, but unfortunately for the Spectrum captain, the upgrade of the officers’ quarters was still underway. As a consequence Captain Magenta was assigned a partly furnished apartment in the married quarters precinct, where his lone presence caused no end of interest among the residents….much to his embarrassment. Unfortunately the married quarters were, like the defaulters’ car park, not on the base.
* * * * *
A week into his punishment, Captain Magenta had a particularly difficult day trying to resolve yet another software issue, so that by the time he was finally able to leave the communications building it was already dark. It was also cold and there was a hint of fog in the air. He hoped the weather would hold, at least until he reached his car.
He mentally counted the days he had left to make this lonely trek – a little under two weeks. Funny, it feels like more, he thought tiredly as he trudged past a cluster of old red brick buildings and the bright lights of the Officer’s Mess. He was soon at the main gate where he produced his ID and was promptly waved out by the guard. A poorly lit road stretched ahead of him.
There was no designated path so he walked, as the law required, on the side facing oncoming traffic. On both sides of the road the land was cordoned off with barbed wire fencing. For a while all he could hear was the crunching of his boots on the gravel edge. It grew colder and a mist began to form in earnest. He cursed his stupidity in disobeying the regulations, or at the very least not making an effort to read them.
As the guard gate faded into the distance, after a few minutes Captain Magenta began to hear what sounded like footsteps following him. He stopped. They stopped. He turned around and peered back down the road towards the base, but with no street lighting in that section of the road, nor any car lights to provide illumination, visibility was poor. From what he could make out it appeared that he was quite alone. He turned back towards his destination but he couldn’t see anyone ahead of him either. I must have imagined it, he thought.
The Spectrum captain set off again. The ghostly footsteps returned. Once again he abruptly stopped and turned around. Silence reigned. He took a couple of tentative steps. This time there were no accompanying sounds. Captain Magenta grimaced at his own nervousness and hit the road in earnest.
All too soon the mysterious echoing footsteps were back. Captain Magenta quickened his pace. The pace of his ghostly colleague also quickened. Or was it ‘colleagues’? Or worse. Mysterons. The footsteps now seemed more of a thump-thump-thump, as though they were made by more than one person. He wondered if Cloudbase had received a threat and he hadn’t been informed.
Magenta’s heart rate increased and he began to consider the possibility that his life could be in danger. He paused somewhat apprehensively, trying to remember how far he had to go to reach the car park. Surely, it can’t be far now? He also listened intently but just as before, when he stopped the other sounds ceased too. The air was now thick with fog and the sense of isolation was becoming almost unnerving.
Captain Magenta knew that no matter how close - or how far - the car park was, there was nothing else he could do but continue, so he set off again. Almost at once the muted sound of echoing footsteps returned.
He stopped and whirled around….and this time he saw a Shape out of the corner of his eye. It wasn’t on the road after all, he realised. He peered into the murky gloom beyond the roadside and as his eyes adjusted he could make out another ghostly Shape. Startled, he jumped back in alarm. Just as quickly, the Shape moved towards him. He still couldn’t figure out what It was but with nothing untoward occurring he felt emboldened to step closer. Paradoxically, the Shape abruptly moved back…and other ominously loud thumping sounds quickly followed.
At that moment a passing car, at the junction of the base road and the highway, provided a flicker of light and all was revealed. Magenta’s eyes widened in surprise. Mysterons indeed, he thought dryly, shaking his head at his own foolishness. That’s what happens if you imagine the enemy is lurking at every shadow. Much relieved and in better spirits, he again set out towards the car.
With his destination in sight, Captain Magenta’s pace quickened as he wryly acknowledged that, aside from reading the base regulations when told to do so, there was definitely a lesson to be learnt from his experience.
Given the right circumstances, all it takes to get into a panic is an overactive imagination, a cold dark foggy night….and a small herd of extremely curious cows.
Believe it or not, Captain Magenta’s experience is actually based on a true story told to me many years ago. Of course my version may have been expanded and adapted somewhat from the original. With many thanks to the original storyteller who was writing fanfic back when it never even occurred to me to try, and who always instinctively knew how to convey a fine sense of the dramatic. Fingers crossed, I hope I haven’t done too badly in my attempt to duplicate the effect.
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