Cloudbase, unknown location
Destiny Angel entered Captain Scarlet’s quarters using the coded password that Rhapsody once had given her, some months ago, when she had asked her friend to come and get some clothes for her husband, who was then recuperating in sickbay after having been severely being wounded during an assignment. That was barely a week before the English Angel had lost her life, during the devastating attack the Mysterons had launched on London, destroying most of the city and killing hundreds of thousands of people in the process – Rhapsody amongst them. The expectant young woman, who was to give birth in a few weeks’ time, was on maternity leave and had gone to her family. Her husband was scheduled to visit her the day after the Mysterons’ strike.
Apparently, the grieving Scarlet had not bothered to change the code since that horrifying event that marked one of the most successful victories of the Mysterons – and the worst defeat Spectrum had ever experienced. And for many of the senior staff stationed on Cloudbase, it also meant a terrible loss, on a more personal level.
“What are you doing here, Destiny?”
Destiny froze at the sound of the voice; peering through the semi-darkness of the room, she found him, seated on his sofa, staring at the blank screen of his television. She approached slowly, until she was able to see him more clearly. He looked a mess, his face unshaven and his clothes untidy. Doctor Fawn had told her Scarlet had left sickbay too soon after his last recovery, to hide himself in the loneliness of his quarters. Built and equipped for a couple, now that Rhapsody was gone, it looked way too large for him alone.
He didn’t even look up at her and kept staring ahead. In his hand, there was a half-empty cup of coffee. Destiny imagined it was as cold as ice, as she couldn’t see any steam coming from it.
She went to him and sat by his side. He barely reacted, apart from taking a sharp intake of air that he slowly let go. It was obvious to her that her presence was irritating him, but she didn’t let that deter her.
“I was told I would find you here – are you all right?”
He simply glanced at her, very briefly, and returned his attention to the empty screen. “Sure I’m all right,” he replied in a tired voice. “It’s not the first time I’ve lost someone I’ve been assigned to protect. And not the first time I’ve died trying to save that person either.”
“Paul – I’m sorry…”
“About what?” Scarlet scoffed. “I barely knew General Tiempo. It’s not like I lost someone close to me…” His voice broke off, as his mind wandered. It wasn’t difficult for Destiny to imagine whom he was thinking of at this moment. He ran a shaky hand into his untidy hair. “Boy, I sure need a drink…”
“I can arrange that for you, if you want,” she offered gently. She had contact with a technician who was able to regularly bring alcohol onboard. That, of course, was without Colonel White’s knowledge, or there would have been be hell to pay. She was sure he would have some whisky or rum in reserve. Those were Scarlet’s favourite alcoholic drinks. That might do him some good, considering the circumstances.
“No, thank you,” he replied in a flat voice. “All things considered, I think I’ll pass. It would be useless. You know that, in general, alcohol has very little effect on me. Although at times, I’d wish it does. Maybe then, I would be able to drink myself stupid – and forget about the horror that my life had become... at least, for a moment.”
She nodded slowly. Adam had been right; so had Edward, and she could see it too: he was breaking under the stress. She had witnessed it before in other military people who, like him, had suffered grave setbacks in their lives. He was pushing himself too hard, demanding too much on himself. He would not be able to continue that much longer. He needed to slow down, even stop for a little while.
But she knew he would never stop.
“Paul, you shouldn’t get yourself in such state…” Destiny’s hand reached for Scarlet’s. She felt him shiver under her touch and he backed away, swiftly removing his hand from under hers. She froze at this recoil, and looked up into his face – to see his eyes on her, suddenly alight with a cold resentment that seemed aimed directly at her.
“What exactly are you doing here, Destiny?” he asked harshly.
“I came… to offer you some comfort?” she explained carefully.
“I don’t need your comfort,” Scarlet replied vehemently, looking away.
Destiny wouldn’t back away at this flat refusal. “You know it’s not true,” she said soothingly. “Paul, you’ve been acting miserable for months. Since Dianne –” She stopped, noticing the sudden warning glow in his eyes. She swallowed hard. “Paul, Please. You have got to pull yourself together.”
“I am perfectly fine, thank you very much.”
“No, you are not. Paul, please… you need to stop. I know that Adam tried to talk to you. He tried to make you see some sense, but you wouldn’t listen to him. I thought that…”
“You thought you could succeed where he could not, didn’t you?” Scarlet scowled. “And what made you think I would want to listen to whatever you want to tell me?”
“Paul, you and I… we have known each other for a long time. I’m your friend… We’re all your friends. We know that you’re going through a rough time. We all felt Dianne’s loss. Obviously not as much as you. But we do understand.”
“And what do you understand, uh?” Scarlet snapped angrily. “Have any of you lost someone that close to you? Do any of you know anything about that kind of pain?”
“Come on, you’re not being fair…”
“Even the colonel can’t understand what it’s like for me. He says he does, but he can’t possible. It wasn’t the same for him; it didn’t have the same impact on him when he lost his wife. I know he loved her very much… just as much as I loved Dianne. But between us, it was different. Dianne… she made me feel…” Scarlet’s words trailed off, as he was unable to pursue. He turned away to escape Destiny’s probing eyes and looked helplessly down at his hands. “With Dianne, I felt like I was a human being again,” he finished, his voice breaking.
Seeing him in such distress broke Destiny’s heart. He wasn’t used to displaying his emotions; if it was coming out this way today, it was because he had kept all of this pain, grief and sadness bottled up inside of him for too long a time. She reached for him, and stroked his arm comfortingly. This time, he didn’t shrink back. “Yes, I know how special and so unique your relationship was with each other. Your love was –”
“What do you know about love, Juliette?”
Scarlet roughly shook her hand from him arm and leapt to his feet. She blinked in surprise at his violent reaction. He obviously wasn’t finished with her yet, as he stood in front of her, and was looking down at her with loathing burning in his blue eyes. She didn’t dare move; he had never looked at her that way before.
“I saw you,” he said accusingly, “going back and forth between Pat and Brad, telling each of them how much you loved them… playing with their feelings, doing what you pleased with them… Using them.” His voice was dripping with such antipathy and disgust that he needed to clench his teeth not to let go of all his anger. “People are not things, Juliette, that you can use and throw away when you’ve done with them! My God! Were you as fickle when you were going out with me? Was there someone else you were seeing on the side, when I was not looking?”
She gave him a hard look and a deep frown, his words hurt her in ways she had not expected. She felt downright insulted, but was too surprised to react as violently as she normally would in such circumstances. She took a deep breath before answering him: “I’ll forget what I just heard, Paul, because I know you’re in pain. You don’t really know what you’re saying…”
“Don’t I?” he interrupted, with a short, cruel laugh. “I think I see more clearly now than I ever did in all the years I’ve known you. I think I see your game, Destiny Angel. I see you for the woman you really are. Are you so tired of your little pets now, that you’ve decided to make your move on me? I’m distraught, and vulnerable because of my wife’s death, so that makes me easy prey, does it?”
“Paul, stop this,” she pleaded.
He didn’t hear her out: “That’s it, isn’t it? Now that Dianne is gone, you want to take her place in our bed? Is that what you really meant, when you said you wanted to comfort me?”
This was more than Destiny could bear, and she sprang to her feet. It was anger that dictated her next move, when she stood as tall as she could in front of Scarlet and gave him a spectacular slap on the face, which echoed around the entire room. That made him look away and shut him up instantly.
For a moment, the only thing that could be heard in the silence was his hard breathing. Slowly, he turned to face Destiny again; she was standing rigidly, looking up at him, with a composed and stern expression on her face.
“Are you quite finished dripping your venom now?” she asked, forcing her voice to remain calm. “If so, I would like for you to hear me out. Then you can throw me out of your quarters if you wish, but I’ll be damned if I don’t have my say.”
Still fighting to regain his composure, Scarlet didn’t speak his agreement; he simply nodded curtly, glaring at her with an anger that he had trouble keeping in check. Destiny noticed that the mark of her hand on his cheek was already fading.
“I know I could never hope to replace Dianne,” she told him. “Not in your heart, nor in any other way. The love you had for her couldn’t compare to what we once had for each other. I’ve come to realise that a long time ago. But you should never doubt that I did love you once… You and Dianne had something unique, and I admit... I was jealous of you both for that, because I never was able to share something similar with you – or anyone else. And try as hard as I want, for the rest of my life, I will never find the same love that you did with Dianne.”
Scarlet was gradually calming down; he looked at her in silence; her beautiful face was filled with sorrow, but at the same time, it showed all the dignity she was currently able to muster, just to be able to face him. She wasn’t a woman who lacked courage, but to confront him like this required more of her nerve than she ever had needed before.
“I loved Dianne like a sister,” she continued, swallowing hard as she said the words. “There was no-one on this base I felt closer to, except you. She was my confident, and I was hers. When you were hurt, and lying in sickbay, she came to me. When she needed a shoulder to cry on and couldn’t rely on you, it was me who took her in my arms and comforted her. And she did the same for me. I grieved for her loss deeply… I do feel like the Mysterons tore a part of my soul when they took her away. I know you’re feeling the same, and much, much more than me, or any of us… Dianne was about to have your child… You were about to become a father… And that too was cruelly taken from you, with the woman you loved so much.”
She tentatively reached for him and stroked his cheek. This time around, he didn’t shiver, nor draw back. But there was no reaction on his hardened face as he was still staring at her.
Destiny was starting to feel her eyes moisten; the words she had spoken were pushing emotions to the surface that, like he did with his, she had desperately kept in check during the last weeks.
“Paul, I know you are hurting,” she continued, her voice catching in her throat. “But never doubt that we don’t understand what you’re going through. It grieves me to see you so miserable and broken over the death of your one true love. I could never hope to replace that love, and I will never try. But you should never doubt the feelings I once had for you, and you must never doubt that I’ll always care about you… I will always be there for you, and will always be your friend, no matter how hard you make it for me.” She smiled sadly. “You know how stubborn I can be when it comes to my friends.”
It was difficult for her now to keep the tears away; the last thing she wanted was to cry in front on him. Unable to say more, she turned away, and prepared to take her leave. She had already taken one step in direction of the door when Scarlet’s hand caught her wrist.
She stopped in her tracks, but didn’t turn back, unwilling to face him.
“Juliette, I’m sorry…”
The words were only a whisper. Destiny finally turned round and faced him; he looked devastated, fighting as hard as herself not to let his emotions get the better of him; she believed he would cry too, if he let go. It wasn’t in his nature to show his tears. It was so unmilitary-like. So ‘not English’.
But tonight, he didn’t seem to care.
He roughly drew Destiny into a strong embrace, and she wrapped her arms around him. She could hear him sobbing against her shoulder.
“I wish I could turn the clock back, and make this right again,” he said in a muffled, shaky voice. “I miss her so…”
Destiny let her tears flow freely from her eyes as she comforted him. “And I miss her too…” she said, words catching in her throat.
It seemed to Scarlet that an eternity had passed since someone had called him like this. As a matter of fact, since he had gone his own way many years ago, no one called him by any name much, as he invariably didn’t give a name to anyone. When it became necessary to do so, he always gave the name ‘Scarlet’, as he felt he had no right to use the name of Paul Metcalfe anymore. Strictly speaking, he wasn’t really born with that name, after all. The man it belong to, before he mistakenly usurped it along with the past that came with it, and all the memories and the feelings that man had possessed, had died many decades ago.
Juliette Pontoin knew that man very well; that was before she joined Spectrum as Destiny Angel, and met him again, as Captain Scarlet; before he was killed by the Mysterons and replaced by an impostor who wrongly thought he was still that man. She had called both of them friends – and lovers as well, at some point.
With the situation defused, Juliette asked for Scarlet to be escorted to the visitors’ quarters – which, it turned out - was a tent, set not that far from the big white tent which marked the very centre of the camp. Lieutenant Kelly and two of his men provided the escort, still visibly unsure of what to make of their guest, but accepting the order from their commander that no harm should come to him, as he was a friend. As he followed Kelly, under the distrustful stare of the whole camp community, Scarlet noticed that Juliette had taken the Captain – D.B. as he had heard her called – with her into the big tent.
‘Colonel White’ – as she was now called – had made arrangements for a medic to be sent to Scarlet’s tent to tend his wounds and clean him up. It turned out to be the woman Scarlet had seen talking with the Captain on their arrival at camp, and later on, with Juliette. Her name was Sonya Markov, and she introduced herself as the camp’s physician.
“I wanted to come personally,” she explained putting her bag down on the small table and inviting Scarlet to sit on the low stool in front of it. With the bunk set against one of the walls, it was the only furniture in the tent. “And see for myself how you were doing.”
“How much do you know about me?” Scarlet asked, as the woman started examining his head injury.
“Enough to know that you probably won’t need my help at all,” she replied quietly. “The bleeding had stopped. How do you feel?”
“Well, I would say that’s normal, you seem to have lost a lot of blood. I’ll be curious to know exactly how long it takes you to replace it?”
“Depends on how much time I have to rest. And how well I eat to regain my strength.”
“Fascinating,” Doctor Markov said, with a nod. “I’ll ask the camp’s cook to send you something, then. Remove that shirt of yours.”
Scarlet did as he was told, peeling the blood-soaked shirt from his shoulders, and handing it to the woman. She gave it a disgusted glance, before throwing it into the small fire of the stove set right in the middle of the place. He protested:
“That was my last shirt.”
“It is filthy and completely ruined,” Markov said, crouching to examine his naked upper body, which was covered with dry blood and dirt. “Don’t worry, we’ll provide you with others. We know how to take care of our guests.”
“I can see that… Shelter, food and clothes…”
“I don’t see any injuries on you,” Doctor Markov remarked, visibly impressed, as she assessed him quickly. “Only bruises, which are already starting to fade. You will need a good clean up, though.”
“… And a bath,” Scarlet finished, looking down into the woman’s eyes. “I’ve known prisoners that would have killed to receive such tender care.”
The doctor gave him an odd look, and then started walking around him, to complete her examination. “You’re not our prisoner, Captain Scarlet,” she replied. “I told you, you are our guest.”
“And I know that’s often synonymous with ‘captive’,” Scarlet replied. He thumbed towards the entrance of the tent; outside, standing on each side, he could see the two men left by Kelly. “If I am not a prisoner, why are these guys guarding my tent, then?”
“For your protection, Captain,” she answered quietly. “It’s not often we have a former Mysteron agent inside this camp. I believe Colonel White suspects you are making some people very nervous.” She stood up, having finished her assessment, and shook her head. She obviously couldn’t find anything seriously wrong with him.
“I thank you for the use of the word ‘former’, Doctor,” Scarlet told her.
“Isn’t that what you are?” she asked stoically.
The conversation was cut short when Kelly entered the tent, with a bundle of various items of clothing in his arms, another man carried what Scarlet recognised as his backpack and his various personal stuff – with one notable exception: his shotgun was missing.
“The colonel asked me to bring you some clothes,” the young man explained. He nodded towards his companion who put Scarlet’s gear down on the floor, next to the bed. “Those are your things. If there’s something missing, you tell me.”
“My weapons?” Scarlet suggested. “Am I allowed to keep them?”
“You can discuss that with Colonel White,” Kelly answered stoically. “As Security Officer, it’s my duty to see that there aren’t any unregistered weapons within the camp perimeters.”
“I see.” Scarlet looked up to Doctor Markov. “So you still say I’m not a prisoner, Doctor?”
She shrugged. “Can you really blame us for being cautious? After all, you did kidnap one of our own…” She turned to Kelly. “He will need a bath too. Though you might want to spare the soap and water. The only way you'll get all that muck off him will be with sandpaper.”
Markov took her bag and went through the door; Scarlet followed her with his eyes, musingly. Then he turned to address Kelly, and noticed the thin smile on the young man’s lips: “What a charming lady.”
Kelly walked towards the bed and put his pile of clothes down on it. “Doctor Markov might lack some bedside manners,” he commented, “but she’s a very good doctor – and important to this camp.” He turned to face Scarlet. “And by the way, the thing about the weapons? It’s standard procedure. As soon as Colonel White says the word, they’ll be given back to you.” He paused. “If she says the word.”
“You don’t trust me, Lieutenant?”
Kelly raised an eyebrow. “Put yourself in my place, ‘Captain’, if this is what I should call you. All I’ve seen of you is someone who revived after we shot him dead. For me, the only category of people who falls under that description is –”
“Mysteron agents,” Scarlet completed for the young man.
Kelly nodded. “I personally saw this happened four times before you, Captain, and each time, it didn’t bode well for us. Forgive me – I’ve heard stories of your exploits. How invaluable you were during the first years of the war against the Mysterons – how you survived anything they threw at you and came back to fight them again and again. But I don’t know you. And so far, you’ve given me no reason to trust you.”
“Fair enough, Lieutenant.”
Kelly nodded to his companion. “As per the colonel’s orders, I’ve already made arrangement for a bath of hot water to be prepared for you. It’s non-drinking water that we keep for just these occasions. Tolliver here will take you to the bath tent.”
“Water is a rare commodity these days, as you probably know. Even when it’s not drinkable. We have a tent for community baths, that we connected to local hot springs, so when we need warm water –”
“There is no hot springs around Winchester.”
“In the past, that might have been true. But with the geological movements and eruptions of the last decades, caused by the Mysterons…” Kelly shook his head. “Dee said that you’ve been around here, a long time ago. I don’t know how long exactly that was, but I can tell you that the area has changed a lot since you probably knew it. You’ll be able to judge that from yourself soon enough.” He paused, weighing up Scarlet who was keeping silent, musing on the information he had just learned. “Colonel White wants you to make yourself comfortable. Have a good bath, eat, and get some rest. She asked me to take you to her, when you’re feeling better.”
Scarlet stood up in front of the young man. “If the colonel requested it, than I’m ready to meet her right away.”
Kelly frowned. “Wouldn’t you prefer to rest a little? Considering we shot you and – ”
“I’ve already healed, Lieutenant,” Scarlet interrupted him. “Or didn’t you hear Doctor Markov? You can’t imagine how long and how far I’ve been travelling to find Spectrum again – and to speak to your commander. So if you wouldn’t mind – I’d like to do that as soon as possible.”
Kelly kept silent, measuring their guest pensively. After a brief moment, he gave a curt nod. “Colonel White is currently occupied with her daughter,” he finally said. “I think it’s best not to disturb them for the moment. Go, take your bath and clean yourself up properly, then get dressed. I’ll come to fetch you in an hour and take you to the colonel.” He pointed to the clothes on the bed. “Those are my clothes, I think we’re about the same size. But if they don’t fit you, let Tolliver know.”
“S.I.G., Lieutenant,” Scarlet said, and it felt odd for him repeating this after so many years.
It probably seemed odd to Kelly as well, hearing a suspected Mysteron agent tell him ’Spectrum is Green’, because he gave Scarlet a suspicious look, before leaving the tent.
When Scarlet left his quarters to follow Tolliver to the ‘bath tent’, he was surprised to discover that the Spectrum camp had been set in the ruins and grounds of Winchester Castle on the nearby King’s House grounds – and thus inside the walls of Winchester itself and next to the Cathedral. It wasn’t very far from where Paul Metcalfe – the real Paul Metcalfe – used to live with his family and grew up as a happy kid. Arriving at night, he had not noticed his surroundings – and what happened following his revival had not permitted him to have a very good view around either. He realised they must have crossed half of Winchester during the night to get there and that, being unconscious, he had missed all of it.
It was barely light – still a little dark – but there already was some activity in the camp; obviously, not everyone had gone back to bed after the events of the previous night and had started with their daily chores of cutting and carrying wood, preparing breakfasts, cleaning the place up, feeding the horses and making repairs on tents and various equipment. Scarlet noticed a few uneasy and suspicious glances turning to him as he passed by, notably from a carpenter repairing the fence of a sheep enclosure, under the vigilant surveillance of its three occupants, but the man didn’t say a word, and simply returned to his work after a second or two.
The camp was mostly a ‘tent city’, with many tents set around – of various forms and sized, and most of them aligned in neat rows. Some of them were obviously custom-made, while many, like his own, were of the ‘army’, ‘yurt’ or ‘tipi’ tent type, which were large and allowed a fire to be safely built inside. Some of the larger army tents were attached to the sides of existing buildings whose walls had been damaged following the various quakes that had occurred in the area. Two of the King’s House barracks were half-destroyed, but still the space within their walls had been put to good use by the community for storage and habitation. The Great Hall, for the most part, seemed to have survived, except for many of its windowpanes, which had been replaced with wooden boards and heavy cloth curtains, nailed in the openings to keep the wind and cold out.
From what he could see of the city, Scarlet could assess that it had suffered as much as London itself – which seemed a bit like an oddity to him, considering that Winchester had never been one of the Mysterons’ main targets. However, he had to admit that the fact it was relatively close to where the Mysterons were rumoured to live probably didn’t count in its favour.
Many of the Mysterons’ geological attacks on England had taken their toll everywhere, and especially in this area. Even knowing that it was very unlikely Winchester would have escaped unscathed from the disasters that had devastated so many other cities in the world, and having prepared himself for the worst, seeing the city in such a sorry state gave Scarlet a shock – much more brutal than he had anticipated.
Winchester had become the last outpost before entering ‘Mysteron country’. Towards the west, beyond the city, practically all the area from Winchester to the Mendips, and from there to the Bristol Channel had become a no man’s land of hundreds of square kilometres that no one dared to enter anymore. All the cities and towns within those perimeters had been deserted by their inhabitants – or at least those who had survived the seismic and volcanic activities that had changed the area so drastically that it was practically unrecognisable.
The bath tent – which was only a few steps away from Scarlet’s quarters – was a large army tent, with a wooden frame, floor and door. When Scarlet followed Tolliver in, he found it empty; at least, the men’s section was. When he heard female voices and laugher coming from the other side of the canvas wall, which separated the tent in two, Scarlet guessed that the neighbouring room must be the women’s section.
There were four bathtubs, with only one of them filled with hot water. With Tolliver leaving him – no doubt to stand guard outside the door – Scarlet discarded his dirty clothes, leisurely lowered himself into the tub and made himself comfortable. He couldn’t remember the last time he had a hot bath. Bathing was already a rare commodity, especially for someone who, like him, had been wandering around the worlds for so many years. He would indifferently wash into a stream, sometimes of very cold water, and when available, would pay the required supplement for taking a bath when he found a shelter offering the service. The water was rarely warm, and sometimes it had already been used for – for how many other customers, he wasn’t sure he wanted to know.
The soap was strong, obviously homemade, and very efficient at removing from his body all the blood and dirt he had accumulated in recent days. He took his time sponging himself, leaning back in the bathtub, and indulging himself in a quiet, relaxing moment. He threw his head back and sighed contently, closing his eyes, distractedly listening to the lively discussion on the other side of the wall. He found himself smiling at the saucy story he heard one of the girls tell her companions, who laughed at it without reserve.
He let his mind wander. Since his journey had started, nearly twenty-five years ago, when he had escaped from prison, he had been a nameless wanderer, selling his services to whoever needed them, and not always very proud of what he had been forced to do in order to survive. Along the way, the Mysterons had reared their ugly heads more than once, and he had made it a point to fight them, whenever he had a chance to. In later years, he had searched for Spectrum, without coming even close to finding it; and - when he had all but abandoned hope – he found it.
Here in Winchester. Birthplace of the real Paul Metcalfe.
So close to where the Mysterons were supposed to be.
Scarlet didn’t think it was a coincidence that he should find Spectrum so close to his new goal. He didn’t believe in pre-ordained fate, he rather thought that every man was master of his own destiny, even though that man had to play with the cards handed to him. Finding Spectrum where the Mysterons were was only logical. Spectrum would keep close to the Mysterons. Keeping their eyes on them, fighting them, trying to find a way to make them pay for what they had done to the Earth and its inhabitants, never losing hope that one day they might be able to destroy their hated foes and send them back where they belonged.
It was an impossible fight; a suicide, just as Patrick had described it, but it was a better way to live than just roll over and play dead. Something Spectrum would never do.
With the state of the world right now, it seemed very improbable that the human race would win. Ultimately, The Mysterons would win and Earth would become a dead planet.
None of which would not stop Spectrum from always trying.
Scarlet realised he must have dozed off when he woke up suddenly in water that was growing cold. He opened his eyes to find Lieutenant Kelly standing in front of him. The young man was waiting quietly, as if he didn’t want to disturb him and when he saw Scarlet waking up with a start, he smiled.
“Feeling relaxed, now? I have to remind you that Colonel White is waiting for you.”
Scarlet blushed to his ears, which seemed to amuse Kelly greatly. He mumbled some vague excuse and extirpated himself from the tub, before drying himself as fast as he could. He put on the new clothes given to him – which fitted him like a glove – and put on his boots. He realised he would have liked to shave before meeting Colonel White, but it was a little too late to consider it now. He didn’t want to make the Spectrum commander wait; especially when that Spectrum commander was Juliette Pontoin.
As he quickly prepared himself, Scarlet’s thoughts went to the young woman of whom, until the last night, he had never known the identity. ‘D.B.’ – or Dee, as Markov and Kelly had called her. He remembered quite vividly that she had addressed Juliette as ‘Mother’ – and that had made Scarlet wonder who exactly the girl could be. If she really was Juliette Pontoin’s daughter… then who was her father?
He made a quick count of how old she might be and came to a very embarrassing and rather disturbing possibility. He hoped he was so terribly wrong: that this woman wasn’t who he suspected her to be. Because if she was, after all that had happened between them, and his kidnapping her was not the worst of it, he would have great difficulty looking into her eyes again – or into her mother’s.
For the time being, Scarlet pushed the thought away from his mind. He would learn the truth of this soon enough, he expected.
As he followed Kelly towards the tent’s exit, Scarlet saw three female heads appear from behind the canvas wall to look at him pass by; they were very young – no more than fifteen or seventeen at the most – and they didn’t appear frightened by him, as he might have imagined since the events of the past night. On the contrary, they seemed fascinated and curious, and there was a brightness in their eyes and an amused smile on their lips that made him wonder how long they had been watching him exactly – and what they could have seen of him as he left the tub. He shot them a glance as he walked in front of them, and two of the girls vanished quickly. Scarlet playfully winked at the last one whose smile became wider before she too disappeared in turn. Scarlet heard giggling behind the canvas wall as he walked out of the bath tent.
Activity had increased in the camp; it now reminded Scarlet of various military camps where Paul Metcalfe had lived and served throughout his career in the WAAF. The work was the same, the training too, as well as the camaraderie he could feel amongst the various members of this close-knit community, who had come together to face the hardships of a harsh life, where tomorrow could be the last day they would know. There were men and women, of various ages, from very young to very old; there were children running around, laughing and playing without a care in the world – which to Scarlet seemed oddly out of place in a Spectrum camp.
Not everyone was wearing the dark clothing he had come to recognise as the ‘uniform’ of the Spectrum members; Scarlet could only see a few of them. Not everyone was armed, which either meant there weren’t enough for everyone, or that there were civilians amongst them. He assumed that there was an armoury somewhere, under close guard, and that weapons would be distributed if ever the need should arise.
He noticed sentries placed at various strategic points, checking the horizon and into the camp as well and nodded his approval of their positions. Obviously, whoever stationed them there knew his or her stuff.
As he followed Kelly, who was walking in direction of the large white tent set against the wall of the Great Hall, Scarlet suddenly stopped in his track when a little girl, who was about six or seven years of age, stood in front of him and seemed to want to block his path. He looked at her with curiosity. She had big brown eyes, and was coyly staring. She had something hidden behind her back and as Scarlet wondered what it could be, she extended her arm and presented him with a big, red, juicy apple - too big for her hand. Scarlet guessed she was offering him a present; although he didn’t have a clue why.
“Thank you,” he told the little girl gently, giving her a bright smile. “This is very kind of you. It looks delicious and I’m famished.”
She didn’t reply and ran away with all the speed her little legs could muster, without looking behind. Scarlet watched at her go and then, looked down at the apple.
“What was that all about?” he asked Kelly, who stood by his side.
“A token of her mother’s appreciation, perhaps?” the young man suggested, and as Scarlet look at him with a clueless expression, he added: “Or maybe, it’s a peace offering, asking forgiveness for what happened last night?” He started walking again, and Scarlet followed, biting into the apple. “People at the camp have heard plenty about you, Captain,” he continued in explanation. “They know of your exploits, how you fought the Mysterons so relentlessly… and with so much success.”
Kelly stopped in front of the closed door of the large tent. Two men, standing on each side of the flap, came to attention in front of him.
“Like me, they grew up with these stories,” Kelly said, “and maybe like me… they’re waiting for a miracle?” He pulled the door open and looked at Scarlet. “The colonel is waiting for you.”
Scarlet stared at the younger man with perplexity, wondering what he was on about exactly. Kelly knew about him? And all these people, their children as well, also knew? Obviously, their colonel had told them who he was. And by the way people had reacted at the name ‘Captain Scarlet’, the night before, he had the clear impression that she had told them quite a lot about him already. To what extent, he couldn’t say exactly, although he suspected she hadn’t kept that much secret. The mention of his name had caused murmurs from the crowd, and was enough for the still palpable high-tempered hostility to drop significantly, before their visitor was taken to his quarters.
They probably all knew about his retrometabolism – there wouldn’t be any other way to explain why he looked half their colonel’s age, and they probably suspected she knew him from way back, in the time of Spectrum’s full glory – which was many years ago, before many of these people were even born.
For a brief moment, Scarlet wondered about the wisdom or the safety of such an action and then, he told himself that he’d better wait and ask Juliette exactly what it was all about, before jumping to conclusions. If it should turn out that all these people knew about him, well… There wouldn’t be much he could do about it anyhow, and considering the present state of affairs, it might not matter that much anyway.
Shrugging it off, he crossed the threshold to enter the tent. Kelly let the fabric flap fall after him.
The enormous army tent was furnished with a table, chairs, a couple of chests, and a couple of bunks. A stove was burning in the middle, to warm up the place, while small lamps hung from the posts, providing light in every corner. The far end of the tent opened into the Great Hall itself, through a gaping hole where there used to be a large window in the thick and ancient stony wall. Light entered the hall through the huge windows, and Scarlet, seeing no one in the tent, stepped into the hall.
It was only a portion of the Great Hall, he realised, as two large drapes made of thick cloth hung between the two far end columns, hid the rest of the hall from his view. King Arthur’s Round Table – or what passed as it – was no longer hanging high on the far end of the hall, but was now leaning against the wall.
A table had been set in the middle of the place, and in front of it stood Juliette Pontoin – or Colonel White, as she was known today. Next to her, stood the tall blonde woman whose name Scarlet only knew as ‘D.B.’
There was a far different expression in each of the two women’s face at his arrival; while D.B. glared at him with obvious animosity in her eyes, which didn’t surprise him much considering the circumstances. Juliette, to the contrary, welcomed him with a smile that hadn’t lost any of its brightness over the years and came to him, as fast as her frail legs could carry her. She opened her arms to him. He smiled back warmly at her and enfolded his arms around her. She seemed far smaller now, so fragile that he was afraid to squeeze her too hard and break her. She, however, held him as strongly as she could, without saying a word at first, as she probably hadn’t the strength to do so, with all the emotion she was probably feeling.
She hugged him, like the old friend she had not seen in a long time.
When they finally separated from each other, Scarlet looked into her eyes and saw a suspicious dampness in them.
“Paul,” she told him, “Paul, darling… it’s so good to see you again.” Her voice was quivering and she laughed quietly. “You haven’t changed a bit.”
His smile broadened. Telling her she had not changed either would have been an outright lie. “You look good, Juliette,” he kindly told her.
“Do I?” she replied. “Either you’re still the charmer you used to be, or I do look better than I feel.” She took his hand between hers and patted them. He really had the impression of facing his old grandmother. “I knew you would come back to us one day. I just knew it. Charles never lost hope, and neither did I.”
“Better late than never,” the icy voice of D.B. said from the farther side of the table.
Scarlet looked up and saw that she was standing there, with her arms crossed on her chest, still looking at him with that same look of antagonism. Juliette waved dismissively in the direction of the young woman, and guided Scarlet back into the tent.
“Don’t mind her, she’s been in a grumpy mood since her arrival. Although, from what she’s been telling me, she might have her reasons to be angry at you.”
Scarlet heard D.B.’s footsteps as she followed them, obviously intent on keeping her eyes on him. Juliette gestured towards one of the chairs, inviting him to sit back, and did the same in turn, very heavily. She looked Scarlet in the eyes.
“Really, resorting to kidnapping to buy your way into the Spectrum camp…” She tutted at him. “That’s not like you, Paul. You’ve always been a gentleman with women.”
“Harsh times make for harsh methods, Juliette,” he answered quietly. “I’m sorry I did what I did…” He looked up at D.B. who now stood in front of him. “And you know I would never have hurt her.”
“So you say,” D.B. replied. Scarlet noticed her hand was playing with the handle of her gun. She fully intended for him to see it, but he made a show of ignoring it.
“What about that bruise on her cheek?” Juliette admonished.
“Ah… that was to stop her from killing me,” Scarlet replied.
“What difference would it have made, since you’re indestructible?” D.B. replied, her voice heavy with resentment.
“D.B., hush,” Juliette requested. “You already told me all I need to know about your… encounter with Captain Scarlet. Now if you would leave us, please? I would like to talk to my old friend alone.”
There was a glitter of concern in the young woman’s eyes as she next spoke: “Is that wise, Colonel?” she enquired with a frown. “After what happened between us, I do not fully trust him. Not enough to leave you all alone with him.”
“You might not trust him, but I do.” Juliette turned her eyes to her. ‘He’s my oldest and dearest friend. He saved my life and countless others on more occasions than I can recall. Have you forgotten all I’ve told you about him? All of what Charles told you himself?”
D.B. lowered her eyes, unwilling to look those of the older woman. “No, Colonel.”
Juliette smiled gently. “I appreciate your concern about me, but it is groundless. I am perfectly safe with him.”
That didn’t stop D.B. from glaring at Scarlet with renewed antipathy. “If you say so, Mother…” she said between her teeth. “I’ll be outside, with Kelly, waiting for your call, if you should need us.”
She shot a last warning glance at Scarlet and walked out the door, letting the flap fall behind her.
For a short moment, an uncomfortable silence hung between Juliette and Scarlet, as each was waiting for the other to speak first. Distractedly, Scarlet looked in wonder at the small lamps hanging over his head, following with his eyes the long wire attached to them which went the poles supporting the tent and disappeared into the ceiling.
“They’re solar-powered,” Juliette explained, noticing his interest. “The panels are set on the roof of the Great Hall. They are parts of some of the materiel we’ve been able to scavenge through the years, to make life easier. We have the same set up on what’s left of the roof of the King’s House. Most of the tents are equipped with those, as you might have noticed from your quarters.”
He shook his head. “I’m afraid I had other things in my mind, outside of the lighting facilities,” he admitted.
She nodded understandingly. “I’m sorry for the way my people behaved towards you,” she said. “You must forgive them. Over the years, they have learned to be wary of strangers. Especially those who, like you, demonstrate the power of retrometabolism.”
“As well they should.” Scarlet said, nodding slowly. He examined his old friend for a moment and then frowned slightly. “So you are Colonel White now.”
She nodded in turn. “I am.”
“I’m sorry… I mean, I did learn that, last night. I mean… that was only a few hours ago, but… to actually hear you confirm this.” Scarlet sighed. “While I was making my way towards this camp, I fully expected to find Charles Gray was Colonel White. Not Juliette Pontoin.”
She chuckled softly. “Time doesn’t have the same hold on you that it has on us. As you might know, Charles would have been well into his nineties if he had lived up to today. Really, considering how cruel these times currently are, you couldn’t have expected him to have survived to such an advanced age, could you?”
“Yes, I did consider that, ” Scarlet admitted. “Still, he was a solid man. I imagined… I hoped that maybe he would still be alive.”
Juliette sighed deeply and shook her head. “He died about ten years ago,” she explained. “Already an old man – and still very vigorous for his age. That last winter was too harsh for him, I’m afraid. He declined rapidly. But his mind was still as quick as it ever was at the end.”
“That’s good to know.”
“I took over then – as I was the last remaining member of the senior staff who was still under his orders. And I became Colonel White after him. I try to live up to the name. Let me tell you, those are awfully big shoes to fill.”
Scarlet smiled lightly. “And I’m sure you’re filling them quite nicely, love.”
“Not as much as I really would want to. I’m doing what I can to keep this community together, and Spectrum alive – like Charles would have wanted to. He would not have wanted Spectrum to die with him. And I would not have wanted it either.”
“You seemed to have good people under your command.” Scarlet paused. “Most of them, anyway, seem like good people.”
“Are you still holding a grudge against D.B., by any chance?” Juliette asked with a frown.
“What? No… Why would I hold a grudge against her?”
“Well, considering you were shot because of her…”
“Her men saw me standing over her with a knife,” Scarlet retorted. “And no, I wasn’t threatening her. I had just removed it from her hand… er… that’s how she got that bruise on her cheek, by the way.”
A smile tugged at Juliette’s lips. “Don’t feel compelled to explain the incident to me, Paul. D.B. already told me all about it and that indeed you were not trying to kill her when Kelly and his boys found you. However,” she added with an admonishing ring to her voice, “I daresay that it wasn’t the only occasion on which you gave her a bruise. I’ll be willing to forgive this if you make your peace with her.”
“I’ll do my best,” Scarlet promised. He paused; now was the time to ask the awkward question that was scaring the living daylights out of him.
“Juliette… I heard D.B. call you ‘Mother’. Is she really your daughter?”
He waited. Juliette was staring back at him impassively; he couldn’t read any emotion on her face, other then curiosity. She obviously had very good lessons from Charles Gray to be able to hide her feelings so efficiently now. He had to admit, he was in some doubt about the young woman truly being his old friend’s daughter. Seeing them side by side earlier, he couldn’t see any real resemblance between them, nor did D.B. at all remind him of the young woman Destiny Angel had been so many years ago.
“You are thinking she might be yours… aren’t you, Paul?”
At that precise moment, Scarlet was still too preoccupied to correct Juliette for using that name. There was a sudden tug in the pit of his stomach, at the thought that his suspicions might be right –D.B. really could be his daughter. He was truly horrified, and he knew that this plainly showed on his face. He tried to avoid Juliette’s probing gaze. He hoped D.B. had not told her everything that had happened between them – although it didn’t seem to him that it would be something a daughter would confide to her mother.
Then he saw the faint smile tug at Juliette’s lips at seeing his deep embarrassment. “Is it such a distasteful thought to imagine she could be our daughter, Paul?”
“No,” he protested loudly. “It’s not that. I mean… You know how I felt for you, Juliette, but…”
She interrupted him quickly. “Maybe I should reassure you before you make a complete fool of yourself? D.B. is not yours.”
Scarlet felt a wave of relief hitting him. “She’s not?”
“No. Neither is she mine. She calls me ‘Mother’ because I raised her. And she called Charles Gray ‘Father’.”
“Colonel White.” Scarlet shook himself. “Sorry – old habits die hard.”
“You don’t have to apologise,” Juliette replied, smiling lightly. “And I think I know why you were feeling embarrassed earlier about her possibly being your daughter: you have feelings for her.” She chuckled. “And I might say, they’re not exactly fatherly feelings.”
“Oh, that’s what you think, is it?” Scarlet retorted, thanking his lucky stars that Juliette didn’t seem to know the true extent of the attraction between him and D.B.
“I know you, Paul. And I know D.B. She’s a charming young woman, and I expect you would not have stayed indifferent to her after all those hours in her company.”
“Well, I can’t say I’m not reassured,” Scarlet said, with a grin. “So you and the old man – ahem… sorry, Charles – you raised this girl together?”
“As if she was our own,” Juliette confirmed with a nod. “Not to say that Charles and I, we ever were that close… Well, you know… We just felt we owed D.B.’s parents a debt of honour.”
“What kind of debt?” Scarlet asked, with a renewed frown.
“Haven’t you noticed, Paul?” Juliette asked him. “Doesn’t D.B. resemble someone you knew?”
Scarlet shook his head, and tried to see exactly what Juliette was driving at. She sighed and lowered her eyes. “Paul… D.B.’s father… was Adam.”
Scarlet frowned in confusion. “Adam…? But that’s –”
He interrupted himself. It was impossible. Adam Svenson had died many years ago. The girl probably wasn’t even born at the time. He counted, trying to make sense of Juliette words. Certainly, she was mistaken…
No. She couldn’t be mistaken. She wouldn’t joke, or lie about such a thing.
And suddenly, it dawned on him. And he stared at Juliette again, as she raised her eyes to meet his. “Karen,” he said in a murmur. “Karen was pregnant when –” He swallowed hard. “ – When Adam died…”
For a short moment, Juliette kept silent, looking straight at him, her old and tired eyes briefly bright with the ancient vivacious light that he knew so very well. She nodded slowly, and then sat back against the backrest of her chair. “Yes,” she commented quietly. “D.B. is Karen’s daughter. And Adam’s.”
Cardiff, Wales, U.K.
He almost was too late to understand exactly what was going on.
He should have followed his instincts; he should have listened to this nagging feeling he had that something was wrong, that it had been way too easy. That Spectrum’s success in countering the Mysterons’ latest threat this time around was only part of one of their most elaborated ruses – a deception devised with the sole objective of lulling himself and the rest of the organisation into a false sense of confidence and of well-accomplished duty.
The Mysterons, once again, had tricked them. He realised that, the second Destiny had spoken to him, and had casually mentioned the SPJ’s recent departure from Cloudbase. A departure he had no knowledge of, that Lieutenant Green had only been instructed about a few minutes before it occurred.
And that, added with the news he had heard from Futura was making him feel very uncomfortable, suspicion slowly creeping into his mind. A suspicion he didn’t want to believe.
“Hey, he’s just escaped with his life from two murder attempts,” Grey commented to the fretful Scarlet, when the latter came to the Control Room to hear the latest events. “I would say he’s allowed to let off some steam. Any way he likes. Don’t you think so? And you know how he feels about flying…”
“And I also know how he feels about his wife,” Scarlet retorted abruptly. “After these Mysteron attempts, he would not have left her like that, to go flying about on his own. It’s not like him. He knows she will worry about him.”
“Seems to me like you’re the one who’s worrying,” Grey remarked. “What’s on your mind?”
At the time, Scarlet wasn’t able to say exactly. He just had a suspicion, deep inside of him. Like he often did when it concerned the Mysterons.
“And where is the plane heading?” he asked Green with uncertainty.
“Cardiff,” the lieutenant confirmed, visibly confused by the distraught expression he could see in his superior’s face. The news didn’t decrease Scarlet’s trouble. Since the bombing of London three years before, Cardiff had become one of Spectrum’s usual landing sites. But even considering that, Scarlet couldn’t figure out the reason for a trip to Cardiff and the pilot had not deemed it necessary to inform anyone, either. The red alert had been lifted, so no one imagined that something was about to go wrong. After all the Mysterons only made two attempts during a same threat…
Or did they?
If his feelings were right, Cardiff would be exactly where the Mysterons would strike next.
Scarlet instructed Green to do some checking from his end, and then went to get an SPJ in order to go to Cardiff as well. All the while he prayed he was wrong. Because if he wasn’t, he didn’t want to think what it meant and what would required of him.
It was soon after he landed at the airport that Green contacted him, and informed him that his suspicions were confirmed.
“The wreckage of SPJ 180 was found in the Appalachian mountains,” Green explained, in a voice in which Scarlet could recognise panic. “There were two bodies inside, badly charred. One was identified as Captain Maroon. As for the other one –” Green’s voice broke. Scarlet didn’t need more detail. He already knew who the other body was.
“So – it happened while they were on their way back to Cloudbase,” he said between his teeth. “Well before the first attempt in Washington.”
“Captain, I’m sorry… I can’t understand how we could have overlooked this…”
“Why did they return to Cloudbase?” Grey asked, over the radio. “Why not fly directly to Cardiff and carry on with their mission?”
“They were scheduled to come back to base, so changing their flight path would have looked suspicious,” Scarlet replied. “And they were low on fuel. They would never have reached their destination; they needed to either refuel or change craft at Cloudbase. So, they used that subterfuge of theirs before making their real move, to make sure we would not realise what their real target was. Two failed attempts, and Spectrum would think the intended target was safe. Except, it wasn’t their real target.” Scarlet grunted. “Damn Mysterons – they played us for fools again .”
“We’re sending troops to back you up,” Grey added.
“They’ll arrive too late,” Scarlet replied grimly. And he floored the pedal of the SPV, sending it along a narrow Welsh road at neck-breaking speed.
The Mysterons had tricked them. They had made a decoy attempt on their own agent, just before his return to Cloudbase, so that Spectrum didn’t really have time to check him with a detector, following the regular procedure, and would instead believe that he was their intended victim. Maroon’s ‘failure’ to kill his ‘victim’ wasn’t really one: it had been pre-ordained by his masters, and he had fallen under Scarlet’s bullets as he was intended to. And then the victim/agent had thanked him gratefully, congratulated him on a job well done, telling him that, once again, he owed him his life. That handshake and pat on the back had felt so real, and Scarlet was so busy feeling relieved that he had not realised what it was hiding.
It was now a race against time, in pursuit of the Mysterons’ agent, in a desperate attempt to stop him.
From the turn of the road, along which Scarlet knew his destination lay, he saw the SSC the Mysteron agent had requisitioned at the airport, parked in front of the bungalow where his potential victim now lived. With a screech of tyres the SPV barely stopped in time, and Scarlet jumped out of the vehicle, before the seat even reached the ground. He rushed to the door, his gun in his hand, his heart pounding, hoping that he wouldn’t arrive too late. As he ran, he heard a shot coming from inside the house.
Scarlet barely stopped and violently kicked the door open, immediately taking aim at the shadow that stood just in the hall.
“Drop your gun!” he barked in a loud voice.
Sir Charles Gray, the former Colonel White, retired commander of Spectrum, was sprawled on the floor, his back against the wall next to the stony fireplace, clutching his shoulder, where blood was staining his white shirt. His would-be killer was standing rigidly over him, like a tall statue. His gun, still smoking from its recent use, was aimed between the eyes of the man he had been sent to kill. The Mysteron agent didn’t make a move at Scarlet’s shout, nor did he turn around to acknowledge the Spectrum officer’s arrival. Gray turned a pleading look towards Scarlet, but the latter feigned not to see it, focussing all of his attention on the threatening Mysteron agent.
“Drop the gun,” he said slowly, a lump forming in his throat. He took a careful step inside. “Please, you don’t have to do this.”
The man still didn’t move; his hand, keeping the gun aimed at Gray’s head, didn’t waver.
Scarlet’s hands were clammy, and he had to keep them both on his gun, to keep it from shaking. He held his breath, and took another step inside, shaking his head desperately. He didn’t want to do this. He didn’t want to shoot.
Scarlet saw the man in the blue uniform turn his head to look at him, and for a moment, the fleeting hope that he might have got through to him crossed his mind, and his heart missed a beat. But it was only for a fraction of a second; when he saw the coldness in the usually friendly blue eyes staring at him, with no empathy whatsoever, and the cruel line of his lips, he knew without a doubt that he had lost his friend forever.
Captain Blue returned his attention to his target, seemingly ignoring Captain Scarlet’s presence, and the latter saw his finger stroke the trigger, preparing to shoot. The Spectrum officer didn’t hesitate a second longer.
He pulled the trigger, at the same time shouting a pain-filled and furious curse at the Mysterons.
The bullet struck Blue in the back and threw him away from his intended victim. Scarlet fired a second time, and then a third, feeling as if each detonation was driving a nail profoundly into his heart. At the fourth bullet, finally, mercifully, the Mysteron agent with the face of his friend, fell down, his gun clattering to the floor.
His heart hammering, Scarlet approached slowly, keeping his gun trained on his fallen foe, hoping he would not stand up again before he felt he would able to pull the trigger again. But the Mysteron remained still, and out of safety Scarlet kicked the gun aside.
Then he stood over the prone body and looked down at it despondently. The eyes were closed, blood was pouring from a fatal wound to the head. There was no doubt he was dead.
Only then did Scarlet realised he was holding his breath. He took a deep intake of air, and found that even this simple effort was painful. He couldn’t stop his hand from shaking as he lowered his gun, very slowly. He tried to relax, and to avert his eyes from the dead body.
He couldn’t. On both accounts.
Scarlet had not realised Charles Gray had risen to his feet and was now standing by his side. He felt the older man’s hand on his shoulder and, almost despite himself, shivered at the contact. He turned to face Gray, and found he was unable to keep the grief he felt from his eyes. He noticed a similar sorrow in Gray’s normally unreadable face. The old man was also feeling pain, and sharing it with him. Blue had been a good friend to him as well.
“I’m sorry.” Scarlet heard genuine contrition in the voice of his former commander.
Except… Charles Gray wasn’t his former commander yet. The transfer of command had not been fully completed, when he officially resigned, only a few days ago. The ceremony symbolising the transfer of power had indeed been performed on board Cloudbase, during which Adam Svenson, who had been ‘Captain Blue’ for more then ten years, became the new ‘Colonel White’, commander of Spectrum. But all the paperwork had not been completed yet.
When a first attempt was made against Adam in Washington DC, just two days before, Spectrum understood that the Mysterons were coming after Colonel White, following one of their original threats – and all the evidences seemed to indicate that Adam Svenson was indeed the intended target. So all measures had been taken to protect him from any other attempts on his life. The second attack came from Captain Maroon, a Spectrum officer recently assigned to Cloudbase, who had accompanied the new Colonel White to Washington and had returned with him to Cloudbase, in the same flight. The attack, happened almost as soon as they both arrived on base, and had been considered as a ‘double take’, similar to those performed in recent years: at the same time, they would take out both Colonel White and Cloudbase.
Spectrum had figured this was the reason why Maroon had not killed his intended victim straight away and had preferred to wait – perhaps intending to use himself as a living bomb at the right moment. The attack was easily foiled, and since the Mysterons usually only made two attempts at a time during a threat, Spectrum assumed that its new commander was safe.
But soon after that, Adam had left Cloudbase, and Captain Scarlet discovered that World President Roberts had yet to append his signature on the paper ratifying the transfer of command. That was when he started feeling something was wrong, and suspected that the intended target of the Mysterons was not who Spectrum thought it was. When he learned where Adam’s plane was heading, he had rushed to Wales immediately, to the house where he knew Charles Gray – the real Colonel White in the Mysterons’ eyes – had taken residence.
Adam wasn’t the target, and was never supposed to be. He was the weapon. The Mysterons always intended to use his duplicate as the killer to send after the only Colonel White that they acknowledged.
And Captain Scarlet had had the task of killing his long-time partner and best friend.
No. He had not killed his best friend, he told himself, in a desperate attempt to justify to himself the action he had been forced to take. He had not killed Adam.
He had killed a Mysteron duplicate.
But the thought didn’t really sink in, as he looked down at the body at his feet. This was the face of his friend, now stilled in death, and he found he couldn’t detach his gaze from it. He had a bad taste in his mouth; deep sorrow, complete anger and frustration filled his mind. It was if he was unable to think straight anymore. There was just a unique feeling of utter disgust growing inside of him.
Enough. He had enough.
“Paul…” he heard the voice of Charles Gray, seemingly coming from afar.
“Don’t call me that…” Scarlet said under his breath. He turned to face Gray, not making any effort to keep the anger and bitterness from his eyes. “I am not Paul Metcalfe,” he said, his words catching in his throat. “No more… than this was Adam Svenson…” He looked down again at the dead body at his feet, trembling.
“You’re not thinking straight right now” Gray told him soothingly.
“I’ve never seen more clearly in years,” Scarlet replied, although his voice betrayed his lack of self-confidence. “I know the truth now… I’ve never been Paul Metcalfe. Only a Mysteron duplicate who had been lucky enough to escape his masters.” He raised the gun he still held in his hand and glared at it; it was still smoking from its recent use and suddenly it felt as if it was a branding iron.
His heart filled with revulsion, he threw the gun onto the floor, and turned to face Gray.
“And I know another thing too… I’m through killing for Spectrum.”
He turned on his heels and walked away through the still open door, followed by the concerned eyes of the man who knew that his duties as commander of Spectrum were far from being done.
“Did Adam know?” Scarlet looked straight into Juliette’s face, waiting for her answer. “Did he know he was going to be a father?”
Juliette shook her head. “Karen had just learned it, not that long before he was killed. She didn’t even have the time to tell him. At least that’s what she told me. I don’t see any reason why she would have lied to me.”
Scarlet closed his eyes and blew a deep sigh. “How she must have hated me,” he murmured. “I understand now.”
Juliette frowned. “Karen? But she didn’t hate you.” She reached for his hands and squeezed them. Scarlet found himself gazing at her hands, covering his. So much older-looking, so frail, quivering… but displaying an assurance that at the moment completely eluded him. He looked up to meet her smiling eyes again. “Yes, she lashed out at you right after Adam’s death… I was there, I remember. I saw how you were hurt. And I know you didn’t only hurt because she was holding you responsible. But also, because you had lost yet another person you loved very much.”
“I don’t blame Karen for having been so angry at me,” Scarlet said softly. “It was normal reaction from her part. After all, I had just killed her husband. And deprived her unborn child of its father.”
“You know that’s not entirely true. You killed his duplicate… you freed him from Mysterons’ control. Karen came to realise that with time.”
“Did she?” Scarlet replied harshly. “The last time I saw Karen, it seemed to me like she would hate me until Kingdom Come.” He looked around, musingly. “Which shouldn’t be long now, considering the mess the Mysterons have made of the World…”
“Paul… You cannot blame yourself for what happened. If you must blame someone, then indeed, blame the Mysterons.”
“Don’t you think I’ve been cursing their blasted name over and over again for the past decades?” Scarlet lashed angrily. He sighed and closed his eyes. “Maybe if I had known… Things could have been very different…”
“How could you know? You were gone before we learned it ourselves. You were already far away and out of reach. And no matter how much we looked for you… you were nowhere to be found.”
Scarlet’s expression grew hard. “You could have searched as long as you wish,” he said in a low voice, “you would never have found me…” He cursed Ward for the nth time, for the unfair imprisonment that had kept him away for so long. Of course, Ward had been a tool of the Mysterons, but it didn’t make his responsibility any less.
And maybe – he to blame as well.
“I met Patrick, in New Jersey, some seventeen… eighteen years ago,” Scarlet said.
“He’d been living there, with what remained of his family, since the fall of Cloudbase. He told me Karen left Spectrum soon after I did. And that she went to Australia – as I did too. He thought she might have been looking for me.”
Juliette confirmed the information with a nod. “She was indeed. She told me that herself. She wanted to make amends to you. She didn’t want things to remain like you both had left them between the two of you. And perhaps, she wanted to tell you the news, about the baby. For we thought, you were supposed to go to Edward, but she didn’t find you at his place.” She sighed. “We kept contact with each other in the following months. At least, we tried, as best we could. Our contacts became further apart with each passing month, despite our good intentions and our best efforts. When she gave birth, I couldn’t even take leave to go visit her – none of us could, we were far too busy with the Mysterons. And then, there were – the events, that lead to the destruction of Futura…”
“Patrick told me how it went. I was sorry to hear that the Mysterons made use of Green to take control of Cloudbase.”
“Poor, gentle, loveable Seymour…” Juliette murmured. “It was so unfair they should use him like this.”
“Patrick also told me that he left the colonel with you when you escaped Cloudbase. That’s how you ended up together, I take it?”
Juliette nodded. “Colonel White was unconscious when Patrick left him in my care. Each of us, we piloted the two last shuttles out of Cloudbase. I had a group of fifteen people with me – including the colonel and myself. I lost sight of Patrick’s shuttle as soon as we cleared the bay. I’m happy to learn that he actually escaped too, and found his own way to safety in America.”
“After leaving Cloudbase, we had yet to escape the fighters from Slaton Base, who seemed to be under the illusion that Spectrum had turned against them. They were taking shots at the escaping shuttles. The Angels fought them valiantly, to protect the survivors. They gained us enough time to get out of harm’s way, especially Melody, who stayed behind longer than the others.” Juliette swallowed hard. “Her Angel Jet was shot down as she exhausted the last of her ammunition. She gave her life for all of us to live.”
Scarlet reached for Juliette’s hand and squeezed it comfortingly. He knew how much she had loved all of her Angel pilot colleagues, especially those who had been part of what came to be affectionately called ‘the old guard’: Symphony, Rhapsody, Harmony and Melody Angels. Along with Destiny Angel, they were the first, and the best amongst them. They were like sisters.
For a moment, Juliette kept silent, obviously reminiscing about the past; Scarlet could see from the blank expression on her face that she wasn’t recalling good memories. He patted her hand.
“You obviously escaped the destruction of Futura,” he said softly. “And you, you came here, to England.
“That was Colonel White’s choice. When he regained consciousness, he took charge immediately. While we were still busy escaping the fighters from Slaton Base, he made a call through the radio to all the nearby Spectrum escape craft. He told them to follow our tail and keep close to us – and to fly away, as fast and as far as possible from the danger zone, before we would be caught in the blast of the upcoming explosion. He knew what was coming, and he wanted to save as many people as possible.”
“Twelve craft stuck together and we did escape, both the explosion and the tsunami that followed. We did fly as far as we could, and as fast as possible even after the danger was past. Through the radio, we were hearing disturbing news…”
“Spectrum was being blamed for the attack on Futura,” Scarlet said, with a nod.
“Colonel White knew that, under the circumstances, it would have been folly to turn back to whatever remained of the World Government – if there was anything left of the World Government to begin with. From what we were hearing, the people were out to get revenge on us. Of course, since they couldn’t strike at the Mysterons, it might be easier to strike at Spectrum… So the colonel thought it would be wiser to take the people currently under his charge to safety.”
She sighed and lowered her eyes. “Fortunately, as you know, Spectrum craft were specially equipped to escape radar detection, so it was relatively easy to land in Brittany more or less unnoticed.”
“Brittany?” Scarlet echoed. “Not England?”
Destiny shook her head. “That came later. At that point, Brittany was a much safer choice.”
“I can’t imagine that a flock of twelve craft would remain invisible for long,” Scarlet retorted.
“By that time, we were down to eight. The rest had decided to go their own way, and Colonel White didn’t try to stop them in any way.”
Juliette moved on to explain that on landing, Colonel White had made good use of Spectrum’s contacts and equipment so that everyone could find a safe haven. With the destruction of London HQ some years before, the only known copies of Spectrum’s personnel records had been kept both on Cloudbase’s and the World Government’s secure servers. Those were encrypted copies, almost impossible to access without the proper authorisation, but the Colonel didn’t want to take any chances. With so many Spectrum members now being suspected of conspiracy against the World Government, he used his vast computer knowledge to hack into the high security systems, and erased the file. This way, he was making sure that all the people under his command, especially those holding top position within Spectrum, would not be persecuted, if not prosecuted, for something they didn’t commit.
The World Government officially put an end to the Spectrum organisation on September 12, 2078. That much, Scarlet knew – Larsen having taken a mean pleasure in telling him, when the news came out. But as Juliette revealed, unbeknown to the authorities, the members of the organisation, while seemingly going their separate ways, clandestinely kept contact with each other, and continued to keep their eyes open to help their fellow men – and if possible, continue the fight against the Mysterons. However, the job proved even more difficult that it used to be, without the resources Spectrum once had. It was nearly impossible to do anything to intervene.
The world was already in a sorry state, and it seemed like it was hardly worth continuing the fight. Only petty battles were won over the years, a handful against the Mysterons, and that was perhaps because the aliens actually went after former Spectrum members, in what seemed like attempts to destroy what remained of the organisation that had resisted them so long and so valiantly. After all, Spectrum was one of the primary targets the Mysterons had sworn to obliterate. And not all of them were dead yet.
Forced into hiding from a population that Colonel White suspected was being manipulated by the Mysterons, Spectrum was more or less reduced to nothing. The World Government collapsed, and despite various attempts to bring a semblance of order onto the world, which were rapidly stifled by the Mysterons, the various security forces were rendered ineffective by the lack of adequate weapons and equipment. Many great cities and large parts of the land were in ruins when the Mysterons made their next logical move.
“They came to Earth,” Scarlet said in a low voice.
Juliette nodded. “We don’t know exactly when they came, but Charles suspected that they might have started their migration a long time ago. Maybe before the destruction of Futura City. He reckoned that their attacks had became more and more powerful, and that, since Futura, they even seemed to be able to control the elements themselves. The reason for that, he suspected, was that they were already here, and had been slowly building their power up over time. But the rumours of their presence became to really spread around 2086 or 2088… that was about the same time we definitely lost contact with our satellites.”
Scarlet nodded thoughtfully, assessing the information, as something that was quite possible. Juliette continued, “Through his contacts and by crosschecking the various reports on Mysteron activities, Charles figured out that the Mysterons’ hiding place was in England. Testimonies of strange green lights, which looked like a curiously out-of-place aurora borealis, appearing over the volcanic area that formed from the Mendips area, came to him and he knew it had to be the place. He didn’t think it was such a coincidence that England had been hit so fiercely by various Mysteron attacks, and geological movements… He thought the Mysterons were building something that was causing these catastrophes.”
“They were building their new complex, here on Earth,” Scarlet said, with a nod. “Yes, everyone knows about that now, or at least, suspects it. So… having discovered that, Colonel White decided Spectrum should come over here – to be closer to the Mysterons?”
“The year of the earthquake in California,” Juliette confirmed. “2081. Twenty-seven years ago.”
“And you came here… to Winchester?” Scarlet asked again.
“Yes, just at the limit of ‘Mysteron country’, as Charles called it,” Juliette answered. “Winchester became… what you could call, the last outpost, before entering hell. And also, the last hope of the human race against the Mysterons. Charles appreciated the irony. You might too.”
Scarlet frowned at the comment, but said nothing.
“By keeping close to the Mysterons,” Juliette continued, “we would be able to keep our eyes on them, to fight them as best we could – and in the hope that, one day, we might find a way to definitely put a stop to them… before there was nothing left to save from them.”
Scarlet grunted. “You didn’t have much luck with that, did you?”
“Oh, I don’t know… we do keep them on their toes. Their attacks are far between now, and less spectacular now. Last year, we actually stopped a horde of bandits from launching an attack on the outskirts of London. It turned out the leader and his two lieutenants were Mysteron agents, and they were intent on killing as many people as they could.”
“Charming,” Scarlet said bitterly. “All these people here with you – who are they exactly? Obviously, they’re not the original survivors from the fall of Cloudbase…”
Juliette smiled. “No, that’s obvious. Although some of them are sons and daughters of these same survivors, Paul. And the others are people who came to Spectrum, in a quest to make a difference and fight the invaders, any way they could. You see, when Charles decided to leave Brittany and come here, many of those we had contact with decided to come along. With the others, Charles set up an underground network, to carefully spread the word around to members of Spectrum or any other world security service, that those who wished to join Spectrum in the fight against the Mysterons were welcome. Only those who could be considered trustworthy would be given the indication of where to find the location of Spectrum – as well as a means to identify themselves as our allies.”
Juliette reached in her pocket with her hand and slowly produced a small piece of rag that she put in the middle of the table, between the two of them, spreading it neatly to show the S symbol drawn on it. Scarlet recognised the same white badge he had been carrying on his person for the last five years.
“D.B. gave this to me. I believe this is yours.”
Scarlet nodded. “Yes. I found it quite by chance in Italy. It belonged to a young man named Piotr Ivanovitch. His father, Andreï, gave it to him before he died, and told him he would be able to find Spectrum with it.”
“Then Andreï Ivanovitch was probably a former member of Spectrum,” Juliette commented. “Or a trusted member of Charles’ network, left behind to spread the word. We drew a few hundreds of these badges by hand, and gave them around to volunteers to pass them on. Probably, there isn’t that many left by now.” She gave the badge back to Scarlet. “I’m glad you were able to find one.”
“It was only pure luck that I did, believe me,” Scarlet replied, taking the badge and looking at it musingly.
“D.B. also found this in your pockets.” Juliette put something else in the table, between the two of them.
It was the old, yellowed, beaten photography Scarlet always kept of his wife. The one that had comforted him during his incarceration in that military prison in Arizona so long ago, and that he had retrieved from Gillespie’s dead body when he had escaped. He took it in his hand, and looked at it longingly.
“With all that happened since yesterday, I didn’t even notice it was gone,” he said. He looked up, and noticed Juliette staring at him pensively. She wasn’t saying anything, but he could see pain and regret in her eyes. He knew she had always loved him. After Dianne’s passing, it had taken months for him to accept his loss and to cope to his grief. Juliette had been there for him, and helped him through; eventually, they became closer, and shared a deep relationship.
He loved her, but never as much as he did Dianne. Juliette was much aware of that and didn’t mind. But today, seeing him so attached to this picture, she was probably hurting inside, if only just a little bit, that it wasn’t her picture he had carried around with him for so long.
Scarlet put the picture into his pocket and cleared his throat. “Tell me about Karen… and D.B. When did they come into the picture?”
Juliette smiled sadly. “About two years before we left for England,” she explained. “They came from Australia. After the attack on New York, and knowing that many of the Mysterons’ primary targets were directed at North America, Karen considered it was safer to raise her child away from home and had settled in Sydney. She didn’t dare make contact with her mother, because she was concerned that the World Government, which was still after former Spectrum members at the time, would find her. I know it must have hurt her not to be able to return to Iowa, and to her mother, but she didn’t feel like she had a choice.” She sighed. “She must have taken one of the last authorised civilian flights to come to France and found us through Charles’ network. D.B. was four when Charles and I first met her, and we both instantly fell in love with her.”
“So Karen followed you to Winchester?”
“She did – despite Charles’ protests that it wasn’t very wise to bring a child to what might eventually become a war zone. But Karen made a point, by replying that nowhere on Earth was safe anymore, and that it was unlikely to become any better. For her, the safest place for her daughter to be was near people who would be able to protect her.”
“Karen was always keen to point out the obvious,” Scarlet said approvingly, with a fond smile.
Juliette closed her eyes and her lips started to tremble. “She was the first casualty we had, once we reached Winchester,” she said in a quivering voice and, at these words, Scarlet felt a wave of sadness hit him. Symphony had always been close to him, a sister of a sort, the wife of his best friend. To learn of her passing – although he already suspected she had died some times ago – filled him with sorrow.
“What happened?” he asked in a whisper.
“A Mysteron attack… one year after we set up camp. She stepped in front of a bullet meant for me.” She opened her eyes, tears brimming her eyelids. “The Angels too were specifically targeted by the Mysterons’ primary attacks… I tended to forget that at the time, but the Mysterons never forgot. She lived just long enough to comfort D.B. and ask Charles and I to take care of her from then on. The little girl were crushed and cried for weeks.” Juliette nodded towards the open door, in a vague direction. “We buried her on top of St. Catherine’s Hill. It is still a beautiful place and we thought her soul would be at peace there.”
“Is the grave marked?” At Juliette’s nodded confirmation, Scarlet added: “I’ll go visit her later.”
Juliette approved of the decision. “Each time I look into D.B.’s blue eyes… I see them – Karen and Adam. She’s very like them, you know? She inherited more than she will ever know from both her parents…”
Scarlet nodded in turn. He knew exactly what she meant. Now, thinking about it, he could see traits of both Adam and Karen in the girl. In her features; in her temperament; in her bearing, and in the way she looked so roguishly at him. Those were Adam’s eyes, all right. And that was definitely Karen’s stubborn chin.
“D.B.?” he asked, frowning at the name.
“Dianne Blue Svenson,” Juliette explained. And to Scarlet’s surprised expression at the revelation, she added with a smile: “Yes. Your wife’s name and Adam’s codename.”
“Karen was very fond of Dianne,” Scarlet murmured, musingly. “You don’t seem to have done too badly in raising her.”
Juliette laughed softly. “You think so? Well, I did my best, considering the circumstances. And Charles did the same as well.”
Scarlet chuckled. “Somehow, I have difficulty seeing Colonel White acting as a father to a six years old kid. And worse, being a father to a teenage girl.”
“She was a handful, I must admit,” smiled Juliette. “But… I wouldn’t have missed this for the world. Charles neither. He would have done everything for D.B.”
“Come to think of it, I should have realised the colonel had something to do with the way that girl was brought up. She’s a regular army brat.”
“That couldn’t be helped,” Juliette replied. “Considering the state of the world, she had to learn how to survive… and Charles was as good a teacher at that as he was a marvellous substitute father.”
“I’m sure he was,” Scarlet answered quietly. He lowered his eyes. “What does she know about her father’s death? Did you tell her?”
Juliette sighed. “Charles told her,” she said softly. “On his deathbed, ten years ago. D.B. was twenty, and he – we thought it was high time she knew the truth. We owed it to her. I don’t know what saddened her the most: Charles’ passing, or learning that her real father, like her mother, had been killed by Mysterons. And that he had been used by them in an attempt to kill the man who had been like a father to her.”
“And had been killed in the process,” Scarlet said bitterly. “Does she know about me? About the role I played in her father’s death?” When Juliette nodded her answer, he grunted. “I expect she hates my guts. I’m surprised she didn’t throw me in that lava river the others mentioned last night, by herself. Maybe because she wasn’t sure of who I was then…”
“She suspected your identity,” Juliette commented with a smile. “But she’s sure now.”
“And have you seen the way she looks at me now? I’ll probably wake up next morning with a knife sticking in my chest.”
Juliette chuckled with unconcealed amusement. “Then it’s a good thing you are indestructible. But I wouldn’t worry about that, if I were you. She wouldn’t go that far, although there’s a great deal of anger in her.”
“I did notice that, yes.”
“I wish you had been able to see her, as she grew up,” Juliette said musingly. “Despite the hardships, she was a very vivacious child. Much like her mother. Karen wanted so much for you to see her.”
“Did she, really?” Scarlet asked with a dose of uncertainty.
“She wanted to tell you that she didn’t hold a grudge against you; that she had been unfair to you, when she held you responsible of Adam’s death. You were his best friend, and she realised it must have killed you, to do what you did. And that it’s probably what pushed you to go away – like you did.” Juliette faced a silent Scarlet. “She asked me to tell you that. She had so wished to tell them to you herself one day but – you never came back.”
Scarlet sat back against the backrest of his chair. He kept silent, his mind wandering, thinking of his long-gone friends. Adam had been the brother he never had. It was true that killing his duplicate had been the most difficult thing he had ever done in his life. Added to his loss of Dianne, some years before that, it was more than he could bear. He was barely able to face Karen’s anger and sorrow, when she had heard of the part Scarlet had played in her husband’s death. She had helplessly pounded him, and he had stoically let her, feeling that it was only fair that he should be the one on whom she vented her frustration. She had cried herself to sleep in his arms and he had left her, his heart as broken as hers. It was the next he signed his letter of resignation and announced to Colonel White he was going – and two days later, he had fallen into the clutches of Commander Ward.
Coming out of his fugue, Scarlet realised that Juliette was staring intently at him, and was waiting for him to say something. He felt himself embarrassed, to have kept her waiting like this.
“Where were you gone, Paul?” she said softly, almost carefully. “It was as if you had disappeared from the surface of the planet. All of us… Charles, Karen – and myself. We waited for you, thinking you would return – but you never did. We even thought you were dead.”
“Juliette…” Scarlet swallowed hard, and reached for her hand. “Believe me, if I had been able to come sooner, I would have. And when I was able to… I didn’t know where to find you.
“What happened to you, to have been gone for so long?” she insisted.
Scarlet scoffed a little fretfully, and ran a hand into his hair. He took a deep intake of air.
“Where do you want me to start?”
“So this is it, then?”
Sat at the table in the corner of the smoky bar, Scarlet looked distractedly into his half-empty pint of beer, at first unwilling to look into the eyes of the big man seated opposite him.
“I’m sorry, Caine. But my decision is taken.”
Caine sighed deeply. He took a large gulp from his own pint before putting it down on the table. “Well, I can’t say I’m that surprised,” he said in his gruff voice. “We always knew we wouldn’t stay together forever.” He chuckled. “After all, it’s not like we’re married, or something. No offence, but I would prefer a nice-looking broad with blond hair and generous boobs, and you don’t quite fit the description.”
Scarlet chortled. “Oh, I know the kind of girl you like,” he said, raising his glass to his lips. “You’ve tried often enough to throw a few of them into my arms…”
“We’ll it’s not exactly like you can make love to that picture you always keep in your pocket,” Caine retorted, causing Scarlet to look straight at him over the glass. “I mean, your woman, she was gorgeous, sure… but you’ve got needs like any other man, and I’m sure she didn’t mind me trying to find you someone to find comfort with.”
Scarlet finished his sip of beer. “You’re all heart, Caine.”
“What’s a friend for?” the giant grinned. “It’s been what, two years, we’ve been hanging together?”
Scarlet leaned against the backrest of his chair and looked in direction of the lounge singer, belting his heart out behind the safety of his protection cage. No one really seemed to listen to him. They were either too busy drinking and laughing or too drunk to even notice there was music in the barely lit bar.
“Two years,” he confirmed, nodding thoughtfully. “Since we got out of that dreadful jail. You know, I didn’t trust you that much in the beginning…”
“Oh, what a surprise,” Caine said mockingly.
“– But you proved far more trustworthy than the likes of some politicians I’ve known.”
Caine laughed loudly. “Not difficult, that, is it?”
“Not difficult at all,” Scarlet agreed, with a faint smile.
“You know, despite all the hardships, I think we had it good, Scarlet.” Caine raised his glass. “That little association of ours has proved very profitable for the both of us. We’ve roamed all over the south of this country, offering our services as… how did you put it?”
“Specialists in security,” Scarlet said, taking another sip.
“That certainly has a better ring than mercenaries.”
“ Which is what some people called us anyway.”
Caine shrugged. “We had nobody complaining about the job we did. We were good at our stuff. I will miss doing all this with you: banging heads, breaking arms and legs, throwing people out of bars, shooting bad guys…”
Scarlet raised a brow. “How about ‘protecting the weak’, and ‘upholding order’?”
“That was your stuff, Spectrum,” Caine said laughing. “You can’t deny you did break a few heads yourself! Mind you, it did feel good to help people, I admit.” He leaned over the table. “But I could have done without facing these Mysterons,” he confided. “And seeing you return to life after being killed.”
Scarlet shrugged. “You can’t say I didn’t warn you when we decided to hang together.”
“About the returning from the dead stuff? Well not quite. I didn’t believe it much, you know that – not until I saw it and nearly peed my pants when you appeared, and blew the head off those bastards who were about to kill me. It wouldn’t have been so bad if it had not been my only pair! I thought you were a goddamn ghost!”
Scarlet smiled. The first time Caine had been witnessed his powers of retrometabolism had certainly been a traumatising experience for his friend. Barely a week after they had escaped the high security prison in which they had been kept captive, they had arrived at a small gas station in the desert. They surprised three other escapees from there, as they were robbing the place, imprisoning the couple who owned it, and kidnapping their only daughter – a young girl who barely was sixteen. It was obvious what were the three men’s intentions for the girl and their mistake had been to consider that both Scarlet and Caine would be joining them. Both of them, however, found the three men’s conduct despicable. Scarlet had been shot, the three convicts, knowing his former association with the Spectrum organisation, didn’t trust him. Caine, believing his companion dead, feigned acceptance of the three murderers’ offer to join them, in an attempt to save the girl. He had been discovered and was about to be killed when Scarlet revived just in time to rescue both his new friend and the kidnapped girl, who was returned to her parents.
From that moment on, the two men had forged a friendship and a partnership as well, earning their lives by offering their services around, to those who needed protection and security for themselves, their businesses or their goods, and were willing to pay for it. They were both trained soldiers, very good at what they did, and they rarely left a client unsatisfied when they had completed the job. Except for those who tried to either double-cross them, or don’t pay them their due.
“Remember that guy in Tijuana?” Caine asked.
“The one who was doing human trafficking?” Scarlet said musingly. “Oh yeah… And he thought we wouldn’t notice what it was we were transporting in that van of his.”
“I wonder if he finally got himself out from that mud river we threw him in, after freeing those poor kids,” Caine said musingly. “That certainly felt good… What a scumbag… I hope he’ll rot in hell.” He swigged the last of his glass and motioned to the barmaid to come over with two more. He turned to Scarlet. “You’re sure that decision of yours is finale?”
Scarlet nodded. “I’ve been putting this off for too long,” he said. “Now that it seems obvious that no-one is looking for us, I think I can safely consider trying to find some of my friends.”
“Your ex-colleagues from Spectrum. You know, it doesn’t appear that they came after you themselves. I still can’t see why you should bother.”
“Well, they had problems of their own,” Scarlet commented. “As it is, most of them are probably higher on the World security’s ‘Most Wanted List’ than I am myself.”
“If they’re still alive, you mean.”
“I’ve got to believe some of them are,” Scarlet replied.
“And where are you going, to start looking for them?” Caine inquired.
“Iowa.” Scarlet scratched his ear, pensively. “Symphony Angel – Karen – grew up near Cedar Rapids, on her family ranch. I’ll try to see if I can find someone there who can help me. Karen herself, hopefully.” If she still wants to talk to me, he added inwardly.
The barmaid came with the two new glasses of beer that she put onto the table, between the two men. Caine paid her handsomely, giving her a wide smile, which she answered with a teasing smile. He followed her with his eyes, and Scarlet couldn’t help himself feeling amused. She was exactly Caine’s type: young, tall, blonde, with a generous breast.
“How will you be going there, exactly?” Caine asked, reluctantly abandoning his admiration of the young woman.
“Well, the road to Cedar Rapids is relatively straight forwards from Memphis,” Scarlet answered. “The 55 is still manageable for vehicles, and there’s a merchandise truck leaving the food ranch late tonight for St. Louis, Missouri. I’ve been hired to ride shotgun with the driver, to protect the goods against possible hijackers.”
“It’s about half the distance to Cedar Rapids,” Caine approved, taking a gulp of his new glass.
“How about you come with me, after all?” Scarlet asked him. “I talked with the owner of the transport, and told him I had my own driver, and that I might not need one of his. So if you’re willing, you can come along. The pay isn’t much – we’d be sharing what I’ll be earning. Which is the reason he’d accept my driver: two men for the price of one… You can’t come cheaper than that.”
The giant grinned. “Me, meeting your former buddies from Spectrum? You sure you want to risk them learning you’ve been associated with a shady character like me – a guy who murdered his own commander in the WAAF?”
“A man I’m proud to call my friend,” Scarlet retorted, watching the smile broadening on the big man’s face. “Even if he seems like he would be an unlikely candidate.”
Caine shook his head, as he took another swig. “Nah… I don’t think so, Scarlet. Especially if I am to meet one of your ex-girlfriends…”
“Symphony wasn’t my girlfriend. She was… the wife of my best friend.”
“Adam.” Caine nodded slowly. He was now Scarlet’s only friend, and Scarlet had confided in him about some events from his past. He knew all about Adam, and the circumstances of his death. “You think she’ll be okay with seeing you again, then?”
“I’m sure hoping, at the very least.” Scarlet looked at his companion. “So? What do you say? Are you in? At least up to St. Louis?”
But Caine shook his head. “If you don’t mind, Spectrum, I will decline. I’ve already made arrangement to go to Dallas in the morning. I heard they’re going to be attempting to drill for oil over there, and that the installations need protection against vandals. The owner is supposed to be paying good money.” He put his glass down. “I’m afraid this really looks like we’ll be going our separate way from here.”
Scarlet nodded slowly. “I understand, Caine.” He presented his hand. “Maybe we’ll meet again?”
Caine eyed the proffered hand, with some uncertainly, and then took it. “Hey, you said you ain’t leaving before late tonight… So why are you so in a hurry to say your goodbyes?”
“Because I saw the way you were eyeing that blonde,” Scarlet said, smirking. “And knowing you, it’s a toss up between either you’ll be dead drunk in an hour, or gone with the girl for a shag in the back alley.”
“Hey, I’ve got more class than that,” Caine protested. He winked at Scarlet. “I happen to know that Laura is about to finish her shift and that she lives right next door…”
Scarlet raised an eyebrow. “She already confided in you? And gave you her name? You move fast, you sly dog.”
“I can ask if she’s got a girlfriend for you…”
Scarlet declined the offer with a wave of the hand. “No, Caine, thanks… As I said, I have to go tonight. I don’t have the time to meet a girl in the meantime. I need to rest a bit, before leaving.”
“What do you mean? It’s still early, and I know for a fact that you don’t need much sleep to begin with.” Caine glanced at the barmaid who was now behind the counter, and putting her coat on. She was looking in his direction and waved at him. Grinning, the giant raised to his feet, taking a last sip of his pint. “Anyway, it looks like I’ve got to go.”
“Can’t make a lady wait,” Scarlet commented.
“I don’t know if you can call her a lady,” Caine confided in a low voice. “Finish my beer, Spectrum. Ah… Maybe I’ll see you a little later, before you leave?”
“As you said, I don’t need much sleep. I’ll finish these, and then be on my way to the apartment.”
“Not if I return before you go,” Caine announced. “And you’ll let me pay for a last glass for you.”
Scarlet hesitated. “I don’t know, Caine… The boss might not like it if I show up drunk.”
“You? Drunk?” Caine guffawed. “That’ll be the day. See you later, buddy.”
“Have fun, Caine.”
The giant waved his goodbyes and went to join the blonde girl who was waiting by the door for him; Scarlet watched his friend put his arm around the girl’s waist, and heard her giggle when he whispered something in her ear. Both of them left through the door, without a single glance behind them.
With a knowing smile, Scarlet slowly started drinking his still untouched glass.
He drank slowly, and took his time to savour it, and then finished Caine’s, which, by the time he reached the bottom, had gone flat. It wasn’t good quality beer – which wasn’t a surprise for Scarlet, considering the place he was in – and even though he was accustomed to warm beer, this one didn’t go down that easily. Caine didn’t mind one way or the other, cold or warm, flat or not, and dark or light-coloured, for him, a beer was a beer and deserved to be drunk – quickly and completely. That he had left half of his glass to Scarlet was almost a miracle, but he fancied beautiful girls even more than he loved beer, and Scarlet had to admit, the barmaid was a pretty woman, and seemed quite willing to share a moment with his friend. Caine certainly wasn’t a good-looking man, far from it – women they met together would find themselves more interested in the handsome Scarlet than the gorilla who was his friend. But Scarlet reckoned that the girls found a certain charm in Caine – or else, he wouldn’t have the success he always had with them.
After finishing the glass left by his friend, Scarlet ordered a last one, and again, took his time to drink it. He had expected Caine to return shortly, but obviously, his friend was being kept very busy. After two hours, one last glance at the clock told Scarlet that it was high time for him to return home, to get at least an hour or two of sleep before he got on the road. He paid for his last glass, left a good tip and took his coat as he walked out of the door. He was the last customer that night to leave the bar.
There wasn’t any light in the alley, but a lonely solar-powered lamppost, right at the very corner leading into the larger street on his left. The night was cold, and Scarlet, putting on his coat, pulled the collar higher around his neck and put his hands into his pockets before starting to walk. Memphis had become a deprived city in the last few years. Although not in the direct path of any Mysteron attacks, it became collateral damage when the Mississippi River became overloaded with excess waters following the flooding of the Great Lakes, and from the dark clouds that brought acid rains after the destruction of Nuclear City. The electricity supply was failing, but there was still some petrol left, strictly reserved for business, such as the trucks leaving the food ranch to distribute their merchandise wherever the roads still allowed them to go. Poverty was high, and more than half the city couldn’t find any work. Despite it all, disreputable businesses, like the bar Scarlet had just left, were highly popular, and at the very least, provided people with a way to temporarily forget their problem.
All in all, Memphis had fared somewhat better than some larger cities, where it was said that people literally died in the streets. But quite frankly, Scarlet didn’t know how long this would last, before the city would suffer hell as well.
As he was about to reach the corner, Scarlet saw a nearby door open and then Caine appeared. Singing loudly, laughing, obviously drunk, he held a giggling woman in each of his arms. He also had an open bottle in his right hand. Scarlet stopped in his tracks and watched as his friend walked down the one step leading to the street, staggering as he did, barely keeping on his feet and obviously supporting himself on the two women who didn’t seem to fare any better than he did.
“Hey, Scarlet!” he called joyously. “There you are! I was afraid you‘d be gone!”
Scarlet watched as his friend lurched along his way, visibly not walking straight.
“You’re still here, then,” Caine slurred.
“I was about to go,” Scarlet answered quietly. He tutted and shook his head dejectedly. “If you could see what you look like, Caine – how can you put yourself in such a state in so short a time?”
“Hey, don’t start with me…” Caine stopped in front of him, with the two girls who were laughing stupidly, for no particular reason. Scarlet recognised the blond barmaid. He didn’t know who was the other girl, a dark-haired woman who was scantily dressed, and whose profession seemed a little too obvious. “Not when I found you a girl for tonight.”
Scarlet frowned. Caine was obviously drunker than he usually got. “Caine, you know I don’t really fancy you trying to hook me up to… some kind of girls,” he said carefully. He doubted the girl was sober enough to feel insulted by his words – or even able to understand what he meant.
“What, you mean prostitutes?” Caine said loudly, and Scarlet grimaced, upset that his friend would put it so bluntly in front of the girl. “But Andy isn’t one, don’t worry… What’s your profession, Andy darling?”
“I dance,” the girl said. She gave a fleeting look to Scarlet. “Oh my… he’s gorgeous,” she added, with a giggle that turned into hysterics.
“And I’m sure you’re a very good dancer,” Scarlet said, with an uneasy smile. “But I’m afraid the answer is still no. I’ve only got a couple of hours left to sleep before I leave town.”
The girl pouted with obvious disappointment, but at this point, Scarlet couldn’t care less what she felt; he took Caine by one arm, detaching him from the two women who protested, and forced him around.
“Come on now, Caine… I’m taking you to bed. You’ve obviously had quite enough tonight… And I hope you haven’t given all of your money to these two.”
“Aww… come on Scarlet, you’re no fun at all,” Caine replied, stumbling as Scarlet fought to keep him upright. “You know you shouldn’t worry about me…” Suddenly, Scarlet found he couldn’t pull on his friend’s arm anymore, as he seemed to have decided to resist to his efforts. “You should worry about yourself, Earthman.”
Scarlet’s heart missed a beat at these words; at the same moment, Caine had became rigid and his right arm made a large and swift ark – and the bottle came crashing violently on Scarlet’s head, breaking under the impact.
The former Spectrum officer, his head reeling, staggered back, and Caine attacked him, shoving the sharp end of the broken bottle against his abdomen. Scarlet caught the massive wrist, in an attempt to stop it, but the bottle still reached and cut through his shirt to penetrate one centimetre into his flesh. Grunting under the pain, he nevertheless tackled Caine, pushing him into a series of garbage cans against the wall behind him, while tearing the bottle from his fingers.
The two girls then came at him, with cries of rage, and Scarlet realised that they too meant to kill him. He felt his sixth sense kick in at their approach. They were Mysteron agents, so he didn’t hesitate one second to strike fiercely and without any scruple. He thrust the sharp end of the broken bottle into the flat belly of the dark-haired girl, whose cry ended up with a gurgle of pain as she fell to her knees, and barely avoided the knife that suddenly appeared in the hand of the other girl. The blade pierced his left arm, sending a wave of pain up to his shoulder, but he didn’t let that stop him, and he swiftly caught the frail body of the girl by the shoulders. Ignoring the pain in his arm, where the knife was still stuck, he swirled the girl around – and, broke the Mysteron agent’s neck.
She fell on the pavement, right next to her companion.
Scarlet didn’t have much time to rest as Caine charged at him like a bull and pushed him against the wall. The air was driven out of his lungs and his head hit the hard surface violently.
One strike drove the knife deeper into Scarlet’s arm, paralysing him with pain, and making him vulnerable to the giant’s rain of blows. Each of Caine’s punches felt like a hammer hitting him and Scarlet, unable to defend himself, soon slid down to the ground, at the Mysteron’s feet. He was trying desperately to regain his breath, and curled up to try to protect his abdomen from the brutal kicks that the giant was giving him. One heavy boot hit him on the head again; dazed, his whole body went limp, and he stopped resisting. With a cry of victory, Caine kicked his head one more time and then stepped back.
Through a haze, Scarlet watched as the giant, grinning with that evil smile he had seen so often in the faces of other Mysteron agents, was looking down at his handy work, with no concealed satisfaction and breathing hard.
“You don’t look so good now, Earthman,” he gloated mockingly. “The great, indestructible Captain Scarlet. Indestructible you might be, but your one weakness always was the trust you put in those close to you.”
Scarlet couldn’t speak; he could barely breath to begin with. His sides hurt where the giant had hit him; more than likely, he had a few broken ribs. Maybe one of his lungs had been punctured.
The Mysteron duplicate, considering his victim at his mercy, walked to the two dead women lying in the middle of the street and pushed them with his feet. “You did good business with them,” he commented. “They weren’t much of a threat to you, but we already knew that. Anyway, they were sufficient to get to your stupid friend.” He looked in Scarlet’s direction, his eyes alighted with loathing. “Everything had been carefully prepared tonight. We knew how gullible your friend was, and how he like the pretty ladies. So Laura brought him back to her apartment, Andy was already waiting for him. Laura distracted him – in her own fashion – and Andy struck him from behind. And then…”
“The Mysterons took him over… and created you…” Scarlet wheezed. That was all he was able to say, before choking on the last word. He coughed and spat blood, and the pain made him curl with a groan. Surreptitiously, his trembling hand reached for the small gun fixed to his belt, behind his back.
He watched as the Mysteron duplicate of Caine casually walked around the alley, looking around. There was a fire axe fixed against a wall nearby, secured with a chain. The Mysteron went to it, and seemed to consider the object for a short moment.
“Now that should do the job nicely…”
He unhooked the axe from the wall and, pulling on the chain with all of his strength, broke it, as if it was nothing. He grinned, as his hands playing with the axe, he returned slowly to Scarlet, still prostrate with pain on the ground.
“Did you really think you would escape us forever, Captain Scarlet?” Caine said, rejoicing in advance of his victory. “The Mysterons just waited for the right moment to strike. They knew that they stood a good chance of getting you this time if they took Caine over. He could take you on in a fair fight – and provided he could surprise you, he would be able to kill you. Which is about to happen, Earthman. We remember how you got rid of Sergeant Larsen, two years ago. We thought it would be a good idea to try the same with you.”
Lying on one side, fighting hard to regain his breath and surmounting the pain from his broken ribs, Scarlet shook his head, glaring at the advancing Mysteron. “You’ll… never learn… will you?” he breathed out.
“Learn what?” Caine asked sharply.
“Not to gloat… when you’re… about to kill me.” Scarlet produced the gun he had been hiding underneath his body and aimed it at Caine, who immediately stopped in his track and stared. “I’m sorry, Caine…”
Scarlet pulled the trigger four consecutive times, without any hesitation. The detonations were weak, like short cracks resonating in the night, but the gun was powerful enough, especially at this distance to cause their target to fall on his back, letting go of his weapon, which clattered loudly on the asphalted surface of the street.
For a moment, Scarlet stayed on the ground, gathering up his strength, his eyes riveted on the still body lying a few meters away only from him. Then, slowly, he pulled himself up, clenching his teeth, ignoring the pain from his ribs, and his tortured muscles, and the throbbing in his head. His left arm felt numb from the knife still driven into it and reaching for the handle, he stoically pulled it to remove the blade. The shock caused a new wave of pain that made him stagger, but he leaned on the wall behind him, gasping, to pull himself together.
He glared at the duplicate the Mysterons had made of Caine, before raising his eyes towards the door he had seen him exit with the two Mysteronised women. Behind that door lay his friend, brutally and coldly murdered so that the Mysterons would be able to approach and kill him. He felt angry, and sick – and totally disgusted. Despite all of his faults, and God knew he had many, Caine was still a good man – Scarlet had learned to see beyond the man’s brutal façade and had found an honest and kind heart.
He didn’t deserve to die the way he had. Like Adam didn’t deserve to die this way either. Nor Brown or Indigo.
Scarlet slowly approached the fallen Mysteron, picking up the axe from the ground as he walked by it. He stood over it, and watched the set face, turned to the sky. The eyes were closed and at this moment, Scarlet could only see the serene face of his dead friend, as he had often looked when he was fast asleep. He struggled to raise his injured arm, and his fingers curled around the handle of the axe.
“Damn you,” he whispered. He looked into the sky, searching the general direction where Mars was supposed to be, and then lowered his eyes to the dead body again, holding the axe with both hands. He shook his head hopelessly, and took a deep, shaky breath. “Damn you… for what you’re forcing me to do.”
He raised the axe high over his head.
The talk with Colonel White ended just before lunch time, after Scarlet had completed his story had told most of what had happened to him since the last time they had seen each other. When she learned of his arrest and incarceration, and how harshly he had been treated during the ten years he had been kept captive, Juliette couldn’t help but show her indignation. She felt outraged; she couldn’t explain herself how Ward, as the supreme commander of SHEF could have been justified to do such a thing to a man who had given so much and dedicated himself to the defence of others, against the same foes he was accused of conspiring with. And that, with the open complicity of the World Government and the complete authorisation of World President Roberts.
She fussed over Scarlet for a short moment, then started venting her frustration on scheming and dishonest politicians and rigid and heartless military personnel, how each of them was no better than the other, and that maybe, after all, the Mysterons could have done the world a service by wiping them out of the surface of the Earth. She was overly exaggerating, of course, but she was being her Gallic self – and on that aspect, despite her advance age, she stayed true to herself. It didn’t last very long, before she would calm down and started to regret her words, thinking of the countless victims the Mysterons had made in their repeated attempts against the same officials – whom, she finally admitted, didn’t all deserved the fate that befell them.
She was, however, not so easily forgiving of the Mysterons who, added to all the list of horrors they caused, were now revealed to be responsible of the manipulation that had caused Scarlet to lost ten of his years in unfair imprisonment.
When Juliette was through expressing herself, she stated that she needed some rest for a little while. Scarlet had to admit that she looked wearier now than at the start of their conversation. Her voice sounded slurred, and tired and her whole general attitude was of an elderly woman whose strengths were abandoning her. He thought it would indeed be best if he would leave her for a little while. She told him to he was free to go about the camp as much as he wanted, and to even visit the area if he felt like it, but to be careful, as it had changed quite a lot in the last years. While some buildings left standing in Winchester might seem solid in appearance, they could collapse at any time, and it might prove perilous to visit them. The ground didn’t fare any better, with debris on the surface covering treacherous openings that could prove fatal to anyone who might inadvertently step on them. Of course, he was indestructible… But now that he was back, she didn’t want for her people to dig for weeks to find him again, if anything should happen to him.
In view of her worries, Scarlet promised not to leave the camp’s perimeter without a proper guide to lead him around. She seemed content with that, and asked him not to go too far, as she would call for him again in a few hours, when she’d rested, to continue their chat.
Scarlet returned at his assigned quarters. He discovered on his bunk his weapons had been returned to him: his shotgun even seemed to have been well cleaned up, along with its leather holster, and the two knives he owned were neatly disposed by their side, along with his three last flare grenades, the pouch of black powder he carried along, and the gallon still half-filled with the petrol he used for his stove. The razors he had bought in London were there too – he didn’t even know they had been taken from his stuff to begin with, and he could only approve of the security his hosts had showed by previously removing from his gear anything that could have been used as a weapon. Of course, he could have argued that for a man such as himself, even the straps from his backpack could be used as a weapon…
A pitcher of water, a bar of soap and a basin had been left on the small table for him. Scarlet wondered if someone wasn’t trying to give him a message. He looked down at the razors on his bed and distractedly strokes his chin. He had been keeping this beard for a long time, and he imagined that removing it now might be a good idea. Juliette might appreciate the clean shave when he saw her again later. She never quite liked him with a beard. Dianne never did either.
He poured some water into the basin and methodically set himself to work.
Some time later, cleaned shaved and his hair neatly combed, he left his tent. Good to his word, Scarlet stayed in the camp and started to walk around to check it out.
Basically, it was a military camp, except for its use of different types of tents, which seemed to fuse with the surrounding stony buildings of Winchester Castle and the King’s House, although it had many aspects of a civilian community, as he had noticed earlier, with whole families living within the perimeters. He was amazed to see how well the whole set up had been organised and seemed to work in perfect unison. He found a school, set in one of the King’s House Barracks, where kids of many ages were following lessons on a blackboard, which probably had seen better days. A woman taught them, about fifty years old, who wore on her sleeve an armband carrying the black and white Spectrum emblem. An officer, Scarlet thought, if he was to believe what he had been told in London, that only officers were the emblem on them.
The camp was efficient and totally secure; Scarlet could recognise the hand of Charles Gray behind the way it had been organised. Added to the sentries, he could also see the on-duty soldiers around the camp, waiting to intervene should there be any need to. The off-duty soldiers were also easily detected. They were casually going about their day-to-day business, eating their lunch and having a chat in various places, seemingly without a care in the world. Scarlet had no doubt that if a major alert occurred, they would be ready to do their part.
If there were still a few people looking at him with some uncertainty, the majority of them didn’t pay him any notice. He imagined that without his beard, and with clean clothes, he probably looked different enough for them not to recognise him, or just maybe, he looked less threatening.
While walking in front of one of the barracks, Scarlet noticed a group of young men united around a motorcycle that one of them was fiddling with. He easily recognised them as the boys he had met in London. Watson was leaning against the wall, with three others, and the four of them were looking with amusement as Jones, crouched on the ground, worked on the engine with a ring spanner.
The motorcycle was interesting; although visibly old and rusty in places, it looked complete, with all of its components, and seemed in working order. A curious Scarlet approached quietly, his hands in his pocket, watching Jones’ dedicated work.
“You’re wasting your time,” Watson was telling the young black man, chuckling as he did. “You’ll never get this thing working.”
“And even if you did,” another one added mockingly, “there’s no way the colonel will permit you to put any petrol in it for you to take a spin with it.”
“You never know,” Jones replied, not even rising his eyes from the part that seemed to be causing him trouble and that he was trying to screw into place. “If I fix this, maybe Captain Svenson will put in a good word for me to Colonel White and I’ll get my chance of at least seeing if the motor can run.”
“If, you fix it,” Watson said, laughing.
“Look,” Jones raised his eyes to look at him with annoyance, “my dad was good with engines. He learned from the best at the racetrack, and he taught me everything he could with whatever we had before he passed on. And he was a good teacher.”
“You were ten, when you dad died, Mason,” a third boy replied. “Face it, you’ve been working on this old junk for months. You won’t be able to make it work.”
“Just wait and see, mate. It’ll work.”
The conversation was cut short when Watson, suddenly noticing Scarlet’s presence, patted on the shoulder of his nearest friend to attract his attention, and nodded in the newcomer’s direction. Scarlet distinctively heard him say ‘Here comes the freak’ under his breath, but he chose to ignore it.
Jones raised his head to look at him, like all the others, but didn’t stand up. Scarlet examined the motorcycle with a critical eye. “Nice looking machine,” he said casually. “BMW Stallion 2070?”
“2068, ” the boy said, getting to his feet. “You know your stuff, sir.”
Scarlet shook his head. “A cousin of mine had a similar bike. Except it was blue – not red, like this one.” He pointed to the engine. “Be careful with it though, when it’s time to put fuel in. It runs on diesel. Not petrol.”
“Not petrol?” the boy repeated in confusion.
“Gasoline for you, Yank,” one of the other boys explained, with a smirk.
“I know what petrol is, Dexter. Getting permission for petrol might have been possible, but diesel fuel?” Jones sounded distraught. “I don’t even know if we have that in store at the camp.” He looked down with dejection at his motorcycle.
“Try fuel oil,” suggested Scarlet. “Heating fuel.” He shrugged. “Except for the colour, it’s the same. If the camp has that in store, and surely they must have, you’ll be in business.”
“Heating fuel,” Jones said, with a slow, pensive nod. He smiled, showing two rows of pearly white teeth. “Thanks, Captain. I’ll remember that.”
Scarlet nodded. “If I’m still around, tell me when the bike’s running.”
“Sure will, sir.”
Scarlet noticed the mean look in Watson’s eyes as the boy silently glared at him, but he ignored it, to turn on his heel and start to leave.
“You’re selling yourself rather easily to the freak, Jones,” Watson said behind his back in a lower voice, but loud enough for Scarlet to hear.
“Hey, man – he’s cool. Give him a break, will you?”
The strident call coming from nearby made Scarlet stop in his tracks and turn around with curiosity. He saw that Watson and his companions had straightened up at the loud voice. Coming from the right, Lieutenant Kelly was approaching the small group in long and quick strides. He came to stand in front of Watson, and glared angrily at him.
“You and I need to talk, Mister,” Kelly said between his teeth.
“What seems to be the problem, Lieutenant?” the younger man asked, with a scowl.
“Aside from the fact that you shirked your work?” Kelly scoffed. “You were ordered on fatigue duty this morning, but the cook told me you didn’t show up.”
“I didn’t sign up to peel potatoes,” Watson replied.
“You’re one minute away from being thrown in the brig,” Kelly warned, pressing a warning finger on the young man’s chest. “You were assigned to peel those bloody potatoes, because of your unspeakable behaviour last night.”
“Because I knocked the freak out?” Watson said, disregarding the fact that Scarlet was now watching and listening to all that was said. “I should have received a medal. I was only trying to save Captain Svenson’s life.”
“Yeah, like I would believe that,” Kelly said between his teeth.
The boy protested: “Hey, that’s true! Her and me, we’re like family.”
“The hell would I ever consider you as family, Watson.” The icy voice was coming from behind Scarlet. He turned in time to see D.B. Svenson, arrive on the scene. She passed by him, ignoring him and she came to stand next to Kelly. She faced Watson with cold anger plain on her face. “Jones, I can live with the thought,” she said, nodding in the young black man’s direction. “He’s a decent guy. But you?” She shook her head in disgust. “That’s just too much to stomach. Even as a kid, you were despicable, Erik.”
“Well, then, consider me the black sheep of the family, then,” Watson said, grinning and looking up arrogantly at her. “Ever since my arrival here, I’ve known you never liked me, Dee…”
“Captain, if you please,” she cut in abruptly.
“Please, don’t get on your military high horse, ‘Captain’. We’re not really in the military anyway. None of us is, or ever was, except maybe for your mother, and that was a long time ago. We’re only a bunch of people trying to survive in an infernal environment. We don’t have to play the game your way.”
“Discipline helps keeping up order, Watson,” D.B. seethed between her teeth. “You don’t like it? You know what you can do. Take you’re little bunch of bumming friends and get the hell out. We’ll even help you pack, if you want. After last night’s cracks at me, I couldn’t care less if you go straight to the Mysterons lair and burn there!”
“You’d like it if I go, wouldn’t you?” he replied stoically. “You’d be rid of me then, and of the ‘burden’ I impose on you.” He narrowed his eyes at her, defiantly. “Remember, ‘Cousin’, your mummy asked you to look after me.”
“She asked me to teach you discipline, and to make sure you stay out of trouble. She knows that you have a propensity to get yourself in it at each opportunity.”
“Yeah… and she only asked you that because she and my dad, were good friends… Very good friends, even, if I believe what I’ve heard.”
“That’s enough,” D.B. snapped. “I don’t want to hear another word out of you. Like it or not, this is a military base, Erik, and as long as you stay here, you’ll have to conform to its rules. You’re out of order. There’s a fence on the North West perimeter that needs repairs. Go there with your friends, and report to Lieutenant Cahill. I want that fence fixed up before the end of the day.”
“Sure – if you want to play at that,” Watson addressed her with a new mocking smirk and turned around, motioning to his gang to come with him. They fell in behind, murmuring, and followed him as he left. Jones seemed to hesitate, as if wondering whether he should go as well. Obviously, thought Scarlet, he didn’t quite share the same opinion as his companions, regarding the conflict that seemed to exist between Erik Watson and D.B. Svenson.
“Go as well, Jones,” Kelly told him, with a curt nod. “You’re part of the same unit.”
“S.I.G., Lieutenant,” he answered. And he left, reluctantly, rushing to join his companions.
With them gone, D.B. turned round with Kelly and faced Scarlet, who stood there, watching in silence.
“At least, this is one conflict you didn’t start,” she told him quietly, as she approached, followed by Kelly.
“I’ll remind you that I didn’t start the one in London either,” he replied in the same voice.
“But you did with the one at your camp, the next day.” She stood in front of him.
He conceded that with a slight bow. “What is this all about?” he asked, gesturing in the direction taken by Watson’s gang. “Dissension in the ranks, Captain?”
“You could call it a family feud,” she replied, with a generous amount of sarcasm.
“Watson’s been a problem since day one,” Kelly growled menacingly. “I’m not kidding, Captain, one day he’ll go too far, and no matter what you or the colonel say about it, I might end up beating him to death.”
“My hero,” D.B. said, with a fond smile. “Then we might have to put you on trial, Kelly. That wouldn’t do any of us any good.”
“It’d do me some good,” Kelly replied.
“Why does he think he can speak to you like that?” Scarlet enquired, scowling. “He’s not… really related to you, is he?” He couldn’t recall anyone named ‘Watson’ being related to either Adam or Karen. Of course, considering he had been gone for quite a while, he could be mistaken.
“Not by blood,” D.B. confirmed. “Thank God for that. Watson’s mother, Joanna, arrived with her kid at the camp some fifteen years ago, with a caravan of refugees composed of former Spectrum members. She had been a Spectrum technician based on Cloudbase – and like many others, she had escaped in the shuttles that left Cloudbase, during the Futura City attack. Her shuttle took her to Spain. Like the others, she had received an invitation to join us.” She paused for a second. “She asked for a meeting with Colonel White, and told him that her boy was the son of a former member of his senior staff.”
“Who?” Scarlet asked.
“Bradley Holden,” D.B. answered. “Captain Grey. He and Joanna Watson were in the same shuttle. She claimed that they had an affair while in hiding in Spain – before Grey eventually left her. The boy was born nine months after that.”
“Brad – would be the father of this despicable young man?” Scarlet said, with a frown. He shook his head. “No, I can’t believe that. It can’t be possible. Did that Watson woman have any proof?”
“What kind of proof do you want?” D.B. retorted. “We have no way to make a D.N.A. check, like you did forty years ago. Only the word of Joanna. Quite frankly, we might never know if Erik is Captain Grey’s son or not – but there’s an underlying possibility that he might be. And in view of this, Colonel White didn’t want to take an educated guess. Nor did my mother. From what I heard, she was very fond of Grey, once upon a time.” She looked Scarlet straight in the eyes. “Like she’s been very fond of you as well, as I understand it.”
Scarlet confirmed with a nod. “We’ve been… close, yes.”
“More then close, from what I heard.” She turned to Kelly, standing by his side. “Thank you for your concern, Ian. But Erik is my trouble, and I’ll deal with it in my own time. You can return to your duty now.”
“Actually, I’m just off for lunch,” the young man replied, grinning. “Any time you need me, Captain…”
She nodded her thanks and Kelly had already taken two steps to leave, when Scarlet called him back: “One moment before you go, Lieutenant?”
“Captain?” he said, turning to him.
“I saw that my weapons and the rest of my stuff were returned to me. I was wondering… what about my horse?”
“Your horse?” Kelly looked at him in perplexity. “Well, from what I understand, he’s supposed to be the main dish for tonight’s dinner…”
Scarlet became suddenly very pale at these words and lost his capacity to voice a reply; in a space of a heartbeat, he felt the urge to leap at Kelly and throttle him to death – that was until he noticed the thin smile on the younger man’s lips and saw him unable to keep a straight face, begin to laugh openly.
Scarlet still felt like he could throttle him. “And you think that was funny, Lieutenant?” he snapped, scowling.
“Oh yes, Captain, it was,” Kelly answered, still chuckling. “I’m sorry… you should have seen your face. Don’t worry about your horse; he’s been put in the stables with the other mounts. He’s been taken real good care of.” He nodded his salutations to Scarlet, and then to D.B. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I’d better go before the kitchen is all out of soup.” He went away, on the double, and a still scowling Scarlet followed him with his eyes, his arms folded on his chest.
“Funny guy,” he muttered. He turned to D.B., who was still standing in front of him. She was smiling as well. “You told him about the incident with the butcher in London.”
“That Jones told me about? Yes,” she confirmed. “You should be happy Lieutenant Kelly is making jokes at your expenses. That means he’s warming up to you.”
“And what about you?” he asked, raising an eyebrow. “Are you? Warming up to me?”
She looked up to him, at first not answering. “I wouldn’t hold my breath just yet, if I were you,” she replied in a low voice.
She started walking away, but Scarlet followed. “Still angry with me, are you?”
“Let’s see…” D.B. said musingly. “You threatened me… kidnapped me… tied me up and gagged me… Punched me – twice… Threw me down from your horse…”
“That was an accident, and I had nothing to do with that,” he protested.
She stopped and turned swiftly to him. “And seduced me,” she added just low enough so that only he could hear.
“If I recall correctly, you were quite willing at the time,” Scarlet retorted musingly.
“My mother told me you had a brief suspicion I might be your daughter,” D.B. icily said, scowling.
“And a very embarrassing thought it was, considering what happened between us,” he said. “You didn’t tell your mother?”
“No, and the only reason I didn’t was because of what you represented once for her.” She poked him with her finger. “Don’t think that being the infamous Paul Metcalfe would have saved you from her just wrath, if she had learned all that happened between us.”
“I never thought it would.” Scarlet nodded quietly. “And for the record, Paul Metcalfe died many years before you were born. I am only Captain Scarlet.”
“Sure you are,” she replied, her voice still very cold, and her blue eyes flashing angrily. She started walking again, more rapidly, and he followed. “You’re a Mysteron replicate.”
That was something Scarlet had kept telling himself over the years, but hearing this comment coming from the mouth of another person, especially with such resentment, always had the same effect for him – a stab directly to the heart. He had learned to deal with that and to keep his cool in the face of it.
“I won’t argue with you on that point, D.B. ,” he said, quietly enough. “However, I will point out that I am not a Mysteron agent. I have my own free will.”
“That might be,” D.B. admitted. “But that doesn’t excuse some facts.”
“You killed my father.”
Scarlet blinked; he should have expected this, coming from her. Angered by the accusation, he roughly grabbed the girl by the arm and forcibly pulled her between two tents. At first she resisted, and when he let go of her, she faced him with eyes bright with fury.
“What do you think you’re doing, you –”
“Now listen to me, you little minx,” Scarlet interrupted her sharply, “And I hope I will make myself perfectly clear. It wasn’t your father I killed thirty-two years ago. It was a Mysteron duplicate, who had been created with the sole purpose of murdering the other man you called ‘father’.”
She glared up at him. “A Mysteron replicate,” she repeated, “Just like you. Who might have had my father’s persona, hidden somewhere deep inside of him, for all you knew.”
Scarlet shook his head. “I wouldn’t have count on that.”
D.B. poked on Scarlet’s chest again. “Like Paul Metcalfe’s persona was hidden inside of you. If Paul Metcalfe was able to get free –”
“He didn’t. I just assumed his personality, and identity.”
“Then why couldn’t it happen for my father?”
“I don’t even know why this happened with me. Why I got free of the Mysterons’ control. But no other duplicate had this chance after that. We could only assume that the Mysterons somehow made sure that whatever happened with me, would never happen again.”
“Are you so sure of that?” D.B. asked, narrowing her eyes. “Have you let another Mysteron duplicate live long enough to verify that assumption?”
Scarlet sighed and lowered his eyes. “Look… We might dispute for eons to come about what might have been or not, it won’t change anything that has happened. What’s done is done…”
“Just like that?” she said with a frown. “You killed my father, and it broke my mother’s heart…”
“Don’t you think it broke mine at the same time?” Scarlet snapped angrily. “I loved your father like a brother. There’s nothing I would not have done for him.”
“And that included ending his life,” she said bitterly, “and preventing him perhaps having the chance to live his life – like you – fighting the Mysterons?”
“No. I prevented him possibly spending his life as a drone, doing the Mysterons’ dirty work.”
“That’s a weak argument. Mysteron agents don’t live long.”
“Which means he would have died anyway, even without my intervention. And sometimes they do live long. I’ve seen it already. How about Captain Black, for example?”
D.B. didn’t answer and Scarlet sighed.
“D.B., I’m sorry, if in your eyes I deprived you of your father. But believe me – there’s nothing else I could have done.”
She nodded, still looking coldly at him. “This is your justification then?”
“Your father… he would not have wanted for the Mysterons to use him to hurt people,” Scarlet retorted.
“You think he would have wanted to die?”
“He was already dead, D.B.”
She nodded quietly. “I don’t think you truly believe that. Or at least, you don’t believe it entirely. Or you would not have let the guilt you felt for killing him, drive you to resign from Spectrum soon after that. I think that even today, you doubt that you did the right thing.”
“D.B., I –”
“I’m still considering if I should kill you,” she interrupted swiftly.
He didn’t reply to this, as he looked into the hard expression on her face. He noticed that her left hand was resting on the handle of her combat knife. He narrowed his eyes. “If you plan to use that knife, I can only give you a fair warning: it’ll do you little good.”
She slowly nodded. “I saw the extent of your recuperative powers last night,” she replied. “But you shouldn’t make any mistake about it, Captain Scarlet: I know of many ways to permanently dispose of your body once I ’d used that knife.”
“Didn’t I hear that one often before,” he grumbled. “You’re welcome to try, Captain Svenson.”
She glared at him, before turning her back on him. “Don’t tempt me,” she said.
And she left him where he stood, to return to her duties.
Captain Scarlet didn’t get to see Colonel White that afternoon. As dinner was growing close, and he hadn’t heard from her yet, he came to the main tent – the camp command centre – to see if he could find her. He only met Lieutenant Kelly there, and was told that the Spectrum commander had retired in her personal quarters some hours before. Apparently, she didn’t feel good that day, and had cancelled all of her activities to get some rest.
“I noticed that she looked tired, when I met with her earlier,” Scarlet remarked. “Is she feeling okay?”
Kelly slowly shook his head. “She’s not the young woman you once knew, Captain,” he replied quietly. “The last winter was hard on her, and her duties as Spectrum commander have weighed heavily on her shoulders. Lately, various factions within the camp have started to fight each other for petty reasons, and she more often then not has been forced to play referee between them. She represents order within this camp, and holds command of the Spectrum members. We all respect her and everyone looks up to her. But…” he sighed. “We know she won’t be with us forever.”
Scarlet made a quick mental count. “She’s only sixty-eight,” he commented.
Kelly raised an eyebrow. “Only? Captain, for you, sixty-eight might not look that much, and perhaps that forty, or even twenty years ago, it didn’t imply quite the same as it does today. Haven’t you noticed she looks considerably older? That’s the harsh reality of our lives that’s taken its toll on her.”
Scarlet nodded his understanding. “She told me time didn’t have on me the same hold it has on all of you,” he said in a low voice. “She was right when she said that.”
Kelly looked at him with a musing expression, tilting his head to one side. “It must be hard then, to feel so lonely,” he commented quietly.
Scarlet wasn’t sure what he was implying, and he preferred not to ask the younger man to explain what he meant exactly. Instead, he asked: “You said earlier that fights were breaking between some factions in the camp. Can I make an educated guess, and say that one of these factions might happen to be led by a certain Erik Watson?”
Kelly scowled. “Watson’s always been a loose cannon, and difficult to handle. The colonel put him under Dee’s… Captain Svenson’s… direct orders, so she would be able to keep him out of trouble. And maybe, with the hope that military discipline would do him some good. That hasn’t quite worked out very well, but at least, up until now, he’s more or less accepted Captain Svenson’s authority. But now he’s challenging it outright.”
“And why has he suddenly became so bold?” Scarlet asked.
Kelly scoffed. I’m afraid it’s a bit your fault, Captain.”
The remark left Scarlet perplexed. “My fault?”
Kelly nodded. “Captain Svenson was viewed as Colonel White’s senior staff’s most trusted and capable officer. There’s nobody tougher than her in this camp, despite the fact that she’s a woman. You actually were able to overcome her by strength, and took her hostage. You held her prisoner for nearly twenty-four hours. And last night, Watson saw her at her most vulnerable.”
“And you believe that’s the reason he has grown so bold?”
“I’m just guessing, Captain, trying to put myself in Watson’s shoes and to see things his way. This is not my point of view. After last night, it’s quite possible that he thinks he doesn’t owe Captain Svenson any respect. If he hadn’t done so yet, it’s more than likely he’ll get the word out at the camp. Although I have men keeping an eye on him, and as yet, they haven’t reported anything to me about that. We wouldn’t want for Watson to use this… unfortunate event, to get more supporters.”
Scarlet shook his head in confusion. “I don’t get it – more supporters for what?”
“Captain Scarlet…” Kelly heaved a deep sigh. He realised that maybe he had said more than he really should. But as he had gone to this point so far, he might as well continue his explanation. “I’m talking about the succession to Colonel White,” he said. “Erik Watson figures he has as much right as Captain Svenson to succeed Colonel White when… she’s gone.”
“Do you mean that seriously?” Scarlet scoffed. “That’s preposterous. That kid? Commanding this camp? He’s too young… And he isn’t commander material.”
“Well, it might seem that way to you and me. But Watson sees it differently.”
“And why would he think he has a right to command? Because he’s supposedly Captain Grey’s bastard son? You don’t inherit a command… That’s not the way it works.”
“It doesn’t really matter how it works, Captain. Watson thinks it’s his right. And the problem is that he might try to convince some people to see it the way he does.”
“And someone would actually listen to him?”
The lieutenant shrugged. “He has his little group of friends with him. You saw some of them. They don’t need convincing. After what happened with you, Watson might try to discredit Captain Svenson, and depict her as unfit to lead. There are plenty of other younger people at the camp. They might feel closer to Erik Watson than to D.B. Svenson – or even me, for that matter. The discipline might seem like a burden for them and they could be looking forwards to a different way to kind of leadership. Dee will undoubtedly maintain the same discipline as her mother. And you know, Captain… it doesn’t take that many people to make a wave. I shudder to think in what direction he would take the camp, if Watson ever took over.”
Scarlet shook his head. “I don’t believe he could be Bradley Holden’s son. That boy is more trouble than he’s worth.”
Kelly grinned. “I couldn’t agree more, Captain. But don’t worry for Dee. As long as I stand by her side, I won’t let anything happen to her.”
“I have no doubt you’ll do a good job, Lieutenant.”
At that moment, D.B. entered the command centre and stopped, seeing Scarlet standing there with Kelly. A flash passed in her eyes, and Scarlet couldn’t decide if it was either annoyance or anger – or maybe both. “What are you doing here?” she asked abruptly.
“I just came to see your mother,” Scarlet replied calmly. “I heard she wasn’t feeling very well?”
She looked at him guardedly. Her expression softened. “She’s resting,” she answered in a more even voice. “Doctor Markov said she had had too many rough days, lately. Her worrying about me, while I was gone, and seeing you back… Those are a lot of emotion for her, all at once.”
“Are you saying it’s my fault?” Scarlet asked, with a frown.
D.B. sighed. She, too, looked tired. “I’m not looking to put the blame on anyone, Captain Scarlet,” she replied. “I’m simply saying that my mother is a very sick old woman. And that maybe, for her sake, we should put our differences aside.”
Scarlet nodded. He couldn’t agree more. He sighed, relieved that the war between himself and his dearest friends’ daughter was now put on hold.
“D.B., I’d like to tell you that – ”
A sudden unsettling feeling made Scarlet stop, and he swiftly turned on his heel to face the door. He frowned as he felt a slight pain between his eyes that he knew all too well. He stepped out from the tent, scrutinising his surroundings, searching for whatever had triggered his sixth sense.
D.B. and Kelly had followed him out, and they stood by his side, looking at him with perplexity.
“What is it?” D.B. asked.
“I don’t know…” Scarlet’s hand reach for his brow and he rubbed it with annoyance. The pain wasn’t significance, but it was still a nuisance. And it wouldn’t go away. But however attentively he looked around, he couldn’t see what could be the problem.
“My mother told me of your sixth sense,” D.B. commented. “She said it saved her life once.” She looked around as well. “It normally reacts to a Mysteron’s presence, right?”
“Or an upcoming danger related to the Mysterons,” Scarlet confirmed. “I’ve been honing it over the last few years, so to pinpoint Mysteron presences more accurately, but once in a while, it will still set off without warning.” His hand left his brow. “It’s gone, now.”
“Do you mean to say that someone amongst these people is a Mysteron agent?” Kelly asked, looking about nervously.
“I don’t know. Maybe not. But the Mysterons are planning something, of that much I am sure.” Scarlet turned to the two of them. “May I suggest that you secure the camp’s perimeter and keep your men ready for action?”
“For what action exactly?” D.B. asked, with a frown. “We don’t even know what could be awaiting us.” She nodded thoughtfully. “But it’s sound advice, Captain. Better to be safe than sorry.” She turned to Kelly. “Do what needs to be done, Lieutenant.”
He acknowledged her command with a brief nod. “S.I.G., Captain.”
“Is there any way for you to keep this sixth sense of yours on the ready?” D.B. asked, turning to Scarlet, as Kelly left the command centre to carry out his orders. “You said you’ve been training it…”
He shrugged. “As I said, in some cases it’s still not reliable. But now that it has been triggered, I will be more vigilant – and see if it doesn’t pick up something more accurate.”
“Right. In that case, make sure you inform us, the minute it does.”
“S.I.G., Captain,” he replied, with a faint smile.
“Don’t try to be smart with me, Scarlet.”
Scarlet rolled his eyes. “I swear, I heard your father, just then.”
She raised a perfect eyebrow. “My real father… or my adoptive father?”
Scarlet chuckled, almost despite himself.
“Actually… both of them.”
It was only later that evening that Captain Scarlet heard about Colonel White.
He was alone in his quarters, finishing his dinner, when a young boy came for him, and told him the Spectrum commander was demanding to see him in her quarters. Scarlet quickly disposed of his last bite, gulped down the rest of his coffee and then followed the boy, who guided him to a tent, set not that far away from the command centre, in front of which stood one guard who came to attention when he saw Scarlet approach.
“At ease,” Scarlet muttered. He felt a little awkward; he had somehow lost the habit of seeing people saluting him, or coming to attention in front of him.
He pushed open the flap and stepped inside the tent. He found Juliette, lying in her bunk, propped up against pillows supporting her back. D.B. was sat next to her, holding her hand. Both women were smiling, as they had obviously been chatting happily before he arrived. However, there was a noticeable tiredness in Juliette’s face that didn’t escape Scarlet.
As he approached, they both looked up and a smile lit up the older woman’s expression as she saw him. “Oh my, Paul… you removed that horrid beard of yours! You look so much more handsome without it.” She reached her hand to him and he took it. He felt her squeeze his hand as hard as she could. There was still some strength left in her. She looked up to his face with something akin to adoration. “Isn’t it true he’s a nice looking man, D.B.?”
The young woman gave an approving nod. “He is…” she smiled mischievously. “… Especially for a seventy year old man.”
“Oh, teasing…” Juliette said, appreciatively. She winked at Scarlet. “She’s warming up to you.”
“That’s strange – she said the same thing about Lieutenant Kelly,” Scarlet replied quietly.
“I’ll be leaving you,” D.B. declared then, standing up. “You have a lot to discuss about. Mom…” she leaned, and kissed Juliette’s forehead. “Don’t tire yourself too much, okay?”
“I promise I’ll behave,” Juliette replied, still smiling.
“And I know that means you won’t listen.” D.B. turned to Scarlet; their eyes met for a second, and he thought he saw a pleading look in hers, as if she was asking him to take care of her mother. Then, she left the tent, and Scarlet sat down on the low stool she had vacated.
“Remember what Ochre used to say?” Juliette told him. “You only tease those you love.”
Scarlet chuckled. “Then he must have been really in love with me,” he commented, with a smile. “Because I often was at the receiving end of his jokes.”
“He was a wonderful man,” Juliette said fondly. “It’s a shame he left us so early… Melody was crushed. She liked him so very much.”
Scarlet lowered his head. “I know,” he said with a brief nod. “These two were always bickering.”
“I’m sure they’re still doing it in Heaven,” Juliette added with amusement. “Oh, you met her nephew, I imagine?”
“Melody’s nephew?” Scarlet thought for a second. Then it clicked in his mind. “You mean Jones? Morgan Jones is Melody’s nephew?” As she nodded confirmation, he mused: “Now I understand D.B.’s comment about him – saying she didn’t mind considering him as family, contrary to Watson.”
“You know that Erik Watson might be Brad’s son, then?”
“I heard about it, but I still can’t believe it. The boy is trouble with a capital T, Juliette. I can’t see why you’re so lenient with him. He’s not worth it.”
“He is – if he’s really Brad’s son.”
“That’s a mighty big if.”
She shrugged dismissively. “But if he is, we owe it to him, Paul. Spectrum always takes care of its own.” She squeezed his hand. “Like we would have taken care of you… if we had known what had happened to you. We didn’t know – none of us knew. That, you must believe. If we had known, we would have come to your rescue, and fought to the hilt to clear you of these ridiculous suspicions and accusations, in order to see you free and vindicated.”
“I know, Juliette,” Scarlet told her gently. “But how could you have known? There was no way you could have learned about it.”
Juliette lowered her eyes. She took a deep in-breath of air. “Charles had some suspicions,” she finally said.
“He did?” Scarlet asked in surprise.
“He had no certitude. He was thinking… that maybe the World Government might have had an idea where you could be. He told me that some years ago, when we were discussing the reasons that might explain your disappearance. He didn’t believe you could have vanished like that, without leaving a trace. There had to be an explanation. So he said he asked around, used his contacts to discover if, by any chance, somewhere, someone within the World Government could tell him if some operation had been run in order to take you out. He never found anything that might corroborate those suspicions of his. And you and I know that as Colonel White, he could have access to all levels of security imaginable within the World Government. This must have been a very classified operation, if even he could not find out about it. The World President obviously didn’t want him to find out.”
“I would believe that,” Scarlet commented darkly.
“At the end, Charles thought that maybe you had fallen victim to the Mysterons… that they had taken you out of the equation, somehow.”
“He was right on both accounts. Colonel White was often right about these things.”
“He also was right thinking that, if you were still alive, you would one day find your way back to us. He never lost hope. Never. For anything, even for the world, despite what it had become.”
Juliette lowered her eyes and took a deep breath. Scarlet could see she was tired.
“You need rest, Juliette. I can come back tomorrow, if –”
“No,” she interrupted. “What I need to say, I need to say now.” She opened her eyes and looked back at him. “There’s a lot of anger and desperation in the world right now, Paul. Even within this camp. These people out there… Who are Spectrum now...They need guidance, so they won’t sink into total despair. So they would keep hope. I tried to be a good leader…”
“You are a good leader, Juliette.”
“Not anymore. Not for long. I’ll be gone soon.”
“Hush. I know it. I can feel my strength abandoning me. You have eyes, Paul, you can see it: I am old and I am weak.”
“You have never been weak,” Scarlet replied softly, smiling.
She smiled in turn, sadly. “But you didn’t say I wasn’t old.” She started coughing, and for a moment, Scarlet fell distressed and reached for her. She brushed his helping hands away, and pointed with a trembling finger in the direction of a dark corner of her tent. “There’s a wooden box there,” she said, with a strained voice. “Please, would you get it for me?”
Scarlet nodded and stood up, to walk in the direction she indicated. He found a small chest-like, dark wooden box, locked with a padlock. Behind him, Juliette was still coughing. He figured this chest must contain some medicine for her, so he hurried back, and put the box between them. He sat closer to her, and drew her blanket around her frail form. She thanked him with a murmur and a nod. Her trembling hands reached for her neck and Scarlet saw a fine golden chain around it. She pulled on it to produce a key that had been hidden beneath her top.
“Take this,” she said, as she struggled to remove the chain from around her neck.
Scarlet helped her gently, and then looked down at the small key resting in his hand, as Juliette laid back against her pillows, breathing hard. He looked at the padlock on the chest, and then at Juliette’s tired face, inquisitively. She nodded.
“Yes, you can open it. Please.”
Scarlet inserted the key into the padlock. He had some difficulty turning it, as obviously, it had been locked for a long time and the mechanism inside had become rusty. He twiddled with the key for a short moment, and then heard the click, and it started to turn. Juliette was keeping her eyes on him as he removed the padlock, and slowly opened the cover.
There was a dark blue paper inside the box, wrapped over something soft, like a fabric. Carefully, Scarlet unfolded the paper and then stopped in his movement, when he saw that the box contained.
It was a tunic he knew very well; it was similar to the one he had worn himself, so long ago, except for the colour: it was white as snow, its suede seemingly brand new, as if time had not been able to touch it, carefully tucked away in the chest for all these years.
Scarlet looked up to Juliette, with an inquiring look. “Colonel White's uniform?” he whispered. “You kept it all this time?” When she nodded, he shook his head in mystification. “I didn’t know you could be that attached to such paraphernalia, Juliette…”
“It is more than a souvenir, Paul,” she answered quietly. “And you should know it. It’s a symbol. Of what we stand for.”
“What we used to stand for, you mean.”
“No. What we still stand for. I told you Charles never stopped hoping. He never forgot the dream either. He never let go of the fight, until the very end.”
Juliette took another deep breath and settled herself more comfortably on her cot. She seemed to grow even more tired, and Scarlet felt a wave of pity for her. She had grown so very old… Kelly was right. She definitely looked older than she really was.
“Charles became the leader of all the men and women, old and young, that you have seen here, in this camp… This village. All these people… they have decided that they will not kneel before the Mysterons, and will continue the fight, like Spectrum always did.”
“In London, they call you the Spectres,” Scarlet reminded her.
“All the surrounding communities call us like that.”
“Because they fear you.”
Juliette shook her head. “That’s because they don’t understand us. We never did anything against any of them.”
Scarlet grunted. “You might be deceiving yourself, Juliette. That’s not what I saw in London.”
“D.B. told me of that incident. Of course, there are hotheads here – like in any community... But basically, they are good people. I think… they’re mainly frustrated that others have given up hope, when they are still willing to fight.”
“That’s no excuse to act as bullies. And I don’t think that description of yours fits someone like Erik Watson. He doesn’t give a damn about the fight, Juliette.”
She sighed. “Maybe you are right. But you can’t judge all of these people on the actions of just one individual. But, if we don’t want for many of them to lose their ways and fall into chaos – especially the young – we must provide them with leadership. I am weak now, and I’m failing in my duties to them. Soon, these people – my people – will be left without a leader. I must find a replacement. I must name a new colonel.” She looked up, straight into Scarlet’s eyes. She said nothing, but he could read in her eyes what was in her mind. He tensed and scowled.
“Me?” he whispered unbelievingly.
“But… I thought…” Scarlet took a deep breath. “Juliette, from what I’ve heard, it’s supposed to be D.B. who will succeed you, in the eventuality that you might –” He stopped, uncertainly.
“In the eventuality that I should die,” she finished calmly for him. “Yes, D.B. was supposed to take over from me. But… she was always meant as an alternate choice – until you would come back. Oh, I have no doubt that D.B. would be capable of assuming command, but unfortunately, not everyone thinks the same.”
“You’re talking about Erik Watson’s conspiring against her, so he could take over,” Scarlet commented harshly.
“Erik is only the tip of the iceberg. There are others who might think D.B. is too young, too inexperienced to lead them. They would not accept Erik any more than her. And that might lead to conflicts, which could tear this camp apart. Paul… You becoming Spectrum commander is the ideal choice. No-one will contest your leadership.”
Scarlet shook his head. “No way, Juliette. I’m no-one’s leader.”
“Of course you are, Paul,” she said in a voice that was meant to reassure him more than to convince him. “You were born to lead. Charles recognised that when you were part of Spectrum. Don’t you remember the many times the two of you clashed over decisions he made that you didn’t agree with?”
“That’s not the mark of a leader. That’s the mark of a troublemaker,” Scarlet protested. “Even I know that.” He grunted, pushing the box away. “I can’t be Colonel White.”
“You have to, Paul.”
“Quit calling me ‘Paul’, please.”
Scarlet jumped to his feet and, turning his back on her, walked away a few steps, before stopping in front of the table. Juliette’s trouble gaze followed his movements, as she wondered the reason of such a sudden outburst. He leaned against the table, bowing his head. “Paul Metcalfe is dead,” he said in a low voice. “And me… I’m not even human.”
“And when did he die exactly?” asked Juliette, from behind him. “When the Mysterons killed him, forty years ago… or when his wife and best friend died, ten years later?”
That made Scarlet turn on his heel to face her. His eyes were flashing with annoyance and anger, but he didn’t say anything; he couldn’t find the strength. The sight of his weakened friend was enough to stop him answering back. She smiled at him then, in a disarming way.
“You’re still human enough to feel emotions, darling. Why do you deny it? You’re one of us, even if you won’t accept it.”
“Yeah,” he said bitterly. “I’m so human I can’t get a scratch without my true nature revealing itself. I’m so human that I look exactly the same as I did, forty years ago. And will probably still look the same, forty years from now. Provided the world still has that long to live.” He gestured towards the flap hiding the opening of the tent. “Your own people wanted to burn me alive, Juliette. I can’t blame them; they thought I was a Mysteron – which, by the way, I am. They hate me. And you expect them to trust me enough to allow me to become their leader?”
He scoffed. “Come on, you know human nature better than that…”
“Have you seen any resentment from them, since they learned who you really were?” Juliette asked. He didn’t answer, still scowling stubbornly. She smiled.
“I have told them about you, over the years. They know all about Captain Scarlet, the kind of man he is, what he did in trying to keep them safe from the Mysterons. They know of your dedication, courage and sacrifices. They know you died many times in service of the cause. They admire and respect you. They will accept you as their leader.”
“I have trouble believing that,” Scarlet groused. “And what if some of the people do not accept me?”
“D.B. and Kelly will help you, and support you.”
“D.B. would be okay with seeing me take over?” Scarlet was surprised.
“I don’t want to leave the burden of command on her young shoulders if I can avoid it. I talked to her about it, and she agrees that the best way to avoid all problems would be to have you as Spectrum commander.”
“Juliette…” Scarlet sighed and looked away. “That sounds like you’re making a strategic political manoeuvre. I don’t like being manipulated that way.”
“I am not manipulating you,” she retorted. “Paul… you have to make the right decision, for everyone. And for yourself at the same time. It is time to return to take your place amongst the human race.”
“The human race doesn’t trust me,” he said, turning his back on her again, and staring bleakly into nothingness. He hesitated briefly. «And I don’t think I should trust the human race,” he confessed, admitting his darkest fear.
“No,” he heard Juliette protest, her voice attempting to sooth the obvious anguish she could hear in his voice. “You shouldn’t think like that, my darling. If you can’t trust any of us, whom would you trust instead? The Mysterons? Certainly not!” Juliette shook her head dejectedly. “You have to have faith in us. I know you’ve been hurt, because some delusional and paranoid government officials put you in jail for years, without giving a second thought about all the good you did. But that doesn’t mean you have to distrust all the rest of us… Surely, you can trust me?”
“It’s not about you, Juliette,” he said over his shoulder. “These people I fought so long to keep safe, they put me in jail and threw away the key.”
“Those who took the decision have died a long time ago, Paul.”
“Yes, they died. And everyone but the Mysterons, who kept torturing me, forgot about my very existence. If the attack on Nuclear City had not happened, twenty years ago, I would still be rotting in solitary confinement.”
“I said earlier that there is currently a lot of desperation and anger in the world,” Juliette said in a whisper. “I see there is much in you too. I can feel… and understand your anguish, Paul…” She moved slightly to make herself more comfortable. “But I know you. I know the good man you are. I am like Charles Gray: I have hope and will always trust you. And I know that, in the end, you will make the right decision…”
Scarlet chuckled. He was unsure if he should scoff at Juliette’s assumption, or laugh at it, or get angry. He didn’t want to hurt her. He could hear her voice growing weaker by the second, and realised that his old friend was becoming so very tired.
“Your trust in me is touching, Juliette,” he replied, without turning round. “And so was Colonel White’s. I truly appreciate it. But… you don’t know me as well as you used to. I said I wasn’t Paul Metcalfe. I wasn’t the man he was. I’m not even the same man that you fell in love with thirty years ago. When I escaped from prison, and went on the run… I did things to survive that I’m not very proud of. And you wouldn’t be very proud of them either. It came so easy to me, that I didn’t know if it came from the military training Paul Metcalfe received – or if it was from my own Mysteron nature. If I can kill so easily, maybe it means I’m more Mysteron that I would care to admit. Because I can’t remember if the Paul Metcalfe side of me, even as a soldier, was ever so ruthless. Maybe only the Mysterons know what truly lies in me.”
He turned around slowly, and leant back against the table facing the bed. On it, Juliette was keeping silent, lying against her pillows.
“There is something I didn’t tell you, Juliette. The real reason behind my return here, to England.”
She didn’t reply nor did she move, and Scarlet tilted his head to one side, narrowing his eyes as he tried to scrutinise her face in the semi darkness. “Juliette?”
She remained silent and Scarlet approached; he sat down on the stool he had occupied earlier and looked at her. Her head was resting on her shoulder and she had her eyes closed. She looked as if she was in a deep sleep. Scarlet reached for her hand and tenderly squeezed it. He didn’t want to wake her up, but he had the chilling thought that maybe she wasn’t sleeping at all.
“Juliette, do you –” He stopped; he couldn’t feel her pulse in her wrist. Gently, he touched her cheek with his other hand. Her head dipped to the other side.
There was no pulse in her neck.
“Oh, Juliette…” Scarlet gathered her frail body into his arms and cradled her against his heart. There was a lump in his throat as he rocked back and forth, as if he was trying to comfort her. But he knew he was only holding an empty shell; that his last friend on this planet had gone, leaving him thoroughly alone. He closed his eyes in sorrow, and a single, very small tear, rolled down his cheek. He wondered what the last words she had heard him say were, and shuddered to think he might have broken her heart with his refusal.
He felt the presence behind him before he actually heard the faint click of the hammer of a gun being pulled; and he fiercely glanced over his shoulder.
“You’re too late,” he said sharply, holding on to the body in his arms.
He turned around and, with accusing eyes, looked at the implacable face of the man standing there, pointing a gun straight at his face. He didn’t know who the man was, but even if his sixth sense had not triggered on his presence, he would have known that he was facing a Mysteron agent – the one he probably had sensed the presence of, during the day.
Even here, even now… at her deathbed. Why won’t they leave us alone? Scarlet felt a righteous anger mounting in him, as he faced the assassin.
“She escaped you,” he said in a distressed voice. “Colonel White is dead, and beyond your reach now.”
The Mysteron agent tilted his head, looking straight at Scarlet. “You are right, Earthman,” he said without emotion, taking better aim at the former Spectrum officer’s head. “Colonel White is indeed dead.”
There was another click, but from behind the Mysteron agent, who froze on the contact of a gun against his own neck. D.B. Svenson stood there, her face an impassive mask, as she replied to the assassin, without a trace of emotion in her voice: “Long live Colonel White.”
She pulled the trigger and watched as the Mysteron agent collapsed dead at her feet, a bullet in his head.
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