A « Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons » story
By Chris Bishop
Captain Scarlet was sitting very quietly on his stool, and barely reacted when his commander finished his speech, and their guest rose to his feet. He was a little too preoccupied with the splitting headache he presently suffered from, which he was trying very hard to hide.
“Well, Captain Scarlet, I have to thank you personally for having saved my life the way you did.”
It was only when he heard these words that Scarlet remembered the presence of the man now standing in front of him. He shook himself, and raised his eyes to meet those of General Tiempo, who was looking down at him, smiling with genuine gratitude. The Spectrum captain slowly rose to his feet to face him levelly, and then shook the hand that the general was holding out and that he had almost missed.
“I was only doing my job, General,” he answered humbly. “And my duty.”
“You went far beyond your duty, Captain. Taking a bullet in order to save your charge is one thing – and that in itself is already very commendable. But going to the lengths you did…” Tiempo shook his head, in obvious wonder. “Even knowing that you are indestructible, it must take… how do you say it… guts?” As Scarlet nodded his confirmation, the general’s smile broadened. “I read the many reports from Spectrum about your powers of recovery, Captain, and heard your colonel, and the World President’s own words on the matter. I have to admit, it all sounded too extraordinary, and I was rather sceptical about it. Colonel White was right about you: we are lucky to have you on our side.”
“Thank you, General,” Scarlet answered.
“But… do take it easy, will you?” Tiempo gave him a friendly pat on the shoulder. “You look a little green around the gills – is that how you say it? I think you should be careful… As the World Secretary for Defence, if I’m allowed to give you an order, it would be to take some rest, now.”
Scarlet forced a smile to his lips and nodded at the advice. “I will, sir.”
Tiempo let go of his hand. Scarlet looked down at his fingers and gingerly flexed them. He had the impression that he had no feeling left in them; the general had quite a grip.
“Captain Grey will escort you to your plane, sir,” Colonel White then said, and his voice, to Scarlet’s ears, oddly sounded like coming from far away. “He and Captain Ochre will accompany you back to Futura City.”
Tiempo thanked the Spectrum commander again, like he had done a few minutes before, and he and Grey left the Control Room. Scarlet, still standing in front of the colonel’s control desk, followed them with his eyes, distractedly rubbing his sore right hand. His head was pounding now, and he felt nauseous. But it had nothing to do with one of those feelings he usually had when there was a Mysteron agent nearby, or even a Mysteron threat about to come to fruition. This was different.
He really felt sick.
“General Tiempo is right, Captain,” Captain Blue then said, attracting Scarlet’s attention as the sliding door closed on both Captain Grey and the general. “You don’t look too good.”
“Are you all right, Captain Scarlet?” Colonel White asked in turn, his brow furrowing. “You’re awfully pale. You look as if you’re about to pass out.”
Scarlet turned to face his commander; the mere movement seemed enough to send a more intense spasm of pain inside his skull. He made a supreme effort not to wince, and looked past his commander, just over his right shoulder, so not to meet his probing eyes and let him know how truly awful he felt. However, Lieutenant Green was there, in his chair just at the edge of his station where he was closest to Colonel White’s control desk, and was looking at him with obvious concern.
“Captain? Are you all right?”
That was Colonel White, calling to him insistently; Scarlet finally faced him, and offered a smile that he intended to be reassuring, but that he knew appeared only pathetic. He felt hot all over, and his vision was starting to blur. In an attempt to keep his balance, he reached for the stool behind him with unsteady hands; at the same moment, he noticed Captain Blue getting to his feet to come to him.
“Actually, sir,” Scarlet answered in a hoarse voice that seemed to echo inside his pounding head, “that’s rather an apt description… of how I am feeling.”
With that, his vision fuzzed drastically and he lost his balance; he fell backwards, crashing against the stool behind him. Blue arrived by his side just in time to catch him before he hit the floor.
As his colleague gently laid him down on the floor and he heard White and Green leaving their seats to rush to him, Scarlet, for the briefest of moments, thought he saw a tall silhouette standing behind Blue’s concerned face and looking down at him. His vision was in a complete haze now, and to his eyes, it was barely more than a smudge of colour, but he could have sworn he was seeing a colour-coded uniform of a hue which looked somewhat similar to his own.
For a second or two, he wondered if it was Captain Magenta standing there; but this thought left his mind almost immediately, as, even in his confusion, he knew that Magenta was still confined to sickbay, with a concussion sustained during his last assignment.
He didn’t have time to elaborate more on this mystery as the blur seemed to fade into nothingness and his vision darkened. The last thing he heard before losing consciousness was Blue’s voice calling his name.
“So what is your diagnosis, Doctor?”
Followed by Captain Blue, Colonel White strode into the examination room, to find his chief medical officer standing in front of Scarlet, who lay on his back on the padded examination table with his shirt off. Fawn was removing a thermometer from his patient’s mouth and was examining the results with interest. He shook his head at the Spectrum commander’s question.
“He needs rest,” the doctor answered, as he turned towards the two visitors. “Plenty of it and as soon as possible.”
“That’s nonsense,” Captain Scarlet said, trying to present as casual and brave a façade as he could. “I feel fine.”
“No, you’re not ‘fine’,” Fawn replied categorically. “Not by my standards. You do need rest and you’re going to get it, whether you want it or not.”
Scarlet pushed himself up into a sitting position; doing so, he grunted, and hung his head, reaching for it with his hand. Fawn huffed almost disdainfully.
“Now, you see I’m right, don’t you?”
Scarlet raised his eyes to look at him. “Since when do I need to rest so long, Doctor? Normally a few hours are enough for me to be completely recovered.”
“That’s just the point, Scarlet. Nothing is quite normal when it comes to your condition.”
Scarlet shot the doctor a withering look, but didn’t reply. Colonel White was looking at both of them with a deep frown, rubbing his chin pensively. He had to concur with the medical officer’s assertion.
“The fact of the matter, Captain, is that you fainted in the Control Room,” he reminded his junior officer. “And Captain… you don’t faint.”
“That’s a fact,” Captain Blue concurred. “You never did. Not before, and certainly not after… you know…”
“… My Mysteronisation?” Scarlet offered, seeing his friend hesitate.
“And you’ve certainly never felt sick since then either,” Doctor Fawn added in turn. “Except in the presence of a Mysteron or confronted with a Mysteron threat, that is.”
“Is that it, then?” Colonel White suddenly asked with a frown. “When you lost consciousness in the Control Room, Captain, maybe you were feeling the Mysterons? Was there any other kind of threat to General Tiempo’s life, or –”
“No, sir,” Scarlet quickly reassured him. “No, it’s nothing of the sort. It didn’t… doesn’t feel the same.” He turned to Fawn. “I admit I don’t feel very bright at the moment,” he conceded. “Well, I do feel a bit better, but –”
“Better than when the medics wheeled you in a couple of hours ago, you mean,” Doctor Fawn replied.
“I don’t have any physical injury,” Scarlet commented. “At least, nothing visible…”
“True. However, the bruises you gave yourself when you fell in the Control Room took a lot longer to disappear than they should have.”
“But they’re all gone now, so that must indicate that my retrometabolism is still working,” Scarlet insisted.
“Not properly, I’d say. The healing process seemed slower than usual to me. Which would be further indication that you are far from being all right.”
“So what is the problem with him, then?” White enquired.
“You will not believe it. He has a cold.”
It took a moment before there was a reaction to Fawn’s diagnosis. Three incredulous voices then rose in nearly perfect chorus: “What!?”
“Did you practice that one?” the doctor said with a twinge of amusement. “You heard me right. Captain Scarlet’s got a cold. A severe cold, I should add – but not that uncommon, all things considered.” Fawn turned to a grave-looking and still sceptical Scarlet. “You’ve got all the symptoms.”
“Are you sure, Doctor?” White asked.
“I don’t think I’d make such a simple mistake, Colonel. There is no doubt about it.”
“But that’s impossible!” Scarlet exclaimed. “I can’t get colds… I can’t get ill!”
“Can’t you? That’s what we thought, but we have the proof to the contrary now. You certainly are ill. You’re pale, you look drained, your eyes are red and sunken… You probably haven’t had a decent night’s sleep in a week. You have chills, don’t you?” As Scarlet nodded to the affirmative, Fawn continued: “But you don’t have a fever. And that rules out the flu.”
“But I was fine, yesterday,” Scarlet insisted. “My nose isn’t running…”
“That might yet happen,” Fawn replied. “And probably sooner than you think.”
“I do have a splitting headache…”
“Headache is also a symptom of colds,” Fawn said. “How bad is it?”
“Like my head’s going to explode.”
“And you feel weak, right?”
“As a kitten. It’s like I’ve been drained of all energy. I’ve never felt like this before.”
Fawn thoughtfully stroked his chin. “How long have you been feeling like this, Captain?”
Scarlet frowned. “I’m not sure…”
“I will make an educated guess, if you don’t mind. Since you woke up from your last retrometabolic sleep?”
Scarlet faltered for a brief second. “Well… I did feel all right when I first woke up… but yes, it was very shortly after that I started feeling the… symptoms you described.”
Fawn nodded pensively. “After you made some physical effort,” he speculated.
“I would hardly call walking to and sitting in the Control Room very strenuous, Doctor. A common cold can’t be that bad.”
“No… Under normal conditions, it wouldn’t. But as I said earlier – there’s nothing quite normal, when it comes to your condition. And let’s not forget, it’s been a while since you’ve been sick at all. You get injured, but not sick. You’re not used to it anymore. So it might not be so surprising that your body reacts so violently.”
“Why is this happening?” Colonel White asked. “Given his unique condition, Scarlet didn’t suddenly fall ill without good reason. What could have caused it? I know you well enough, Doctor, to realise you have already worked out your own theory on this.”
It was more an affirmation than a question, and Fawn nodded at his words, as he wrote down new information on his examination pad.
“I do have a suspicion,” he answered. “A strong suspicion, at that.” Having finished with his notes, he put his pen into his pocket, and looked Scarlet squarely in the eyes. Then he briefly glanced at Blue and turned to address Colonel White: “And I’m pretty sure that the three of you have the same suspicion as I do.”
“The cerebral pulsator,” Blue said darkly.
“That could be responsible for Scarlet’s present weakness,” White continued.
Fawn confirmed with a nod, and turned back to Scarlet. “The headache Captain Scarlet currently has might not only be a symptom of his cold; it could also be some kind of side-effect of what he recently experienced with the cerebral pulsator. As you know, this medical device is used to send controlled electric impulses to the brain. It is not to be used lightly, and only for extreme cases, such as General Tiempo’s.”
“Yes, you explained that to us before the operation,” Colonel White said. “And you also expressed your concerns that it could also easily be used to kill the patient, if the electrical surges should deliberately or accidentally be pushed to maximum power.”
“I thought you had adjusted the device to make sure that wouldn’t happen, Doc?” Blue commented.
“I did,” Fawn answered. “Even though Scarlet volunteered to take the general’s place and it seemed unlikely he would get fatally hurt by whatever misuse anyone might make of the cerebral pulsator. I didn’t want him to willingly put himself at deadly risk. Or at least, I wanted to spare him unnecessary pain.”
“Well, whatever you did, it didn’t work very well,” Scarlet groused in a low voice, rubbing his forehead and shivering at the thought of what he had recently endured. “It was still very uncomfortable.”
“I imagine so,” Fawn concurred with a sympathetic nod. “I quickly realised you weren’t overplaying it when you started thrashing about.”
“No. I was really and truly in pain.”
“After the modifications I applied to the device, there was no way you should have felt as much pain as you did. I think that Magnus probably did some… ‘adjustment’ of his own too, without us knowing about it.”
“Charming,” Scarlet muttered. “He really wanted to make sure his patient would be killed when he pushed his device to maximum.”
“And yet, the current was not enough to kill you,” Fawn commented gravely. “Or you might not even be here with us right now to talk about it.”
The surprising revelation took everyone aback and an uncomfortable silence fell in the room. All eyes turned to a silent Scarlet, who in turn was casting an astonished look at Doctor Fawn. Captain Blue took a deep intake of breath, and was the first to react at last:
“What do you mean, Doctor? I thought you said he was indestructible?”
Fawn sighed. “I did say that,” he admitted. “But it was before we learned, with this last assignment, that high voltage electricity can be as fatal to Mysterons as it would be to any human being.”
“Are you suggesting that Scarlet might share the same vulnerability?” White asked.
Fawn nodded. “At the moment, considering what we’ve learned, that would be a possibility.”
“It doesn’t account for the fact that I have a cold,” Scarlet retorted. “Electrocution doesn’t cause colds, Doctor, that doesn’t make sense.” As if to give emphasis to his words, he suddenly felt his nose prickle and found the irrepressible and violent need to sneeze. He turned away just in time to avoid spraying anyone.
Fawn smiled lightly as Scarlet, sniffing despondently, turned back to face them. It wasn’t often he saw Spectrum’s best agent looking so miserable. “I never said that electricity gave you a cold, Scarlet,” the doctor said quietly. “That’s not what I’m implying at all. Perhaps we could assume that lower voltage, while not fatal, might be harmful to a Mysteron agent, maybe weakening his powers enough to make him vulnerable to injuries, or sickness. Like it or not, Captain, your physiology is similar to that of a Mysteron agent.”
“So, if I follow you, this electric shock he received might have hindered Scarlet’s powers of recovery to the point of catching something as trivial as a cold?” Blue asked in perplexity.
“That would be my guess, yes. Of course, we would need to test this further…”
“I would say that’s necessary, yes,” White approved thoughtfully, rubbing his chin once more. “Not only because we need our best asset in our dealings with the Mysterons, but also for Captain Scarlet’s sake.” He glanced in the direction of his younger compatriot, but noticed no reaction to his words, and so addressed Fawn once more: “In the meantime, Doctor, what are your recommendations for him?”
“I suggest he should be signed off duty,” Fawn answered quickly. “At least for a few days. Maybe as long as a week, if necessary.”
That caused Scarlet to open eyes wide with shock. “A week?” he sputtered. “For a cold?” He turned away, and sneezed into the bend of his elbow, before quickly facing Fawn once more: “I am not staying here in sickbay all this time, for you to use me as a lab rat again!”
Fawn shot him a withering glance. “I am not Doctor Frankenstein, Captain,” he replied dryly. “Thank you for the generous offer, but I have more than enough blood samples from you and from my now deceased colleague Doctor Magnus to test and compare all I like. We don’t know what other impact, if any, this recent experience with the cerebral pulsator could have had on you, and I want to make sure that you’re perfectly fit before you return to duty.”
“Paul, you may only have a cold, but there might be something else. You’re uncommonly tired – I would say exhausted. It’s not usual for you, and it can only be related to what happened to you. I know you’re professional enough to realise that you do need this respite to fully heal – so you’ll be able to do your work again, to the best of your capabilities.”
“Of course I know all that, Doctor,” Scarlet quickly replied, sniffing with obvious annoyance. Nobody really knew if it was because of his now runny nose or out of frustration in the face of Fawn’s obviously unalterable position.
“So you do understand I want you to rest, and I mean completely and totally.” Seeing Scarlet’s dejected scowl, Fawn offered an encouraging smile. “And since you dislike sickbay so much, you could spend that free time in your quarters.”
“The doctor is right, Scarlet,” Colonel White said. “If he says you have to rest, then you should rest. You look wretched. And quite aside from that, if you have a cold, it would be best for you not to pass it on to anyone else on Cloudbase. So Doctor Fawn’s suggestion that you should stay confined to quarters looks like a sensible one.”
“At least, until I’m sure you’re not contagious anymore,” Fawn quickly asserted.
Faced with these last arguments, Scarlet conceded defeat. “All right, sir,” he said with a sigh. “I will obey. But I do hate being sidelined like that. Even if I know it’s necessary.”
“I would say it is necessary, Captain,” Blue then added. “You know, we might have lost you this time. And for nothing.”
“Captain Blue is right,” Colonel White concurred. “During this assignment, we relied on your powers to force the Mysterons’ hand. And because we didn’t have a better understanding how your powers work, we dealt with this situation far too quickly – and very poorly.”
“I wouldn’t say poorly, sir,” Scarlet replied. “General Tiempo is alive. We did stop the Mysterons.”
White frowned. “Perhaps we did, but the gamble we took this time with your life was a greater risk than we anticipated. It was unnecessary, and I do not want to take that kind of chance again. It may sound cold-blooded to say so, Captain, but while I’m prepared to make use of your virtual indestructibility, I’m also aware that we have too much need of you to lose you needlessly.” He put his hand on the younger man’s shoulder. “I’m not only saying that because I consider you our greatest asset against the Mysterons, Captain. I hate losing any good man under my command. I’ve lost too many already.”
“Thanks for putting this into perspective… sir,” Scarlet said, his voice carrying a wryness that did not escape his commander.
However, Colonel White said nothing. He realised his junior officer was presently under considerable stress, with what he had just learned, and he indeed looked so exhausted that he would probably need the full week ahead to regain his complete health. He simply addressed a nod to Scarlet, and patted his shoulder in a supportive way.
“You’re off duty as of now, Captain. Take all the time you need to heal and rest. Doctor Fawn will of course continue to treat you during that time, and will give me a full report on your health at the end of the week. I’ll leave it to him to decide when it’s time to sign you back on duty.”
“Here you go, Paul. You’re safely home, now.”
Captain Scarlet was in a particularly grumpy mood when he left sickbay a little later to return to his personal quarters; as if he was concerned that his patient would get lost on his way to the Tower, Doctor Fawn assigned Captain Blue to escort him, which didn’t help in improving the English officer’s mood in the least. ‘I mean it, Scarlet: you need complete rest, until further notice,’ Fawn had told him, by way of warning, just as he was leaving. ‘You will not wander off to the gym to let off steam, as you usually do. In your present state, that wouldn’t do you any good.’
Scarlet wasn’t fooled at all. He knew that Fawn only released him from sickbay on the express condition that he would stay confined within his quarters and follow his recommendations. At the first sign of wandering about the base, he would have him brought back to his room in the medical centre faster than anyone would be able to say ‘Mysterons’. For Scarlet this was equivalent to house arrest, but he knew that the physician was perfectly right. In any case, he knew where his duty lay: he had to consider the health of everyone onboard, who might be liable to catch his cold, but more importantly, he wanted to regain his full strength and fitness as soon as possible.
That didn’t stop him feeling miserable.
As if it wasn’t enough, to add to Scarlet’s misfortunes, his cold’s symptoms grew worse, nearly as soon as he left sickbay. His nose was now nearly as red as Rudolph’s himself, and he felt as if it was running like a tap. He gave a spectacular sneeze just as the door to his quarters slid open in front of him and he and Blue entered.
“Here, let me take you to a seat,” Blue offered, closing the door behind and moving to take his friend by the arm to lead him. But Scarlet wasn’t about to let him, and impatiently pulled his arm out of Blue’s grip.
“I’m not a complete invalid, Captain,” he told him sharply. “I’m still quite able to take a few steps all by myself, without falling face first onto the floor!” That said, he left Blue’s side and walked purposefully towards his armchair; he dropped into it with a deep sigh and sniffed. “Would you hand me that box of Kleenex, please?”
Blue complied, tossing to his friend the box he’d been holding under his arm since they’d left sickbay. Scarlet caught it a little awkwardly, pulled a handkerchief from it and proceeded to blow his nose energetically. He grunted before taking his head between his hands. Blue watched him from where he stood.
“Are you all right?”
“I’m fine,” Scarlet groaned. “I’ve just got a headache, that’s all.”
“Maybe you should take the pills that Fawn prescribed you.”
“You think they’ll do any good?” Scarlet’s voice was still hostile as he let go of his head and glared in Blue’s direction. “You know that medication doesn’t usually work on me.”
Blue shook his head. “Well, under the circumstances, they might. It’s worth a try, anyway.”
“Later, maybe.” Scarlet sighed. “My throat is as dry as sandpaper. You can’t believe how thirsty I am.”
“Perhaps some coffee will do?” Blue suggested. “You need plenty of liquids. I’ll prepare you some.”
“So you’re going to poison me on top of everything else?” Scarlet groused. Blue had gained a reputation for making remarkably bad coffee – which was an odd thing considering he had lived as a bachelor for quite a number of years. The English captain pointed to his counter. “Coffee might not be what the doctor ordered, if I am to get some sleep,” he said. “There’s a kettle over there, should still have some water in it, and some teabags and cups in the cupboard. That’ll do nicely. You’re welcome to it as well.”
Blue raised an eyebrow. “Tea? I’m Bostonian. I prefer to stay away from the stuff.”
“Then there’s some instant coffee as well in the cupboard. That should be safer than the stuff you make.”
Blue shrugged and walked towards the counter, where he busied himself with the kettle and cupboard. Scarlet wiped his runny nose with annoyance, blew it once more, and disposed of the handkerchief into the waste basket. He then leaned his head against the backrest of his armchair, and closed his eyes, resting one hand against the bridge of his nose. He felt drained; more than he ever had since he had been Mysteronised all those months ago.
For a few short minutes, he listened to the sound of the boiling water behind him. The smell of coffee soon made its way through his half-blocked nostrils; somehow that invigorated him and he slowly opened his eyes and sat up straight, rubbing his temple. He wished this awful headache would go, so he could think straight again. It had been years since he’d had a cold this bad and at the very least, he had thought that with his new condition, he would never have to experience this particular annoyance ever again. Not being in total control of himself was irritating him no end. It was something he never had been able to bear, even before his Mysteronisation.
The coffee smelled good, even for instant, and he somewhat regretted his earlier choice of having tea instead. He lowered his hand and absently looked into empty space, trying to force his mind to clear itself from the fog that filled it.
And then, in the doorway of his bathroom, which he was facing, he thought he saw something…
It was only a glimpse… of a tall, dark-haired man, wearing a red-coloured uniform, standing there, watching him. Almost as soon as he had seen it, the vision seemed to dissolve into thin air, and Scarlet found himself staring into nothingness.
“Magenta?” he murmured.
“What about Magenta?” Scarlet nearly jumped; Blue had approached him from behind, holding two mugs containing steaming beverage. As his friend stood by his side, looking down curiously at him, Scarlet, like a robot, reached for one of the mugs, all the while glancing as surreptitiously as he could in the direction of his bathroom.
There was no-one there, by the empty entrance. Could he have been dreaming?
Scarlet shook himself. “Nothing,” he answered. He took a sip of his tea and nodded his approval. “I was just wondering… How Magenta was doing? You told me he took a rather hefty bump on the head during this last mission. I was a little too preoccupied with my own… problems, as you know – so I’m a little worried about him.”
Blue slowly shook his head and sat down onto the settee, in front of his friend. “Don’t worry about Magenta,” he told him with a reassuring smile. “He’s got a thick skull, that’s for sure. So physically, he’s fine.” Blue took a big gulp from his coffee, watched by Scarlet’s covetous eyes. “I actually think his pride hurt more,” the American officer continued. “He can’t forgive himself for not listening to Fawn’s assistant, when he came to the operating theatre to warn about Magnus. But as Magenta was instructed to let no-one in – he felt he had to obey orders without exceptions. Especially considering you were on the table. In a way, he feels responsible for what happened to you.”
Scarlet shrugged. “Pat shouldn’t feel guilty. None of this was his fault.”
Blue nodded. “I did tell him he wasn’t to blame. Honestly, the only thing you can really hold against him is that he’s just too eager. So he’s a bit afraid of making mistakes, and doesn’t quite know yet how to use his initiative without giving the impression he’s insubordinate. I have no doubt he’ll do fine, when he gets the hang of it. It’s just that Pat wants so much to prove his worth. I suppose he probably feels he has to, considering his past.”
“He’s not the only one,” Scarlet murmured, distractedly turning his mug in his hands.
Blue frowned at these words. “Paul… You’re not still thinking you have anything to prove to us now, do you?”
Scarlet didn’t answer, and simply stared at his friend. Blue put his mug down onto the table between them, in a gesture of irritation. “I don’t believe it – don’t you think you have already given enough proof of your loyalty by now? You’ve put your life on the line time and time again.”
“Considering I can’t be killed, do you really think that proves anything?” Scarlet said bitterly.
“Well, General Tiempo seems to think it does! Why, you just went through a medical procedure to save his life from the Mysterons!” Blue pointed to Scarlet with an inquisitive finger. “And don’t be so sure either you can’t be killed. Remember what Doctor Fawn said. Electricity might actually be as fatal to you as to –”
“– As to any other Mysterons agent,” Scarlet interrupted. “That means I share the Mysterons’ weaknesses, Adam. And that fact doesn’t really reassure me.”
“Do you know I also show a positive image to X-rays?” Scarlet continued.
“You do?” Blue asked with a frown.
Scarlet sniffed, and put down his cup to reach for a new handkerchief. “Fawn tested me, before you and the colonel came in. Using the equipment Magnus had brought to Cloudbase. It was just out of curiosity, more than anything else, actually. But he found it… how did he put it, exactly… interesting.”
“Paul, you know that you’re more to Doctor Fawn than just a curious case.”
“Really?” Scarlet said dryly. “Well, I imagine I am an interesting case, come to think of it.” He sneezed suddenly, right into the handkerchief. He wiped his nose, before continuing: “I imagine that the Mysterons didn’t know about this little side-effect with X-rays – if they had known, Magnus would have contented himself with using our modern scanning equipment so we would never find out about it…”
Captain Blue shook his head. He was visibly annoyed with his friend, for his apparent detachment in the face of these new developments that might have a serious impact on him. “Paul, stop it. Let’s come back to the real problem, please? Either you don’t seem to realise how serious this is, or you don’t want to accept it. If Doctor Fawn is right about this – the electricity thing – you could have died, on that operating table! ”
Scarlet stared at him. “I didn’t, did I?” he said without any apparent emotion.
“Only because the voltage might have been insufficient to kill you!” Blue shot to his feet. “The fact that it hindered your powers enough for you to catch something as common as a cold doesn’t trouble you one tiny bit?”
“It’s just a cold, Adam.”
“It’s not the cold, Paul. It’s what it represents. It could have been worse than that.
My God, how can you react like this? You just escaped from death and –”
“I’ve escaped from death many times over the last few months, Adam, or don’t you remember?” Scarlet snapped furiously. “I survived – where no other man would have in my place. That sets me apart from the rest of the human race – have you realised that? And now you are getting upset, because we might actually have found something that might prove fatal to me?”
That tirade left Blue speechless. Scarlet stared up at him, swallowing hard, as he felt his headache growing more painful. He looked down, and sniffed into his handkerchief, before continuing, almost relentlessly: “Yes, Adam – maybe I could die too. As you can, or anyone else can. But I have yet to decide if this ‘weakness’ I share with the Mysterons is a curse that draws an uncomfortable closeness between them and me – or if it’s the one grace that brings me back amongst the human race.”
Blue hesitated, unsure how to answer. “Paul – you don’t have to doubt your own humanity –”
“You’re not in my head, Adam,” Scarlet said, still bitter. “I’m the only one who can decide this.” He lowered his head, and closed his eyes. “I would rather not discuss this now. I’m ill, I’m tired¸ and I would very much like to get some rest.”
It wasn’t very difficult for Blue to understand that his friend wanted him out. He wasn’t that sure that leaving him was the best course of action at the moment. However, he knew how obstinate Scarlet could be when he had set his mind to it and it was obvious that, at this moment, nothing that Blue could say right now would serve any purpose.
Besides, Doctor Fawn had ordered Scarlet to rest. This argument seemed to have tired him more than it usually would, so maybe it was better to indeed give him some peace alone.
“All right then, I’ll go. But you know, if you need to talk to someone…”
A slight but genuine smile appeared on Scarlet’s lips, but he didn’t open his eyes to look in Blue’s direction when he answered: “Thanks, Adam. I appreciate the offer, and I’ll keep that in mind.”
“You know you don’t have to feel so miserable,” Blue added kindly. “You’re not doing yourself any good.” He backed away in the door’s direction. “Follow Fawn’s advice, get some rest. You do look like hell. We’ll talk some other time.”
There was no conviction in Scarlet’s voice and he opened his eyes to watch as the tall American turned on his heel, and slowly walked towards the door. He left without looking back, and the door slid closed behind him.
Left alone, Scarlet sighed deeply; he knew he had been unpleasant to Blue, and the latter certainly didn’t deserve it. After all, his friend was deeply and understandably concerned, and had only the best of intentions towards him. But right now, Scarlet didn’t feel like having any company around. Even if it was friendly company.
He coughed and sniffed and wiped his nose with annoyance with a new handkerchief. He reached for the remote controls imbedded in his table and pressed the command to power up the television set in the wall. Music filled the speakers, and almost instantly, he felt as if his headache was growing worse. He quickly lowered the sound, and watched as the screen came alive, not with a colourful picture, but with images in black and white. A movie was just starting, and the title filled the screen from one side to the other.
‘It’s a Wonderful Life’.
Scarlet grunted. Of course, this close to Christmas, there would be the obligatory repertory of Holiday-themed classic movies. Quite frankly, he had never developed a taste for them, especially this one movie, which he found extremely depressing. In all the years he had caught it on TV, he never watched more than half of it before turning the television off.
His headache was now worse than ever, and Scarlet pushed the sound down to minimum. He wasn’t actually sure how long he would be able to endure this throbbing pain, which made it so difficult for him to think rationally. He felt drained; he had not been kidding earlier: those electrical shocks from the cerebral pulsator, no matter weak they might have been at the start, had quickly grown to become unbearable. Contrary to what had been initially planned for General Tiempo, should he have undergone the operation, Scarlet had not been able to benefit from local anaesthesia. Since he had been Mysteronised, his metabolism would clean out drugs, painkillers, or any intoxicating substance as soon as they entered his system. While at times that might prove to be an advantage, it wasn’t really the case in circumstances where the pain from serious injuries was so terrible to endure that the use of painkillers would be required. Most of the time, they wouldn’t work on him.
Nevertheless, Fawn had prescribed pills for his present headache, in the hope that, somehow, they would be effective – as Blue had also implied earlier. If electricity had indeed caused havoc with his unique metabolism, then perhaps it would also allow medication to have some beneficial effects on him.
At least, Scarlet was also hoping it would be the case, and so he pushed himself to his feet with some effort, and slowly went to his bathroom. He sneezed, and grumbled with irritation as he filled a glass with water and eagerly swallowed it with the pills in one large gulp. The movement was too sudden, and Scarlet’s head hammered with pain. He splashed his face with cold water, still running from the tap. It helped just a bit, and he wondered if his condition by any chance wasn’t worse than Fawn imagined.
A cold, he told himself with annoyance, trying to reason with himself. I’ve got a blasted cold, and I can barely stand on my feet. I can’t believe it. Have I become so dependant on the powers the Mysterons gave me?
He didn’t like that idea at all.
He turned off the tap and, leaning against the sink, looked at himself in the mirror. He nearly made a double take at the sight of his own reflection; he did look the worse for wear. His eyes were red, sunken, with heavy eyelids half-covering them. His face was pale, contrasting strongly with the redness of his nose and the one-day-old dark growth of hair covering his chin and cheeks. He hadn’t had time to shave properly this morning, after he had woken up from his recuperative sleep. Obviously, Colonel White had not deemed it necessary to call him to order. The Spectrum commander didn’t like his officers to appear negligent and unkempt, especially in front of guests – and there was no way General Tiempo could not have noticed it.
No wonder everybody worries about me, Scarlet mused. I do look like I’m having a particularly bad time… I should probably shave. Not that I think that it would be much of an improvement, by the looks of it.
As he looked closely into the mirror, something else caught his attention.
There was another reflection in the mirror. Someone was standing behind him, just beyond the doorway.
He jumped in surprise, and swiftly turned on his heel, to find there was no-one there. He was at the doorway in two steps, and he narrowed his eyes as he looked into his living quarters, searching nervously for the presence he had seen behind him.
But the room was completely empty, and completely silent, except for the whisper coming from the television. Obviously, there was no-one here but himself.
He shook his head in perplexity, and rubbed his eyes tiredly. That was just like before, when Blue was still in the room. And still earlier, when he had fainted in the Control Room, he remembered he had had a similar vision, although what he had seen was more or less undistinguishable…
But this time, he felt for sure he had seen someone – a silhouette…
He knew it couldn’t be possible. Who or whatever he had seen… he could have sworn it looked like him…
“I must really be tired, if I’m starting to see things,” he mumbled wearily.
He turned back towards the bathroom, and faced the mirror again; the mirror that sent back to him that dreadful reflection of himself which looked barely able to stand.
And then, he saw it again.
That other presence – which looked exactly like him, but visibly healthier than he presently felt. It stood just a few feet behind him, and looked at him with an implacable expression.
Scarlet’s heart missed a beat, and he gasped in shock, before turning around again, so violently that he felt the room swirling around him. He caught himself against the frame of the door to keep on his feet and looked in the direction of the spot he knew the intruder should be occupying.
And this time around, he was there.
He was standing tall and immobile, in his bright red uniform, his expression very hard, his blue eyes, under the clear visor of his scarlet cap, at the same time cold and burning with intense resentment.
Slack-jawed, Scarlet could only look in complete stupefaction into the face of the apparition, trying to make sense of what he was actually seeing. The uniform, the stance… it was the same as his. Those eyes and that face…
It was his eyes and his face.
This was, indeed, his reflection in a mirror. He couldn’t deny it was standing there. And yet, his mind refused to accept what his eyes were telling him.
Then the apparition spoke to him, with a low and icy voice, so similar to his, and filled with barely contained anger, and loathing:
“You didn’t really think I would be gone forever, did you?”
The voice broke the spell, and Scarlet shook himself to regain what little composure he could. He swallowed hard, and took a tentative step towards his unexpected visitor. “Who the hell are you?”
The later clicked his tongue with impatience. “It’s quite ironic that you should mention hell. Don’t you have any guess who I might be?” And as Scarlet was simply staring intensely at him, without answering, the apparition shook his head disgustingly. “Oh yes – I can see in your eyes that you do know. So don’t pretend you don’t.”
“I must be hallucinating,” Scarlet muttered. He approached further, still hesitant, and stopped only a foot away from his visitor. He raised a hand and made a gesture to touch the apparition, but he faltered and stopped only an inch from his goal. The apparition didn’t make a single move; a derisive smile appeared on his lips at Scarlet’s anxious hesitation.
Scarlet swallowed hard again, his throat tightening. “You are me,” he said in barely more than a whisper.
“Am I?” the other replied with a deep, irritated frown. “Guess again.”
He took a step forward, in an almost threatening way, and Scarlet backed away, instinctively, as if he feared his visitor’s touch. The hatred he could see in those blue eyes, was enough to make him feel uncomfortable.
“I am Paul Metcalfe,” the apparition declared in an icy voice. “I am the man the Mysterons killed so you could be created. And I am here to expose you for what you are – so you finally see the truth and stop this charade once and for all.”
He took another step forwards, and Scarlet hastily stepped back once more. He bumped against the low table in his living quarters, sending the cup of tea splashing all around. Scarlet stumbled, trying to regain his balance, but his feet tripped over the fallen table. He tumbled to the floor and knocked his head on something hard.
The last thing he saw before losing consciousness was his visitor’s pair of red boots disappearing into nothingness.
“How much longer is this going to last?” Scarlet said aggressively as he sat on the couch with his pyjama shirt open, and Doctor Fawn finished examining him. “It’s been two days already. I’m getting tired of this.”
An exasperated Fawn heaved a deep sigh and shook his head, counting to ten before rising to his feet. “You’re really not the best of patients, you know that? And I would even dare to say – you have been worse than usual, lately.
“I’m sorry, Doctor, but I’m not used to being under your tender care this long. I’m usually up and about before you know it.”
“You’ll have to be patient a little longer, I’m afraid. Although you’re not contagious anymore, your cold is not quite gone. You still need to rest.” Fawn shook his head. “I guess this is entirely my fault.”
Scarlet looked at him in surprise. “You mean my present condition? Don’t be silly, Doctor. How could it be your fault?”
“I gave my agreement, when you volunteered to take General Tiempo’s place, that’s how. I really messed up. Had I known what would happen – and what we know now – I would never have agreed to let you do it.”
Scarlet frowned at these words. “You can’t blame yourself, Doc. It was the right decision to take. Surely, you would not have left General Tiempo to die on that operating table?”
“No… I would never have allowed him to go through the procedure to begin with. No matter how urgent it might have been, we could have waited.”
“We suspected the Mysterons would use that occasion to strike at the general,” Scarlet insisted. “We needed to lure them out. If we had not, Tiempo might still be in danger – or even dead. Furthermore – he needed the operation without delay.”
“That was Magnus’ argument,” Fawn observed. “We know now that he was a Mysteron. He could have lied to us.”
“Then why did you perform the operation yourself so quickly after the event?”
“I didn’t want to assume that Magnus was lying. After all, we didn’t save Tiempo from the Mysterons’ claws to let him become a victim of his own sickness.”
Scarlet nodded. If nothing else, he and Fawn agreed on that last point.
“Actually, I should have performed the operation in the first place,” Fawn moved on. “If I had done just that, you wouldn’t have had to suffer that ordeal. And now – you are the one who’s ill.”
“You said it yourself. I’ve only got a cold.”
“A cold you might never have caught if you had not been electrocuted, to begin with. There’s no denying that electric shocks don’t seem to agree with your physiology.”
“Your tests are conclusive?” Scarlet asked.
Fawn nodded. “As conclusive as they can be. Agreed, the shock wasn’t enough to kill you, but it destabilised your retrometabolic powers and weakened you at the same time –”
Scarlet sneezed violently, and just had time to cover his mouth.
“– And it also affected your … mmm… ‘natural immunity’ to earthly sicknesses,” Fawn continued.
“How much power do you imagine would it actually take to be fatal to me?”
“I don’t know – maybe the same amount as for a Mysteron agent? I would not venture into this at the moment, and certainly not alone. And we might wonder if it would kill you at all.” Scarlet raised a perplexed brow and Fawn shrugged. “Your retrometabolism might not work quite the same as that of any Mysteron agent, Paul. So whatever effect electricity has on them, it might not work quite the same way with you.”
“I should take that as a reassurance, I guess,” Scarlet muttered, sniffing. He sneezed again, this time right into his handkerchief. Fawn grimaced.
“I expected you to feel much better after two days of rest. It doesn’t look like that’s the case.” The physician leaned in front of Scarlet, took a pen-like flashlight from his vest pocket, and turned it on to shine a light into his patient’s eyes. The English officer blinked once, but didn’t protest or move, while Fawn continued his examination.
“Were you able to get some sleep?” the doctor asked.
Scarlet shrugged. “Not much. But it’s not usually an issue with me, is it?”
Fawn scowled. “You still need to sleep, if only for a few hours. You shouldn’t indulge in any physical activities, until you’ve fully recovered. You didn’t go to the gym, like you often do at night when you’re not sleeping, I hope?”
“No, Doctor,” Scarlet answered tiredly. “I haven’t left my quarters.”
Fawn nodded in satisfaction. He pocketed his flashlight and removed the stethoscope that hung from his neck to put it into his bag. “What about other… night time activities?” he asked as an afterthought.
“What do you mean?”
Fawn chuckled. “You certainly are very tired if I have to explain that to you.”
“You mean that kind of night time activities? You’re kidding, right?” Scarlet scoffed. “With Abstinence Charlie running the show on this base?”
Fawn winced, but couldn’t help feeling amused by the nickname Scarlet had given the Spectrum commander-in-chief. “I hope for your sake the colonel’ll never be within earshot if you ever use that name again,” he said, barely hiding his smile. “There would be Hell to pay. And I do think you’re doing him a gross injustice. He knows what it’s like: he’s been in love before. He even got married. That must mean he has feelings… and needs. He’s as human as anyone else.”
“Probably more human than me, anyway,” Scarlet grumbled.
“Well, you know I’m right. It’s worse than a monastery in here. Even if I wanted to, it wouldn’t be possible.”
“'Even if you wanted to?’” Fawn repeated, raising a curious brow. “That’s something you didn’t tell me about. You… don’t want to? I know you’re not usually indifferent to the fairer sex, Captain. And the same goes the other way around. Why, I’ve noticed how some of the female staff in sickbay look at you.”
“That was before,” Scarlet said, waving his hand in a gesture of annoyance.
“Before what?” Fawn insisted.
Scarlet glared at him. “Do I have to spell it out to you?” he said between his teeth. “You know bloody well what I mean.”
“You mean that since your Mysteronisation, you have not –”
“Can we not discuss this, please?” Scarlet interrupted suddenly. “This is kind of personal, Doctor.”
Fawn creased his brow, staring at Scarlet’s obstinate expression. He nodded slowly. “In reality, it’s not Colonel’s White strict communal regulations that are stopping you; it’s your own assessment of your condition.”
“I don’t want to talk about this,” Scarlet snapped aggressively.
“I’m your physician, Scarlet,” Fawn reminded him. “When it comes to your health, whatever is ‘personal’ to you is my business and I say we should discuss it.” He marked a short pause, noting that Scarlet seemed to ignore him and was doing his best to avoid meeting his eyes. “I thought you had come to terms with your condition; obviously not. And that might well be the crux of your problem, don’t you see?”
“I’m fine with my condition,” Scarlet replied icily. “The crux of the problem, as you say, is that I’m cooped up in here, doing nothing, and it’s driving me bonkers!”
“Oh, that… Well, as I said earlier, you’re not contagious anymore, even if you still have the cold symptoms. So you don’t have to stay confined to quarters, anymore. I’m not signing you back on duty, but you can go about the base, if you want. See people. And do whatever activities you want. That is, light activities. I still don’t want you to wear yourself out physically.”
Scarlet considered this. “I have a better idea, Doc – before this last incident with the Mysterons happened, and I became ill, I was scheduled for leave. I was due back home for my birthday…”
“Which was three days ago, if I’m not mistaken,” Fawn noted. “Happy belated birthday, Captain.”
“Thank you. As you know, I missed it. Perhaps I can make it home for Christmas and –”
“I’m sorry, I can’t send you home,” Fawn interrupted, much to Scarlet’s disappointment. “I don’t think you’re fit to fly.”
“Well, I wasn’t exactly planning on flying the plane down myself, if that’s what’s worrying you.”
“That’s not what I mean. I need to keep you here under observation, to make sure your condition doesn’t deteriorate.”
“What makes you think it will deteriorate?” Scarlet asked with a scowl.
“I don’t expect it will, but I don’t want to take any chances, Captain. Since your Mysteronisation, this is the first time you’ve been electrocuted – and I’m not talking about putting your fingers accidentally into an electric outlet. And don’t forget: the cerebral pulsator was plugged into your brain. So we have to make sure you haven’t sustained more serious damage in that area.”
“My brain is perfectly all right,” Scarlet replied quickly.
Fawn smiled thinly. “Well, from earlier examinations, it does seem so, yes. Aside from being grumpy, that is…” He patted Scarlet’s shoulder. “You can still have some time off while staying on base, doing something that is not job-related, seeing people socially…”
“I don’t feel very social at the moment.”
“And you wanted to go home? Boy, I’m doing your family a favour by keeping you here.” Fawn shook his head. “Admit it: you’re impossible to live with at the moment.”
“Well, then,” Scarlet said sharply, “if I’m so difficult, why don’t you leave me alone?”
“I might just do that.”
Fawn looked gravely at Scarlet. As the latter kept silent and seemed inclined to ignore him again, the doctor frowned in perplexity. The Englishman might not be the best patient in the world, and at the moment, he was certainly in a very bad mood, but he didn’t quite seem like himself today. He would not usually be so openly aggressive with his physician, to the point of throwing him out; there was something else going on.
“Is there something you’re not telling me?” Fawn asked abruptly.
The answer was a little too quick for Fawn’s taste. “You’re sure? I can tell there’s something bothering you.”
“There’s nothing,” Scarlet replied just as quickly and sharply. “I just want to be left alone. Am I not allowed to feel miserable once in a while?”
“You’re allowed, but it’s not usual for you.”
Fawn continued looking at Scarlet who, in turn, was looking the other way. It wasn’t that difficult for the physician to realise that, indeed, he was right, and that his patient was hiding something from him. But if Scarlet had decided not to tell him what it was, there was nothing he could do about it.
“I won’t insist, Scarlet,” Fawn declared. “For now, that is. However, I just hope that you will open up to me, for your own sake.” He zipped his bag closed. “When you’re ready – you know my door is always open.”
Scarlet hesitated. He simply nodded at the offer. “I appreciate that, Doc.” Fawn started to move towards the door, then stopped; he had noticed a dark stain on the carpet of the living quarters, just at his feet. He looked down at it with curiosity, and pointed at it with his foot. “What happened to your carpet?”
Scarlet shrugged dismissively. “Some spilled tea. I bumped into my table…”
“You’d better get this cleaned up before it can’t be removed anymore.”
“I didn’t have time to call a clean-up crew yet. Besides, you know how these industrial carpets are: they can take a lot of punishment. As long as you don’t spill blood on them, that is…”
“Funny guy,” Fawn said, walking to the door. “At least you’re lightening up…” He pressed the button and the door slid open in front of him. He turned one last time to face Scarlet. “Don’t stay cooped up in here, Paul. I know some of your friends will be decorating the officers’ lounge later, for Christmas. They got the tree and the decorations out of storage. I’m sure they could use the help. That would be good for you.”
Scarlet didn’t reply, nor did he acknowledge Fawn’s offer in any way. Fawn waited for a few seconds, staring at him, but it was in vain. He finally turned around, putting his cap on. “I’ll see you soon,” he muttered under his breath.
Scarlet only looked up when Fawn crossed the doorway; he watched as the door slid closed on him. For a few seconds he stared into the empty space, wondering if he should not go after the physician and call him back – and ask to be taken to sickbay right away, and be locked in a room where he would be sure to be safe – and wouldn’t be a risk to anyone else.
“You didn’t tell him about me,” he suddenly heard a voice say quietly.
Scarlet felt his heart pounding suddenly and swallowed hard. He had hoped, with all his heart, that this apparition, that had been haunting him for the last two days, that had disturbed his sleep to the point where he couldn’t find respite even in his dreams and couldn’t get a minute of rest, would have been gone once and for all.
Yet, he was hearing it again now, this voice so disturbingly similar to his, and that could only announce that he was back.
Scarlet didn’t want to turn his eyes in the direction that the voice was coming from; but he felt compelled to. In any case, there was little else he could do.
His tormentor was standing there, less then a meter away, looking very grimly at him.
At that moment, Scarlet knew he would never be able to escape him, even if he was to be held in a padded and a locked room.
His only option was to face this ghost.
The door slid open in front of Rhapsody Angel and she rose from her seat and left the lift to enter the Amber Room. Symphony and Destiny Angels were on stand-by duty at the moment, and greeted her as she put her crash helmet onto a counter and went to flop down on the sofa, right next to her American colleague.
“So,” Destiny, standing by the counter, asked her, “how was the trip to Futura City? Was it exciting?”
Rhapsody groaned and rolled her eyes. Two days ago, General Tiempo had returned to Futura City. As an important member of the World Government cabinet, the general first needed to make his report to the World President regarding the events of recent days, before going away for a long, well-earned convalescence. Captains Ochre and Grey had provided bodyguard duty – more out of protocol than because they were expecting further problems from the Mysterons – and Rhapsody had followed as flying escort to their SPJ. The three of them were just back from that assignment.
“It was rather boring,” Rhapsody answered tiredly. She greedily accepted the cup of coffee Destiny handed her and, upon tasting it, nodded her approval of her French colleague’s choice from the distributor. “I didn’t have time to do any sightseeing at all,” she explained, setting herself comfortably on the sofa. “It was supposed to be a quick round-trip, so I had to stay at the airport after we landed, while Grey and Ochre escorted General Tiempo to the World Government offices by MSV. I had little to do but make sure that both the SPJ and my Angel fighter were properly refuelled, checked and readied for the return flight.”
“Wait a minute: you left two days ago,” Symphony remarked. “That isn’t exactly what I call a quick round-trip!”
Rhapsody shook her head. “That was before the World President asked Captains Ochre and Grey to stick around, and to also escort Tiempo to his residence inland. They used the MSV, and two WAAF Viper fighters provided air cover. I was asked to stay on standby at the airport, in case I was needed.”
“You stayed two days in the airport?” Destiny asked in wonderment. “I hope you didn’t sleep in the waiting room. From my own experience, I know it’s not really agreeable.”
Rhapsody smiled, taking another sip of her coffee. “No, don’t worry. The airport’s military personnel were kind enough to provide me with sleeping accommodation. I was given a tiny, but comfortable, room.”
“This is still disappointing,” Destiny said with a pout. “You didn’t get the chance to see any of the city at all, then?”
“Just a bird’s-eye view,” Rhapsody answered. “And yes, it is rather a shame. I’ve never been to Futura. It looks like a very interesting place to visit. All those modern buildings, that futuristic design…”
“Hey, they don’t call it ‘Futura’ for nothing,” Symphony remarked, chuckling.
“I hope to be able to drop by soon, though,” Rhapsody continued. “Perhaps on my next furlough, after Christmas?”
The door behind them slid open, and they turned to see Captain Blue enter.
“Hi, Rhapsody,” he said, offering the brightest of smiles. “I was in the Control Room when you returned… Welcome back.” He came down the steps leading to the sofas on Symphony’s side and leaned to kiss her on the cheek. “Sorry I’m late.”
“That’s all right,” Symphony replied. “You’re not actually late – Melody won’t be back to relieve me for a good ten minutes. Then we’ll be able to go to the officers’ lounge and start on the decorations. Is the tree up yet?”
“I’m afraid not,” Blue replied, sitting down next to her. “We’ve been rather too busy these last few hours. But it shouldn’t take that much time to get it out, unfold it, re-arrange the branches… and then decorate it. Will you be helping us out, Rhapsody?”
“Sure,” the English pilot answered. “That should be fun – but later on, okay? I’d like to get some sleep first – I’ve had a rough couple of days.”
“Of course. You’ll have plenty of time to add your personal touch to the decorations later on… We’ll be at it all evening.”
“So what has been going on, while I was gone?” Rhapsody asked, crossing her legs and getting more comfortable.
She saw her colleagues hesitate and exchange glances. “That’s right, you don’t know,” Symphony said, musingly. “You left before it happened…”
“What?” Rhapsody asked, straightening up and looking at her friend with curiosity.” “Did something exciting happen?”
“I don’t know if we can call it exciting, exactly,” Blue replied. “Unusual, perhaps… And it’s not exactly good news, either.”
“What is it?” Rhapsody asked. “You’re starting to worry me…”
“Captain Scarlet is ill,” Destiny said.
Rhapsody blinked. This wasn’t at all what she expected. She frowned dubiously. “Captain Scarlet never gets ill,” she stated.
“Well, he is ill now,” Blue confirmed. “Two days ago, he fainted, right there in the Control Room – just after General Tiempo left.”
“Fainted?” Rhapsody repeated, her frown deepening. “Paul? You’re right, that is unusual. It would be, even if he wasn’t retrometabolic.” She looked directly at Blue, as she suspected he was probably the one who knew most about it. “What’s wrong with him? Do you know?”
“He has a cold,” Blue said simply.
“A cold?” Rhapsody was incredulous. She scoffed at the answer. “Are you kidding me?”
“It’s true,” Blue insisted. “He has a cold and he never felt this miserable before.”
“How in Heaven did he catch a cold? I mean, how is it even possible for him to catch one?”
“Well, it would be because of that operation he went through with the cerebral pulsator. You know, when he took General Tiempo’s place?”
“Oh, that must be the stupidest thing he’s ever done!” Rhapsody said, petulantly.
Blue raised a brow. “You think? Worse than driving an SPV under the wheels of that Delta transporter at London Airport?”
“Or worse than driving that truck containing an atomic device about to explode?” Symphony added.
“Just goes to show you the man is totally reckless,” Rhapsody said, rolling her eyes. “The operation has got to take the biscuit. I couldn’t believe Colonel White, or worse still, Doctor Fawn, agreed to let him go through with it, to begin with!”
“I agree with you,” Symphony chipped in with a nod. “That was irresponsible. Putting his life at risk like that… even considering he’s supposed to be indestructible.”
“Exactly,” Rhapsody said thoughtfully. “How can he get ill? I thought he was indestructible.”
“Perhaps not to electricity,” Blue remarked. “You know we have just discovered Mysterons are vulnerable to electricity – and the cerebral pulsator uses electricity. And apparently, Paul might have the same weakness.”
Rhapsody stared at him as if in shock. “He could have been killed,” she realised.
“He might have been killed indeed, if he had been exposed to a higher voltage.”
“We don’t know that for sure,” Destiny interrupted with annoyance in her voice. “Even Doctor Fawn isn’t sure of what might have happened!”
“Well, the electrical shocks he received did hurt him,” Symphony insisted.
Blue nodded in agreement. “I’ve never seem him looking so sick before. Doctor Fawn has signed him off duty, to give him time to recover. Apparently,” he explained to Rhapsody, “the electroshocks seemed to have temporarily destabilised his retrometabolism – which also plays a big role in his immune system.”
“Hence the reason he has this cold,” Rhapsody said with a thoughtful nod. “Temporarily?”
Blue nodded. “Yeah, according to Fawn. Time should clear that up, and his retrometabolism should be back soon. All Paul needs is to get some proper rest.”
“If he’s confined to sickbay, he must be in a right mood!” Rhapsody observed. “You know how he hates that.”
Blue shook his head. “Oh no, he’s not in sickbay. Fawn sent him to his quarters. But he is in a bad mood, all right.”
“He’s been confined to quarters? Have you seen him since then?”
“I went to see him before my shift in Angel One, this morning,” Destiny said. “I took him something proper to eat, as he had not been seen either at the cafeteria or the officers’ lounge, and had not ordered anything. He looked awful, like he hasn’t slept at all in the last two or three days. He told me he wasn’t hungry and I had to insist he took the tray. I’m pretty sure he didn’t even taste the good soup I had prepared with my own hands… Quel gâchis…”
“I went with Adam afterwards,” Symphony said in turn. “He didn’t even open the door when we knocked. He grumbled something in the intercom that sounded like ‘Go away’.”
“You’re sure he’s all right?” a concerned Rhapsody asked.
“According to Doctor Fawn, he is,” Blue answered. “We reported the incident to him right away and he went to see Paul to check him out. Doctor Fawn confirmed to me that Paul’s no longer contagious, and that he can go wherever he wants now, as long as he doesn’t do anything too physical, and continues to get reasonable rest – which Fawn doubts he’s doing, since he still looks very tired. Apparently, he’s not quite recovered yet.”
“Well, I would say that’s obvious!” Rhapsody scoffed. “A fine doctor we have! I thought we had the best?”
Blue raised a perplexed brow at her outburst. “He is the best, Dianne. He’s doing what he can. Paul’s condition is just… let’s say… unique?”
“You couldn’t think of a better doctor than Edward to take care of him.” Destiny narrowed her eyes curiously, scrutinising Rhapsody with attention. “Why are you so angry, exactly?”
“I’m not angry.” Rhapsody hesitated. “It’s just that I find Doctor Fawn’s attitude towards Paul rather… cavalier, if you want my opinion,” she said finally.
“Cavalier?” Destiny repeated, insistently.
“Oh please, Juliette, it’s a French word! You certainly know what it means! Shouldn’t Edward look further to find out exactly what the problem is?”
“Easy, Dianne,” Symphony replied. “He has.”
“He knows electricity is the cause of Paul’s problem, and he’s been relentlessly working in sickbay, doing tests,” Blue continued. “Paul isn’t in mortal danger right now, so there’s no reason to worry too much just yet. He’s just physically spent, and rest is the only prescription Fawn can give him so far.”
Rhapsody scowled. “It’s been two days since this man, who usually heals in a matter of hours, fell ill, and all Fawn says is that he needs to rest?”
Blue shook his head. “Paul doesn’t have any apparent injuries – in fact, after what happened in the operating theatre, he still healed pretty much normally – if somewhat slower.”
“As for the rest… there isn’t much else you can do when you have a cold, Dianne,” Symphony observed. “Get lots of rest and plenty of liquids. That’s the best remedy there is.”
“…And to get as much support as possible from friends,” Rhapsody replied. “If you all left Paul to cope with this all by himself in his quarters –”
“Be fair,” Symphony protested. “Several of us went to visit him, but he doesn’t want any visitors. When Adam and I went, we even invited him to come and help decorate the officers’ lounge later on. I doubt he even heard the invitation.”
“He’s being terribly moody,” Destiny said. “And when he’s like that, he’s not very receptive to talk. Believe me, I know.”
“Paul hasn’t been ill for even a day for the last year. He isn’t used to it anymore, so no wonder he is moody.” Rhapsody stood up, and put her cup down onto the table in front of her. She didn’t look pleased at all. The others looked at her with curiosity.
“Where are you going?” Destiny inquired.
“To visit Paul,” her English counterpart answered. “Just to see if I can’t lift his spirits a bit.”
“I wonder if it’s a good idea,” Blue said. “Dianne, he might not be very happy to see you. As Destiny said, he’s not very easy to talk to at the moment.”
“It doesn’t matter. I’ll try anyway.” She moved towards the door. “I’ll see you later in the officers’ lounge.”
As the door closed on her, Blue exchanged curious glances with both Symphony and Destiny. “Now what’s that all about?” he pondered out loud. “Why does she seem so upset?”
Destiny smiled mischievously, as she settled herself comfortably onto the couch. “Don’t you have any idea at all?” she asked with a twinkle in her eyes. “I think the reason is very obvious…”
“You kept your mouth shut. I’m surprised.”
Scarlet swallowed hard. Ever since his Mysteronisation, he’d been confronted with some seriously odd occurrences – not the least of which being his own capacity to regenerate from any injury he might incur. But this presence… this ‘haunting’ he was currently experiencing… that was something else entirely. He wasn’t sure how much longer he would be able to bear it.
He glared murderously at the ghost, trying hard to conceal the mounting panic and fear he was feeling just by seeing him there. Fear wasn’t something he had often experienced, even before becoming indestructible. He had been a soldier all his life, and fear was something he had learned to conquer early on in his career. But today, he had enormous trouble trying to overcome it, as this apparition was threatening his own identity, more than his existence itself.
He had tried to ignore this ghost that had claimed to be him, to reason with it, to even threaten it – nothing worked.
He couldn’t explain rationally exactly what this apparition might be. He wasn’t even sure if it was actually real – that he wasn’t dreaming all of this. Maybe it was but an illusion, a hallucination. But it seemed so real, too real… maybe it was an indication that he was going thoroughly mad.
Quietly, the ghost walked towards him, nodding slowly, a smile playing on his lips. Scarlet was fascinated by the fact that he couldn't hear even the slightest sound from his steps. “I guess you are more intelligent than I gave you credit for.”
“If I had mentioned you,” Scarlet snapped angrily at him, “it’s more than likely Fawn would have thought me insane.” He paused briefly. “On second thoughts, I probably should have told him.”
“Fawn would have had you locked up. Maybe for good,” the ghost reasoned.
“Then perhaps I would have escaped you.”
Scarlet’s visitor gave a low laugh. “Not a chance, my friend. You won’t escape me that easily. Until you give in, wherever you are, I’ll be there. Even,” he added ominously as he leaned in front of Scarlet, “if you run away to Winchester. Is that why you asked to be allowed to go back to what you call home? So you could get away from me?” He shook his head and straightened up. “Think again. That was my home, Mysteron, my family. Not yours.”
“Stop calling me that,” Scarlet said with a quiver in his voice. He slowly got to his feet. “I am not a Mysteron.”
“Oh? And what should I call you then? You are nothing but an impostor.”
“I am not an impostor either!”
The ghost sighed. “We’ve been at this for the past two days. Will we be playing this little game much longer? Believe me, you will tire way before me.” His features became hard. “You have been living my life for months, so what does that make you, exactly, if not an impostor?”
“I am not an impostor,” Scarlet reiterated. “I’m Paul Metcalfe, and –”
“Paul Metcalfe is dead, damn you!”
Angrily, the ghost walked away a few steps. Stopping, he sent his hand in a large arc to slap the side of the desk beside which he was standing. For the fraction of the second it should have made contact, Scarlet saw the hand becoming translucent and going straight through the solid object. It wasn’t the first time he had seen it in these past two days, but each time, he had found himself blinking in surprise, still not believing it.
The ghost returned his attention to Scarlet, pointing an accusing finger at him. “I should know, because I am Paul Metcalfe, and you, you despicable piece of filth, are nothing but a Mysteron fraud living a lie!”
“I am NOT a fraud!” Scarlet bellowed. “I’ve told you, again and again: this is my life, and I have no idea who or what you are or why you’re here! This is a nightmare, or maybe I am going insane, or –”
“You wish it could be that simple, don’t you?” Scarlet’s visitor chuckled. “No, this is not a nightmare. And you are not going insane. To go insane, would imply that you’re human. And you are not human, are you? You are nothing but a copy – a copy that can actually do inhuman things. Do you know many humans who can come back from the dead, like you do? As for what I am… Well, I am even less than you.” He passed his fingers through the desk again, this time very slowly. “I am the ghost of the man your masters murdered.”
“But I am here, I exist… I am alive. You cannot be.”
“You may be alive, but this is not your life,” the ghost replied. “I told you: this life is mine. Or it should have been mine, if I had not been killed for you to live.” He gave a low growl. “You stole it. You stole my life.”
“You can’t be who you say you are,” Scarlet insisted. “I know who I am, so that means it isn’t possible for you to be who you claim. If I am not going insane and if this is not a dream – then it must be a trick.”
The ghost smiled thinly. “Still in denial, are you? What will it take to make you stop lying to yourself? Or perhaps you think this is the truth?” He walked back to Scarlet and stood in front of him again. “You say you know who you are… are you so sure?”
“You will not have me doubting myself,” Scarlet promised between his teeth.
“Now I know you are deceiving yourself,” the ghost then said with a nod. “Because you’re already having those doubts, aren’t you? You’ve had them since the beginning.”
“No, it’s you who are lying to yourself. You were already wondering about your own identity, but you prefer to push that to the back of your mind and forget it. But now, with what happened to you recently, with the recent discovery that you probably have more in common with the Mysterons that you dared think about, the doubts came back to haunt you.”
“It’s you who are haunting me,” Scarlet said between his teeth. “Or so you say.”
“You still say this is a trick? You’re thinking, of course, that this is a Mysteron trick… That I’m a Mysteron agent, perhaps?”
“Wouldn’t that be the perfect explanation of what is happening to me?” Scarlet asked bitterly.
The ghost shook his head. “Your reasoning is so simplistic it’s almost depressing. I’m disappointed in you. You’re supposed to be a copy of myself.”
“Are you?” Scarlet could feel the anger burn hotter within him. “What is it you want from me?”
“Isn’t that obvious?” the ghost scoffed. “I want you to realise the truth about yourself. I want you to give up this lie you call your life.”
“So you can take this body for yourself?” Scarlet snapped.
“Oh, come on! What need would I have for a stinking Mysteron body, tell me? Look at me!” The ghost’s voice had grown in intensity and his last sentence had been an angry shout. “I’m dead, goddammit!”
“I don’t believe in ghosts.”
“But you believe in Mysteron agents,” the visitor replied bitterly. “That makes perfect sense…”
Scarlet made a supreme effort not to get too overtly angry. Too often over these past two days, the self-proclaimed ghost had taunted him into losing his temper, torturing him with these wild accusations. He promised himself he would not let it happen now. He wanted to know what this was all about, and who exactly this mysterious visitor was and what was his purpose for being here. Ignoring his presence, like he had tried to do at the beginning, wasn’t of course the best strategy he could have chosen; it was far better to confront him.
There was more to this ghost than met the eye, Scarlet thought, and he was determined to find out what that was – without going thoroughly insane first, if possible.
“If you are a ghost, as you keep saying,” Scarlet said in a low and slow voice, “that is – if you’re really the ghost of Paul Metcalfe, as you claim… then why is it that you’ve waited so long to manifest yourself? The… accident… occurred many months ago – nearly a year. Why am I only seeing you now? Why didn’t you show yourself before?”
The ghost nodded again, slowly. “Oh, I’ve been around. I’ve been watching you in silence, invisible, unable to reach you, to intervene, to communicate – to warn anyone about what you are, that they were being deceived… Then, something happened to you. Just recently. An event that allowed me to appear to you from the spirit world.” The ghost glared at Scarlet. “Don’t you have any idea what that event was?”
Scarlet hesitated. He was starting to have the strange feeling that he knew exactly what it was that the ghost was referring to. His visitor saw right through him, and his eyes narrowed to a slit.
“Yes, you know… I can see it in your eyes.”
“The cerebral pulsator?” Scarlet murmured. The ghost didn’t reply, but by his stance, Scarlet knew he had guessed right. Almost in shock, he sat down very slowly. “That would be the reason why I’m seeing you? Oh God…” He put his head in his hands and moaned piteously. “That thing was plugged directly into my brain… Maybe Fawn was right and it did something to my mind… Maybe I am going insane…”
“It did something all right,” the ghost snarled. “That’s the very event that’s presently putting your life into perspective again – that made you realise once more that you are different – unlike any of those human beings you’re sharing your life with…”
“Shut up…” Scarlet murmured.
“I am not through with you. You will listen to me, and you will listen well. You cannot escape me. You’ll see who and what you truly are. I told you already: you’re not going insane.” He crouched in front of Scarlet, and leaned closer to him, as the latter kept his head down, clutching it desperately with his hands, closing his eyes in a desperate attempt to escape the ghost’s stare and his taunting accusations. “But give me time, my friend,” the ghost seethed between his teeth, “and maybe I’ll be able to get you there. And then, I will have won.”
Scarlet blinked. Despite his best efforts to ignore the ghost’s mocking words, they had reached him and they made him react; all of his being instinctively rebelled. He wasn’t someone to surrender himself to despair or defeat; that wasn’t something he would even consider. He was a fighter, and he would fight to the bitter end if he had to – either death or insanity – but whoever his adversary was, he would not win easily.
He instantly let go of his head and sprang to his feet, roaring in fierce anger and with all the determination he could muster.
“I will not let you!”
But there was no-one to hear his shout; the ghost had suddenly disappeared. Nervously, breathing hard, Scarlet looked around, searching. He was all alone in his quarters. There was a buzz resonating through the room, mixed with the barely audible sound of the television he had left switched on since he powered it up two days ago. Scarlet watched as George Bailey’s car ran into the same tree for what seemed like the tenth time. The same movie had been showing over and over for hours on the screen, caught in an interminable loop until he eventually turned it off. Annoyed, he shut off the screen; why he had not done it before was beyond him. Truth to tell, he had other things on his mind.
As the screen went black, the only sound he now heard was the buzzing, and he realised it was coming from his door.
There was someone behind it.
He smoothed his clothes and stroked his hair into place the best he could, before purposefully walking to the door to open it.
The door slid open in front of Rhapsody Angel and the powerful frame of Captain Scarlet appeared, leaning against the doorframe. Almost despite herself, the young woman took a step backward, surprised at the unusual sight he presented. He looked like he had just woken up from a bad dream, his eyes red and puffy, surrounded by dark circles, his features pale and drawn. He didn’t seem well at all. He was in pyjamas and had not shaved – perhaps even bathed – in days.
“Holy…” She caught herself in time, as he looked straight at her, his blue eyes not as intense as they usually were. She felt like she had disturbed him somehow. “You look like hell,” she finally said.
“Rhapsody.” His voice was at the same time tired and displeased. “I’m very aware of what I look like, thank you.” He nevertheless rubbed his chin with his hand to notice the growth of hair covering his cheeks. “What is it you want?” he asked, barely trying to hide his irritation.
His whole attitude plainly demonstrated that he would very much like for her to leave him alone, but even the disagreeable way he was talking to her did nothing to drive Rhapsody away. She acted as if she had not noticed, and stood very calmly in front of him, looking him in the eyes. “I’ve just returned from Futura City,” she explained. “And I heard you were ill, as soon as I landed.”
“Let’s say I just need some rest,” he said, sighing heavily.
“It looks like rest isn’t the only thing you need. You need a good shave as well.” She wanted to sound upbeat, but obviously, her attempt failed, as he simply glared at her.
“You came all the way from the Amber Room to here, just to tell me that?”
Rhapsody sighed. The others were right; he was in a bad mood and he was being uncharacteristically unpleasant. In other circumstances, she might not have curbed her own temper, and been as barbed as he was. But she had enough consideration to realise now was not the time. He obviously wasn’t his usual self.
She simply shook her head. “No, of course not. I came to offer my support to a sick friend.”
“Friend?” he repeated, with a frown.
Rhapsody was rather surprised to hear the doubt in his voice.
“Of course, ‘friend’,” she answered, scowling in turn. “We are friends, are we not?”
Scarlet hesitated. Quite frankly, thought Rhapsody, this could have been very insulting; but he looked so sick and confused – so pathetic that she actually couldn’t get angry with him. She narrowed her eyes at him. “Paul? Are you all right?”
“Yeah,” he answered quickly. “I think I am…” He cleared his throat. “I supposed… we are friends, Rhapsody.” He shook his head and rubbed his eyes, tiredly. “Forgive me… I must be more exhausted than I thought I was. I’m not really thinking straight at the moment…” He offered a weak, apologetic smile. “There isn’t any question about it. We are indeed friends, Dianne.”
She gave him a compassionate look. “Are you sure you’ll be all right?”
“Sure.” Scarlet’s smile broadened, if only a little. “You know how I am. I’ll bounce back sooner than you think.”
“If you need anyone to keep you company…”
“No. That’s very kind of you but… I’d rather be alone for now. Besides, you wouldn’t like me. I’m not good company right now.”
“That’s something I can believe,” Rhapsody said with a faint smile. “Okay, then. If you prefer it that way…”
“I do prefer it that way.”
She nodded, and then, from behind her back, produced a small package that she presented to him. Scarlet eyed it, almost suspiciously; it was wrapped in Christmas paper, surmounted with a very bright red bow. He frowned, didn’t take the package and looked in puzzlement into the young woman’s smiling eyes. “What is this?”
“It’s a present, silly,” she answered with amusement. “For your birthday.”
“Birthday?” he repeated, as if he didn’t understand.
“It was a few days ago, wasn’t it?” she replied. “December the seventeenth? Lord, you’re really out of it, if you don’t remember your own birthday…” She pushed the package into his hands. He examined it awkwardly and looked at her once more; she was smiling broadly, pleased that he simply seemed to accept her gift.
Scarlet returned his attention to the package and turned it in his hands. “Feels like a book,” he muttered.
“It is a book,” Rhapsody answered. “My favourite book, actually.” She waved dismissively. “Okay, it’s not brand new, but it comes from the heart. And sorry about the Christmas paper… I didn’t have any other wrapping handy. It is Christmas soon, after all. It’s rather a… last minute gift. Not that I had forgotten about your birthday, of course…”
“Of course not,” he answered, trying hard to remember when her birthday was. He vaguely remembered that it was in late April, although the exact date eluded him. He made a mental note to check it out.
“I thought this gift might be perfect to help you through your… convalescence?” Rhapsody continued. “So the time wouldn’t seem to drag so much?”
Scarlet shook his head, and presented the package back to her. “You didn’t have to. If it’s your book, you should –”
“It was my book,” she corrected him, taking his hand and stopping it. “Now it’s yours. It pleases me to offer it to you.” She looked into his eyes. Suddenly, she saw the same old intensity in them, as he looked back at her, and deep into her own. She fought not to lower her gaze. “Please?” she insisted. “I would very much like you to keep it.”
He nodded, noting that it seemed important to her. “All right,” he said. “Thank you, Rhapsody. I… really, this is very generous of you.”
“Wait till you see what it is,” she replied. “You might change your mind.” She paused, hesitating a second. “Listen – I’m on my way to the officers’ lounge. We’ll be decorating the place for Christmas. You can… come with me if you want?” She smiled.
“I’m not very presentable,” he answered.
“I’ll give you time to shave and shower…”
He chuckled. “Thank you, Rhapsody, but no. As I said, I’m not in a very sociable mood right now. Besides, I still feel under the weather, and I should probably get some more rest.”
She nodded with understanding. “All right. Well, get a decent night’s sleep.” Rhapsody stood on tiptoe to plant a gentle kiss on his rough cheek. For a fraction of a second, he tensed, and then relaxed as her lips lingered and she whispered in his ear: “We prefer you when you’re well and healthy. All of us, but especially me.”
When she stepped back, he looked into her eyes once more, with deep curiosity. This time, she lowered her gaze to avoid his, and then turned around slowly and started to walk away.
For a brief second, Scarlet watched her go. Then he called her back: “Dianne?”
She turned around. Scarlet was still in his doorway, and this time, the look he was giving her was an awkward one. “About earlier… I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to offend you in any way.”
“You didn’t,” she answered kindly.
He waved the gift at her. “Thank you for this, Dianne. I… really, I appreciate the thought.”
Rhapsody smiled a vibrant smile and waved back at him, before turning around and going on her way towards the nearest elevator.
Scarlet flopped down into his armchair and sighed, closing his eyes. He was tired of all this; the constant harassment of the apparition that claimed to be his own ghost, of the doubts it was trying to stir in him – doubts that he already had, the ghost claimed, but couldn’t bring himself to admit.
And damn it, he was right.
For the last few months, Scarlet had wanted so much to believe in his own identity; he desperately needed to believe that he was really Paul Metcalfe, that somehow, miraculously, his very being, his soul, had been able to escape the death of his original body to take up residence in this new body, created by the Mysterons, and imbued with the power to constantly heal itself.
Despite all of his claims to the contrary, Scarlet had never stopped having some underlying doubts that he might not be himself; not quite himself, anyway. And the appearance of this ghost, with all its accusations, had only served to bring those doubts to the surface.
The ghost had, at least, been truthful on one account.
Was it the real illusion, then? By his good deeds and efforts in fighting the Mysterons, was he simply trying to buy himself a good conscience, and prove to himself and others who he really was? Had he really been deceiving himself all this time, he wondered? Had he been deceiving his colleagues and friends as well?
He opened his eyes and looked down at the brightly-wrapped package on his lap – a present from one of those friends, who obviously believed in him – more than he currently believed in himself.
“What did that woman want?”
Scarlet raised his eyes from the gift and saw the ghost standing in front of him, and looking down hard at him, with a dark and hard expression displayed on his face. Scarlet took note of the scornful tone in his voice, before he lowered his eyes to the package again. Ignoring the ghost, he straightened up and began pulling at the bright red bow. The ghost walked around the armchair to stand by Scarlet’s side.
“A Christmas gift?” he said incredulously.
“A birthday gift,” Scarlet corrected. “Didn’t you hear her? I thought you were keeping your eye on me.”
He undid the bow, removed the ribbon and tore open the wrapping paper. Although he already knew the package contained a book, he was rather surprised when he discovered the title hidden under the paper. He heard the new derisive comment from the ghost:
“‘The Little Prince’?” the ghost scoffed, and moved back in front of Scarlet. “She gave you a children’s book?”
“Her favourite book, she said,” Scarlet answered, while browsing through the pages. He remembered having read the book, a very long time ago, but he could only recall a few parts of it.
He found a note, on the inside front cover, written in precise handwriting, although obviously from a very young hand: ‘Property of Dianne Simms, 2053. If you find it, please give it back to me.’ Almost despite himself, Scarlet smiled fondly at the thought of a young Rhapsody carefully adding this note, many years ago.
“What kind of message is she trying to send you with this?” the ghost asked. “That you’re acting like a child? Is that what she thinks of you?”
“I don’t think that was her intention at all,” Scarlet answered, almost distractedly. “She’s… a very dear friend.”
“Is that so? A ‘dear friend’?” the ghost smiled scornfully. “Or are you entertaining some kind of covert notions towards her?”
Scarlet bristled at the words; he glared up at the ghost. “Leave her alone,” he said between his teeth.
The ghost narrowed his eyes. “You think you’re in love with her?” he asked. He chuckled, before Scarlet could even answer. “My poor friend, you’re deluding yourself… You’re a Mysteron replicate. You can’t feel love… And if you think that she would reciprocate your feelings, then you’re obviously wrong. She can’t possibly feel anything for the likes of you. She knows what you are.”
Scarlet raised burning eyes to his visitor. The latter was looking down at him with contempt in his eyes, and a mocking smile on his lips.
“They all know what you are,” the ghost said exultantly. “The colonel… he thinks of you as a weapon to be used. To Fawn, you’re nothing but a specimen to examine. Blue… he’s keeping a close eye on you, in case you eventually turn against Spectrum. All the others, you have fought to gain their trust, and you’re now trying desperately to keep it.” He leaned towards Scarlet. “And Rhapsody… you think she might like you… perhaps even love you? If she feels anything, it’s probably only pity for the poor creature that you are. Or perhaps she’s considering some weird, sick, perverted interest in you… just for the unique thrill a one-night stand with such as you would represent?”
Scarlet bristled anew, this time with outrage. If the ghost had been solid, he would have punched it in the face.
As it was, Scarlet made a supreme effort to keep his temper in careful check. “You can say anything you want against me,” he said slowly, between his teeth. “But you have no right to involve the others in this. And Rhapsody… How can you think so little of her? She’s a decent person. Don’t you know her at all? She’s supposed to have been…” He stopped, as a thought made its way into his brain. He looked into empty space, past the ghost, before slowly adding, “…your friend…”
“So you believe me now, when I say I’m the real Paul Metcalfe?”
Scarlet shook his head, and lowered his eyes to the book. Browsing through the pages, he had remembered a line he especially liked:
“‘It is only with the heart that you can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye’,” he murmured.
“What are you on about?” the ghost asked with a frown.
“You should know,” Scarlet replied, raising his eyes again. “You’re supposed to have read this already.” He closed the book. “You can’t be Paul Metcalfe.”
“So you’re still denying the facts, are you?”
“No, I can see very clearly now.” Scarlet rose to his feet. “You had me doubting myself for a while, you nearly had me giving up, for a while, but now it’s finished. You say you’re Paul Metcalfe, but what you just said is proof enough that you can’t be. If you had been Paul Metcalfe, you would never have said those ugly things about Rhapsody. You would have showed better consideration for her – or any of my friends.”
“Your friends?” the ghost repeated derisively.
“My friends,” Scarlet said with conviction in his voice. “Not yours, obviously. Your attitude plainly shows how very little you think of them. If you were Paul Metcalfe, you would act differently towards them. Yes, they have doubted me, quite rightly, as I have doubted myself, but they have stood by me during these last few months, and accepted me for what I have become, what I am now.” He glared at the ghost who stood immobile in front of him. “Dead or alive, the real Paul Metcalfe would have appreciated that. He would have known of whatever feelings he might have had for Rhapsody before… the accident that happened all those months ago. You say that I can’t feel love, but you’re the one who’s acting like he doesn’t know what it feels like to love.” He pointed an accusing finger towards the ghost. “And if you think I’m going to let you take this body back to hurt any of my friends, my colleagues, or anyone else on this planet, then I swear to you, I will see this body dead before I let you!”
The ghost shook his head. “So you still think I’m the Mysteron duplicate, then,” he said quietly.
It was Scarlet’s turn to scoff. “Whatever you are, you can’t be Paul Metcalfe, because the real Paul Metcalfe is here, standing in front of you.”
“You have no doubt about that anymore?” the ghost insisted.
“Stop trying,” Scarlet snapped. “It won’t work anymore. You have failed.” He gestured to himself. “This might not be my original body, but the memories and feelings I have, my mind, my conscience, I would even say, my soul… I know whose they are, and they are mine, and mine alone. I may still have doubts again in the future, I won’t deny it. But I’m sure that my conscience will help me overcome them, and to see within me as clearly as I see now. I’ll do the right thing, to the best of my capacity, as I always did. And I will always fight the likes of you, and face whatever threats the Mysterons might throw this way. And that is something I promise you.”
Scarlet stopped and took a deep breath; he stood tall, defiant, waiting for the ghost to challenge him yet again, ready to answer his further attacks and arguments. But the ghost didn’t move, or speak. He was standing there, as immobile as a statue, looking intensely and calmly at him. Scarlet was sure he was preparing a comeback intended to take him down.
The ghost then slowly nodded, his eyes still set on Scarlet. “If that is your last word on this matter, Paul, then there is nothing left here for me to do.”
Scarlet frowned with incredulity. He didn’t know what surprised him more: that the ghost would admit defeat, or to hear him actually calling him by his name. “What?”
“You’re acting now exactly as I expected you to. Like the real Paul Metcalfe would act. If there is no doubt left in your mind about your own identity, then I guess I shouldn’t have any doubt myself either.”
Scarlet was taken aback. “Who – or what – the hell are you?” he murmured, not understanding any of his visitor’s words.
“Two days ago, that was your first question upon seeing me appear,” the ghost said, lowering his eyes. “I couldn’t answer it then, as I had a job to do. Now that it is done, I have to put an end to this charade – and discard this appearance.” He looked away and closed his eyes, and before a disbelieving Scarlet, he began to shine with a soft white glow.
Scarlet instinctively took a step back. He watched in wonder as the ghost’s form became a blur and slowly changed before his eyes. For a brief fraction of a second, the silhouette was engulfed in a light so bright that Scarlet fought the impulse to blink and half-covered his eyes with his hand; then, almost immediately, the human silhouette reappeared, but remained translucent and luminous.
Scarlet squinted, staring at the half-blurred vision. When finally it cleared and he was able to see better, he blinked in total astonishment.
This was even more unbelievable than all he had seen in the last two days.
“Hello, Paul,” the ghost said, his voice now different and carrying a friendly tone.
“Oh, my God…” Scarlet whispered. He took a step forward, reaching to the ghost with a tentative hand. He stopped just short of touching the form he was now standing so close to, and swallowed hard, shaking his head in disbelief.
The ghost was looking straight at him, a smile on his lips. “You know, it’s not easy being you, my friend,” he said good-naturedly.
“Steve…” Scarlet said hoarsely. “Steve Blackburn…”
“…Or ‘Captain Brown’, as you also used to know me,” the ghost added. There was an ethereal quality to his voice that put Scarlet on edge; it reminded him somewhat of the Mysterons.
“I can’t believe it…” Scarlet murmured again, shaking his head in disbelief. “How…” He shook himself, in an attempt to straighten his thoughts. “You can’t be here,” he said, almost accusingly. “You’re dead.”
“Of course I am,” the ghost confirmed, still smiling. “You would know that better than anyone else, since you died in the same accident.”
When the ghost took a step in his direction, Scarlet instinctively stepped back; he bumped into his armchair and stopped, keeping himself upright, glaring at his visitor who, recognising his uneasiness towards him, stopped his advance.
“Do not be afraid of me.”
“I’ve got every reason to be afraid of you,” Scarlet gruffly replied. “How can I be sure this is not yet another of your tricks? How can I be sure you’re not a Mysteron? Last time I saw you alive, you were!”
“And last time I saw you – alive – you were too.” The ghost’s answer was quiet. He smiled again, trying to appear reassuring. “I am not a Mysteron agent, my friend. No more than you are. I assure you, I’m only here to help you.”
“Help me?” Scarlet repeated, making no effort to hide the resentment he was feeling. “What you did… that’s your idea of helping me? You tortured me with doubts and accusations, and put me through hell! What kind of help is that?”
“Be honest with yourself, my friend,” the ghost replied soothingly. “Those doubts were already within you.”
“How about the accusations you threw at me?” Scarlet snarled.
“I’m sorry if I caused you pain,” the ghost said, in a regretful voice. “Believe me, what I did, what I told you, was about the hardest thing I ever had to do.” He sighed, seeing the doubtful expression on Scarlet’s face. “I know I came down rather hard on you. But it was necessary, to bring your doubts to the surface, so you would be able to confront them and eventually overcome them.” He shook his head. “And quite frankly, I still had some doubts myself.”
“Did you?” Scarlet said bitterly.
“I didn’t want to set a Mysteron agent free onboard an unsuspecting Cloudbase,” the ghost said gravely. “I had to make completely sure of your identity. I’m sure you can understand this better than anyone.” Scarlet didn’t answer but still glared at the ghost who took another step forward; this time, the English officer didn’t back away. “Once I had established your identity, I was able to go on with my mission.”
“Your mission?” Scarlet repeated.
“I told you. I came to you in order to help you find out who you are. To guide you through your own fears of yourself and heal you of them.”
“And to do this, you had to create this charade?” Scarlet asked again. Slowly, he sat down in his armchair, his legs suddenly very tired; the tension of the last two days had been so intense, and the relief was now so unexpected that it physically drained him. He looked inquiringly up to the ghost. “You had to pretend to be… me? Why? How did you do that?”
“It’s easy for a spirit to take the appearance of whomever he pleases, Paul. After all, this… form… is not a form at all. It’s… ethereal.” The ghost of Captain Brown approached quietly; Scarlet didn’t make a single move, but kept a careful eye on him. “As for why I chose your form to appear to you… I realised that I would probably never achieve my aim if I appeared to you as I am now. You would have been suspicious of me – as you’ve just been now. But I knew that if I was to confront you with yourself, your reaction would be different.”
“I thought I was going mad,” Scarlet murmured, lowering his eyes.
“I am sorry for the shock it caused you,” the ghost said, stopping to stand in front of Scarlet. “But coming face to face with yourself forced you to consider your own existence, your unique condition. You needed to face your inner demons, and to overcome them, so you would be able to finally move on with your life. You couldn’t go on feeling like an outcast for the rest of your life. That eventually would have driven you thoroughly mad.”
“So you’re saying I’m myself?” Scarlet asked, raising his eyes to his visitor. “That I am truly Paul Metcalfe? You seem to think I am… Or you would not have helped me, would you?”
The ghost looked at him attentively. “As far as I’m concerned, the man I see in front of me is Paul Metcalfe, no matter if the body he now inhabits is not the one he was originally born in.” He smiled. “I realise you might never be completely at ease with your condition, Paul, I know, but at least you will be able to accept yourself for what you are, and still feel like you are a part of Humankind.”
“Why now?” Scarlet whispered, looking deep into Brown’s eyes. “Why choose to appear to me now, after all these months?”
“Because of what happened to you recently.”
“You mean – the incident with the cerebral pulsator?” Scarlet frowned. “You didn’t lie, then, when you said that it allowed me to finally see you?”
Brown shook his head. “No, that’s not quite it. The incident mostly caused you to doubt yourself, even worse than that first time you woke up in sickbay. You were sick – something you are not accustomed to anymore – and the weakest you have ever been for months. You suddenly discovered that you were closer to the Mysterons than you had first imagined, and that thought was unbearable to you. That made you vulnerable to destructive thoughts and behaviour – not to mention, perhaps, vulnerable to an attack from the Mysterons?”
“They would have taken advantage of my weakened state to take me out of the equation, you mean?” Scarlet asked. “To kill me, or attempt to bring me back under their control?”
“Anything’s possible, Paul. God only knows what the Mysterons might plan. I wouldn’t want to try and second-guess them. But one thing is sure: you are still a thorn in their sides, and they certainly would want nothing more than to get rid of you.”
“Then I guess I ought to thank you for your intervention,” Scarlet said gravely. He smiled briefly. “Although I might not entirely forgive you for the method you chose to help me…”
Brown smiled in answer. “I was never very good at playing ‘bad cop’, as you surely remember. That was your role when it came to interrogating suspects. I was more like the ‘good cop’ type.”
“You could have fooled me,” Scarlet replied. “Is that why you chose to appear as me then? So you could get into the ‘bad cop’ character better?”
“You always were a better actor than I was, Paul.” Brown nodded slowly. “Whether or not the Mysterons did plan something against you this time, you needed help, Paul, and I was more than willing to give you that help. Besides,” he added with a twinkle in his eyes, “it is nearly Christmas – and what better season than Christmas to help a tormented soul find its way back?” He smiled kindly. “You have not lost your soul, Paul Metcalfe. That’s what defines you as the man you are.”
“What are you, then?” Scarlet asked. “An angel?” He raised a brow. “My guardian angel?”
Brown chortled. “An angel… not exactly, no. I’m missing the wings.” He gestured in the general direction of his back. “And I’m certainly not your guardian angel. You’ll understand that I would much prefer to keep an eye on my wife and child. Not meaning that I don’t actually like you…”
Scarlet felt a pang of sadness. Brown had been killed before the birth of his son who, unfortunately, would grow up without the presence of his father. “You have a wonderful kid, Steve,” he said softly.
“I know, Paul,” Brown said with a fond smile. “I see him. I can see him and his mother every day…”
“I’m so sorry for what happened…”
“Now don’t start with the survivor’s guilt,” the ghost chided. “I mean, you gave me enough trouble restoring faith in yourself – really, I don’t want to start on something else. My death wasn’t your fault, and you should know that.”
“All right. I won’t start.” Scarlet nodded slowly. “And now what? Where do I go from here?”
The ghost of Captain Brown approached. He wasn’t walking; it was as if he was floating, his whole body just drifting, and as he came closer, he seemed to become even more translucent. He leaned over Scarlet, and smiled at him. “My job here is done. What you will do now with the rest of your life is entirely up to you.”
Scarlet nodded again. “I will do my best to make the right decision, then.”
“I’m sure you will, my friend.”
Scarlet raised a brow. “I still find it unbelievable that you should appear to me at such a moment,” he said. “Just as I needed help re-focusing?”
“Why, Paul, don’t you know?” the ghost said with a renewed smile and a jovial voice. He raised his hand in front of Scarlet’s eyes, keeping his fingers close together, his thumb pressing against his middle-finger. Scarlet watched his eyes attentively, wondering what he was up to. “This is Christmas… and Christmas is a time of magic, when even the most unbelievable of miracles can happen.” His smile broadened into a mischievous grin. “Just like this.”
He snapped his fingers on the last word.
Scarlet woke up with a start; he was in his armchair, where he had obviously fallen asleep. The room was dark, only illuminated by the white light of his television. He looked around in confusion, searching for a presence with him.
He was all alone; there was no ghost – not of Captain Brown and, thank God, not of himself either.
His eyes focussed on the television and he frowned in perplexity. Strange… I remember shutting it down earlier. How come it is on now?
It was still tuned to the same old Christmas movie. On the screen, George Bailey was running up the street at night under the falling snow and shouting ‘Merry Christmas’ at everyone he encountered. Scarlet didn’t know if it was still the same broadcast as when last he had sat in this chair, or if it was yet another of the multiple repeats of these last two days. He checked the time on his watch; it was ten thirty in the evening.
Did he dream it all, he wondered? That would certainly explain why that TV was on, when he clearly recalled turning it off. But it all seemed so impossible… The ghost had appeared to him many times during the last two days, and that would probably imply that he had been asleep during all that time; he was sure it wasn’t the case, since he had been awake in-between each of those moments to receive various visitors, from Doctor Fawn to Rhapsody Angel.
Or had he imagined that as well?
His eyes fell on the book on his coffee table, with the discarded wrapping paper underneath it. He took it and read the title ‘The Little Prince’ upon it, and smiled. At least, he thought, this wasn’t a dream.
Multiple dreams, then, with the same theme, over and over again? That seemed very improbable. Maybe he had been so sick that his ghostly visits were but hallucinations…
‘It is only with the heart that you can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.’
He wasn’t sure if he should follow his heart, and think that what he had experienced was real, or if his entire recent ordeal was only the hallucinations of a sick mind. Had he really been visited by spectral apparitions? If he were to tell someone about this, would they believe him? Would he believe it himself, if he were told? Seeing himself as a ghost, hearing the accusations, feeling the doubts, all this was a disturbing experience. But discovering it was all Captain Brown’s doing in order to force him to face his demons, seeing his friend again… that gave him a remarkable feeling of warmth and reassurance in himself that he recently thought he would never feel again.
He realised he didn’t feel sick anymore; he wasn’t sneezing, nor was his nose running, and his head was clear of any pain and confusion. He felt as good as he ever did; even better, if possible.
He laughed out loud. Thank you, Steve – whether you were an hallucination or real.
Now he could go on with his normal life – well, as normal as his own situation and his job would allow it to be anyway.
He looked down at the book, and smiled again, this time fondly; he thought that he should properly thank Rhapsody for her gift, which had come at such an appropriate moment for him. But something almost immediately imposed itself on his mind, and he rubbed his rough chin with his free hand; he needed a shave, a long, hot shower – and to grab a quick meal, he realised as he heard his stomach growling loudly.
And also, probably make a stop at sickbay, and have himself examined by Doctor Fawn, as soon as possible. The good doctor would surely be pleased to see him finally back on his feet.
Scarlet put the book down, and glanced one last time at the still ongoing movie. There was a big reunion now, around a Christmas tree, with many people surrounding the film’s main protagonist, all happily singing their hearts out.
Scarlet made a note to definitely watch the whole movie in one shot next time, and entirely, this time around.
A line spoken by George Bailey’s daughter caught his attention and made him smile.
“Every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings,” he repeated thoughtfully. “Well, you certainly earned yours, Steve, my friend… Merry Christmas to you.”
And he turned on his heels to quickly stride towards his bathroom.
“Has anyone found the star yet?” Standing on a low stool, Rhapsody Angel put another red bauble onto one of the highest branches of the brightly illuminated tree. With her in the officers’ lounge, Destiny Angel was standing on the other side of the tree, covering it with silvery icicles, while Captain Blue, sitting on the floor, was rummaging through the various boxes of Christmas decorations surrounding him, humming in harmony with the happy tune coming from the radio. He stopped his humming at the English pilot’s question.
“I’m pretty sure it’s around here somewhere,” he said as he extracted a garland of white pearls from the box he was presently searching. “I kind of remember I put it with the small horses that Symphony brought back from Iowa. You know, those tiny horses, with bright red and gold saddle and harness?”
“I saw them in there,” Destiny said, pointing to a box on Blue’s left. “But I didn’t see a star.”
“Maybe it’s at the bottom, then,” Blue said, moving on his knees towards the designated box and starting to search through it. “I’m sure I put it in there…”
“Do you think we’ll have a quiet Christmas, this year?” Destiny asked, delicately putting one icicle onto a branch, in front of a golden angel, and adjusting it on the branch, so it would give the best effect possible.
“I certainly hope so,” Rhapsody said. “Even considering that now, we could have a Mysteron threat falling on us at any time...”
“Right, this is our first Christmas with them around,” Blue said, frowning as he continued to search. “I sure hope they won’t invite themselves to the celebrations. Damn it,” he muttered, rummaging deeper into the box, and throwing aside the previously mentioned horses and gold garlands. “I’m sure I put the star in here somewhere…”
Behind him, the door opened and Captain Scarlet, dressed in civvies of black jeans and a red woollen sweater, walked in with a light step, unseen by anyone, just in time to hear Blue’s last words. He quietly approached his friend with a smile on his face. “Still having trouble finding your stuff, Captain Blue? Can’t say I’m surprised. Your sense of organisation always been rather hopeless…”
Everyone turned around in surprise at the sound of his jovial voice. Captain Blue stopped his searching and turned his head, welcoming his friend with a smile. “Hey! Look who finally decided to join the fun!” he said cheerfully. “Welcome back!”
“Paul! You’re okay!” Destiny left the side of the tree and ran to Scarlet to give him a vibrant welcoming kiss.
He hugged her warmly, laughing. “Of course, I’m okay. I’m indestructible, remember?”
She stepped back, holding both his hands, and eyed him critically. “You look good, but I don’t know… thinner?”
He chuckled with amusement. “Juliette… I can’t have lost that much weight in a couple of days.”
“Did you eat my soup?” she asked insistently.
Scarlet smiled. “Just before leaving my quarters. I re-heated it and ate it to the very last drop. Thank you, it was very good.”
“Liar. I bet it had turned sour.”
“Well, maybe a bit, but with bread, it was perfectly fine. Just what the doctor ordered.”
“So you’re feeling better, I’m guessing?” Blue asked.
“Much better, thank you. I’m just back from sickbay, where Doctor Fawn gave me a quick once over. My cold is completely gone.”
“And your powers of retrometabolism?” Blue continued.
“Back to normal, apparently.” Scarlet scratched his ear and smiled sheepishly. “At least, that’s what Doctor Fawn reckoned when he stuck a needle into my arm for his tests, and the puncture disappeared without a trace a second or two after that.” He grimaced. “He still wants to run more tests, of course – just to be on the safe side. After all, I didn’t completely lose my powers. They just slowed down considerably. But I feel like a million bucks now, so I don’t expect him to find anything wrong.”
Blue nodded. “Glad to hear it. So you’re through feeling sorry for yourself, I hope?”
There was but a faint trace of teasing in Blue’s words, but it didn’t escape Scarlet, who shrugged at the remark. He considered he deserved it.
“Yes, I’m done with that. I know I was acting out of character… I was feeling quite down, but that isn’t an excuse.” He approached his friend and crouched in front of him, to look levelly into his eyes. “I know you only were worried about me. All of you,” he added, looking over his shoulder to Destiny, and then glancing in Rhapsody’s direction. “I’m sorry I acted like such a jackass.”
“Not that much,” Blue said charitably, as Scarlet faced him again. “You were worried because you were facing a situation that wasn’t usual for you. I believe we kind of take you for granted, sometimes. We all expect you to always act like the strong, brave soldier that you are, but we tend to forget that…”
“… I’m human too?” Scarlet finished for him, smiling thinly.
“… that this past year has not been an easy one for you,” Blue amended. He nodded. “But yeah, you’re human too, so it’s to be expected that you should have the same weaknesses we all have, and act the same way we do.” His smile mirrored the one on Scarlet’s lips. “Including the right to sometimes act like a jackass, and to be forgiven for that.” He vigorously thumped Scarlet on the shoulder. “Just try not to get electrocuted too often, okay?”
“I’ll try my best,” Scarlet said with another chuckle. “Colonel White told me about the same a few minutes ago. Doctor Fawn called him from sickbay after he examined me. I think the old man was relieved that I’m finally getting much better. He’s keeping me off duty until after Christmas, to ensure that I’ll make a complete recovery.”
Blue’s smile broadened. “Good to see you back to your old self, Paul. We missed you.”
“I know you did.” Scarlet plunged his hand into the large box between the two of them and extracted a large, glittering star from it. He presented it to Blue with a big smirk. “How would you find your stuff if I wasn’t around?”
“I expect we would manage, somehow,” a female voice said in a perfectly-clipped English accent. Scarlet raised his head and directed his attention towards the tree. Rhapsody was still standing on her stool, and was looking at him, with a smile on her lips.
“Good to see you back, Captain,” she said convivially. “I’m glad to see you’re much better now.”
Scarlet stood up, the star still in his hands and slowly approached her. “Thank you. I’m… well… you could say I’m back to normal. Whatever normal signifies for me, that is.” He stopped in front of the stool and smiled up at her. At the moment, she stood a good foot over him, and he found she looked particularly attractive from that angle. “I want to thank you for your generous gift, by the way.”
She shrugged. “You already thanked me, earlier.”
“Not properly, I didn’t.”
“Besides… it wasn’t that generous a gift.” She gestured dismissively, and turned around to hang another bauble on a higher branch. “That was just an old book that I found in my stuff. I didn’t really need it anymore.”
“Right. An old book, that you’ve held on to since the age of, what, ten? And that you brought with you here to Cloudbase?” Scarlet raised a dubious brow. “You don’t fool me, your Ladyship. That book must’ve meant a great deal more to you than you let on.”
“Now then… If I follow your logic, Captain Scarlet, that must mean that giving it to you was something of a significant gesture from me, would it not?”
Scarlet’s brow rose higher. “Wasn’t it?” he asked in feigned surprise.
Rhapsody huffed. “You’re deluding yourself, my presumptuous friend,” she said, keeping her back turned to him, and failing to see the smile slowly broadening on his lips. “That book contains some wonderful messages. Considering that, and how ill you were, I just thought that reading it would bring you some comfort.” She briefly turned to look at him, and gestured towards the star he was still holding in his hands. “Now, would you give me that, please? Our tree needs its star.”
“Things must be really back to normal now,” Destiny innocently noted, “if they’re teasing each other again.”
“I’m not teasing anyone,” Rhapsody protested.
Destiny shrugged. “If you say so, mon amie.” She wasn’t fooled by the English pilot’s falsely testy tone. She checked her watch. “Now, it’s not that I want to leave you all, but I must: Symphony will finish her stint in Angel One in about ten minutes, and I’m due to replace her.”
“Quite right,” Blue concurred, finally rising to his feet and dusting off his knees. “I promised Karen I would pick her up and take her to the cafeteria for a bite. You know how famished she always is when she finishes her shift. Er… would you care for something, Paul? Dianne?”
“Since you ask… maybe a couple of chicken sandwiches?” Scarlet answered, as Rhapsody shook her head. “Being ill builds up quite an appetite. I’m kind of famished too.”
Blue grinned and put his cap on. “A whole plate of chicken sandwiches coming up, then. I shouldn’t be that long.”
He started walking towards the door with Destiny, but Scarlet’s attention had returned to Rhapsody, to whom he handed the star; she took it without even turning around, and stood on tiptoe to reach the treetop. Her efforts unbalanced the stool which tilted under her feet, and suddenly tipped over. Rhapsody gasped in surprise when she felt herself falling backwards, still hanging on to the star, while desperately trying to regain her footing.
Strong arms caught her well before she reached the floor. She gazed up straight into the bright blue eyes of Scarlet.
Time froze for a second or two, before Rhapsody realised she was instinctively holding on to him, just as much as he was to her. He noticed it too, and glanced at her hand resting on his shoulder, before looking into her eyes again.
“You should let someone taller than you put the star on the tree, my lady,” he said in a near whisper. “I wouldn’t want you to get hurt.” A mischievous smile then curved his lips. “By the way, I didn’t say it. You did.”
“Say what?” she asked in a murmur.
“That for you, the present you gave me was meant as a significant gesture.” His smile broadened. “And it was for me as well.”
She didn’t answer, and he gently helped her up onto her feet. He didn’t let go of her and kept her close to him, and as she looked up into his eyes, just at the edge of her vision, she saw something dangling over their heads. She pointed to it with her finger.
“Mistletoe,” she said quietly.
He raised his eyes, briefly, then returned his full attention to her. “Do you believe in signs, Dianne?”
Rhapsody hesitated, if only for a fraction of a second. “I do believe in traditions,” she answered instead.
Scarlet grinned. “That’s good enough for me,” he said in a whisper as he inclined his head towards hers.
He only touched her lips with his, before looking into her eyes again, this time inquisitively, hoping for an answer.
She smiled, and stroked his cheek. “Many happy returns, Captain Scarlet.”
“Oh yeah,” he said, grinning, approaching her again. “This one’s a happy one indeed. And a merry Christmas to you, Rhapsody Angel.”
From the door, both Captain Blue and Destiny Angel had seen the entire incident, and were now exchanging knowing glances as they crossed the doorway together, discreetly turning their backs on their colleagues.
“Tell me, Destiny,” Blue asked quietly in a voice so low that only the young woman beside him could hear him, “how long do you think it’ll take them to discover that they are in love with each other?”
Destiny rolled her eyes upwards and waved her hand in a very French and theatrical fashion. “Your guess is as good as mine,” she answered. “They are both English, so they could run circles around each other for a very, very long time before they figure it out.”
She stole a glance over her shoulder, just as the door was sliding closed behind them, and then witnessed a scene that made her smile mischievously: that of Captain Scarlet and Rhapsody Angel, standing under the mistletoe and sharing a very tender kiss.
“Then again,” she added as Blue also noticed the scene and smiled in turn with amusement, “they actually might realise it… just in time before the bells ring at their wedding.”
This story was originally meant as a ‘Scarlet’s birthday story’ – as long-time visitors to the website, who read fan fiction, will know it has become a tradition each year to present at least one story to celebrate Scarlet’s birthday during the Christmas Challenge. I failed miserably to fulfill this year’s requirement, and I am grateful to Marion Woods for, once again, providing the marvelous story that was presented during this Challenge, ‘A Race Against Time’, that I urge you to read if you have not already done so.
Now even though I was late, nothing stops me from still presenting my story – Scarlet’s birthday and Christmas, after all, nearly go hand in hand during the Christmas Challenge! So here is my story, set during this time.
The context of this story directly follows the events described in the TV episode “Operation Time”, in which Spectrum learns at the same time of the Mysterons’ imperviousness to X-rays and more importantly to their agents who might be indestructible, we learn of the Mysterons’ vulnerability to electricity. We, of course, will learn later on in the series that high voltage electricity might possibly cause some obstruction to their powers, as seen in the episode “Flight 104”, when they lose the control they have on the plane that Captains Scarlet and Blue are desperately trying to stop from crashing, as it comes close to an electric power station.
As for Captain Scarlet, we truly never learn what effects high voltage electricity might have on him, though Captain Blue does show concern that it might be fatal for his colleague in the episode “Noose of Ice”. But truth to tell, we never got to learn where that assumption that Scarlet might be killed by electricity comes from. We just can imagine that no-one is really that eager to see this put to the test. However… he was hooked to the cerebral pulsator in “Operation Time” and it did look like the device was using electricity. And he didn’t look that badly hurt by it, afterwards.
Or did he, and is it where Blue’s concerns came from? This story tries to tell that story. A hero needs a weakness, after all…
Although Captain Brown was a character from the original series, the name of ‘Steve Blackburn’ was provided by Mary J. Rudy, and I extrapolated on the character. All the other characters are from the original series – including General Tiempo, although the idea of making him Secretary of Defence for the World Government was my idea. He needed to have some importance for the Mysterons to want him dead, didn’t he? The picture above, of Scarlet and Rhapsody, is my creation.
My thanks, as always, go to my ever patient and suffering beta-reader, Hazel Köhler, who provided her tender cares to this story in record time, thus saving me from the embarrassment of posting a story filled with mistakes. If you still find any, they’re my fault, and I assume every consequence. Thanks also to Marion Woods for her continuous encouragements that pushed me to finish this story in time.
And, of course, last but not least, thanks and credit goes to Gerry and Sylvia Anderson, and the original show’s production team, who, many years ago, created and provided us with these wonderful characters and original stories to play with – unashamedly, when it comes to me writing these stories that I always present as respectful tribute to them.
To the best of my knowledge, the rights to ‘Captain Scarlet & the Mysterons’ ™ belong to Carlton Media.
As Christmas was a few weeks ago, I will simply wish you Happy New Year, and hope you’ve been enjoying reading this story!
Chris Bishop, January 2010.
Any comments? Send an to the SPECTRUM HEADQUARTERS site