…Or maybe they DID.
This story follows shortly after the events depicted in the TV episode ‘Spectrum Strikes Back’.
“So these are the weapons that are supposed to help us get an edge over the Mysterons, are they?”
Major Victor Logan, commander of Spectrum’s base in Hawaii, Anuenue, looked thoughtfully at the two objects laid on his desk. They didn’t appear much like weapons to him, actually. One of them looked suspiciously like an old Polaroid camera from the preceding century, while the other, cumbersome-looking piece of equipment, remotely resembling a rifle, didn’t seem to be very impressive. Yet, the two colour-coded officers standing in front of him had explained how effective both items were, and he had read the explanatory sheet that had been sent to him shortly before they had arrived. He knew the two items had been tested, and even put through a field trial – though the details of that trial had remained top secret. The fact that these two men had been part of that trial – and so witnesses of the efficiency of these weapons – was enough to put Logan’s last doubts to rest, though.
Captain Blue cleared his throat, and then pointed to the rifle-like item. “Actually, Major, THIS one is the real weapon, as you’re probably well aware. As for this other…”
“I know,” Logan interrupted with a nod. “C-38. The Mysteron detector. I read the sheet.” He offered a sly grin. “Forgive me, gentlemen, if I appeared somehow incredulous at first. I shouldn’t doubt the report and your explanation of the use of that… equipment.” He took the detector in his hands, examining it closely. “So it really works, then. We can spot a Mysteron with this?”
“Yes, it works,” Captain Scarlet then offered calmly. “You can believe me on that, sir.”
Logan put the detector down on the desk. “Too bad we can’t test them right here and now.”
“Too bad, indeed,” Blue answered soberly, glancing toward Scarlet with a meaningful look. Major Logan, who had been attached to the Anuenue Base for only a short time, didn’t know yet of the English captain’s unique condition – of the events that had led to his Mysteronisation and release, a few months ago. The newly-assigned Base commander had not been cleared for this level of security just yet, and Scarlet’s situation was one of Spectrum’s most guarded secrets – known only by those closely working with him. For he had retained some particularities from his experience; his retrometabolism being one – and unfortunately, the faculty of being spotted by the Mysteron detector being another, along with the probable likelihood that he might be killed by the Mysteron gun. All this called for special and careful measures concerning the distribution and uses of both pieces of equipment.
“You understand that you are to put that equipment under tight security, Major,” Scarlet continued in an even voice, apparently unfazed by the base commander’s suggestion. “And that it is to be used only under direct orders from Cloudbase.”
“I understand perfectly, Captain, don’t worry,” Logan replied. “And I also understand that you are both to supervise that the equipment is indeed safely locked away and that no unauthorized personnel are to handle it.” He sighed. “Isn’t this getting a little carried away, gentlemen, for weapons designed to help us fight the Mysterons?”
“There are reasons, Major,” Captain Blue replied calmly, keeping himself from glancing once again toward Scarlet. “Security reasons.”
Logan cocked an eyebrow. “Will I and my head of security learn about those ‘security reasons’ anytime soon?”
“In due time, sir,” Blue answered, with a kind enough smile. “We’re sorry, but… for the moment, we can’t say anything else.”
Major Logan huffed, then looked down, pondering, at the equipment. “You Cloudbase colour-coded officers are sometimes a little too melodramatic for my taste,” he muttered. “But orders are orders. Especially when they come directly from Colonel White. All right, we’ll do it your way. I chose two of this base’s most loyal men from the security department to learn from you how these things work, as previously instructed. They cleared initial check-out from Lieutenant Green. So I guess that part of the operation is okay?”
Blue nodded briefly. “Would you call them now, sir?” he suggested. “We will be able to progress to the training.”
“Such as it is,” Logan grumbled, knowing full well that there could be no practical use for the equipment at the moment. He pressed down a button on his desk console. “Sergeant Brest, please inform Captain Manuku and Sergeant MacGuthrie that I need them in my office right now, please?”
At the sound of one of the names, Captain Scarlet had pricked up his ears. “Manuku?” he repeated.
“Yes, Captain Barry Manuku, my head of security,” Logan informed him. “He’s been assigned here for the past four weeks. He was previously working at security in our Los Angeles-based headquarters, but as soon as he had his promotion, asked to be sent in Hawaii, to be close to his homeland. He’s perfectly clear, Captain.”
“Is there a problem, Captain?” Blue asked, seeing the concerned look on his partner’s face.
“Only a small glitch, I’m sure,” Scarlet replied. “I know Barry Manuku. That is, he knows my real identity. We were together at West Point, some years ago.”
“Oh!” A frown appeared on Captain Blue’s face. “A glitch all right. How come that didn’t stand out when Lieutenant Green did the preliminary security check? Our identities have to be protected.”
“It may be because Captain Manuku is relatively new to this base,” Logan offered. “He arrived about one week after myself. Probably, all the related forms had not reached Cloudbase yet.”
“You can always count on bureaucracy to drag out simple procedures needlessly,” Blue commented with a dry tone.
“That’s a problem easily resolved, anyway,” noted Scarlet. “I’m sure Captain Blue is more than capable of training your men on these new devices on his own.”
“And in the meantime, what will you do?” Blue asked him.
“I’ll stroll around the base, waiting for you to finish with your training. With Manuku busy with you, I don’t think there’ll be much chance of running into him!”
Blue nodded with a faint smile. “So you’ll get the chance to enjoy the scenery, eh? That figures. You always have all the luck. All right, then. I’ll give you a call when the meeting is done.”
After shaking hands with Major Logan, Captain Scarlet left the office, and the Command Center Building. As he stepped out of the edifice, met by a warm wind coming from the sea, he heard the sound of a roaring engine straight ahead and looked up to see Angel Two flying low over the base. The interceptor craft had escorted the Spectrum Passenger Jet he and Captain Blue had taken from Cloudbase to Anuenue Base, before going onto a patrol tour around the area.
Now it was coming back from its round, ready to escort them back to Headquarters. Not that there was really anything suspicious around, warranting that patrol procedure, but considering the recent attempts by the Mysterons to sabotage the meeting during which Intelligence had presented the newly developed devices that would help in fighting them, Spectrum had every reason to believe that they would try to stop the said devices from being distributed around to strategic Spectrum bases. So far nothing had happened during distribution. Scarlet was just hoping it would continue that way.
The Anuenue Base was set on a small volcanic island, in a remote part of the Hawaiian archipelago. The island itself was relatively recent, with its own volcano located at the East end of the island – still active with minimum lava spills, that were oozing through the sea, instantly cooling down and expanding the size of the land, at a rate of several centimetres per day. The majority of the island was covered by a deep greenery, which surrounded the Anuenue Base on three sides – the ocean with its harbour bordering the fourth. There were no inhabitants on the island – only Spectrum personnel, military or support, and its shores were constantly under watch – which was making it one of the safest and most secluded bases Spectrum had around the world. And probably the one with the most beautiful setting, Captain Scarlet mused with a large grin, looking around approvingly.
Seeing two Spectrum ground officers coming his way, Captain Scarlet, suspecting they were MacGuthrie and Manuku, and certainly not wanting to encounter the latter, quietly left the building’s surroundings and started walking casually in the opposite direction from the two men. After a few steps, he discreetly looked over his shoulder and saw them enter the Command Center, closing the door behind them as they did.
Just in time, the British captain reflected. With all that was presently going on in his life, the last thing he needed – and wanted – was to jeopardize his real identity. The fewer people who knew that Captain Scarlet was really Paul Metcalfe, the better. Especially in regard of his family, whom he hoped to keep as far away as possible from this madness of a war that Spectrum was waging for Earth against the Mysterons’ efforts to destroy it.
Walking quietly around the base, Captain Scarlet made few encounters – only some Spectrum ground officers who saluted him in passing and continued their way. After a few minutes, he directed his pace in the direction of the runway. The Angel craft overhead was turning sharply, and coming in to land. He thought he might as well welcome Symphony Angel upon landing. He might as well keep company with her and invite her for a tour around the island, while Blue finished with his tutorial on the new equipment. He grinned mischievously at that last thought. Wouldn’t THAT infuriate Adam to learn we were having a good, quiet time, while he was busy with tedious business!
He was near the runway when he stopped in his tracks, as a sudden headache hit him. Grunting in pain, he swayed, and put his hand to his head. Now, where’s THAT coming from?
It wasn’t a natural headache, he realized almost instantly, as a wave of nausea immediately followed. Over the last few months, he had learned to recognise the signs. It was, in all probability, his sixth sense kicking in.
There was a Mysteron presence in the vicinity.
Scarlet looked around nervously, searching for anyone that may look suspect. Or anything. He knew that his sixth sense might also have been triggered by an object that had been Mysteronised. It didn’t necessary mean it was a man, or a woman. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary, he noted grimly. Small consolation. Nothing looked as similar to its original than a Mysteron copy. Unfortunately, this ability of his was anything but precise. It couldn’t pinpoint to him what was triggering it. That was really frustrating at times. Like now.
Then he saw a man walking quickly toward a small building. He was dressed in a dark grey Spectrum uniform, quite similar to the one technicians wore. Where he was standing, Scarlet was too far away to see from which technical or service corps the man could be. He couldn’t distinguish the identification insignias of his uniform. Scarlet followed him with his eyes, somehow unable to look away from him. Scarlet narrowed his eyes. He was the person closest to him – could it be…
The man stopped at the door and looked from left to right, as if to assure himself that he had not been noticed. Then he quickly opened the door, and swiftly entered, closing it behind him. His behaviour suddenly seemed suspect, and Scarlet decided to follow and find out what he might be doing.
He had only taken a few steps when he noticed that his headache was increasing.
There seemed to be little doubt left. He lowered his cap microphone.
“Captain Blue?” he called.
“What is it, Captain Scarlet?”
“There’s suspected Mysteron activity on the base.”
“What? Are you sure…?”
Scarlet’s headache was mounting. He grunted with irritation. “Yes, quite sure. I saw the suspect enter a small wood and concrete building, about fifty metres east of the runway. I’m going in to check what he’s up to. I may need some back up.”
“I’m on my way. In the meantime, be careful.”
“S.I.G.,” grumbled Scarlet. His cap mic returned to the visor and he drew his gun from its holster, to carefully approach the small construction. There were no windows from which the enemy could have seen him, but he was nevertheless apprehensive that his presence would become known. With the Mysterons, one never knew what to expect.
Scarlet put his hand on the door handle, pricking up his ears. He couldn't hear a sound on the other side. Carefully, he turned the handle, and pushed the door inward to risk an eye inside. He couldn't see anyone in the small room that revealed itself before his eyes. Just a pile of drums stacked in a corner, marked ‘Explosives’. Looking around, he entered, his gun at the ready, fully expecting to see the Mysteron agent appearing from a corner, or behind a hiding place. But still, he couldn't see anything suspicious. Not even a trace that someone had been in there.
I didn't imagine things! Scarlet told himself with frustration. I did see someone entering here! And the fact that he was still feeling nauseous was a good indication that the agent was still nearby - maybe watching him, waiting. That was making him feel uncomfortable. On edge.
There was another door at the end of the small room. The feeling of impending danger Scarlet was sensing seemed to come from behind it. He hesitated just a fraction of a second before ever so carefully and silently walking in that direction. His nausea kept increasing, and Scarlet just knew he was right - the Mysteron agent was in there.
Again, he put his hand on the handle, and again, ever so slowly, he turned it.
And then, all Hell broke loose.
From the other side of the door, a thunderous sound made itself heard, filling his ears, and the door literally blew up in his face. The explosion knocked him off his feet and flung him through the air, throwing him against the opposite wall. He hit hard, nearly losing what was left of his consciousness, and slid to the floor. Half-stunned, he rose to his knees, and looked around in bafflement; he saw that the fire was spreading quickly, blocking his only exit through the door he had taken earlier to enter.
"Damn it all..." Scarlet retrieved his cap from the floor; fortunately, it had fallen not far from him. He gathered himself to his unsteady feet, watching with horror as the fire continued to spread, at a tremendous pace. The smoke was already becoming dense – so quickly it was nearly unbelievable. He activated his radio. "Captain Blue! Do you hear me?" he barked into the mic. He coughed, having swallowed a mouthful of smoke. "I'm trapped in here!"
To his dismay, only static answered him. Well, I gave my position to Blue earlier, so he should be coming soon, Scarlet reflected grimly. Hopefully with the necessary material and personnel to get him out. In the meantime, the British agent thought it a good idea to see if he would be able to find an exit by himself. As quickly as possible. The smoke was becoming denser by the second, and he already had trouble breathing.
As he broke into a coughing fit, he realized that there was even more to worry about than he had first thought, not only the fire and the ordinary smoke. Heavy fumes were coming out of the drums he had seen upon entering, and were now filling the room. That was adding considerably to the already intense, opaque smoke. And they weren’t ORDINARY fumes. Scarlet's throat was now irritating him enough to tell him that they were highly toxic.
Great, just what I needed! he thought grimly. Whatever is in those drums must definitely be a health hazard! He had to get out of there fast, even risking going through the flames in order to do so. He stepped decidedly toward the exit.
The roof selected that precise moment to come tumbling down on him. A rain of flaming beams sent him to the floor. How he managed to avoid them all was nothing short of a miracle. He staggered back to his feet, with great difficulty, coughing loudly. His throat was sore, it was becoming harder to breathe, and his eyes were itching.
He stepped again toward the door, tentatively. A silhouette appeared beyond the smoke, making him stop in his tracks in surprise.
"You fell right into the trap, Earthman." The booming, ominous voice chilled Scarlet's blood in his veins. He saw the gun aimed at him, and quickly tried to reach for his own.
A crack from overhead made him look up, and he saw a huge beam falling straight at him. He didn’t have time to move to avoid it, and it hit him, exactly at the same instant a gunshot resonated through the burning room. But a staggering Scarlet only felt the impact of the beam on his back and the resulting pain resonating through all his body. He fell to the ground where he lay still.
"This time, Earthman, you die... and the Mysterons will be victorious."
That was the last thing the struggling mind of Captain Scarlet heard before losing its fight against nothingness.
The small building Captain Scarlet had described was a raging inferno when Captain Blue arrived there, with security officer Captain Barry Manuku, a native Hawaiian-born officer who was almost as tall as the colour-coded captain. They found the base fire-fighters already in attendance, working to control the fire. Blue looked with absolute horror at the flames rising high in the sky, and the heavy, deep black smoke spiralling even higher. When he made a step forward, he found himself stopped by the chief fireman, who swiftly caught him by the arm.
"Don't go nearer, sir. Those fumes are deadly!"
"Fumes?" Blue asked, confused.
“This building was used to store drums of chemicals,” the chief explained. “Highly volatile. And the fumes from the fire would be deadly for anyone breathing them for more than five minutes!"
"My partner may be in there!" Blue replied.
"Well, I hope he's not. If the fumes don't get to him, the fire will - if it didn’t already."
"Do you have oxygen and a mask I can use, chief?"
"I do, but I won't take the responsibility of letting you..."
"I'll take full responsibility, chief… Brennan,” Blue cut in roughly, after eyeing the man’s name tag. "Now, give me that equipment!"
The fire-fighter couldn't do anything else but comply. He gave Captain Blue all that he would need, and the Spectrum officer hastily prepared himself. It took him a mere minute to be ready to follow, as the firemen, informed that somebody may be trapped inside the building, attacked the door with massive hatchets. Under their vigorous hacks, the door quickly gave way.
Blue precipitated himself inside, literally into a blazing furnace, flanked by two of the firemen. While the two men went each their separate ways to contain the rapidly spreading fire, Blue hurriedly looked around for his missing partner, screwing his eyes behind the transparent mask to see beyond the curtain of smoke surrounding him. He quickly found Scarlet, lying next to the huge cans of chemicals Chief Brennan had told him about. Blue didn’t waste any time in checking out his friend and gathered him onto his shoulders, determined to get him out of this inferno. He had to try three times before being able to jump through the flames, without being burned, and finally make his way out, through a file of firemen who were entering. One of them tried to offer his help, but Blue ignored him, and moved on.
He rushed toward the medic team waiting at a safe distance with Captain Manuku. They took Scarlet under their care and gently laid him on the ground. Blue quickly removed the heavy equipment he was carrying, and threw it on the ground. Only then did he noticed how hot he felt, with sweat washing down his face. His uniform was a mess, mainly due to the intense smoke he had gone through. He didn’t care about any of that. He didn’t even care that now Captain Manuku was looking down at the set and pale face of Captain Scarlet with an expression of recognition and perplexity on his own. He only glanced briefly at the Hawaiian security officer, before returning his anxious attention to Scarlet, and the two paramedics who were checking him over. One of them placed the respirator mask over Scarlet’s mouth and nose, the other leaned down to put his ear to the officer’s chest.
"He isn't breathing," the man said. "I can’t hear a heartbeat. I'm afraid he's a goner..."
"Let's try to revive him," the other medic replied.
His companion had just agreed to the suggestion when they heard their patient take a heavy breath and saw his chest rising suddenly. "What the...? I thought for sure he was gone!"
Captain Blue smiled slightly. It wasn't the first time that Captain Scarlet had given such concern to medics – and a similar start, when he began to revive. Such moments could be really tricky to explain, without giving his secret away. It was just fortunate that this time, it didn’t appear that that would be the case.
"You must have made a slight mistake," he noted, addressing the man, and kneeling next to Scarlet.
“Apparently,” the man said, shaking his head. “But it’s incredible nonetheless!”
"Those fumes are total poison," the other medic noted. "How did he manage to survive them?"
"My partner is pretty tough, gentlemen," Blue replied quietly. "He probably hadn’t breathed in as much as we thought.”
“Seems to me like the only explanation.” Blue glanced up to Manuku who was staring down at Scarlet. He still had that look on him that said I know this man, and Blue could see it wasn’t a mere suspicion but a certitude. However, Manuku didn’t say a word in front of the medics. Which made Captain Blue think that the security officer was well-trained, and very aware of the importance of secrecy for colour-coded officers’ identities. For that, the American captain could only be grateful.
He would have to talk to Captain Manuku later. In the meantime, he was too preoccupied with his partner’s health. Scarlet was now breathing deeply, if still irregularly, with the help of the mask. He seemed, however, still unconscious. Blue looked up at Manuku.
"I’ll need to take him back to Cloudbase," he announced.
Manuku frowned. Obviously, he wasn’t in agreement with that decision. But he didn’t have the time to voice his surprise.
"Not in the state he's in, Captain," the first medic then declared. “We need to keep him under observation. Despite what you say, we don't know how much of those fumes he inhaled."
"I'm sorry, but I must insist. We have the best medical facilities possible on Cloudbase. If he should need anything, we..."
"We may not be Cloudbase, sir, but we are quite capable of handling your friend's situation."
Concerned about the security regarding Captain Scarlet, Blue was ready to argue more of his point with the medics when his colleague uttered a moan that attracted his attention. He looked down to see that Scarlet was agitating himself. He crouched down next to him once more. "Scarlet, can you hear me?"
Scarlet's eyes fluttered. He coughed into the mask and made a tired and annoyed gesture to remove it. Obviously he didn't have the strength for it and his hand dropped down by his side. "Lie still, Captain," Blue gently advised him. "You need to rest."
Scarlet’s weary eyes seemed to notice his friend’s presence only at that moment. "Adam," he murmured. Blue didn’t pick up the fact that his colleague had called him by his real name – which was prohibited by Spectrum regulations when officers were on duty. Understandably, the British captain was confused enough at the moment. "The Mysterons... " He groaned, and coughed again, searching his breath. "They trapped me..."
"Well, they didn't get to you," Blue noted, soothingly. "We got you out of that furnace in time. Now you rest, buddy. We'll take good care of you."
"He shot me..." Scarlet was able to mutter, weakly lifting his hand in an attempt to point to his chest. He wasn't able to say or do anything more. The hand fell back to his side again, and he drifted into unconsciousness again.
Captain Blue checked his friend's chest. Strange... He doesn't appear wounded, he reflected, seeing no trace of blood upon him. Evidently, Scarlet was very disoriented. He might have made a mistake in his assumption...
Blue shook his head thoughtfully. Seeing as Scarlet didn't have any physical wound, the secret of his healing capacities was safe. That was certainly a plus. The fewer people who knew about that, the better.
"We should get him to the infirmary,” the first medic then said. "He's been very lucky. He doesn't seem to have suffered much from breathing those fumes. Although for a minute I thought..."
"He'll be okay," Blue said with a faint smile. "I think I'd better..."
"Captain Manuku! Captain Blue!" That was Brennan, the chief fireman, quickly coming toward them. Blue got up to his feet, and stood next to Manuku, looking in the fireman’s direction. Brennan was coming from the now nearly destroyed building, which was being massively watered with huge hoses. He removed his mask, stopping in front of the two officers. He looked positively worn out. Blue had a feeling it wasn't only from fighting the flames. There was something else in the man's tired eyes. Manuku also noticed the uneasiness in Brennan’s features and frowned deeply.
"What is it, chief?"
"We found something I thought you might want to see," the fireman said, with a faint nod.
Blue glanced down at Scarlet as the paramedics lifted him gently onto a stretcher and prepared to take him away. "Right, I’ll leave that to you, Captain Manuku. I'll follow my partner to the infirmary and can report to me when..."
"No, Captain Blue," Chief Brennan then insisted. "I think you would want to come with me too.”
"What have you found, chief?" Blue asked, his brow now furrowed.
"Come with me, I’d prefer you to see for yourself."
Intrigued by the air of mystery he could see on the fireman’s face, Blue nodded. He and Manuku each grabbed a mask and a bottle of oxygen, and followed Brennan, who led them to the still burning building.
"I hope it's good, chief," Blue noted, putting on the mask.
"I think you'll find it interesting."
The chief made the two men stop at some distance from the building and pointed toward a group of fire-fighters who were coming out through a large hole punched in the side of a wall. They were carrying something out - which looked like a human body draped under a large white blanket.
"What the...?" Blue looked at Brennan, with a concerned look. "There was somebody else in there?"
"Yeah. Must’ve been very close to the blast. The body is badly charred, nearly unrecognisable. Poor fellow."
Poor fellow... Blue wasn't so sure he could feel sorry for the 'victim'. He exchanged a glance with Manuku. “That could very well be the man who tried to trap Captain Scarlet in there,” he remarked.
“It is possible,” Manuku agreed. “I’ll have this investigated right away.”
“Thank you, Captain Manuku. Keep me informed.” Blue knew that Manuku would try the Mysteron detector on the dead man, as he had been instructed to, mere minutes before, and find out if he was indeed a Mysteron. For the blond American captain, there didn’t seem to be any need for him to stay further. He turned around to go with Scarlet, concerned about how he was doing. He addressed one last word to Brennan:
"Thanks for bringing this to our attention, chief. I..."
"A minute, Captain, that's not all."
Blue looked at him with an annoyed expression. He wanted nothing more than to go back to Scarlet. He didn’t want to risk the base medics discovering too much about him. "What is it now, chief?"
The two firemen were now putting the dead man, still covered with the sheet, at their feet. In doing so, one of the body's arms became uncovered and came to rest against Blue's boot. He looked down instinctively.
And his eyes went wide.
The sleeve worn by the arm, although badly burned and torn, still clearly showed part of a Spectrum logo.
"That's what, Captain," the chief said gloomily. "Do you know if there was another red-clad colour-coded officer inside that building?"
"This is the voice of the Mysterons... We know that you can hear us, Earthmen. You will pay for your act of aggression on our Complex on Mars. Spectrum, within the next twenty-four hours, one of a key member of your Headquarters in the sky will die. Beware of the Mysterons' wrath!"
"Do they have to be SO melodramatic?!"
Captain Ochre was marching down the corridor leading to the Control Room, fully aware that Colonel White would be calling on all available officers soon. Captain Magenta, right behind him, nearly had to run to keep up with him. "Slow down, Rick... I can't keep up. You remember I have a sprained ankle?"
"So maybe you shouldn't come!” Ochre snapped. “You should be off-duty!" He stopped in front of the green door leading into Central Control. From the speakers, the call he knew would come made itself heard. He hesitated to enter and turned toward Magenta with an apologetic look. "I'm sorry, Pat," he sighed, seeing the hurt look on his friend's face. "I didn't mean it to come out that way. I guess it's just that..."
"The threat. Yeah, I know." Magenta nodded his understanding. "Unnerving to think that this time they’re aiming at one of us, isn’t it?”
"Tell me about it," mumbled Ochre. “The question now is: which one of us?”
They saw Captain Grey coming from the other end of the corridor and they waited until he had neared them, before pressing the ‘open’ button. The three officers entered to step onto the conveyer passing behind Lieutenant Green and leading to the control desk, where sat their commander in chief.
Colonel White seemed very thoughtful; he barely acknowledged their presence when they stood to attention before him. Seeing as he was keeping silent, Captain Ochre cleared his throat, and spoke for all of them: "Reporting as ordered, sir."
White raised his eyes to them, nodded, and then pressed a button on his desk. Three stools raised from the floor and the three officers sat down, removing their caps. All the while, the obvious bothered look they were seeing hovering in the colonel’s features didn’t leave him.
"Sir?" Captain Grey said tentatively. "You looked preoccupied. The Mysteron threat..."
"...Is preoccupying enough as it, Captain Grey," White said, looking at each one of them.
"You think they may be aiming at you?" Ochre asked. He paused a second. "Again?" he added, remembering how their commander had been targeted by the Mysterons recently.
"The threat is vague enough," White murmured, pondering, rubbing his chin. "but I'm afraid the Mysterons have already made their move to put their plans into motion."
"Sir?" a puzzled Magenta asked.
"I just received a call from Hawaii," White explained. "Captain Blue reported that the Mysterons had laid a trap for Captain Scarlet."
The three captains seated before him exchanged worried glances. Ochre shuffled on his stool. "Sir... Is Captain Scarlet all right? That trap... It didn't work, right?"
White narrowed his eyes to his junior officers, before staring at each and every one of them, one after the other. "That, gentlemen," he stated in a very gloomy and cautious tone, "is what we are trying to find out..."
“Something went wrong.”
Captain Black stood on the beach, facing the ocean, with that unemotional expression that had become his since his encounter with the Mysterons, months ago, during that fateful Zero-X mission on Mars. A furtive moonbeam, escaping from behind a cloud, lit his face for the space of three seconds, making it look as it was carved in white marble. He was looking away at the rushing tide that was coming to die some yards below him. He was unimpressed by the beauty of it. He didn’t even turn around to face the Mysteron agent standing behind him, and waited for his answer.
“I know.” It came in a tone less sepulchral then Black’s but just as voided of emotion. “I don’t know how it happened. I followed instructions.”
“You did, yes,” Black replied. “But nevertheless, the process didn’t work properly. Therefore, the mission could be in jeopardy.” He turned around slowly and approached the other agent. "State your report."
"The Earthmen have discovered the body. That caused some confusion in their puny minds."
"Which is to be expected. What did they do with it?"
"They have shipped it to Cloudbase. Pending further examination there while they try to figure out what happened."
"And Captain Scarlet?"
"He's still at the base infirmary, recovering. Unconscious, the last time I heard from there. Therefore, he still doesn't know about the body. The Earthmen are presently evaluating how they should act toward him. So they’re keeping him under surveillance, with an armed guard nearby."
"They are unsure. They don't know if they should trust him now." Black paused for a moment. "This mission may yet be salvaged,” he added coldly. "The confusion the discovery of this body has stirred within the humans could work to our advantage."
"I can't see how," the other agent replied, sounding puzzled by the thought. "Since the contact is broken..."
"It is not entirely broken," Captain Black responded. "We may yet to regain control. The Earthmen won't have time to react. Confusion and surprise will make it so that this mission will be a success for the Mysterons."
The other agent nodded gravely, as he understood perfectly what Captain Black was implying. “Whether he realizes it or not,” he commented, “Captain Scarlet will be working for us.”
“He’ll have his part, yes.” Black turned away from the other agent to look again toward the ocean, with still that same, cold, inhuman look. "Soon," he continued with the same monotonous tone, "we will be avenged." He looked over his shoulder, to address the other agent anew. “You will know what to do…”
With a gasping sound, Scarlet woke up with a start and sprang into a seated position on his bunk. He would probably have jumped out of it if Captain Blue had not caught him in his movement, and stopped him. Scarlet looked up into his friend’s face with surprise and what seemed like the last remains of a deep terror he had experienced in his sleep.
"Adam?" he murmured with a perplexed tone.
"Take it easy," Blue told him evenly. "I think you just had a nightmare."
"Nightmare." Scarlet frowned, apparently trying to recall what he could have possibly dreamed of that was so terrifying that he would wake up shivering, and drenched in a cold sweat. He couldn't remember.
But he did remember the last events he had lived just before losing consciousness. He looked around, confused.
"We're not on Cloudbase?" he asked, stating the obvious.
Blue shook his head to the negative.
"How long was I out, this time?" Scarlet added.
"About four hours," Blue answered truthfully.
"Was I...?" Scarlet let the rest of the question hanging. There wasn't any need to elaborate, as Blue knew very well what he meant.
"I can't tell. If you were, you weren't for long," the American captain noted. "You revived while the medics were giving you oxygen, soon after I got you out of that burning building." He paused a moment, as Scarlet settled himself down once again on the bed, his hand reaching for his head. "You're okay?"
"Head's a little fuzzy," Scarlet mumbled. "And boy, does it hurt... Curious, I always feel fine when I... you know... revive. Must be the effect of those fumes..."
"Could be," Blue said, thoughtfully. "Paul... You told me you had been shot?"
"Mmm?" Scarlet didn't seem to have heard him. Blue frowned a little, then gave it another try.
"Paul, where were you shot? After I got you out of that furnace, I couldn't find a single wound on you."
Scarlet removed his hand from his eyes and gave him a doubtful frown. "I do remember being shot at," he murmured, obviously searching his memory. "I saw the gun aimed at me and heard the shot... But I don't remember feeling anything, really. The roof came tumbling down on me at about the same instant." He raised on one elbow and checked himself. "No trace on the uniform..."
"No," Blue confirmed.
"Obviously, that Mysteron agent missed me."
Blue tilted his head to one side, narrowing his eyes. "Obviously. Is that the last thing you remember?"
"What I remember are more feelings than actual images," Scarlet replied. "The very last thing was that awful feeling of choking... not being able to breathe... My lungs were literally burning. That’s about it." He looked inquisitively at Blue and saw him nodding with a thoughtful expression on his face. There was obviously something on the American captain's mind. He was preoccupied.
"What is it, Adam?" Scarlet asked with a new frown.
"I'm just wondering myself why you don't feel so good," Blue replied, shrugging his shoulders.
"No... There's something else." A thought occurred to Scarlet. "Was that Mysteron agent found?"
"The one who trapped you?" Blue shook his head. "No, I'm sorry to say."
"That's why we're not on Cloudbase, then," Scarlet decided. "We're still here because we have to catch that Mysteron." He swung his legs over the side of the bunk. Captain Blue’s eyes suddenly showed a distraught expression.
"WHAT do you think you’re doing?" the American officer protested loudly.
"He may still be roaming free around the base," Scarlet answered quickly. "Probably doing untold damage. What are we waiting for? We have to find him!"
He began to stand, but suddenly felt a nausea hitting him, and could do nothing more than stay sitting there, holding his head. He would have collapsed to the floor, if Blue had not reached forward to hold him still.
"Can't you see you can't even stand up?" Blue said roughly. "You're staying right here, Captain!"
"We have to find that Mysteron," Scarlet mumbled, raising his eyes to meet those of his partner. "Maybe he isn't very far. He could be the reason I'm feeling so sick..."
Blue noted the desperate look in his friend 's eyes. He also noticed how pale Scarlet was, and the sheen of sweat on his face. He really wasn't feeling well. Whatever the reason for that may be.
"We’re already looking for him,” Blue assured. “We'll find him, don’t worry. He won't get far. In the meantime, I suggest you rest."
"I can't rest when I have a job to do," Scarlet replied, almost ominously. "That Mysteron tried to trap me and I want to find him - and find out WHY he came after me. There isn't a Mysteron threat at the moment and..." He stopped and stared Blue right in the eyes. His friend was keeping deadly silent. "Unless... There's been a Mysteron threat while I was out?"
"There was one, wasn't there?" Scarlet insisted. "That's what you're keeping from me."
"Now why would I do that?" Blue asked abruptly.
"I don't know. You tell me."
Scarlet moved again to stand, but again stopped nearly right away, and took his head between his hands, groaning in pain. He swayed and leaned against the bedframe to keep himself upright as best he could. Blue gave a sigh, and gently pushed him onto the bed. "Now, that does it. You're staying in bed until you're better. Doctor's orders."
"You're worse than Fawn," Scarlet mumbled, shaking his head, his eyes slowly closing. "Can't believe I would ever say it: but at the moment, I REALLY wish I could see him..."
"Feeling that bad, uh?" Blue said, offering a faint but sympathetic smile. He didn't receive any other response than the quiet breathing of his friend. Looking down, he noticed that Scarlet had seemingly fallen asleep, almost as his head had touched the pillow. Blue watched over him for a few seconds, listening to his regular breathing, seeing how pale he was. Satisfied that his British colleague was really asleep, Blue got up and quietly went out the door. Outside, a security officer, obviously keeping guard, stood to attention when he saw him. Blue briefly put the man at ease and pointed towards the closed door. "Keep your eyes on him, MacGuthrie. Don't let him leave this room. If he wakes up and asks for anything, call me."
"S.I.G., Captain Blue," the guard answered.
Blue stared at the closed door for a short second. “And don’t let anyone enter this room, unless it’s me,” he added, addressing the guard. “Even if it’s someone you know very well.”
MacGuthrie acknowledged the order with a nod, and Blue went on his way. He pushed open another door at the end of the corridor and entered a small office, where he found Major Logan and Captain Manuku waiting for him. The Base commander stood up from the desk behind which he was seated.
“How is he?” he asked, his voice betraying some of the uneasiness he was presently feeling. “Has he woken up?”
Blue closed the door behind him. “Yes, but he’s still far from fully recovered,” he answered. “When I left him, he had fallen asleep again. Sergeant MacGuthrie is keeping guard in front of the door. He will contact us if there’s any change.”
“Are you sure it’s a good idea?” Manuku then remarked, crossing his arms on his chest. “Keeping him in there, without any restraint? I would feel more reassured if he was in a secure cell, in the brig.”
“Frankly, Captain, I doubt that he would find it any easier to get out of that room than from the brig.”
“It’s the most secure room we have in the infirmary,” Logan agreed. “And Jeff MacGuthrie knows his job well. He won’t let him out.”
Manuku nodded grimly, and turned again to Captain Blue. “You can understand that I’m concerned, Captain. If what you fear about him is true…”
“Gentlemen…” Captain Blue let out a sigh and with a gesture, invited the two officers to sit down. He moved toward the open window, and casually looked out, before closing it. He turned to face them again. “I explained to you the extraordinary circumstances surrounding Captain Scarlet,” he continued. “Considering the events, Colonel White had decided that I had no other choice but to do so… And I trust that this secret will not leave the confines of these four walls.”
“You know you shouldn’t even concern yourself with that, Captain,” Logan replied rather dryly, sitting down. “It is unnecessary for you to question our integrity.”
“I know, Major. But in turn, you’ll have to understand that I have to insist. Colonel White considers this a matter of the highest security.”
“I can see why,” Manuku noted. “An indestructible agent for Spectrum, fighting the Mysterons…” He rubbed his chin, thoughtfully. “I always thought that my old buddy Paul Metcalfe led a charmed life,” he added. “But never would I have imagined that something like this would happen to him. Heck, that it could happen to anyone!”
“It is certainly extraordinary,” Major Logan murmured. He turned toward Blue, who was still near the window, leaning on the wall. “But… how could we be that sure now that he’s the same man? Considering what the Mysterons did to him and what we know of their replicates…”
“It could be potentially dangerous to keep him here on the base,” Manuku agreed. “And what if he…”
“Gentlemen, we’re on stand-by for the moment,” Blue cut in suddenly. “We can’t do anything, make any decisions, while we’re in the dark. I’m afraid that if we make ANY assumptions about what might have occurred in that building, and act accordingly, we may be wrong. In which case, we would actually do the Mysterons’ work for them this time – and they will have the last laugh.” He shook his head. “We have to be absolutely sure before acting.”
“So in the meantime, he’s staying where he is?” Manuku asked.
“Under surveillance. For our security, as well as for his. He doesn’t go out, and neither does anyone go in, without a Mysteron check. Captain Scarlet was the victim of an attempted murder today… For all we know, it might even have succeeded. The person who attacked him is running around freely somewhere, maybe still within the perimeters of this base. And may be plotting a new attempt as we speak.”
“My men are checking the grounds, Captain Blue,” Manuku replied. “They have orders to apprehend anyone that may seem suspect, wandering the base. If this Mysteron is still around, we’ll find him.”
“I hope you instructed your men that they should not let themselves be deceived by appearances, if anyone they apprehend is a friend, or simply someone they think they know very well, Captain Manuku. And that they should consider any suspect as potentially very dangerous. The Mysterons can duplicate anyone on this base. You, me… Major Logan…”
The latter raised an eyebrow. “VERY comforting, Captain Blue,” he deadpanned, with a gesture of annoyance. “It’s a good thing both Captain Manuku and I passed that Mysteron detector check five minutes ago – or you’d have me worried! And don’t be concerned about anything concerning security. I’m sure Captain Manuku gave all the necessary instructions to his men.”
“Of course I did!” said Manuku, with an almost indignant scoff. “I’ll be going to the armoury right after this meeting, and I’ll have all of my men and any personnel coming close to the infirmary swept by a Mysteron detector check, as you requested, Captain Blue.”
“And what about the… the body?” Major Logan then enquired. He felt awkward. He didn’t know exactly how he should designate the victim who had been found in the rubble of the burned building. Captain Blue himself wasn’t so sure either. That was easy to see, although the Cloudbase captain was trying his best to remain very professional about it. “You had it sent to Cloudbase,” Logan pursued. “I still fail to see the reason why…”
“We couldn’t very well keep him here, Major Logan,” Blue replied in a soft voice. “Not with… Captain Scarlet locked in the infirmary. Eventually, that could have raised too many questions. Should that… ‘body’ revive here and…”
Logan nodded very slowly. “Yes, I see what you mean, Captain.”
“Cloudbase’s scientists will probably be in a position to shed some light on what might have happened, if they’re allowed to examine that body,” Blue added. “Furthermore, Major… It’s standard procedure.”
“Standard procedure?” the base commander repeated with a puzzled frown, not exactly sure what Blue was now implying.
“Yes, Major. Standard procedure. In order to keep his situation a secret from curious minds, every time he is badly or fatally wounded, Captain Scarlet has to be sent directly to Cloudbase.” Blue’s shoulders drooped as he stared out through the window into the darkness of the evening. “This time is no different from the others. ESPECIALLY under these circumstances.”
In Cloudbase sickbay, a very grim Colonel White, his hand rubbing his chin, was watching thoughtfully as Doctor Fawn and two of his assistants checked over the newly-arrived patient who had been laid on the special recovery bed, which, given the circumstances, had been transported into one of sickbay’s security rooms. Bandaged almost from head to toe, his face hidden away, with only a handful of hair apparent at the top of his head, the wounded man was hardly recognizable. He was showing not a single sign of life; as White glanced at the many monitors set over the bed, to which the body had been attached, all lines were flat and dead. As was the patient himself.
Doctor Fawn had taken in his hand the wrist of the wounded man, trying to check his pulse. White found himself staring vaguely at this half-bandaged hand; he could see the bare fingers, blackened, the skin almost completely burned away, looking barely human. The Colonel couldn't help shivering, thinking that most of the rest of the body was in the same state. In retrospect, he thought that it was some kind of a blessing that the patient was unconscious – even dead – considering the gravity of his wounds. Surely, the pain would have been too much to endure.
After consulting with his assistants in a hushed tone, Doctor Fawn left his patient’s side to join the Colonel, who was carefully staying out of their way. The Cloudbase medical officer shook his head grimly. "Still no sign of him returning to life," he announced in a low tone.
“It’s been nearly six hours,” White answered, with an equally hushed voice. “Quite a long time…”
“I know. Normally, we should have received some indication of his returning to life by now. Heartbeat, brain activity, breathing… None of that yet.” Fawn turned toward his special patient. “I’m concerned, really. Granted, his injuries are extensive, but it’s not the first time that they’ve been that extensive. That shouldn’t have any effect on his healing.”
“But he has never been duplicated before, doctor,” White remarked. “Not THIS new body, that is.”
“That’s right,” Fawn acknowledged with a nod. “We can’t be sure what effect an attempt to Mysteronise this body – an already Mysteronised one – would have on him. Maybe it could play havoc in his recuperative powers. Maybe… it could even take away those abilities of his. We just don’t know. And it doesn’t look too good right now.” He hesitated a little. “Maybe if we were able to bring that other one from Anuenue for examination…”
“Colonel, with all due respect… We might be able to find out what might have happened down there.”
“I think it’s fairly evident what happened. Captain Scarlet was trapped in an ambush. He was killed and duplicated. Again. Now we have a dead Scarlet here on Cloudbase, and another, live one, in Anuenue. Which one is which SHOULD be fairly easy to determine, but apparently, it’s not.” He looked squarely at Fawn. “Remember the content of the Mysterons’ threat, Doctor. That Scarlet down there might very well be the agent they would send against someone on Cloudbase. I won’t run the risk of seeing him up here, ready to strike at anyone.”
“So far, according to Captain Blue’s latest observations, there doesn’t seem to be any indication that would tend to establish that he might indeed be the Mysteron copy.”
“So far,” Colonel White agreed. “But that’s not unusual Mysteron behaviour. You know they copy their originals’ exact reactions.”
“It’s hardly ‘exact reaction’ for Captain Scarlet to wake up with a headache, nausea and confusion after regenerating,” Fawn remarked. “On the contrary, he normally wakes up fine.” He nodded towards the patient. “And neither can I say it’s quite normal for him to be like this for such a long period after being injured. Even that seriously. Still, I can’t dismiss the fact that either of those cases may be an after-effect of this attempted Mysteronisation.”
“I would say the attempt did succeed fairly well,” White grumbled. “You haven’t found that bullet wound that Captain Blue told us he might have?”
Fawn sighed. “No, we didn’t,” he said morosely. “The body is pretty damaged, Colonel. Badly burned. There are places where his clothes had literally fused with his body. That makes it quite difficult to examine. I can’t even say if he did receive a bullet.” He paused a second. “Have you considered that Scarlet himself could be the Mysterons’ target this time? And in that case, the one who stayed in Hawaii may well be the real one, and may still be in danger of being attacked again.”
“Yes, I have considered it. But given that the attack on him happened before the threat was announced, it’s more likely that the Mysterons wanted to use him as the weapon to get at whoever they had set as a target.” White nodded briefly. “However, Doctor, I don’t dismiss entirely the possibility you just voiced yourself. That’s why that other copy of Scarlet – while being kept under guard – is also being protected. Just in case.”
“That seems like a wise decision, Colonel.” Fawn jerked his thumb in the direction of the wounded man behind him. “And this copy?”
“He’s been brought to this room, with guards at every door of sickbay, for the same reason as the other copy. But frankly, seeing the state he’s in right now, I doubt he’ll be much of a threat for the next twenty-four hours.”
“Eighteen,” Fawn corrected unreservedly. He shook his head grimly, looking at his patient. “It doesn’t seem that way to me either.”
He had barely said those words than a faint bleep made itself heard on the monitors set over the bed. Both Fawn and White nearly jumped in surprise. Then, simultaneously, they moved forward, towards the patient. They heard another bleep, soon followed by another.
Fawn took the patient’s wrist; if there was something, he was unable to feel it through the fabric of the bandage, so he leaned over and touched a part of his neck that wasn’t covered. He felt a very faint pulse under his fingers. “Well, it’s about time,” he grumbled, consulting his watch. “Six hours.” He turned toward White. “The healing process has finally kicked in.”
White nodded quietly. He watched as the body on the bed drew his first, unsteady and difficult breath in long hours. The bandaged chest rose ever so slightly, and then fell again, as the wounded man exhaled with a rasping sound. The colonel looked at the monitors over the bed. All the lines were now showing activity, increasing slightly at each passing minute.
All but one.
White pointed it to Doctor Fawn. “What’s this one about, doctor?”
Fawn looked up to the monitor, saw the single flat line and frowned. He checked out the connection, uncertain. “Brain activity,” he mumbled in answer to Colonel White’s question. Under the Spectrum commander’s enquiring and worried gaze, he bent over on his patient again and delicately opened one eyelid to look under it, lighting a transfixed blue eye with a small stylus-like flashlight. “No apparent reaction…”
“Is that normal, Doctor?”
“I can’t say.” Fawn rose and gave a deep sigh, looking in concern at the motionless, unconscious patient. “Brain activity is normally one of the first things to reactivate in him. Or at the very least, almost at the same time as all the other functions. Mind you, Colonel, we’re still learning about retrometabolism. If that experience in Hawaii hasn’t done anything to his recuperative powers, it MAY be quite normal.” He looked at White with obvious apprehension in his eyes. “I wish I could be certain, Colonel.”
White nodded his understanding. “I suppose there’s nothing else we can do for now but wait,” he noted. “Have someone keep an eye on him. And inform me of any change in his condition.”
“I’ll do that myself, Colonel,” Fawn replied with determination. “After all, he’s my patient. I want to be nearby if I’m able to help him.”
“Please do that, but be careful. I want a guard in front of this door at all times. AND I want him restrained.”
“JUST in case, Doctor.”
Fawn sighed his agreement. “Of course, Colonel.”
“In the meantime, I’ll ask Captain Blue to keep me up to date on whatever might be happening at Anuenue,” White continued, moving toward the door. “We have to find out what happened down there. Either this Scarlet or the other may hold the key to the truth . And I fully intend to find that key.”
“You think the one in Cloudbase might be the real Scarlet, right?”
Captain Blue stared pointedly at Captain Manuku, who was seated in front of him, on the other side of the table, in the infirmary waiting room. The two of them were alone, and, waiting for new developments, had started a game of cards, if only to pass the time. Blue’s mind, not surprisingly, wasn’t on the game, and whatever number of pennies he had in front of him, he was losing to Manuku.
“What makes you say that, Captain?” he asked in response to the security officer’s remark.
Manuku shook his head gravely, dealing the cards. He shrugged. “Call it a hunch. What you said about those standard procedures, actually. How Captain Scarlet had to be taken to Cloudbase when he was injured?”
“Only to prevent people from finding out about his healing abilities, Captain,” Blue responded, carefully.
“Yeah but, why send THAT other Captain Scarlet? Why not this one, who stayed here?”
“The one who was sent to Cloudbase was – to all appearances – dead, Captain. I told you, if he had started healing, and revived here, considering there is yet another one of him, don’t you think that might put a dent in his secret?”
“You’re doing it again. ‘His secret’. You are thinking he might be the right one.”
“What I think is not relevant.”
“You think so?” Manuku put the deck of cards down on the table. “Mind you, it would be logical if it was him. Considering he was the one who was killed.”
“… Who had been found dead, Captain. That he could be the one who was killed may very well be WHAT the Mysterons want us to believe,” Blue remarked, distractedly consulting his cards. He removed three and was about to discard them, then changed his mind and kept one with the two he had already in hand. “After all, the fire could have got to the Mysteron agent AFTER he had been created. You saw what kind of inferno that building was. He could have been trapped in there just as well as the real Scarlet.”
“Are you trying to second-guess the Mysterons, Captain Blue?” Manuku asked, choosing four cards to keep.
“Unfortunately, it’s part of my job, Captain Manuku,” Blue answered with a sad smile. “And it’s not really an easy one.”
“No, I should think not.” Manuku distributed the new cards. Again, he put down the deck, pensively. “He said he was shot,” he reminded Blue. “The one still here…”
“But we found no trace of any wound,” Manuku insisted. “Now, even considering what you told Major Logan and myself, I suppose there should, at least, be some trace of blood on his uniform, right?”
Blue nodded slowly. “Right. Which would, admittedly, make him the primary suspect of being the Mysteron. BUT he also said it was possible that his assailant missed, when he woke up earlier. He was after all, quite confused when he was pulled out of that building.”
“Exactly. When he woke up. And that was AFTER you decided you send the other away to Cloudbase.”
“I didn’t decide, Captain Manuku. Colonel White did, after I gave him my report of the incident.”
“My thought is that Colonel White, too, thinks he has the right one up there.”
“Why would you think that?”
Manuku watched as Blue, after checking his new hand, pushed the remainder of his pennies into the middle of the table, without apparently thinking much about it. He did the same. “I don’t think he would have let the Mysteron agent go up there. Not in view of the present threat! That’s a risk he wouldn’t take. Seeing as THIS Scarlet is, as you just said, the primary suspect as the Mysteron agent…”
“It might simply also be that he DIDN’T want to have the two of them in the same place.” Blue stared at Manuku with a mixture of annoyance and amusement in his tired blue eyes. He grunted, looking at the new cards he had been dealt. “Don’t try to second-guess Colonel White, Captain Manuku. You might find it even more difficult than to second-guess the Mysterons!” He put down his cards, face-up. Manuku opened wide eyes. The Cloudbase captain had a perfect full house.
“I see I shouldn’t second-guess you either,” Manuku remarked, giving a slightly smirking Blue an old-fashioned look. He put down his cards, not even bothering to show his hand, and stood up, sighing. “If you’ll excuse me – call of nature.”
“That’s the second time tonight, Captain,” Blue remarked with another faint smile. “You’re drinking too much coffee, if you want my opinion.”
“I plead guilty. But I can hardly help myself. This waiting is making me nervous, you know what I mean?”
Blue simply nodded and gathered the whole deck of cards, while Manuku went out of the room. Unconsciously, the American officer shuffled the cards, and started putting them down in front of him, to play a game of solitaire while waiting for the Hawaiian security officer to come back. He couldn’t escape rehearsing in his head the events of the day – and couldn’t help himself trying to figure out WHICH Scarlet was the right one. The seriously burned body Symphony had taken back to Cloudbase, or the confused man who was being kept in one of the infirmary rooms? He was right when he had said to Manuku that the latter was the primary suspect – the evidence weighed heavily against him. Perhaps too heavily. Perhaps it was all meant as some kind of particularly twisted plot by the Mysterons. When he had seen him earlier, Blue couldn’t tell if he was the right one or not. The confusion he was displaying seemed so real, that Blue had felt his heart go out to him – as if he had not a single doubt this man was Paul.
I wish we could know for sure, the American captain thought, looking instinctively in the direction of the Mysteron detector lying nearby. I wish it could be as simple as aiming that thing at him, pulling out the picture, and seeing the result. Positive or negative, he wouldn’t care really. They would, at least, know the truth, and would know what to do. But, with Scarlet, it wasn’t that simple. Given his situation, the detector would test him positive, in any case.
No, they would have to wait, hoping they would know soon what to expect to either of those two Scarlets. Then they would get rid of the impostor – and even though he would be a Mysteron, Blue was uncomfortable with the thought that one of them would be killed. It would be like killing Paul.
All over again, if fate decides I would be the one to pull the trigger, he thought grimly.
He was putting down a new card on the table when a sudden cry coming from nearby made him stop in mid-movement, and drew him out of his reverie. He raised his head in alarm. Another cry, louder than the preceding one, made itself heard. The cries came from the room where Captain Scarlet was detained. And Captain Blue, this time, had recognized the voice of his partner. He was on his feet in seconds, throwing his cards on the table. He picked up his radio-cap and left the waiting room with a quickening step, calling as he did: “Manuku!”
He was in the corridor; nobody answered his first call. The bathroom was only down the hall; Manuku had certainly heard him. “Captain Manuku, come quick!”
He didn’t wait to see if the security officer would answer and directed his steps toward the room where he knew Scarlet should be. As he approached the door, he found it curious not to see Sergeant MacGuthrie at his post; there was only a small splash of dark brown liquid on the floor, approximately at the place the man had been standing. Spilled coffee, apparently. Instinctively, he drew his gun. “Manuku?”
No sounds of steps made themselves heard behind him as he should have expected. He looked over his shoulder. The corridor was dreadfully empty.
“Where’s the guard?” he murmured to himself. The last time he had seen him, about an hour earlier, he was just standing there, by the door. Everything seemed normal.
Blasted Manuku! Blue growled irritably to himself. Where is HE, too? Deciding not to wait to see what was happening, he stood in front of the closed door. He could hear disturbing, crashing sounds coming from the other side, as if there were a fight going on in the room. Blue hesitated, preparing himself to radio for help. A loud crashing sound made him realise that he probably didn’t have much more time to waste. His gun well in hand, he entered the code which would open the door, keeping himself on the ready for whatever could be waiting for him. The door slid open.
He didn’t see a fight, as he had thought he would, but the room looked exactly as if it had been the scene of one. There was only one person in there – Captain Scarlet himself, who was throwing everything around from one side of the room to the other. The bed was about the only thing that had not moved yet; the mattress was lying on the floor; the walls were heavily dented, and the chair that Captain Blue had previously occupied when his colleague had regained consciousness earlier had been thrown through the window, where it was hanging precariously. It had broken the glass, but had done little to damage the bars outside. Eyes wide-opened with complete bewilderment, Blue watched as a totally unbridled Scarlet was now picking up the small chest set next to what was left of the bed, lifting it at arms’ length over his head with a grunt of effort. He didn’t take any notice of the drawers falling around him and forcefully hurled the chest toward the window, with what sounded like a vociferous roar.
Blue flinched when he heard the loud noise the chest made when it impacted against the bars – but they held. Blue had no doubt that the commotion would draw attention, so he wouldn’t need to call for help. At the present, he had other problems to attend to. After the physical effort he had just accomplished, Scarlet was now staggering wearily, his eyes not leaving the window he had just targeted. He still had his back on Blue, who had now come right into the room.
“Scarlet!” the American called loudly.
Hearing the voice, Scarlet turned around, his footing apparently precarious, and looked in direction of Blue; the latter, keeping his weapon ready for use, was stunned when he saw the distressed and drained expression on Scarlet’s face, which was awfully pale and running with sweat. He didn’t look like any kind of threat, but rather like a sick, desperate and terrified man.
“Adam!” The voice was hoarse, and the breathing loud and heavy. Scarlet made a step toward Blue who raised his gun, almost instinctively; he didn’t shoot – he didn’t know if he was really threatened – or even if a bullet would stop the man’s stumbling advance. He took a step back and saw Scarlet nearly collapse to his knees, grabbing the bed post to try to keep his balance. “Please, help me, Adam!”
There was such despair in Scarlet’s tone that Blue stepped forward; he was literally taken by surprise when the Brit lurched in his direction. His first thought was that he was under attack; but he saw almost right away that it wasn’t the case. Scarlet clutched at the front of Blue’s uniform with a frantic gesture, as much as to keep himself up right as like a man who was clinging to what he thought was his last hope. The anguish in Scarlet’s blue, wide-open eyes, was a match for the tone of his voice. “I can hear them, Adam!”
“Wha-what?” the American murmured with a baffled frown.
“They’re calling to me!” Scarlet growled in despair. “The Mysterons! I hear them in my head! They’re trying to get me back!”
“Paul, calm down, please…” Blue tried with as a soothing voice as he could muster.
“I can’t calm down!” Scarlet shouted, his torment obviously growing. “My head… It’s just hurting so much! They’re calling to me! They want me to… to…”
“They want you to what?” Blue asked, suddenly thinking that he might discover a clue about what the Mysterons were planning this time. He gripped the distressed man’s arms. “What do they want you to do? Tell me!”
“NO!” Scarlet yelled with fury, closing his eyes, his face a mask of pain. “I don’t want to listen to them! I don’t want them to take me back, Adam! You’ve got to help me! Don’t let them take me, please!”
For a fraction of a second, Blue thought he heard noises behind him. By the expression on his face, he saw that Scarlet heard too, before he suddenly pushed the American aside with an increased strength. Steel-like fingers snatched the pistol out of Blue’s hand as he was tossed to the floor; his head hit something hard. His vision a blur, his mind fogging, he saw Scarlet standing in the middle of the room, aiming the blue-coloured gun at someone Blue couldn’t see; a series of gunshots rang, and Blue saw the red-clad officer flinch and his knees buckle.
That was the last thing he was aware of, before his world became dark.
* * *
“Something’s happening, here!”
Called urgently from his office down the hall, where he was consulting files in order to find a clue as to explain his patient’s condition, Doctor Fawn rushed into the room. There were two orderlies there, Allen and Cunningham, standing one on each side of the recovery bed, where the wounded and bandaged man was still lying. Up until now, there had been little improvement in his condition. Some slight elevation of his vital signs – except for the brain activity – but aside from that, no significant changes. Until now.
He wasn’t quiet anymore. He was agitating himself and struggling so hard against his restraints that the one that had been holding down his right arm had snapped. The orderlies had a hell of a job trying to keep him still so he wouldn’t fall off the bed and hurt himself.
Fawn approached, and glanced at the monitor over the bed. All the readings were going wild, even the one that had been flat-lining up to that moment. It was now active – although very erratic. That’s an improvement, in any case, the Cloudbase medical chief officer reflected grimly. He had been so worried about that unusual absence of brain activity in his patient. Now it seemed he had gone past that distressing phase.
“How long has he been having these muscle spasms?” Fawn asked.
“Five minutes, tops,” Medic Cunningham replied quickly. “But Doctor, I don’t think it’s just muscle spasms…”
At this moment, the injured man started moaning in pain; Fawn stared at him with a mixture of shock and pity. He could see his patient shaking uncontrollably, trying to escape the hands holding him down, and tossing his head from one side to the other, grunting loudly, what could be seen of his jaws under the bandages clenched tightly.
“Dear Lord, he’s conscious…” murmured Fawn, bewildered.
That was rather unusual. Generally, when he had incurred such grave injuries, Scarlet would stay unconscious – a blessing that kept him from needless suffering while he was regenerating. Then this unconscious state would drift into a deep, nearly comatose sleep – from which he usually woke up when he was fully recovered. On the rare occasions when Scarlet had woken up before a full healing, it was in between these two phases – and he would then drift swiftly into slumber, without experiencing too much pain.
That didn’t seem to be the case, right now. He was still struggling, and desperately fighting the terrible torture his body was obviously in. Fawn leaned over his patient, while the orderlies were keeping him as still as possible. He firmly, but gently took the tossing head between his hands and looked past the bandages on the face, through the thin gap that had been left for the eyes.
“Come, Captain, come,” Fawn called to him with a soothing voice. “Try to keep quiet, please. You’ll hurt yourself. Please… Calm down.” He saw the deep blue eyes, glazed with pain, open and stare back at him; there was a distressed expression in them, and no recognition. Fawn leaned closer. “Captain Scarlet. It’s me, Doctor Fawn. You recognize me, right? Focus on my voice… I’m here to help you.”
Something lit in the eyes, but the pain was ever present. The thrashing waned in intensity, noticeably enough; the patient continued to grunt. Fawn sighed and turned to the orderlies. “Have you tried to give him painkillers or a sedative?”
“Doctor, with his metabolism, his system will absorb the drug quicker than…”
“His regenerative abilities are being hindered by what happened during that experience he had on the surface,” Fawn cut in quickly. “He isn’t healing as quickly as he should – that’s why he’s in so much pain now. It’s quite possible the drugs will work on him at the moment.”
Fawn called out to one of the nurses who was standing at the door, and gave her his instruction to prepare a strong dose of sedative. She disappeared but was back in the space of seconds, handing Fawn with a syringe filled with a clear substance. Fawn checked the needle, tapped it to remove the air, and made the injection himself, slowly, hoping that it would work. Within one minute, his patient’s thrashing diminished, and his grunts weakened, to transform into what sounded like a relieved moan. Fawn leaned again over his patient, looking at the eyes. Their expression had relaxed considerably, and they were threatening to close now. They locked with the doctor’s eyes.
“Now relax, Captain. You’ll be able to sleep now. Don’t worry, we’ll take care of you. You’ll be up and back in shape in no time, believe me… Like always.” Fawn held the head firmly as it grew heavy. Gently, he eased it down on the pillow, and continued, soothingly: “It’s Edward, Paul. I know you can hear me. I’m here to help you. You know I won’t stop until you’re okay. You know who I am…”
The eyes blinked twice, and Fawn felt the jaws tightening even more under his arm; he felt the nod more than he really saw it, and noticed the tremendous effort as the patient tried to speak.
There was but a single word uttered feebly by the injured man, in a voice barely recognizable. But that word reassured Doctor Fawn that his patient had recognized him, and could be on his way to recovery.
“Fawn…” he simply slurred, his voice trailing off as he mercifully drifted into nothingness.
To say that Captain Blue wasn’t happy was an understatement.
Coming back to consciousness, he found himself still in the infirmary, but in another room, lying on a bed, still fully dressed in his uniform, with both Major Logan and Captain Manuku standing over him, and one of the medics who had tended to Captain Scarlet earlier that day applying a bandage over a cut on his head. Manuku had his right arm in a sling and was looking down at him gloomily.
Blue remembered quite vividly the last scene he had witnessed before losing his senses. He was rather distressed when he was told that Captain Scarlet was presently nowhere to be found. He wanted to go in search of him, but the minute he tried to get up from his bed, a wave of nausea hit him and stopped him in his movement. So he sat still, while the medic, by the name of Harrigan, examined the back of his head and finished patching him up.
“Easy does it, Captain,” Harrigan finally said with an carefree enough tone. “You know you’re a lucky fella? You’ve got a bump on the back of your head the size of an ostrich’s egg. You’re lucky you’ve got a thick skull!”
Blue wasn’t in any mood for good humour. He still wanted to go, but he realised that he would need a few minutes to gather his strength. He looked up at Manuku.
“Can you tell me what happened, Captain?” he asked rather abruptly. “MacGuthrie wasn’t as his post, as he was ordered to be.”
“Sergeant MacGuthrie is dead, Captain,” Manuku then quickly pointed out.
Blue frowned deeply. “Dead? How…?”
“When I came back from the bathroom and found out you weren’t in the waiting room anymore, I thought there was something amiss with Captain Scarlet, so I went out to check. I was in the corridor when I heard the shouts, and, like you, saw that MacGuthrie wasn’t at his post. The door was wide open. Whatever the reason for his absence, MacGuthrie arrived then, from the other side of the corridor. So each of us moved toward the door to find you were there, and that you seemed to have your hands full with Captain Scarlet. It looked like he was attacking you. So we moved in to help you out. He saw us, took your gun, pushed you down to the floor, and shot at us. That’s when MacGuthrie was killed.” He motioned to his shoulder. “I was lucky. I just got slightly winged. I was unable to stop Scarlet from escaping.”
“I hit my head on something,” Blue remembered. “I was dazed, but I do recall seeing Scarlet hit.”
“Yeah, we did shoot at him. But that didn’t stop him that much.” Manuku arched a brow. “What happened in there, Captain Blue?”
“I heard Captain Scarlet scream from the waiting room,” Blue explained. “So I rushed to see what was happening. I found him panic-stricken. When you found us, I was trying to calm him down.”
Logan raised an eyebrow. “Was that really wise?”
Blue stared at him, a dangerous glow in his eyes. “He kept saying he was hearing their voices.”
“The Mysterons’.” Blue’s gaze became gloomy, as the two officers standing in front of him exchanged a glance. “He seemed completely terrified. According to what he said, they were trying to regain control over him, they wanted him to do something for them that obviously he didn’t want to do. That could be in relation to the present threat. ” He stared pointedly at Manuku. “I might even have found out what it was, if you had not barged in there, shooting like you did, Captain.”
Manuku opened wide eyes. “And what would you have me do, Captain? Watch as he killed you? I’ll remind you that Sergeant MacGuthrie is dead. That man is a killer.”
“Do you really give any credence to what he told you, Captain Blue?” Logan asked, motioning with his hand to Manuku, for him to remain calm. “For all we know, he might simply have been trying to fool you, so it would be easier for him to subdue you and escape.”
“I don’t know, Major.” Blue shook his head gravely. “It didn’t seem to me like he was trying to trick me. He really looked scared out of his mind. That wasn’t typical Mysteron behaviour.”
Logan snorted. “Well, in any case, he’s on the run, now.”
“And one man is dead,” Manuku added, with an angry glance toward Blue.
“Can I see MacGuthrie’s body?” Blue asked, ignoring the remark.
Logan nodded. “We haven’t moved it yet. He’s still where he fell.”
After receiving Harrigan’s agreement, Blue carefully got to his feet and followed the Major and Captain Manuku out of the room. They found themselves in the corridor, moving toward the open door of the room where Captain Scarlet had been detained recently. There were two of Captain Manuku’s men standing there, right next to a shrouded corpse, half lying on the floor, with the upper part of its body leaning against the wall facing the door.
Gravely, Blue looked down at the body. Then he crouched down, and cautiously removed the white blanket from the upper part. The face of Sergeant MacGuthrie appeared to him, set as death itself, eyes closed, blood dampening his uniform around a small hole in his chest, indicating a chest wound.
“I wonder why he left his post earlier,” Blue remarked with a soft voice.
“I guess he’ll never tell us now,” Manuku observed in a mumble, standing behind Blue. “He never had a chance. A bullet right through the heart.”
“He was probably dead before he hit the floor,” Logan confirmed.
Blue rubbed his chin pensively, still wondering where MacGuthrie had been, instead of keeping guard in front of the door as he was ordered to. That wasn’t normal behaviour from an accomplished security officer – a man that had been chosen to learn about the Mysteron gun and Mysteron detector, and of whom Major Logan had previously said that he ‘knew his job well’. That was peculiar especially given the fact that the incident with Scarlet occurred during the exact moment he left his post. … Blue was certain there was something amiss here. He nearly cursed the man for his carelessness. If he had been there, maybe things would have happened differently.
That isn’t very kind on the poor sergeant, Blue. The man is dead after all. Shaking his head in a disgruntled way, he stared down in regret at the dead man’s set and ashen face, the lips turned to a bluish colour. That made Blue frown in puzzlement. He looked down at MacGuthrie’s chest, where the bullet had struck him. The immediate area of his uniform surrounding the bullet hole had been darkened by blood, but there were also other marks that Blue thought he recognized instantly. He played back in his mind the events he had witnessed and recalled what Manuku had reported to him.
“We have to find his murderer now, Captain,” Logan then added, from behind Blue’s back.
The latter rose to his feet and turned to face the base commander and his security agent. “Indeed we have, Major,” he confirmed with a nod.
“Security guards are already looking all around the base premises for Captain Scarlet,” Logan declared. “He can’t be very far. The base is on red alert, the runway is closed, as well as the harbour. He won’t be able to borrow an aircraft or a boat to leave the island.”
“So you think he may try to leave Anuenue, Major?” Blue asked with a faint frown.
“Why else would he have escaped the infirmary?” Logan asked.
“If he does try to leave the island,” Manuku then said, “it’ll be by taking an aircraft. He’s a Mysteron agent. Most probably, he will try to carry out the threat his masters pronounced yesterday… He will try to reach Cloudbase in order to do that.”
“Very good deduction, Captain Manuku,” Blue approved. “But we can’t afford to leave anything to chance. Just in case.”
“I know,” Manuku complied, shaking his head. “I don’t forget he already killed one of my people. I instructed my men to be extra careful. And to shoot on sight.”
Blue didn’t reply to that declaration. He gazed thoughtfully at both men. “I’ll be making my report to Cloudbase,” he then declared grimly. “Then, I’ll be joining the chase.”
“You’re sure you’re feeling up to it?” Manuku asked, with a concerned tone.
“Of course I am. It’s just a little bump to the head. And anyway, I have no choice but to be there. We may need the Mysteron gun. And someone has to operate it.”
“I can do it, Captain Blue.”
“No offence, Captain Manuku. But if you recall, I haven’t finished giving you all the information concerning that weapon,” Blue replied harshly. “It is my responsibility to find Captain Scarlet. And to bring an end to this madness.”
Logan nodded his sympathy.
“We understand, Captain. He’s your partner.”
“He’s also my friend, Major Logan,” Captain Blue retorted in an icy tone, staring harshly at the base commander. “I can do no less for him. Especially if it means killing the Mysteron agent he might have become.”
In Cloudbase Control Room, Doctor Fawn was giving Colonel White the latest news on his patient, with Captains Ochre, Magenta and Grey present, when Lieutenant Green announced that Captain Blue was calling in. Quickly and succinctly, Blue told his commander about what had happened. Colonel White grew concerned and grim when he heard the report that Captain Scarlet had escaped surveillance, apparently killing a man while doing so, and that he was presently nowhere to be found. By the sound of Blue’s voice, he had the impression that the Captain didn’t believe that everything was as clear-cut as it appeared to be. He had confirmation of this when Blue finished his report, by giving him details of some observations he had made since the beginning of the affair. White listened carefully, then shook his head.
“You haven’t told Major Logan or anyone else of your suspicions, Captain?”
“No, Sir. As I told you, I’m not exactly sure… But I have a feeling that’s something is definitely fishy here. That needs to be checked out.”
“Meaning you don’t have any confirmation,” White nodded pensively to himself. “Right, Captain. I know you well enough to trust your instinct. Pursue your investigation, find Scarlet as quickly as possible, and put him under arrest. In view of what you just told us, try to apprehend him alive, if possible. But if he should prove a threat to you…”
“Understood, sir. So to avoid anyone getting trigger happy with it, I’ll be carrying the Mysteron gun myself – and the only one allowed to use it. And I’ll use it only if necessary.”
“S.I.G., Captain. Be aware, however, that the Mysteron threat may very well be directed at you. So you’d better be careful, and not take unnecessary risks. Is that understood?”
There was barely any hesitation in Blue’s voice as he answered, “Not to worry, sir. If Captain Scarlet DOES prove to be a Mysteron, I’ll know what to do.”
“Good luck, Captain.”
“S.I.G., Sir. Blue out.”
The communication ended, and White turned pensively toward the officers seated around his desk. Captain Magenta looked as if he couldn’t stay in place. He stared at the Spectrum commander with a hopeful glitter in his dark eyes.
“Shouldn’t one of us go down to the ground to give Captain Blue a helping hand, sir?” he asked eagerly.
“No, Captain. In view of the threat, I can’t allow anyone to leave or board Cloudbase until the deadline is passed. I prefer to have the remainder of my senior staff up here where it appears safe for them. ONE of you on the ground is quite enough – Well, possibly two.”
“You’re still are unsure that this… other Scarlet in Hawaii is a Mysteron agent, Colonel?” Ochre asked with a puzzled frown. “Isn’t that getaway he just performed proof that he might be one?”
“You heard Captain Blue’s report, Captain Ochre. There’s a possibility that this could be a cleverly crafted manoeuvre from the Mysterons, to force us to make a mistake. At least, there’s enough suspicion for us not to rush into things.”
“Understood, sir. I hope Captain Blue will find confirmation of his suspicion.”
“And that he’ll be careful,” Grey added in an undertone.
“In the meantime,” Colonel White pursued, turning in Doctor Fawn’s direction, “what also concerns me in Captain Blue’s report is the timing of that ‘spell’ he mentioned.”
Fawn nodded thoughtfully. “I noticed too,” he confirmed. “The exact moment that Scarlet in Hawaii escaped, our Scarlet here in Cloudbase came out of his coma.”
“You think the two events might be related?” Grey asked with a frown.
“Maybe they’re not, Captain Grey,” Fawn admitted. “But considering how strange this whole business has been since the beginning, I don’t think it would be wise to dismiss it as simply ‘just a coincidence’.”
“Since that last episode with your patient, doctor, has there been other change?” Colonel White asked.
Doctor Fawn gave a dejected grunt. “I’m afraid not,” he said with a sigh. “He’s out of his deep coma now, but he’s still unconscious. I can’t really tell if he has entered into his sleep phase, or not – brain activity is still too erratic, that makes it difficult to find out. The healing progressed a little faster after that attack he had, but that only lasted a few minutes. It slowed down and is nearly at a standstill at the moment.”
“He’s not making any progress?” White asked with a frown.
“Very little. And very slowly. I just hope he’s somehow getting better, and that it’s actually escaping our monitoring. There’s so much we don’t know about how retrometabolism works – especially NOW. I don’t dare stop giving him painkillers, in case he wakes up in terrible pain again.”
“Painkillers?” Ochre grumbled, opening perplexed eyes. “They’re having an effect? And you say he’s better?”
Grey put a soothing hand on his friend’s shoulders. “At least he doesn’t experience any pain that way,” he remarked with a calm tone.
“Quite right,” Colonel White stated, intertwining his fingers. “It’s now thirteen hours since the Mysterons issued their threat. We still have eleven to go. In the meantime, we can only wait, until the patient in sickbay is fully recuperated – or until Captain Blue finds the fugitive in Hawaii. I hope one or other of them will provide us with the truth about their identities. One way or the other. In the meantime, I want all of you to stay on your guard and to follow the orders I've already given you to ensure your security, until the end of this crisis.”
“S.I.G., Colonel,” Captain Grey then said on behalf of them all. “We just hope that Captain Blue will be equally careful – or that we won’t learn too late that it was indeed Captain Scarlet who was the intended victim of this current threat.”
“Or Captain Blue himself,” Colonel White added, very much aware that it could be a definite possibility.
* * *
After leaving the room from where he had called Cloudbase privately, Captain Blue went to the armoury and took from secure storage the Mysteron gun that he and Captain Scarlet had brought to the base. He was somewhat uncomfortable thinking that perhaps he would have to use it against the fugitive, but he reminded himself that, if his suspicions were right, maybe he wouldn’t have to. If on the other hand, he was forced to use the gun, then he would do it – reminding himself that the real Scarlet was lying in Cloudbase sickbay, and was still recovering – so unusually slowly – from his ordeal.
“You sure you don’t want me to take that?” Captain Manuku, standing in front of him and observing him as he checked the weapon, asked quietly.
“No, I’d best handle it,” Blue replied, looking up to the Hawaiian captain. “Still no news from your men?”
“The search goes on, Captain. I’m quite sure it won’t be long before we find him.”
“Don’t make any mistake about it, Manuku. Captain Scarlet is an expert in camouflage. And sorry to say this, but this island of yours has many possibilities for a man like him. He can hide himself for as long as it takes, until he is ready to strike.”
“You’re talking about him as if he was the real one, Captain,” Manuku remarked, shaking his head. “Surely, if he’s a Mysteron…”
“He possesses the same expertise the man you knew learned in West Point, Captain. Obviously, there’s a lot you don’t know about Mysterons. When they choose to Mysteronise someone, it’s because it’s that person, specifically, that they need, because of his skills and knowledge. Don’t think that if this Scarlet is a Mysteron, he will act differently from the real one. You would be sorely mistaken.”
“Point taken, Captain. My apologies. Between us, you’re obviously the expert in that field.”
A beeping sound came at that moment from Blue’s epaulettes and they started flashing. The American captain stiffened suddenly when he saw what colour the signal was. Red. It couldn’t be… He exchanged a perplexed glance with Manuku, who was staring blankly at the signal.
Blue flipped down his cap mic. That was an opportunity that might not reappear soon.
“I need your help, Captain Blue.”
Blue frowned deeply. That was the voice of Scarlet, all right. “Where are you?”
“Hiding, of course. I don’t want to get killed before I can explain myself. You may recall there’s a Mysteron gun at the base now.”
Yes, I know, Blue thought to himself, glancing down at the weapon on the table in front of him. “Come out of hiding, Captain. I promise I won’t let anyone shoot at you.”
“Maybe you mean what you say, Captain Blue. But I’m not too sure those security officers at the base won’t get trigger happy because of what happened to that sergeant who was standing guard in front of my door. You’re the only one I can truly trust right now. I want you to meet me. Alone.”
Blue paused, wondering what that demand could be hiding. “What assurances do I have that this isn’t a trap you’re setting for me?” he asked in turn. “Why should I trust you, after what happened in the infirmary, and agree to meet you?”
“Because you want to know, as much as I do, exactly what’s going on.”
Blue didn’t answer. There was some kind of assurance in Scarlet’s voice, as if he was certain he would make his point. Which he did, actually. “Go to the volcano,” Scarlet added, after a pause. “Follow the path you’ll find on its eastern flank. It will lead you to my hiding place. I’ll be waiting for you. Please, come alone. And don’t call Cloudbase.”
Blue didn’t have time to say if he was going to follow the instructions or not; the link was cut abruptly, as he opened his mouth. He let out a disgruntled and frustrated sigh, before the mic returned to his cap. He turned to Manuku, who was watching him with a concerned and warning look. He had obviously understood what was going on, even though he had been able to hear only one side of the conversation.
“You don’t intend on going to meet him?” the Hawaiian officer asked.
“Do I have a choice?” Blue asked brusquely. “It may be our only chance to take him alive and shed some light on the mystery surrounding this affair.”
“Not much mystery here, Captain,” Manuku grumbled. “Your partner has been killed, and duplicated. The real him was sent back to Cloudbase and we have the Mysteron copy here. If you want my opinion, that rendezvous is a trap.” Manuku paused a second, before adding, “I don’t have to remind you that the Mysteron threat may very well be aimed at you.”
“Colonel White just told me the same thing earlier, Captain.”
“You’ll call the Colonel back to tell him about this?”
“Scarlet specifically asked me not to call Cloudbase.”
“In which case, what would happen?”
Blue shrugged. “He didn’t say,” he admitted.
“And naturally, you will accept his conditions. This is very risky, you know?”
“Captain Manuku, I thank you for your concern. But as I said, I don’t have a choice. I’m going.”
Manuku sighed with annoyance. “You’re a stubborn man, Captain Blue. Well, I’m not letting you go alone. You’ll need back up.” As Blue was starting to protest, Manuku raised a soothing hand. “Just me, Captain. I will go with you, and keep back until you meet Scarlet. But the minute you seem to be in danger, I’ll be there to help. No argument.”
“What about your arm?” Blue replied, pointing to the sling.
“Oh, that?” Manuku removed the sling, grunting slightly while doing so, and threw it onto the table in front of them. He rubbed his forearm with a forced grin. “It’s merely a scratch. It’ll cause no problem. It won’t stop me from covering you!”
“You’re stubborn yourself, aren’t you, Captain Manuku?” Blue remarked with a faint smile. “All right then. You can come. And actually, you’ll be more than my back up. Captain Scarlet told me how to find him. You will be my guide, as you surely know your way around this island better than I do.”
“Not to worry, Captain,” Manuku answered with a smile of his own. “I do know a certain shortcut through the forest that will lead us to the volcano in less than an hour. We’ll need a jeep for half the road.”
Blue nodded slowly, agreeing to Manuku’s suggestions, eyeing the security officer who seemed quite determined now not to let him go to the volcano on his own. Then, thoughtfully, he looked down at the Mysteron gun lying on the table before him. Manuku’s eyes were also fixed on the weapon, as if wondering what the Cloudbase officer’s decision about it would be.
For Captain Blue, there was no question about whether he should take it along or not. He needed protection, and a way to defend himself properly, if it should come to that.
He took the cumbersome weapon in his hands and followed Captain Manuku out as they left the room and then the armoury.
* * *
In a half-dark cave, barely lit by what was left of a fire in the middle of it, a man stood from his crouched position in front of the flames, and calmly removed the red cap from his head. Thoughtfully, he turned the cap around in his hands, stopping when the colourful Spectrum symbol came into view. He looked at it for a brief, contemplative moment. A ray of light came dancing on the bright red of the cap, and he looked up, toward the opening of the cave, not that far away from him. He could see the sun as it was starting to rise over the ocean. A low rumble from the inside of the mountain made him turn his attention toward the other end of the cave, and he moved towards it. He stopped at the very edge of a deep rift, at the bottom of which he could see a river of lava quietly flowing from inside the mountain, between the high stony cliffs, and throwing itself into the ocean, where it would be cooled down by the water and transformed into solid rock. The fumes emanating from the rift didn’t bother him in the least. He was even less concerned by the fact that what was down there could put a definite end to his life. Or the life of any human being.
He turned to briefly look over his shoulder, towards a darker part of the cave, still untouched by the sun. Soon… he reflected, soon, it will be over.
He looked down again at the Spectrum logo. Then he uttered an contemptuous huff, before tearing the microphone from the cap, and throwing the two parts into the lava river below. Without another thought on the matter, he turned around and walked toward the exit, making some pebbles roll under his booted feet. He had to prepare for his visit. After all, he had made the invitation. Even if it was under false pretences.
He glanced one last time toward the darker side of the cave. The sunlight was just starting to illuminate it now, and it was with indifference that he finally left – leaving behind the tied-up body of a man lying against the wall, who was starting to stir and moan.
“How is he doing now, Doctor?”
Escorted by Captain Ochre, Rhapsody Angel was standing in the doorway of the room, obviously hesitant to enter completely. Doctor Fawn was busying himself around his special patient, who was still unconscious and lying on the bed, motionless. The monitors were now bleeping more regularly than previously, but still the injuries weren’t improving as Fawn would have wished. And still there was that erratic brain activity line that was concerning him so very much.
“What are you doing here?” he asked angrily, raising his head at the sound of the Angel’s voice. He walked toward her and Ochre with annoyance splattered on his face, leaving his assistant to keep watch over his patient. “This is no place for a gathering!”
“Easy, doc!” Ochre protested, holding up his hands. “We’ve just came to check on the big guy.”
“You should be grateful that it’s just us, Doctor,” Rhapsody added in turn. “The others wanted to come too, but we convinced them it wouldn’t be a good idea to overrun the sickbay. So we’ve been delegated to get some news.”
“And the two of you are already too many,” Fawn growled. He looked up at the two of them, and saw the worry displayed on their features. He gave a deep sigh. “I know you’re all worried. This is, I admit, an unusual situation. He needs time to recover…”
“More time than usual, isn’t it, doctor?” Rhapsody remarked. “I mean, for him.”
Fawn hesitated; he didn’t want to show his own concern, but it was already too late for that; he could see by their expressions that they had figured that out. “It is taking more time, yes,” he admitted.
“He’s still not healing, then?” Ochre asked. “Three hours ago, during that meeting, you said it was nearly at a standstill.”
“It hasn’t improved, Captain. I’m sorry.”
“What if he’s lost his recuperative powers?” Rhapsody asked, in a tone filled with worry.
“The Colonel was concerned by that too, but it seems rather unlikely. Not seeing the way he was restored to life hours ago. No, there’s something else. Something we don’t fully understand yet.”
“So much for our hopes that you would give us better news,” Ochre muttered.
“I would have informed the Colonel about it, be assured of that. And I’m sure he would have informed the whole lot of you afterward.” He paused, eyeing both Ochre and Rhapsody. He took note of the anxious way the young English pilot was looking in the direction of the bandaged man behind him and turned to glance at him, before addressing the two of them again. “You shouldn’t be here, you know?”
Rhapsody seemed to snap out of her trance. “What?”
Fawn shook his head. “The directives under the present threat? This area is forbidden. And where are your guards? You ditched them, didn’t you?”
Ochre shrugged negligently. In view of the Mysterons’ new threat, all significant members of the senior staff were to remain under security guards’ surveillance. White himself presently had a couple of ‘bodyguards’, standing in the Control Room with him and Lieutenant Green. Ochre and Rhapsody had managed to escape theirs, to come to sickbay – which had been off-limits since the injured Scarlet’s arrival several hours ago, except if an emergency should occur. In which case the section in which the recuperating officer presently was would still be prohibited, and avoided. They weren’t supposed to be there. Ochre jerked his thumb in the direction of Rhapsody.
“That was the little lady’s idea,” he said, as the girl snapped in his direction, with what seemed like an indignant look. “You think they would have let us come here?” he continued, with a very faint smile. “You know how those Angels are, Doctor. When they set their minds to something, there isn’t much you can do to stop them.”
“Is that why you joined them, Captain?”
“The ladies are all worried about Captain Scarlet, Doctor. You know he’s a personal favourite of theirs. Lord knows why. Maybe it’s because he hangs around the Amber Room so often.”
“I seem to recall you coming down there fairly often, Captain Ochre,” Rhapsody replied with an affected tone.
Fawn managed to smile in turn. “I’m sorry, but I will have to ask for you to be escorted out of sickbay,” he said regretfully.
“We can’t even stay a minute?” Rhapsody asked with hope.
“No, Rhapsody. Please, don’t…”
A shrilling sound coming from the monitor made both Rhapsody and Ochre jump in surprise, and Fawn turned suddenly, just as the wounded Scarlet, still lying on the bed, started to agitate himself once more. Medic Allen, trying to keep Scarlet in check, looked in alarm at Fawn, who quickly came over, forgetting his visitors. He checked the monitor.
The lines were again off the scale.
“Damn!” he muttered. “He’s coming out of it again!” He consulted his assistant. “The painkillers? Did you give him his usual dosage?”
“Yes, Doctor. About two minutes ago.”
Fawn saw his patient suddenly opening his eyes and letting out a loud cry of pain, that drowned the sounds from the monitor; Rhapsody and Ochre paled, and instinctively made a step forward to come closer. Fawn snapped in their direction. “Stay out of the way, you two! Allen, prepare a double dose, quick! He’s in terrible pain!”
As Fawn’s assistant was busying himself to obey the doctor’s orders, the latter took rapid notes on the new data displayed on the monitor, while his patient desperately fought to escape his restraints, shaking his head to one side to the other, grunting in pain. “Quick, Allen!” Fawn called with impatience.
Allen presented the syringe to the doctor who hurriedly made the injection. He wondered if Scarlet felt the sting of the needle, as he suddenly snapped in his direction. His blue eyes, wide open, stared right at the doctor, with no apparent expression in them, except for being so glassy with pain, and apparently confused at what was happening to him.
“Relax, Captain,” Fawn told him soothingly, leaning over his patient and pushing the bandaged head down on the pillow, as the heavy breathing gradually decreased to a slower rate. “You’ll feel no pain in a moment…”
He received no response this time, as he had before, when his patient had awakened some hours earlier. The eyes shifted briefly, to settle on Ochre and Rhapsody, standing out of the way so not to hinder the work of the doctor and his assistant. Both of them looked immensely troubled – even shaken. Scarlet didn’t seem to acknowledge them; although he was obviously trying very hard to fight it, the drug he had been injected with was taking effect, and his eyes were growing increasingly sleepy and his breathing very quiet. He turned back to look at Fawn, then gave a heavy sigh and closed his eyes, losing his battle against unconsciousness. The lines on the monitor dropped instantly.
Fawn noisily exhaled his relief; he made a quick check on Scarlet, looking under the eyelids, checking on his pulse, making sure his breathing was now normal. He noticed that the bandages round the injured man’s wrists were now stained with blood, so wild had been his attempts to free himself from the restraints that held him. Fawn stood up, turning to Allen, and nodded toward the straps. “I don’t think they need to be that tight around his wrists. He’s hurting himself and that hampers his healing even more. See that these are more comfortable.”
“Do you think that’s wise, Doctor?” Captain Ochre suddenly said, making Fawn turn on his heel to face him. “He seems quite agitated when he’s having those attacks…”
“You’d be agitated too if you had eighty percent of your skin burned like his,” Fawn replied rather dryly. He caught sight of Rhapsody’s look of distress and horror as she stared at the now unconscious and quiet Scarlet. He shook his head. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have snapped. I don’t have an explanation for what is happening to him, and…”
That was Allen, quietly beckoning Fawn behind him. The doctor turned around and stared at his assistant with an enquiring look. Allen nodded toward the monitor. Fawn narrowed his eyes, reading the new data. Again, he checked on his patient, then grunted with both curiosity and fascination. “Quite interesting,” he muttered.
“What is it, doctor?” Ochre asked in his back.
“There’s a new increase in his healing capacity,” Fawn declared thoughtfully. “I don’t know if it has been triggered by that attack…” He paused a second, then turned his head toward Ochre and Rhapsody. “Would you two please get the Colonel for me? I don’t dare leave Scarlet to make the call…”
“Of course, Doctor,” Ochre said with a vigorous nod.
“Anything else we can do?” Rhapsody asked in turn.
“Yes. DON’T come back in here. Not until I allow it.”
“That’s an order. For both of you. I appreciate you wanting to be here, and I’m sure Scarlet would appreciate too, if he was aware of it. But this isn’t helping any. You’d be far more helpful elsewhere.” Fawn nodded slowly. “And don’t worry. I’ll keep you informed.”
Regretfully, both Ochre and Rhapsody turned and left the room, and then the sickbay. They were very quiet while walking down the corridor, toward the elevator that would take them to the Control Room.
Until they stepped into the lift and the doors closed on them, neither of them had said a single word. Rhapsody stole a glance at a brooding Ochre, who was staring up at the indicator over the door, apparently waiting for it to light up when they reached their destination. Rhapsody knew Ochre enough to know that, after what they had witnessed, he was preoccupied. Concerned. But he wouldn’t say a word about it. He wouldn’t show it, so as not to alarm her, because he knew she was worried as well. Perhaps even more than he was. But that, she wouldn’t admit even to herself.
“What an absurd situation this is,” Ochre then mumbled in an undertone.
“I’ll say,” Rhapsody replied in almost the same tone. “Is he the real Scarlet or not?”
“That guy in sickbay? I don’t know.” Ochre shook his head. “You? What do you think?”
“I’m not sure…” Rhapsody replied with a furrowed brow.
Ochre sighed deeply, as the elevator came to an halt. “He’ll not be happy with that,” muttered Captain Ochre.
“What’s that, Captain?” Rhapsody asked as the door in front of them opened.
“Captain Scarlet. Whichever one he is… When he finds out that the Mysterons have duplicated him again, he’ll not be happy with it. Not happy at all.”
Captain Manuku drove the jeep through a beaten path in the forest as far as it was mechanically possible for it to go. The vehicle was finally about a quarter of a mile away from the foot of the volcano, in a small clearing, and Captains Blue and Manuku left it there to continue on foot. They took a very narrow animal trail that, Blue grew certain as they were moving along, was the path described to him earlier by Captain Scarlet over the radio. It led them directly to the eastern side, and continued up the flank of the mountain, the lower part of it still covered by vegetation.
As they were slowly moving forward, Blue checked their surroundings and the path ahead. About halfway to the top, the green foliage gave way to a rocky surface, mostly big blocks, volcanic in origin. Small pebbles were rolling under the two men’s feet as they climbed, following the arduous path. A strange smell started pervading the air, that made Blue wrinkle his nose. The higher they climbed, the more noticeable it became. Sulphur, Blue finally realised. A low rumble could be heard, that seemed to come from underground, and smoke was coming out from underneath piles of rocks or from crevices. Blue noticed that the awful, sulphurous smell seemed to be stronger whenever they were near the smoke. He mentioned it to Manuku, who was walking casually in front of him. The Hawaiian officer shook his head.
“It’s vapour, Captain,” he corrected. “From an underground river. The magmatic heat from the mountain has chemically transformed the water into sulphuric acid.”
“That volcano is active?” Blue asked with perplexity.
“Yes, there is activity, but it’s minimal. It’s a quiet volcano, Captain,” Manuku replied with a shrug. “We’re been monitoring it from the base. It won’t suddenly go boom on us, don’t worry.”
“If I may say, Captain Manuku – this island is quite a strange place to establish a Spectrum Base.”
“The volcano is on the other side of the island – far away enough from the base. And as I said, the activity is minimal. Not unusual in these parts.” Manuku smiled. “If you had lived in Hawaii all your life, Captain, you would be used to this.”
“Like you seem to be,” Blue remarked, narrowing his eyes at the man’s back. “You know your way very well around this mountain.”
“I know all of this island like the back of my hand.” Manuku chuckled slightly. “Even though I’ve not been here that long… But it’s true I know the mountain very well. I have a passion for volcanoes.”
“My first choice of career was vulcanologist. I changed my mind, at some point, as you can see. But the passion never left me. The first thing I did when I was assigned to Anuenue was to visit the mountain.”
“So you must have a pretty good idea where Captain Scarlet might be hiding?” Blue asked carefully.
Manuku seemed to give it some thought. “Seeing the path we’re following… Yes, I think I know where he might be.” He stopped, allowing for Blue to catch up with him. Then he looked up the side of the mountain, and pointed to a ridge, still many feet away and up from them on the same path they were following. “Just over that ridge is a ledge,” he announced, “with an opening into the side of the volcano. A natural cave, either formed by erosion or movement from the mountain. I’m guessing Captain Scarlet might be there.”
Blue looked into the direction Manuku was showing him, evaluating the time they would take to reach the ridge, and the precariousness of their position as they approached the cave. “I suppose Scarlet would easily see us arrive from up there,” he said, not really asking the question. “He’s most probably checking the path.”
“That would be a sure bet, Captain,” Manuku agreed.
“Is there a blind spot from his viewpoint, from which we can approach and surprise him?”
“Well, there is one, but the way is rather treacherous. We’ll have to do some hard climbing, which would bring us nearly underneath the cave. Then we’ll be able to access another, narrower path that would lead round behind him.”
“That seems like the safest way for us, Captain.”
“It’s really a difficult climb, Captain. Ever done any mountaineering?”
“Well, yeah, but…”
“Don’t worry about me. Where you go, I can follow. Lead the way, Captain.”
Manuku gave a dubious look at Blue, still hesitating. The Cloudbase captain secured the strap of the Mysteron gun tightly over his shoulders, so to have his hands free in order to climb more easily. Manuku understood there was no way Captain Blue would change his mind, so he gave up trying to dissuade him, and gave a low sigh, before moving again along the path. “All right, then. Follow me. And put your feet and hands exactly where I put mine.”
“Don’t worry,” Blue replied. “I’m not letting you out of my sight.”
The first thing that got to him was the smell. Unpleasant, almost unbreathable. It irritated his nose and throat. He coughed loudly, and then moaned. Then there was the heat, and the vibration coming from the ground on which he was lying. A rocky surface, that was unnaturally warm. He shifted, only to realise that his movements were constrained by ropes binding his hands behind his back; his ankles were also tied together.
He opened his eyes to look around with curiosity. Rock. Ground, and surrounding walls. Dark. Barely lit by a dying fire a few feet away from him. A cave, he realised instantly. Why am I here?
With difficulty, he worked himself into a sitting position, pushing on his arms and bracing himself on the wall he had been lying against. That done, he looked about anew, still perplexed. Beyond the fire, he could see some light entering the cave, and if he leaned a little, he could even see an opening, with a patch of a blue sky. It was day. He had been unconscious all night. But he had no idea how long exactly. How many hours had passed since his last conscious moments.
He remembered them. Quite vividly. He looked down at his chest, where he could see three very visible holes, surrounded by spots of a darker red than his uniform. The first time around, in that burning building, they had missed him. This time, they hadn’t, he realised gloomily.
He felt no pain. The wounds had healed, as they normally did. And his head was clear. Clearer than it had been before they shot him. There were no voices anymore. No distressing calls. That was a relief.
Where was Adam? The thought imposed itself into his mind when he remembered that his friend had been there when they had appeared. Behind him. He remembered that he had pushed the American captain out of harm’s way and took Blue’s gun to shoot at them, hoping he would be faster than them. But he had been too late. That was the last thing he remembered. He had no idea of what had become of Adam.
“You’re finally coming around, Captain Scarlet?”
Scarlet’s head shot up automatically; the voice was coming from the light’s direction. He saw the features of a man coming into view, walking in from the light. Working against the ropes holding his wrists, Scarlet narrowed his eyes in the semi-darkness as the man approached slowly.
“Don’t bother,” a casual voice said, noticing Scarlet’s efforts to free himself. “You’ll only break your hands.”
Realizing by the burning bite on his wrists that he was right, Scarlet instantly stopped; he kept looking as the man finished his approach and stopped in front of him, crouching down to look levelly at him. Scarlet frowned deeply, staring him straight in the face. “I know you…” he murmured. The man’s face didn’t even give the slightest reaction. It dawned on Scarlet, and he nodded slowly. “You’re the Mysteron who trapped me in that building yesterday,” he finally said.
“Correct, Earthman,” the man in front of him replied. “Your memories serve you well.”
Scarlet studied him; he was wearing the same dark grey Spectrum uniform he had seen on him already; he noticed the insignia on the sleeves of his vest, and the name tag on his chest, with the name ‘Perkins’ written on it. “You’re part of the fire-fighting team,” Scarlet remarked.
“There’s no point in me denying the obvious, is there?” Perkins said, with a very cold smile. “You see how easy it has been for me to get out of that furnace we were in and to escape detection? I had stashed my full gear in the building, respirator and all, and put them on after leading you in. I was well protected, while you were fighting against those fumes… And I only had to blend in with the other firemen when they came to fight the flames... and try to rescue you.”
“What have you done to Captain Blue?” Scarlet demanded forcefully.
“Nothing. He’s quite fine. For now.”
“I don’t believe you. Where is he?”
“You shouldn’t worry about him, Captain. We don’t have him. But he should be coming to us.”
“What do you mean?”
“In due time, Captain. You should worry more about yourself. I would say that your situation is very precarious.”
“Why did you bring me here?” Scarlet demanded. “What IS this place? Looks like…”
“A cave, on the side of the volcano? That’s what it is, Captain. It’s a safe place to keep you… while they’re searching for you back at Anuenue Base. They won’t find you here.”
“They will,” Scarlet growled.
“Don’t be so eager for them to find you,” Perkins laughed. “I’m betting the only thing on their minds right now is to kill you on the spot. For the murder of that poor MacGuthrie, who was guarding you back in the infirmary. You remember him, Captain?”
Scarlet didn’t answer, and simply stared in angry silence at the Mysteron agent. The latter chuckled softly and got to his feet, slowly. “I see you do remember him,” he said with a nod. “How you killed him with Captain Blue’s gun before escaping from the infirmary.”
“You have a way of turning the truth around, mister,” Scarlet replied. “That’s not what happened, and you know it. I didn’t kill anyone. I was shot before I could use Captain Blue’s gun. That’s the last thing I remember. I CERTAINLY didn’t escape from the infirmary. I was obviously taken away from it!”
“They all believe you did escape, and that you killed MacGuthrie in the process. Didn’t you know you were being held captive in that room, Captain? You know why?” Perkins grinned widened. “Spectrum thinks you’re a Mysteron agent, and that you’ll now probably follow the Mysterons’ orders by attempting to carry out their present threat to kill a key member of Cloudbase.” He narrowed his eyes, staring intently at Scarlet, who had lowered his head, obviously trying to figure out what was happening. “But you already knew that, didn’t you?” Perkins noted quietly. “You heard their voices, back there in the infirmary…”
“I am NOT a Mysteron agent!” Scarlet lashed out, looking up at Perkins. “I regained my freedom months ago! I don’t know why I heard their voices at the infirmary, but they certainly don’t have ANY control over me.”
“You’re certain of that?” Perkins taunted him.
“I am not like YOU!” Scarlet replied, his tone picking up in intensity. “And I would rather die than be brought back under the Mysterons’ thumb – and becoming like you again, nothing short of a mindless drone who will do anything to satisfy their evil, bloodthirsty –”
He never got to finish his tirade. Perkins’ fist suddenly hit him in the jaw, forcing him to silence. A second later, he received a vicious kick in the stomach, that sent him sprawling at the foot of the wall, coughing and gasping for air. Seeing that Perkins was preparing to kick him again, and unable to really defend himself properly, he curled himself into a ball. The foot hit him between the ribs on the right side two or three times; he kept his eyes closed against the pain, and his teeth clenched so he wouldn’t cry out. His hands scraped the rough, rocky surface of the ground, unseen to the Mysteron agent, and they came into contact with a sharp piece of flint that cut right through the flesh of his right hand. Quickly, he grabbed it, and hid it within his palm.
Perkins took an almost breathless Scarlet by the collar of his uniform and forced him into a sitting position, roughly shoving him against the stone wall, almost at the same place as before. “That,” the Mysteron agent said, looking straight into Scarlet’s fiery eyes, a cold expression of anger gleaming in his own, “was for calling me a ‘mindless drone’, Captain. And for saying that the Mysterons are evil and bloodthirsty. Yours is the bloodthirsty race. You started this war.”
“So you keep saying,” Scarlet said between his teeth. Perkins released him, and backed away one step. The Spectrum officer shifted his position. To the Mysteron agent, he was apparently trying to get himself more comfortable. He couldn’t see that Scarlet was carefully positioning the piece of hard flint he had found, in order to cut through the ropes binding his hands. Scarlet felt the sharp edge slicing the palms of his hands and kept himself from wincing. He had a feeling that this would be hard and painful. Taking him more time than was probably left to him. He had to gain time. He glowered at Perkins, who was taking another step back.
“Tell me what happened in that building,” he said.
Perkins scoffed. “What makes you think anything happened there, Earthman? Or is it that you’re aware that something did happen, which would explain why you were able to hear the Mysterons’ voice earlier?”
Scarlet tried to ignore the last half of his taunting.
“You led me there to kill me,” Scarlet replied, while working on his bound hands. “It was all planned in advance, obviously, since you had stored your equipment there... and probably planted that bomb that nearly got me. But… something went wrong. You didn’t succeed. I didn’t die like you thought I would.”
“You did die, Earthman,” Perkins corrected roughly. “The fumes had smothered your pitiful life – you were unable to escape your fate.”
“I couldn’t breathe, that’s right,” Scarlet murmured. “But I didn’t stay ‘dead’ for long. Captain Blue told me so himself.” He frowned. “What happened?” he asked again. “I am not the intended victim of the Mysterons’ threat, of that I’m sure. Or I wouldn’t be alive right now. You wouldn’t simply keep me captive, you would kill me instead.”
“You think you’re so clever, don’t you?”
“By trying to kill me, did your masters want to regain control of me somehow? Did they intend to use me again, to carry out their threat, like the first time? Is that why I heard their voices? Why I felt their presence so strongly?”
“So many questions, Captain.”
“Something MUST have happened for Spectrum to think I’m a Mysteron agent. Did I do something I’m not even aware of, or…”
“You’re looking at it the wrong way, Captain.” Perkins shook his head, and crouched down again in front of Scarlet. “I might as well tell you, since you don’t have that long to live now.”
“I’ve already worked out you’re going to kill me,” Scarlet said gloomily. “Since the Mysterons can’t control me, they can’t afford to let me live, can they?”
Perkins offered a quiet nod. “Your case is really a curious one. The Mysterons never expected you to survive that first ‘death’ of yours, nor that you would break free. And even less that you would retain the retrometabolic power. They tried to bring you back under their control, but it proved unsuccessful. And now this…”
“What’s this?” Scarlet asked with a frown. “What did they do this time?”
“You were right in thinking the Mysterons wanted to use you to carry out their threat, Captain. But not quite the way you seem to imagine. They duplicated you again.”
“What?” murmured Scarlet.
“You heard me. They wanted to begin the process anew. Killing the ‘real’ Captain Scarlet and using his Mysteronised replicate for a new mission.”
“You’re telling there’s two of me right now?” Scarlet replied, dumbfounded.
“Two of you, yes. You are here, and the other is on Cloudbase at the moment, recovering from the serious injuries he suffered in that fire.”
“It… can’t be true,” Scarlet said, shaking his head in negation. “You’re lying to me… Trying to confuse me.”
“I’m not lying, Captain. It is the truth.”
Scarlet continued shaking his head, looking at the Mysteron’s set face, trying to figure out what trick he was playing. He could see none. Why would Perkins be torturing him with lies like that? That seemed so unlikely. He lowered his head, still trying to absorb as best he could what he was being told. “No… wonder they thought I was a Mysteron agent… Two… of me…” His head snapped back up and he stared disbelievingly at Perkins. “So… the Mysteron agent is on Cloudbase, then?” he noted dryly.
“What makes you say it’s the Mysteron agent up there?” Perkins scoffed. “It might be he’s the right one… the real Captain Scarlet…”
“No, it’s not, and you know it!” Scarlet lashed suddenly. “Or you wouldn’t have me as a prisoner right now! You have a mission to pursue on Cloudbase! Why would you waste your time on me here?”
“Why, if not for the reason we still have need of you?”
“You’re lying! I can’t… be the duplicate…”
“The ‘Captain Scarlet’ who’s presently on Cloudbase is in a rather sorry state,” Perkins chuckled, rising to his feet. “Burned, almost beyond recognition. He fell victim to the flames and fumes of that building you remember so vividly.” He arched an eyebrow, looking down at the confused officer. “Are you now so sure you’re the real Captain Scarlet?”
“The Mysterons don’t have any hold on me,” Scarlet replied obstinately.
“But you did hear their voice,” Perkins grinned evilly.
“Yes. Yes I did.” Scarlet’s reply was only a faint murmur. He lowered his head, and for a fraction of a second, he considered the awful likelihood that what Perkins was telling him could be the truth. He had heard an ethereal call, taunting him, trying to reach him. The Mysterons’ call, he was sure of that. Their voice calling him out to their control, commanding, instructing… He had been able to hear what they wanted to do, nearly felt it, as a palpable sensation. And he had thought that would drive him crazy. He felt so trapped he couldn’t think rationally. He had lashed out at the room where he had been held captive, in the infirmary, destroying the furniture, trying to break out through the window. He wanted to get out and away – as if that way he would be able to escape from the taunting call.
He didn’t want to do what they were planning to use him for.
Then something imposed itself in his mind. A new realisation. He looked up again, defiantly staring at Perkins. “Yes, I did,” he repeated with a more assured tone. “And that’s why you brought me here, isn’t it? I heard them and I know their plans. I know who the target is.”
“The target you were set to kill, Captain.”
“The target is up there, on Cloudbase, and so is the agent the Mysterons created to kill him!” Scarlet stated. Perkins simply looked down at him, without replying. Scarlet moved on; now he thought he was holding the truth, that he had figured out everything, and he wasn’t about to let go of his train of thought. “It wasn’t me the Mysterons were trying to contact,” he pursued quickly. “It was him. Somehow, I don’t know how or why, I am linked to that Mysteron agent’s mind. That’s why I happened to hear their instructions. And it’s an inconvenience for you.”
“You DO think you’re so clever,” Perkins replied coldly.
“Something went wrong for you during that fire, didn’t it?” Scarlet continued. “Something you didn’t count on, I’m sure of it! I heard how urgently the Mysterons tried to contact their agent – I could almost feel their frustration at not being able to reach him. Why doesn’t he respond? Have they lost contact with him?”
“Him could very well be you,” Perkins cut him off before he could continue. “You’re asking why you’re here? It’s quite simple. We do want to use you. To create confusion in Spectrum…”
“To send them on a false trail while your real agent does his job on Cloudbase!” Scarlet realised. “While they think I’m the one they should catch… They won’t be suspicious of the other.”
“That might be true, Captain. But at the same time you will help us. Willingly or not.” Perkins’ grin became more evil than before. He slowly drew a pistol out of his vest; then, he produced a silencer, and with a tranquil assurance, started screwing it to the barrel. Scarlet followed the movement with his eyes, tensing. “You will help us to get ourselves rid of Captain Blue.”
“Don’t hold your breath!” Scarlet scoffed. “If you think I’ll do anything to help you…”
“But you already did, Earthman. More than you may be aware of. I told you he was coming to join us. He answered your call.”
“My call? I didn’t…”
“Oh, but you did!” Perkins replied, laughing. The fire-fighter’s voice suddenly changed, much to Scarlet’s surprise, to then take his own voice when next he spoke: “Do you really believe Captain Blue would refuse an invitation from his friend and partner, Captain Scarlet?” Scarlet looked at him in complete disarray. That was a trick he had witnessed in an earlier mission, and that had completely taken him aback at the time. A Mysteron agent had impersonated his voice – passing himself off as Scarlet to confuse Spectrum, and lead them to believe what he wanted of them. It had worked the first time – and it was looking as it was working this time too. That trick was leading Blue into a trap.
That was a very frustrating situation for Scarlet. They were indeed using him. And it infuriated him.
“You haven’t won yet!”
“I think we’re about to, Earthman. Captain Blue will not escape his fate. He will be killed as soon as he walks in here. As for you… since we can’t make further use of you, I think it’ll be fairly easy to get rid of you too. Captain Blue will surely be carrying that new Mysteron gun with him. And if that should fail…” He looked intently at a part of the cave where Scarlet could see fumes coming from the side of what seemed to be a cliff. “…I’m sure the magma will do the job perfectly.” He saw the look of pure hatred and revulsion with which Scarlet was staring him, and seemed to reconsider his options. His eyes suddenly became very bright. “In fact, why waste any more time? Let’s see right now if this works.”
Putting his weapon onto his belt, he moved toward his prisoner, and grabbed his ankles, with the evident purpose of dragging him toward the cliff overhanging the lava river. Scarlet didn’t have any intention of letting him do this. Pushing his shoulders against the wall, he gave himself enough leverage to throw his legs forward – and hit the Mysterons agent squarely in the groin. Caught by surprise, Perkins fell on his back, with a loud grunt, away from his intended victim and losing hold of his weapon.
A second later, struggling desperately against the bonds holding his wrists, Scarlet felt them snap. Quickly, he brought his arms forward, and in the same movement, leaned to his ankles to try to free them as swiftly as possible. He knew he only had seconds, before the moaning Perkins, lying only a few feet from him, would recover and retaliate. Already, he was starting to move.
He was tossing away the cord that had kept his ankles secured when Perkins got up on his hands and knees, shaking his head to chase away the last remains of his haziness. Scarlet got to his feet at the moment Perkins’ hand was grabbing the handle of his gun; he ran to throw himself at the Mysteron, brutally throwing him onto his back, landing on him, pinning him down and fighting for the weapon he was trying to keep from being aimed at him.
He landed a violent uppercut in Perkins’ face, but the Mysteron was fighting with a fanatic determination he had not counted on, and it was as if the punch had almost no effect on him. Perkins grasped a handful of pebbles and gravel and tossed it in Scarlet’s face; the particles caused fiery pain to the Spectrum officer’s eyes and suddenly blinded him. Instinctively, his hold relaxed slightly, and his opponent took advantage of it and kneed him viciously. Scarlet totally lost his advantage, and Perkins pushed him away with a violent shove, freeing in the same movement the hand that was holding the gun.
Scarlet didn’t let go of his enemy; he rolled on his back, taking Perkins along, and got to his knees, forcing the Mysteron to do the same. His eyes burning, filled with grit and burning tears, he vaguely discerned the outline of the gun Perkins was trying to lift in his direction. His hand closed on the Mysteron’s wrist, forcing it away, pushing the barrel down. He stood up, trying to keep Perkins down, but the latter was stronger than he anticipated, and he followed, gradually pushing himself to his feet. The Mysteron’s face was only inches from his own, distorted into a resolute frown, his eyes flashing with cold anger.
“Why do you resist the inevitable?” Perkins growled between his teeth.
The gun was aiming down, and Perkins pulled the trigger once. There was an almost inaudible plop as the bullet was propelled out of the barrel and struck Scarlet in his right leg, shattering his kneecap. He cried out in pain, as his leg suddenly gave way under him, and a last shove from Perkins threw him off completely. It was only by pure dumb luck that the shock didn’t completely make him let go of his grip on the Mysteron’s wrist. He was able to drag him down, making the gun fly out of his hand in the process. But it was little consolation for him, as he sprawled on the ground.
He had fallen only a couple of feet away from the cliff where Perkins wanted to take him; he could feel the heat of the vapours coming from it, with the smell even more unbearable than before. Not as unbearable, however, as the pain in his knee that pinned him down. Clutching his leg, his jaws tightly clenched, he desperately tried to overcome the pain, and searched for his enemy. His eyesight was just beginning to clear from the previous attack, and he could see Perkins, on his back, reaching for his weapon, which was lying a short distance away. The Mysteron grabbed the handle and got slowly to his feet, looking down at Scarlet stretched out at his feet, grunting and contorting in pain.
Perkins stood up fully over his victim and took careful aim. He was too close to his fallen enemy and didn’t anticipate that he would strike one last time. Despite the shooting pain coming from his knee, Scarlet quickly moved his legs, and managed to hook them against Perkins’ feet, making him trip. One last push from Scarlet’s uninjured leg sent the Mysteron straight toward the crevice he was standing so near to. Perkins completely lost his footing; not finding anything to which he could catch hold of, he plunged into the void; there was a brief yell, that made Scarlet look on in shock at his opponent, diving to his death in the rumbling flow of liquid magma metres down below. He looked away at the last possible second, before the tumbling body reached the end of its fall.
Shaking, finding it quite unbearable to stay so near that crevice and the scorching heat and horrible smell coming from it, Scarlet crawled away. He directed himself toward the light coming from the outside – the entrance of the cave, to which he knew Captain Blue would come. It was a painful progression, as he tried to ignore the excruciating throbbing from his knee scraping against the ground’s rough surface, and the numbness of his leg below it. It would heal soon, he knew, but he couldn’t know how long it would take nor if he would have recovered in time to face whatever danger may still be lurking ahead for him or Spectrum.
He had now reached the section of the cave bathed in full sun, just at the entrance’s threshold. A large boulder was half-blocking the way out, resting on a ledge just beyond the opening. He tried to stand up, bracing himself on the wall, to go round the boulder. He only was able to take a couple of steps, before finding that his leg was refusing to support him. He fell heavily on the ground, with a loud grunt, clutching his leg, his senses threatening to leave him. He leaned his back against the boulder, breathing hard, trying to stay conscious.
He wished he had his radiocap to call for help – to call Captain Blue, specifically. To try to explain what he knew of what was happening. To tell him about the target on Cloudbase, and the Mysteron agent who was there. He had no other choice but to wait – and hoped it wouldn’t be too late to intervene.
He closed his eyes. He needed a few minutes to compose himself.
He just had to make sure he wouldn’t black out.
That was just at this moment that he heard it. In his mind, a call, like a scream, that made him wince and grunt in pain.
Medic Henry Allen had been posted to Cloudbase for the past few months – a little before the whole business with the Mysterons had started. He had become one of Doctor Fawn’s most trusted and capable assistants. He was there the first time Captain Scarlet had revived after he had been taken over by the Mysterons, and had been present nearly every time Doctor Fawn had tended to his special patient, or had performed tests on him. He thought he knew a good deal about the British captain’s extraordinary abilities – not as much as Fawn himself, but probably close. Of that he was certain. But Fawn was a little too secretive about certain aspects of his work. And that was frustrating for Allen’s all-too-inquiring mind.
The reason resided in a major disagreement between the two men, on their respective ways of handling the situation concerning Scarlet. To Allen, the indestructible captain was little more than a curiosity to study – a point of view that Fawn didn’t share, although the Australian doctor was willing to conduct test after test to learn more about Scarlet. To help him, he had emphasised more than once, whenever it was possible. Allen couldn’t understand the practicality of that attitude. It wasn’t as if Scarlet really needed help when he was healing. His body mostly did it all by itself. No, they needed to learn more about him, how this ‘retrometabolism’ of his worked. Fawn didn’t want to use his patient as some kind of ‘lab rat’ and he had said so, in no uncertain terms, to Allen. Insisting on the fact that he never wanted to ever hear about that kind of suggestion again. Allen had kept quiet ever since. But that didn’t stop him from plotting for the possible day where he’d be allowed to have his way and conduct his own research. He was hoping it would be soon.
Something was wrong with Captain Scarlet right now, and Doctor Fawn couldn’t understand what it could be. So, while he was performing what looked like useless tests, everybody had been waiting. Due to his vast knowledge gathered during the past few months, Allen had been working closely with Fawn – well, not alone, there was a whole team of medical assistants on that case. It didn’t look like there was anything exciting going on. Not since that last incident when the British captain had regained consciousness, and they were forced to double the dosage of his painkillers. Scarlet had accustomed them to quicker progress in the course of his healing. Now it was very boring.
He looked down in frustration at the still body, lying in the bed. Following Fawn’s instructions, he had relaxed the restraints around his wrists – a little more than prescribed by Fawn, he had to admit, but considering the state of the patient, Allen couldn’t see how he would be able to free himself and walk away. The restraints were mainly there to make sure he wouldn’t fall from his bed, should he have another attack.
Allen checked the data on the monitors, and wrote down the result on his pad. His shift would be finished in a few minutes, and Doctor Fawn would come to take the information he had gathered. The littlest change was of the most importance for Fawn at the moment, so he wanted everything written down. Not that it would be of any help to him at the moment. Nothing had changed in the last two hours, Allen reflected with irritation.
He was moving away from the patient when he heard a soft moaning. He turned around swiftly and looked down at Scarlet with curious eyes, before raising them to the monitor over his head. It showed no changes. Except… one line, that was fluctuating a little. The patient was regaining consciousness again.
Allen leaned over Scarlet when he heard another faint moan. He looked down at his bandaged face; the eyes were closed, but the lips were moving. He was muttering something. He was trying to speak. Allen leaned closer.
“Captain, do you hear me?” he whispered. He heard a faint murmur, but was unable to make out what it could be. The eyelids were moving quickly, just as if the patient was having an agitated dream – or a nightmare.
Then Allen heard a single word, still so very faint, but audible enough for him to worry about what it may presage.
Allen swallowed hard. He thought that Captain Scarlet had something of significance to tell him. Something that may provide a clue of what was going on with him – and of that present Mysteron threat that was hanging over one member of Cloudbase senior staff. Nervously, but in a reassuring gesture, he put his hand on the injured man’s chest. “Do you want me to call Doctor Fawn, or…”
He never got to finish his sentence. Somehow, the loose leather band restraining the patient’s right wrist snapped suddenly, and the hand moved up at the speed of a snake. The fingers closed like a vice around Allen’s throat, stifling the cry of surprise that nearly escaped his lips. Allen simply gasped, unable to breathe, suddenly paralysed with fear, powerless to free himself, and looked down in horror and fear into the face of the man holding him in such a deathly grip.
Through the bandages, two blue eyes were staring right at him.
Burning with a cold and feverish glow, apparently devoid of any human emotion.
“We’re nearly there, Captain.”
Captain Blue looked up to the ledge that formed a near promontory overhanging just a few metres over his head. That was where the cave was that Captain Manuku had told him about – where Captain Scarlet had, a few hours before, told him to come. Blue let out a deep sigh, and temporarily removed his cap to mop his sweating brow. The climb was a difficult one, just as Manuku had told him. They were now standing on another ledge, narrower than the one above them, in order to recover their breath for the remainder of the climb. Manuku was pointing to the path they were about to take.
“From there, we will get to the cave, Captain,” the Hawaiian officer explained to Blue. “With a better chance to surprise Captain Scarlet, if he’s watching the path we would have taken, if we had followed his instructions.”
Blue nodded his acknowledgement. Surprising Scarlet was exactly what he wanted to do, doing so with a chance of avoiding the use of the Mysteron gun. And he had said it so to Manuku. The Hawaiian officer had done nothing to show his displeasure of his decision, but had agreed nevertheless – although quite reluctantly. Captain Blue was a superior officer and field commander during this assignment. Whatever Manuku’s feelings were about how the Cloudbase captain was handling the situation, he had no other choice but to follow orders.
“Ready to go, Captain?”
Blue was about to answer Manuku’s query when a beeping sound coming from his epaulettes attracted his attention. He lowered his mic. “Yes?”
“This is Medic Harrigan, from Anuenue Base, Captain Blue,” a voice then said in his ear. “Calling you to report.”
“You did what I asked?” Blue demanded.
“Just finished, sir. And as per your instructions, I’m contacting you straight away to inform you of my findings.”
“You were right concerning Sergeant MacGuthrie, sir.”
“No doubt about it?”
“Not a single doubt.”
Blue nodded slowly. “S.I.G.,” he answered evenly enough. “Inform Cloudbase directly of your findings. I’ll be calling them back with a fuller report on the situation.”
The communication was cut instantly and Blue turned to Manuku; the latter was looking at him intently. “Who was that on the radio, Captain?”
The question was casual enough, but Blue could perfectly hear the underlying suspicion in Manuku’s tone. Blue lowered his gaze. He saw that the Hawaiian officer had his hand resting on the handle of his gun. In a relaxed enough way. Blue wasn’t fooled by that. Manuku was now wary of him.
With good reason.
Blue narrowed his eyes. “Tell me, Captain Manuku,” he replied stoically. “What’s your secret? Up until now, you’ve been climbing this mountain like an expert… considering you got winged during a shootout. ”
The words seemed to trigger something in Manuku, and his hand grabbed the handle of the gun firmly. But Blue, who was anticipating his move and also had his hand near his weapon, was faster. The sleeker colour-coded pistol was out of the holster and aimed at the Hawaiian officer’s heart before he could draw his own gun. “Uh-uh. Don’t move, now. I have you covered.”
“Are you crazy?” Manuku protested with a furrowed brow.
“Not at all, no. And neither am I blind, Captain Manuku. Didn’t you just start to pull that gun on me? Now keep those hands where I can see them. On your head would be a good place. I’m sure your arm will have no problem doing that.”
“You are crazy,” Manuku grumbled, obeying nonetheless, under the menace of Blue’s gun. “Captain Scarlet is up there, waiting to kill us and…”
“He’s really up there waiting to kill us?” Blue asked in a quiet tone. “Tell me, Captain Manuku, you who knows those parts so well… How Captain Scarlet, who has never set foot on this island before, would be able to find that so-well hidden cave you told me he would seek refuge in?”
“What are you implying?” Manuku asked as if he didn’t understand.
“I think it’s clear. You got him up there yourself.”
“Is it, now? Tell me about MacGuthrie’s death again.”
“I already told you everything about it.”
“And I know you lied. I noticed something strange on MacGuthrie’s body, when you took me to see it. His uniform – where he had been shot – was peppered with large burns from gun powder. That wasn’t in accordance with the story you told me of how he had been killed. From the spot where Scarlet was standing, the shot wouldn’t have burned the uniform like that. From those marks, I would say MacGuthrie was shot at point blank range.” Blue tapped on his cap, at about the spot where the speakers of his communicator were hidden. “You wondered who called me. That was Harrigan, the medic who took care of me in the infirmary? At my request, and without you or Major Logan knowing about it, he performed an autopsy on Sergeant MacGuthrie. Because, you see, there was something else I noticed on MacGuthrie’s body. His lips. They were blue. Blue lips, as if the victim had been choked or poisoned. Harrigan just confirmed that. He indeed was poisoned.”
“I remembered a small stain I had seen on the floor, in front of the door MacGuthrie was guarding. It looked like coffee. I just bet MacGuthrie drank poisoned coffee. Since he wasn’t allowed to leave his post – somebody must have taken it to him. Somebody he had no reason to be suspicious of.”
“You’re accusing me?” Manuku scoffed, with a new frown, seeing the way Blue was looking intently at him.
“For a security officer, you’re slow to catch on, Manuku!” Blue replied angrily. “Yes, I’m accusing you. And I have plenty of reasons for it. You’ve made enough mistakes for me to be sure you’re a Mysteron agent.”
“I passed the test. It was negative.”
“You were the first to pass it, right at the beginning of this affair, yes – but there’s nothing to tell me that the Mysterons didn’t get to you AFTER you passed the test.”
“This is getting ludicrous, Captain,” Manuku growled. “You said I made many mistakes. What were they?”
“Aside from those I already mentioned? A major one, Captain: When I received that call from Scarlet – I NEVER mentioned where he was hiding. But YOU mentioned the volcano. You knew he was there before I could tell you. Because you were the one who took him there.” Blue’s features became hard, and he raised his gun, threateningly. “Now cut the pretence. There’s no use for it anymore.”
For a short moment, Manuku glowered silently at Blue; the Cloudbase officer didn’t lower his gaze, as he kept the man covered with his pistol. Then, the Hawaiian officer spoke, very carefully: “Coming back from the armoury.”
Manuku gave the faintest of smiles. “That’s when it happened. While coming back from the armoury, with the Mysteron detector. That’s when the Mysteron agent who had trapped Scarlet in that building attacked and killed the real Barry Manuku.”
Blue’s grip tightened on his gun. “I KNEW it,” he seethed between his teeth. “That was RIGHT after he had passed the test, and we parted for a very short while.”
“Long enough for him to be killed. Ironic, isn’t it? That it was to be me afterward that had the responsibility of checking all the other security men with the detector. You never suspected a thing.”
“I didn’t. But now I’m on to you.” Blue nodded. “So you killed MacGuthrie, as I thought.”
“Correct, Earthman. With poisoned coffee, as you suspected. That first time I got up to ‘go to the bathroom’. As you thought, he never suspected me.”
“That second time you got up, it was to get rid of the body – and prepare whatever you had in store for Scarlet. Am I right?”
“I knew approximately when MacGuthrie would be dead, yes,” Manuku admitted. “As for Scarlet…” He smiled wickedly. “We still had some use for him. Either he’d be willing to help or not.”
“Is he the real one?” Blue asked roughly.
“What do you think, Captain Blue?”
Blue hesitated. It was something he wasn’t sure as yet. Scarlet could still be part of this plot, be stationed up there, watching until they came out – and ready to shoot. Blue remembered the scene in which he had seen Scarlet being shot in the infirmary, after he himself had been thrown to the floor. Then there was that phrase Manuku had just said.
Either he’d be willing to help or not.
“So he’s the real one, isn’t he?” he murmured.
“Would you be willing to bet your life on it?” Manuku scoffed.
“He pushed me out of the way when you shot him down in the infirmary,” Blue replied with assurance. “He took my gun to shoot at you. He was trying to protect me.”
Manuku laughed softly, eyeing Blue with loathing eyes. “How naďve can you be, Captain? Remember… he called you to come up here.”
Blue hesitated anew. That was something he hadn’t yet considered. What if Scarlet was in league with Manuku to trap him? What if, after trying to escape the Mysterons’ call, he had finally yielded to it? It was still a possibility… But one he wasn’t willing to acknowledge to the Mysteron agent who was standing so arrogantly in front of him. He shook himself. “I’m not naďve to the point of listening to your insinuations,” Blue warned.
“But naďve enough to fall right into our hands.” Manuku’s tone was now cold and assured. Blue understood instantly that there was something wrong. He got confirmation of that when he felt a presence behind him. Something hard nudged his lower back, insistently. He froze instantly, his finger still on the trigger. He knew that he had a gun pressing against his spine.
“Don’t move, or you’re dead,” an ominous voice said behind him.
Blue took notice of the warning. He didn’t react when Manuku, lowering his hands, made a step forward and took his gun from his grip. He waved it under his nose. “Now, Captain, your turn. Remove that cap. And put your hands on your head. Slowly.”
Not seeing any other choice, Blue obeyed. He threw his cap down on the ground and put his hands up. Doing so he glanced over his shoulder toward the man who was threatening him from behind. He caught sight of a very hard face staring at him – a man dressed in a dark grey and white uniform of a Spectrum security guard.
Blue fought hard to keep his surprise from showing, when he recognized the face of the man standing there. The face of a man he had seen dead only hours ago.
Spectrum Sergeant Jeff MacGuthrie.
* * *
Captain Scarlet had passed out; unceremoniously, under the pain of his head being pressured by the call he had heard. It wasn’t really a voice, in the proper sense of the word – like a thunderous rumble battering inside his head. Excruciatingly painful and absolutely intolerable. He had been unable to withstand it and had given up to a merciful unconsciousness.
Now as he was waking up, and he was hearing a faint rumbling coming from the inside of the cave, it took him a little while to realise it was only the river of magma which was producing that sound. He was relieved. The distressing, awful call had disappeared, thankfully.
He opened his eyes and looked up to part of the mountainside and a patch of clear blue sky. He was slumped on the ground, on the ledge, near the huge boulder, the rays of the sun warming him comfortingly. His knee was still hurting him, but not as much as before he had lost his senses. It was very stiff, and the leg below so numb he could hardly feel it. But at the level of his wound, he could feel it itching – a sure indication that his retrometabolism was in gear and healing his knee. That too was a relief.
A faint nausea hit him that caused him distress, as he thought that it was all about to happen again – the call, the awful headache… But he realised it was different almost straight away. He frowned when he heard voices – human voices – mere murmurs, that seemed to come from nearby.
More precisely, under him.
He focused on the voices, trying to get a grasp on what was said, as his mind was still in a slight haze. Gradually, it cleared, and he heard the voices, more and more distinctly.
“Keep him covered. If he makes a single move, kill him.”
“So, you weren’t satisfied with killing poor MacGuthrie. You Mysteronised him too.”
Scarlet pricked his ears; that was Captain Blue’s voice. And by the sound of it, he was in trouble.
“We thought he would be useful, Captain. In order to set this trap for you.”
The first voice again. Threatening. Blue was definitely in some kind of trouble, and that didn’t sound good at all. Scarlet pushed himself up, taking leverage on the boulder. He stifled a grunt; his wounded knee was still hurting like mad and refused to work. He nearly fell down where he was lying. As quietly as he could, Scarlet crawled next to the boulder, reaching the edge of the ledge, wanting to look down at where the voices were coming from.
“Get on your knees, Captain. And don’t make a single move, or…”
There was a short moment of silence, before Captain Blue replied, with a sharp enough voice: “Am I to believe that this time I was the Mysteron target after all?”
There was a mocking laugh. “You have a high opinion of yourself, Captain! Granted, you are a key member of Cloudbase’s staff, and a thorn in our side for a long time – along with your insufferable partner. But you are not our target. Neither of you.”
“The target is on Cloudbase, then.” The conclusion seemed obvious to Blue, from the tone of his voice. “So the copy the Mysterons made of Captain Scarlet is up there, ready to strike.”
Scarlet carefully stretched out his neck over the side of the edge; some metres below him, on a narrower ledge, he could see three people. Captain Blue, with what appeared like a Mysteron gun strapped on his shoulders, was on his knees, his hands on his head, and was being threatening by the guns of two men in Spectrum guard uniform. Mysterons, if Scarlet was to believe his sixth sense at the moment. He recognized them. They were the ones who had shot him at the infirmary. From his memories of his time in West Point, he remembered Barry Manuku, who had not changed that much, and who was presently standing in front of Blue.
They had the American captain in their sights and there was no doubt they were going to kill him shortly.
He had to help.
“You still think that the Captain Scarlet who stayed here is the original one?” Manuku was asking following Blue’s declaration.
“It’s simple logic,” Blue replied rather dryly. “I’m not the target, and Scarlet isn’t. Any of the other possible candidates are on Cloudbase. Since you need to reach that target before the deadline, in about one hour’s time, if you didn’t already have your agent planted on Cloudbase, you wouldn’t waste your time here with me, sending me on a wild goose chase. You would rather use your time finding a way to get an agent up there.”
Scarlet realised he had to move fast. He could guess that Blue didn’t have very much longer before these two Mysteron agents decided to get rid of him. But how could he help?
A solution imposed itself quickly to his mind.
The boulder he was leaning on was loose at its base. It was huge, but it was near the side of the ledge. With enough leverage, it could tilt over the side. It was a risky attempt, but it could also be the only way to save Blue – if there was enough time.
Not wasting any more of it, as quickly as he could, Scarlet positioned himself behind the boulder. He braced his back against it, put his left foot against the rocky side of the mountain, and pushed with all the strength he was able to muster. The rock refused to budge, even one millimetre. Scarlet took better support against the wall and gave it another try, gritting his teeth against the effort. He heard the conversation continuing below, as the clock was ticking away the seconds that he knew were left of his friend’s life.
“You found us out, Captain Blue,” Manuku said with a derisive scoff. “We indeed took Captain Scarlet out of the infirmary, making believe he had escaped simply to have Spectrum – and you – sent on a wild goose chase. While Spectrum were busy searching for a fugitive Captain Scarlet, the Mysterons were free to deploy their real objective. All things considered, that… incident in the burning building will be largely compensated by the results it’ll provide. The confusion worked to our advantage.”
“What ‘incident’ are you talking about?” Blue asked roughly.
“Things didn’t happen in there as we had hoped they would, when our agent tried to kill Captain Scarlet,” Manuku explained. “Probably because of his… unique condition, the duplicating process didn’t quite work on him as it would on a normal Earthman. Which caused us to change our plan for carrying out this threat.”
Scarlet’s efforts to dislodge the boulder from its spot were apparently ineffective. He didn’t have enough leverage; he had to put more weight into it. Without thinking about it twice, he put his right, wounded leg against the side of the mountain. His knee protested painfully, but however excruciating the effort, he succeeded in bending it, and used it to try to get the additional push he desperately needed.
It paid off. He felt the boulder shift slightly. He pushed harder, ignoring the agony he was putting his knee through, and biting his lip so he wouldn’t cry out.
“So the duplicating process didn’t work well with Scarlet,” Blue said in a challenging tone. “And you didn’t anticipate that. What a surprise. You are not as faultless as you make out to be.”
“Enough,” Manuku snapped in reply. “Whatever you think you discovered, you won’t be able to repeat it to anyone. You will die. And Captain Scarlet with you. Our agent in that cave only waits our signal to finish him off – in such a way that he will NEVER come back again. Despite unpredictable occurrences, this mission will be a success after all…”
The stone shifted more under Scarlet’s weight; he could feel it moving toward the side of the ledge. One more push… That’s all it needed now to trip over… His brow was beading with sweat, and his body was screaming for him to stop but he couldn’t afford it.
“We’ll have more than we bargained for this time,” Manuku continued ominously. “Two – no THREE birds with one stone.”
The rock shifted again under Scarlet. He felt it as it tilted slightly.
“Goodbye, Captain Blue. Don’t worry, your friend will soon join you.”
Now or never! Calling on all his reserves, Scarlet gave one last powerful shove, pushing the rock over the side, at the same time yelling at the top of his lungs:
“ADAM! Get out of the way!”
On the lower ledge, where Captain Manuku was aligning his gun with Captain Blue’s head, the forceful shout echoing over a loud rumble made everybody look up. Blue was the first to understand what was going on as the large boulder over their heads suddenly came down along the side of the mountain, straight at them, preceding smaller rocks that it had dislodged on the way down. Taking advantage of his opponents’ surprise, Blue acted on the warning given to him – by jumping off the side of the ledge, and leaving the two bewildered Mysteron agents facing alone the fury of the avalanche of rocks and dust falling on them. MacGuthrie was knocked down and sent over the side, screaming. As for Manuku, he tried to avoid the large boulder, but it landed roughly on the ledge he was still standing on and destroyed it almost completely, causing the Hawaiian Captain to trip in the middle of debris; his cries of pain died out as he was quickly buried under tons of rock.
Captain Scarlet was looking down with concern at the damage he had just caused; he couldn’t see the scene very clearly, with all the dust the avalanche had lifted, but he was hoping that his warning had reached Captain Blue in time, and that he had found a way to escape. Scarlet was worried that his colleague had not been able to clear in time, and was starting to regret what he had done.
That’s when he heard coughing.
“Adam?” he called with an hopeful tone.
Only silence answered him. The avalanche having caused a landslide that had evened the side of the mountain, making it less steep, Scarlet got down, sliding feet first onto the shifting surface, using the heels of his boots and his hands to slow down his descent. His right leg was still aching terribly, but he mercilessly pushed it to work. He reached what was left of the ledge almost as quickly as the boulder had done less than a minute earlier. He looked down over the side.
More coughing. Then he saw a pair of hands, about one metre farther down, precariously hanging onto a rocky ridge. Just under it, a blond head, covered with dust, was looking down at the remaining distance between his feet, which were desperately trying to find some leverage on the shifting side of the mountain, and the ground far down below. Hearing his name called above him, Captain Blue lifted worried eyes in Scarlet’s direction.
“Hang on! I’ll get you!”
Lying down on his belly, and making sure his position was secure enough, Scarlet crawled as far as he dared to the edge of the cliff, and stretched himself out, as far as he was able to, reaching his hand for Blue’s. He couldn’t quite make it. He was only inches away. He shifted his position slightly. Not good.
“Reach out, Blue!” he encouraged his friend. “Try to catch my hand.”
Blue looked down. There was an awfully long way to go before he would end up crashing on the ground, not far from where MacGuthrie had fallen himself. Not really the way he would want to go. He couldn’t find a good enough spot on the mountain wall to put his foot on. And he could feel the rock he was hanging from shifting dangerously. He wouldn’t be able to hold on long.
One option left.
He looked up into Scarlet’s anxious features. His eyes were encouraging him to catch his stretched out hand. “Come on,” Scarlet murmured. “On the count of three. One, two…”
A second later, Blue’s right hand had let go of the shifting rock to grab at Scarlet’s own hand. The ridge dislodged then, and fell down; Blue found himself hanging from Scarlet’s outstretched arm, by only one hand. The British captain secured his hold on his friend’s wrist, determined not to let go. He gritted his teeth, feeling as if his arm was dislocating from his shoulder under the added weight.
“Try to climb up,” he enjoined Blue between his teeth. “I can’t pull you…”
Blue nodded his agreement. His other hand grabbed for Scarlet’s arm and, levering himself against the surface of the wall, he started to pull himself up, using his friend as some kind of human life line. Scarlet was clenching his jaws against the pain in his arm, shoulder and back muscles. He held on, without uttering a single sound, until Blue could climb nearly to his level, and then was able to crawl onto the ledge by his side, gasping with the effort.
“Made it…” Scarlet wheezed under his breath. His arm was now numb, so tightly had Blue held into it; he just needed a short moment, for the blood to start circulating in it normally again. Moaning, he raised himself a little to leave his precarious position on the side of the ledge, and turned himself to face Blue. The latter got to his knees, and was unfastening the strap that up until now had been keeping the Mysteron gun on his back. The cumbersome weapon – which didn’t appear as if it had suffered much from the rockslide – was lowered to the ground, and Blue stretched himself with a faint grimace, trying to ease the pain from his sore muscles. Scarlet permitted himself a reassuring grin.
“Heavy contraption, isn’t it?”
Blue looked straight at him, his face now dirty with dust and sweat, making it nearly impossible to read it. But for a moment, Scarlet thought he saw a strange expression spark in his friend’s pale blue eyes. He couldn’t decide if it was mistrust, or doubt – it passed too quickly. The following instant, Blue’s hands seized the handles of the Mysteron gun and he was raising it in Scarlet’s direction. The latter paled instantly.
“Adam?” he murmured with uncertainty.
There was a quiet determination in Blue’s features; for a flicker of an instant, Scarlet thought that would be it. But Blue then deflected his aim slightly to the right and he squeezed the twin triggers. The beam of electrons devised to kill a Mysteron agent reached its target. Captain Scarlet turned around, just in time to see Barry Manuku, who, while Scarlet was attempting to rescue Blue, had half-extracted himself from under the rocks that had buried him, falling on his back.
For a moment, Scarlet could only stare at the now lifeless form, lying on the heap of rocks. His right hand was still clutching the handle of a gun he obviously had the intention of using again.
“He was about to shoot you in the back,” Blue’s voice then said. Scarlet turned back to his friend; the latter was lowering the Mysteron gun, and was now putting it down once more on the ground, between the two of them. Blue shook his head. “Couldn’t let him do that. Not after the way you saved my hide. Twice.”
“Thanks.” Scarlet tilted his head to one side, relaxing a bit, but not entirely. His brow furrowed a little. “You don’t think I’m a Mysteron agent?”
“I won’t, if you give me a good explanation to why you called to lead me into this trap.”
“I didn’t call you. It was that Mysteron agent in the cave – Perkins. He used my voice to do it.”
“And where is that Perkins now?”
“Down in the river of lava he wanted to throw me in.”
Blue nodded slowly. “And you? Do you think you’re a Mysteron agent?”
There was a faint, almost sad smile on Scarlet’s lips when he answered that question. “No. No, I don’t think I am.” He jerked his thumb in Manuku’s direction, “… Or they wouldn’t have tried so hard to kill me. And…”
“In that cave… While I was his prisoner? Perkins kept calling me ‘Earthman’.”
Blue nodded again. “Sounds like reasonable enough evidence.”
Scarlet’s smile broadened into a genuine one, which lasted only a second. Almost immediately, a violent headache hit him, than made him groan in pain and reach for his throbbing forehead. Blue looked in concern at his suddenly very pale and sweaty face. “What is it? Danger’s around?”
“No… Not around here…” Scarlet threw out his arm in a large gesture. “Elsewhere… I hear them.”
“Them? The Mysterons again?” Blue sounded uneasy. He remembered the incident in the infirmary, how Scarlet had suddenly turned violent, and was desperately trying to get out of his prison, breaking everything – probably, he thought, in an attempt to escape the torments of the voice calling to him. At the moment, however, Scarlet didn’t look as if he wanted to be aggressive. He was just sitting there, holding his head, seemingly sick, and looking around with a confused, almost lost expression in his eyes. “They’re calling to you?” Blue asked warily.
“Not me. They’re calling to him.” Scarlet shook his head in irritation. He was obviously trying to focus his mind. “I can’t explain it… I… my mind, seem to be linked with his… So I’m picking up their call to him… It’s not really clear, but…”
“You KNOW what they’re planning?” Blue asked suddenly.
Scarlet nodded. “Yes, I… I know who their target is.” He was apparently making an effort of concentration, that didn’t seem to satisfy him. He grunted under the throbbing pain of his head. “But it’s imprecise how they want to proceed. The contact they have with… him… is deficient.” He looked up to Blue. “We MUST contact Cloudbase right away. But your radiocap…”
“…Was lost in that avalanche,” Blue concluded. “Fortunately, we may still be in luck…” He rose to his feet and walked toward the body of Manuku. “Let’s see if the radio this Mysteron was carrying is still functional…”
Doctor Fawn was looking with growing perplexity at the results of the most recent tests the laboratory had performed on his behalf on the various tissue samples that had been taken from Captain Scarlet since he had been brought back to Cloudbase. Fawn had hoped that examination of those tissues would have served to shed some light on what was happening to his patient – and on the way to help him in this new ordeal he was presently facing. The wounded body, so far, had not reacted normally to any treatments. Normally, neither for a NORMAL human being, nor for what was considered as normal for Captain Scarlet. That was being very frustrating for Fawn who, even though he knew he had been sailing into unknown waters ever since Scarlet’s Mysteronisation those few months ago, was determined to find an answer to the present problem – and a possible solution.
But contrary to what he had believed, nothing positive had come out of those analyses. On the contrary, they brought new discoveries that were now leaving Fawn completely perplexed, not knowing to what conclusion they would lead.
It wasn’t a very comforting one. Especially to his patient.
He rubbed his tired eyes, as he took one of the samples from the cold compartment it had been kept in and placed it on the glass slide of his microscope. He put his eyes to the eyepiece and looked down.
Leaving the eyepiece, he read back the reports spread on his desk, thoughtfully.
‘State of advanced necrosis of the sampled tissues suggests no significant healing of the subject. All samples presenting few variations, since arrival of subject at 00.00 hours and last sample taken at 18.00 hours. Furthermore, it is impossible to evaluate precise time of death…” Fawn rubbed his eyes again, grunting. That was the messy stuff. There was more. Much more, indicating more troubling evidence. The tests weren’t that definite, and it was such a strange conclusion – it was as if the body that had been brought back to Cloudbase had never been alive before it had drawn breath in the sickbay. An impossibility. A total absurdity that Fawn had trouble countenancing.
And yet – if that was true, there were only one possible conclusion that these findings were telling him.
Fawn rose to his feet, thinking he had to make one last check, to be perfectly sure of his conclusion. The stakes was too high for one man’s life, and possibly the existence of Spectrum’s greatest asset in this war with the Mysterons. He didn’t want to make any mistake about it. Then, he’d have to contact Colonel White, to give him his findings.
He walked out of his office and strode down sickbay’s main corridor through reception. Preoccupied, he barely nodded to the nurse in attendance at the reception desk, or to the security guard standing next to the door of the room where his patient lay on the specially equipped bed that monitored his progress – or in this case, lack of progress. Fawn pushed the button to open the door and, as it slid open, found himself in front of one of his assistants, standing almost in the doorway.
“Doctor Fawn,” he said in a quiet tone. “Coming to relieve me?”
“Actually, not right away, Allen,” Fawn replied, shaking his head. “I need you for some analysis, if you would assist me.”
Allen answered with a smile. “Of course, Doctor. You know I’m always at your service. Especially when it concerns Captain Scarlet.”
Yes, that I know, Fawn thought absently, as he was all too well aware of Allen’s approach to Scarlet’s healing capacities. “See that we are not disturbed,” Fawn instructed the security guard. He entered first into the room and Allen followed behind, closing the door as he did.
At first, Fawn didn’t register how dark it really was in the room – as he had himself instructed that the lighting environment should be kept down for the patient’s comfort. But at present, he noticed, it was even darker than necessary – surely too dim for him to work efficiently. He was about to call to the voice-command of the computer-controlled environment for more light when his eyes fell on the many indicators and the screen of the bed monitor: all the lines were down and flat. He quickly strode to it, suddenly concerned.
The body on the bed, curiously, was shrouded from head to feet by a white sheet. Irritably, Fawn pulled the sheet off. “What’s going on here?” he shouted, barely able to contain his annoyance.
He gasped in complete shock when he found himself gazing down into the pale face of Henry Allen, who seemed to be looking up at him with glazed eyes. There were no doubt he was dead. Instinctively, Fawn stepped back, his hand rising to his mouth in revulsion.
“Security!” he called out, addressing the voice-controlled comm. link.
“Don’t bother,” a quiet reply came from behind him. Heart pounding in fear, Fawn turned around. Standing in a casual pose in front of the door, the other Henry Allen – the Mysteron agent who had been recreated in the real Allen’s likeness and who had followed Fawn into the room seconds earlier – was looking calmly in his direction. “The comm. has been deactivated,” the Mysteronised Allen noted evenly. “You can’t call for help, Doctor Fawn. And I just blocked the door. You won’t escape, and nobody will come to your rescue.”
He didn’t move from his place, or even make a single threatening gesture toward Fawn; his simple presence was upsetting enough. The chief medical officer drew back, his eyes not leaving the Mysteron. “Where’s my patient?” he demanded in a severe tone, giving it as much authority as he was able to presently muster. “What do you want?”
Allen raised an eyebrow as if perplexed by the last question. “Don’t you have a small idea of what we want?” he coldly replied. “You are the Mysterons’ target, Doctor Fawn.”
Fawn was afraid he would hear that. He backed away one more step. He could go no further; he had reached the wall behind. “You’re going to kill me?” he asked uncertainly.
“Me? Oh no, doctor… You are not destined to die by my hand… But by your patient’s.”
Over the thumping of his own heart, Fawn suddenly was aware of the sound of dragging feet and a deep, heavy, painful breath. He looked in the direction from which the sounds seemed to originate – the darkest section of the room, next to a large pharmacy cabinet set on the wall. Fawn had to narrow his eyes to see a tall, twisted silhouette standing there, holding itself against the cabinet to stay upright. The physician swallowed hard when he recognized his most recent patient, still mostly covered with bandages, which had come off from some sections of his body, and loosely wearing a doctor’s white jacket.
A shiver ran down Fawn’s spine. The voice, despite the unnatural low, drawling rumble, had the unmistakable accent of Captain Scarlet – it was definitely his, but at the same time, it was so much different, filled with hatred and loathing, and pain at the same time.
Fawn saw the man pushing himself from the cabinet, and taking a tentative step in his direction. He could almost feel the burning eyes fixed on him. The doctor swallowed hard; powerless to do anything else, he started following the wall, with the vague hope of getting away. He was unable to keep his eyes from the approaching, limping threat slowly inching his way toward him.
He had the definite impression that his was a totally hopeless situation.
* * *
Armed with a Mysteron gun and closely followed by Captains Magenta and Grey, Captain Ochre made a hasty entrance into sickbay, not even slowing down or taking any notice of the objections issued by a couple of nurses and medics they passed along the way. The alert had just come from Hawaii, from Captain Blue, and they all knew now the meaning behind the Mysterons’ cryptic threat. After fruitless attempts from the Control Room to raise Doctor Fawn, and fearing the worst, Colonel White had called on them and ordered that they get to sickbay on the double. The three captains had not wasted any time, hoping it wasn’t already too late. They went directly to Doctor Fawn’s office, and not finding him there, rushed to the room where Scarlet’s double was kept. The security guard standing in front of the door watched in perplexity as they approached, and Ochre walked past him to push the button to open the door.
“Captain,” the guard started tentatively, “the doctor specifically demanded that he should not be bothered…”
“Damn!” Ochre lashed out, ignoring the warning. The door was refusing to open. “It’s locked!” He tried a combination of numbers on the numeric pad next to the button, with no more success. “The security code isn’t overriding the lock command.”
“Let me try!” Magenta offered hastily, leaping forward. Ochre stepped aside to let him work on the lock, and turned an unhappy gaze on the guard.
“You mean to say he’s in there alone with the patient?” he asked aggressively.
“Not exactly alone, sir,” the man replied, unsure. “Allen’s with him.”
Ochre was barely listening to him, as he had turned his attention back to Magenta, who was frenetically working on the door lock. “You’re going to make it?”
“Give me a minute… ” Magenta replied, obviously concentrating on his task. “I’m working as fast as I can.”
Knowing that Magenta was doing his best, Ochre kept himself from muttering that they probably didn’t even have the minute he was asking for. Instead, he turned to Grey. “Right, let’s get ready. The second this door opens, we go in. You know what our target is.”
* * *
Standing next to the door, the Mysteron double of Henry Allen was watching the pathetic attempt of the now condemned Earthman, as he was trying to keep away from the approaching menace that was to snuff out his miserable life. Although limping heavily, the injured and bandaged figure of a man who was Captain Scarlet’s damaged duplicate was gaining on the physician, who was running out of space. The scene was reminiscent of an old classic horror movie, when an unfortunate would-be victim was trying to escape his fate by the hands of a shrouded mummy. Allen started laughing derisively.
“You’re just delaying the inevitable, doctor! There’s nowhere for you to hide, especially from him. He will eventually reach you. And you can be sure that, when he does, he will kill you. His instructions are quite clear.”
Fawn didn’t dare take his eyes off the slowly approaching Mysteron agent. He was now backed into a corner, a table covered with instruments blocking his way to one side, the wounded Mysteron inching his way toward him, to the other. The eyes, cold, and unfeeling, were set on him, with only one intention obvious in them. There was no pity to expect from the duplicate. He wouldn’t stop until he had destroyed his target. Fawn swallowed hard.
“What happened with him?” he asked, addressing Allen. “Your masters were unable to achieve a more accurate copy of Captain Scarlet? They ended up with this… imperfect double?”
“Imperfect maybe,” Allen replied icily. “But still… very deadly.” He raised his voice slightly. “Aren’t you, Captain?”
“The Mysterons’ instructions… will be carried out.”
The response was mechanical, obviously programmed into the wounded Mysteron agent’s mind, who had pronounced them with obvious difficulty. The voice was still that of Scarlet, although cold and deformed, with not a single trace of emotion in it. He stopped a couple of feet from Fawn, scrutinizing his target with attention. Fawn was literally petrified, his face running with cold sweat. He was trapped; he didn’t know how he would get out of this alive. His hand was surreptitiously wandering on the table surface, desperately searching for something, anything that would serve him as a weapon, a way to repel the upcoming assault. He thought he was in luck when his hand recognized the handle of a pair of scissors. Fawn licked his dry lips, his eyes still glaring at the duplicate who had not moved for several seconds, and was only staring at him.
“What are you waiting for?” the doctor demanded, his voice croaking with both fear and anger. “You like to make the pleasure last, you vile monstrosity…” The wounded man tilted his head to one side, seemingly looking at him with curiosity. Fawn’s brow furrowed slightly. He thought he saw a hesitation.
At his position in front of the door, Allen became suddenly aware that there was someone on the other side working on the lock. It would only be a question of minutes, maybe seconds, before the door would finally open and people would come barging into the room. He turned toward the duplicate Scarlet, who was still standing like a statue in front of his prey. “It’s been quite long enough. Kill him. Now.”
There was no movement from the wrapped body, who still had his cold eyes fixed on Fawn; the latter swallowed hard. “I think this replicate is even more imperfect that you think, Allen,” he said, forcing his voice to sound calm. “You obviously have… little control over it.”
“The Mysterons regained control over this body,” Allen lashed out heatedly. “And they will use it to carry their threat. Captain! You will kill Doctor Fawn! Choke the life out of him!”
“I know… what I must do.” The statue in front of Fawn seemed to suddenly come back to life and took a new step in his direction, raising his hands in a threatening way, obviously intent on obeying to the letter the orders he had just received. Fawn grabbed the scissors and swung his arm forward, aiming at any vulnerable part he was able to reach. With a speed that surprised Fawn, the creature raised his arm to deflect the blow; the point of the scissors penetrated deeply into his shoulder, without apparently causing any pain. He retaliated vigorously, by swatting the doctor across the face in a large gesture. The blow, given with a strength he would never have thought possible in the almost completely burned, half-dead body he had treated all day, sent Fawn across the table, throwing it down, and onto the floor, half-stunning him. He was unable to escape when the Mysteron agent reached for him once more and took him by his collar. Fawn was lifted to his feet, and felt his back being slammed against a wall. The brutal shock painfully drove the air out of his lungs. A mere fraction of a second later, a burned hand was closing around his throat, preventing him from taking a much needed breath of air and gradually choking him.
With a haggard look, he stared past the hands holding him into the cold blue eyes – Captain Scarlet’s eyes – still staring without passion or pity at him. Fawn gasped, his own hands weakly raising to try to slacken the vice-like grip that was slowly suffocating him. He was unable too; he wasn’t strong enough and his strength was quickly depleting. His mind was starting to muddle. “C-Captain… Please…” He could barely hear himself, and his distressed call had no effect on his murderer. His eyes became glazed, almost unseeing. He drew on his last resources for one last, hopeless call to mercy. “P-Paul… Stop… Please…”
That was almost unhoped-for. The grip on Fawn’s throat relaxed – if only slightly. It was still holding it tight, and uncomfortably enough, and it wouldn’t take much for it to crush the doctor’s wind-pipe, but there was a marked hesitation that Fawn took to his advantage, not leaving the fierce and cold eyes set on his with his own, febrile eyes. “Paul, listen to me…” he gasped with great difficulty. “The Mysterons… cannot control you… They were unable to duplicate you… to make a perfect puppet… that they could control to their liking… You’re… you’re free… You were born… free… ”
“Don’t listen to him!” Allen suddenly shouted from the door, realizing that Fawn was trying to talk his way out of his fate. “You must obey the Mysterons’ orders! Kill him!”
Fawn felt the grip tightening again. He groaned, and held the extended arms of the Mysteron agent between his weakening hands. “You’re not… a murderer,” he tried again with desperation. “You… don’t have to do this.” That wasn’t working; the fingers were closing on his throat again. “Paul… Please… Listen to me… It’s me… Fawn… Edward…”
His mind foggy, unable to keep his balance, Fawn’s legs buckled underneath him. He suddenly found himself falling to the floor, where he sprawled, gasping. His throat was burning, and it took him a few seconds to realize that the Mysteron double of Scarlet had released him from his deadly grip, at the last possible moment before he lost consciousness. Fawn coughed, and awkwardly, got himself into a sitting position, shaking all over, and gulping for air. He looked up to the mummy-like creature who was standing tall over him, staring down with an attitude that appeared little different from moments earlier, and eyes seemingly as cold as before, but in which there was a flicker of confused emotion.
Fawn stared up with astonishment. The tone in that well-known and yet different voice was one of recognition. The Mysteron seemed perplexed, totally lost, unsure. The expression of his eyes changed swiftly; the coldness never totally left, but there was something else – embarrassment, shame even. Fawn wasn’t too sure. He saw the half-wrapped, burned hand reaching tentatively to him, with an open palm, as if he was pleading him for something – forgiveness maybe? Fawn could hardly speak to answer the duplicate’s query; he could only nod his head in appreciation.
“NO!” That was Allen at the door, bellowing furiously. Fawn turned in his direction, and the shrouded figure standing in front of him did the same. They both stared at the Mysteron agent who was now walking toward them, looking absolutely enraged. “You have been recreated by the powers of the Mysterons! You must obey their orders! You must kill him!”
The Scarlet duplicate didn’t move from his spot; he gave a confused look to the doctor at his feet. The eyes had lost all of their heartless, alien expression; they were human now, so very like those of Scarlet’s, but tainted with a cold hatred that wasn’t directed at Fawn himself. The duplicate turned to Allen again, fixing him with a glowing stare, and stood his ground, challengingly – in an attitude that was so very familiar with Scarlet himself. Fawn could almost swear he heard a low warning growl coming from the duplicate’s throat.
“Kill him!” Allen reiterated. “You will obey or…”
Fawn looked in concern when he saw Allen getting a weapon out of the pocket of his jacket and threatening the shrouded figure in front of him with it. That didn’t seem to impress the duplicate in the least, as he kept staring icily at Allen, barely glancing down at the weapon.
“I know… what I MUST do,” he replied with the same pain-filled voice as before, but now with a taunting tone whose meaning didn’t escape either Fawn or Allen.
The latter apparently couldn’t believe his ears. He was absolutely red with a rage that was threatening to burst violently. “You’re nothing but an useless, flawed husk!” he lashed out heatedly at the Scarlet duplicate. “That’s all right, then. If you won’t do the Mysterons’ bidding, I’ll have to do it myself!”
The gun was turned in Fawn’s direction. Fawn froze; the duplicate didn’t. He threw himself in front of Allen and grabbed the man and the gun at the same instant he was firing. Four consecutive detonations were heard into the room that made Fawn flinched. He looked with eyes wide with shock as both men were sinking down. The Scarlet duplicate was able to get hold of the side of the bed, and kept himself on his knees, as the Mysteron reconstruct of Henry Allen, one very visible bullet wound in his chest, sprawled on the floor.
The door opened at that instant and Captains Ochre and Grey rushed in, guns at the ready. They stopped short at the scene, obviously baffled; they had their weapons aimed at the bandaged figure who had fallen on his hands and knees, holding a heavily bleeding chest.
“No!” Fawn’s oppressed voice suddenly called to them. “Not him! Him!”
He was gesturing wildly toward Henry Allen who was already raising his gun to aim it in the direction of the two Spectrum agents. Fawn’s warning was, however, unnecessary. Captain Magenta, from the door, had seen the danger faced by his two colleagues and had not hesitated to shoot the Mysteron agent. Ochre didn’t waste any time in turning the Mysteron gun against Allen and finishing him off.
“Thanks for the cover, Magenta,” Grey said, breathing a sigh of relief. “Now… what just happened here?” He was still wary of the shrouded figure sprawled next to the bed, bleeding profusely. He wasn’t the only one. Both Magenta and Ochre were approaching him, keeping their weapons aimed and ready.
Grey went to Fawn and helped him get to his feet; he was surprised when he saw the Doctor fending him off and directing himself to the one they all knew now was a Mysteron agent. Grey tried to stop him, snatching him by the arm.
“Doc, no, don’t go near him… It could be dangerous. He’s a Myst…”
“That man saved my life!” Fawn snapped irately, shrugging off the captain’s hold. Grey let go, more surprised by the doctor’s declaration than by his angry display. He looked on as Fawn crouched next to the injured man, who was keeping his head down. Grey exchanged a look with Ochre and Magenta. Both were sharing the same perplexity and concern over what was happening. They kept carefully close to the scene.
Gently, Fawn had reached for the duplicate, putting a reassuring hand on his back, and looking down at him. He could hear the grunting, gasping sound coming out of him, and could see the blood escaping from between the fingers clutched on his chest.
“Edward…?” the drawling voice called with a bleak tone to it.
Fawn nodded. “I’m here,” he said gently. “I’m okay. You stopped him… You’re badly hurt. Let me help you.”
The wounded man shook his bowed head. His teeth were clenched tightly . “I’m… beyond help… Can’t heal… Flawed…” He reached for the bed once again, with a bloodied hand, trying to straighten up. He nearly fell forward, weakened by his efforts. Fawn caught him before he reached the floor, and helped him settling down more comfortably, cradling him. The doctor looked down at the amount of blood there was on the wounded man’s chest. He winced almost despite himself.
“Hold on, Paul, we’ll find a way…”
“Not Paul…” the injured man replied between his teeth. “I am not… him… Just… a… ‘flawed husk’…
Fawn swallowed hard. “Whatever you are, you’re more than that. You saved my life.”
The man nodded faintly; his eyes fluttered briefly, as he stared up at the concerned face looking down at him. “I… only did… what I had to do…”
The voice trailed off, and the eyes took on a glassy expression. The deeply injured body Fawn was holding then relaxed, and heaved a long, deep breath; the head fell down on the chest, and then all movement ceased.
Fawn let out a sigh of his own, bowing his head in mourning, ignoring the presence of the three officers that were looking down uncomfortably at him. Respectfully, his hand closed the eyes of the dead man. “That you did, my friend,” he murmured under his breath. “That you did very well.”
“A ‘flawed’ copy?”
Seated at his computerized desk, Colonel White had been reading the various reports handed to him concerning the latest events. He had just finished consulting the last report, and it was still open in front of him. What he could surely say about all this was that it was, certainly, one of the strangest cases they had had to face thus far – even considering the Mysterons. He cast a puzzled eye at Doctor Fawn, seated in front of him, in between Captain Blue and Captain Scarlet, who had returned from Hawaii a couple of hours before.
“That’s the word Allen used,” Fawn declared, shrugging. “From what I was able to gather from Captains Scarlet and Blue’s reports – and from my own experience and observation of the… ‘duplicate’, I can only say that the Mysterons, probably due to Scarlet’s unique condition, were indeed unable to wholly replicate him.” He looked at a very quiet Scarlet. “You were dead when the process took place – as the Mysterons, we found out, need a dead body for it – and they only ended up with a dead copy of yourself… Instead of a live, breathing agent, with a blank mind they would have imbued with their directives.”
“So he was already dead from the moment he was created?” a perplexed Blue repeated, mystified. “You’re sure?”
Fawn nodded slowly. “Yes, I’m quite positive. That was the only logical conclusion we could draw from the analysis of his tissue samples.
“The fire must have got to him in that building while he was lying there,” Blue realized, “and that’s how he was found afterward by the fire-fighting team.”
Fawn confirmed that assumption with a slow nod.
“Since he was dead, from the very beginning,” Scarlet then said thoughtfully, “the Mysterons didn’t have any contact with him.”
“They tried to re-establish that contact,” Fawn agreed. “And by doing so, because you were somehow linked to this duplicate mind since the Mysteronisation process, you, Captain Scarlet, were able to ‘pick up the transmission’.” He paused, before continuing his explanation: “I can only theorise that the few times you experienced your most violent spells matched with the moments your duplicate was affected by his own intense attacks – during which he endured sudden boosts of healing – and excruciating pain.”
“Probably, the Mysterons wanted not only to regain control, but to restore him,” White said with a nod. He turned to Scarlet. “How are you feeling now, Captain?”
“That was an awful experience, I can assure you of that, sir,” Scarlet said with a low tone. “You can’t imagine the scare it gave me. It was a toss up between thinking the Mysterons were trying to control me again, or I was going completely mad. Neither of those prospects really appealed to me.”
“We can easily imagine that,” White remarked, addressing Scarlet with a sympathetic, yet scrutinizing gaze. “But you’re all right now, Captain? No more – er – headaches?”
“No more headaches and no more anything else, sir,” Scarlet answered with a faint smile. “I’m perfectly fine, now, thank you, since the duplicate’s death.”
“I’m glad to see there’s nothing to be concerned about anymore,” White replied with a satisfied grin.
“You did think I was the duplicate, didn’t you, sir?” Scarlet asked with curiosity.
“You have to admit all the appearances were against you,” White confessed. “Certainly, you understand that we couldn’t take any chances.”
“It WAS worrying,” Blue persisted, addressing his friend and colleague. “Especially during those more violent spells of yours…”
“Don’t remind me,” Scarlet muttered. “And yes, Colonel, I do understand. As I understand that you all took enormous risks to discover which one of us was the real – well – me. I appreciate that.”
“Making sure of who you both were was the least we could do, Captain,” White answered for the assembled personnel. “We couldn’t afford the mistake of a rush decision in this situation. And that,” the colonel added pointedly, with a voice tainted with affability, “NOT only because you are our greatest asset in this war, Captain Scarlet.”
The British captain only offered a faint smile of gratitude in answer.
“And the real Allen?” Blue then asked with curiosity, addressing Doctor Fawn. “Where does he stand in all this? Where did he come from?”
Fawn gave a deep sigh. “The duplicate Scarlet killed him. We found finger marks around his neck. It’s probable that the Mysterons suspected that they couldn’t fully count on their replicate of Scarlet to carry out their task…”
“So they needed someone else to do the job if he failed,” Blue added.
“Their oft present ‘plan B’,” Scarlet agreed with a nod.
“Or they also felt that, considering they had little control of this duplicate of you, they would need someone on hand to instruct him, should he go astray,” Fawn continued.
“Which was what he did,” White finished. “By finally refusing to follow the Mysterons’ orders. And save you.”
Fawn nodded slowly. “I’m sure it’s something the Mysterons didn’t count on, in this elaborate ploy of confusion and deceit they arranged for us.”
White furrowed his brow. “Was there any way to save him?” he asked. “Since he was free from Mysteron influence and…”
Fawn shook his head, regretfully. “His retrometabolism was severely defective. Almost non-existent. He was dead when he was replicated, so the healing factor probably never was instituted in him properly. I think he would probably never even have come to life if the Mysterons had not tried to re-establish contact with him. So even without the intense wounds he had sustained – during the fire and afterward – I doubt he would have been able to survive more than a few hours.”
“A pity,” White murmured.
“Yes, truly,” Fawn concurred, lowering his gaze.
“You seem… saddened by his passing, doctor,” Captain Scarlet realized, looking intently at the physician. “It’s as if… you lost a friend, or something similar.”
“It’s never easy for a doctor to lose a patient, Captain,” Fawn replied with a new shake of his head. He raised his chin and looked squarely at Scarlet. “Furthermore, that ‘duplicate’ saved my life, by putting his on the line, without any hesitation. I owe him much more than I was able to repay. I’ll be eternally grateful to him.”
Scarlet nodded slowly, offering a sympathetic gaze to the doctor. He reached to squeeze his shoulder, and then patted his back in a comforting way. “I’m sure he knows how you feel about his sacrifice, Doctor.”
“I’m sure you DO know how he feels, Captain,” Fawn replied with a faint smile. “Because in many ways, he was much like you.”
This story is based on characters created by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson for the TV series Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons.
Some events and characters Copyright © of all trademarks materials (Captain Scarlet & the Mysterons, all characters, vehicles, crafts, etc.), owned by ITC/Polygram/Carlton. Information of the series are all been taken from copyright © materials (books, magazines, videos, T.V. media, comics, etc) owned by ITC/Polygram/Carlton.