A Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons story
For 2006 Halloween Challenge
By Chris Bishop
Chapter 1 – Back to the Underground Base
When Scarlet opened his eyes much later, he felt light-headed; as usual, the pain was gone and his wounds had healed. He was lying on his back, on a comfortable bed, and hovering over him was the face of Colonel Blue, standing by, and waiting expectantly.
“Hi. They told me you were about to wake up,” Blue said with a welcoming smile. “How do you feel?”
“Much better, thanks,” Scarlet answered, rising into a sitting position. “Just a bit…” he stopped when he saw the plastic glass that Blue offered to him, “…parched,” he finished with a grin. He took the glass. “You haven’t forgotten, I see.”
“No. I still remember how you normally feel whenever you wake up from your retrometabolic sleep,” Blue answered as Scarlet gulped the entire contents of the glass. “Doctor Fawn has already ordered something to eat for you. He’s not forgotten what you like, so I think you’ll be in for a feast.”
Scarlet put the glass down, looking around him.
“Sickbay?” he mused with some surprise. “I’m back at the Underground Base?”
Blue nodded. “The Sea Turtle arrived last evening,” he explained. “You’ve been deep asleep since you lost consciousness. We moved you here, so you’ll be comfortable for the remainder of your healing time.”
“I slept all that time?” Scarlet was more and more puzzled.
“Nearly forty-eight hours straight.”
“Last thing I remember is being in the helijet… And the pain I was in. Wow… Forty-eight hours. I normally don’t take that much time to recover. How come?”
“Doctor Fawn believes that the jump in time – combined with the stress of your new situation – might have played some tricks on your… unique metabolism. You’ll need time to adjust yourself.”
“You’re telling me,” Scarlet sighed. “Do you have the Quantum Transmitter now?”
“Yes – Black gave it to me. Thank you for retrieving it for us. It’s in the hands of our scientific team – under Captain Green’s supervision. They’ll study it, to get as much information out of it as we can…” Blue scratched his ear. “… Although it’s pretty beat up, as you might have noticed yourself. I don’t know if they’ll be able to learn anything from it. But I can hardly blame you for it. You held up your part of the bargain.” He smiled again. “And more. You brought us a guest?”
“Colonel White, yes.”
“I can’t believe he survived that crash – and lived in those ruins, for all those years,” Blue murmured. “Had we known earlier…”
“How is he?” Scarlet asked.
“Very well, considering. He’s been freshening up, and eating good food – for the first time in years, it seems to me – and resting plenty. We gave him the V.I.P. room. He’s certainly entitled to it.”
“I bet he was pretty impressed with your setup here.”
“Not as much as he was over the Sea Turtle,” Blue remarked with a grin. “Or so Grey told me. Apparently, the carrier reminded him of his time in the Navy – I’m sure he would have loved commanding such an advanced vessel in his youth.”
Scarlet smiled in turn. He reached for the glass, and as Blue filled it again, he noticed that his left wrist was now free of the bracelet he had been wearing during the entire mission. He drank his water. “So you removed the leash?” he asked pointedly.
“The bracelet? We had it removed as soon as you boarded the Sea Turtle.”
“Does that mean you consider that I am… ‘safe’ now?”
“Our agents only need to wear the bracelet on missions, Paul.”
“I mean the bomb, Colonel.”
“Mmm? What bomb?”
“What bomb?!” Scarlet exploded, incensed over the detached tone Blue was presently taking. “The one you had installed in that bloody bracelet, you…” Scarlet stopped suddenly, seeing the stern and unruffled way Blue was looking straight at him. Understanding suddenly dawned on him. “There was no bomb…” he stated, more than he asked.
“Of course not,” Blue confirmed quietly. “I never said there was. I simply asked you if you remembered the Scarab Protocol… So you assumed that there was a bomb inside that bracelet…”
“You did all you could to lead me to believe there was one. But it was actually like the Scarab Protocol case. No real bomb was involved.” Scarlet grunted. “Dirty trick, Adam.”
“Sorry about that. It was just an additional safety measure. But I guess now, we can say you are on the level.”
“Oh, so kind of you to confirm it to me!” Scarlet said in a rather cold tone. He drank more of his water. “Now what?”
“I suggest you rest for a while more,” Blue said with a genuine smile. “I’ll have need of you when you wake up again later.”
“What for, this time? You want me to tackle an entire WAAF regiment?”
“Not quite – although you might find this… er… new task equally as difficult.” Blue paused, as Scarlet addressed him an inquiring look. “I’ll be leaving for England, later tonight. And you are coming with me.”
“As your personal bodyguard?” Scarlet asked with a raised brow.
“Not exactly… And we’ll not be leaving alone. We’re going on Spectrum business. There is… someone… who you will want to meet.”
“Someone? Whereabouts in England are we going?”
“Somewhere near London…”
Scarlet was about to take one last gulp of his water, when he noticed the still grave way Blue was staring at him. He stopped, with his glass nearly at his lips. “More precisely…to Foxleyheath, Kent?”
Blue nodded. Scarlet lowered his hand, paling as he did.
“Oh no, Adam… I can’t…”
“I’m sure she’ll be happy to see you, Paul.”
“Adam, I can’t… I… I’m not ready to meet her right away… I can’t see her… I can’t even see my parents right now… They believe I’m dead. I can’t possibly…” He interrupted himself, as he saw the awkwardness and hesitation suddenly appear on Blue’s face. Scarlet would have had to be blind not to notice it. He stared as his friend grew increasingly ill-at-ease.
“Adam… what is wrong?”
“Paul… I… There is something… that you should know.” Blue sighed. “Damn it. I should have told you earlier, but I couldn’t find the strength, or the courage for it. You’ll find out sooner or later, anyway, so now...”
“What? What will I find out? Adam, you’re starting to worry me…”
“I’m sorry. I wish there was an easy way to tell you this…”
“What?” Scarlet repeated insistently, a sinking feeling suddenly hitting him. “Is it something about Dianne? Is there something wrong with her? But you just said…”
“No, no… Dianne is fine, I told you.”
“Is she married, with a husband and four and a half kids to keep her busy?”
“No, she’s not. She never married. No… it… It concerns your parents.”
Scarlet’s heart missed a beat. “My parents?” he repeated in a very low tone. “What… what about them?” He saw Blue’s features becoming grim and suddenly it hit him. “Oh, no… you don’t mean…”
“I’m… sorry, Paul. They’re… gone. Both of them.”
“No…” Scarlet’s voice broke into a whisper. His face paled even more, dramatically. Blue felt for sure that his friend wasn’t feeling very well.
“Paul?” he asked in concern. “Are you all right?”
“When?” Scarlet’s voice was very weak – barely audible. “How did it happen?”
“Seven years ago. Remember the man I told you about – who was supposed to go against Roberts in the World Presidential elections? It was your father.”
Scarlet frowned, not believing what he was hearing. “Wha- my father? You mean… the car that was booby-trapped? But… but my father never had any interest in politics. How…?”
“He might not have in the past – but his feeling was that Roberts had to be stopped… and leave the office of World President. All through the years, he didn’t hesitate to denounce Roberts’s position, and he defended Spectrum to the hilt, trying hard to raise the outrage of the people for the way the organisation had been treated. He ultimately believed running against Roberts was the only solution left to him. But he didn’t even have the chance to announce his candidacy before the… car exploded.”
“Roberts had him killed…” Scarlet said in a low voice, his face going blank.
“I told you – we don’t know that for certain.”
“Who would have done it, then?” Scarlet snapped angrily. “My father didn’t have that many enemies – even when he was a general in the WAAF. The Mysterons? You would have known if they had picked him as a target! And you told me that Roberts accused Spectrum of having done it… because of my father’s ties with Spectrum.” He looked away, as Blue, seeing the distress – even the guilt – on his friend’s face, reached out to comfort him. When he saw Scarlet’s awfully distant stare, he stopped.
“Paul, I’m really… really sorry.”
“What about my mother?” Scarlet asked again, not willing to look in Blue’s direction, obstinately staring into empty space.
“She… was also in the car when it blew up.” Blue saw Scarlet take a deep and shaky breath. “She was killed instantly.”
“I suppose I should be grateful for that, shouldn’t I?” Scarlet said very icily.
“And my father? Did he die quickly too?”
Blue shook his head miserably. “It took him three days… in a hospital,” he murmured. “I tried my best to get there in time… and be with him at that moment, but…” He let the rest of the sentence hang.
For long seconds, there was only a deep, uncomfortable silence in the room.
“Please, Adam…” Scarlet’s voice was still tense, when he spoke, and he was still unwilling to look at his friend. “Please, leave me. I would… like to be on my own, for a while.”
“Of course,” Blue murmured, looking down. “See you later…”
Blue walked out the room, very slowly, leaving his friend to his pain and sorrow…
It was the impression that he was being watched that made Colonel White open his eyes; somehow, he had dozed off in the Officers’ Lounge, after drinking a wonderful cup of very relaxing tea – Earl Grey, thank Heaven. He had not savoured one since the crash in the Himalayas. He woke all of a sudden, at the surprised realisation that sleep had crept over him without him even noticing it. It had been ages since he had fallen asleep like that.
I must have been more exhausted than I thought…
He startled one of the two young children who were standing next to the sofa where he had nodded off. To tell the truth, he was startled to discover them. They were staring him right in the face, with an expression filled with curiosity.
There was something familiar about those two kids – he couldn’t say why, but with their blond hair and blue eyes, they reminded him of someone.
He looked back at them with a frown and an inquiring expression.
“Are you Santa Claus?” the youngest suddenly asked, with a definitely American accent.
White grunted, rubbing his white beard. After a long, much-sought-after shower, he had it cut to a reasonable length earlier, at least short enough to appear cleaner. He had groomed his hair – which was still long – and tied it up into a tidy ponytail. Later on, all of this would have to be taken care of.
“No, I am not…” he said gruffly. “What makes you think I am?”
“You look old enough to be…” the older boy remarked in turn.
“Aren’t you too old to still believe in Father Christmas?” White asked with a renewed frown.
“Oh – we know he doesn’t exist,” the older boy continued.
“We just wanted to make sure,” the youngest added.
“Checking your facts before making an opinion? I like that… No, I’m not Santa Claus… I’m… well… you can call me Mr. Gray.”
“Are you Captain Grey’s father?” the younger boy asked again.
“He can’t be. Grey is not Uncle Brad’s real name, you know that,” the older boy remarked sternly.
“Well, maybe his real name is not Mr. Gray either,” the younger pouted.
“That is my real name,” White said with a shrug. “But I’m a good friend of your… Uncle Brad.”
“And of your parents, I believe,” White mused. “Your name doesn’t happen to be Svenson, by any chance?”
“It is,” a female voice said sternly from the door. “And right now, they are Svensons in trouble… Boys, shouldn’t you be in class at this hour? What will your teacher say?”
White stood on his feet, literally towering over the boys who turned around, looking dejected. The three of them stared in the same direction, towards the now opened door where an annoyed-looking Symphony was glaring meaningfully at her two sons. Both moaned upon discovering her.
“Aww… Mom… It’s recess…”
“Don’t hand me that, Paul Svenson. I know that recess finished five minutes ago. And you are not allowed to leave school during recess, you know that.” She thumbed towards the exit. “Now march down to class, pronto! You too, Charles…” she added addressing the youngest, and barely noticing the frown that creased Colonel White’s brow upon hearing the boy’s name. “You kids have not heard the end of it. We’ll talk about it later.”
“S.I.G., mom! Goodbye, Mr. Gray!” The boys rushed out of the room, running as fast as they could – and somehow avoiding their mother’s gaze as they disappeared behind her.
Satisfied to hear their hurried footsteps decreasing in the hall as they rushed back to classes, Symphony cleared the door and entered fully into the officers’ lounge. “They’re good boys, really – just a little over-exuberant at times,” she explained as she approached Colonel White, a large smile on her face.
“Not surprising, considering who their parents are,” Colonel White commented quietly. He gave her a smile of his own. “How are you, Symphony?”
“As good as could be, I guess, Colonel…” She reached for him, on an impulse, and wrapped her arms around him. Surprisingly, the normally undemonstrative White responded to the embrace, holding her – literally – in a warm bear hug that could have easily crushed her. “It’s so good to see you… I couldn’t believe it when Adam told me you were alive!”
“I’ve been receiving quite a lot of that reaction these last days,” he remarked. He gently pushed her from him. “It is good to see you too, Symphony… My God, when you stood in that doorway, I thought at first I was seeing your mother… ”
She simply smiled in answer and waved towards the sofa, inviting him to sit down with her. Which he did.
“It must have been terrible, living all alone up there,” she noted. “You’ve… lost weight, Colonel.”
“Not surprising, don’t you think?” He nodded towards the door. “You named one of your boys after me? That’s… quite an honour. Ah… Do call me Charles, please. I don’t feel that I should be addressed as ‘Colonel White’, anymore. Consider me retired.”
“Since about yesterday evening, when I arrived on base… Spectrum is your husband’s responsibility now. I wouldn’t want to steal his thunder.”
“I’m sure he’s not feeling threatened a bit… Charles. But your presence – and the announcement that you’re alive – is bound to create some upsurge within the organisation when it becomes widely known. Already, you’re the talk of the base.”
“Mmm… I was afraid of that,” a pensive White remarked. “Look… Captain Blue… I mean Colonel Blue took over from me very effectively, when I… disappeared. At least it would seem to me. It is not my intention to take back my position as Spectrum commander from him.” He leaned back on the sofa, sighing deeply. “I’m seventy years old – I passed the last fifteen or so years up in the cold mountains of the Himalayas, eating military rations and half-rotten biscuits, protecting a piece of junk that – as far as I knew – might not have had any real significance to the world at large…”
“Apparently it did… Considering you had to fight off invaders come to scavenge the remains of Cloudbase…”
“And nearly lost my mind in the process.” White grunted. “You have no idea of the things I did up there, in order to protect that base. There are some actions that I am not that proud of.”
“We all do things in the course of duty – that none of us are proud of, Charles. Remember Harmony.”
White nodded. “I know it was hard for you to shoot her down – as it was hard for me to give the order to do so.”
“You were the commander. It was a decision that had to be made.”
“I’m tired now, Symphony… Karen. All I’m yearning for is to put these old bones to rest – in the English countryside, somewhere… where I would not have to concern myself with corrupt politicians – and Mysteron invaders.”
“You’re sure you will be up to this?” Symphony asked with a faint frown. “You still have good years of fighting ahead of you. Somehow, I can’t see you enjoying retirement in peace and quiet for the reminder of your life, knowing that the fight isn’t over yet.”
“It is over for me. I don’t want to spend those… remaining ‘good years’ still fighting. I’ve done more than my share of that. I think I’ve earned a rest.”
“Of course.” Symphony could see the weariness in White’s features and didn’t want to press any further. She thought she’d better explain herself and make amends. “It’s just that it seems we’re going to lose you, just as we’ve found you… It would have been nice to keep you with us for a little while – as a guest of Spectrum, that is.”
He answered with a faint smile. “You’ve learned diplomacy…”
“I became wiser with age.”
He chuckled. “So I see.” There was a pause. “How is… your mother? Does she still have her beautiful ranch?”
“She’s fine – and no, I’m afraid she doesn’t. Ever since our identities –Adam’s and mine – became publicly known, she had to live undercover. Spectrum arranged for her to receive an assumed name, under which she is living now. You would not believe it – but she chose to live in England now.”
White raised a brow. “Did she?”
“I believe you had quite a lot to do with that choice of hers,” Symphony added. “She was… very sad when she heard of your… demise, years ago.”
“I’m sorry to have caused her so much sorrow,” White said genuinely. “I was quite… attached… to your mother.”
“Attached, really?” Symphony repeated with an innocent tone. “From what I learned from my mother, it was a little more than that, no?” She playfully thumped him. “I didn’t think you had it in you! Going behind our backs to pursue a secret relationship… And not with just any woman – my mother! That was quite a surprise!”
“Not an unpleasant surprise, I hope?”
“Not at all – when it comes down to it, I couldn’t hope for anyone better for my mother.”
“Thank you.” There was another pause. “Does she have anyone in her life today?”
Symphony shook her head, with more than a passing amusement at the question. “Looking into rekindling your past relationship with her?”
“What do you think her reaction would be… when she finds out that I’m alive?”
“Surprise, I guess… maybe even shock. I suggest you be very careful in approaching her. You don’t want to cause her to have a stroke!”
“I certainly don’t want that. Don’t tell her I’m alive… not right away.”
“I won’t, if that’s what you want. But…Adam is leaving for England tonight. Maybe you would like to go with him? Maybe look for that countryside place you would like for yourself… and check on my mother while you’re at it?”
“England,” White mused. “Oh, I would like that very much… There’s nothing holding me here, after all…”
“I’ll discuss it with Adam right away, then,” Symphony said, rising to her feet. “And I will make arrangements for you… a new identity so you’ll be able to enjoy that peace and quiet you want.”
He reached for her arm as she was about to leave, and stopped her; she looked down at him.
“Thank you,” he said with something of a catch in his voice. “You don’t know what it means to me… Karen.”
“Don’t mention it. It’s the least I can do for you.” She leaned over to kiss him gently upon his bearded cheek. “After all, as you said yourself… You have more than earned it… Charles.”
Straight after leaving Captain Scarlet in sickbay, Colonel Blue wandered in the Underground Base R&D Department, where Captain Green and a team of experts were working on what was left of the Quantum Transmitter, hoping to learn something from it. As the colonel crossed the threshold, Captain Green, who was standing next to a worktable speaking with an elderly gentleman, noticed him and motioned to him to approach. Blue briskly walked in their direction, just as the old man with Green turned around and checked the newcomer with a curious eye.
“How is it going, Captain?” Blue asked straightaway, not wanting to beat around the bush. “Any results yet on your research?”
“Nothing specific, Colonel.” Green indicated the room all around them, where eight people were keeping themselves busy at various stations. Most of them were working on bits of the Quantum Transmitter, that had been allotted to them for examination, however, two of them were going through paper notes, and checking information on computer screens, taken from datadisks.
Green pointed to a particular part on the table in front of him; it was the destroyed cover of the Quantum Transmitter, with half of its electronic components torn away. “I’m afraid there’s not much left of the Quantum Transmitter for us to make a decent examination. But… we have an expert here, who worked on the device and its applications years ago, and who might be able to help us.”
“Professor Barnard,” Blue said, presenting his hand to the elderly man. “I’m Colonel Blue. So glad you were able to accept our invitation to join us.”
“Invitation? That’s a rather elegant way to put it, Colonel,” Barnard replied in a gruff enough tone. “Your men actually kidnapped me from my home. That was rather upsetting.”
“A desperate measure, in these desperate times, Professor. Let me assure you, we do not mean you any harm. We just need your expertise on the Quantum energy field. After all, Captain Green told me you are the best there is… He devoured all your books and I believe he is a big fan of yours.”
“Very flattering.” There was still an edge in Barnard’s voice, but it was obvious he wasn’t as angry as he would have them believe.
“It’s a matter of the utmost importance, sir,” Blue continued, insistently.
Barnard slowly nodded, pensively. “The Quantum energy, I’m afraid to say, is not a toy to play with. That’s why I recommended the World Government years ago to stop any work on it – after the devastating results it brought on Futura City. I felt we were not ready at that moment to face whatever new disasters might be caused by misusing this technology. Now your captain tells me that the World Government has not stopped that work, but on the contrary had pursued it – secretly?”
“I’m afraid that’s what our intelligence network leads us to believe, Professor,” Blue confirmed. He saw the older man grow sombre. “I do not trust President Roberts with the use of something so powerful,” he added.
“Nor do I,” Barnard agreed, looking suspiciously at Blue. “The question is… are you to be trusted with it, Colonel Blue? I’ve heard so many bad things about Spectrum over the years…”
“None of them being true.”
“You would say that, of course. And the fact that you have resorted to kidnapping to bring me here – wherever here might be – doesn’t give me much motivation to trust you.”
“As I said – it was a desperate measure, Professor. We only seek to help the world, in whatever ways we are able. If it means going against the World Government itself – we will do it. We desperately need all the help you can offer us.”
“And if I should not agree to give it to you willingly?”
Blue sighed. “Then I’m afraid that we’ll have to make do without you, Professor. We will take you back to your home – without delay. As I said, we do not mean any harm. But we would appreciate – so very much - if you would agree to give it to us. Please.”
Barnard kept silent from a moment, looking straight into Blue’s eyes; he probably liked what he saw in them, because he nodded again, to the affirmative, and sighed deeply. “I believe you. You look like someone who means what he says. And personally, I would rather trust you than President Roberts.”
“You were not aware the World Government was still working on developing uses for the Quantum energy, then?”
“God, no! They didn’t ask for my expertise. They know what I would have told them. That it was pure folly to continue experimenting on it – and if they intend to move on with this, they would have to do it very carefully, using all their experts in the field.”
“And the fact that they didn’t hire you…”
“Could only mean that whatever use they plan for the Quantum energy this time, it could only be for the worse.”
“Like using it to create a weapon of some sort?”
Barnard shivered. “Believe me, Colonel, what we saw happen to Futura City is only a sample of what the Quantum energy could do, when badly used. You don’t mess with something which is an integral part of space and time, which can be used to distort its fabric… to the point of permitting travel across large distances – by in fact reducing that distance.”
“How does it work exactly?” Blue asked.
Thoughtfully, Barnard looked around the desk for something to fully illustrate his meaning. He took a piece of paper and a pen, then drew a dot at one extremity of the paper, and then another dot at the other end. “Imagine this sheet of paper as tri-dimensional,” he explained. “It represents the universe as we know it. The shortest distance between these two points…” he drew a line between the two dots, “… is a straight line, right?”
“As we know it, yes,” Blue agreed.
“You must have seen this, then…” Barnard folded the paper in two, then folded it again in the same way. Then he put the concertinaed paper onto the table, in a standing position. “Now you see that the distance between the two points has been considerably reduced…by distorting that piece of paper. The Quantum energy Transmitter was supposed to do something quite similar to the fabric of the universe.”
“Yes, I have seen that kind of demonstration,” Blue said, with a nod of his head. “That’s a very old science theory – even before Quantum energy had ever been mentioned.”
“Now look at that piece of paper.” Blue did as Barnard said, almost waiting for something to happen. Instead, it seemed that the older man was simply waiting for a dramatic moment to make his point. “Imagine that a city has been standing on this piece of paper,” Barnard continued, in a dull tone. “Or…a planet. What do you think must have happened to it, once its foundation has been so drastically changed?”
“The same thing that happened to Futura City?”
“All that rippling through the fabric of the universe, without proper care and preparation, I must add, can cause tremendous damage, as you well know.”
“All too well, yes.”
Barnard took the paper and tried to straighten it by pulling it at each end. Of course, without success. “With no way so far to prevent such damage to the fabric of time and space, manipulation of the Quantum energy would not be possible for space travel. It might have terrible consequences. So far, it could be only used as a terrible weapon – of massive destruction. And at this point, we might not even be able to imagine the extent of the destruction it could cause.”
“What about time travelling?” Green asked, with a frown on his brow. “According to theory, manipulation of the Quantum energy could permit travel through time.”
“So you are familiar with my work, Captain,” Barnard said with an approving smile. “It would, of course, need careful preparation, just as for space travel… or the consequences might be as terrible. But they are only theories, unfortunately. While there has been irrefutable evidence through scientific testing that space travel does work using Quantum energy, the same cannot be said of time travel, I’m afraid to say.”
“There was no actual test conducted?” Green enquired.
“No, the theory was deemed too far-fetched – and impractical – to even try it. So no proof exists that it could work.”
“And what if there was?” Blue asked in turn.
Barnard gave him a sideway glance. “Are you mocking me, by any chance, Colonel?”
Blue chewed on his lower lip for a second. “Professor, if I was to tell you that I might know someone who has been able to – unwittingly - travel in time through the use of the Quantum Effect?”
“Without proper protection, that would be surprising,” Barnard retorted. “Human beings would be unable to perform such a feat. That man would be dead.”
“He is not. He’s very much alive.”
Barnard frowned. “Spectrum has been able to achieve time travel using Quantum energy?”
“No… Not exactly. It happened quite accidentally. And it wasn’t Spectrum’s doing,” Blue added quickly, before Barnard, whom he could see was close to getting angry, would still protest that it would be far too dangerous even for Spectrum to have conducted such a test. “We just…discovered the incident, so to speak.”
The possibility seemed to pique Barnard’s interest. “How long had he travelled in time – according to him? Five minutes? An hour? What kind of proof does he have?”
Barnard gasped, hearing Blue’s answer, and opened his eyes wide with surprise. “Fifteen years?! How… You said he ‘unwittingly’ travelled through time?”
“To be exact, Professor – he would seem to have been… mmm… ‘propelled through time’ by the Quantum Effect – when Futura City was destroyed, fifteen years ago.”
“Propelled through time? What kind of protection did he have?”
“So far as I know, none.”
“And you say he is alive?! As far as we know, there’s nothing in existence that can protect a human being from direct contact with the Quantum Effect. The Quantum Transmitter would permit a space-travelling vessel to ride on the Quantum wave to make the trip in safety. It’s quite different for time travel – especially the way you seem to imply.”
“He’s not an ordinary man, Professor,” Blue admitted. He hesitated. “Professor – I read your personal file. You were a member of the presidential scientific committee that studied the Mysterons’ activities, in collaboration with Spectrum, years ago, isn’t that right?”
“During President Younger’s office, yes. I was sworn to complete secrecy about any discoveries we might make about them. The World Government, in those times, was merely trying to hide the alien nature of the Mysterons, so that the world at large wouldn’t panic – but it was still working very hard to stop them.”
“Giving Spectrum all it needed to do so, yes,” Blue confirmed with a nod. “There were still rumours that the Mysterons were indeed aliens, though. Eventually, the truth came out, as you know…”
“Yes. That’s when the government changed its official position on the Mysterons, to keep those ‘rumours’ from spreading – with the arrival of Roberts to power. It was all the more difficult for me to keep silent. The way your organisation was treated, when they said the Mysterons didn’t exist… It was shameful. Oh, I saw Doctor Fawn earlier on the premises – I’m looking forward to meeting him again – if you will permit me, of course.”
“I’ll arrange a meeting,” Blue promised with a slight smile. “Regarding your work on the scientific committee, you learned all about Mysteron reconstructs, and how they were under the total control of the Mysterons.”
“Yes – we were studying exactly how the Mysterons were able to create them…”
“You might have heard talk about a man who had escaped the Mysterons’ control, almost at the start of the War of Nerves, then?”
“I thought it was only rumour?”
“Not exactly – that man existed. And he was the one who, apparently, travelled through time.”
Barnard raised a brow. “This man would have retained the morphology given to him by the Mysterons, right?”
“Yes – he did. Many years ago.”
“Mmm…” Pensively, Barnard stroked his bearded chin. “Then it might be a possibility… yes. A Mysteronised body – although identical to that of its original human body – is still slightly different in a sub-atomic level… That’s the difference that sometimes makes those Mysteronised agents seemingly invulnerable, or impervious to pain – or able to transform their body chemistry and literally become human bombs.” He shook his head. “Yes… now I see how he could have survived the ‘jump’ through time.” He stopped in his line of thought, as if something had suddenly hit him. “You said it was an accident?”
“Yes…” Blue answered.
“Are you sure?”
“As far as we know – yes,” Green said in turn.
“Incredible,” muttered Barnard. “Then it would seem that this man has… well… ‘fallen’ through a rift in time, in a manner of speaking.”
“Rift in time?” Green asked, as Blue stared in puzzlement at the older man.
“Yes…caused by the Quantum Effect. Obviously, it wasn’t a ‘controlled jump’… The poor guy could easily have died performing it, and would have disappeared into the time stream, to never reappear anytime again. He would have been blown out of existence, so to speak.” Barnard shrugged. “Your man is an anomaly.”
“A time anomaly. A living anachronism if you will, Colonel. The way I see it, he should never have left his time to find himself stuck here. He doesn’t belong here. He is not supposed to exist. He should be – back in the time where he belongs.” He shook his head sadly.
“But he is here,” Blue commented. “And we can’t very likely send him back. Anyway, according to your theory, travelling back in time…”
“… Is not possible. I know what my theory says, Colonel. But… this case is entirely different. That man’s presence in this time is accidental. If we had the technology for time travelling… we could send him back to his time. He would be able to perform the trip, since he’s supposed to exist then. Not now.” Barnard sighed again. “What an interesting experience it would be for us if we could do that… Unfortunately, in this day and age, we don’t have the technology to perform it… A shame. If we had the technology, we would have been doing that man a favour.”
“What favour would that be?” Blue remarked, a little grumpily. “Sending him back to Futura City, where he would likely die?”
“… Or pursue the future he was meant to – before he was torn from his time and sent to ours.” Barnard shrugged. “Who knows – our lives might have been very different, if he had stayed there in the first place. You have read of the Butterfly Effect, Colonel?”
“I’ve heard of it,” Blue answered.
“I would very much like to meet your man, Colonel… If possible?”
“Later on, perhaps?” Blue smiled and presented his hand to Barnard, who shook it. “For now, I expect him – and myself – to be rather busy for a few days. I will leave you with Captain Green to pursue your examination of the Quantum Transmitter for now. That is… if you agree to stay with us for a time, and continue to help us?”
“I will admit – I’m looking forward to this, Colonel. I haven’t had such an exciting time for years.” Barnard smiled. “So yes, I accept your…invitation.”
“I am very grateful, Professor. Thank you very much.”
“Thank you, Colonel Blue… for a very interesting discussion.”
Blue left the room, and Barnard and Green turned once more to the table before them, to continue the examination of their part of the Quantum Transmitter. For a moment, Green contemplated the piece of paper that the professor had folded earlier, and which was now lying on the table, still distorted, almost taunting him.
A thought occurred to him, and he turned once again to the older man.
“Professor Barnard, if I may bother you for a few minutes before we start work on the Transmitter again… Can you tell me more about the time travel theory – and its possible applications? I read all your books – but I would like to hear it all from the horse’s mouth. Especially in view of what you just learned…”
Who knows, Green told himself, some of it might be useful eventually…
Chapter 2 – Lady in Waiting
“Dianne – will you marry me?”
Seated at the small table, on the patio of the Creighton-Ward Mansion, Lady Dianne Simms was pouring herself a cup of tea when the man keeping her company popped the question – again. She had heard it numerous times over the years; in so many settings that she imagined it was all becoming a kind of game for him – almost a tradition. However, lately, he had been asking it more often – and the garden seemed to have become his favourite place to ask it. She sighed and rolled her eyes. It was becoming somewhat tedious, but she told herself she had to be patient with him.
“Now, now, Richard… You know the answer to that.” She sipped at her tea. “And I so wish you would stop it.”
WGPC Supreme Commander Richard Fraser smiled – almost dejectedly – from the other side of the small rounded table. “I will never stop, Dianne. That’s the strategy: I’m going to keep saying it until I finally wear down your defences – and you say yes to me.”
“You seem so sure of yourself,” she said, lifting a perfect brow.
“You know I always get my man – or woman – in the end.”
She chuckled, almost choking on her tea. “Even if it takes you years of effort?”
Fraser grimaced. “Those are the most interesting cases, believe me.”
Dianne sighed. “I’m sorry, Rick… but you know I have to decline the offer – yet again.”
“No matter. I’ll ask again, don’t worry.”
Fraser looked around the garden, beyond the neatly manicured lawn, and towards the small woodland he could see on the horizon. Birds were singing gaily; the sun had just risen, less than an hour ago, and it looked like it would be a beautiful day. He glanced at his watch and sighed deeply.
“I’m sorry I have to run,” he said, turning back to Dianne. “But something’s come up in Paris that I need to deal with right away.”
“It’s not an easy life, being the Supreme Commander of the World Police, is it?” she asked.
“No,” he admitted. “Duty can be so demanding sometimes, you know what I mean? And sometimes, all that paperwork – it really gets to me.” He gave her one of his roguish smiles. “Maybe I should give up my commission and spend all my time making an honest woman of you?”
She arched a brow and gave him a wry smile, not rising to the bait – yet again. “You’re still too young to think about retiring,” she remarked matter-of-factly.
“You did, and you’re eight years younger than me,” he pointed out.
“That’s not the same,” she said in a tone of amusement. “I’m a rich, snobbish member of the English nobility – I’m enjoying a life of endless leisure…”
He groaned. “And I soooo envy you that, Dianne.” He watched from the corner of his eye as Dianne’s butler approached from the side, to announce that the car which was supposed to pick him up had arrived. He stood up. “That’s my cue to go,” he said, leaning to kiss her on the cheek. “See you next time?”
She nodded, a little distractedly, while opening her newspaper. “Over next week-end?”
“If I can get the free time. Unfortunately, crime doesn’t take a holiday, you know that.” He smiled and put on his coat. “Take care of yourself, Dianne.”
“You too, Rick. Be careful.”
She watched as he left the patio to follow the butler through the house. Only at this moment, did she put down her cup of tea, sighing deeply as she did so. Rick Fraser was a good man. Through all these years, he had remained her loyal friend, despite the fact that, due to his position, he had become one of the most powerful men on the planet – and one of President Roberts’s closest associates.
That friendship between Rick and herself had transformed into something deeper with time, as he had taken every opportunity to fly in from his WGPC office in Paris to visit her in her home in Foxleyheath, Kent – ‘dropping by’, as he described it himself numerous times, although she knew very well he often didn’t have any business to attend to in England when he came – aside from the few times he had to go to the World Government Building in London. His interest in her was somewhat flattering to Dianne – and she didn’t see any reason not to accept his attention, although she made no attempt to make him believe she might love him as much as he would have liked her to.
Rick knew that her feelings for him were just a little more than just those she would have for a good friend – and sometime lover. He had known, from the very beginning, even as he had started courting her, that her heart still belonged to another man – or rather, the phantom of a man who apparently would never leave her. And if other men would have felt frustrated by this ‘unfair competition’, and maybe given up with time, it wasn’t the case with Rick Fraser. He never shied away from a challenge and so he had pressed on – ‘to wear down her defences’ as he had said himself earlier. And he had worn them down effectively enough, some years ago, when she had surrendered to his charms and witty banter – well, partially. Yes, Rick was a good man – but he was still a man, with needs and desires, and she had to admit, she was not beyond that herself. And after all, he was a friend – and a very attractive and charismatic man.
However, the first night they had shared together didn’t have for Dianne the same meaning that she knew it had for Rick. For her, it had been an occasion to cheat the feelings lingering deep within her, to fill her loneliness of too many nights of solitude and misery. Before Rick, she had not been with a man since…since the one that she believed was her own true love had been taken away from her. For so long, she had felt so desperately alone, as though a piece of her heart had gone with him.
Rick’s visits had come to fill that gap in her heart over time, but she didn’t feel so much at ease with it anymore – not as she had in the beginning. The meaning of those escapades had changed – she no more regarded them as a way to deceive herself. She was deceiving and using Rick instead – a man who was her friend, and whom she believed loved her very much – perhaps not as Paul had loved her, but who had deep affection for her, in his own way.
And she hated herself for what she was doing to him.
She felt like dirt.
“Excuse me, my lady?”
She raised her head as the butler returned to her, after leading Rick to his car. She came out of her fugue.
“Yes, Howard? Has Commander Fraser gone?”
“Yes, my lady. He’s on his way to take his jet back to Paris.”
“Thank you, Howard.”
“Your other guests are waiting now.”
Dianne rose to her feet. Howard had come earlier to the patio, while she was waiting for Rick who was showering, to inform her of her new guests’ arrival. She had given instruction for them to be taken to the mansion’s other wing – where she knew Rick would never go and find them. Besides, he had himself received notification, almost as soon as he woke up, to go back to Paris without delay, and so she knew he would be on his way straight after breakfast.
“I’ll go and change,” she said, drawing the sides of her dressing gown closely around her. “Inform them that I’ll be with them in a few minutes.”
“Yes, my lady.”
Each of them left the terrace in a different direction.
“Adam! What a marvellous surprise!”
Lady Dianne walked towards her old friend, who was standing in the middle of her study; he had taken a book from her shelves and was quietly turning the pages while waiting for her. Upon seeing her arrive, he put the book down on the desk beside him and, smiling, opened his arms to her to give her a huge hug.
“Dianne, it has been too long,” he said, holding her close to his heart. “I missed you, you know that?”
“Not as much as I miss you.” She stepped back, and stared into his blue eyes with a look of disapproval and then chided him: “However, it was damned risky to come over here like this.”
“I know you had a… visitor,” Blue said.
“What if he had seen you?”
He chuckled. “Not a chance! Your house is big enough to conceal an army!”
“You’re taking a great risk, Adam. I know Rick isn’t especially looking for you… Old friendships are thicker than blood… but if there was ever an opportunity for him to capture you, I’m not sure he would let it pass.”
“It is his duty after all,” Blue agreed, “to uphold the law.”
“And it might be too great a risk for him to so obviously turn the other way. Roberts is not the forgiving type.”
Blue marked a pause. “I’m concerned about you too, Dianne.”
“Rick would never hurt me…”
“You said it yourself: Roberts is not the forgiving type.” Blue sighed deeply. “Sometimes, I wonder about the wisdom of having asked you to work for us… If that became known…”
“Hey… I knew the risks, so don’t give it another thought.” She paused. “Now, what could be so important that it should bring you, the Spectrum commander, so near to London?”
“It’s regarding… the information I asked you to check for us. You know your network had come up with some disturbing news…”
“Don’t I know it,” she said in a grave tone. “Is it as serious as we thought?”
“I’m afraid so.”
“And it concerns the latest Mysteron threat?” Dianne asked again, frowning.
“Again – I’m afraid so.”
“Good Lord…” she murmured. “So it means…?”
“Yes,” Blue confirmed. “We’ll have a lot to do, I’m afraid.” He took on an even more serious tone. “When do you expect him to meet with us?”
“Tonight, after dinner. When I contacted him to tell him you accepted his conditions, he was rather doubtful. But he’ll come. He won’t be able to resist.”
“I thought as much.”
“I still say you should have dispatched someone else to make the deal, Adam, instead of coming here and putting yourself at risk.”
Blue shook his head. “No time for that anymore, Dianne. This is too important now. You know I wouldn’t take the risk of doing this, under your own roof, if it wasn’t.”
“I know. But for you to come to this rendezvous alone…”
“Oh, I won’t be alone,” Blue interjected.
Dianne smiled thinly. “That’s right – I’ll be with you.”
“Well, yes…” Blue said, slowly nodding assent, “but that’s not what I meant.” Seeing the inquiring way she was looking at him, he carefully weighed what he would say next, then smiled dimly. “I didn’t come alone exactly,” he started.
“Very wise of you,” she approved. “Who did you bring along?”
“Ah, well…” He took her by the shoulders and turned her around, still hesitant to answer directly, and they started walking toward the door leading out of the room. “Two old friends of ours,” he explained. “That you haven’t seen for a long time.”
“You are intriguing me,” she said, looking suspiciously at his face. She couldn’t read what it was hiding exactly. Sometimes, Colonel Blue could be very enigmatic when he wanted to. “Where are they?”
“In the Rose Drawing Room – waiting to meet you. I have to warn you, Dianne – you’re in for a very big surprise.”
“Good or bad?”
“Er… Good, I believe. Just… keep an open mind, will you?”
“And you’re not going to tell me before I meet them?” she asked with a frown.
“Uh-uh… I’m afraid you wouldn’t believe me anyway. And it’ll take too much time, so I’d better show you instead.”
“Now you’re really intriguing me,” she said musing, as they both left the study.
Colonel White, comfortably seated on the very luxurious sofa that adorned the room in which they were waiting, was looking around with curiosity. “The place has not changed that much,” he commented. “What is this room called?”
“The Rose Drawing Room, I believe,” Scarlet, settled in the seat opposite him, answered. “At least, that was its name when Lady Penelope lived there. She was very fond of pink.”
“We shouldn’t have come here, unannounced like this,” Lieutenant Brown said behind him. He was looking through the window, in the direction taken by the car into which he had seen WGPC Commander Richard Fraser climb, a few minutes earlier.
“Are you second-guessing your commanding officer, Lieutenant?” White asked with an annoyed frown.
“No, sir,” Brown said, leaving his position at the window and coming back towards the two seated men. “I’m just a little concerned about the risks he takes sometimes.” He sat down heavily on the sofa, next to White. “Sometimes, he tends to forget he’s Spectrum’s commander.”
White slowly nodded his head. “Your concern is understandable, Lieutenant,” he said quietly. “And… appreciated.”
“It is?” a surprised Brown asked. “I felt for sure that you would chew me out right now for stating my mind.”
“Not this time. But don’t push your luck.” White turned to Scarlet who was looking broodingly in the direction of the door, keeping exceptionally quiet. “You seem nervous, Captain. Am I right in saying it’s not because you share our young companion’s concerns for our presence here?”
“Yes. No. Well, not exactly, sir.” Unable to stand still any longer, and unwilling to tell White what was on his mind, Scarlet stood up. “Excuse me, sir…” Without waiting for the older man to discharge him, he walked towards the other end of the room and stood in front of the farthest window he could find, followed by Brown and White’s curious eyes.
“What’s eating him?” Brown murmured pensively.
“I believe he’s rather edgy,” White answered in the same tone, “at the thought of meeting his fiancée again after so many years…”
Brown stared unbelievingly at White. “Fiancée?” he repeated “But, Lady Dianne is Commander Fraser’s mistr…”
White interrupted him suddenly, suppressing a grimace and raising a warning finger. “Such an ugly word, Lieutenant. Don’t let Captain Scarlet hear you say that.” He took a sip of his coffee. “You would run the risk of receiving his fist straight on the nose…”
He had barely said those words to the perplexed-looking lieutenant when the door opened wide, and Colonel Blue entered, accompanied by Lady Dianne Simms. Straight away, both Brown and White stood up, the latter putting down his cup of coffee.
“Oh my God…” Dianne stopped in her tracks, upon seeing Colonel White standing in the middle of the room, right in her line of vision. To be sure she wasn’t dreaming, or that this was some kind of trick, she turned to Blue at her side, and gave him an inquiring look.
“It is him, Dianne,” he confirmed. “In the flesh…”
“Colonel White!” Dianne crossed the room in long, rapid strides. With the enthusiasm that always characterised her, she literally threw herself into White’s arms. The old man smiled fondly. He had always liked Rhapsody a lot – she reminded him so much of his dear, long-departed wife, whom she resembled as if she were her daughter. “I can’t believe it… You’re alive!”
“Hello, Rhapsody – I’m sorry… I mean, Lady Dianne.” He looked down at her. “How beautiful you look. You haven’t changed a bit.”
“Oh, I have changed,” she answered with excitement. “I don’t believe you’re here… Adam, you meanie, you should have told me! When you said I would meet a couple of old friends… I thought I was seeing a ghost. Colonel, Where did you come from?”
“Er… the Himalayas, actually,” White answered, a little bashfully. “I’ve spent all my time there, these last fifteen years.”
She frowned, looking straight into White’s face. “Are you really you?” she asked, half-teasingly.
“Well, according to the latest Mysteron tests – plural – I am.”
“Of course you are – or Colonel Blue would not have brought you here. You will have to tell me the whole story… How you came to survive that terrible crash…”
White only had time to nod, before she hugged him again, even more closely than before.
Dianne then noticed the presence of Lieutenant Brown, who, behind the older man, was approaching. She smiled at him, and detached herself from White to welcome him. “Hi, Chip! It’s been a long time since I saw you last. My… you’ve grown! So you are the other old friend Colonel Blue was talking about?” She giggled. “Evidently, you are not that old…”
Brown smiled rather shyly. “Actually, Lady Dianne…”
“Oh, drop the ‘Lady Dianne’, please… I’m always simply Dianne to my friends.”
“Dianne…” White said, approaching very close to her, and addressing her almost cautiously, “how would you feel to meet up with… two ghosts, instead of one?”
The question obviously puzzled her, and she looked up into his face, inquiringly. She noticed the intense way he was looking towards the other end of the room – that she had her back turned to. She wondered what could be the matter, but before she could turn around to find out, a deep voice, so very low, made itself heard:
The sound of that voice froze her on the spot for the space of a few seconds. She paled, and frowned with disbelief. No. It couldn’t be possible… And yet she knew very well that, if it was possible that Colonel White was standing here, right in front of her, why shouldn’t HE be here, too?
Very slowly, her heart thumping, she turned on her heel, almost dreading to see what – who – she expected to see.
The silhouette of a tall man was standing in the shadowy part of the room. He slowly stepped forward, out of the shadows and into the light to come into full view. He stopped a short distance away. Dianne gasped upon seeing his face, her hand flying to her mouth; her heart rate increased significantly.
“No…” she whispered. Trembling, she left the concerned-looking Colonel White’s side and took a step towards Scarlet. She stopped in front of him. Her legs felt so very weak and were trembling. She had grown even paler now, and her brow was creased deeply, as she stared up at him. “No… it can’t be…”
Scarlet swallowed hard, a lump having formed in his throat. “Yes, Dianne… It is me,” he said, trying to sound reassuring, but not moving from his spot.
She shook her head, almost in denial; then turned swiftly around to look at White, then Brown, and lastly – almost accusingly – at Blue. The latter nodded slightly.
“He reappeared on the Futura City site, five days ago,” Blue said in response to her mute question.
“I don’t understand…” Dianne murmured. “I thought… he had been vaporised…”
“We all thought the same. Apparently, it wasn’t the case.”
She shook her head again. “You should have warned me, Adam,” she whispered, obviously in shock, a quiver of anger in her voice.
“Dianne, please…” Scarlet stepped towards her, and she turned again to face him – and suddenly, before he even realised what was happening, suddenly her right arm made a large and rapid arc, and she slapped him, with all the strength she could muster.
A deep silence fell in the room, and the witnesses of the scene winced, as if they had received the slap themselves.
“Don’t you ‘Dianne, please’ me!” she lashed out at him. Rooted to the spot, he looked at her in surprise, rubbing his now painful cheek. Her face was now distorted with anger, her lips trembling and tears brimming in her eyes as she looked furiously at him. “How DARE YOU show your face here, after being gone for SO LONG, with no news of what had happened to you? How dare you let us believe you died all those years ago?!”
“Dianne,” Blue tried to interject, coming from the door, “it didn’t happen that way. It wasn’t really his fault… ”
“I can explain…” started Scarlet again.
“Oh, I’m sure you can!” Dianne cut in suddenly. “But you know what? I’m not sure I want to listen! You know I actually hoped and waited for you to make a reappearance, the first few days after the destruction of Futura City? But after a time it became obvious you wouldn’t come back… So you must really have been dead, and I cried… And now you show up… FIFTEEN YEARS LATER, and I discover you were not really dead? How am I supposed to react?”
“NO! I’m through with it all!” It was obvious to Scarlet that she wasn’t about to let him say a single word, so he stepped forward again, presenting his hands in a pleading gesture. She backed away, glaring at him with hurt and anger. “Don’t come any closer! I don’t want to have anything to do with you! As far as I’m concerned you can go straight back where you came from! Leave my house – RIGHT NOW!” And with that, she turned on her heel, turning her back on him and started walking away. A still stunned Scarlet, realising right at this moment that she had every intention of walking out on him, finally reacted, hastening after her in three long strides to grab her by the arm. She turned furiously on him.
“Let me go, you…”
“Now you just wait a bloody minute!” he cut her off suddenly, in a firm tone that would not admit any reply. “You will stay right here, and listen to what Blue and I have to say – even if I have to tie you down to force you to!”
“You wouldn’t dare!” she challenged him, eyes glowing.
“Don’t tempt me!” He pulled her to the sofa nearby and unceremoniously pushed her down on it. “Sit down!” he ordered her. “And at least do us the courtesy of listening to us!”
She huffed, and straightened herself up into a sitting position, in a dignified fashion. She glared at him, then her eyes shifted to Colonel Blue who was approaching – and then to White and Brown who were watching the scene with expressions of bemusement upon their faces. She was upset – at all of them. But especially with Scarlet who was standing before her, staring at her with a severe expression.
“All right,” she finally conceded, glaring up to him. “I will listen to what you have to say… But I give you exactly ten minutes to convince me that I shouldn’t throw you out on your ear, Paul Metcalfe!”
Scarlet sighed deeply. “That’s all I’m asking for,” he said, his voice calming down. “But I won’t do much of the talking.” He turned to Blue who was coming to stand by his side. “Colonel Blue, if you please…?”
Blue nodded his assent, and Dianne turned her attention to him, interrogation fairly plain in her eyes.
“All right,” Blue said, seating by her side. “Well, here it is, Dianne. It all started five days ago…”
More than an hour later, Colonel Blue had finished his tale, and Dianne Simms had listened to it without interruption, gradually regaining her composure as the incredible truth was unravelled to her. By the end of the story, she was now much calmer, and it was with some scepticism that she was looking at the four grave men surrounding her and watching for her every reaction. Scarlet had kept quiet during all of Blue’s story, not even trying to add his own comments, almost fearing that an intervention from him would once again set Dianne’s fiery temper off against him. He realised that he need not worry anymore, when, after what seemed like long minutes of silence following the end of the tale, she finally spoke:
“Do you really expect me to believe a story like that?”
This time, Scarlet answered: “It’s the truth, Dianne – at least, as far as I know. I honestly don’t see any reason for Colonel Blue to have lied to me.”
She was still suspicious – but this time, not only towards himself, but towards Blue as well. “I can think of a number of reasons,” she retorted. “What’s to tell me that you are not all Mysterons, after all? You reappearing when we all thought you were dead – the same for Colonel White…”
“Mysterons don’t bring back from the grave people who are supposed to be long dead, Dianne,” Colonel White remarked.
“True – as far as we know.”
“You can test us with a Mysteron detector,” Brown suggested, presenting his left arm to her. “You can use mine.”
Dianne lifted her hand, thrusting the suggestion aside. “That won’t be necessary. Howard has instructions to check everyone coming in, for that eventuality. I’m sure he carried out his orders as usual.”
“Indeed he did,” Blue confirmed, with a faint smile. “We had a devil of a time sneaking Scarlet inside – without him being tested by the detector. Your butler still carries a taser, doesn’t he?”
“Actually, he’s a major-domo. And yes, he always carries a taser… One that packs enough power to kill a Mysteron on the spot.” She shook her head dismissively, and stared briefly straight at Scarlet, before avoiding his probing eyes once again, and looking down, hesitating. “You have to admit, it’s an unbelievable story…”
“Dianne, you were witness to so many more incredible things,” Blue pointed out. “Alien invaders, who kill and destroy, in order to recreate life – and objects – seemingly out of thin air. You have seen the extent of the Mysterons’ powers – how they can control inanimate objects over large distances – how they even appear to control the elements, to their own advantage. How they can hypnotise humans, and control their minds… How they can make people and things vanish into thin air, even transport things through space… You have literally seen a man – who came back numerous times from death – healing from his wounds in a matter of hours, no matter how serious they appeared to be.”
“Is it so difficult to believe that the same man had been thrown into space and time to land fifteen years in his own future?” White asked in turn.
“Through the Quantum Effect he was exposed to, when Futura City was destroyed?” she added musingly. She looked at Blue. “That’s why you inquired about all that information… concerning the World Government’s possible work on Quantum energy…”
“It is connected – somehow,” Blue admitted. “But right at this moment, it’s not what’s important. Do you believe us?”
“I need some time to think about it,” she answered, shaking her head.
“Dianne, time is crucial…”
“Please.” Dianne stood on her feet, waving Blue’s protests aside. He stood too, imitated by White. “Give me a few moments to digest it all. Maybe even a few hours. This is a lot to accept all at once.”
“Of course,” Blue finally conceded. “If you need it…”
“Thank you. Make yourselves at home… If you need anything, ask Howard. He’ll take care of it. I… we… will talk again during dinner.” She walked towards the door, her footing obviously a little unsteady. “I’m going for a walk. I need some fresh air.”
“I’m going with you,” Scarlet offered, moving in her direction.
“I would prefer to be alone.”
“No offence – but I would prefer not to leave you alone,” he insisted. “You’re not looking very well. And I’m not taking ‘no’ for an answer.” He smiled gently. “I’ll just walk with you. And I’ll be as silent as the grave, if you want me to be.”
“I do so wish you would stop using that expression.” But Dianne couldn’t find any argument to stop him coming with her. In fact, she didn’t feel she had the strength anymore. “Suit yourself,” she murmured. “But I might not be good company.” Dianne nodded her farewells to the others and left through the door, Scarlet following closely behind.
The three men standing in the room followed them with their eyes as they disappeared round the corner of a corridor. They heard both sets of steps fade away in the distance, and then exchanged concerned and somewhat embarrassed glances, before the silence that had installed itself into the room was broken by a deep sigh from Colonel White. He slowly sat back down on the sofa.
“Well,” he reflected, “it went… rather better than I would have thought. Don’t you think?”
“Do you reckon?” a perplexed Brown mused. “I wonder if she’ll warm to him… She doesn’t seem ready for that… I thought she would never listen to you, Colonel Blue.”
“She just needed to vent some frustration,” Blue said with a shrug. “Once she had cooled down, she was all ears. She’s a reasonable woman, our Rhapsody. She will warm to Scarlet again. And then they’ll make up and there will be peace again.”
“Might be a long wait,” White said thoughtfully, chewing on his bottom lip.
“You didn’t seem that surprised to discover they had… a history between them, Colonel,” Blue noted, looking curiously in White’s direction.
The older man scoffed. “Why would I have been surprised? I knew even before Rhapsody resigned from Spectrum that she and Scarlet were… involved with each other. Just like I knew you were involved with Symphony, well before you came clean to me and asked me permission to marry her.”
“Mmm…” Blue said with a nod. “Was there anything you didn’t know that went on around Cloudbase, then?”
“Not when it concerned my most valuable agents, no…” White leaned forward on his seat, looking straight at Blue. “Now that this subject is cleared, will you remind me why we’re here, exactly? I don’t think you took the risk of leaving the safety of your Underground Base just to permit your friend to make up with his old girlfriend?”
“Hardly,” Blue confirmed. “We are to meet someone. And it just happens that Dianne is our direct contact with that someone.”
“And that’s why you yourself came here? You might have asked one of your subordinates to meet him.”
Blue shook his head. “This is something I have to discuss with him head on, or he won’t let himself be convinced.” He smiled thinly. “Not even by my wife. I know him enough for that. A direct meeting is the best course of action in this case. So, he insisted that I would come with the minimum of an… escort.”
“I sense a trap,” White said gloomily.
“I agree with Colonel White,” Brown added. “I don’t trust him, and it’s not as if he hasn’t already deceived you in the past, Colonel Blue.”
“Well, I’m relying on business sense… and his unique sense of honour,” Blue replied. “He still lives by that. So I don’t think we have anything to fear from him. That’s why I accepted his conditions. So I only brought the lieutenant with me…and Scarlet and you, of course.”
“You need us to meet him?”
“In a way. If you agree, of course, sir. I believe he will be surprised to see the both of you…”
“Do we know him?”
“But you won’t tell me who it is?”
“No… I’d rather keep it a surprise.”
“Mmm… The last surprise meeting you arranged resulted in Lady Dianne slapping her former lover.” White raised a brow. “All right, Colonel. I’m curious. When will we meet this… interesting person?”
“Tonight, if all goes well. After dinner, I believe.”
“So we’ll be waiting for a while then. We might as well find a way to kill time – at least while we wait for our two… estranged love-birds to come back.”
Blue nodded slowly, before smiling faintly. “If I know them, we might be waiting a long time for them indeed…”
White grinned, understanding very well the implication of Blue’s words. “How about a game of chess then, Colonel Blue?”
“Why not, Colonel White?” I have to warn you though, that I’ve had a lot of practice in the last few years. You might not find me as easy an opponent as I was in the past.”
“We’ll see about that…” White replied with a sneer that reminded Lieutenant Brown of a tiger contemplating the prey he was about to devour.
Somehow, the young man had the definite feeling that his commander might be getting more than he bargained for…
“It is lovely here.”
Captain Scarlet and Lady Dianne Simms were walking side by side in the estate’s garden and up until now, neither of them had exchanged a word for long minutes. That gave plenty of time for Dianne to calm down considerably and to accept – to a certain degree – the news that she had just received… as well as this new situation. Now unable to keep silent any longer, and seeing that she seemed much more at ease than previously, Scarlet was making an attempt to engage her in conversation – albeit by a rather innocent comment that he hoped wouldn’t antagonise her.
She slowly nodded and sighed, looking all around her; she had to agree with his statement, as they strolled down the alley between the cherry trees that took them further away from the house.
“It is beautiful,” she admitted. “I hardly could believe it when Penny left it to me in her will. I already had my father’s mansion, but it’s not nearly as pretty as it is here. And this estate has… facilities that the other one couldn’t offer.”
“I couldn’t believe that underground hangar, where the helijet that brought us here has been parked,” Scarlet said “I thought for a minute that Spectrum might have constructed it.”
“No. Don’t you think that a construction team working on the Creighton-Ward estate to build an underground facility would have looked suspicious to the World Government – knowing my past affiliation with Spectrum? It was already here when I moved in – it has been here for many years, I think. And it really came in useful to have it.”
“Whatever use Lady Penelope could have had for it is a mystery to me, however. It probably had to do with FAB, and her job as a spy at some point.”
“That could be,” Scarlet mused. “When did she… ah… pass away?”
“Ten years ago – in a plane crash. She was still flying her own planes, you know.”
“At her age?”
“I don’t think you could ever tell Penny her age was an issue, for anything she set herself to do,” Dianne said with a faint smile. “Anyway, the cause of the crash was apparently due to a malfunction of the control panel. The plane exploded when it crashed… it was mercifully quick for her.”
“Don’t be. I’m sure it was the way she always wanted to go.”
Scarlet nodded his understanding. Silence followed for a while, then she spoke again:
“How do you find our time?”
He shrugged. “You want the truth? I hate it. It’s so… different from the world I’m accustomed to.”
“You can’t expect everything to remain the way it used to be,” Dianne remarked.
“I know – but it would have been nice to come back and find out that the Mysterons had been defeated, or that at least a truce, if not a treaty, had been agreed on.”
“Well, no… that didn’t happen.”
“Instead, things went from bad to worse, with the World Government’s new position on the Mysterons – I mean, ‘new’ to me. And its position on Spectrum too. I don’t think I’ll ever get used to the fact that Spectrum is now an outlawed organisation, and that it has to continue its operations underground to protect the world – against itself, it seems to me.”
“It does look like darker times from those you knew, doesn’t it?”
“I can’t believe Roberts could have turned so drastically against Spectrum,” Scarlet continued. “I thought he was an ally. Before the Futura incident, before I… disappeared… he still seemed to be.”
“I know. It was only shortly after the bombing of Futura City that he started his attacks on Spectrum.”
“So Blue told me.”
“That was rather unexpected, from him. It took Colonel White by surprise. He, too, believed Roberts to be an ally.”
“I guess everyone changes – in view of what Fate throws at them. You all have. And I don’t mean physically.”
“Not you. You didn’t change,” Dianne pointed out.
“No,” Scarlet murmured, lowering his gaze. “Don’t forget, I came straight from the past, jumping fifteen years, without any stop in the middle. At the moment, I’m still a stranger from another time, stuck in this one. And I’m not quite sure yet, what and where my place is exactly.”
“You just need time to find that out.”
Scarlet shook his head. “Well, that’s just the problem. Things have been moving so fast since I arrived, that time seems to be a luxury that I can’t afford.” He stopped by a large oak tree, and leaned against it, looking down. He started shovelling the ground with the tip of his left foot, almost in a distracted way. Dianne stopped by his side, wondering what could be on his mind now. He finally spoke: “You see, I was kind of hoping that you might help me… settle in?”
The look Dianne gave him was one of helpless surprise. “Oh, Paul…” She sighed and leaned by his side, against the tree, but didn’t look at him. “I’m not sure if rekindling our relationship would be a good idea.”
“I hurt you that much?” he asked gently, raising his eyes from the ground to look at her.
“It’s not that…” She hesitated, and then sighed again. “As you said yourself, we all changed – except you. I didn’t escape that.”
“I can understand your feelings for me have changed,” he mused. “It’s been so long for you – even if for me, it still seems like yesterday.” He paused. “And there is Richard Fraser now.”
She exhaled noisily. “Rick… well, that’s another story.”
“I reckon.” He turned towards her, and leaned his shoulder against the tree, to have a better view of her. “Let me see if I’ve got this straight. From what I’ve been able to observe so far, you’re seeing Richard Fraser, who obviously ignores you being in cahoots with Spectrum. Are you spying on him for Spectrum?”
“Rick is a dear old friend,” Dianne said. “He’s kind, gentle, and very attentive. He trusts me, and I know he likes me – well, more than likes, I believe. His feelings might run deeper than that. And I can’t help feeling like filth, using him the way I do.” She turned to Scarlet to stare at him with an unwavering resolve manifest in her clear blue eyes. “But he does have some information that is useful to Spectrum,” she admitted. “So whenever he ‘allows’ – unwittingly of course – that information to leak to me…”
“You pass it on to Spectrum,” Scarlet mused. “Mmm… I didn’t expect Rick to be the kind of man to share State secrets on the pillow.”
“That sounds terrible, the way you are saying it,” she murmured.
“You don’t love him.”
“We share good moments…”
“You don’t love him.” Scarlet’s tone was firmer this time. “If you did, you wouldn’t do that to him. Or to yourself.”
“I told you I wasn’t very proud of what I was doing. But one has to serve to the best of his – or her – capacity. As you said, to protect the world, even despite itself. I’m sorry – really sorry – that you had to learn about it this way.”
“And playing Mata Hari is your way of serving now?” Scarlet shook his head. “How can Adam ask you to do this? To spy on Rick for Spectrum?”
“I’m actually more than just a ‘spy’, Paul. I’m Head of Intelligence for Spectrum in England – and in all of Western Europe. And concerning Rick, Adam didn’t ask anything. Seeing that I already had contacts with Rick, and that it provided me with the possibility of acquiring much needed information, I volunteered.”
“Adam didn’t try to stop you from doing it, did he?” Scarlet asked between clenched teeth.
“Don’t be angry at him. He did, at the beginning. But he couldn’t make me change my mind. I made him realise it was too good an opportunity for him to pass up.”
Scarlet grunted. He kept silent from a minute, looking at her straight in the eyes.
“I don’t think you love Rick Fraser,” he said again.
“I appreciate him.”
“But do you love him? I have yet to hear you say the words.”
“Paul, please…” Dianne tried to turn and step away from him. He stopped her and noticed how she shivered under his touch. “I still do not think it’s a good idea for us to get back together…”
“Dianne… I might not like what you do to ‘serve the cause’, as you say. Neither do I like the fact that you… sleep with Richard Fraser – of all people – without really being in love with him. But do you think I will think any less of you? I admire your determination – even if it scares the living daylights out of me.”
“Scares you?” Dianne asked in puzzlement.
“Don’t you get it? I’m afraid for you, Dianne.” Scarlet came closer to her and reached over to gently stroke her cheek. “This is a very dangerous game you play. You don’t know when it might backfire on you. And if it should ever happen… I might not be there to protect you.”
“Paul…” she said, lowering her eyes.
“I don’t love you any less than I did before,” Scarlet murmured. “For me, it’s still only days since last I saw you. But you are so distant now, so inaccessible, that it does seem to me it’s been such a long time. I miss the woman I love so much…”
“It’s been a long time for me too,” Dianne admitted, her voice almost cracking. She finally raised her head, and he could see the tears brimming in her eyes, as she looked straight up at him. Her lips trembled. “I did miss you too…” she whispered
Scarlet slowly leaned towards her, and gently brushed her lips with his own. For a second, she responded shyly, as if she dared not further let go of her true feelings. Then, as Scarlet took her in his arms and drew her slender body against his, she let go of all her reserve, and threw her own arms around his neck to exchange with him the kind of passionate kiss she had thought she had all but forgotten about…
They stood there, in that loving embrace beside the oak tree, for long minutes, before slowly walking back to the mansion, hand in hand.
Chapter 3 - Know your Enemies
Scarlet was the first to realise something was amiss.
He didn’t know he had fallen asleep – perhaps, he considered, Doctor Fawn was right in his assumption that he had not completely recovered yet from his harrowing temporal trip, and his brutal arrival in this era. But as soon as he opened his eyes, he knew instantly something was wrong, and automatically became alert.
His keen and trained ear had picked up sounds – heavy footsteps climbing the stairs and walking along the corridor, voices exchanging words in barely hushed tones.
Raising his head, he glanced down at the woman still sleeping in the large bed so close to him, her red hair spilled all over the pillow, surrounding her serene features like a fiery crown, her hand resting on his bare arm, which was still holding her. Her eyes were closed and she was breathing softly; she was still deeply asleep.
Scarlet glanced over his shoulder, towards the door on the other side of the dark room. He could see light under it, disturbed by moving shadows. Someone was standing behind that door right at this moment. He still could hear the hushed voices.
Just at this moment, Dianne stirred, and emitted a faint moan of contentment; quickly, Scarlet turned back to her, and gently put a hand on her mouth. She opened her eyes instantly, and stared up curiously at him. He shushed her, putting a finger to his own lips.
She heard the voices behind the door at that moment.
Scarlet motioned to her to stay put, and silently jumped out of bed; she gathered the sheets around her and watched with apprehension, as he moved like a ghost, tiptoeing through the dark room towards the closed door. When he reached it, the handle was already turning, very slowly, so he hugged the wall, on the opening side, and waited in the shadows.
The door opened with a quiet creak, and a man carefully risked an eye inside; the barrel of an automatic rifle passed first through the opening, and the man stepped in. That’s when Scarlet acted, swiftly grabbing the barrel with his right hand, just as his left hand hit the man in the throat with a karate chop. The man choked under the violent attack, and Scarlet pulled him inside the room, throwing him onto the floor, just at the foot of the bed. Kneeling on the bed, Dianne was waiting for him with a bedside lamp that she crashed over his skull.
There was a second man, standing in the doorway, holding a gun, but he was so surprised to see the nearly naked Scarlet in front of him, now with the rifle in his hand, that he didn’t have time to react. Scarlet used the barrel of his newly acquired weapon to knock the gun out of the man’s hand before hitting his chin with the butt of the rifle, just enough to half-stun him. Then he pulled him roughly inside and thrust him against the wall, just beside the door, before shoving the business end of the rifle under his nose.
“I’m not a patient man,” Scarlet growled between his teeth, holding the man tightly by the front of his shirt. “You will tell me who the both of you are… and what you are doing in this house!”
“Take it easy, mate,” the frightened man said, in a trembling voice. He coughed and blood spilled from his split lower lip. “We don’t mean you no harm…”
“Oh no? You just wanted to tuck us in, with these weapons?” Scarlet shoved the man against the wall, brutally. “Now TALK! Or I swear to you I won’t hesitate to…”
“Well, well, well, what do you know? Then the Colonel was telling the truth.”
The sound of the voice made Scarlet freeze on the spot. He let go of the man and turned toward the door, ready to use the gun if need be. But the newcomer, dressed rather fashionably, and standing at some distance from the open door, raised both his hands, as much in an appeasing gesture as to show that he was unarmed.
“Take it easy, Scarlet… I’m not here for a fight. Not with you, anyway.”
Scarlet blinked his eyes, recognising the voice once again, and the image – barely different from the one he knew. The hair was still black, but groomed very short, and marked with large, snow-white streaks on the temples.
“Magenta?” Scarlet murmured, frowning in surprise.
The other gruffed loudly. “Forget the ‘Magenta’ name, Scarlet. That part of my life is well behind me, I can assure you. Now it’s just Patrick Donaghue. You can still address me as ‘Pat’ if you want. I have no qualms about you doing it…”
“What are you doing here?” Scarlet asked, still on the defensive.
“I was invited,” Donaghue said.
“You’re early.” That was the cold tone of Dianne Simms, ringing out from behind Scarlet. She had stood on her feet, enveloping herself in the large sheet from her bed, and was now approaching the door, displaying an aristocratic blend of annoyance and dignity. “It’s not even dinnertime yet,” she said, glaring at him.
Seeing her in such odd apparel, Donaghue smiled faintly, showing his appreciation. He conceded the remark with a slow nod.
“I like to surprise my… hosts,” he said. “But, it would seem that Colonel Blue was the one who came with a surprise of his own. I should say two surprises,” he added, looking at Scarlet, before returning his gaze to Dianne. “Lady Dianne, had I known that you fancy a little love in the afternoon…”
“Mind your manners,” she warned him. There was a dangerous glare as well in Scarlet’s eyes. Donaghue simply smiled.
“I was just about to say that I would not have come so early, so not to bother you. But I have to add, however, that… attire suits you.” He looked at her from head to toes and back again, seemingly undressing her with his eyes. Then he glanced at Scarlet, and nodded again. “I was half-expecting to find another man in your… ‘boudoir’. Despite Colonel Blue’s claims to the contrary. Oh well, I should have realised that Commander Fraser would not have been under the same roof as such dangerous criminals, highly wanted by World Security.” He noticed the murderous way Scarlet was glaring at him again. He feigned not to notice it and sighed. “A shame, really… Now, will you be putting on some clothes – the both of you – and coming downstairs, where we’ll be able to pursue our conversation?”
“What about these guys?” Scarlet said. He was keeping close eyes on the two men who had entered the room earlier; the one that Dianne had knocked down was slowly getting to his feet, moaning miserably, and holding his head.
“Do you intend to kill them?” Donaghue asked quietly.
“Not if they don’t give me any motive to.”
“Good. Because there’s a few of their friends downstairs who might be quite unhappy about that, and who might want to seek revenge if you were to kill them. Just to be on the safe side – I suggest you give them both their weapons, before they take their leave.”
“Is that a threat?” Scarlet asked abruptly.
“It’s not my habit to make empty threats, Paul,” Donaghue answered. “Not to… old friends, anyway.” He turned around to the stair leading to the floor below. “Besides, I’m here to do business, not spill blood. At least…I don’t plan to.”
He started to walk nonchalantly down the stairs, while his two men were leaving the room – making a large detour around both Scarlet and Dianne, as if fearful that they might hit them again. Scarlet shoved the automatic rifle into one man’s hands, while the other man picked up his gun off the floor.
Once they had cleared the door, Scarlet closed it, and took the precaution of locking it, before turning to Dianne, with a curious gaze.
“What is this all about?”
She nodded simply, and sighed. “You’ll learn all about it once we’re downstairs,” she said. “We’d better get dressed quickly…”
A few minutes later, as Scarlet and Dianne were walking down the stairs, they found that a certain number of men had invaded the mansion. They could see rifles in the hands of some of these men, but there was no doubt that all of them were carrying a weapon of some sort, concealed upon their person. Scarlet scowled, seeing so many armed men in the house, who were obviously mounting guard at various strategic points. One was standing in front of the main door, and two more were at the entrance of the library. Voices could be heard from the other side of it; the first Scarlet distinguished was that of Patrick Donahue:
“I have to say, Adam, that you are full of fascinating stories tonight – if I had not seen it myself, I might have doubted you.”
“Are you saying the colonel is a liar?” That was the angry voice of Brown.
“Back off, Junior… I’m not saying any such thing. You should learn to keep your dog on a leash, Adam. He might try to bite off more than he can chew…”
All eyes had turned to Scarlet and Dianne, and were now watching them attentively, but the men remained calm and didn’t appear to want to threaten them in any way.
“I should have kept the weapons,” Scarlet muttered under his breath, as he descended the stairs behind Dianne.
“What? And get yourself killed while charging these guys?” Dianne asked in the same tone. “And me, at the same time? I am not indestructible, you know.”
“Are these men dangerous?” Scarlet asked suspiciously. “They do look like they are.”
“Depends on the mood Pat is in, actually… Don’t mind them, he never makes social visits without bodyguards, apparently.”
“ ‘Bodyguards’?” Scarlet scoffed. “I wish Blue would have brought some too.”
“So you and Brown are not sufficient to the task, I take it?” Dianne deadpanned.
Nobody tried to stop them either, when, reaching the foot of the stairs, they walked directly towards the library. On the contrary, one of the men standing in front of it stepped aside to let them through.
When they entered, it was to find there was still more men keeping guard around the place, standing next to the windows, and watching as Patrick Donaghue, standing in the middle of the room, was conversing with the seated Colonels Blue and White – while the edgy Lieutenant Brown was standing behind his commander. Upon seeing them arrive, Donaghue welcomed them with a large smile and invited them further in.
“Ah, here you are… So glad you were able to join us. Come, we have much to discuss.”
“Is it safe for us?” Scarlet asked with a raised brow.
“As safe as can be, I assure you. Well… for the moment.” Donaghue approached and presented his hand to Dianne. “My dear Dianne, I’m so sorry for the mix-up earlier. I never intended to cause you any discomfort.”
“You could have fooled me,” she said icily. She accepted the hand nevertheless, and let him guide her towards the empty sofa, where she sat down. Scarlet slowly followed, his eyes scanning around, gauging the forces presently opposing them. The two men he had mistreated earlier were there – one of them sporting a rather ghastly cut on his lower lip, the other with an ugly bluish mark apparent on his throat. Donaghue glared at the latter, suddenly snapping at him:
“I told you to keep an eye around the place, O’Flaherty. And not to disturb Her Ladyship in anyway.”
The man shrugged. “I thought you would have wanted her to join you, Boss,” he replied.
“In due time, she would have come. What were you thinking, going into her private apartments like that?”
“Well, she was with someone, and we thought it could be…”
“Watch it.” That was Scarlet’s voice this time, addressing the man in a threatening tone. “Where I come from, we don’t talk about a lady that way. Especially when she’s in the room. Another word out of you and I’ll finish ripping your throat out.”
“I can do my own throat-ripping, than you very much, Captain Scarlet,” Dianne replied very calmly – and promisingly.
O’Flaherty scoffed. “You’re gonna let them talk to me that way, boss?”
“Just be glad I don’t discipline you myself,” Donaghue warned between his teeth. “For going against my orders. You were lucky the good Captain didn’t kill the two of you. And I might still decide to leave your fate in his hands. So I suggest you keep to your place from now on. Now go over there, and be as quiet as you can be.”
O’Flaherty didn’t dare open his mouth to answer. Suitably chastised by his boss, he lowered his head, obediently, and moved away to the spot next to the window that had been indicated to him. Donaghue followed him with glaring eyes, before finally sitting down – right next to Dianne; he took the glass of Scotch he had left on the low table before him and leaned back, comfortably. “Please, excuse this appalling display,” he said in an almost obsequious tone, before taking a sip from his glass. “You know good help is hard to find these days… Dianne, I hope you don’t mind if I help myself to some of your delicious Scotch?”
“Be my guest,” she said half-humorously. “Since you have overrun my house anyway…”
“Thank you – and please don’t think I’ve ‘overrun’ your house. This is just a security measure.”
“Security measure?” White asked doubtfully. “We are no threat to you – I believe Colonel Blue only meant this meeting to be a friendly one…”
“Probably, but one is never too sure, Colonel. And these days, anything could happen, as you well know.” Donaghue raised his glass to him. “Take this situation, for example. This is rather extraordinary, don’t you think? Here we all, all together in this room. You, Colonel White, back from the Himalayas, where you have lived in total solitude for the better part of the last fourteen years, left for dead after Cloudbase crashed… with no-one within Spectrum caring enough to go back there to check on you.”
“Everyone genuinely believed I was dead,” White answered icily, “and considering the way Cloudbase had crashed, it isn’t such a far-fetched conclusion. My survival was only due to a fluke. Besides, you yourself didn’t seem to give me any second thoughts either, so I don’t think you should be so quick as to blame Spectrum for forgetting about me.”
“I had… other preoccupations. But I admit it’s true: I too counted you as ‘missing in action’.” Donaghue then looked straight at Scarlet, who was standing right behind the sofa where White and Blue were seated, staring back at him with the same curiosity apparent in Donaghue’s eyes. “And then there’s our friend Scarlet over there – whose situation is even more extraordinary than yours, Colonel. According to Colonel Blue, he was brought to us by such an incredible stroke of Fate – literally a blast from the past, having been propelled from 2072 to this time… And not looking all that traumatised by the experience, I must say. But retrometabolism can do that to a man, can’t it? You’re still retrometabolic, aren’t you, Paul?” He chuckled, as Scarlet didn’t deign to answer the question. “Never mind… you must still be. I have to say, my friend – if it had happened to anyone else but you, I would have trouble believing it at all… Those strange things seem to always happen to you. On the other hand, this story is far too incredible not to be true. Even Blue doesn’t have the imagination it takes to make up a story like that.”
“Can I ask you a question?” Scarlet finally said, ignoring Donaghue’s babble.
“Of course you can, Captain.”
Scarlet frowned. “What is your story, Patrick? What are you, these days?”
Donaghue was taking another sip of his Scotch, and stopped to lower his glass and look up at Scarlet. “Oh, you mean, Colonel Blue didn’t tell you?”
“He told me you were not with Spectrum anymore.”
“That, I’m not,” Donaghue chuckled. “And for a long time. I… erm… you might say I returned to my ‘old life’. Well, sort of.”
“That’s what I had gathered thus far,” Colonel White muttered. “Why?”
“You wouldn’t know why, Colonel,” Donaghue said, pointing to White, his glass still in hand. “And neither would Scarlet.” His hand moved to point to the English captain, briefly stopping for two seconds, before finally ending its course to Blue. “But Blue knows. Don’t you, Adam, my friend?”
“I’ve got nothing to do with what happened to you, Pat,” Blue assured him.
“Yes, yes… You keep saying that.” Donaghue took the last of his drink. “But you didn’t do anything to help me out either.”
“You mean when you were in prison?” Scarlet remarked.
“Oh, he told you that much, then?”
“He did. He told me the pardon you were offered when you joined Spectrum, all those years ago, was rescinded, when Spectrum was disbanded.”
“That was the official version,” Donaghue said with a shrug. “Nobody cares that I had spent years redeeming myself – risking my butt every day since I signed with Spectrum to keep the world safe from terrorists, Mysterons – and even the likes of Roberts himself.”
“We cared,” Blue retorted.
“A fat lot of good it did me!” Donaghue spat. “Spectrum owes me, Svenson. And owes me big. I told you how the ‘authorities’ tried to extract information out of me in prison – how they kept me in isolation, without food, water, light – and even sleep. Trying to break me into telling them secrets they imagined I had.”
“But you never told them anything,” White said with an approving nod. “Isn’t that right?”
“No – and you know why, Colonel? Oh, at first, it was out of loyalty, true enough. But then, as time passed, and I came to understand that none of my former friends and colleagues would come to help me, I realised that the information I held would someday profit me. I would have been a fool to give it away…” He grinned. “The hell with the world,” he said. “Now I have only myself to care about.”
“That’s not the way the Captain Magenta I know would think,” Colonel White remarked.
“There is no Captain Magenta anymore, Colonel White,” Donaghue snapped. “Whoever that guy was, he died, a long time ago, in a maximum security prison. Patrick Donaghue escaped from that Hell, all by himself, without any help from his so-called friends.”
“What about Rick Fraser?” Scarlet asked with a frown. “I can’t imagine he wouldn’t have tried to help you, Patrick. He was your best friend.”
“Was. Past tense, Scarlet. He was my best friend.” Donaghue huffed. “Dear old Rick – he did say he would help me out. He did tell me I had nothing to fear, when he came to see me after my arrest. He said he would speak for me. He would plead my case and get me out. He promised me these things for two months, when he visited me, day after day – then once a week. At the end of those two months, men came to take me. They said they were sent by my dear old friend Rick and that I was to go free. Oh, was I naïve enough to believe that! That’s when they took me away, to that hidden location – a secret prison of the World Government…Where I stayed for three and a half years, being interrogated.”
“You think Rick did this to you?” Scarlet asked with a frown.
“Can I believe otherwise?”
“So this is a reason you sent those men upstairs, Pat,” Dianne said, nodding her head in understanding. “In the hope of finding Rick there and getting your revenge?”
“I didn’t send them. They went on their own.”
“Because they knew how happy it would have made you feel if they had found Rick for you.” She scoffed. “That’s pathetic, Pat.”
“I can’t believe Rick would be responsible for this,” Scarlet said, shaking his head.
“It surprises me that you would defend him like that, Paul,” Donaghue said. “Considering the situation… Or don’t you know about it?” He stared meaningfully in Dianne’s direction, but the latter didn’t pick up the bait. However, Scarlet seemed ready to jump at Donaghue’s throat, and it was Dianne’s composed tone that stopped him from doing so.
“Don’t try to stir up trouble, Pat,” she warned. “That won’t work.”
“Wouldn’t it?” Donaghue replied, looking at Scarlet. “I would say it nearly did.”
“And as far as I’m concerned, I have to agree with Paul: Rick would not have done all this to you. That’s not his way.”
“So you keep saying, Dianne. But try hard enough – and you might convince yourselves,” Donaghue grunted acerbically. “As for myself – I stopped believing it long ago.” He pointed again to Blue. “That’s why I agreed to do business with you, Colonel. So you’d pay me back those three lost years. And yes, eventually, it’ll be Commander Fraser’s turn to pay. And I can guarantee you, he owes me a lot too, and I do intend to collect.”
“Business?” White asked with a frown, turning to Blue. “What kind of business are you doing with him?”
“Our Mr. Donaghue is Spectrum’s most important ‘provider of goods’,” Blue explained quietly. “Whenever we need stuff – food, electronic parts, new pieces of equipment, weapons, transportation of any kind, whatever you may think of – he’ll sell it to us. For a price favourable to him, of course. We don’t ask questions as to where he gets it, and we pay the money he asks.”
“Not without negotiating for it,” Donaghue remarked. “Your little lady has become quite the businesswoman, Colonel Blue.”
“I’ll make a point to tell her that, Pat. She told me you have become greedy lately.”
“Hey, my organisation is taking a hell of a risk to find for you all that stuff you need, you know? That calls for some well-earned extras.”
“If you say so…” Blue was scowling deeply. “Now that we’ve completed that trip down memory lane, what do you say we move on to the business that preoccupies us, Pat? I don’t have the luxury of time, you know. And as you say it yourself: Time is money.”
“Quite right it is.” Donaghue leaned forward, to stare Blue right in the eyes. “So yes – let’s get on with business… It’s not often I have the pleasure of talking to you face to face, Colonel. You don’t give yourself the luxury of leaving your safe haven that much these days. Not that I blame you. You are certainly the most wanted man on the planet, and the authorities are quite eager to get their hands on you. People like our friend Richard Fraser, for example. I wonder… would it be more profitable for me to listen to this new business proposal that made you crawl out of your hole – or simply hand you over to the authorities, right now, and cash in on the huge reward money they put on your head – not to mention any Spectrum members that might be found with you?”
“Why you double-crossing…” Brown, who had uncharacteristically stayed completely silent during the latest exchange, suddenly felt the anger take hold of himself and made a threatening step in Donaghue’s direction. He was stopped right in his tracks when one of Donaghue’s men stepped forwards and put his rifle right against the young lieutenant’s chest. All of the men had raised their weapons, following Brown’s gesture, ready to defend their boss if need be. The Spectrum members looked around, estimating their chances if a confrontation should occur. Right now, they were rather slim.
“Keep cool, kid,” Donaghue suggested sternly to Brown. “I am just contemplating a possibility.” He stroked his chin. “Right now, I will confess that I’d be rather reluctant to do that…”
“Glad to hear it,” Blue said in a brooding tone. “To what do we owe such generosity on your part?”
“It’s true. I wouldn’t want our dear Dianne here to have any trouble, if I was ever to deliver the lot of you to the police…” Donaghue addressed a smile to Dianne, before pursuing, “…And, of course, Spectrum has been our best customer during all these years. Would I really sell off my best customers?”
“Only if you can get a profit out of it,” Brown muttered behind Blue, before the latter could actually stop him.
“I misjudged you, kid,” Donaghue answered him directly, grinning widely. “You might still have a future in front of you. But I have a reputation to protect in the Underworld – it wouldn’t look very good for business, if I was to betray you to the authorities. Of course, if business with Spectrum were not to be lucrative for me anymore…”
“You would consider getting a little extra,” Scarlet said, finishing for him.
“I might,” Donaghue said with a smirk. “But then again, maybe not.”
“You love to keep your clients on edge, don’t you?” Brown spat.
“Only my favourite clients.” Donaghue’s grin widened slightly, as he looked straight at Blue again. “Tell me, Svenson, how much more longer do you think this game of cat and mouse with the World Government will last for Spectrum?”
“About as long as your organisation, I suppose,” Blue said quietly.
Donaghue grunted. “My organisation is small potatoes, compared to Spectrum, you know that.”
“That much is true,” Blue admitted. “That is, as long as no-one knows you are providing us with illegal goods. Then, you might become a much bigger fish for the authorities to catch. Anyway – there is little point to that question right now. Because I don’t believe any of us has much time left anymore.”
“What do you mean, exactly?” Donaghue asked with a deep frown.
“Have you heard of the latest Mysteron threat?”
“The Mysterons are not my concern anymore, you know that.”
“You used to keep yourself informed about them… you were the one who provided us with the technology to hack the communication satellite that the World Government uses to intercept their messages from Mars – before they reach Earth and cause a panic through the population. I know for a fact that you kept that technology for yourself too.”
“I stopped paying them any attention – some years ago. It’s your job to stop them – when the World Government fails to do so.”
“What about the Mysteron threat?” Scarlet asked. “When did that happen?”
“They announced it while you were in the Himalayas with Brown,” explained Blue.
“And you didn’t tell me?” Scarlet said with an annoyed frown. He looked at White who shrugged at the question.
“He didn’t tell me either,” the older man commented quietly. He glanced up to Brown who was keeping a set face. “But apparently, our young Lieutenant Brown has been informed.”
“Well, yes, Lieutenant Brown is my aide, so I needed to tell him,” Blue remarked. “As you might both recall, you were pretty beat up when you came back from the Himalayas. Scarlet, you were wounded – and you, Colonel, had gone through enough for the past fourteen years without any need for me to add to your worries at the moment. Besides – didn’t you tell me you were considering yourself retired?”
“All right,” a scowling White said a little bitterly. “But I am still interested in what’s going on with the world right now.”
“So am I,” Scarlet added quickly.
“I figured you would learn about it soon enough, anyway,” Blue continued. “And up until then, it wouldn’t make such a difference if you knew about it or not.”
“What was the content of that threat?” Donaghue asked.
“Can your men be trusted?” Blue asked, cautiously.
“Don’t concern yourself with them – they’re as safe as yours are. I don’t hide anything from them. So you can speak freely.”
Blue sighed. “All right, then. It’s pretty straight forward – At zero hour five minutes, three days ago, the Mysterons – after announcing themselves in their usual fashion – gave us this message: ‘The day of reckoning is at hand. On the next anniversary day of your unprovoked attack against our complex on Mars, we will turn your own ultimate weapon against you, and will strike the final blow that will destroy all life on Earth.’”
There was a stunned and uncomfortable silence, following Colonel Blue’s words. Scarlet looked around, to see Donaghue’s men exchanging worried glances, and murmuring amongst themselves, as if they were not quite sure what to make of what they had just heard. Apparently, their boss had told them enough of the Mysterons to leave them in no doubt that they existed, and that they could carry out any threat they made. White was pursing his lips, in a thoughtful and brooding fashion, and Donaghue sat back on his seat next to Dianne, stroking his chin, chewing on the announcement. As for Dianne, she didn’t seem that surprised. And Scarlet understood right there and then that she knew about the threat, even as she was looking up at him, with apprehension obvious on her face. He sighed, and came to sit on the sofa, on the free space next to her.
The silence was broken when Donaghue raised his voice: “O’Flaherty. Take all the men and leave me alone with our hosts. Wait for me in the anteroom.”
“You sure, Boss?” O’Flaherty asked uncertainly.
“Do as I say,” was the quiet answer from Donaghue. “And close the doors behind you.”
There were no more replies to his order; all of his men left the room, and the last one to step out, discreetly closed the double doors behind him. Now only members and former members of Spectrum were left in the room, and they were each waiting for one of the others to speak.
“You’re not pulling my leg, are you, Colonel?” Donaghue finally said, glaring suspiciously at Blue.
“I wouldn’t joke about something like that,” Blue answered. “No, Pat, this is the absolute truth.”
“So it now happens,” Scarlet said in a low tone. He took Dianne’s hand in his, and squeezed it, in an attempt to reassure her. She thanked him with a faint smile.
“With all my years in the Himalayas, I lost count of the time,” White mused. “When will the anniversary day be?”
“In three days,” Blue announced.
“Of course. The Mysterons always present us with a tight deadline…”
“Well, this deadline might be the final one,” Scarlet commented. “It could be the end of the world, if we don’t succeed in countering them.” He looked meaningfully at Donaghue. “The end for all of us.”
“Hey!” Donaghue protested, raising both his hands. “Don’t count me in with this setup, Scarlet. I’m not a member of Spectrum anymore. This is your job, not mine.” He grunted, turning to Blue. “And quite frankly, I don’t even see what even Spectrum could do this time. So what difference will my involvement make when you don’t even know how the Mysterons intend to carry out this threat? It seems so huge in proportion to what Spectrum had to face in the past, it might be impossible to stop them this time around…”
“Actually – we have some very strong suspicions of what they intend to do,” Blue said quietly. He looked at Scarlet. “When we did some research on the Quantum energy – to understand more of what had happened to Scarlet and how he came to this time – we also came across some frightening and interesting data, within the databanks of the World Government – that Green hacked into.”
“Seymour is still as good as me, I see,” Donaghue said with a sly smile.
Scarlet suddenly grew tense. “Of course…” he said in realisation. “The Quantum energy.” He looked toward Colonel White. “Now I understand. That’s probably why the Mysterons took over those World Government expeditions that had been sent to the Himalayas in search of Cloudbase’s wreckage.”
“They, too, wanted the Quantum Transmitter,” White said in turn.
“Wait a minute,” Donaghue interrupted. “Pass that by me again. What exactly is that all about? What did Green find?”
Blue sighed. “Contrary to all beliefs – and against its own interdiction – the World Government had continued experimentation in the Quantum energy field. They even sent expedition teams to the Himalayas over the years, to try to recover the Quantum Transmitter from the wreckage of Cloudbase – as Scarlet just mentioned. We wondered what the World Government’s intentions were for the Quantum energy, considering that the Space program had been put on hold for years – at least for deep space travel. So we searched deeper. And discovered that what we actually feared was a reality. The only other option the World Government can expect from the Quantum energy would be to use it as a weapon – a very powerful weapon.”
“I was afraid you would say that,” White said gloomily.
“We already suspected as much – that’s why we sent Scarlet and Brown to recover the Quantum Transmitter themselves – before the World Government would retrieve it.”
“And…you say the Mysterons took over those expedition teams to the Himalayas?” Donaghue asked again. “To get their hands on that Quantum Transmitter? Exactly what proof do you have of that?”
“I can confirm that at least some of them were Mysterons,” White said in turn.
“Apparently, the Quantum Transmitter can help control the flux of Quantum energy. That might be why they wanted it. But I can’t see what they could have gained from it. The thing is destroyed. It’s completely useless, although the scientific teams at the Underground Base still studying it, to learn anything they could from it.”
“You really think the World Government wants to use the Quantum energy as a weapon of some sort?” Donaghue asked again.
“All the information Spectrum Intelligence has been able to gather on that subject points in the same direction,” Dianne then said, seeing the doubtful way Donaghue was staring at all of them. “I can confirm that it’s true, Patrick. It’s been verified.”
“Oh, I believe that the World Government might be preparing a weapon of some sort,” Donaghue said with a shake of his head. “Roberts is out of control – and I can think of many enemies he would like to crush in an instant, with such a weapon. Spectrum comes to mind, actually.”
“And there’s the Mysterons,” Blue then said. “The official position of the World Government is to deny the Mysterons’ existence, but they do know that they exist. And maybe they intend to launch an attack on Mars.”
“Would they do that?” Scarlet asked with a doubtful frown.
“General Ward is supreme commander of SHEF now,” Dianne said. “Directly under World President Roberts’s orders. As you might remember, Ward wanted nothing more than to destroy the Mysterons years ago, during the Frost Line affair. You know his motto…”
“‘Might is right’”, White said with a disgusted frown. “Whoever thought to put Ward in command of SHEF is a fool – and an imbecile. That’s putting a loaded gun into a child’s hand.”
“Wait a second,” Scarlet said quickly, addressing Blue. “You are really suggesting that the World Government would launch an attack on Mars? That a bomb, activated by a Q Transmitter would actually be able to destroy the Mysteron complex on Mars, beyond retrometabolisation, that is?”
“According to Captain Black, that isn’t possible – short of the planet’s destruction –” Brown remarked.
He stopped himself, as if suddenly something had occurred to him. And suddenly, the implications of what could happen hit him squarely between the eyes – and seemed devastatingly frightening.
The same line of thoughts evidently occurred to the other participants of the meeting.
“Oh my God,” Scarlet whispered. He looked again at Blue, and saw the sombre expression displayed on his face. “Could a Q Bomb be powerful enough to destroy Mars, Adam?” he asked carefully.
“Perhaps…if properly set?” Blue answered truthfully. “And…if the Mysterons are not able to stop it before it hit them.”
“I’m not sure,” Colonel White, said thoughtfully, “but if it should happen… if Mars was to be blown away, can you imagine the catastrophe that might follow – for Earth?”
“I already can see the meteorites coming towards us…” Scarlet agreed with a nod.
“Not to mention the changes to Earth’s climate with the shift in its orbit due to the disruption of the solar system’s gravitational pull…” The others turned to Rhapsody who had said those words. She shrugged. "Hey, I am not just a pretty face..."
“Surely, even Ward wouldn’t go that far?” Brown protested.
“You don’t know him like we do,” Scarlet retorted. “You can’t dismiss anything coming from him.”
“Indeed,” White muttered, chewing on the thought. He had had his own falling-outs with General Ward, years ago – and the dealings he’d had with the man had left him with a definite sense of dislike of the character. He didn’t like at all what he was hearing. And what he heard next, from the mouth of Lady Dianne Simms, was even more worrying than all he had heard before combined:
“We have confirmation… that there is such a project to attack Mars.”
There were groans all around.
“Are you sure?” asked Donaghue.
“Quite sure. Even Rick mentioned something… in passing. No details, of course, but enough to indicate that the reports I had received from my contacts within the World Government were true. For example, he was angry with Ward. I believe he might not be in total agreement with the project.”
“I wonder why,” White muttered. “Would Richard Fraser be the only reasonable man left within the Security agencies of the Word Government? I can’t believe Roberts would go through with a project like that. It’s far too risky – even if it were to succeed.”
“The destruction of Mars might have devastating consequences,” Scarlet agreed. “But now – imagine that the Mysterons know about this project?”
“As they surely do,” Blue remarked. “Captain Black is not always right – he’s the first one to admit it – but through his own sixth sense, he has been feeling signs… Indications that the Mysterons know…”
“…And accordingly, they will make their move,” White said gloomily. “The threat… It said that they will turn our ultimate weapon against us…”
“The Quantum bomb,” Scarlet realised.
“What can destroy Mars… can also destroy Earth,” Blue agreed.
“Who would have thought that the Mysterons would appreciate such poetic justice,” White added icily. “Looks to me like all they have to do is just sit back and wait… We’ll do the job for them.”
“I think they would rather stop us, before we would destroy them with us,” Scarlet replied.
“Can you blame them?” White remarked in a low tone.
“Okay… So now you know what they intend do to,” Donaghue remarked. “Now what?”
“We have to stop them, of course,” Blue said. “The whole lot of them. The World Government, from developing the Quantum energy bomb – the Mysterons, from using it to destroy Earth.”
“What do you mean by ‘we’, exactly?” Donaghue asked with a frown. “And how do you propose to do that? Do you even know where to start looking for that… bomb, to begin with?”
“I don’t know if it’s actually a bomb – Or something that can be transformed into it. But we do have a pretty good idea where we might find it.”
“You’re kidding me,” Donaghue breathed.
“No, it’s the truth,” Dianne then said, attracting all attention to her. “We know the location where the World Government scientists are currently developing the Q energy technology to transform it into an effective weapon. And when I reported this to Colonel Blue, he confirmed to me that according to the specialists who are helping Spectrum with understanding the Q energy, it would be the perfect place for the Mysterons to activate the thing – in such a fashion that it could destroy all of Earth.”
“And where is this place?” Donaghue asked with a frown.
“Colonel White,” Blue said, turning to his former commander, “do you remember the main reason why you didn’t want to hand Cloudbase over to the World Government?”
White frowned, wondering what could be on Blue’s mind. “Roberts wanted to turn it into a hovering fortress,” he recalled. “For the WAAF to use to protect the ‘free world’ and – as he said – avoid another catastrophe like that which happened at Futura City. He wanted to add offensive weapons to the defensive-only cannons that Cloudbase had back then. I was concerned that after that, he would use the base as an assault craft. I couldn’t let him do that. That’s why I preferred to crash it instead.”
Blue nodded his thanks. “Well, since Roberts didn’t get Cloudbase for his own nefarious plans of turning it into a fortress – he had his own fortress built instead.”
White blanched with anger. “What?”
“Tell me you’re kidding,” Scarlet muttered.
“Based on Cloudbase’s plans, and using the same technologies,” Dianne confirmed. “And according to what we have learned, fully operational and armed to the teeth.”
“We don’t know for how long it’s been operational,” Blue continued. “Our satellites and radars have been starting to pick it up about a month ago… but it keeps disappearing and reappearing sporadically from our screens… always in different locations. Its speed and stealth capacity rival with that of Cloudbase itself, in its time.”
“Damn Roberts!” White seethed. “I should have known that he would have such a trick up his sleeve… If I follow your reasoning, you think that it’s there that they are developing their Quantum weaponry?”
“We know that it’s being developed there. Because Roberts fully intends to equip his new ‘Cloudbase’ with that technology,” Dianne answered.
“Imagine when works will be completed,” Blue said. “There would be no-one on the planet – or on Mars – safe from Roberts.”
“As if we didn’t have enough to contend with. The Mysterons, and now this,” Scarlet muttered. “Definitely, it would seem that they do intend to use this new technology to carry out their new threat. Whatever your plan is, Colonel Blue, you can count me in.”
“Thank you, Captain Scarlet, because I will need you – when Spectrum raids this new ‘Cloudbase’.”
“Good luck with that.” Donaghue got on his feet. “I just knew you would intend to do something as stupid – or as desperate – as this. Now I don’t know why you felt you should tell me all this, but if you’re counting on me to volunteer…”
“Didn’t you hear a single word, Donaghue?” Colonel White snapped. “We’re all affected by this. Which means we’re all involved. We’ll all have to do something, or we will all die.” He sighed. “Retirement was good for the short time it lasted…” he muttered under his breath.
“I’m sorry, Colonel,” Blue apologised. “But if you really are willing, we can use all the help we can get.” He saw White nodding his assent, and then he returned his attention to Donaghue. “Including yours, Pat.”
“I don’t see what kind of help you expect from me,” grumbled Donaghue. “I’m but a humble provider of illegal goods.”
“Not so humble as you are implying. You’re the best in the trade, and you know it. Now is not the time to be modest about it. You actually have something that we desperately need for our plan to work.”
“So you do have a plan. What do I have that interests you so damned much?”
Blue smiled thinly. “You got your hands on two WAAF shuttles – which sport the World Government crest.”
Donaghue frowned. “How the hell do you know that? We just ‘acquired’ them last week.”
“Acquired them…” White said with a smile of his own. “An interesting word to describe ‘stole them’…”
“It’s not important how I learned it,” Blue said. “Spectrum will need them, Pat.”
“It’ll cost you.”
“Whatever the price. You’ll receive payment after the operation.”
“Like Hell!” Donaghue scoffed loudly. “And if this operation goes sour, do you still intend to pay me?”
Blue looked at him with an icy stare. “If this operation fails, I’ll be dead, Patrick. But then again, if this operation should fail, and the Mysterons succeed in carrying out their threat this time… I don’t think you would have to worry anymore about getting paid or not. Because in all probability we’ll all be dead, pal. Our entire planet will be destroyed.”
There was a short silence, during which everyone watched Patrick Donaghue as he mused over Colonel Blue’s words. He was staring back at the Spectrum commander, chewing his lower lip, his dark eyes as cold as Blue’s. He then slowly stood on his feet, and opened his mouth to give his answer, in a very calm and business-like tone:
“It’s a done deal, Colonel. You’ll receive delivery of your two shuttles tomorrow morning.”
“We’ll be leaving for the mission tomorrow night.” Blue stood in turn and they both shook hands. “We’ll have to make arrangements to where they should be delivered…”
“I hate to leave you behind…”
Early the next day, Captain Scarlet was standing on the balcony of Lady Dianne’s room, looking towards the ground spreading from the garden and into the distance that was the domain of the Creighton-Ward estate. The rest of the discussion, the evening before, had been strictly between Colonel Blue and Patrick Donaghue, as they settled the last details of their business agreement. Donaghue had declined an invitation to a late dinner, claiming he had to go back to make arrangement for the ‘merchandise delivery’. Dianne knew better than to insist, and he had left, taking all his men with him. She might have been the only one to notice the strange and troubled glitter in his eyes, as he leaned to kiss her on the cheek – and this time without false deference. She could see there was something on his mind, but she would have had a hard time to guess exactly what it was.
Besides, she mused, Paul also had something on his mind, when after dinner, they had returned to her room. After having contacted Captain Black at the Underground Base, using a scrambled frequency, Blue had retired to the library once again, in order to plan ahead the details of the upcoming mission. White had joined him, and although Scarlet had offered himself, Blue had considerately dismissed him – pretending with good humour that Scarlet’s not-so-restrained impetuosity might result in him proposing gung-ho answers to the problems – and that most of the plans were already very well drawn, anyway. Colonel White stayed with Blue, and judging that these two fine tactical minds really didn’t need his help, Scarlet consented, without much protest, to leave them to their strategies.
Dianne suspected – or rather knew – that Adam simply wanted for his friend to spend as much time as possible with her – understanding that it might be the last time they would be together, if the mission should fail. They were to leave early in the morning, and there was very little precious time left.
Scarlet barely slept at all; he kept holding Dianne through the long night, exchanging sweet words with her, listening to her, tenderly making love to her. They were both trying to dismiss the world, and all the problems that were threatening both of them, and just as she fell asleep, out of complete exhaustion, after long hours of talking with him, she thought that for a time, they had succeeded in creating their own little haven. She didn’t know he lay staring at the ceiling, holding her closely to him, for the remainder of the night.
When she had awakened, at the first light of day, she had found herself alone in the large bed, and putting on a nightgown, she had gone to the balcony, and saw him there, thoughtfully gazing into the distance. She stood by his side, and he slid an arm around her slim body, to draw her close to him. She rested her head against his shoulder.
“I’ll be fine,” she answered to his obviously worried comment as she had come out onto the balcony and approached him. “It’s you I’m worried about.”
“Me?” he said sombrely. “It seems to me that I am condemned to forever come-back from the dead. Consider this: I was supposed to have died fifteen years ago, when that bomb – which destroyed an entire city – blew up. And yet… here I am, alive, standing, breathing, thinking… with not even a scratch as evidence of my ordeal. I wonder…when the world is destroyed, will I still be around, alone, with only memories to keep me company?”
“Stop thinking like that,” she admonished him.
Scarlet lowered his head. “I can’t help it,” he said in barely a murmur. “If the mission doesn’t succeed – and I still live… I don’t think I could bear to be left all alone in the world.”
“You’d make the Mysterons pay for what they’ve done, with all the strength you can muster.”
“Yeah… Maybe… I don’t know…”
“Paul.” Dianne forced him to turn toward her and she held him in her arms, looking up into his worried features. He held her too, very tightly. “You will succeed,” she said with a smile. “I am confident in you. You will not let what happened to Futura City happen to the world, as well. I know you will stop the Mysterons. You – and all the others who will be with you. I wish I could go with you.”
“No way.” He stroked her cheek. “I’d rather you stay here, safely. When this is all over, I’ll know where to find you.”
“And I’ll be waiting for you. Look.” She disengaged her left arm and showed him her hand. On the ring finger, he could see a gold band, surmounted with a red stone, surrounded with tiny diamonds.
“You kept it?” he whispered with a frown. “Your engagement ring?”
Dianne nodded. “I could never part with it,” she answered. “I simply stopped wearing it but kept hold of it. Now with you back… I decided to wear it again.” She smiled coyly at him. “If it’s all right with you, that is.”
He took the hand and kissed it, then looked into her radiant face. “Dianne…” He smiled. “My lady… will you marry me?”
She giggled. “I answered that question fifteen years ago,” she reminded him. “Which reminds me – I am now older than you.”
“By about the same number of years I was myself, when I first asked you.”
“Would you mind marrying an older woman?”
He raised an amused brow. “You didn’t mind marrying an older man… Would you mind a younger one?”
Dianne shook her head. “Fifteen years won’t change my answer,” she said.
“You’ll have to tell Rick everything is finished between you.”
She grimaced. “You had to bring that up?” She noticed his amused smirk – and that his tone had been a teasing and debonair one. “Don’t worry about Rick,” she answered. “I’ll take care of that.”
“And no more spying.”
“Well, that, I will have to consider…Anyway, I’m hopeful that after tonight, we might not have to worry about Richard Fraser, John Roberts – and the politics against Spectrum anymore. Surely the world will now see what we’ve done for it, and finally will give us our due.”
“One can only hope…” Scarlet held her close to him, squeezing her gently. “We’ll be gone soon – but I want you to know, you’ll be in my heart forever, until this mission is complete, and I’ll come back to you.”
“Just be careful,” she said, basking in the warmth of his body.
“I will.” He leaned over to brush her lips with his own. “I have too much to live for…” he added, before kissing her tenderly.
END OF PART 3