A 'Captain Scarlet' story for Halloween
By Chris Bishop
Captain Magenta slumped down in his seat, brooding over a cup of coffee in the officers’ lounge.
Captain Blue, who was seated on the sofa with Symphony Angel, noticed his dejected look.
“What’s wrong?” he asked, almost without thinking about it.
Symphony rolled her eyes to the ceiling; Magenta had one of those expressions begging to be asked. She couldn’t believe her fiancé had been foolish enough to fall for that.
Magenta heaved a deep sigh, taking his time to answer. “At the risk of sounding like a rejected idea for one of those stupid chat shows…” he finally said, “my best friend has ditched me for a giant robot gorilla.”
At that Blue couldn’t help sniggering. “Oh, you mean that new King Kong movie that Rick keeps talking about,” he said. “Is it really true they’re going to use a full size animatronic King Kong, instead of CGI?”
“Yeah… so I’ve been told by Rick a million times this past week,” Magenta grumbled. “Dunno what they were smoking when they came up with that idea.”
It was widely known on base that Captain Ochre was something of a movie buff. He would have thought that Magenta, with his expertise in technology, would share the same interest as himself in this latest remake of an old classic. However, the Irish captain had surprised him with his complete indifference on the subject.
“I kept telling him, I’m into computers, not robotics,” Magenta sighed. “CGI, that’s computer animation… that might have interested me. But a robotised gadget weighing a dozen tons? Uh-uh. Not my thing. Maybe Fawn would find it fascinating… What with his involvement with the concept of robot-nurses and all that…”
“I doubt Doctor Fawn would be that interested himself,” Symphony chuckled. “He’s way too practical.”
Magenta’s eyebrows shot sky high. “Really?” he asked with a somewhat doubtful expression in his voice. “Maybe you don’t remember the infamous ‘lecture on the life of lower primates’ he once gave us…”
“That’s not the same thing,” Symphony retorted. She addressed a sideway glance at her fiancé, sitting at her side. “And anyway, we know exactly who we have to thank for that lecture.”
Blue gave a short, uncomfortable cough. “You’re right, Fawn’s too practical to have any interest in a mechanical gorilla,” he said, seeking to change the subject.
“Unless they teach the thing to use a scalpel, that is,” Symphony added jokingly.
“Why use an animatronic gorilla instead of a CGI one?” Blue asked.
“It’s the twenty first century; pretty much everything is CGI nowadays, so there’s no novelty in it anymore,” Symphony reasoned. “And from what I heard about the project, it’s not simply animatronic. It’s much more complex than that, more like robotics, and that will involve a real actor controlling the big fella.”
“Like a puppet?” Blue asked, raising a brow.
Symphony sniggered again. “Sort of, but not quite as simple. There’s a whole lot of very advanced technology put into that multi-ton ‘puppet’, from what I read on Worldnet. The F.R.E.D. harness, to begin with. You see, the actor puts that on and all of his movements are repeated by the robot, and –”
“Oh no,” Magenta muttered, turning horrified eyes to Symphony. “Not you too?”
“You have to move with the times if you want to be hip, Pat,” Symphony said with a smile.
“And my girl’s probably the hippest gal you can find on this planet,” Blue remarked dotingly, which won him a gratified smile from his fiancée. “The director of this new movie probably wanted to try something nobody else has, and to get noticed for it.”
“Well, giving the nut job his due,” Magenta muttered, “it’s sure working.”
“The ‘nut’ in question is Peer Abramson,” Symphony informed her two colleagues. “A very successful English director/producer. I doubt he would make that kind of decision lightly, Pat. Surely, he knows the movie is bound to make a lot of money. Abramson’s movies have not failed yet at the box office.”
“You don’t say?” Magenta mumbled.
At that point, Captain Ochre and Captain Scarlet entered the lounge, arriving at the same time. While Scarlet walked into the room, acknowledging his colleagues, Ochre seemingly ignored them, and darted directly for the television remote, to switch the television channel from 24 hour news to ‘Inside New Hollywood’. He settled down on the sofa, right between Blue and Symphony who had to move apart from each other to give him space. Scarlet, who had stopped his advance, stared with perplexity at Ochre’s uncharacteristic behaviour.
“Ah goody,” Ochre said with obvious satisfaction, grinning from ear to ear first at Blue and then at Symphony – and not noticing their disapproving expression. “Just in time.”
“Just in time for what?” Scarlet asked with puzzlement.
Blue scowled, glancing at the television screen. “In time to watch the latest developments in the continuing saga of ‘King Kong’, apparently,” he explained to Scarlet.
Ochre shushed them and got himself comfortable. Magenta leaned towards Symphony, who was closest to him. “Did I mention he’s going to New Hollywood on his next furlough, just to visit the film set?” he said, lowering his voice even though Ochre’s attention was entirely focused on the TV screen.
“Are you sure?” Symphony asked in the same tone, as Scarlet approached them, to get into the confidential conversation. “I thought he was going there with Melody?”
“Oh, he is. He’s dragging her there with him, poor thing... At first, she agreed to go, just to humour him. I think she found Rick’s fan-boy behaviour towards ‘King Kong’ rather cute. But that was before it got out of hand. Now, she’s not really looking forward to that visit – it would be like going to Disneyland with the world’s biggest kid ever. We’ve been discussing it together, she and I, trying to figure out how to make him get a grip.”
“The things we do for our field partners, eh?” Scarlet gave a sympathetic smile.
“Would you keep it down for five minutes, all of you?” Ochre then muttered. “I’m missing what they’re saying.”
Magenta shook his head gently and sat back on his seat, sighing. “It’ll all end in tears. Mark my words.”
“If Melody gets angry with this childish behaviour of his, it certainly will,” Blue approved, chuckling.
Ochre didn’t have time to tell them off again; just then the base speakers crackled to life, and the familiar haunting voice of the Mysterons filled the airwaves:
“This is the voice of the Mysterons. We know you can hear us, Earthmen…”
“Here we go again,” Scarlet grumbled with a deep sigh, amongst the collective groans that filled the room.
“… When Most Advanced Technologies meets with the most primitive instincts and brute force, destruction and havoc ensue. This the Mysterons will remotely prove to you in the next twenty-four hours…”
And with that, the speakers went dead, leaving the Spectrum officers looking at each other with deep perplexity.
“Now what the hell is that supposed to mean?” Scarlet asked with a frown.
“I hate cryptic threats,” Symphony fumed. “Why couldn’t they say clearly what they’re planning to do?”
“Oh, they do that very well too,” Scarlet said, rolling his eyes, remembering that the Mysterons’ first threat of assassinating the World President – in which they used him as their agent – was probably one of the clearest they had ever uttered.
The speaker came to life again, this time with the voice of Lieutenant Green: “Spectrum is on Yellow Alert. All senior staff officers on duty and standby duty, and all Angels on standby duty are to report immediately to the conference room.”
“Maybe we’re about to find out what this is all about,” Blue said, swiftly rising to his feet.
Symphony did the same at the other end of the sofa; realising that Ochre, still between the two of them, seemed hesitant to leave his seat, they both leaned down to each pull him up to his feet.
“Move along, Meriem C. Cooper,” Symphony told him. “We are expected.”
“Come on,” Ochre protested, following them reluctantly. “Just one more minute…”
“Not even one second,” Scarlet retorted, pushing him from behind as the group moved to the door.
Magenta was following them, pushing his cap onto his head. “Who the devil’s Meriem C. Cooper?” he asked as he went through the door after the others.
When the five of them arrived in the conference room, it was to discover that Colonel White and Lieutenant Green were already waiting for them; a few short minutes later, Captain Grey made his entrance, followed by Rhapsody and Destiny Angels. Melody and Harmony were both absent, busy with patrolling the perimeter around Cloudbase.
“Is everyone here?” the colonel asked. “Good, then we can begin. I suspect you all heard this new threat from the Mysterons?”
They all nodded their acknowledgement.
“I hate enigmatic threat like this,” Captain Ochre said gloomily. “How can we find out what the target is this time? It’s pretty obscure.”
“Actually, Captain, it might be very clear.” Every eye turned to Lieutenant Green who had said those words. Seeing himself so suddenly at the centre of everyone’s attention, the young man reddened slightly, and offered a bashful smile. “I… erm… think I deciphered the riddle.”
“Already? You’re working fast, Lieutenant,” Scarlet commented.
“The lieutenant was telling me about his theory before your arrival,” White said. “And quite frankly, I think he has indeed discovered the solution. Explain to them, Lieutenant.”
“It’s quite simple, actually,” Green said. “Listening to the Mysterons’ threat, I noticed the apparent grammatical mistake they seemed to have made with the verb ‘meet’. They said ‘meets’, singular, and not ‘meet’, plural. Which seems to indicate that they are targeting a single entity… and not an abstract concept. There is a research corporation called ‘Most Advanced Technologies’ – M.A.T., in short.”
“I know of it,” Captain Blue said. “The corporation conducted business with the WAS, when I was working there.”
“It still does today,” Green confirmed. “In fact, in many technological aspects, M.A.T. does business with many organisations linked to, or part of, the World Government. The WASP was – is – one of their clients too. As well as many non-governmental enterprises, I have to add. You find their technology in communication, manufacture, vehicles and craft conception, computer advancement, television and movie business… You name it, M.A.T. is there.”
“I suspect that Spectrum also does business with them, in one capacity or other?” Grey asked.
Green nodded. “Yes, just like about all the World Government security organisations. About one-third of the microchips utilised in our technology has basically been created by M.A.T. or developed on M.A.T. products.”
“Wow,” Magenta breathed out. “I want to get few dozens shares in that company.”
“I understand why it could be an ideal target for the Mysterons,” Blue said musingly. “Well done, Lieutenant. I think you are right: M.A.T. must be the Mysterons’ intended target.”
“Well, now that it’s established, what do they mean exactly by the rest of their threat?” Ochre said.
“That’s probably what we’ll find out while we try to stop them,” Colonel White said. He opened the file in front of him, and consulted it for a brief second or two. “According to Lieutenant Green’s quick search on M.A.T., the corporation owns a multitude of offices around the world, but their core operations are concentrated solely in their two main complexes.”
“Boy, you certainly work fast, Lieutenant,” Magenta said, almost in awe.
“It was nothing you couldn’t have done yourself with a fast computer, Captain,” Green modestly replied, all the while accepting the compliment for what it was.
“We’ll concentrate our efforts on these two centres,” White continued. “Rhapsody and Symphony, we will need the help of trained investigators and detectives, which is why you’ll be joining the ground operation.”
“S.I.G.,” both young women answered in unison.
“Captain Scarlet, you’ll lead your investigative team, composed of yourself, Captain Blue and Rhapsody Angel to the complex in London.”
“Captain Magenta, you’ll lead the second team. You, Captain Ochre and Symphony Angel will go to the second complex in Los Angeles to conduct your own investigation.”
“Your orders are to look for anything in any of these facilities that might indicate what the Mysterons mean by the other half of their threat… and to stop them from wreaking havoc and destruction as they promised. I know that’s a tall order considering how vague the threat is, but I’m confident in your combined capacities.”
“We’ll do our best, sir,” Magenta promised.
“Of course you will, Captain. Captain Grey will stay here on stand-by, should any of your teams need back-up. In the meantime, he’ll help Lieutenant Green with further investigation of the M.A.T. corporation, just to make sure we have not missed anything that might be worth our interest.”
“Maybe we’ll be able to decipher what that ‘primitive instinct and brute force’ they are referring to could be,” Grey commented, sharing glances with Green.
“Destiny Angel will serve as pack leader for the remaining Angels, should an air operation be needed.” Colonel White closed his folder and looked at the personnel seated around the table. “Two Spectrum Passenger Jets will be fuelled and ready to leave for your respective destinations within the next half-hour. Your E.T.A. and all required information regarding M.A.T. will be downloaded to your onboard computer. Dismiss and get ready, gentlemen… ladies. And good luck in your assignments.”
Eighteen year old Harold Biggs was beyond bored; since the beginning of the summer, he had been working as a tour guide for Prestige Pictures, one of the most prominent New Hollywood studios. At the beginning, he had imagined that the job would be exciting and that eventually it would open up a whole new set of opportunities for him to perhaps work in the movie field. Now, after going through the same routine of ‘show and tell’ every hour for nearly two months, he couldn’t wait for summer to end and to return full time to his university studies.
What you wouldn’t do for a little pocket money, he grumbled inwardly.
He cracked his gum once more, and almost succeeded in convincing the group of tourists gathered around him that he knew and cared about the object of their visit and how it actually worked.
“What you see now is the result of years of work in research and development in advanced technological robotics and cybernetics,” he intoned, half-turning towards the floor-to-wall window beyond which sat an impressive-looking twenty-five foot tall gorilla. He saw with satisfaction some of the visitors taking a step back, as if concerned that the animal would spot them and suddenly come to life to burst through the glass and grab them. “Don’t worry,” he reassured them. “It’s not alive. It’s just a robot.”
“It looks very much alive,” an old woman commented. “And fierce.” She raised her camera. “Will it get angry if we take pictures?”
Harold nearly rolled his eyes. “It’s not turned on. And it’s unlikely to get angry even if it was. The behavioural patterns have not yet been entered into its programming. And anyway, it takes a controller to make him react.” He waved theatrically to the robot. “So yeah, you can take pictures.” And if you put them on Worldnet, that’ll give the studio a whole lot of free publicity.
“It’s really impressive,” a pretty dark-haired girl in a red pea coat then said amongst the multitude of flashes. “It looks like it’s a real gorilla. Well, as far as gorillas go… We know there isn’t really a twenty-five foot gorilla out there.”
“It’s state-of-the art in cybernetic technology,” Harold said.
“You said that already.”
Harold nearly rolled his eyes again. The girl didn’t look a day over twenty, and had already asked Harold surprisingly complex questions during the tour. Before all those questions, he had even considered asking her out. But after a while, he had definitely categorised her as a geek and decided against his first idea. He had been bugged by geeks every working day in the last two months with nonsensical questions. Going on a date with one was definitely out of the question.
“The concept is based on the ‘Prime-8’ exploration robot developed by Glenn Field for space exploration,” he continued, ignoring the young woman’s intervention. “At least for the skeleton, mechanics and most of the electronics. But the robot has been fitted with brand-new, very advanced microchips which permit programmers to enter specific behaviours resembling those of a gorilla.” He smirked. “Befitting King Kong, specifically.”
“How about the actor who’ll play the ape?” someone asked from the crowd. The question came from the last row, and so Harold couldn’t see who it was. “I heard that Sam Simmons was to play Kong.”
“Sam Simmons is so handsome,” a middle-age woman, not that far from Harold, sighed.
“You won’t see him if he’s wearing a gorilla suit, Marjory,” the man by his side commented mockingly. “On the other hand, we’ll have an eyeful of Blondie O’Day, who’ll play the heroine of the movie. I hope she’ll be skimpily dressed, like in all her other movies…”
Annoyed, his companion elbowed him. “Jimmy, you’re such an old pervert.”
“Simmons won’t be in the movie if the role is taken over by a giant robot,” another tourist reasoned.
“Mr. Simmons is indeed playing the role of Kong, in a certain way,” Harold explained. “He’ll control the robot-ape from a distance, wearing a special harness, onto which electronic monitors have been fixed, which are in turn linked to the robot.”
“Oh, I see… He’ll be using a F.R.E.D. harness,” the young woman in the red pea coat commented.
“Something like it.” Harold had no idea what she was talking about. What wasn’t specifically written on the cards he had to learn by heart for the tour was beyond his expertise. Why they wrote about the Prime-8 robot and not that F.R.E.D. thing was beyond him, though. The girl wasn’t the first one to ask about it.
“That must have cost a fortune,” another voice added.
That was a question Harold could easily answer. “Indeed, it has. The creation of the robot alone cost nearly half of the production budget for the movie. But in itself, the work done to perfect the machine promoted the advancement in cybernetic technologies in various other fields outside of movie magic.” He turned to the robot. “As for the Kong robot itself, it’s the only one of its kind. It’s a prototype which is formally referred by its designers as “Mechanical Interfacial Gorilla High-Technological Engineered Cybernetics.” He grinned. “That’s quite a mouthful, so we simply call it MIGHTEC.”
“Shouldn’t it be called a simoid?” All eyes turned to the young woman in the red pea coat. She shrugged. “You know, like an android is a robot made to look like a man, and a gynoid is a robot made to look like a woman? I read on Worldnet that a robot made to look like a simian should be called a simoid.”
Harold sighed, again flummoxed by the pretty woman’s remarks.
Definitely a geek...
“Moving on, please, people… We still have a lot to see before we’re through.”
He led his group away from the window, and they followed docilely, the girl in the red pea coat included. They rounded the hangar, and walked in front of a small personnel door, which was marked ‘Employees only’ and in front of which stood a lonely guard, who barely glanced at them as they passed by.
One man who previously stood in the last row lagged behind, making a show of looking through the large window with harmless interest, and letting the crowd get some distance from him. Wearing all black, his face pale and his chin looking as if he had not shaved in days, his eyes were at the same time piercing and very cold.
The guided crowd was now at a safe distance, and none of those too busy visitors, nor their disgruntled guide, looked behind to check on the man in black; obviously, nobody had noticed his absence. Which wasn’t really that surprising, as they didn’t even seem to register his presence to begin with...
He walked casually along the hangar, directly towards the personnel door. Seeing the man approach, the guard cleared his throat and presented his hand in a halting gesture.
“You can’t go in there,” he said gruffly.
The visitor failed to be impressed by the sound of his authoritative voice; slowly, he extracted a small wallet from the pocket of his black leather coat, then held it open for the guard’s benefit.
The guard narrowed his eyes at the contents of the wallet; the multicoloured emblem stamped on the identity card he could see in there was impressive enough.
“Spectrum, eh?” he muttered. “Here on business, or just using this card for your own personal advantage and get a better look at our oversized movie star?”
“Something of both,” the visitor answered.
The guard barely showed any surprise upon hearing his slow, gravelly, deep voice. With even less enthusiasm than the tour guide exhibited during his tour, he opened the door and waved the visitor though.
As the door closed behind him, and he found himself in the dark hangar, Captain Black once again marvelled at the stupidity of some Earthmen. One simple call to check his I.D. would have informed the guard that this ‘Spectrum officer’ showing up at his door wasn’t to be trusted. But of course, if he had even tried to do that, then he would have been killed on the spot. He would never know how lucky he was.
Black’s steps echoed in the hangar as he walked deeper into it; it was empty, but for him and the great ape seated in front of the window, lighted by three powerful spots. He could see the robot’s back, opened to show a mass of complex microprocessors and circuitry, which was unseen from the window. The top and back of the giant gorilla’s head was also opened, and long cables were fixed to the inside, running down his shoulders and back, and onto the floor, where they snaked to a computer console set on a nearby working table. A small box, covered with circuitry, was mounted next to the console, linked to it by a series of wires.
It was the ‘brain’ of the giant beast, which was currently uploaded with vital information from the computer, while waiting to be inserted back into the head.
Captain Black went to it; from his pocket, he took a small circuit board, which he placed in an empty slot on the circuitry box, with the self-assurance of a man who knew exactly what he needed to do. He stepped back, quickly checked his surroundings, and then, returning his attention to the box, he looked at it intently.
As he stood there, two wide green rings of light swept over the mass of electronics, very slowly, and came to rest on the circuitry box that Captain Black had tampered with. There was a brief fizzle of tiny sparks and a short wreath of smoke emerging from the box, which quickly disappeared into the ether, as the circuits fused permanently together.
The deed was done.
“The Mysterons’ instructions will be carried out,” Black intoned in his deep, gravelly voice.
Then he turned around and left the hangar, the security guard barely giving a second glance, as he took the direction opposite to the one taken earlier by the guided tour.
He still had one task to perform, before his part in this new mission threat would be completed.
* * *
Barely half an hour after the meeting in the conference room, the door of the main lift opened on one of the lowest levels of Cloudbase, and Captain Ochre, Captain Magenta and Rhapsody Angel stepped out and walked the corridor to the hangar bay. There, one SPJ was already waiting on the lift which was to take it to the runway above, while a second one was queuing behind. Captain Scarlet and Symphony Angel stood by the second SPJ, chatting. Scarlet waved at them.
"I heard there’s beautiful weather in Los Angeles,” Scarlet said matter-of-factly. “Which is more than can be said about London at the moment.”
“Raining again?” Captain Magenta asked.
Scarlet huffed. “It’s always raining in London.”
“That’s not true and you know it,” Rhapsody said.
“I don’t care much about the weather,” Ochre declared grumpily. “Tomorrow is Halloween, and I had lots of stuff prepared for the occasion. I just hope we’ll have finished with this assignment in time for the celebrations.”
“You’re kidding, right?” Scarlet asked him. “Ochre, when will you grow up? Halloween – that’s a holiday for kids.”
“Not everyone has the same opinion as you on the subject, Scarlet. We all know you don’t like Halloween.”
“Hey, I’m English. I don’t celebrate Halloween.”
“I’m English too and I don’t dislike it,” Rhapsody retorted. “In fact, I quite like the celebration.”
“Your mum is half-Irish – of course, you would like Halloween.”
“You’re too stuck up for your own good, Scarlet,” Ochre said with a smile. “Don’t you know by now that Americans are big kids?”
“Not all Americans,” Symphony retorted, seemingly taking offence in that statement.
“Where’s Blue?” Magenta asked, looking around. “Wasn’t he supposed to go to London with you, Scarlet? And I expected to see him with you before we leave, Symphony.”
“Oh, we already made our farewells,” Symphony said almost dreamily.
“You two certainly worked fast,” Ochre commented with a crooked smile.
“Not the way you think, Ochre,” she told him warningly. “We just kissed. Scarlet is right – sometimes, you’re such a kid.”
Scarlet thumbed towards the second SPJ. “He’s already at the helm of our ride, which is prepped for departure right after yours. You know how he is: whenever he has the chance, he calls dibs on flying the craft himself.” He winked at Rhapsody. “He moved fast before you arrived, Rhapsody.”
"Where do you think the Mysterons will strike exactly?" Rhapsody asked. "London or Los Angeles?"
Scarlet shrugged. "I'd wish we knew for sure. While waiting for you, I took the time to check the info Green gleaned on M.A.T. Both offices are conducting very important research at the moment, so it would seem like either one is a likely candidate. However..."
"The Mysterons could strike anywhere else too," Rhapsody completed for him.
"And it might not even be a M.A.T. facility," Scarlet added.
"Which is why Grey, Green and their team have to continue doing legwork here," Magenta said. "If something comes up, they’ll make sure to call us back immediately."
"In the meantime, we'd better go," Ochre said. "Hoping the target is indeed either London or Los Angeles. That'd give us a head start on the Mysterons, for a change." He turned to Symphony. "You fly or I do?"
She rolled her eyes. "You are kidding, right? Who’s the best pilot between you and me?"
He grinned. “Me, but I’ll humour you.”
She punched him lightly in the shoulder. “Oh, in your dreams, Fraser! We’d better go, before the colonel creates hell with us for wasting more time than necessary!"
* * *
“Hey, Arnie! What are you doing at the office, so late in the night?”
Seated at the working table in the hangar housing the MIGHTEC prototype, Arnie Doyle barely raised his eyes from the screen he was working on, which displayed a series of commands. His fingers were flying on the illuminated keyboard.
“Hi, Dirk. How's it going? I'm simply completing the work Abramson asked to be done for tomorrow morning. If it's not ready, there won't be any tests with Simmons, and the production will be late.”
"You're entering the synthesized behavioural patterns?" Dirk asked, sitting next to his colleague. "You reckon that'll work?"
“I hope so, for Simmons’ sake! Mind you, since Prestige decided to go with this technology instead of DNI control, there’s little risk the signal would feedback on him and fry his brains.”
Dirk sniggered. “Well, what little brains he has…”
“It might not be DNI, but that’s state of the art in animatronic programming, man,” Arnie continued. “I’ve never seen the like of this before.”
“That’s not too much for even your genius brain, I hope?”
“Na… I can manage just fine, don’t worry. But this is really impressive, I tell you.”
Arnie stopped typing for a second, and pointed to the huge, hairy form seated a few meters in front of him; just at the limit of his hearing, Dirk could hear a faint humming coming from the robot.
“With that kind of technology, our big buddy should react exactly as the director wants,” Arnie explained. “Following Simmons’ commands with the F.R.E.D. harness, he’ll not only walk, jump, run, climb and the rest, but he’ll also act, react and look as Ol’ King Kong should - at the touch of a button, and within the limits of his programming, of course.”
Dirk shook his head. “So when he thumps his chest in anger...?”
“He’ll look as if he’s real angry, and the face’s muscles will contort accordingly. Same when he’ll appear to fall in love and runs off with Blondie.”
“I hope he won’t get too angry, though,” Dirk groused. “Wouldn’t want for him to destroy half the studio or hurt someone…”
Arnie laughed openly. “Don’t worry, that won’t happen,” he said confidently. “The designers introduced a failsafe into that robot when they conceived it. They based it on Asimov’s three laws of robotics… So that’ll insure that the MIGHTEC won’t hurt any human being.”
“Uh? What three laws of robotics?”
“What, haven’t you read any of Isaac Asimov’s books?”
“No… And don’t look at me as if I should obviously know about this. You’re the cybernetic genius. I am but a common IT technician.”
Arnie rolled his eyes. “Not as common as you make it believe. Okay, then. Here are the laws of robotics, as Asimov conceived them. One: a robot may not cause harm to a human. Or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to any harm. Two: a robot must obey orders given to it by humans, except if those orders conflict with the first law. And three: a robot must protect its own existence, but this third law must not conflict with the first and second laws.”
“Didn’t Asimov write science-fiction?” Dirk asked with a raised brow.
“Yeah, sure.” Arnie chuckled. “Funny thinking that these laws were laid out by a science-fiction writer, so many years ago. The guy must have been a visionary… You know, these laws have been entered in nearly every robot on this planet programmed to interact with humans. They started with the Prime-8 in Glenn Field and now...”
“As long as the programming works, I don’t care who wrote the rules.” Dirk sat down next to Arnie and powered up his station. The digital keyboard lighted up on the desk in front of him, at the same time as his monitor. He flexed his fingers. “Okay, then… what can I do to help you with that, so we’ll be on schedule for the tests?”
“Start entering the ‘Fay Wray’ behavioural sequence,” Arnie replied.
“What a stupid name for a program,” muttered Dirk. “Who came up with this, anyhow?”
“Don’t ask and don’t comment, and you won’t lose your job, buddy. Okay, enter code 1-4-3-1. There’s a lot of variables in it, and each must be checked by eye separately.”
“You always leave me the good stuff, don’t you, Arnie?” Dirk pressed a button and started typing. “Okay, here goes… Boy, I sure wouldn’t trade places with Blondie for those scenes… Having a multi-ton gorilla falling in love with you must be a real drag…”
* * *
The Most Advanced Technologies Corporation had its London offices in a private building which had obviously been built very recently on the outskirts of the city. Leaving their SPJ at London Airport, Captain Scarlet, Captain Blue and Rhapsody Angel had taken a Spectrum Saloon Car to drive to the facility – but not before Rhapsody had made a quick stop-over at one of the airport’s stores to make some ‘necessary purchases’, as she had described it. Both Spectrum captains counted their blessings that the young woman had not taken too much time to indulge herself with her shopping the way they knew she sometimes did. It was true, Blue reflected, she wasn’t as bad as Symphony. Scarlet had commented that Destiny could probably give both women master-class lessons in that department. Blue preferred not to ask more questions on the subject, in fear of raising Rhapsody’s ire. He knew the English Angel indeed preferred not to discuss the period where her fiancé was engaged to her French colleague.
The SSC entered the M.A.T. facility premises, and Scarlet drove the car to the parking lot; following Rhapsody’s instructions, he parked the car not too close to the building itself, and behind a large van, so that it would be hidden from the front door. He and Blue made sure that there were no cameras in that part of the parking.
“I can’t understand why you insist on all these precautions,” Scarlet said, leaning to speak through the closed dark window screen currently separating the front seats from the back passenger compartment. “Do you really think they’re all necessary to begin with?”
The screen slid open a crack and Rhapsody addressed her fiancé: “Who’s the experienced detective between the two of us? You or me?” She closed the window without waiting for his answer.
Scarlet exchanged a dejected look with Blue, seated in front with him in the passenger seat. The American shrugged. “She has a point there. And I can’t say I disagree with her. Behind this van, nobody will see her getting out of this car and think she’s with us.”
“Oh, of course you would side with her, Mister Investigator.”
Blue smiled thinly. It was true he could relate to Rhapsody in regard to investigative work more than Scarlet could, considering the job he had done in the past with the W.A.S. security department, rooting out spies and saboteurs.
Both captains left the car and stood outside. A few seconds later, their companion opened her door and emerged from the back, dressed in the civilian clothes she had bought at the airport – stylish shirt, and a skirt split up the side that revealed her long legs. She had arranged her red hair in an elaborate bun that made her look a few years older than she was.
Or was it that make-up she was wearing? Scarlet couldn’t decide.
“Typical female,” he said as he watched her putting on the high-heeled shoes she had also acquired at the airport shops. “It took you that much time to get yourself ready, and you have not finished yet.”
“Try to get changed in the back of a SSC one day,” she replied. “And applying make-up while being bounced around because of every bump and hole in the road. It’s not really that easy.”
He shook his head in a disapproving way. “I don’t think you need that much make-up to pass yourself off as an employee of M.A.T.,” he remarked.
“You’re either jealous someone will take notice of me, or worried I might run into trouble,” she retorted. She leaned to kiss him swiftly on the lips. That didn’t seem to have any effect on him. “I prefer to think the latter.”
Scarlet scowled. “Worried. Definitely worried. Do be careful. We don’t know if there isn’t a Mysteron agent inside that building. It could be Captain Black.”
“Then this make-up will ensure he doesn’t recognise me.”
“That isn’t much of a disguise,” he retorted.
“That’s because it misses the final touch.” Rhapsody put a pair of large spectacles on her nose and Scarlet had to admit the trick worked perfectly. She was barely recognisable. “I’ll keep in touch with the personal communicator. If I run into any kind of trouble that I can’t handle, I’ll contact you.”
“Please, do that,” Scarlet said, his expression unchanging, but his voice softening a little.
“Give me a head start, so that it won’t appear you’re with me. And then go into the building.”
“So now you’re mission leader?”
“No… Just giving my professional suggestion.” Rhapsody smiled at her fiancé, batted her eyelashes and turned around, to walk with determination towards the building; Scarlet and Blue watched her go, thoughtfully.
“Her plan is sound, Scarlet,” Blue said. “She goes in undercover, seemingly unrelated to us, checks around unnoticed, while we go in and… Well, kind of attract all attention to us. She might find something before we do.”
“She’s enjoying herself too much,” Scarlet said, grumpily. “That could make her overconfident, and she might make mistakes.”
“Come on, she’s too much of a professional for that,” Blue retorted. “She’s just happy to find herself back as an investigator. I’m betting she’s missing that – no matter how much she enjoys being at the helm of a fighter jet.”
“You’re probably right, but…”
“She’ll be all right, Scarlet. Don’t worry about her. She knows how to take care of herself. Do you see me worrying about Symphony?”
Scarlet raised a brow, and offered a crooked smile at his friend. “Is that a trick question? I know that because of her impulsiveness, you constantly worry about her, but you’re better at hiding it than me.” He patted Blue’s shoulder. “Come on. We’ve given her enough time. Let’s present ourselves at the entrance.”
The two Spectrum officers left their car and walked towards the building. In the distance, they could see Rhapsody pulling the door open to enter.
“I’ve got one doubt, though,” Blue said musingly. “You think she’ll be able to go through whatever security they have?”
“This is Dianne Simms we’re talking about,” his colleague answered. “The way I heard – from her mostly – she was personally trained by Lady Penelope Creighton-Ward.”
“And that woman is…?”
“In her time, simply the best in the investigative business you can imagine someone to be. She was in a league all of her own. If Rhapsody’s only half as good as her mentor had the reputation of being, I have no doubt she’ll get through M.A.T.’s security like a knife cutting through soft butter.”
“That’ll be a fun report to read,” Blue said, grinning.
* * *
“I can't believe it! I just can't believe it!”
Symphony rolled her eyes and refrained from sighing in exasperation. Instead, she settled herself comfortably in the backseat of the unmarked saloon car, and crossed her legs. In the rear-view mirror, she saw the eyes of Captain Magenta, who was driving the vehicle. He exchanged glances with her; he looked at least as much annoyed as she was herself with their companion.
Captain Ochre, who was seated on the passenger seat right next to Magenta, was looking through the window like an over-excited kid.
“Would you calm down?" Magenta hissed between his teeth. "Ochre, you're making a fool out of yourself. Don't you realise how embarrassing this is to see you act so childishly?”
“I agree whole-heartedly,” Symphony said from the back seat. “Captain Ochre, you’re a Spectrum officer on assignment – get a hold of yourself, please!”
“But Symphony,” he replied, turning to look to her over his shoulder. “Can’t you imagine? The M.A.T. complex is just next door to it! Next door to the Prestige Pictures studio, where they're shooting the latest remake of King Kong!” He gestured beyond the window. “I mean, look at it! Pat, surely you realise how exciting this is?!”
“No,” Magenta retorted sulkily. “I despise King Kong. And please, we’re on assignment – call me Captain Magenta. The colonel wouldn’t like you using my first name.”
“How can you not like King Kong?”
“Easy. Every time they make a movie of him, the dim brute destroys New York City. My home town.”
Ochre laughed. “Don’t be an idiot. You know he’s not destroying it for real. It’s only sets – scale models at best.”
“And you know about scale models, don’t you?” Magenta grumbled. “Well, all the same… it’s the principle, Rick.”
“Shouldn’t you call me Captain Ochre?”
While Magenta sighed in exasperation, Symphony risked an eye outside. Plastered all over the facade of the building the car was passing was a huge poster of several storeys high, where an enormous gorilla was seen climbing the side of the Empire State Building. In one of his big hands he held a skimpily dressed, terrified-looking, young blonde woman.
“Starring Blondie O’Day in the role of Ann Darrow,” she read, before sitting back. “I’ve heard of her.”
“Is she a good actress?” Magenta had probably glanced at the poster and spotted the attractive half-naked woman on it; that was enough to attract any male’s attention.
“You're kidding, right?” Ochre retorted before Symphony had a chance to answer. “I mean, she's been hailed as the new Marilyn Monroe!”
“Yeah right,” Symphony said in turn. “Last year, she made that ‘Jane of the Jungle’ movie in which she wore next to nothing… The critics destroyed the movie.”
“But the audience loved it,” Ochre remarked.
“I bet I know what kind of audience that was,” Symphony retorted, addressing a meaningful look at his colleague. “Probably they were all drooling men, every last one of them. I doubt they were that interested in her dialogue or her play-acting.”
“I admit, her face’s familiar... I might have seen one of her movies at some point...” Symphony looked at Magenta’s eyes through the rear-view mirror. She doubted very much he could have recognised the actress specifically by her face. He noticed the way she was looking at him, and corrected himself: “But obviously, she didn't make that much of an impression.”
“I wonder if she's there right now?” Ochre said musingly. “Wow... it would be wonderful to meet her while we visit. Maybe we can get an autograph?”
Symphony scowled. “What do you mean, ‘while we visit’?”
“I mean, it’d be fun to visit the studio as soon as we’re finished with the assignment,” Ochre said. “Don’t you think so? You’ll come with me, of course…”
“Me? Certainly not. Why would I go?”
“Oh, come on, please! You’re usually a fun girl. I swear, you and your boyfriend, you’re hanging out too much with Scarlet. He’s having a bad influence on you both.”
“It has nothing to do with Scarlet.”
“It’s because of Blue, then? You’re afraid he’ll get jealous?”
“Jealous of what exactly?” Symphony asked, narrowing her eyes.
“I know I’m not your boyfriend,” Ochre insisted. “But I promise, we’ll have a good time…”
“Captain Ochre,” Symphony said warningly.
“I don’t mean that way. Just visiting the studio. They have guided tours. Magenta, you’re invited too, of course… I’m sure you’re interested?”
“Well…” Magenta was hesitant. “As I said, I have no interest in King Kong… But if it means getting a chance to meet that Bunny O’Hare…”
“Blondie O’Day,” Symphony corrected with annoyance.
“I might… let myself be convinced,” Magenta finished. He wasn’t as reluctant as Symphony had hoped.
Men. They’re all the same. Except Adam, of course…
“All right!” Ochre said, punching the air victoriously.
“This is bordering on obsession, you know?” Symphony said, sighing deeply.
“After the assignment,” Magenta stressed to his over-excited partner. “And only if we have the time and are not recalled to Cloudbase immediately after we finish.”
“Of course – wouldn’t have it any other way.” Ochre half-turned on his seat to grin at Symphony. “You’ll see, Symphony – we’ll have so much fun!”
“I didn’t say I’ll come,” Symphony answered. But she wondered if she shouldn’t go anyway, just to make sure Ochre would behave as befitted his rank. She wasn’t sure she trusted Magenta to act any better – not if Blondie ‘Bunny O’Hare’ O’Day was in the vicinity. “You know, guys, if we screw up this assignment because you’re unable to concentrate, the colonel will have our hides.”
“Don’t be such a killjoy.” Ochre turned around to sit straight. “And don’t think bad thoughts. Everything will be fine, and then we’ll have lots of fun visiting the studio.”
Symphony sighed and rolled her eyes for the nth time since the journey from Cloudbase began. “Somehow, I doubt it very much... What’s so exciting about visiting a movie studio exactly? It's only make-believe after all...”
* * *
After entering the London M.A.T. building with no difficulty at all, Rhapsody Angel had managed to snatch the white vest of a scientist from a locker – which wasn’t properly locked – and a security badge which was obviously kept for new employees, and started exploring the premises. To complete her disguise, she carried under her arm a folder containing a stack of papers… Mostly blank forms she had taken from a deserted office. She casually walked the corridors, smiling politely at anyone she passed – and who might be wondering about the identity of this newcomer. As it was, she wasn’t bothered by anyone.
She knew that Captain Scarlet and Captain Blue were scheduled to meet with the director of the complex, a Doctor Calvin Gordon who had become famous in the technological field for his work in cybernetics and prosthetics, and whose name had always been associated with the M.A.T. Corporation. While her colleagues were doing that, she had set herself the task of checking around the building, visiting the operational and research divisions assigned to some of the most significant works within the place – at least those which might possibly hold some interest for the Mysterons.
It was relatively easy for Rhapsody to find her way through the building; direction boards were posted at various strategic places, indicating exactly where she was, and where each specific division could be found. At first, she found herself mystified by the names given to each division: although very descriptive of the work done behind their doors, they sounded somewhat grandiloquent, even pretentious in some instances. Indeed, they were doing very advanced work in this building – and not only in technology, by the looks of it. On the fifth floor, she found a door marked ‘Laboratory for Advanced Research on Animal Behaviourism’, which puzzled her enough to want to look a little more into it.
The door wasn’t locked with a high-security code, so she simply passed her borrowed I.D. card through the slot. The words ‘Welcome Joanne Wallis’ appeared on the digital screen over the pad and she heard a buzzing sound, before the door slid open in front of her. She stepped in to find another door with a warning message written directly on its surface:
Live animal research conducted in this area.
Ensure that outside door is closed before proceeding.
Marvellous, Rhapsody told herself, grimly. I hope I’ve not stumbled into some kind of illegal animal experimentation. I really would hate that.
She waited for the door behind her to close, before sliding her card in the new slot. The second door opened; slowly, as if apprehensive of what she might be discovering, she entered.
She didn’t go very far and didn’t get to see much of the large room she found herself in, as suddenly, she heard fretful shouting echoing from an indefinite direction:
“Binx! Come back here this instant!”
Alarmed by the sound of the voice, Rhapsody looked around quickly, from left to right. Her eyes caught sight of a small grey-furred monkey with a rosy face running on all fours on the floor, straight in her direction, a man and a woman in white coats giving chase after it. At the sight, Rhapsody froze, unsure of what to do.
Monkeys! she thought, opening wide eyes.
God, this really has to be a joke!
* * *
Captain Scarlet and Captain Blue entered the M.A.T. Corporation London building and presented themselves at the security desk. Of Rhapsody they could see no sign; obviously the young woman had successfully gone through without any question.
Exactly as they expected.
“Your office already called, sirs,” the guard at the desk said, after checking Scarlet and Blue’s credentials. “You may go in. Take the first lift on the left, and up to the twelfth floor. Then go to Room 5. Doctor Gordon is already waiting for you.”
Captain Scarlet and Captain Blue took the lift as they were instructed, and watched the floor numbers changing on the lighted panel next to the door.
As they reached the twelfth floor and the door slid open in front of them, both captains’ epaulettes flashed white, indicating that they were being hailed by Cloudbase. Their cap microphones lowered in front of their mouths and they stepped out of the lift to find themselves in a corridor.
“Report, Captain Scarlet,” the voice of Colonel White said through the speakers imbedded in their respective caps.
“Sir, we’ve just arrived at the M.A.T. offices in London. Rhapsody is conducting her own investigation, incognito, and Captain Blue and I are making our way to meet Doctor Gordon.”
“You’ve haven’t made contact with him yet, then?”
“Not yet, sir. We’ve just left the lift on the twelfth floor, where we’ll meet him in Room 5. What can you tell us about Doctor Gordon that we should know about?”
There was a brief moment of silence at the other end of the line, and then the voice of Lieutenant Green made itself heard:
“As you already know from the information transferred to your SPJ’s computer, Captains, Calvin Gordon is the director of the London Research Facility,” the young man explained. “We contacted him while you were en-route to inform him of your visit. He seemed quite upset that the Mysterons might have taken M.A.T. as a target, so he agreed right away to meet with you.”
“That would be enough to upset anyone,” Blue commented. “Did he mention something in particular that M.A.T. is working on at the moment that might be of special interest to the Mysterons?”
“Well, M.A.T. conducts a number of works in their various offices. At the moment, Professor Gordon personally supervises research into DNI-based technologies.”
“DNI-based technologies?” Scarlet inquired, exchanging glances with Captain Blue who shrugged, showing his ignorance on the subject.
“Direct Neural Interface, Captain,” Green explained. “In short, it’s a direct communication link between the brain and an external technological device, using the electrical activity of the human brain. Mostly, the technology is used for prosthetics, but according to the latest research at M.A.T., it could be used to apply some kind of telepathic control to other kinds of very advanced machines.”
“Telepathic control over machines,” Blue said, rolling his eyes. “Are you serious?”
“I am, Captain. At least, M.A.T. is serious about it. And it does work, on some levels. In the medical field, for example. Prosthetics controlled by nerve impulses have existed for a number of years already. M.A.T. wants to take it to a more advanced level.”
Blue mused on that information. “If it does work, then maybe that’s something the Mysterons might take interest in.”
“And that’s one amongst many of the projects conducted at the London facility, Captain. They are dealing with very advanced research there.”
“How about the Los Angeles complex?” Scarlet asked with a frown. “What are they working on?”
“The Los Angeles offices are doing business directly with the World Government,” Colonel White then said. “They provide technological equipment to various security organisations – including Spectrum. My guess would be that they would more likely be the Mysterons’ intended target. On the other hand, considering the advanced research being done in London, I don’t want to extrapolate too much. Either of the two might be the target.”
“If M.A.T. is indeed the intended target,” Scarlet replied, nodding thoughtfully.
“Keep your eyes open for anything, Captains. If you should find something suspicious, alert Cloudbase immediately.”
“S.I.G., sir,” both men replied.
The communication was cut and the mics returned to their places on each cap’s visor. Blue and Scarlet consulted the information panel hanging on the wall, in front of the lift door.
“Room 5,” Blue read. “Development and Applications in DNI Cybernetics Technologies.” He looked puzzled. “By the looks of things, this seems very much advanced in the application. Doesn’t seem as far-fetched as I thought.”
“What they can do nowadays, isn’t that wonderful?”
“I’ll reserve judgment about that. It really depends on what they intend to do with whatever technologies they’re developing. If it’s for machines of war being controlled by human minds, then, no, I don’t find it that wonderful.”
“But it might be interesting for the Mysterons,” Scarlet advised.
They followed the instructions on the panel, turning right on the corridor. In front of the door they were looking for, they found a man, who seemed to be waiting. He looked their way when he saw them appear.
“Captain Scarlet, Captain Blue?” He presented his hand to them. “Your headquarters called to inform us of your visit. “I’m Doctor Anthony George, Doctor Gordon’s assistant.”
“Doctor George…” Scarlet shook hands with the man. “We were expecting to meet Doctor Gordon.”
“He’s waiting for you inside,” the man explained. “I was sent ahead to take you to him.” He waved to the door. “Shall we?”
Captain Blue nodded. “Of course.”
George turned towards the electronic pad set next to the door. Scarlet, standing slightly behind watched absently as the man keyed in a security password; he felt a pang of pain hitting him between the eyes, and his vision blurred slightly. He made a step forward when the door opened and George stepped away to invite them in and, feeling faintly dizzy, held himself against the frame of the door. George tilted his head and stared at him with a creased brow. “You look pale, Captain. Are you sick?”
Scarlet shook his head. “Nothing serious… Maybe the start of a cold…” He offered an apologetic smile. “Please, after you, Doctor George.”
The man nodded and stepped inside. Blue touched his colleague’s arm and Scarlet turned to him, to notice his concerned expression. “The start of a cold?” the American asked in a whisper. He knew the English officer didn’t get sick, unless…
“A Mysteron-related cold,” Scarlet said in the same tone, shaking his head. He turned towards the door, straightening himself. “Something’s up. Be alert.”
Blue nodded his understanding; both officers entered after Doctor George, their right hands resting surreptitiously on the handles of their respective sidearms.
As soon as they had crossed the doorway, they were welcomed by a sudden burst of light like that of a powerful spotlight promptly turned on, which blinded them and made them stop in their tracks.
“Gentlemen, you are just in time.” The words were spoken calmly by a man who stood silhouetted against the blinding light, his hand resting on a lever set on top of the console of a massive circular floor-to-ceiling computer set in the middle of the room. “I bid you welcome… in the name of the Mysterons.”
That was enough to prompt Scarlet to seize his gun; but he barely had the time to unholster it. He saw the man swiftly pulling the lever down; almost immediately, a massive surge of electric current rushed from the floor onto which he and Blue were standing, causing both of them excruciating pain and literally freezing them on the spot as it coursed through their bodies. Scarlet screamed out, hearing Blue’s own cry echoing in his ears. He was unable to aim his weapon towards the man just standing there, beyond the spotlight which was flickering and sending sparkles all around them. His mind started to blur dangerously, despite his best effort to hang on to it.
A Mysteron trap… And we walked right into it, was his last conscious thought.
He just had time to see their foe switching off the current, before his gun escaped his grasp and he and Blue dropped to the floor, unconscious.
* * *
“Very well done, Anthony.” Doctor Calvin Gordon left his position near the console and casually approached the two still bodies slumped on the metal plate he and his associate had placed at the entrance of the door, for the purposes of their trap. “They didn’t even have time to react.”
As Doctor George closed the door behind, to insure that no-one would discover what had happened, Gordon crouched down and picked up the gun Captain Scarlet had dropped. As he stood up again, he looked down at the two unconscious men, tilting his head to one side.
“I felt for certain Captain Scarlet suspected something,” George told him as he came to stand by his side. “He… felt something, as he was about to enter.”
“No matter,” Gordon said, his voice very calm. “In the end, it didn’t do him any good. The trap worked anyway.”
“Now what?” George inquired. “We carry on with our task?”
“Of course. As we have decided.” Gordon gestured to the two Spectrum officers. “One of these two gentlemen will unwittingly assist us in the next phase in our plans.”
George smiled wickedly, and glared ominously down at their victims. “Which one? Captain Scarlet?” he asked hopefully.
But Gordon shook his head. “No. With his metabolism, there’s too much risk that the disinhibitors won’t work well on him. Which is imperative for our task to be accomplished.” He pointed coolly towards Captain Blue. “We’ll use this one. He’ll be perfect.”
“As you wish, Doctor.”
“Prepare him. He should be out long enough for us to get ready.” Gordon then narrowed his eyes at Scarlet. “In the meantime, I’ll make sure that Captain Scarlet won’t interfere with the operation. And when this is all finished, we’ll take care of him. And of his friend as well, if he should survive the process.”