Pride and Joy

A “Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons” short story by

Lezli Farrington

 

Foreword

            When writing this, I made several assumptions based on stories written by Chris Bishop, Hazel Köhler, Mary J Rudy and Kimberly Murphy-Smith. My thanks to them for all the hard work they have put into their work and hours of entertainment on my part, prompting me to write my own story, based on an idea I’d thought of some time ago.

            I carried on the ideas written about in ‘Moonlight Rhapsody’ and ‘Good Knight, Dear Lady’, and assumed that Scarlet and Rhapsody married in early 2072, leading up to the birth of their first and only child, Rose Scarlett on 7th September 2072. I also assumed that Blue and Symphony were married shortly before Scarlet and Rhapsody.

There is a direct reference to ‘Tiny Terror’ by Mary J Rudy. It is a fantastic story, one of the first I read. You don’t have to have read it to understand this story, but I strongly suggest that you do, for entertainment.

            I have also assumed that Captain Scarlet does not age, a fact hinted at in various stories, and so is still an active field agent at the time of this story, although now 51 years of age.

            A few more ranks have been added to Spectrum, General, outranking the few existing colonels, and Major between the captains and the colonels. There are now seven colonels in existence, one for each inhabited continent, and one on Cloudbase.

            Also, I would just like to mention that this is the first of a series of stories, hopefully, so don’t worry about the ending. This is just the beginning…

           

            Just as a language note: all Russian words are given as the closest English spelling possible. The two words I use are ‘nyet’, which is ‘no’, and Gospozha’, (Госпожа), Mrs.

 

 

 

Koala Base, Australia, March 2089

 

            Rose sat silently in her room, staring out of the window. The residential block wasn’t exactly on the edge of the base, but even from this distance, one had a perfect view across the desert, as far as the eye could see. It held a certain tranquillity that the base, and Rose’s life in general did not possess. It was capable of such serenity and calmness that Rose’s heart almost cried out to join it and be part of the web of life that inhabited the golden wasteland. But that same calmness was equally capable of taking the life that sought it, with a cold-hearted efficiency that was so familiar to the officers in the camp. A lifetime spent fighting the good fight against an enemy able to defy nature itself was somewhat akin to spending a lifetime in the desert.

            Rose’s eyes were suddenly drawn to a plane flying low across the shimmering golden sea, coming in to land. As a military base, that in itself was not an uncommon sight, except that silver and blue planes bearing only two people rarely landed at a desert base at one in the morning, halfway through the night shift. The two men had obviously wanted to avoid detection, but by whom? The first of the two men was tall, with pale hair and a pale uniform colour. He strode straight past the grey clad lieutenant running to meet the new arrivals, and soon disappeared into the main building. The second was much darker and shorter. He has a quick discussion with the lieutenant, then looked around at the base. His eyes travelled across the surfaces of the buildings as if he was looking for something specific, and then halted at her window. She knew instantly that he recognised her, for her uniform colour more than the fact that he could see her face from that distance. There were only a few women stationed to Koala Base, and even then, Rose was the only one authorised to wear black. Rose stared back at the man, trying to work out where she knew him from. He looked away and also made his way to the main building. Rose watched him with interest, intrigued as to his identity. When he stepped into the dim lights lining the pathway, she could make out his curly salt-and-pepper hair and slightly darker skin. Upon adding a little more luminescence, Rose almost fell off of the windowsill in surprise. Her mind suddenly flashed back to a very early memory, of her singing with a thirty-two year old lieutenant about a recent mission. He’d had black hair then, as black as her own, and his hazel eyes shone with laughter. Rose’s eyes fell upon the guitar in the corner of her room. She wandered over to it, and sat back on the windowsill, clutching her prized possession and strummed away, remembering the tune written by her friend all those years ago, when she herself had just started learning, taught by the bubbly communications officer. Rose was snapped out of her revere by a knock at the door.

            “Just a second,” Rose called out, depositing the guitar in the corner and hurdling the bed to grab a seemingly insignificant tube from the dresser. This was, in fact, an important part of Rose’s uniform. She struggled to place the blasted things as she staggered to the door as a result of landing badly on her left foot. Upon opening the door, Rose realised that she needn’t have gone through all the trouble. Like most people on the base, the man knew the significance of Lady Rose Scarlett Metcalfe’s whole name. The other four cadets, however, did not. They knew enough to know that she was highly ranked in Britain’s social structure, and that she was the granddaughter of the famous General Metcalfe, but many people would even think to associate her mother’s choice of name, Scarlett, with anything at all. What would give them reason to think that it meant she was Major Scarlet’s daughter? Suddenly, Rose realised that the man at the door was speaking.

            “Sir?”

Rose’s question was brushed aside by her commanding officer.

“I said, I have a proposition for you. Now, can I come in before the other cadets see me?” Captain Plum’s eyes twinkled mischievously as he observed the young cadet standing in the doorway. Rose stood aside to let the captain through and closed the door softly behind him. The captain removed his cap and stood in the middle of the small, sparsely furnished room.

“Um, h- have a seat sir,” Rose stammered, gesturing to the two seats that she had in the room. “What kind of proposition do you have in mind?”

Plum sat down in the more comfortable looking chair and grimaced slightly. “Dear God,” he exclaimed, “are all the chairs this uncomfortable where the cadets are allowed?”

Rose shook her head. “No, Sir. Those are very comfortable compared to the ones in the lounge and the men’s dormitory.”

Plum raised an eyebrow at the mention of the men’s dorm, but decided not to ask. Instead, he chose to laugh softly at the cadet’s nervousness. Somehow, he’d never thought of Rose Metcalfe as the nervous type. Now, everyone around her, yes. Even Plum had been nervous when he, as a junior captain, had met Rose for the first time, a little over three years ago. Her eyes were creepy; a kind of luminescent green surrounded by the kind of yellow you find only in highlighter pens. A spooky combination when first faced with it, but everyone got over it when they were faced with it every day, and they got to know the girl behind the eyes. Now the creepy part was seeing her with normally coloured eyes, if you counted blue eyes with dark hair as normal.

“You’ll have to be more careful, Rose; one of your contacts has slipped. I can see the yellow,” he teased.

“Damn,” Rose cursed. “I really hate these things, Alex. I’d do anything to get rid of them.”

Plum was slightly taken aback by Rose’s use of his first name, but he didn’t mind. It meant that she had relaxed enough for him to tell her about his plan.

“What are you up to?” Rose asked, almost accusingly. He stared at her, an expression of total innocence on his slightly sunburned face. Rose returned the stare, odd-eyed like a cat - one blue on white, the contact, the other green on yellow. A curved piece of plastic, completely opaque, now rested on the tip of her finger. “You haven’t looked so mischievous since you first suggested the Cloudbase panto to General White.”

Plum laughed at the memory, and Rose giggled too. They had conspired, in December 2084 to bring the Christmas spirit to Cloudbase with a pantomime. Between them, they brought the idea to then-Colonel White, got scripts, enlisted officers as actors and organised the entire operation from start to finish. Rose had even starred as Cinderella, being the youngest female, and the one with the most spare time. Everyone had enjoyed the panto immensely, and the volunteers for Christmas duty doubled in number. Even Rose’s grandparents had visited that year. The panto had been an annual occurrence since then, even following the setback of Plum’s reassignment as Commander of Koala Base last August. The success of Cinderella had quickly brought Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast and Snow White to the remote outpost.

“Well, it’s a similar suggestion, really. Another kind of play. And you did just say you’d do anything to be rid of the contacts.”

Rose’s bright eyes widened at the suggestion. The only reason she wore the blasted things on a Spectrum base was because the other cadets didn’t know about her heritage yet. In three months, the original forty-six cadets had been reduced to just five, and they had just now moved on to the most classified information Spectrum had to offer. Those five would learn Spectrum’s secrets, and then be commissioned as full lieutenants. The other forty-one had returned to their home countries and had probably already been instated as corporals. Rose was one of those secrets, kept for sixteen and a half years from all but those who needed to know.

 

*****

 

“Cadets,” Captain Plum snapped. “There are reports of Mysteron activity on this base.” He looked around in satisfaction as his five cadets glanced nervously at each other, even young Metcalfe.

“Since you have completed your Mysteron training, and you only have a week of training left anyway, we thought that this should be your first mission, whilst your training is still fresh in your mind, and to prove yourselves to the bosses upstairs. They’re not convinced that you will be ready for commissioning in a week. I intend for you to prove otherwise.

“I am authorising the use of firearms against this intruder, and the use of any force necessary to neutralise the threat. However, you are not - I repeat, NOT – authorised to carry any anti-Mysteron weapons. Use your radio to contact either myself or Captain Orange to dispose of the agent fully.

“Assignments – Koenig, Ivanisovic, Wylde, you are to search the main complex: Griffiths, Metcalfe, you two search the research department. Leave no stone unturned. Collect equipment from me. Dismissed.”

Rose was quite pleased with her assignment. The research department was quite large, she thought as she trudged towards Plum, who gave her a sly wink. She flashed him a rare grin as she collected her equipment, the large, cumbersome Mysteron detector, the pistol that fit snugly into the holster on the thigh of the black uniform pants, and the radio that clipped neatly onto her belt. The research department should keep Griffiths busy for some time. She was also glad that she had been partnered with Aaron Griffiths, the Trinidadian cadet. Rose had known his Uncle Seymour her entire life, and the two cadets had hit off right away.

 

An hour later, the research department was almost finished. It was hard because people kept switching rooms, and the two cadets kept having to backtrack to find people. Finally, it was just Captain Yellow and his aide Lieutenant Cyan to go. Rose already knew that they would be negative. Griffiths had just taken a short break to contact the others, and was joking with Koenig about approaching the senior officers. Something had obviously made him think, because he suddenly dropped his portable radio and snapped a shot of Rose. Unsurprisingly, he drew his pistol upon seeing the picture. Rose gulped. Now was the time to prove that all the time spent on pantomimes hadn’t been wasted.

“So you have found me, Earthman.” Rose startled herself with her ‘scary Mysteron’ voice. It was surprisingly realistic. “It does not matter. Soon your defences will crumble as our Spectrum operatives reveal themselves. The War of Nerves will end as it was destined to.” Rose’s tirade of Mysteron psychobabble was cut short as a bullet from Griffiths’ gun severed her spinal cord at her waist. She dropped like a lead weight to the floor of the empty lab.

Rose laughed maniacally. She couldn’t stop now. Keep up the act.

“By the time your electron rifle gets here, I will be gone, and you will be dead. You see, you forget something, Aaron Griffiths…” Rose drew her own gun, with no intention of actually using it. She aimed it at the older cadet, but he didn’t give her a chance of pulling the trigger and put another bullet through her heart.

Déjà vu, she thought.

The last thing Rose heard before dying was “Mysteron agent confirmed as Cadet Metcalfe…”

 

*****

 

Rose awoke with a start. Blinking to clear her vision, she saw Captain Green standing over her, smiling. “Welcome back to the land of the living,” he said.

Rose groaned at the bad pun. “That’s not funny, Seymour.” Rose moved her right hand to stop the ‘retrometabolism clock’ she’d been given a couple of years ago, the device that measured how long a particular recovery took, when suddenly Green snapped “Hold it.” Rose was startled and froze as ordered. What was wrong?

Green’s face disappeared from view for a moment. When he returned, he looked somewhat grim. “I was right.”

“What? I don’t understand.”

Green shook his head. “You don’t have any sensation in your feet yet,” he explained.

Rose blinked in surprise, and then realised that he was right. “How could you tell?” she asked, intrigued that he had noticed before she had.

“You didn’t sit up right away. That’s normally the first thing you do, trust me. I’ve done enough death watches in my time.” Rose knew that Green wasn’t just talking about her.

“Death watches?” asked a curious voice, remarkably similar to Green’s.

Rose propped herself up on her elbows to look at Aaron properly. He blanched and backed up a step, not easy to do in the confined space of the SPJ’s cabin. Rose turned to face Green.

“You’ve taken my contacts out,” she accused, even though she was relieved to have that out in the open. Not that she would have been able to keep it a secret after that little drama any longer.

“I did promise!” called Plum’s voice from the cockpit.

“A little warning would have been nice,” she teased, shaking her head in amusement. “Anyway, where were we? Ah yes, death watches.” Rose turned back to Aaron and fixed her bright eyes on him, so that he had to face the situation. He was now seated next to Kristian Koenig, the German cadet, who had turned a rather sickly colour. Rose doubted that it was due to travel sickness, and opted to ignore his understandable reaction for the time being. Their little demonstration of retrometabolism appeared to have been very successful.

“Death watch – a very sick Cloudbase in-joke. It refers to the old practice of…”

“I know what a death watch is, Metcalfe,” snapped Aaron, as his uncle crossed the small cabin and helped Rose to sit up.

Rose held up her suddenly free hands in surrender. “Okay, okay. Anyway, it’s used on Cloudbase in reference to watching over a retrometabolic during a death.”

The other cadets looked shocked. Absolutely gobsmacked would have been a more accurate assessment. Having just learned about Mysteron powers, they were understandably wary of Rose, and surprised about the officers’ acceptance of her as she was.

“How many of you are there?” Rudolph Ivanisovic, the Russian, had obviously asked the right question, because the mood in the cabin changed in an instant.

“Ah,” Green said, “I think it’s time for the final briefing.” These words didn’t seem to register with the other cadets. As far as they knew, the commissioning wasn’t for another week, but Rose had sussed it straight away. When Plum had mentioned Cloudbase last night, she knew that the Irish captain had been having them on all along. There was no other reason they would be going to Cloudbase. However, Green’s words had obviously been paid heed by someone, because a tall, blond figure emerged from the cockpit. Rose’s face lit up.

“Ada-, sorry, Colonel.” Rose’s slip had not gone unnoticed.

“Don’t worry, cadet. We all make mistakes in the beginning. Even I did. But don’t let it happen again.” Colonel Blue wasn’t really reprimanding her, but he was right. She shouldn’t be making mistakes like that, especially on duty. No one could really blame her, though. Rose had lived her entire life in Spectrum. Her father was Major Scarlet, Spectrum’s number one field agent, and a replicant of the Mysterons, making Rose, technically, half-Mysteron herself. Like Scarlet, who was a clone, Rose could return from the dead. He had also passed on a rather interesting gene, latent in himself, but manifesting in Rose on her thirteenth birthday, just after her first death. That was what had scared Griffiths, the only outwardly sign of her Mysteron genetics.

Rose’s bright eyes swept across her fellow cadets. They were, for the most part paying attention to Colonel Blue as he explained the Mysteronisation process and about Spectrum’s own Mysterons. But every now and then, one of the four flicked his eyes towards the girl lying on the stretcher nervously, as if she would get up and do exactly what Blue was telling them about. Ivanisovic still looked slightly green, an understandable reaction considering that Rose had literally risen from the dead. Koenig kept eyeing her suspiciously as if she was going to start shooting green rings from her impossibly coloured eyes. Rose considered this course of action for a second, just to scare them senseless, but thought better of it in light of present company. Blue might not take the joke too well, at the moment. Robert Wylde, the British cadet was desperately trying not to stare out of courtesy, and was, for the most part succeeding. Aaron Griffiths looked totally shell-shocked and stared alternately at Rose and his uncle. Aaron had always thought that Green was still a WASP communications expert. Rose had never contradicted this belief, and was now rather amused to see Aaron’s reaction to the truth.

Rose turned her attention back to her godfather’s lecture, only to find that she needn’t have bothered – it was about her and Major Scarlet. Since Rose had hacked the Spectrum computers years ago, she’d had access to the ‘Rainbow’ clearance material for some time now, not that she didn’t already know most of it anyway.

She closed her eyes sleepily and drifted off into a regenerative sleep.

 

 

 

 

Cloudbase, September 2085

 

“Daddy!”

A cry rang out across the promenade deck. Rose knew that the bullet hadn’t seriously hurt him, only torn his shoulder. He’d be all right in a few minutes, but even that knowledge wasn’t enough to comfort the distraught teenager. Her first real encounter with the Mysterons was much more terrifying than she’d imagined it would be. Rose turned to stare in fear at the man who had once been Goran Kovac, Captain Indigo of Spectrum, and Rose’s Russian tutor. Now he had the distinct aura of Mysteron control about him.

“Happy birthday, Rose Metcalfe,” he sneered at the trembling girl. A small noise emanated form the barrel of the gun, and the young teenager toppled over quietly, undramatically, as if she had accepted her fate to die at the hands of a Mysteron agent. Rose was valuable and dangerous to the Mysterons. She could sense them because she was a hybrid, born to a clone and a human woman. If they could get their hands on her, study her, they could find out more about the clones; how they could be released from the Mysteron control, and how the Mysterons could better adapt themselves to the human form.

From her vantage point on the floor, Rose watched as electricity suddenly charged through the Mysteron agent and he dropped, still twitching as if asleep and dreaming, a few feet away from her. Dimly, Rose knew that only Captain Scarlet could have fired that shot as he was the only person authorised to carry an electron pistol on Cloudbase.

A blurred mass of red and black appeared at her side. Rose reached out a hand to make sure that the image was real.

“Daddy?” she asked in a whisper.

“Yes, honey. It’s going to be all right, you’ll see.” Two strong arms pulled her closer to the mass, and a hand stroked her smooth black hair.

“Paul?” Another voice, so familiar, but too fuzzy to make out clearly. Everything was fuzzy, and cold. “Oh my God, what happened? Is that yours or hers?”

Rose became dimly aware that her favourite top, a lilac tunic was now roughly the same colour as her father’s uniform.

“Mysterons.” Paul Metcalfe’s voice sounded tired. “They got her, just like they got Dianne.” The arms encasing Rose trembled slightly.

Rose closed her eyes. She was so tired. She’d just take a nap.

“Hang on Rose. Don’t give up now.” Rose tried to open her eyes; to speak, reassure her father that she was just sleeping, but it was too hard. Everything refused to work. Even her lungs wouldn’t work properly.

“She’ll come back though, won’t she? I mean, Rose is like you, right?” The other voice again.

“I don’t know.” Scarlet was distraught. “Dianne said that she didn’t want to know, so we never found out, even after…” Scarlet took a shaky breath, just as Rose took her last.

 

Magenta crept into the room where the girl lay sleeping, gun in hand, to finish the job the bungling Indigo had started. The task was simple; get to the girl, zap her, and the Mysterons’ biggest threat, Rose Scarlett Metcalfe, a thirteen-year-old girl, would be gone. He took careful aim and…

In a flash, he was pinned to the wall, with Rose Metcalfe’s hand on his neck. Considering the height difference, most would have found the situation laughable, but neither was laughing. The Mysteron struggled, but something otherworldly was driving the child; she was strong enough to keep him in position.

“Give me one good reason not to break your neck, pick up that gun and zap you back to Mars,” Rose hissed. The Mysteron knew that she was, in her current state, more than capable of carrying out her threat, and also more that willing.

He laughed at her. He had his excuse. “You won’t do that, child. Your friend still resides in this body.” Magenta closed his eyes, and then opened them. The pain in them was evident.

“Rose,” he said, returning to the Irish-American accent. “Help me. Do what you have to.”

The girl nodded. The Mysteron obviously hadn’t counted on Magenta’s consent and willingness to die to eradicate a Mysteron. A mask dropped over her face, of total concentration.  She reached her hand up from his neck to his face.

“Leave him,” she commanded, and moved the restraining arm to touch the other side of his face. Magenta screamed and went limp. Then Rose cried out in agony as Patrick Donaghue regained his balance. Suddenly she dropped, unconscious, and Pat caught her.

The Irishman looked up to see his wife and Rose’s father at the door.

“Est ce que…?” Juliette Donaghue muttered.

Scarlet moved purposefully towards the pair. His daughter, his pride and joy was in the hands of a… No, not a Mysteron, although Magenta had been one, not that long ago.

“Paul?” Scarlet turned to look at his colleague. Magenta’s hazel eyes searched a face that had not changed for nigh on sixteen years. It was a face now etched with confusion.

“Her eyes, Paul. You should have seen her eyes…”

Scarlet blinked. “What about them?” This situation was getting weirder by the minute. Firstly, his internal Mysteron detectors had gone off and before he had regained his orientation, Magenta – CAPTAIN MAGENTA – had clobbered him over the head. He’d come to in under a minute and rushed to where he instinctively knew the Mysteron was headed, followed closely by Destiny Angel, who had found Scarlet. They had arrived in time to see Rose lock her hands onto Magenta’s head; something that suspiciously resembled a ‘mind meld’ from that old sci-fi show with the girls in the indecently short skirts.

“They were… this is crazy. They were, well, glowin’. Bright green.” Magenta looked so honest and sure that Scarlet had to check for himself. He lifted the lids and looked into unseeing eyes, bright blue eyes, just like his own and his mother’s.

“I swear, Paul. Her eyes glowed. It was like she went into a trance, and they glowed. I’m tellin’ you...”

 

 

 

Cloudbase, March 2089

 

            Rose awoke in sickbay, an hour later. Dr. Fawn had already noticed and crossed the room.

            “How’re you feeling?” he asked, pointlessly; Rose was already sitting up and removing electrodes from various parts of her person. She turned her head slightly and looked thoughtfully at the doctor for a few moments.

            “I remember. The first time I died; I never really remembered before. It’s quite peaceful, really.”

Fawn stared in wide-eyed shock at his young patient. In the three and a half years since her first death, Rose had shown no signs of ever remembering it, just as her father had never remembered his own. However, whilst Paul and Rose Metcalfe resembled each other enormously, the petite cadet was physically totally different to her father. Fawn had never been able to decide, in thirteen years whether she would be able to retrometabolise or not. She was totally different from any clone created by the Mysterons, or any human.

Rose quickly shattered the thought trains of both when she suddenly exclaimed, “The commissioning! I haven’t missed it, have I?”

A young doctor, Simmons, entered. “No,” he told the distraught Rose. “It’s scheduled for an hour’s time. If you’re quick, you should just make it.” Simmons handed Rose her Spectrum blacks for the ceremony, and pulled the curtain around the bed. Rose changed quickly and ate a few of the grapes from the table beside her bed.

The curtain was drawn back, and Rose looked round quickly, ready for a sharp retort. She quickly caught herself when she saw her godmother, Symphony Angel, standing there, sandwich in hand.

“Karen!” she cried, pulling her substitute mother into a tight hug. Karen tutted, and Rose pulled away. “What is it?”

“Well, firstly, you’ll have to watch what you call people from now on. ‘Karen’ is okay now, but you’ll have to get used to calling me ‘Symphony Angel’,” the Angel said, smiling. She handed the squashed sandwich to Rose, who accepted it gratefully.

“Not fair. You’ve been talking to Colonel Blue,” Rose complained, playfully, nibbling at the sandwich. It promptly disappeared

“Secondly,” Symphony continued, “do they not have a hairdresser at Koala Base? Your hair is a mess!” Rose fingered her mid-length black hair. She could see nothing wrong with it.

“It was perfect when you left. Honestly, I leave you alone for three months, and this is what happens.”

Rose suddenly understood. A downside of retrometabolism was that your hair grew very quickly. Symphony had spent nearly two hours carefully shaping Rose’s hair before she had left. Now, you could hardly tell.

Symphony grabbed Rose’s arm and led her to a chair in the middle of the sickbay. Dr. Fawn handed her another large sandwich, which she ate quickly as Symphony prepared her scissors and combs.

 

Forty minutes later, Rose and Symphony left the sickbay along with Dr. Simmons and Dr. Fawn, who had, at some point, found the time to change uniforms between his tests on Rose. These tests were now much quicker, but they still seemed to take forever. Another officer met them, coming in the opposite direction. Rose smiled before he even rounded the corner, and he had obviously done the same.

“Rose!” he exclaimed. “Or should it be Lieutenant Indigo? And what lawnmower did you wrestle with in sickbay?”

“Dad!” Rose cried in exasperation. “Please don’t call me that yet. It’s kinda creepy.”

“All right,” Scarlet conceded, handing his daughter a sandwich.

“God, if I didn’t know any better, I’d think you were all trying to fatten me up. It’s just as well I’ll burn all these sandwiches in about half an hour.” Rose and Scarlet laughed. No one really understood that after a death, they could sit and eat for an hour or so, and still not put on any weight at all. The Angels had all been jealous of this fact, and many of the new girls shared this jealousy with their older counterparts.

 

Upon entering the ceremonial hall, Rose was met by a wall of people, all trying to be the first to congratulate her on her successful completion of the training, to welcome her back to Cloudbase, and was it going to be permanent, or to generally greet her. Rose found herself folded into her grandmother’s warm embrace, until the old woman tutted, much as Karen – no, Symphony- had done earlier. The piercing blue eyes had come to rest on the top of Rose’s head, and then travelled over it.

“Karen, dear, whatever have you done?” she exclaimed in horror.

Rose turned to glance at Symphony. They exchanged wry smiles; they had both known that Mary Metcalfe would disapprove of Rose’s short hair.

“Mary!” her husband admonished. “This is no time to be discussing fashion.” General Metcalfe’s blue eyes twinkled at his granddaughter, and she smiled back at him. Rose was very close to her father’s parents, especially considering that they were the only people outside of Spectrum to know what she truly was. It was always hard to bond with others because of the restrictions Rose had placed on her, even from early childhood. It was very difficult to live on an isolated base and not hear certain things that were totally classified, which a small child is more likely to accidentally tell to someone outside that community.  Charles and Mary Metcalfe knew most of the top-secret information, especially concerning the Mysterons. It would have been hard to keep secrets from them, as their son had, more or less, stopped ageing twenty years ago.

Rose glanced at her father, and suddenly realised that he had also altered his appearance for the ceremony. Symphony had been very busy today. As was only logical, as Rose’s other grandfather, Lord Simms was present, Scarlet had had his hair dyed to a more realistic colour, considering his age. Several streaks of grey had suddenly appeared in his normally jet-black hair, and a few lines had found their way onto his face. Hopefully, it would fool the guests.

“Where’s Jessie?” Rose had been expecting another family member to be present. Jessica Blake, her father’s cousin and fellow Spectrum agent was nowhere to be seen. “I expected her to be around.”

“She is here, sweetie, don’t worry.” Mary’s tone was soothing, and Rose began to become suspicious. People normally used that tone when something was very wrong. Normally when her father died, even though that didn’t generally mean that something was wrong as such. “She’s just a little sick, that’s all. Flying doesn’t agree with poor old Jessie and she’s been terribly ill. She’s in the ladies at the moment.”

Lord Simms approached, and gave his congratulations. Rose had never been too sure about how to act around him. He seemed to be permanently gloomy. His wife had died of cancer when Rose had been very small, and his work had allowed him little time to grieve. Now he had retired, the old lord seemed to be stuck in the past. Rose had been to the mansion a few times with her mother since his retirement, and had, even then, found it to be a depressing place, full of death and despair. Not long after that, Rose’s mother had died, and Lord Simms became even more withdrawn from reality. Rose hadn’t been to visit in several years, mainly because he couldn’t know about Scarlet’s secret, but also because she never felt at home there. The house had fallen into slight disrepair and the atmosphere was musty. The walls in two of the wings had mildew on them, and all of the staff had been laid off, including the gardeners.

Lord Simms didn’t look much better than his once stately home. He looked ill, deathly pale and gaunt. Suddenly, Rose felt bad for not making sure he was being taken care of. One look at the Metcalfes confirmed that they felt similarly, even as they chatted politely to him.

Suddenly, the room span, and Rose had to sit down. She obviously still had some healing to do, but there was no time for that now. As Rose sat, she watched the other cadets with their families; mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters, and wondered why she suddenly felt desperately alone in a room full of people.

Someone in Spectrum blacks sat in the seat beside her.

“Vat is wrong?” Ivanisovic asked, his earlier apprehension towards her evaporating in an instant.

Rose sighed, heavily. “Oh, I dunno, really. Sometimes I get a little dizzy, that’s all. It’s nothing.”

The Russian shook his head. “Nyet, I was not speaking of that. There is something bothering you… oh, I do not know how you say it, of the mind, of the heart.”

Rose suddenly understood what he meant. She asked him the word in Russian. He looked surprised, but nodded his assent.

“Emotional,” she told him. “And yes, I do have something emotional bugging me, but I’d prefer not to talk about it at the moment. Besides, the general is getting ready to start.”

A hush fell over the room. Rose hastily dabbed at her eyes and passed a hand over them. The discoloured surrounding area instantly reverted back to normal. Ivanisovic’s eyes widened in shock, and he shook his head in amazement. Rose smoothly and quickly rose to her feet, dragging the unsuspecting Ivanisovic with her towards the stage. The other cadets soon managed to disengage themselves from their respective family groups and join their colleagues on the stage.

 

General White moved towards the microphone at the centre of the stage.

“Before beginning the proceedings, I would like to confirm that out translator systems are working perfectly.” White paused long enough to allow the Russian and German parties to nod their understanding. Each one wore an earpiece that was connected via a radio system to some poor bilingual corporal who translated the general’s words for the non-English speaking guests. Rose had been one of those translators last year, for the North African Lt. Ivy’s Swahili-speaking family. The translation must have been pretty awful, as Rose’s Swahili was only okay on a good day.

“Very good.

“I would like to start off by welcoming all our guests to Cloudbase. I am General White. Commissionings are always a special occasion, but you have the dubious privilege of seeing Spectrum history made. However, more of that later. I would like to begin the proceedings. Gentlemen…” The Spectrum officers and officers-to-be stepped forward so that they were in visible to everyone in the room. Very familiar faces they were too - Captain Green, Major Scarlet, Colonels Magenta, Ochre and Blue, and of course, General White. Even in his mid seventies, the general still held the utmost respect in everyone’s eyes. Technically, he was simply a figurehead now, with the Colonels working independently most of the time, but they were good friends, so everything remained well oiled.

From this point, Rose could see the entire audience. The civilian families were sat in small groups, and the Spectrum officers were either sat in a gathering or on the stage. In that crowd, more agents could be found – Captain Plum, Lt. Ivy, Captain Cobalt, Lt. Mustard, Colonel Blue’s wife and head of the Angel pack, Symphony, with her girls, Diamond, Sapphire, Emerald and Amethyst. Magenta’s wife also sat with the five Angels, and wore an Angel uniform, Destiny; but she wasn’t an Angel now, and her uniform was slightly outdated. She lived in Europe with her husband. Rose thought fondly of the others. Melody had died, ironically, in a commercial plane crash a couple of years back, and Harmony had sensibly retired and was now living in North America with her partner. Surely if Ochre was here… ah, there she was, hidden behind the tall Lt. Saffron.

 

The ceremony went without a problem. Dr. Simmons, Wylde, Ivanisovic, Koenig and Griffiths were commissioned as Azure, Malachite, Turquoise, Crimson and Amber respectively. They donned the Spectrum field dress over their black uniforms and joined the line of other officers at the other end of the stage. Then it came to Rose. As General White drew breath to start a presumably lengthy speech about her achievements and her making history, a grating noise came across the speakers.

 

   THIS IS THE VOICE OF THE MYSTERONS. WE KNOW THAT YOU CAN HEAR US, EARTHMEN. YOUR CONTINUING ACTS OF AGRESSION AGAINST US WILL NOT GO UNPUNISHED. WE WILL STRIKE AT THE YOUTH OF SPECTRUM WHERE ALL BELIEVE IT TO BE SAFE…

 

 

The ceremonial hall descended into uproar. Panic swept through the guests, and some of the more junior officers. Rose could make out Koenig’s mother wailing in German that they were all going to die.

Colonel Blue made it to the mic before things became uncontrollable.

“Ladies and gentlemen, if you could please take your seats for a moment. Under the circumstances, Cloudbase will have to be evacuated of all civilians. We will arrange to have you flown home immediately. If you would just stay in here and keep calm whilst the magnacopter is prepared, we would appreciate it very much. I’m going to have to leave you in the capable hands of Colonel Ochre whilst my senior officers and I attempt to neutralise the current Mysteron threat. Thank you.”

Blue gathered the officers on stage, and the Cloudbase senior staff in the audience. The other members of the Cloudbase staff filed neatly out to their duty stations. They gathered in a huddle at the back corner of the stage, out of sight, whilst Ochre started issuing orders through his RadioCap.

“Well,” Blue said, “any thoughts?”

The new officers looked scared, and the more experienced ones shrugged.

“It could mean almost anything, really, couldn’t it?” Symphony pointed out. “They could be threatening the young family members of Spectrum officers…”

“Perhaps,” Scarlet said, “but we have never considered our family members to be ‘safe’ in terms of location. They could be struck at any time on the surface.”

Rose’s face blanched. “Anyone except me, that is. However, they said ‘it’, which means that they’re not going to strike a single person. Remember, the Mysterons are very strict about their grammar.”

A silence fell on the group. None of them liked to think that the Mysterons would consider targeting Rose again. She was another valuable asset in the fight against the Mysterons.

“Wait a minute…” Lieutenant Amber’s brow was furrowed, trying to come up with an answer to impress his superiors. “Could the ‘youth of Spectrum’ refer to a group who are new to Spectrum, but not necessarily ‘young’?”

Many officers nodded their agreement. “It’s been known for them to pull a trick like that before; for them to give us a misleading clue,” Magenta pointed out. A cloud had been passing over Rose’s face for some time as she assessed the problem on her own, barely paying attention to the whispered thoughts of the officers.

“They mean us.”

Amber nodded. He had also been following that train of thought, but had not wanted to say it, just in case he was wrong.

“Pardon, lieu… cadet?” White queried, suddenly realising that Rose had not yet been commissioned.

“The new recruits. We are the ‘youth of Spectrum’. Also, where would you consider the safest place to be? Here.” Suddenly she moaned and smacked her head. “I am such an idiot! There’s a Mysteron in the crowd. I felt it earlier, only I didn’t realise. I thought it was part of the recovery process. Sometimes a sudden burst of energy can make me feel ill, and I think even Major Scarlet would register me as a Mysteron at that time.”

Scarlet nodded in realisation. “Yes. I did feel something just before the ceremony started. I simply assumed that it was Rose. However, the Mysteron agent could have used it as cover for communication. Neither of us would realise at all. Perfectly planned.”

Green shook his head. “No, that doesn’t make much sense. How could a Mysteron get onto Cloudbase? And why only one? Surely it would have made much more sense to have several facing the best of Spectrum. One is easily destroyed.”

“He’s right,” Magenta pointed out. “They’re not trying to be subtle if they’re taking out a whole group. They would go for numbers. The Mysterons only strike in small numbers if they’re trying to be sneaky.”

The older officers cast suspicious glances towards him. He had always claimed that, like Scarlet had for a long time, he remembered nothing of his time under Mysteron control. Magenta blatantly ignored them.

“I knew this was a bad idea! We should have kept the ceremony on the surface, like we normally do.”

Blue bowed his head in resignation. Symphony had not let him hear the end of this particular argument for some time. Now she had been proven correct.

Scarlet sensed his friend’s distress, and covered for him quickly. “That doesn’t matter now. What matters now is that we have a serious problem here; one that must be sorted out as quickly as possible.

“Problem one: how do we get rid of the rest of the crowd without sending the Mysterons away too, without the Mysteron or Mysterons working out that we’re on to them?”

Eyes flickered towards the young Mysteron in the group. She stood more than a head shorter than the rest, including the Angel leader, but she seemed to be the focus of the group’s attention more often than not.

“I can try,” she said after a moment, “but my senses aren’t really that well honed, that I can find one Mysteron in a crowd of people, ‘specially not one specifically. I work on direction rather than specifics.”

“Try anyway,” General White ordered. “It may give us some idea of what exactly we are dealing with.”

“Okay.” Rose closed her eyes and drew a deep breath. Her mind cleared, and began to search for the telltale Mysteron signature she was sensitive to.

Everyone leaned in closer, expectantly as her eyes flew open again.

“Well?” asked Blue.

“Well, with all due respect to Major Scarlet, but could he please move away for a minute?”

The senior officers replaced the anticipating expressions with disapproving ones in a split second. Amusement registered somewhere in the back of Rose’s mind, and she made a note-to-self to ask one of them how they did it.

Scarlet’s expression, however, lightened slightly. He had understood fully. “I’m confusing your senses.”

Rose had turned to face her father. “Yeah, sorry Dad, but it’s kinda hard with you crowding me and being almost exactly what I’m looking for.”

Scarlet moved away to join Ochre on the visible part of the stage. He was now having a very jilted discussion with Frau Koenig in French, neither speaking the other’s native language.

Rose began the process once again. Almost instantly, a haze of Mysteron energy became apparent. Her mind coloured it green instinctively, as this was the colour she associated with the Mysterons. This simply meant that a Mysteron was present close by or a few at a slightly greater distance. In the past, when wielded by her father in a slightly different form, this gift had been very helpful to Spectrum, but now this knowledge was little more than useless. Rose knew that she had to learn how to use her abilities to a much greater degree of accuracy very quickly.

She chewed absently on her bottom lip as she attempted to trace the signatures she could sense. Suddenly, the hazy energy coalesced into five distinct forms. Rose was startled, had obviously gasped in astonishment, because she heard a distant voice whisper “What is it?” She thought, but could not be sure, that it was Captain Green. Whomever it had been was quickly ‘shhh’ed by Symphony. Rose’s eyes opened slowly, still concentrating on the image, and found that she could still see the forms, albeit on the other side of the screen. Somewhere at the back of her mind, she realised that there was one Mysteron per cadet (or former cadet, in the others’ cases). That disturbed her, a lot. Then she realised that one was Major Scarlet, who was surrounded by a green aura, the colour being ever so slightly different to that of the controlled Mysterons.

“Cool….”

“What is it?” Magenta asked. Rose turned to look at him, and realised that he also had a slight aura, but nowhere near as strong as the others.

“I can see them. I’ll need to be able to see the crowd to be able to see who they are, though.”

“How many?” White was quick to the point, no words or time wasted.

“Four,” she replied simply, equally to the point.

White nodded once in assent, and Rose took her cue to wander towards Scarlet and Ochre. She took a look at the crowd when she reached them. Four distinct characters stood out in her vision. She had been correct; one for each of her classmates.

 

Blue looked surprised as his epaulets flashed. He looked around as the mike dropped, and saw that everyone else’s was the same.

 

Right, we have Herr Koenig, Miss Wylde, Aaron’s eldest brother and Gospozha Ivanisovic as our Mysterons. Typical, can’t separate them out from their ‘families’. Would have been easier for us if they had all been from one group Much more devastating for that one person, though…

 

Blue’s first thought was that Rose was simply relaying this information over her RadioCap, but then he reminded himself that the young Mysteron hadn’t yet been commissioned, and therefore wasn’t wearing one. He turned to see what she was doing, and was shocked to see that she wasn’t even moving her lips. It was almost as if she was sending her thoughts as a radio frequency to the caps. But that was impossible… wasn’t it? After all, the Mysterons seemed to be able to do it.

“Rose?” he whispered into his microphone.

 

Rose looked around, surprised, as Blue’s voice seemed to come from nowhere and everywhere simultaneously. She saw that the RadioCaps belonging to her father and Colonel Ochre were active, and the concerned expressions on their owners’ faces.

“What?”

“Err…” Ochre couldn’t find the words, and looked helplessly at Scarlet, who was equally speechless. Fortunately, they had managed to get rid of Frau Koenig, and she had not heard the radio transmissions. With her evidently somewhat hysterical nature, something like that could very well have sent her over the edge.

Rose shook her head in disgust before she realised that something other than a Mysteron infiltration was wrong. Something to do with her. Had the Mysteron agents somehow found out that she had discovered them? Rose afforded a look over her shoulder and saw the four agents sitting calmly with their ‘families’, as if nothing was out of the ordinary. The Mysterons had discovered some time ago that the more like their hosts they acted, the less displaced they seemed, and the less attention they attracted to themselves. Thus, they drew more and more on the memories and personas of their hosts in order to blend in until the moment they struck. They probably didn’t even notice there was something wrong, she thought.

 

“Sammy.” The hurt and denial were evident on Wylde/Malachite’s face. Having just discovered his sister to be a Mysteron, and therefore dead, he was understandably a little upset. Especially considering the fact that he could have to be the one to kill her again. “No, she can’t be. I just spoke to her. She was fine.”

Green put his arm around the young British lieutenant. “She will have seemed that way. But I’ve never known Rose to be wrong about anything to do with the Mysterons before. If she says that Sammy’s a Mysteron, then I don’t think that you should really doubt it.”

Malachite started to protest when he heard Rose’s voice over his radio again.

 

Rose had finally worked out what was happening to her when she overheard a conversation between Malachite and Green. Somehow she had tapped into a Mysteron ability to sense and send radio signals.

Oh my GOD! What the hell? Okay, okay, concentrate. Focus your thoughts. If you don’t think it, they can’t hear it. DAMNIT!! You all heard that didn’t you?

“Yes, Cadet Metcalfe, we did.” White did not sound impressed in the slightest. He, along with most of the older officers had gotten used to Rose doing something out of the ordinary every now and then. Especially White. He’d seen more than most would think.

Oops. Don’t think, don’t think. Right, think then!

Okay, I’m sorry General, this is really confusing. You try not letting everyone listen to your thoughts.

Anyone got any ideas?

 

The officers exchanged worried glances. The trick was to separate the Mysterons from the unsuspecting public without raising their suspicions and they attempted to take hostages. There was a deadly silence on the radio waves.

Yeah, my thoughts exactly. Not very possible. How the hell did they slip through the detectors, anyway? I thought that everyone was checked when they boarded the Magnacopter.

This made everyone think, because they knew that she was right. Everyone had failed a Mysteron test before even boarding the flight on the way to Cloudbase. The results were in their files.

“General White, sir?” Lieutenant Turquoise’s Russian accent had become more pronounced since the threat, probably due to stress. It made the words almost intelligible.

“Yes, lieutenant?” White asked gently.

Vhy only four Mysteron agents are present? Vhy is there not one for Cadet Metcalfe also?”

Yeah, I was thinking the same thing too. I figured that I would detect someone in my family too quickly because I’d be in close contact with them. Unless…

“Jessie,” Scarlet said in an almost whisper.

Blue knew Jessie, and had been the one to bring her to terms with her cousin’s unusual abilities. He also knew a detail that Scarlet and Rose would not have been aware of.

“Come over here,” he told them.

Rose looked at the agents one last time and realised that they all looked like they were listening intently to something. Stopping the psychic conversation had never seemed like a better idea.

However, as she and Scarlet started to move back towards the group, the agents stood and moved towards the door, blocking it. Herr Koenig slipped out and the pressure door sealed shut behind him. They were all trapped!

 

 

Outside the door, Herr Koenig listened in triumph as he heard muffled shrieks from inside. The ceremonial hall was on the outside of Cloudbase, so there was a pressure door in place to keep the rest of Cloudbase from being depressurised if there was a hull breach. Now it served the Mysterons in their quest. Now the humans would die, trapped by their own safety devices. He smiled at the irony and left to go and find Jessica Blake.

Inside the hall, the Spectrum agents were having trouble dealing with the Mysterons and the sheer numbers of civilians that were now panicking. Nobody wanted to start a shootout and risk injury to that amount of people. Fortunately, the Mysterons didn’t seem to be armed, so there should be no problems in apprehending them. Captains Plum and Green, Symphony Angel and Colonels Ochre and Magenta moved swiftly towards the Mysterons, having decided not to involve the new lieutenants in the current situation, considering that it was their first day of active duty and their own family members were the Mysteron agents in question.

The lieutenants, for their part, remained with the other officers, who were trying to determine a way of escaping the painfully obvious reality of the situation that they were trapped in the room with the air supply cut off. If nothing was done, they would simply suffocate and die – even Scarlet and Rose!

General White tried to radio for help, but to no avail. Others found that they had the same problem.

Blue stared wistfully at the ventilation shaft in the vain hope that it would suddenly whirr back into operation, when a sudden ridiculous notion came into his head.

“Hey, Scarlet,” he said, elbowing his friend.

“Yes, colonel?”

D’you remember Ruthie Kaplan?” He drew a blank. “The jazz singer.”

“Ah yes. When you were going on holiday, as I recall.”

“That’s her. Do you remember how she got about the ship?”

“The ventilation shafts. Why bring it up now?” Scarlet noticed that his friend’s gaze was fixed on Rose. “No, don’t be daft. You can’t possibly be serious… Anyway, Rose is much taller than Ruthie was, much heavier too, I’d be willing to bet.”

“Not by much,” Blue mused. “Only a few inches.”

“Six.”

“Huh?”

“Six inches,” Scarlet confirmed, “and probably about a stone heavier.” Seeing Blue’s puzzled look, he quickly converted it into American. “Fourteen pounds.”

“Nah. I don’t think so. I think she’d fit.”

“Who’d fit what?” Rose asked, strolling over. She seemed bright enough, but the strain of controlling this newfound ability was beginning to take its toll, and showed around the eyes. The fact that the otherwise lifeless radios still crackled, and a stray thought sometimes made its way across every now and then confirmed it.

She glanced over to where Scarlet was still looking, noticed that Blue seemed to be sizing her up and started shaking.

Please, no. They can’t be serious.

“Why not?” Blue asked.

“It’s silly really,” she told him, laughing slightly. “I mean, I grew up in a flying tin can. Who’d have thought I’d be claustrophobic?”

“What? Since when?” Scarlet felt slightly ashamed at not having known this, and tried to hide it.

“I went caving last year.”

“Caving? When was this?”

“Oh, for God’s sake! Last year, when I went to America. Remember? I stayed with Ri- goddamnit, Ochre and Harmony. A few of the kids went out caving one weekend and I went with them. And now is not the time to lecture me about being careful. I knew the risks.”

Blue sensed the time to intervene had come. “Never mind. Look, there’s only one way out of this hall and to warn the others of our situation. That’s through that air duct, and you’re the only one small enough. Can you do it?”

Rose drew a deep, shaky breath and considered the size of the vent carefully before answering.

“Yes, I can.”

“Good girl, that’s what I like to hear.”

 

Rose trembled as Major Scarlet gave her a boost up to the duct. As she slid herself into the narrow space, she felt a gun slip into her hand. She grasped it and started to make her way through the dark tunnel towards a hopeful exit. She crawled towards where the corridor in front of the hall door ought to be and ran up against a wall, a dead end. It was the blockade that was keeping the air out.

Rose started shuffling backwards, tears now streaming down her cheeks. It’s only a little cramped, it won’t kill you, she thought, not even realising that there was no reply from the radios of the other agents still trapped in the ceremonial hall.

Okay, okay, it’s a minor setback. Go and find another exit. Rose shuffled back to where she’d taken a right earlier and took the other tube.

How can I fly an interceptor and not do this? It’s crazy. I can’t see a goddamned thing!

Making painfully slow progress in the vague direction of the nearest exit, Rose caught sight of a glimmer of light, and heard voices beneath her.

“Okay, so how do we get out of this one?”

“Evans, please stop complaining for a minute. I thought I heard something.”

“Oh c’mon Müller, you can’t be suffering from oxygen deprivation already. We’ve only been in here a few minutes.”

Müller didn’t reply, having heard something again. This time, the others heard it too.

“In the air vents,” Rose heard Müller whisper.

“That’s impossible!” Evans whispered back.

“For the love of God, stop bickering you two!” another voice said.

“Sorry lieutenant,” Evans and Müller mumbled.

Then the tube shook as one of them thumped on the side of the vent.

“We know you’re in there. Show yourself before we shoot this vent to hell.”

Rose’s fingers searched the side of the vent where the banging had been until she found a panel. She pushed out and the panel gave way. She poked her head out into the enclosed corridor in relief, to be greeted by Lieutenant Saffron’s face peering in.

“I’d rather you didn’t, if it’s all the same to you. It’s not as if it’ll kill me, but it’ll set me back about six hours,” she quipped.

“Rose?”

“Am I glad to see you! Get me down from here.” She threw the weapon she was still clutching tightly in her fingers out of the hole and then wriggled herself out, supported by Saffron.

“Are you okay?” he asked, spying her red eyes and tearstained face.

“Yeah, I’m fine,” she lied, trembling. “Just need to get to the door controls outside the ceremonial hall.”

“You can’t. We’re stuck.”

“Huh?”

“The doors have locked. We can’t get out and the radios are down.” Evans flipped the override next to the door to prove his point.

“Great! I suppose that means I’ll have to go back in that,” Rose complained.

Sienna pulled himself up so that his head was in the duct. “It’s dark in here,” he remarked, his voice echoing down the tunnels. “You got a flashlight?”

“Nah, I’ve been…” She broke off. “…such an idiot!” She removed her contact lenses and rubbed her eyes before replacing them in their tube and being lifted to the vent by Sienna.

“Hang on,” the girl said, now that the tunnel was lit by an eerie green glow. “There’s another blockade just the other side of the grill. I can’t carry on that way.”

“Hold up, Metcalfe.” Rose dropped back to the ground and turned to face Müller, who was holding up the gun Rose had dropped earlier. Its unusual shape gave away its purpose instantly – the one electron pistol that had been in the ceremonial hall. But why? Surely Scarlet would have used it to eliminate the threat there first. It just didn’t make sense, until Rose realised that the threat was not meant to be eliminated in that way. Scarlet intended for Rose to save the victims from the Mysterons, just as Magenta had been. It wasn’t an altogether pleasant thought for Rose, who now vividly remembered how she had felt those few moments when she had been destroying the Mysteron presence within her father’s friend. It had been very tiring and frightening for her, as for the first time she met face to face, so to speak, the evil force that was the Mysterons.

“What is that?” Evans asked, pointing to a panel in the ceiling that was a slightly different shape to the rest, lying in perfect alignment with the air vent. Sienna pushed at it, and found that it slid out to form another entrance to the vent, the other side of the blockade.

“Yes!” he crowed, as fresh air started pouring through the new gap in the vent. He grabbed the diminutive Mysteron and shoved her through the hole, barely giving her time to shove the electron pistol into the holster on her hip. Rose wriggled through the smaller entrance and set off, now following her extra-terrestrial senses more than anything, hoping to get a location on the two rogue Mysterons. At least they couldn’t go far. Jessie wasn’t big by any means but she was too big for the vents – Rose was struggling in some narrower parts herself – and Herr Koenig was, well, it wasn’t even worth thinking about.

Rose figured that the best place to start would be to find someone else on the base in a position to help those still stuck in the ceremonial hall, but the problem was that she had to get off of the lower decks to have any chance of coming across anyone at all. She found that there was a shaft going upwards, next to the stairwell, but the hatch out to the stairs was halfway up. Going up the shaft was hard work, as it involved climbing in a sitting position with her legs on the opposite wall, walking upwards. A shorter person wouldn’t have been able to do it. Deciding against the use of the hatch onto the stairs for fear of becoming trapped between two doorways, Rose carried on up to the top of the shaft, a few floors up, and onto the level vents again. Almost immediately after reaching the new floor, she heard an odd noise from below. This time, she lifted the mesh grill out of the floor of the vent and stuck her head through.

“Hello?” she called into the badly lit corridor. The figure near the door turned in surprise, forgetting about the blowtorch in his hand, with which he was cutting a hole through the door. The flame caught Rose across the cheek, and she cried out, lost her balance and fell head first through the hatch. Fortunately, her human instincts took over and she rolled to prevent any further injuries. The torch was switched off and the wielder removed his protective facemask.

“Oh, bloody hell!” he cursed. “Are you all right, Rose?”

“Yeah,” she said through clenched teeth. “I’ll be okay in a minute.”

“I’m really sorry. You startled me.” The young welder’s face started to crumple in despair.

“Look, it’s all right, Will, I swear. See, it’s already healing.” Rose pointed to the large welt on her face, which was rapidly diminishing in size. Out of sheer curiosity, she touched it and gasped when she felt the broken and oozing skin under her fingertips.

“That’s not the point. It might not have been you I hurt. It could have been someone else.”

Rose began to laugh, but then hissed in pain as she realised that the burn was still very sore. “Not likely. You did see where I fell out of?” She waited for the young man to nod, then continued. “How many people do you know could crawl through that?”

Will considered this for a moment. “Point taken.”

Rose suddenly realised that she had a job to do, and that Will was the most opportune of people to run into.

“I am so glad to see you! Everyone’s trapped in the hall by these infernal doors.”

“Rose, do you seriously think that I can blast through those doors with this? That whole section is made to withstand an explosive decompression. I doubt a blowtorch is going to make any difference.”

“No, you don’t understand,” she gushed, trying to speak quickly and clearly at the same time. “You only need to get to the corridor outside the hall. Each pressure door has a small emergency power supply attached to it, but it’s only accessible from the outside. Lieutenant Saffron’s got a team down there, but they’ve been trapped in the corridor, away from the door.”

Will sighed. “I’ll see what I can do,” he told the young Mysteron.

“In the meantime, can you give me a leg up to there?” Rose pointed to the hole in the ceiling.

“Sure,” Will replied, and cupped his hands. Rose placed her foot in the cup and Will boosted her up to the gap.

“See ya later,” she called as she crawled off.

Thankful that now the problem of the others trapped had been sorted, Rose could concentrate on the task of finding Jessie before she found anyone else. Attempting to hone her Mysteron senses and concentrate on the closest one to her revealed that not only was there one in the vicinity, but the signal was even emanating from the floor just above where Rose was crawling. For the first time in her life, Rose was unsure as to the direction to head in to reach that next floor.

She chose to head towards the signal and pray for an upward shaft soon. One wasn’t very forthcoming. Rose began to panic again as the tunnels seemed endless without spawning the upward shoot she was searching for. Reaching a large intersection, Rose stopped and tried to calm down. Her heart was racing and she was breathing in short, sharp breaths.

 

No sooner had General White mentioned to Colonel Blue and Major Scarlet the fact that the Mysterons were behaving very well, than one of them broke free. In the confusion that inevitably followed, Gospozha Ivanisovic ended up with a gun in her hand, pointing it at Frau Koenig’s head. The frau, for her part, kept remarkably quiet, instead of screaming her head off as Scarlet had suspected she would.

“Now the tables have turned on you, Earthmen,” the Mysteronised woman said.

“Mama?” Turquoise said in his native Russian, afraid but curious. “When did you learn English?”

She laughed, a harsh, unpleasant sound, not at all as the young Spectrum officer remembered. “Foolish Earthchild,” she told him in English, perhaps for the purpose of embarrassing the boy in front his superiors. “I am not your mother. I know no limitations of language. Come no closer, or this woman dies.”

Turquoise backed off, but Crimson was not as sensible.

Nein,” he bellowed, rushing at the pair. “You will not harm my mother, Mysteron filth.”

However, instead of losing her hostage and having to get herself another before the Spectrum-trained officers shot her, the old woman chose to shoot the oncoming German instead. Crimson sank to his knees, clutching at the hole in his chest. Blood poured out onto the carpeted floor. Soon the area around him was the same shade as the uniform the young man was wearing. Now Frau Koenig began to weep.

A flurry of motion beside Fawn caught his attention. A blue-clad officer had brushed past him in a hurry. Fawn caught his young colleague by the collar.

“Idiot,” he hissed. “D’you want to get yourself, or someone else killed?”

“But what about Lieutenant Crimson?” Azure protested.

Fawn shook his head sadly. “He’s already gone. See the way the blood’s coming out, in waves?”

Azure nodded in confirmation.

“Ruptured aorta. That’s even more deadly than if she’d got the heart.”

In the confusion, however, everyone had failed to notice Lieutenant Turquoise creeping around the back of the crowd. Part of his new uniform included a colour-coded gun, which he now pulled out and trained on his mother. He took a deep breath to calm himself and stop his hands trembling. This shot had to be perfect, otherwise innocent people could be hurt. And he had to release his mother’s spirit from the hold of that ghastly force, allowing her to rest finally.

Turquoise prayed that this would be easy. He forced his eyes to remain open and pulled the trigger. The bullet spun away in a perfect straight line and impacted with the left side of the replicant’s torso. Blood spurted everywhere as the Mysteron agent fell forwards, pushing over the German woman she was holding.

Frau Koenig shrieked as the dead weight of the Mysteron agent caught her off balance and pushed her to the floor. The German crawled out from under her dead captor and towards her son. She grasped his hand and stroked his hair, murmuring comforting words in their native German. Crimson soon died, and Frau Koenig stayed by his side, sobbing quietly, unobtrusively. She never even looked up when the pressure doors burst open and Lieutenant Saffron entered with his reinforcements.

Blue had, however paid this heed as the emergency pneumatics hissed in protest at their sudden use. He turned from the horrific sight before him to the welcome sight of freedom behind him.

“Okay, people!” he called, disturbing the silence that had fallen on the passing of Crimson. “Single file please, there’s no rush.”

To their credit, the civilians did listen to him and were pretty sensible about leaving the hall. However, Scarlet spied a wisp of smoke at the collar of one of the remaining, younger Mysteron agents. He’d seen the video footage of what had happened to Captain Brown, and was certain that the young man was what was known in the trade as a ‘walking bomb’, a Mysteron agent with the ability to explode once the situation required it.

“Everyone out, now!” he bellowed. He quickly began ushering out the stragglers and remaining agents. Lieutenant Malachite went and roused Frau Koenig gently. He guided her towards the doors as the Mysteron, now joined by his fellow agent was just about ready to blow. Scarlet grabbed her other arm as the pair approached the doors. However, Malachite noticed that his sister had managed to free herself and was making a dash for the door. He pushed Scarlet and Frau Koenig through the pressure door and pushed the emergency button inside the ceremonial hall, sealing the doors. The last thing Scarlet saw was Malachite wrestling his sister to the ground as the doors closed.

 

Once she heard herself breathing normally again, Rose set off down the narrow tunnel and almost immediately found her goal.

She clambered up the shaft and made her way back along the tubing system to where she had felt her adversary not long ago. Once the feeling of the Mysteron presence was very close, Rose found another grill and kicked it out. She dropped elegantly to the floor and crept towards the presumably waiting agent. Fortunately, although there was a door, it had already been burned out. There was a discarded blowtorch on the other side, which had presumably run out of fuel before the Mysteron could get very far.

            “Well, well,” a smooth voice said as Rose rounded a corner, “what have we here? The halfling child?”

“Why ask questions to which you already know the answers?” Rose shot back. “You knew what I am before you died, Jessie. You certainly do now.”

The Mysteron that had previously been known as Jessica Blake had a gun trained on her cousin. She appeared completely at ease with the situation. Rose could only pray that she appeared in a similar way to the Mysteron.

“I’ve been told something interesting about you, child. The masters tell me that you are present in our group mind,” Jessie purred. “Shall we see?”

“That’s absolute rubbish!” Rose cried, thrown. She didn’t entirely believe that it wasn’t true. The Mysterons in the hall had seemed to know that she was conversing with the other Spectrum agents using less than orthodox methods. “Surely I’d know what you had planned if it were true.”

“Ah, perhaps. However, I believe that you have a special link with blood relations. Is that not true, Rose Metcalfe? You see, my Aunt Mary married a Metcalfe. That makes us blood relations, does it not?”

Er, yes, it does,” Rose stammered. “What has that got to do with anything?”

“Fool child! Are you so stupid that you cannot follow such simple logic? The masters have been trying to reach your mind since they heard you accessing the group mind. So far they have failed, but they believe that they have found a way to reach you after all, through me. The masters believe that you would be an asset to us. They have long since known the effects of the hybrid vigour that makes you stronger.”

Rose suddenly felt a tremendous weight in her head. She lost the control of her motor functions and fell to the ground, dropping the Mysteron pistol. Jessie scooped it up gleefully.

“They wished you to be conscious so that you would know that I am now in possession of the only weapon of this kind accessible on this base. I have placed a security lockout on the weapons cabinets, just as I did on the doors.”

Jessie fell silent and concentrated. It was the last thing Rose saw before the entirety of the Mysterons tried to enter her mind through the passage she herself had recently opened.

 

As Blue was issuing orders for the Spectrum agents to begin the base-wide hunt for the errant Mysterons, Scarlet suddenly clutched at his head. He knew instinctively that his daughter was in trouble. Once he had regained his faltering balance, Spectrum’s top agent set off at a run towards where the young sergeant had reportedly last seen Rose. From there, Scarlet tended to follow the ache in his head. If it got worse, he was closer to whatever Jessie was doing or planning to do to his girl. Heading up the stairs again and doubling back on himself, Scarlet knew he was very close when his headache became so severe that he collapsed to the floor and vomited. That had never happened before, and the headaches had been lessening in their intensity recently. Normally, the headaches were only a hindrance; they’d never made him physically sick before. But then again, there had never had a situation like this before. He knew that there was something seriously wrong for such a severe reaction to a Mysteron presence to occur. He struggled to his feet and carried on towards the source of the interference.

As he stepped through the battered remains of a doorway, he could hear his cousin speaking.

“Bow to us, little one, or you will die,” Jessie sneered.

Scarlet heard whimpering. Someone was obviously in pain, serious pain. It made his Mysteron-induced migraine seem insignificant.

As he peeked round a corner, trying not to draw any attention to himself, he had to stifle a gasp of horror. Rose was lying on the floor, only semi-conscious, writhing in agony. Jessie was obviously exerting some sort of power over her – most likely due to Rose’s mental abilities. Jessie, for her part was pointing Scarlet’s own electron pistol at the younger woman, preparing to fire it at point blank range.

Rose struggled to her feet, and her face came into Scarlet’s field of vision. Her eyes were drawn and dull with pain, barely responsive even to his presence when she looked straight at him for a second. Scarlet wondered if she had actually seen him, or been blinded by her pain. Scarlet had never seen any lines on his daughter’s face, but now her visage was so creased with pain and fear that he would barely have recognised her if he hadn’t known who the young woman was.

“Go on,” Rose rasped, her voice barely audible, even in the silent room. “Do it. You Mysterons won’t take my freedom, and I won’t serve you.”

Jessie considered this statement for a second, then pulled the trigger, releasing the deadly electricity, discharging it into Rose’s body, causing the young girl’s muscles to spasm.

Scarlet had been spurred into action by Jessie’s action, and launched himself at his cousin’s Mysteron replica. On contact, the pistol was dropped, and spun across the floor. Scarlet watched his daughter’s limp form melt to the floor like a snowman on a sunny day, unbreathing. Scarlet’s headache vanished in an instant.

“NO!” he cried. “Rose, no! You can’t die!” He turned back to his cousin, who had vainly been attempting to push him off from on top of her. “You,” he growled in an almost inhuman voice. “You just couldn’t leave her alone, could you? She was going to help you.”

Jessie spat in his face. This wasn’t as effective as either an offensive weapon, or even simply an offence, because the warm spittle simply dropped back onto her under gravity. “I do not need help, Earthman. The ‘help’ you suggest, what would that make me, exactly? Human? A pathetic, worthless human. No thank you, Earthman, that idea does not appeal to me greatly.”

Scarlet’s frail temper, legendary amongst the Spectrum officers, snapped, and Jessie’s neck quickly followed suit. Dropping his cousin’s head in disgust, Scarlet crawled over to his daughter’s side.

“Rose? Rose? Wake up honey,” he whispered, shaking the tiny woman gently. She felt so frail, as if she would break in his hands. He touched her face. She was cold to the touch already. Scarlet fumbled clumsily to find a wrist pulse, and cursed himself for being such an idiot when he remembered that she didn’t have one. However, when the carotid pulse was equally absent, he tried the communications systems again, but they were still down.

 

Almost half an hour later, Dr. Fawn and Colonel Blue were searching Cloudbase for the two missing Metcalfes and assessing the damage, when they heard sobbing from inside one of the ruined doors. Stepping through it, they found Major Scarlet sitting cross-legged on the floor, cradling the lifeless body of Rose Metcalfe.

 

 

 

 

Epilogue

 

“She’s waking up.”

            Rose’s eyes fluttered open and she began slowly focussing on the blurry figures above her. She tried to speak, to ask what had happened, but found that she couldn’t.

            “Don’t try to speak, sweetie. I had to put a tube down your throat to help you breathe. I’ll take it out when you’ve woken up a bit. Do you understand?”

            Rose nodded, beginning to recognise the people around her; Doctors Fawn and Azure, Major Scarlet, Colonel Blue and a couple of nurses.

            Fawn left as soon as he was happy that Rose was suitably awake.

            “How are you feeling, honey?” Scarlet asked. Rose made a few gestures with her hands, and Azure laughed.

            “Rose says ‘like I’ve got a tube stuck down my throat’,” he explained. “I think you’re already awake enough.” Azure disconnected the ventilator from the tube.

            “Right, take a deep breath, and when I tell you, blow out as hard as you can, okay?” Rose nodded and inhaled.

            “Now, blow.” As she did so, Azure tugged the tube out and placed it on a tray next to the bed. As one of the nurses whisked it away, he raised his eyebrows in surprise. “That must be a good sign,” he muttered to himself.

            “What happened?” Rose asked. “I thought I was dead for good. Oh, for goodness sake, I don’t need that,” she said, batting Azure away as he tried to fit a nasal canula. He persisted and succeeded, whilst explaining.

            “You were, by rights. I’m still not entirely certain as to the mechanics of retrometabolism, but Dr. Fawn was convinced that you could pull through, so he put you on the ventilator and shocked your heart. I’ll get him to explain it better.” Azure then left her with Blue and Scarlet.

            “How long was I down for?”

            “It’s Tuesday. Check your watch,” Scarlet recommended.

            “Sixty-eight hours? That’s impossible!”

            “You’re still not done yet.” He gestured to the IV in her arm.

            Fawn chose that moment to enter.

            “How’re you feeling?” he asked.

            “Tired of being asked how I’m feeling,” she replied, annoyed, and then yawned.

            “Get some sleep. You’ll need it,” Fawn advised, but he was too late; Rose had already dropped off. The doctor made a note of her vitals and the time registered on the Mysteron’s watch.

            Scarlet breathed a huge sigh of relief. “Thank God she’s okay.”

            Fawn suddenly got a worried expression on his face.

            “What?”

            “Well…” Fawn hesitated, not sure how to tell them. “Rose may never be ‘okay’ as such again. We haven’t been able to study the entire effects of electricity on retrometabolism in replicants, and Rose is a hybrid Mysteron, which are entirely unpredictable in all cases studied by biologists of earthbound creatures. We just can’t tell in her case. If it had been you, though, you’d be dead. She’s very lucky to still be here.”

            “What are you saying, Fawn?” Blue asked.

            “You saw her eyes. I haven’t seen them revert to being blue for a long time.  I don’t know if Rose will ever have the abilities she had before, including retrometabolism.”

            “But what does that mean?” The three men turned to see General Metcalfe and his wife in the doorway. They had gone to bed a couple of hours ago, but Scarlet suspected that neither had slept at all. His mother certainly hadn’t. Her face had been tearstained since the incident, and Scarlet could tell that she’d been crying again recently. Mary rushed towards the bed as quickly as her frail body would carry her. “Will she survive?”

            “Oh, yes, certainly General. What I mean is that Rose may be an ordinary human being now, just like the rest of us.”

            “But other than that she’s okay?” Mary asked, relief showing on her face.

            “I don’t know!” Fawn said, exasperated. “I won’t know until she wakes properly.” He was upset too, but unable to show it in front of the family. If Fawn allowed emotional involvement, he would not be a good enough doctor to help Rose. He was always frustrated that her nature made her different – he couldn’t help her medically most of the time because there were no others to study and compare to. Perhaps electricity didn’t affect her in the same way as the replicants.

            “I’m sorry, Edward.” Fawn looked up, startled. It had been Scarlet who had spoken. “It must be hard on you too.”

            “Hmm,” he replied, distantly, still thinking. “Right,” he barked, “my patient needs rest and to be checked by a doctor. What is this, a mothers’ meeting?”

            “Pardon?” Mary said, objecting. The others left, grumbling. Mary remained, sitting down in the chair next to the bed, and fixing the doctor with a nasty glare. Knowing he would never win, Fawn left her there.

            He envied Scarlet sometimes. The Metcalfes must have been such wonderful parents, not like his own father, who had never been there, even before his mother died, what with managing the ER. Fawn barely remembered his mother, as he’d been five when she died. His father had never spoken of it. Fawn had found out, years later from his grandparents, that it had been a car crash. A drunken joyrider had ploughed into the side of his mother’s car when she had been driving to pick him up from school.

            Fawn slipped out of sickbay into an adjoining small room created to allow the doctors to monitor a patient well enough to make a report to the commanding officer or Intelligence. At the moment, however, it was serving as the hideout of General White, who was seated at the table. He got up as he saw the doctor entering.

            “How is she?” he asked.

            “Rose? She’s asleep, but she woke up about half an hour ago. It’s a good sign.”

            “So,” White said, sitting back down, “Will she be ready for Saturday?”

            “I couldn’t really say,” Fawn said, vaguely. “It all depends on how she heals.”

            “Whatever do you mean?”

            “Charles, she still has blue eyes. It’s not looking altogether good for her,” Fawn admitted. “I won’t tell them that, of course, but it’s really not. Oh, they’ve gone, by the way, you can come out now. There’s just Mrs Metcalfe left, and she’s probably fallen asleep.” Fawn paused. “That reminds me, weren’t you supposed to be off on furlough this week?”

            “Why would that remind you, doctor?” White inquired, not quite as harshly as he would have liked. He remembered a time when he had not been quite as oblivious to the truth as a certain two couples on Cloudbase would have liked. White strongly suspected that the same was more than likely true of him and his lady friend now.

            “Oh, I don’t know. You taking furlough is pretty unusual, or it used to be, at any rate. And in Iowa? That’s also become quite commonplace these days.”

            The men drew level with the door to Rose’s room. As Fawn had suspected, Mary was fast asleep in the chair.

            White sighed. “Truth is, I’m thinking of retiring. My eyesight is going and my hearing hasn’t been the same after that incident twenty years ago. This is a young man’s game, Edward; and Iowa is such a pretty place.”

            “Sure it is,” Fawn said, winking. “And there’s a pretty lady living there too. Unless I missed my mark many, many years ago, her surname is the same as one of our Angel’s maiden name.”        

White’s ears turned scarlet. “Yet again, doctor, you have not missed ‘your mark’.”

            “So, retirement, huh? Are you moving in with Mrs Wainwright?”

            “Yes, I’ll be a guest at her home for a while, but…”

            “You’re gonna ask her to marry you.”

            “Perhaps,” White replied with a wry smile, his eyes twinkling. “I should have done it years ago, but I at least wanted to see young Rose’s commissioning before handing over to Colonel Blue.”

            Fawn nodded. “Have you spoken to Blue yet?”

            “No. I may speak to him and Symphony at the same time. After all, it would mean my becoming her step-father.”

 

*****

            Blue, Scarlet and Metcalfe made their way towards the officers’ lounge. It was almost deserted, but in the far corner, two young lieutenants had secreted themselves.

            “Amber? Turquoise? What are you still doing here?”

            “Colonel!” The two young men jumped to their feet and stood to attention.

            “As you were, gentlemen,” Blue replied, laughing. The five men sat down in the lounge. “We got kicked out of sickbay.”

            “So,” General Metcalfe said, stretching, “what’s bothering you boys?”

            They hesitated, unsure as to what to do or say. Scarlet understood.

            “It’s okay. My father knows as much, if not more about the Mysterons that you do.”

            “But…” Amber protested.

            “I’m not Spectrum?” Metcalfe inquired, amused by the situation. He waited for Amber to nod, then continued. “Well, no, I’m not, but I have been liaising with Spectrum for many years now. And, boys, did you seriously think that I wouldn’t notice that my son and granddaughter are Mysterons? Look, Paul, I’m sorry I said that, but…”

            “If truth be told, we are,” Scarlet finished. “I know. I spent years avoiding the fact and caused myself a lot of grief because of it, but Rose was always happy to accept the fact, even after she started to face them. Now I realise that it’s not your genetics that determine who you are, but your mind. It doesn’t bother me any more.”

            Zere is one thing I do not understand. Vhy did you not vish to kill the Mysterons vhen you had the chance? Vhy vait?” Turquoise inquired.

            “Ah, don’t you wish Pat was here to field that one?” When the lieutenants appeared confused, Blue explained. “Colonel Magenta. He’s the expert on this part. This may be hard for you to believe, but we were trying to save them. There are a few ways in which Mysteron agents can be freed. One, which apparently isn’t feasible any more, is for the agent to fall, say, eight hundred feet. That was a mistake the Mysterons have made a couple of times, but we assume that they have learned from their mistakes.  Another that we are familiar with is much trickier to explain, in that we can’t entirely yet. It’s only been performed once, and the agent was able to continue a normal life afterwards. There are absolutely no side effects that we know of yet.”

            “Why weren’t we told about this when we were studying?” Amber asked.

            “Well, we never considered the fact that any of you would need to know about it. Also, the end of your training would have been no fun,” Scarlet explained.

            “The end of training? Metcalfe!” Amber glanced around at his present company, and looked chagrined, realising that he was, indeed, speaking to two ‘Metcalfes’, neither of which were the one he was referring to. “I mean ‘Rose’,” he corrected. “She must have something to do with it then!”

            “You’ll make a good agent, Amber.” Blue remarked. “Yes, Rose has rather a lot to do with it. Cadet Metcalfe is the only person on this planet capable of freeing someone from the Mysterons’ control.”

            “Is there anything she can’t do?” Amber asked, incredulous. The three older men laughed, and said nothing.

            “Lieutenant Turquoise?” Metcalfe asked gently. “Are you all right? You seem awfully quiet.”

            “Is nothing,” the young Russian replied, obviously lying, then added “I just thought that I was ready to face Mysterons, but I am not. I have failed.”

            “Well, I don’t know if it’s my place to be saying this, but I think you did exceptionally well, considering the circumstances, young man,” Metcalfe told him, encouragingly. “It was a very difficult situation to be faced with on your first day. Family members are always the worst to face up to.”

            All eyes turned to Scarlet. “Don’t worry, Turquoise,” he said, his ears a similar colour to his uniform. “Even my Rose had problems. Look at where she is now. She’s very lucky she wasn’t killed by that pistol.”

            “Is Rose okay, sir?” Amber inquired.

            Dr. Fawn says he won’t know for certain for a while yet, but don’t go bothering him.”

            “No, sir, thank you. If you’ll excuse me, sirs, I need some sleep before I go on duty tomorrow morning.”

            “Of course,” Blue said. “Good night.”

            “I think I must also sleep,” Turquoise stated, as Amber left.

            “Night, lieutenant.”

            Turquoise left, slightly more relaxed than when they had found him.

            “So, Scarlet, your Rose has an admirer,” Blue noted, stretching out in his seat.

            “Pardon?”

            “Paul! I’m surprised you didn’t notice,” Metcalfe admonished. “I’d say both of them have their eyes on your little girl.”

            Gotta admit, she’s a pretty kid. Gets it from her mother, obviously.” Blue’s eyes were twinkling. He always enjoyed teasing Scarlet, and a sideways glance told him that this time he had support.

            “I concur,” Metcalfe added. The two older men were close to laughter. There was almost nothing of Rhapsody in the girl. A little around the eyes, perhaps, but other than that, she was totally identical to the way her grandmother had looked about fifty years ago.

            “Huh. Anyway, Rose is far too young to have a boyfriend.”

            “Nonsense! You were much younger that Rose when you started bringing girls home.”

            “Really? General, you have got to visit more often. Tell me more.”

            “How many times do I have to tell you to call me ‘Charles’? Anyway, embarrassing stories of Paul’s childhood will have to wait until morning. I’m afraid I must also retire for the night. Good night, boys.” With that, Metcalfe left.

            “Fifty-two years old and I’m still a ‘boy’,” Scarlet groused, staring daggers at his father’s retreating form.

            “I’m fifty-three and was included in that,” Blue pointed out. “And I look it too. At least you only are fifty-two; you still look about thirty.”

“Anyhow, I’m gonna have to leave you too, Paul. I think Karen wants to have a ‘talk’ tonight.” Blue ran a finger round his polo neck, as if he was struggling for air.

Scarlet raised an eyebrow. “Sounds serious. Do you have any idea what it’s about?”

“No, that’s what worries me. Everything’s been so good lately. I mean, the last argument we had was over the commissioning ceremony.”

“And where did you end up sleeping that night?” Scarlet enquired, pointedly.

“Yes, yes, I know. And thank you, Rose’s bed is very comfortable, but you’re not helping,” Blue fretted. “I just don’t know what’s wrong.”

“Perhaps something is right,” Scarlet pointed out.

“And when was the last time you heard of a woman wanting to have a ‘talk’ about something ‘right’?”

Scarlet thought the answer to that should have been obvious, but then realised that Blue had, in his eighteen years of marriage, never been in that situation, and it was getting too late for that now.

“True,” he responded at last, not wanting to throw a spanner into the works. “However, Karen hasn’t mentioned anything at all to me, and you know how close we are; almost like brother and sister.”

“Good point. Ah well, if I don’t go, I won’t find out, will I?” Blue rose from his seat. “Night, Paul.”

“Good night, Adam, and good luck.” Scarlet smiled sympathetically at his friend.

“Thanks. I think I’ll need it.”

Scarlet made sure that Blue was out of sight before heading back towards Sickbay. Once there, he found the two Metcalfe women sleeping peacefully. Scarlet snooped around and found a spare gurney, which he rolled into the small room. He swiped a pillow and blanket from a bed in the main part of the facility, made up the gurney and laid his mother gently on it, tucking her in. Once he was happy with his handiwork, Scarlet sat in the now vacant chair. With Rose sleeping so peacefully and so vulnerable looking, it was easy to fool himself into believing that she was just his little girl again, and not the young woman she’d grown up into.

As he watched her, Rose’s eyes slowly opened and she sat up.

“Daddy?” A hint of panic was in her voice.

“Yes, sweetie?”

“Daddy, I’m scared.” Rose’s clear blue eyes were welling with tears. “I wasn’t scared of dying, I never have been, but this is different. It’s changed me, hasn’t it?”

Scarlet nodded. He guessed at where this was headed. “Yes it has. Your metabolism is quite slow.”

“Metabolism,” Rose repeated, trying the word out. “I don’t think anyone’s ever used that term about me before. It’s always been about retrometabolism. Now that’s gone, what does that make me? I’ve lost an integral part of myself. You of all people know what electricity does to retrometabolism, and I’ve had, what, two jolts in the space of an hour?”

“Four,” Scarlet whispered.

“Okay, four. What are the odds that I’ll fully recover? I know it, and Fawn knows it. That pistol is made to overcome retrometabolic energy. I didn’t survive; I was just lucky that I was on Cloudbase. And I failed my training. I’m not fit to be a Spectrum officer.”

“Rubbish!” Scarlet exclaimed, shocked. “You never failed at all. You’d already passed before you came here. You never failed at all. It was just purely bad luck that Jessie could do those things to you.”

 “But I should have been able to cope with it. I… I…”

“It. Wasn’t. Your. Fault,” Scarlet told the distraught young woman, accentuating every word in the hopes of getting it through to her. “And as to your fitness to be a Spectrum agent, your ability for languages hasn’t suddenly disappeared along with your retrometabolism, has it?”

Je ne pense pas, non.She smiled. “I see your point. I’m still good for communications.”

Scarlet returned his daughter’s smile, relieved. “Will you sleep now? You need rest.”

“No! I’ve slept for the better part of three days. I want something to eat.”

“That’s my girl,” Scarlet laughed. “Doctor?”

Azure came to the door. “Yes?”

“Can we get something to eat in here?” Rose asked. “I’m starving.”

The young doctor looked thoughtful for a second, as if he was assessing her. “Erm… yeah, okay. Toast.”

Rose’s face fell. “Is that it?” she demanded. “Toast? Not lasagne and chips?”

“Toast,” Azure repeated. “Then we’ll see.”

He did, however, allow the two Metcalfes to go to the mess hall, with Rose sat in a wheelchair. Azure even accompanied them there, as there were no other patients in Sickbay. They sat around a small table munching on hot buttered toast, supplied by the friendly night staff in the kitchens.

After the consumption of large mounds, Azure asked Rose “So, how do you feel now?”

Rose paused, licking the butter from her fingers and thought for a second.

“Better,” she said, slowly, “but not as hungry as I feel I ought to be.”

“I shouldn’t worry about it,” Azure reassured her. “I’m sure your voracious appetite will return in time.”

“Do you think so? Honestly?” The two men could tell that Rose wanted to believe it, but couldn’t quite allow herself to do so, just in case.

Azure drew a deep breath. “I want to say yes, as a gut instinct, and be one hundred percent positive that I’d be right, but as a scientist, I can’t be certain of anything.”

“Okay. Thank you. I know Dr. Fawn would never have said anything at all, but I tend to trust doctors’ ‘gut instincts’.” Rose attempted to stifle a yawn, but failed to keep it from Azure’s attention. She didn’t even protest when the doctor started to push her chair back to Sickbay.

 

Over the next few days, Rose continued to pick up. On Thursday, Turquoise saw Major Scarlet come into the Control Room to report for duty. The older man had a spring in his step and his bright blue eyes twinkled. After a brief, whispered conversation, Blue, who had been in a very curious mood, a combination of happy and utter shock, for the past few days, cheered to just happy.

Deducing the fact that this phenomenon had something to do with Rose, Turquoise took it upon himself to visit the sick cadet after his uneventful duty shift. However, when he arrived in Sickbay, the young Mysteron cadet was nowhere to be seen. Assuming that she’d just gone to the bathroom, Turquoise seated himself in the vacant seat next to her bed.

He didn’t think anything of it when the main doors swished open, and was consequently rather shocked to see Rose slowly making her way back to the room, walking on crutches. He could see the telltale metal glinting on her legs to know that she was also wearing braces to strengthen her weak muscles.

“Is no wonder that Colonel Blue and Major Scarlet have been pleased greatly today,” he said, astounded.

Rose had been chatting away in French to the nurse accompanying her, but switched easily to Russian when she heard Turquoise.

“Really? I find it quite frustrating. Do you know it’s taken me nearly half an hour just to walk back to my quarters?”

Allez-vous bien maintenant?” the nurse asked, dumping the large pile of assorted items of clothing and reading material she was carrying on the table.

Rose turned as much as she could to face the nurse. Ah, oui. Merci.She began to hobble towards the bed. Turquoise offered his support, which, to his utter amazement, Rose accepted.

“You can’t be feeling right. The Rose I know would never accept help from anyone,” he joked.

“There’s no harm in allowing men to be courteous,” she told him, with a mischievous glint in her blue eyes. “It allows women to keep the upper hand.”

Turquoise burst out laughing. “Yeah, right.”

Rose merely raised an eyebrow as the young Russian helped her swing her tired legs onto the bed and undid the braces swiftly.

“Thanks. A girl could get used to this sort of treatment.”

“I wouldn’t,” Turquoise replied, gloomily. “I’m only staying until your commissioning.”

Rose frowned. “That’s very kind of the general, isn’t it? Ah, no, of course it isn’t. You’re covering communications for me.”

Turquoise nodded. “I think my English must have improved vastly in the past week.”

Rose laughed. “Communications will do that to you.”

The room became silent, and Rose plucked up the courage to ask Turquoise something that every other visitor, including Amber, had carefully avoided.

“Rudolph?” When Rose was certain that she had the Russian’s undivided attention, she voiced her question. “What happened at the commissioning?”

“Whatever do you mean?”

“Don’t tiptoe around it,” Rose snapped, perhaps more forcefully than she’d liked. “I want to know what happened to the Mysterons. And I want to know what happened to Robert and Kristian.”

Turquoise stared at his hands. “I am sorry. I didn’t know that you hadn’t been told.”

“Was it really that bad?”

“Yes, it was. I expect that you already know what happened to Major Blake.” Rose nodded. “Well, I believe that the first Mysteron to die was my mother.” Turquoise had to stop as his voice became choked.

Rose looked abashed. “I’m sorry, Rudolph. You don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to.”

“ No, it is all right. I believe there is a term for this exercise. You tell someone about it, and the hurt becomes less. She… She killed Lieutenant Crimson when she escaped and took his mother hostage. Then she was killed.

“After that, the two younger Mysteron clones activated as, what did Captain Orange call them? ‘Walking time bombs’? By that time, the doors had been opened, and everyone was starting to leave. Malachite went back for Crimson’s mother and got her out on time, but he sealed the doors from the inside to stop his sister from escaping.

“We were sent out to patrol the base for the remaining two Mysteron agents, shortly after Major Scarlet had disappeared. Most of the doors had been destroyed by then, so it was quite easy. Herr Koenig was found pretty soon after that. He had become trapped by a set of doors that had not been torched until we found them, and we kept him dead until he could be eliminated properly.”

Rose was amazed. “No wonder nobody wanted to tell me about it. It’s awful.”

They continued to talk until Rose became sleepy. Scarlet, Blue and the Metcalfes had been and gone again, proving Turquoise’s claim that his English had improved when they conversed. When she fell asleep, Turquoise tiptoed out and went to bed himself.

 

Saturday morning broke over Cloudbase. Several people were up in time to see it. Scarlet and Rose watched it from her Sickbay window. She stood beside her father, supported only by a single crutch now. Scarlet looked down, proud that she was doing so well, but not wanting to spoil the surprise White and Blue had planned for today. And he didn’t dare mention Blue and Symphony’s additional surprise. Karen wanted to tell the girl herself, and Scarlet wasn’t about to rob her of that opportunity.

Elsewhere on Cloudbase, General White, Dr. Fawn, Colonel Blue, Symphony Angel and Charles and Mary Metcalfe were also awake and plotting. The mess hall was looking fantastic – all the tables were to be cleared after the breakfast rush, and the personnel due to use it had been informed of the early start and finish this morning. A stage had been installed overnight, and the sound system was operational.

They were sat eating their own breakfasts before the stampede due in the next half hour. Suddenly, Symphony rushed out, her hand covering her mouth. Blue followed closely.

“That girl’s been acting up for the past few days,” Metcalfe noted. “Whatever is wrong with her?” His eyes turned to Scarlet, who had just arrived for his own morning meal.

“Err…” Scarlet glanced at Fawn, who was dutifully keeping his mouth shut. He obviously knew, and was enjoying seeing Scarlet try to explain it away without letting the cat out of the bag.

 

Symphony emerged from the bathrooms several minutes after entering, minus the recently consumed breakfast. Her husband was waiting outside, concerned.

“Are you all right, honey?” Blue enquired, putting his arms around the Angel.

Symphony brushed him off. “I’m fine,” she snapped grumpily.

“You’re not sleeping right. I heard you get up twice last night.”

“I’m sorry, but the term…” Symphony mouthed the term as a lieutenant passed them by, “…is an absolute farce. I get it at night.”

“Go and get some sleep,” Blue said, gently. “I’ll ask Dr. Fawn if there’s anything he can do.”

“But I’ll miss everything,” Symphony moaned, not quite sounding convinced that it wasn’t the best idea in the world. She sounded tired. Blue knew that it wasn’t just last night, but he didn’t want to complain at all.

“No,” Blue told the Angel leader, soothingly. “I’ll call you when you need to get up, and you can go and take Rose her uniform. And tell her; she’ll be absolutely thrilled.”

“Okay. Thanks, Big Blue.” Symphony kissed him on his cheek and left for their quarters. Blue returned to the mess hall, which was still pretty quiet, but a few junior officers had arrived since he had left.

“Sorry about that,” Blue said, settling back down to his unfinished meal.

Metcalfe and White exchanges glances, each daring the other to be the one to ask. Finally General White bit the bullet.

“Colonel, is there anything wrong with Symphony?”

“Not as such, sir,” Blue replied carefully. Telling them meant that he would be forced to accept the simple truth himself. “She’s… I’m… Well, we’re…”

“For goodness sake, Adam, just tell them! The suspense is killing me!” Scarlet exclaimed.

“Fat chance of that,” Blue retorted playfully. Scarlet smiled back; he’d succeeded in his task of relaxing his friend.

“She’s pregnant,” Blue revealed.

“That’s marvellous! Congratulations,” Metcalfe said, grabbing the American’s hand and pumping it vigorously.

White slumped back into his seat. He had watched his wife die whilst carrying his child. It had been absolutely torturous for him to see Rhapsody Angel, who looked so much like his deceased spouse, whilst she was with child, reminding him of everything he’d lost. There had always been the possibility, having female fighter pilots, that the situation would arise one day. It was bad enough having to ask them to risk their lives on a daily basis, and send people into situations where there was every possibility that they wouldn’t return. But to ask that of a pregnant woman, risking not one, but two lives, especially after what had happened with Elizabeth? White had never wanted to consider it.

Now the woman who was about to become his stepdaughter was about to put him through that turmoil again. And this time he wouldn’t even see what would come of it. He couldn’t be an ‘uncle’ to this one as he had been on occasions to young Rose. It almost made him wish that he weren’t retiring. However, thoughts of that baby’s grandmother raised his spirits. He wouldn’t be a stranger to him or her, hopefully.

He hadn’t been entirely truthful with Dr. Fawn. White had actually been planning to propose to Amanda this leave. He had postponed until next week, Monday, hopefully. His suitcase was still packed, with the simple diamond ring nestled in a secret compartment.

“Sir?”

The voice penetrated his thoughts. “I’m sorry, Colonel, what is it?”

“I was just saying that we should be getting back up to command and sorting everything out before we start,” Blue repeated, patiently.

“Yes, of course. Excuse us gentlemen, Mrs Metcalfe.” White rose and gathered his empty dishes onto one of the discarded trays. Blue did similarly, and the two men returned their things to the kitchen staff.

On the way back through the mess hall, Blue stopped to have a quick word in Dr. Fawn’s ear. The doctor nodded in agreement with whatever it was.

 

A few hours later, Symphony Angel awoke to a familiar beeping sound. At first she thought it was the alarm clock and she hit the snooze button. When the irritating noise persisted, Symphony forced herself to wake up properly and see what was causing the racket. Rolling onto her side, she found that the light next to the internal communications unit was flashing alternately white and blue. This was a relatively new signal, showing that the person currently in charge of Cloudbase was hailing her, and that the person was Colonel Blue.

Symphony climbed out of bed, meandered over the control and pushed the button.

“Good morning,” Symphony said cheerfully. She felt refreshed after her nap.

 “You sound better,” Blue said. Symphony could tell that he was smiling.

“I feel better, thank you,” Symphony replied, stretching.

As his wife dressed and brushed her hair, Blue explained the plan of action. Symphony would go down to Sickbay just as Rose was being released for duty. Symphony would then take the girl for breakfast in the mess hall, where the others would be waiting for the pair.

“You aren’t wearing your dress uniform, are you?”

“No, now stop worrying and let me do my job,” Symphony told her husband before signing off. She grabbed the black uniform she’d picked up earlier and headed towards Sickbay.

 

The visit had, of course, been part of the original plan, but Dr. Fawn used it as an excuse to prescribe some tablets for morning sickness as well as start to ball rolling on Rose’s surprise.

Symphony noticed that the doctor seemed to be uncomfortable, and asked him about it.

“You ever tried wearing two uniforms?” he hissed back. “I’ve got my dress one on under this.”

“Alright,” she allowed, amused. “Are we on, then?”

Fawn nodded his agreement, and Symphony made her way to Rose’s small room. She stuck her head around the door to be greeted by the sight of Rose sitting on the bed, reading an old book, sitting amongst a large amount of clutter from her quarters.

“Morning,” Symphony called, startling the young woman, who looked up.

“Morning Karen. Or is it afternoon yet?” Rose replied good-naturedly, but a small tone in her voice made the passing comment sound pointed, which it was.

“Nope, eleven-hundred hours. Why?”

Rose sighed and put a bookmark between her pages. ‘Pride and Prejudice’, Symphony noted. She recognised the volume as the one that Rose’s mother, Dianne, had forced her fellow Angel to read several years beforehand.

“I lose track of time in here,” Rose complained. “I’d much rather be keeping myself busy.”

“Fine!” Dr. Fawn exclaimed, choosing, as ever, exactly the correct moment to be passing. “I can’t take it any longer. I’m releasing you.”

“Hooray!” Rose cheered.

“I’ll just go and get the release forms,” Fawn said, giving Symphony a conspiratorial glance as he turned away.

“So,” Rose began as Symphony entered the room, “how’s things in the rest of the base?” She looked at her godmother as if seeing her for the first time. “Karen! You look…”

“God-awful?” Symphony interjected.

“No,” Rose frowned, confused. “I was going to say ‘radiant’, actually. What’s going on?”

The Angel shifted her feet nervously. “Well… Adam and I are finally going to be parents,” she revealed.

“Oh, Karen! That’s fantastic!” Rose stood to embrace her friend. Her weak right leg gave slightly, but Rose paid it no heed. “When are you due?”

“End of October,” Symphony replied proudly as she cleared three books from the chair beside the bed and sat down. It was the first time she hadn’t felt apprehensive about this baby. She had given up hope of ever becoming pregnant and had focussed on her career, and whatever her mother had been up to the past few years. It had taken General White to reveal that secret to her, a few days ago. She’d been surprised, to say the least. She had suspected that the general and her mother had briefly had a relationship, about twenty or so years ago, around the time that Symphony had married Blue, but Karen had never suspected that they’d been together since then.

“Karen?” Rose had moved behind a screen to change into her uniform.

“Yes, honey?

“Is it true about the general?”

“Is what true, Rose?” Symphony asked nervously.

“Well, I heard through the grapevine that he was retiring.”

Symphony sighed in relief. “Yes, it’s true, but not for a while yet.”

“Wow.” Rose didn’t say anything else, but emerged from behind the screen, ready to go in her Spectrum blacks, just as Dr. Fawn reappeared with the release papers. It crossed Symphony’s mind, and not for the first time, that the doctor was either psychic or waited outside for the perfect moment to enter.

“So”, Symphony asked, getting up and pretending to watch Rose sign the papers, but in reality winking at Fawn. “Are you hungry?”

“Have you ever known me not to be?” Rose quizzed in response.

Symphony stopped in her tracks and thought about that. No answer was immediately apparent.

“Exactly. Fancy elevenses? You’ve got to keep your strength up now that you’re eating for two.”

“Huh,” Fawn interjected. “You can get your stuff out of here first, Rose Metcalfe.” He wheeled over a dining cart and started loading it with clothes and books. Rose and Symphony chipped in and the room was soon cleared. The two women wheeled the trolley away towards the crew quarters.

Fawn quickly stripped off his lab coat, fawn vest and black pants to reveal the grey uniform underneath. He swapped his brown boots for black shoes and secreted the discarded uniform in the locked pharmacy, just in case Rose returned with the trolley, and hurried off in the opposite direction towards the mess hall.